Thursday, June 30, 2011

Purslane stir fry....dig in!

Tonite was a special foraged meal....because it proves just how much we've learned during this whole gardening thing. 

We used to bust our backs weeding for hours and hours.  (I'm strange though....I LOVE weeding)  The point being we discovered (by way of Brigitte Mars, master herbalist) that what we thought were weeds, were actually purslane!  At the end of last season, we left some of the stranger looking weeds to grow.  The purslane flowered these cute little yellow flowers here and there.  That's what helped me identify them officially.  The are chubby stalks with meaty leaves.  The stalks are green or red depending on the type of purslane it is.  It turns out we have an obsene amount of sea purslane in our garden and its all edible.

Our radish row that has more purslane than radish.

We created you may find yourself doing the more you garden.

Purslane stir fry
 It started with simmering 1/2 a cup of diced white onions in veg oil until clear.

Then we added diced orange peppers and diced ham (we had to eat our ham up tonite...but next time I would use almonds instead!).  Approx. 1/2 cup of each.

I dumped in a cup and a bit of pre cooked wild 5 grain rice from the bulk barn.  It added a wonderful nutty taste to the fry up.  Simmer on med for about 5 min.  I splashed in a lid and a half of lemon juice.  A couple of grind from our coriander grinder (grown 2 years ago and getting low!) and a dash of red pepper flakes.  S & P to taste.  Then we added a generous handful of washed, rinsed and spun purslane.

How much for that purslane in the window?
The purslane is already quite peppery so I could have left out the black pepper.  The salt made the purslane taste almost like edamame (steamed salted soya beans)!  We already tried it cold in a previous post.  When raw it tastes like spinach and pepper's lovechild.  It tastes even more healthy in salads than spinach (and I am a hardcore spinach fan). When cooked, purslane tastes like spinach crossed with a legume.

All in all, I'm considering taking purslane to the farmer's market and setting up a stand...samples daily.  Its so versatile and we've only just begun to figure out the possibilities.

Please, send me you purslane recipes...if you have any.  Or if you choose to experiment with this years weeds, let me know what you come up with.  We're up for anything!

Check out my facebook page too...there are bi-weekly picture updates of our garden this year.  The occassional tip or trick.  Sometimes additional recipe pictures too!  You never know what you're gonna find.  My facebook community has been a source of information as well as support.  Thanks guys and dolls!      

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Its a little bit late, but strawberry season is upon us (although I think its just about done at this our area anyway) 

Our strawberry plants took 3 years to make a decent crop.  Growing strawberries is definitely a labour of love and an act of patience.  I was hoping it would be worth it in the long run, but like anything in the garden, you never know how its going to turn out.  This year seemed to be a jackpot, so I decided to forgo the annual strawberry picking trip and try our hand at home harvesting our load of freezer jam.  Its one of our favorite fishing trip snacks as well as a bedtime snack (PB&J sandwiches) so we go through a lot of it!

In previous years, we have gone to two different pick your own places in our area.  Both were 20 min drive away, so I felt good about not using any fossil fuels to get to our berries for a change.  Fruition Berry Farm off of Hwy 15 and Paulridge Berry Farm north of Napanee on Palace rd are both great places.  The kids have enjoyed both farms for picking.  The one thing I'll say is that Paulridge had a lovely shaded area for the kids to play in...which was a welcome site after a couple of hours in the field under a burning hot sun.  Paulridge is typically not open on that's when we opted for Fruition.  The best part about Fruition is they have THE best teenagers working there.  Helpful, polite and eager...which is a great thing when you have a crazy moment of thinking you can pick berries with a 2 yr old in a yourself!  (I clearly didn't think that one through)  Both places run about $8.50 per big white basket.  You can bring your own containers and they weigh them on site.  We purchased the big white baskets years ago...for a whole $0.50 a basket.  It added a bit to the price of our berries, but we've used them every year AND we use them in our garden too.  A good investment indeed! 

We picked our first batch and ate most of them, throwing some into pancakes to start.  By the second and third pickings, we had enough to make jam.

Crushed berries (1 3/4 cups worth in a liquid measuring cup), 3 cups of white sugar (I cut down the recipe from 4 cups, as our berries were small and super sweet), 2 tbps lemon juice and one packet of Certo.  Its the fabulous no cook recipe!  Stir the sugar and berries and let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and let set for 10 min.  

Fill plastic containers so that there is about 1 inch left before the lid.  Let stand (covered) on a countertop for 24 hrs.

Freeze in the freezer! 

That's it!  That was all there is to it!!!  We ended up with 6 plastic containers in the freezer, 4 strawberry and 2 strawberry rhubarb.  Now the next sweet berry will be the raspberry.  Blue berries follow shortly after that.  We aren't in a good part of Ontario for peaches or cherries...but one can still hope. 

I have several strawberry recipes that I want to test out this year, but I may have to resort to local picked berries.  Our patch seems to have stopped producing for this year anyway. 

I was so excited to plant strawberries 3 years ago, that I had no idea there were types of strawberries.  I had no idea there was a variety called the ever-bearing strawberry.  Now that I know, I will pass along this piece of advise.  RESEARCH before you do our plants are now so would be a shame to dig them all up now.  However, the idea of having strawberries for longer than the month of June is almost to much to bear!

Now all that's left to do in our strawberry patch is to keep on top of the runners, which will continue to try and make new strawberry plants until the fall comes.  Its quite a bit of work, but, like I said, its a labour of love.

Are you making any preserves with the sweetness of Ontario summer?  Tell me about it!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Delightful Summer Starter!

I've been so obsessed with foraging lately that my garden (in its infant stages) is losing some of its luster.  Don't get me wrong, I'm loving how the garden is taking off right now.  Its just hard to be patient for each thing to mature.  I definitely don't like waiting.  While I wait for the bounty that my garden will provide eventually...I've started to open my eyes to what nature is already those who know what to look for....and when.

I look around me and see the supermarket at our door steps now.  The cattail is something I've always seen in the landscape but rarely do they ever make it to my plate...ok never have they made it to my plate.  I read an article about them in Outdoors Canada magazine.  It was the Food Special Edition called "The Best of Living Off the Land" October 2009.  The article talked about what you could do but was lacking in pictures.  I need a visual to help me through the process.  Thats when I discovered The 3 Foragers blog!  See below for the link to their cat tail post:

Best pics ever!

Then they went and posted this video of their outing with Blanche Derby.  It made me wish we had a Blanche Derby around these parts.  Then I figured I might as well become the local Blanche.  Why not?

FYI Verona, Ontario is host to the 2nd annual Cattail festival and hopefully I can wow them with my recipe further on down the post!

Its the time of year for picking cattails, but its also a great intro to the season of purslane.  I first heard of eating pursland from Brigitte Mars.  Her video shows her in the garden and pointing it out, but alas, no recipes.  Turns out we're regular purslane farmers and didn't know you could eat this stuff!  They grow in abundance in our garden patches and we've been weeding it out every year. 

Here is Brigitte Mars talking about purslane, Ghandi's favorite food:

I showed my darling husband the cattail posts...the next thing I knew he was bringing home a bunch of the male cattail flowers!!!  He also harvested the tender shoots at the base of the plant.  Then he had a basket in the garden and was grabbing purslane leaves.  The result was an amazing summer breakfast-for-dinner affair!

A shot of the whole brilliant meal

Sunny-side up Dill eggs, Cattail on the cob, Tomato, Onion & Cattail shoot salad on purslane with whole wheat toast

I'll break this down for you:

Sunny Side up Dill eggs with fresh dill from the baby herb garden.  Just another reason why we're seriously contemplating raising hens in our shed....

Cattail on the Cob is what I'm going to call this from now on.  You take the male part of the flower before it has pollenated the female part (which eventually puffs out and becomes the brown part we all identify with cattails).  You simmer in water for a few minutes then brush with butter and sprinkle on salt just like corn on the cob!  Strange but true.

Close up on the cattail on the cob

Eats just like corn on the cob!

Don't eat the stem...

Tomato, Onion and Cattail shoot salad served on purslane is a wonderful fresh salad.  The cattail shoot are like artichoke hearts...tender and soft.  They taste like a strange hybrid of cucumber and celery with a cucumber texture.  If you can't bite through it easily, you'll need to peel off a few layers and try another bite.  I chopped up 2 tomatoes, not even 1 half of an onion, a dozen or so cattail shoots, fresh cilantro from the garden then added a tbsp of veg oil, a half a lid of white vinegar, a full lid of lemon juice and fresh ground salt and pepper to taste.  It was like a fresh tomato-cuke salad but way better!  The purslane adds a peppery taste to the mix.  Like you added hot spinach or something.  A very interesting twist on the usual fare.  We would definitely have this again...perhaps as a side to fresh caught fish? 

The salad that rocked!

All dressed up with purslane and ready for eating! 
 A great resource for purslane recipes is the link below:

I look at the swamps and my garden with eyes wide open now.  It's amazing what you can find, when you train your eyes.  You can literally find food ANYWHERE!  Its a very liberating feeling.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Asparagus Anxiety...

This year started out great for our asparagus!  It was daily picking for a while there.  I felt spoilt with my asparagus lunch bags at work. 

Then one day I saw them.  And I remembered why last years picking was so dismal.  These annoying little black bugs with red wings eat the spears for lunch and laid eggs on the stalks!  They were back!!!  I found them a few weeks ago.  I yanked the afflicted stakes hoping that would throw them off the scent...but to no avail. 

My facebook page for this blog turned out to be just as much for my help as it was for others.  My friend Shelley posted a simple solution for getting rid of pests organically.  Dish soap!  We added some to a spray bottle and doctored the asparagus patch for a few consecutive days.

Bam.  Like that.  Well not quite that dramatic, but it seemed like we were back in the asparagus business.

I celebrated with one of my favorite reasons to grow asparagus.  You can make those hoity-toity omlettes you pay big bucks for in restaurants. 

Asparagus makes a triumphant return to our table!
 Asparagus omlette with Moors & Christians on Spinach:


2 egg omlette with 1% milk, Stirling butter and Wilton cheese. 
Asparagus steamed (over my son's hard boiling eggs no less!  Can I say I reused the steam?) 

Moors & Christians:

1 can of black beans, fried in 2 tbsp veg oil, 1/4 cup of diced white onions, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/4 tsp cumin, S & P


Wild and brown rice mix and fresh garden spinach, with fresh, local, hot house tomatoes on top!

I love the eggs and the rice together.  I love the blend of cool and hot flavours to savour.  The rice and beans remind me of my sister's wedding in Costa Rica.  The tomatoes and spinach make me feel proud of my garden.  So much emotions on one plate!  Thank goodness it was too delicious to be too sentimental.  In addition, this meal (minus the beans and the rice) has a realitvely small carbon foot print (meaning most of the ingredients came from VERY close to my home, making less carbon to get to my plate) and it generated almost NO garbage.  The bulk of the waste was composted here, with the expection of the metal beans can and the plastic bag from the rice that will both get recycled.  Gastronomically healthy to boot!

I also wanted a chance to explain my disappointments in the garden and (in this case) my triumph over pests.  My garden is pretty organic considering all I actively do water with cached rain and weeding manually.  I don't spray or treat my garden in any way.  I prefer to let nature take its course.  Its hard not to get protective on something you've watched grow from seed, but bugs gotta eat too right?  So thank you to Shelley for helping me keep my garden from becoming a radioactive test site.  (I was tempted, I really do love me some asparagus!) 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Garden Art...concrete step stones

In The Garden by Peggy Collins was more than just a cute kids actually inspired me to decorate my garden!!!  There was a few pages that had the wee gardener walking in his garden on tiles of some sort...I instantly thought "What a great idea!".

I rolled the idea around in my brain for a few weeks, trying to figure out the cheapest way to pull this off...without spending a fortune at the Home Hardware store or Michael's Crafts.  So far the whole mess cost me a big $25.  THATS IT!!!

I bought a big bag of sand mix concrete for $20 and a $5 bag of jewels from a yard sale.  Everything else, we already owned...and was just taking up space anyway.

Below is a step by step illustration of how I created garden walkway stones, personalized for our family.

The concrete....enough for 50 stones!!!

the yard sale jewels

The largest springform from a set we never actually used for cooking

The spring form lined with a plastic bag and some plastic wrap to help the whole mess pop out easier 

Mixing bucket, water in a watering can and a fork for mixing out the lumps

took me a few tries to get the right mix of water to concrete, you're going for mud pie consistancy

Owen making sure nothing touches the wet concrete (sort of)

finished product - still drying

popped out of the form...looks pretty rock-like!

some hands fit better than others...tee hee
All in all this was a pretty fun craft.  It all went together pretty quick, it was the drying time that took forever.  When my mix was wetter, it took a full 24 hrs before I could pop it out of the springform.  The day I took these pics, it was sunny, hot and windy, so my rock popped out in under 12 hours....go figure.

Have fun with this!  Make a statement.  Or just be decorative.  I really liked that my son Owen wants our neighbour's son Andrew to have a rock in our garden.  In the end, this was kind of like a bonding experience too.   

my very first rock attempt...a little busy on the beads
 Send me your pics of how you like to make your garden showy!  I'd love to see everyone's take on personalizing your patch of earth.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Perennials...the easy way to garden!

The wonderful thing about owning land is that you can finally get started on those plants that take a long time to establish.  You have time on YOUR side!  I love the idea that you can plant some things, virtually forget about them and they'll keep on giving you wonderful gifts EVERY YEAR!

I thought I would dedicate this post to the plants and things that you can purchase now, plant and enjoy for years to come.  Now since I've already discussed asparagus so far, I will avoid them for right now.  Just note that asparagus also falls into the "easy garden" category. 

My neighbour's apple tree in full bloom!

I have been reading Suzanna Moody's sister's book "The Canadian Settler's Guide" by Catherine Parr-Traill.  There is a whole chapter on how the apple tree or orchard can add so much to the home.  Back in the 1830's they dried their apples and rehydrated them for use all winter long...that long as the mice didn't find them first.  Poor Suzanna's neighbour dried out her apples but when she went to collect them the neighbour only gave her 3 bits of dried apple...saying the mice found them under their bed and ate a feast.  (Under a bed???  Surely the rafters would have been a better place in those days!)  Apples store well over the early months of the winter.  They also freeze well for later use.  I was so intrigued with the dehydrating idea, that we may be looking for a dehydrator come this fall. 

There is a great debate over whether or not you must spray for bugs with apple trees.  My mother in law swears by the stickey cup method to attract bugs away from the precious fruit.  Plant an apple tree and let me know how that turns out.  For now we are happy to pick our neighbour's tree (with her permission) and seek out the local U-pick farms.  Its a GREAT family activity.

10 plants turned into THIS...

Strawberries in bloom May 20-2011


Strawberries are wonderful to have at home.  They take a whole season of care for only a few weeks of fruit.  Nothing in the world beats going out to your patch in the morning to grab some fresh berries to add to pancakes or just to sprinkle on cereals or yoghurt.  We planted 10 plants a few years ago and they EXPLODED!  Its been quite a challenge to keep the plants from taking over our parking lot!  (top pic you can see the bumper of my car)  The runners are a naturally produced survival technique.  Each plant may produce an infinite amount of runners per season.  Our first year we let the runners go wild....the second year we picked any runners we saw.  You can never get all of them, but it definitely helps the plants produce more fruit than plant.  All of its energy is spent on fruit production rather than making a bigger, greener plant.  Last year, the berries came way too early and the rains kept us inside most of the time.  The robins were thrilled....they got most of the berries before we had a chance to pick them.  That's nature for you! 

Originally this bed held flowers of all types, but we aren't flower people, so we dug them all up and decided what we were going to put in the bed.  We chose a perennial for the bed, as its very tough to turn that soil in the walled in space in the front yard.  Its also impossible to get a tiller in there.  We picked strawberries for that bed because strawberries like a slightly acidic soil.  We were able to cover the soil with cedar chips without fear the acidity would affect other growing things nearby (its just berries there!) 

Owen poses with the wild black raspberries we trained across our fence

When we first moved into our home, we noticed a corner of the parking lot that had wild black raspberry canes peaking out from around the fence.  We decided to let them flourish!  By keeping other plants and vines at bay, the canes are able to take as much sun and rain as it likes.  After the first year, the canes were starting to bow towards our cars!  Thats when we started training them down our fence (using gloves of course....ouch!)  Raspberry canes are quick take care.  Luckily you won't have to fuss with the canes much.  They do their own things and by mid june we'll have scads of berries!  We usually freeze some and pick and eat the rest fresh.  They are certainly longer lasting than the strawberry counter-parts.  We can pick raspberries for almost 2 months before the August heat does the poor guys in. 

I absolutely adore it when we send out the boys with a basket each and they pick their own....still in pj's.

Our disappointing blueberries

We had another awkward area for planting.  We had tried lettuce and herbs in the area previously...but the big manitoba maple blocks out a substantial amount of sun throughout the day.  I grabbed about 6 blueberry shrubs and only 4 survived.  The are still only twigs after 3 years.  I feel like there is something we are missing when it comes to this patch as well as blueberries in general.  We treated the soil with natural cedar chips as well.  Blueberries love the acidic addition to the soil.  So far they have only produced a few flowers each and the robins nab the berries before we've been able to taste a single one. 

Our experience with blueberries has been disappointing at best, but my husband is still optimistic.  Me?  I'm getting tired of weeding the area without any return.  (I'd love to dig them up and relocae them to someone else's property, personally!)  Our sad experiences with blueberries makes me jealous of those who live in the hwy 7/Kaladar area...they seem to be sitting on a gold mine of blueberries!

Garlic Chives


It doesn't matter the type of chives you grow...they all rock!  A baked potato is nothing without these green lovelies.  We FOUND them growing in the area that is now our flat bed garden, now tranplanted beside our BBQ right out the door from our kitchen!  Snip as you need them, they grow back bigger and better all season long.  Snip, wash and chop.  Add to a freezer bag and you have chives all winter long.  You can dry them too, but the frozen kind always taste more fresh.  

We have continued to cultivate garlic chives.  They are a broader leaf variety and sound snooty.  Not just chives, but garlic chives.     

Rhubarb is getting bigger!


I'll be doing another rhubarb post shortly...ours is getting out of control!  Rhubarb also freezes well, since when you cook with it, it turns to mush anyway.  Freeze them chopped or whole, both are just as easy to cook with.  They are a great source of vitamin C and other anti-oxidants.  Not a fan of the taste?  Add white sugar and try not to love them. 

All of the above-listed plants and trees are a great way to get into gardening.  There is very little expense put into them and they last for many years.  Talk about getting the most bang for your buck!

Have you got perennial plants in your garden plan?

Friday, June 3, 2011

LOCAL BIZ: A trip to Burt's Greenhouses in Odessa

The time has finally come....for us to take our annual trip to Burt's Greenhouses.  Just north of the 401 at Odessa, or aroun 15 minutes one way from our house in Verona.  It turned into a whole family excursion.

Every year we trek on over to Brian Burt's place and raid the veggie plants section.  There are still a few veggies I buy as plants, as I don't have the proper set up for greenhousing myself.  Its just a little easier to buy them already on their way...and trust me, there is still a lot to go wrong even if you don't start your veggies as seeds.  Typically we buy tomatoes, eggplants and some other veggies we haven't tried before.

Its like a grocery store!  You walk down each aisle and wonder "What do I want to eat 2-3 months from now?"  The kids really get into it, even if they can't envision the end result some months off. 

These guys really know their stuff...and they do it in the greenest way possible.  Their greenhouses are heated with a biomass (I won't go into it...if you're curious, Google BIOMASS) or click on the Environmental tab on Burt's website to find out in depth how they do it.

We wheel around the greenhouses looking at wonderous colours and shapes.  I learned the name of the garden I always dream alpine garden!  A rocky sandy garden with nothing but ground cover plants...lots of succulents (another word I learned there!)

Owen learned that the hedge around this sand box smelled was like lavender and lemons wafting in the spring/summer breeze!

I love the display of gardening next to the greenhouses...showing you what you could do with everything you just saw in pots and rows inside the greenhouses.  It was beautiful and smelled great!  (You could tell when you passed a lemon or bee balm)  What a beautiful display!  Something every one of us enjoyed milling around.

In the end, we came home with what may not look like much.  A small collection of leafy things.  If you look closer (and use your imagination) you can see a 3 meter long row of white onions, a huge patch of sweet potato vines, a couple of new pepper varieties (Trinidad peppers, Purple peppers x 4, Peppers Fooled Ya), 4 Glamour red tomato plants, 4 Lemon boy yellow tomato plants, 4 eggplant plants just dripping with pink and purple flowers, sweet millions cherry tomatoes heavy with fruit, an ostrich fern that will hopefully supply us with fiddleheads next spring and a paddypan squash plant that I can't wait to get growing!!!  So much on such a wee palette and only $30 or so.  Very easy on the wallet.

If you  haven't planted anything yet, or you just aren't sure where to start...a quick zip out to Burt's will help you out.  You'll know you bought your plants from a reputable and local supplier who is intent on shrinking their carbon footprint.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gardening with Kids....(it is possible)

There is only one thing better than gardening...and that's gardening with children.

I love being able to show my kids how their food grows, how to grow a thing and how to connect with nature.  I try to include them in every step of the process...although I have to admit, their attention span is not always the greatest.  The trick is to not push the issue.  If my kids want to help, great...if not, they can play with toys in the backyard while mum works in the garden.

Both kids are fine with this arrangement...but it occured to me that I've taken our kids in the garden for granted!  If there are of of my followers who wish to know how to break into the gardening world WITH their on....


An easy way to get kids to like gardening is to plant foods they like.  Yeah, yeah, I AND veggies???  She must be nuts....but most kids love thats a good place to start.  Peas have pretty flowers and vines that climb like spiderman.  They also come in handy packages that are fun to open.  Waat's not to love?  Cherry tomatoes are also a great start too, they actually come in small mouth sizes!  Pumpkins are also cool to grow, because at the end of the year, they make great Halloween decorations.  


We planted eggplants last year.  Owen had never had them before.  Watching them grow beautiful flowers and then the odd shaped fruit was amazing.  I tried to explain to Owen that they were eggplants.  He was definitely confused...but mum, eggs don't come from plants!!!  See?  The learning and laughing never ends.


While I am normally not a fan of prepackaged things, these items were a big hit with Owen.  His nana bought some cups at the grocery store in Verona, with the pictures right on them.  You could do the same with Dixie cups and peat pot starters, but the pictures on the sides really drive the point home with Owen.  You can see what it is that is growing from seed...not in some abstract way...but REALLY see what's in each pot.


When our 10 year old was smaller, I researched ways to get his excited about gardening.  One site suggested a worm garden!  I was intrigued.  If you have the space, this is a great idea.  Basically you plant the whole garden, saving a smaller area with nothing in it.  Leave shovels nearby for random digging.  The kids get to "farm" worms while mum weeds the rest of the actual garden.  WARNING:  this activity can kill hours upon hours if your kids are into may not be able to drag them away from it!

Pancake and Vegetable - Owen's worm friends


You can visit your local library and ask what they have in the kids section about gardening.  One of the best books I've ever come across was given to Owen by my Aunt Sharon.  When I first read it, I was perplexed.  How did this lady write a whole book about Owen and has never met him?!?!?!  It is absolutely the cutest and most accurate book to show how kids interpret gardening.  I'll give you some examples...but you really should check this book out for yourselves.  Click on link below to see her website for the book (as well as her other books too)

My son has a few favorite this...

"I watch my garden.  I think maybe plants take a long time to grow."

(Owen watching our garden growing)

And this...

Owen always points out that Mum always says "EAT ONE AT A TIME"...but he never does.  This picture is so accurate...even down to the seeds on the front of his shirt!!!

And his all-time favorite is this...

"In my garden, I am a GIANT.  Things are growing, tiny and green."

Why not get your lil gardener-in-training a copy of this book?  For less than $'s totally worth it!!!

(images reproduced with permission from Peggy Collins herself!  Thanks Peggy!  Owen thoroughly enjoys his garden book...which he still thinks is about himself...tee hee)

UPDATE:   I posted this and the next day we got the next issue of Chirp magazine (Little brother to Owl Magazine, remember that one?)  This month's issue was all things gardening and boy was it cute!!!  Find a copy and enjoy with your kids.