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June 29, 2011

Jiggety Jig

Some of you who’ve been reading awhile know about the summer of 2007 when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, and grew a gorgeous backyard garden (peppers! tomatoes! cucumber! when a raccoon ate our cantaloupe, and I cried, and watermelon!). We were off to a wonderful start as urban farmers, except the next spring we lost our garden plot when we moved to a new house, our attempts at a pot garden were thwarted by squirrels and shade, we learned we’d had less green thumbs than great soil thanks to the Portuguese gardeners who’d been working away at it for years in our neighbourhood. Anyway,  ever since,  I’ve pretty much only grown impatiens.

What that summer did, however, is turn me onto fresh food like serious. I realized the difference in taste between local food and food trucked in is worth every penny extra. And especially since I’m now feeding a little person, and trying to teach her to appreciate the marvelous flavours the world offers, I make a point of buying the freshest, best-tasting fruit and vegetables available. And this time of year, there is plenty of stuff available. Becuase the season of abundant abundance has begun (and oh my, to imagine August– bursting peaches, corn on the cob, tomatoes, necterines, and blueberries…), and our local market offered up plenty of delicious this week.

We got garlic scapes (so good roasted on the bbq, with a bit of olive oil), hamburger patties, zucchini, strawberries, raspberries, rainbow chard, basil, cheese, and heirloom cherry tomatoes. Also a strawberry rhubarb pie in the freezer made with fruit that I bought last week.

So many wonderful ways to eat the sunshine…

May 15, 2009

Bad Gardener

Bad mother, bad schmother– what I am is a bad gardener. I didn’t used to think this. I used to even imagine that I had a green thumb, but turns out I just lived in a house whose backyard had very fertile soil (as a result of probably 40+ years of being a Portuguese man’s backyard before it became ours). When we moved last year, we set up a pot garden on our deck, and it was a disaster. I think we got three cherry tomatoes and a bean from the whole lot, in addition to a crop of thyme we never managed to harvest. I will try again with a pot vegetable garden another time, but not this year, when I’ll be too consumed with another little seedling. But seeing as our deck might be as far out into the world as I venture some (most?) days, I wanted something to be growing there. We went to the garden centre last weekend and bought a bunch of annuals that should take off without a great deal of work on our part. Though not if the squirrels have anything to do with it, bruddy squirrels, those vandals. It would be one thing if they ate the plants, or if their nuts were actually buried there– but there are no nuts, they have no interest in the flowers but to unearth them. The squirrels just dig until the pot is sufficiently ransacked, then go about their merry way. Or as merry as a way can be for vermin. If I were a different type of person, I’d be gedding out my shotgun…

July 24, 2008

Abundant abundance

We’re entering that wonderful time of abundant abundance, and our aubergine/eggplants are blossoming purple. I didn’t even know that eggplants blossomed in purple, which is only one of the thousands of things I don’t about the food that I eat. As well, lots was blooming at the market today– we got blackberries, tomatoes, and cantaloupe in particular. And also purple dragon carrots, which are fabulous.

In other news concerning marvelous creation, may I please introduce you to our cousin site, Create Me This. It is the homegrown initiative of my talented husband, with a little help from me.

June 24, 2008

Fun with Ichigo

For the second year in a row I’ve found my bookish pursuits in line with the season. It was almost a year ago that I first read Animal Vegetable Miracle, and I’m now reading The Perfection of the Morning, having finished the mesmerizing Prodigal Summer just before it. Both books inspiring a yearning to get closer to the earth, and so I did when any earth loving city dweller does for such a connection in the month of June–I ventured out past the suburbs.

Around our house June is one of the best times, full to bursting with fun and fetes, the sunshine and the solstice, and then the strawberries. I don’t have faith in a lot of things, but the very fact that delight manages to grow itself on trees (or at least bushes) suggests to me the world’s inherent goodness. The amazing abundance of summer time and sweet things, and all of this is well celebrated with a trip to the strawberry patch.

I went on Saturday with our friends Carolyn and Steve, and proceed to pick far too much out of fear of not enough. It was a gorgeous afternoon, well-spent toiling in the fields in suburban fashion. Ten litres I picked, an entire bucket and more, and I also acquired some new freckles and aches in my old lady knees.

Afterwards we came back to my house and the toiling continued (for a woman’s work is never done, moan moan, but of course, as usual, I did my suffering in silence). Carolyn and I made batches and batches of jam (albeit freezer jam, as our preserving ambitions still have some way to go). We used an obscene amount of sugar, and then ran out of sugar and had to go buy some more.

Soon the fridge was full of jammy delights the kitchen resembling a strawberry explosion. Dripping down the cupboard doors, staining counter tops, a couple of grubby finger prints up and down the telephone. Piles and piles of dirty dishes and utensils, and then, for fear of not having dirtied absolutely everything (and because it is one of my favourite things to do), I baked two strawberry pies. One for eating that evening (and it was delicious), the other put away in the freezer for a while. I intend to do as much with every fresh fruit appearing all summer long, and then come winter have a defrostable treasure trove of summer fruit goodness.

June 17, 2008

Pea-pods

Spotted today was pea-pods in the garden, which this year is pots up a fire escape more than a garden, but it certainly makes for easy weeding. The pea-pods are a miracle! The lettuce and chard are also ripe for harvest, the herb garden getting bigger every day, and we’re avidly following the progress of the heirloom tomatoes we’ve grown from seed. Inside the house is lots of plants too, which is strange because in our old apartment we didn’t have a single living thing (except the mice). Something about this space just wants green things to be growing.

Also exciting is strawberry season. There was a whole bunch of perfect berries at the market last week. I am sorry that I won’t be able to make it this Wednesday, but hopefully Saturday will make up for it, when I am going strawberry picking. Which means strawberry jam in my near future (though probably just freezer jam, as I’m not sure I’m ready to take on real preserves), as well as a few strawberry pies (frozen, to last throughout the year, once fresh fruit is behind us).

June 4, 2008

Springing

“April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot wrote, by which I think he meant (among other things) that springtime makes people crazy. We expect too much, the world burgeons with promises it can’t keep, all passion is really a setup, and we’re doomed to get our hearts broken yet again. I agree, and would further add: Who cares? Every spring I go there anyway, around the bend, unconditionally. I’m a soul on ice flung out on a rock in the sun, where the needles that pierced me begin to melt all as one.” –Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Vegetable Miracle

A table full of wonderful things, brought back from our first trip to the new Bloor Borden Farmer’s Market.

May 25, 2008

The Wait is Over

“The earliest recipes for this vegetable are about 2500 years old, written in ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics, suggesting Mediterranean as the plant’s homeland. The Caesars took their asparagus passion to extravagant lengths, chartering ships to scour the empire for the best spears and bring them back to Rome. Asparagus even inspired the earliest frozen food industry, in the first century, when Roman charioteers would hustle fresh asparagus from the Tiber River Valley up into the Alps and keep it buried there in snow for six months, so it could be served with a big ta-daa at the autumnal Feast of Epicurus. So we are not the first to go to ridiculous lengths to eat foods out of season.” — Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Last summer it was well-documented when three events coincided to change our lives. The first was the garden, our first, and through some miracle it grew, bearing melons, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber. Second was our local farmer’s market, which we started attending at the end of July, and these visits brought us yellow tomatoes, blue potatoes, abundant squash and extraordinary cheese. And third was that we both read Animal Vegetable Miracle, an extraordinary story, from which we learned about seasons, how we’re connected to them and to the earth through the variety of things we eat. Because we’d really had no idea before, and coming to understand was the most amazing (and delicious) education. I’d missed twenty-seven asparagus seasons by that point, and so I swore I’d never miss another.

Ontario asparagus appeared in our grocery store last week, and we’ve been eating it by the bundle. Looking especially forward to the local farmers market here in our new neighbourhood starting up in less than two weeks, so we’ll be able to catch the end of the asparagus crop there.
And then we’ll follow the culinary season, as we’re learning to do, feasting on the vegitannual. I’m rereading Animal Vegetable Miracle too, but taking it slow, following its seasons as they mirror our own. We’ve also got a garden here at our new house, albeit in pots–the plants of which some failed to survive a run-in with squirrelly types sometime last night. Such are the challenges though, and how pleased we are to face them. Here at our house we’re looking forward to a delicious summer ahead.

Below, check out the pie I baked last weekend, made with the localest of rhubarbs. And do note that we’re going to see Barbara Kingsolver on Tuesday, reading at This is Not a Reading Series. I think that tickets are still available.

October 31, 2007

Until asparagus is in bloom…

Once again I’ve got a reason to declare summer officially gone, and I think this time I mean it. Tonight was the final Trinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market, which we’ve been dutifully attending since July when Barbara Kingsolver changed our lives with Animal Vegetable Miracle. And what a summer it has been: blueberries to blackberries, cucumbers to squash, blue potatoes and black tomatoes. We’ve learned how to cook swiss chard and kale, beetroot and pumpkin. Grilled veg on the barbeque became roasted vegetables alongside chicken dinners as the nights grew cooler. Yum organic sheep’s cheddar, and beef, and lamb. We’ve been so lucky, and beyond as we also reaped our own harvest this year, our garden providing us with lettuce, tomatoes, melon, peppers, and cucumber. This summer we’ve been quite successful at purchasing local produce, and it’s sad to contemplate giving all that up now that the season is over. Our goal for the winter is to confine our fruit and veg to the continent, which is a bit lame I realize, but it’s still going to be a challenge. We’ve got some frozen tomatoes and strawberries in the freezer for the depths of February, to remind us what freshness tastes like. And in the meantime, of course, we’ll be longing for spring. For asparagus season, which, can you believe, I’ve lived through 27 of already, but never knew enough to appreciate.

September 14, 2007

What blooms

Our backyard garden was born of a whim. Tired of staring at the rubbish heap outside his backdoor, our downstairs neighbour Curtis ventured out one spring day to purchase seedlings. He came home with lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and melons, but then he left them on the back step for three days.

We understood the sudden death of Curtis’s gardening enthusiasm. Our house has been under construction as long as we’ve lived here, the backyard serving as a receptacle for all the refuse. An eyesore, with piles of bricks, pieces of toilet, old pipes, kitchen cupboards, and artifactual empty beer bottles. We are a blot in an otherwise lovely row of backyards, so well-tended by our Portuguese neighbours. The yard had become embarrassing, but ameliorating the situation seemed to require forces beyond our capabilities. A few seedlings in the face of such general awfulness would be no weapon, we thought. And so we were all quite content to let Curtis’s seedlings wilt away and die.

It was surprising, then, to wake up one morning and look out the window to see the seedlings planted. My husband Stuart and I consulted Curtis who knew nothing about it, which left only the possibility that our neighbour next-door had been as embarrassed by our backyard as we were. It appeared that he’d snuck over in the early morning and started the job, determined not to let the seedlings go to waste. Maneuvering his way around the detritus, he had planted tidy rows of vegetables, and now it seemed we had a garden after all.

Of course, the lettuce would be ready first, but we didn’t know that then. We didn’t know anything then, until somebody told us. We would learn quickly, however, that seven lettuce plants were probably more roughage three people could handle.

Lettuce was king throughout June, and our regular weeding and watering were paying off— the garden was growing. The old man next door who’d started it all liked to poke his head over the fence from time-to-time, observe the work we were doing, and to tell us, in his limited English, “It is good.”

And it was good, we thought. A garden was a neat trick, and finally we had a backyard we could be proud of. Everything in the garden appeared to be thriving— and then the lettuce bolted.

Bolting, I have since learned, is the process by which a plant goes to seed when faced with danger, in this case the onset of summer heat. In this last-ditch attempt at propagation, our lettuces suddenly grew tall with a thick ugly stalk and their leaves became too bitter for eating. Lettuce season was finished, finally, and we were a bit grateful at a reprieve from green salad.

So that was bolting. Never before have I learned so much in such a short time as I have from our garden. We also learned the way cucumbers grow with their yellow blossom at one end and the stem at the other, and that until they’re ripe they are spiky to the touch. We learned, with regret, that carrots in clay soil won’t grow downwards, and turn into a horrible mangled knot of root instead. We learned not to put the barbecue so close to the tomato plant, and that in spite of burns, tomatoes will persevere.

We learned that a melon plant can take over the entire garden, its vine spreading wherever there is room to grow, wrapping merciless tentacles around everything in its wake. That red peppers come into season later than green peppers, quite obviously it seems now, because of the additional sunlight and energy necessary for its fruit to blush.

Our garden was blooming, and although the lettuce was gone, we had the rest of the salad. Even though we had to pick the workmen’s cigarette butts out of the tomato plants, and I kept finding bent nails in the soil.

We knew we were doing particularly well the day the boy next door— the old man’s grandson— called over the fence to tell us that our garden was cool. “I like it,” he said. “It’s way better than the rats that used to be back there.”

Recently I read that it is difficult to grow watermelon. Apparently watermelon are quite sensitive to wind, require enormous amounts of sunlight, but if you provide them with a great deal of care and attention, your own may prosper. Which I found surprising considering the gorgeous melons nearly ready-to-eat in our own little laissez-faire patch of earth. We have had ample beginners’ luck, it seems, but then never has a garden needed it more.

It was August soon and the cantaloupe was ready. One afternoon we cut the first one open, revealing the perfection of its orange flesh, dark green around the edges, and the miraculous mess of seeds inside. We were sitting down to eat and I was about to devour my half, just like all the melons I’d taken for granted before, when I realized that only moments ago, here had been a living thing. A dramatic realization— food comes from somewhere— though of course I ate that melon all the same. But I didn’t just eat it, rather I savoured it. I appreciated it. And without a doubt, the melon tasted better for it.

This summer we’ve learned what a long haul it is to the table, even if it’s only the distance from the yard.

August 26, 2007

Itadekimasu

“What does it mean exactly, itadekimasu?” I asked Sayaka over our sushi lunch yesterday– the Japanese equivalent of “let’s eat”, or “Bon appetit”. She explained that it means “I will take your life,” and it was a message of thanks to the food we were about to eat. Grace, I suppose, without a god. I think Barbara Kingsolver would approve (I think Barbara Kingsolver may have replaced Jesus in our household). And I love it. I will stop italicizing itadekimasu, and it will enter my vernacular. As non-religious people, we have to seek to live our lives in thoughtful ways, and I think this is a good tradition to take along with us.

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Mitzi Bytes

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