Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer picnics - loving zucchini, cucumber & Ontario peaches...

We are enjoying all the fresh local food available these days - in the garden, zucchini, cucumbers, fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes...and at the market, Ontario plums, apricots and peaches!   The fresh fruit is such a treat.  For a quick outdoor lunch picnic today:  a rustic zucchini pie, and a cucumber-peach salad. 

Rustic Zucchini Pie

1 1/2 cups spelt flour
7 Tbsp margarine or butter
4 Tbsp water
pinch of sea salt

sliced cherry or plum tomatoes, sliced zucchini (Italian Largo worked beautifully), a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of fresh herbs (we used green and purple basil, oregano and thyme), and your favourite cheese (we used goat feta and local mozzarella)

1) Prepare crust.  Roll out into a large oval on lightly floured surface.  Place on lightly greased baking sheet.
2) If you wish, brush crust with lightly beaten egg yolk.  Then layer topping veggies and herbs in concentric circles or other designs on the crust. 
3) Top with generous amounts of fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Sprinkle on cheese.  Roll up sides of crust to form a rustic crimped "pie" edge.
4) Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until crust is golden.  Serve warm, on a rustic wooden platter or cutting board, sliced into squares.  Serves 4.

Cucumber-Peach Salad
2 large peaches, diced
1 large cucumber, diced
1 tsp sea salt
2 green onions, chopped finely
handful of fresh dill and oregano
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil or hemp oil
1 tsp lemon juice
(1 tsp sugar or honey, if you wish)

Combine all ingredients well.   Serve chilled as a refreshing salad on a very hot day!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.  Inspired by the continued beauty and creativity of Soulemama's blog, where she encourages readers to post their own moments.

Birthday celebrations

Someone turned 3 today!  The woodland fairies arrived at our place to celebrate the day: there was a new birthday crown (sewn the night before), favourite stories & popcorn in the tent, then roaming through the gardens, wood-fired personal sized pizzas from the outdoor oven (with our most-loved pizza crust from Feeding the Whole Family), zucchini spice cupcakes (recipe below) topped with fresh local berries (decorated by our 3-year old), and later, dinner outside in the evening with a little campfire.  Lovely day.

Zucchini Spice Cupcakes - wheat-free, dairy-free
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3 farm-fresh or free range organic eggs
1 1/2 cups light spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
pinch of sea salt
1 1/2-1 3/4 cups shredded zucchini, packed

1) Mix margarine, sugars and eggs in a large mixing bowl, stirring well. 
2) Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Add to the margarine/sugar mixture.  Stir until just combined (do not over-mix). 
3) Then fold in zucchini and mix again until just combined. 
4) Pour batter into lightly greased (or lined) cupcake tray.
5) Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, until golden and knife inserted comes out clean.
6) Ice with your favourite icing (as cupcakes), or serve plain (as muffins).  Variations - add nuts, raisins, chocolate chips to the batter.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How do bees carry pollen?

My fascination with the incredible world of bees continues.  I was watching bees buzzing through our echinacea patch today, and for the first time had the opportunity to really notice how they carried the pollen they were foraging.  At first I almost thought we had a new variety of bee in the yard, but it was the pollen heavily laden on the legs of each bee that made them look like they had thick yellow stripes along their sides.  I read that bees have a way of periodically grooming themselves which packs the pollen more tightly into the tracts under their hind legs called "scopa", and allows them to bring it back to the hive or transfer from flower to flower.  Amazing!  I was also reminded of how perfect and beautiful every last detail in nature is - look at the gorgeous symmetry of the echinacea spirals in the last photo here.

First tomatoes

We savoured the first luscious warm ripe tomatoes from the garden today (an heirloom variety called Stupice)!   So worth the wait...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.  Inspired by the continued beauty and creativity of Soulemama's blog, where she encourages readers to post their own moments.

In the garden right now...and fall planting schedule

We're harvesting from the garden right now...
~ last fall peas to be planted shortly
~ first beans (french filet), and more being planted
~ lettuces, tatsoi, swiss chard, purple kale, green kale, collards, red orach
~ last spinach, and more to be planted for fall
~ first tomatoes!  Stupice is the winner for first red ripe tomato this year (even ahead of the cherry tomatoes)
~ first jalapenos and cayennes, and several large green peppers nearly ready
~ loads of basil, as well as other kitchen herbs
~ first zucchini (slow this year)

Coming in August...purple potatoes, corn, ground cherries, tomatillos, other tomatoes, eggplant, cherokee cornfield beans, squash, Brussels sprouts, and watermelon (well, keeping our fingers crossed for that one!)

Now is the time to start planning your fall planting schedule.  Mother Earth News gives an excellent planning guide, based on the first killing frost of your region.  Generally around here (zone 5-6) we have first hard frost in mid October, although you never know.  Some tender plants can last through a few frosts if they are covered with row cover or blankets on those cold nights, or if you have a grow tunnel that is covered with plastic sheeting.  Here are some ideas for a fall planting schedule in our climate:

End of July/early August - start cabbage family seedlings (kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi)
Mid August - set out the cabbage seedlings, and direct plant carrots, leeks, lettuce, peas
Late August/early September - direct plant arugula, spinach, tatsoi, lettuce, other greens, radish
Early Sept/mid September - direct plant spinach, and other greens (chard, kale, mache) into a cold frame
Early Oct/mid October - plant shallots and garlic for next summer's harvest

Harvesting garlic

Oh garlic!  This week was garlic harvest time in our garden.  How do you know when it's time to harvest your garlic?  Different varieties mature at various rates.  For example, Artichoke varieties of garlic mature first, then Rocamboles, then Purple Stripes, then Porceleins, and finally Silverskins.  Knowing your variety is helpful, but if you don't, then in general when the tops of garlic start to die back the garlic is nearing it's time to be harvested. In early summer you have already (hopefully) snipped off the garlic scapes (skeins), in order to send energy down into production of the bulb.  When you start to see the tops of the garlic turning brown and wilting, try to stop watering in order to allow the bulbs to start to curing.  You can dig up one garlic bulb and cut it open to see if the cloves have fully formed - if they are still small, let the garlic remain in the ground a little longer.  However, you don't want them to stay in the ground too long or they may burst open and be susceptible to disease. 

To harvest, dig gently with a pitchfork to loosen the soil.  Brush off the soil, but don't wash the bulbs.  Let them cure out of directy sunlight and heat, with skins on to protect the cloves inside.  Leave the garlic tops long so that the bulbs can be hung in bunches over the winter in a cool dark place with good ventilation.  Garlic is traditionally often braided before it's hung for storage, though there is definitely a knack to getting those braids to look nice and even!  Soft neck varieties are easily stored for half a year, whereas hard neck varieties generally don't keep as long.  Keep a few of your largest healthiest bulbs for planting in the fall.  We usually plant in mid October, for an earlier crop the following summer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wild berry smoothies

A favourite at our house these hot days...any variation on cold berry smoothies.  We love wild foraging berries and already this season have made many mulberry, saskatoon, strawberry, and wild raspberry smoothies - as well as trying currents, elderberries, cranberries, and of course our most loved, blueberries.  Fresh berries have huge health benefits, including vitamin C, lutein (for maintaining healthy eyesight), and flavonoids (which may help in preventing some kinds of cancer).  Plus they taste wonderfully sweet without sugar added, and are a simple refreshing treat.  Here's our homemade recipe, that can be adapted easily to incorporate what you have on hand.  Kids love to help make these smoothies, measuring and adding in all the ingredients one by one.

Wild berry smoothie
1 cup live culture yogurt or kefir
1/3 cup homemade applesauce (no sugar)
1/4-1/3 cup wild berries, or combination of berries (fresh or frozen)
1 large banana
1 tsp hemp oil or flax oil
1 tsp nutritional yeast
optional maple syrup (a dash)
optional pure almond butter (1 Tbsp)

Puree all ingredients together in a blender until well combined.  Add a few ice cubes if you are not using frozen berries to make this an extra cold drink.  Thin the smoothie as you like, using rice milk or pure fruit juice.

Yields: aprox. 2-4 servings

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer kitchens, fire & bread

What a pleasure to use the outdoor cob (wood-fired) oven for summer baking!  On these hot days I am so relieved to keep the house cool and do my weekly bread baking outside - either early morning, or early evening.  I can understand the usefulness of the old fashioned "summer kitchen" (here are some modern design ideas), usually separated from the main house, to do the canning, preserving, summer cooking and dish washing.  It makes so much sense.  This week's breads for the CSA included broa (Portuguese corn bread), 10-grain rustic peasant loaves, multigrain flax Italian sourdough, and savoury pesto rolls.  Each week I get a little better at this, learning the cob oven temperatures and firing techniques to get the proper length of baking heat for the amount of baking I need to get done.  And I am fascinated by the parallels between the fire and the bread - making a fire for a few hours in advance in the same duration of time that the dough is rising, both are an ancient meditative process, both take and give energy, and both are not to be rushed.  I love this cob oven!

New soaps - from the garden

New batches of soap have just come out of the molds - with freshly dried lavender and calendula just harvested from the garden sprinkled on top.  Both soaps are also made with a strong infusion (tea) of lavender and calendula as the base liquid to which the lye is added, so this gives medicinal healing value to the soap bars as well as sweet scent and beauty.  I had to take a short hiatus from soapmaking during the busy May-July garden months, but it's nice to get my hands back into this as I really do love the process of making soap from scratch.  More batches to come soon, as I am getting stocked up again for the fall.

Maya's kitchen

We're so absolutely lucky to have someone in the house who has the skills (and loves) building beautiful projects out of wood - my partner, and Maya's dad - Greg!  We'd been admiring wooden play kitchens in various natural kids shops, but couldn't bring ourselves to purchase one. Yesterday's hot weather found him taking a "break" in the shade of our porch, building the most lovely play kitchen out of wood he'd been saving just for a project of this scale (left over tongue-and-groove boards from the ceiling in our strawbale house addition).  The kitchen includes a real bar-sized sink for washing dishes that can drain into a pail below.  Maya helped with passing tools, measuring boards, and checking the level...and by the end of the day, there it was, ready to fill with stacks of dishes, baskets to hold food, and her tea set.  Definitely going to be an heirloom piece we hold onto, and will get many hours of creative play.  Currently she is drying her own calendula in one basket, "curing" a few bars of soap on the top shelf, and keeping her dishes washed in the sink.   There's been a request for wool felt play food, so I'm working on that. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

These hardworking bees

For those of you in southern Ontario, you may have already noticed that there is an unusually low amount of local cherries available at farmers markets and stores this year.  In the spring, all the cherry trees bloomed beautifully, and around here we were excited to see the abundance of blooms crowding the trees in our neighbourhood and we dreamed about foraging for sweet and sour cherries.  However, we had such a long bout of heavy rain during the short cherry blossoming weeks that the bees were unable to pollinate, and now we are seeing that there are absolutely no cherries growing on any of these trees.  Once again, such a stark and clear example of the invaluable role of bees to our food system!  Luckily, the Niagara region seems to have some cherries, though expensive (understandably) this year, so we got our hands on a few precious quarts that were absolutely delicious. 

Anytime I see bees in our yard, seeking nectar among our flowers and herbs, I am joyful - and hopeful.  If you have any garden space at all, consider planting at least a few bee attracting plants (and let them go to flower).  Try to choose as many native plants as possible for your area - for example, bee balm, oregano, clover, lavender, sunflowers, sage, thyme, mints, catnip, fennel, tansy, hollyhocks, echinacea, roses, berries of all sorts, fruit trees, and also other trees such as hazel, alder, linden, magnolia, maples, poplar, willow.

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.  Inspired by the continued beauty and creativity of Soulemama's blog, where she encourages readers to post their own moments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July garden colours

The fruit, berries, and flowers are gorgeous in the garden right now.  Purple bean flowers, red currants, yellow calendula, orange rudbeckia, crimson bee balm...and bees are buzzing everywhere we turn!

Our apples, grapes and fig are all looking full and we are crossing our fingers for a plentiful harvest this year.  We've been learning more about grape pruning (we like the Rodale organic gardener's guide), giving the fruit lots of air and light, and trying to trust our best instincts.  The next projects for this property (besides the regular weeding, mulching, harvesting, drying, preserving frenzy of this season) are the new greywater pond and the living green roof.  Hopefully these are projects that can be completed in August-September (oh, the summer is flying by)!