Friday, December 17, 2010

Planning your Garden...part 1

Ok I know its December.  You're probably thinking about shovelling snow and getting ready for the holidays....and NOT thinking about gardening...

Truth be told, I never stop thinking about gardening...but in reality gardening doesn't stop just because you aren't weeding or harvesting right at the moment.  You have to put a bit of thought into planning your garden and this is what today's post is all about.

Part one of this series is going to talk about looking at what you'll be planting come springtime.

Take Stock of Your Eats

The first way to decide what you want to grow in your garden is to take a look at what you like to eat!
Sounds easy...doesn't it?

For people who love vegetables or for those who subscribe to a vegan or vegetarian diet...its simple, but for those who aren't as familiar with gardening or vegetables...this very simple act may take more thought...and time!

I say start now by looking at the types of recipes you make for your family and looking at your grocery bills.  You'll start to notice vegetables you purchase all the time, and never thought about growing.  Perhaps this year will be the year you try it!

I'll give you a short list of the kinds of vegetables we eat on a weekly basis:

  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Squash
  • cucumbers
  • sweet peppers
  • broccoli
  • onions
  • asparagus
  • tomatoes
  • herbs
  • lettuce greens
  • spinach
  • peas
  • beans
  • zucchini
Let's look closer at this list...

Asparagus can be grown but requires at least 3 years of growing before you can the long run its far more cost effective to grow your own.  Since you won't be able to rotate a crop like asparagus, you'll need to select an area that will provide great conditions year after year for your plants.  (but its worth it!)

Tomatoes grow like crazy if you give them proper you'll want to give them lots of space in the garden!

Lettuce greens can not be stored in any conventional way (that I'm aware of), so you'll want to consider staggering your plants to maximize your growing season.  If you decide to build a cold frame you could very well have fresh picked greens from April to late November!  That's a huge savings at the grocery store and your salad will have a ridiculously low carbon food print.

Broccoli and Sweet Peppers take some time to get if you're starting from'll want to set aside a warm area in February and start your seeds in advance of planting them in the ground.  Peppers do not like cold soil, and they shouldn't be planted in the soil before the middle of you can start now by setting aside some pots and potting soil in the area you want to reserve for pre-season growing.  (Wait until February...I'll be featuring a post all about it!)

Peas and Beans can be stored throughout the you'll want to stock up on Ziploc bags when the back to school sales are on!  Although this method is quite labour can rest easy knowing that almost NO fossil fuels were used in getting these green delights to your table.  Yes, the frozen varieties in the freezer department are pretty cheap...but they can come from far away...meaning the carbon footprint on your peas could be as big as your CAR!  

Every year our family gets adventurous and tries out at least 1 hybrid and 1 new vegetable.  Last year we tried out purple tomatoes and eggplants.  I love experimenting this way, since all you really lose is the cost of the seeds or plant.  If you decide you don't like that never have to grow it again...but you just may LOVE it!   

Another method of selecting your veggies would be to take a look in your favorite cookbook.  Copy or dog-ear the pages of recipes you'd like to try and see if there are any veggies you can grow in your garden.  I did the reverse this past year....we grew eggplants and aside from grilling them, I had no idea what to DO with them!  I poured over cookbooks and web sites...only to find that I was without some ingredients and often the eggplant wasn't so fresh by the time I went to make the dish.  This year I will have a plan!  I have already set aside tomato, zucchini and eggplant when the glorious time comes...I'll be ready willing and able to make these delicious dishes! 

Another reason for planning ahead, is if you order your seeds from a catalogue.  You'll want to make sure you know what you want, prior to that you receive the seeds in time!  (see what I said about sweet peppers above)

Check back for further posts about planning...

And a contest coming this January!!! 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Carrot Cake is actually good for you?

So forgetting the fact that my recipe contains 1 whole cup of refined white sugar....and nevermind that I like my carrot cake to have a 50% ratio of cake to icing content...I am convinced that carrot cake is good for you!

Allow me please to elaborate...

I recently ran into an article on and it reported that we should definitely increase our intake of certain spices.  So I did some research on my own regarding the spices included in my favorite dessert. 

Nutmeg:  increases blood circulation and stimulates nerve cells, eases digestion
Cinnamon: one of the world's oldest spices, used for regulating blood sugar levels, very high in antioxidant qualities
Cloves:  stimulates the throat chakra (in Ayurvedic medicine), strengthens the thyroid gland.
Allspice: relieves indigestion and gas

Although not a spice, I include walnuts in my cake...partly because of the protein...but also because:

Walnuts: are one of the only plant based sources of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, cleanses the liver.

To top it all off, I used the last of this year's carrots from our garden...adding the the healthful, natural feel to this cake.

I was actually amazed that carrots can be stored in a root cellar, in wet sand, for most of the winter!  I discovered that nugget of information whilst reading my favorite gardening book "The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook" by Cam Mather.  He has a root cellar and has been root cellaring for a few years now.  I am facinated by the idea of storing food without using hydro electricity!  It is my intent to try a root cellar experiment next year...but that would involve cleaning a section of the basement...which is a bigger task that you'd think!

So I'll include my dreamy carrot cake recipe that I am borrowing from the quintessential "Joy of Cooking" cookbook.  Including the cream cheese frosting recipe...merry christmas!

Carrot Cake

preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 12 x 9 inch pan.

I do everything in the food begin by adding:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

blend until mixed thoroughly

add 3/4 cup of vegetable oil
3 large eggs

blend thoroughly

add 1 1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup golden raisins
handful of walnut pieces

blend slightly until ingredients are mixed throughout

scrape into greased pan and bake for 30-35 min

allow to cool on stovetop and then you can prepare icing

Cream Cheese Icing

Again using the food processor, add 8 oz cream cheese (cold), 2 cups of icing sugar and 5 tbsp room temp butter or marg. 
This recipe calls for 2 tsp of vanilla, but I use about 2 TBSPs of vanilla....i do love my vanilla!
Blend above ingredients and spread on cake.


Monday, December 6, 2010

The Great Dandelion Coffee Experiment...

My husband and I are great for trying anything....especially when it comes to cooking and gardening!

My son Noah always called them wishing flowers...he always hated it when we mowed the lawn....bye bye wishing flowers!  Lawn maintenance aside, we all know how much people have grown to dislike the lowly little yellow flower. 
Wishing flowers in action!

This summer I was fortunate enough to get a hold of a copy of Susanna Moodie's novel "Roughing it in the Bush".  This woman wrote of her own experiences in the first hand regarding the settling of the Cobourg/Douro area of Hastings County (Peterborough for the sake of argument).  One of the best statements made in the book was "Necessity has truly been termed the mother of invention".  This became my mantra during my unemployment of the past year.

During the winter of 1835, a particularly scarce and difficult year, Mrs Moodie discovered that dandelion roots provided a better coffee than could be found in stores.  Now that was in the 1800's, prior to international trading on a large scale.  Juan Valdez's coveted beans were probably not in the store Mrs Moodie was shopping in.  Her description of the discovery and the process for procuring the drink was so interesting that we HAD to give it a try.  She mentions that dandelion coffee has the opposite effect of coffee beans, allowing the drinker to be calmer and more apt to sleep.

While digging up our parsnips, we were able to find a few dandelions that had survived in the warm fall weather this year.  The long, slender taproots are very similar to parsnips.  They were also all about 5-6 inches long.  We cleaned the taproots gently, as Susanna suggests, so we didn't scrub off the delicate brown skin that gives the drink the flavour.  Once cleaned, we laid the roots out to dry for 2 weeks in a warm spot on our counter top.  We then attempted the roasting.  There were no instructions in Mrs Moodie's book about the she was roasting over a wood stove.  After having roasted our roots on 200 degrees F for about an hour, we ground the roots and straight into the coffee percolator.  Ches brewed the drink twice just in case.  Again, Mrs Moodie talked about brewing the drink on the wood stove until it was thick and dark like the coffee beverage, so we were trying to get that same consistency. 

Result:  If you've ever had the Celestial Seasonings "Sleepytime" Tea, you'll know what flavour to expect from your Dandelion Coffee.  It was very aromatic and floral. 

Things we learned:  Perhaps the next time we try this we'll skip the coffee pot and try the stove for the brewing.  Also, we have since discovered, in other resources, that the roasting should be done for 4 hours instead of one.  Note to self for the next trial!

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Gayle, who loaned me the book in the first place, as well as Mrs Susanna Moodie herself for writing about her adventures, trials and tribulations as a testiment to the Canadian spirit.

Susanna Moodie 1803-1885

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maple Syrup and the Winter Blues...

Its around this time of year that I generally think about maple syrup.  Its not tapping season, its not the pancake breakfasts that happen throughout the summer here in Verona....its the time of year that the real stuff gets very scarce!  If you consider its the farthest time of the year since the tapping last kinda makes sense. 

We love us some maple syrup in our house....and not just because of the home made pancakes that get served under them!  (although they are a huge plus!)

From my days with the tree trimming crew in Oshawa Hydro, I remember Stan Turk telling me all about the types of trees out there.  He'd give me a daily quiz on tree species, that was when I found out that sugar maples are in fact the only maple that actually produces the sap to create the wonderful syrup. 

When I first moved to the country, I made an effort to buy locally and support the folks I shared a community with.  The first time I tried to purchase maple syrup I was asked what kind I wanted.....I was like a deer in the head lights....what kind?  The syrup-y kind, of course!

Here's a run-down on the types available if you know where to buy:

Light:  Pale golden, with a delicate flavour, almost watery in texture
Medium: Light amber, rich but mild in flavour
Amber:  Medium amber, with a robust flavour
Dark: Dark amber and very strong in flavour, very sticky and syrupy

My personal favorite is the Medium but it seems like its the favorite of everyone else in South Frontenac as it sells out the quickest.  Its the best of both get a light syrup with a very pleasing flavour.  It doesn't hit you over the head with sweetness.  Each person I've spoken with at the farmer's market over the years has their favorite eating syrup and their best syrup for cooking.

It was very recently that I've been discovering the nutritional properties of the real maple syrup!  What a bonus!

Maple Syrup50 cal/15 ml
Fructose46 cal/15 ml
Brown Sugar51 cal/15 ml
Corn Syrup60 cal/15 ml
Honey64 cal/15 ml
Not too shabby!

When you compare with other sweeteners, its hands down a great natural alternative to refined sugars. 

Add this information with the following stats and your natural conclusion might be to start adding maple syrup to everything!

Maple Syrup has about the same 50 cal/tbsp as white cane sugar. However, it also contains significant amounts of potassium (35 mg/tbsp), calcium (21 mg/tbsp), small amounts of iron and phosphorus, and trace amounts of B-vitamins. Its sodium content is a low 2 mg/tbsp.

Maple syrup can be declared a good source of 3 essential elements - calcium, iron and thiamin.

( source: )

Maple syrup still contains 43 grams of carbs per 50ml serving, so don't go crazy if you are counting carbs or a diabetic.

Here is a great recipe for the pancake lover in you.  Its packed with hidden proteins so its actually the pancake that is GOOD for you!!!


Quinoa Pancakes

1 cup cooked quinoa
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon course salt
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus more for skillet
1/4 cup lowfat milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
fresh fruit or fruit preserves (optional) for serving
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together quinoa, flour, baking powder, and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk together egg, egg white, butter, milk, and syrup until smooth. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and whisk to combine.
  2. Lightly coat a large nonstick skillet or griddle with butter and heat over medium-high. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into skillet. Cook until bubbles appear on top, 2 minutes. Flip cakes and cook until golden brown on underside, 2 minutes. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with more melted butter and remaining batter (reduce heat to medium if overbrowning). Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit or preserves if desired.
Makes about 12.

One cake

Total Fat (g)

Carbs (g)

Fiber (g)

Sugar (g)

Protein (g)

( source: )

I have more maple syrup recipes...but you'll just have to wait until spring time for those yummy treasures!

Until next time....