Friday, August 31, 2012

passing it on




I didn't always love to garden. I remember quite actively hating to pull weeds when I was about 8. It was a hot, clear day in mid-summer and I had been assigned the job of pulling the 'weeds' - actually seedlings - that were growing under the Nanking Cherry hedge that bordered the large property our home was on. To be honest I was bored; it was mid-summer and the blush had worn off the school holiday. But weeding?! that was boring and unpleasant. Under that thick and long hedge was a mini-forest of seedlings stretching forever! And in that thick and long hedge lived an army of spiders and daddy long legs. shudder.... But it was my assignment and I knew that no matter the complaining I would have to do it. (Don't misunderstand - I complained! but to no effect.) So I muttered and grumbled and climbed under the hedge and pulled most of the weeds. And thought I was done. Ha! Not hardly. Not only was I not done I received a very comprehensive lecture on excellence and achievement no matter the task. I spent a good deal more time under the hedge and finished with not a single seedling left to grow there. It wasn't fun but it was an accomplishment. 

I remember my grandmother's garden. Her pride in the flowers she grew despite the fierce winds of southern Alberta. Her large vegetable garden. I remember shelling the peas from that garden and tossing the pods over the fence to the waiting horses.

I remember my father and his love for growing things. He loved roses and they loved him back. People would slow as they drove by our home to admire the roses he tended. He loved trees and fruiting shrubs. He tended a thriving (and huge) vegetable garden. 

I have learned a lot about nurturing green, growing things since I pulled the seedlings under that hedge. Much of it from books. Some from more experienced gardeners than myself. All of it I wish I had learned from my father and grandmother. I didn't catch the gardening bug until they were no longer here for me to go to with my questions. I think of them often as I work in my garden and feel connected.

This year we planted our vegetable garden with help - Deacon and Aubrie set the seeds and worked alongside their parents and David and I. Now that the garden is bearing and ready to harvest, they are helping again. It is so much fun to see their enthusiasm and hear the excitement in their voices as we pick beans and peas, dig carrots, and pull beets. They have been enthusiastic workers in my garden, helping with whatever I am doing when they are here. I like to think that perhaps they are learning to love some of what I love. That I am passing that link to them.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

summer squash gratin at the lake




We spent a practically perfect week at Echo Lake in Montana with almost all of our offspring last week. 6 adults + 5 young children = never a dull moment. 

While we were there we celebrated Jonathon's birthday. The great part of having adult kids is they make the very best friends. The not so great part is that sometimes they don't live in the same city as I do. Jonathon fits into both of those categories. It's not often that we are together for his birthday so it was a treat for me to make a special meal for him. Nevertheless we were at the lake, so relaxed and sunny were the order of the day (who am I kidding? relaxed and easy is the way I cook) and there were the five little people with the likes and dislikes that come along with that set who were also at the party. So... it was simple but oh so good. We ate on the deck, in the sun, after a day of swimming and playing together. Life is so very good sometimes.

I made the summer squash gratin with salsa verde and gruyere that I had tagged from Food52. The weather was lovely and hot so I debated the wisdom of using the oven but decided the food would be worth the heat. It absolutely was! This gratin was even better than I thought it would be and I had pretty high expectations. Since we were at the cabin I used a bottled Salsa Verde - it was good (and certainly a lot simpler than making my own that day). Next time I would make fresh. It would be just that much better. Again claiming cabin-whatever, I used some especially good, very old cheddar instead of the gruyere (the local shop didn't stretch to gruyere - go figure), and since we had our gluten-free members to consider, used gluten-free bread to make the breadcrumbs. We barbeque'd some fresh sausages, steamed local corn on the cob, tossed a green salad and came away very satisfied.

summer squash gratin with salsa verde 
(adapted from Food 52)

2 pounds zucchini, sliced 1/8" thick
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cups thinly sliced shallot
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
1 3/4 cups grated extra-old cheddar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup salsa verde

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini slices in a large bowl with 2 tsp sea salt and let sit for 10 minutes.

Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Heat a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the butter and cook for a few minutes until brown and nutty smelling. Pour the brown butter over the breadcrumbs (don't miss the brown bits!). After the butter has cooled for about a minute toss well.

Working by the handful, gently squeeze the squash to remove the excess water. Transfer the squeezed squash (love that!! ha) to a large bowl. Add the shallots, minced garlic, thyme, 1/2 cup salsa verde, and some pepper. Toss to combine. Add the cheese and half the butter coated breadcrumbs. Toss again. Place the mixture into a gratin dish or cast iron skillet. Top with the remaining breadcrumbs and bake for 35-40 minutes - until the squash is tender and the top is crisp.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

nanking cherry jelly





Making nanking cherry jelly is the natural conclusion to picking the cherries. I have found only two reasonable things to do with the tiny jewels - jelly and syrup. They are tart enough that it requires a determined effort to like them fresh (that very tartness makes incredibly delicious jelly) and so small that pitting them would be very unrewarding. But they do make the most wonderful jelly. Ever. And it is so very pretty.

Jelly-making is super simple, a tiny bit boring (stir, stir, stir), usually kind of hot and sticky, and at the end delightfully satisfying. You have to get over the large amount of sugar that goes into a batch but once that hurdle is behind you everything is good. I justify the end product by using my own 'organically grown' and lovingly harvested cherries. I have tried using honey but since the jelling process requires no more than slightly less than half of the sugar can be substituted for honey, it seems a bit silly and I have decided to just throw caution to the winds and use sugar for this. After all, how much jelly does one eat in a day? 

I have worked out a system of sorts that works for me when I get the jelly-making urge. In the interest of being 'real' and all I share the photo of my kitchen mid-process - decidedly un-Martha-like. lol. I have learned to measure out the sugar into a bowl, put the snap lids into a pot of boiling water, the clean jars into a 225 degree F oven, and have a good book (or more often a magazine) to read while standing at the stove stirring and waiting for the boil - all before lighting the gas.

After making six batches of jelly and two of syrup yesterday I was hot and tired but so proud of the fruits of my labor. All those jars lined up and glowing like precious rubies. I know I am a bit ridiculous but every year I leave them in the kitchen for a few days just so that I can go admire them now and again throughout the day. Seriously. (I know - I admitted to being ridiculous.)

nanking cherry jelly

6 cups prepared cherry juice*
7 cups sugar
1 package of Certo pectin crystals

In a large heavy pot add the pectin crystals to the cool cherry juice. Stir to dissolve thoroughly. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir frequently until the mixture comes to a boil. (This takes a while usually.) Immediately add the sugar all at once. Stir to dissolve and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil. When you hit that full boil start timing for one minute. Watch things carefully because it gets pretty crazy and will boil over and make a terrible mess. Remove from the heat and stir a few times over 5 minutes. There will be some foam on top that needs to be spooned off. (there's nothing 'wrong' with it but it messes up the prettiness)

While the jelly is cooking have the lids for the jars on the stove in a pot of water. It needs to boil for about 10 minutes and then you can turn the heat off and let them wait until you need them. Take the hot jars out of the oven after you have skimmed the foam off the jelly. Give the jelly one last quick stir to break the surface tension and very carefully pour into the prepared jars, leaving about a 1/2" of headspace. Immediately place a new snap lid (from the pot of hot water) on each jar. Add the rings and tighten loosely. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

The little pop as each jar cools and seals is such a happy conclusion.

*To juice the cherries I use a steamer/juicer. It is the niftiest process! and I love mine. But if you don't have that set-up you can easily juice the cleaned cherries by putting them in a large pot, adding 1/2 cup of water and and bringing it to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cherries have popped and are pink and mushy looking. Drain the whole mess overnight using a fine-mesh colander.


Friday, August 17, 2012

zucchini, corn, and basil orecchiette with bacon





A super-yummy, super-simple, and super-fast recipe that showcases summer garden classics. Hardly gets better than that - ever! I get ridiculously excited every single time I can use my garden produce. To make pesto from my own basil (an achievement - my basil rarely does well) and to use some of my prolific zucchini is double excitement. I only wish I could grow corn. Ha - better move to Taber for that!

I used fresh Taber corn - we are really quite justifiably proud of Taber corn here in Southern Alberta - I would encourage using kernels cut freshly off the cob but if that doesn't fit your day, use what you have or can get. This is good. The corn is sweet, the zucchini mild, the Parmesan salty, and the pesto adds zest. Make your own pesto or use canned. It's a meal for a lazy evening. Enjoy the last of the summer :)

zucchini, corn, and basil pasta with bacon
(from Gourmet)

6 bacon slices, chopped
1 lb orecchiette pasta
3 ears corn, kernels cut from the cob
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
basil pesto 
shaved Parmesan cheese

Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly, until crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling well-salted water until al dente. At that point remove 1/4 cup of pasta water from the pot and set aside. Add the corn and zucchini to the cooking pasta. It will stop boiling - that's okay. Cook for two minutes from the time you add the veggies. Drain. 

Put the pot back on the hot burner, add the bacon, pesto, and pasta/corn/zucchini mix. Add as much of the pasta water as needed to smooth things out. Season with salt.

Serve with shaved Parmesan and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Basic Easy Pesto (or use a 6 oz jar of purchased pesto)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Chop the garlic, sprinkle with salt. Using the flat side of a knife blade crush the garlic and salt into a thick paste. Add the paste to a food processor along with pine nuts, basil, and 1 Tbsp of the oil. Pulse until finely chopped. While the machine is running add the remaining oil in a steady stream. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper.






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

picking cherries






Yesterday was the Day to pick the Nanking Cherries. For most of my life picking Nankings has been a yearly event. When I was a child we had a long hedge of Nanking Cherry bushes and my mom made jelly from the juice of the cherries. It was our job to pick the cherries and we couldn't swim or play until the daily quota was reached. I know there were days that I griped and moaned about the chore. It felt like I had to pick cherries every day of the summer. Now I know that it could only have been a week or ten days - at the most! - and probably only an hour or so of each day at that. But I also remember that it was pretty fun sometimes. Cousins came to pick for their moms, or neighbourhood friends joined us at times (there were plenty of cherries for all). Of course, there were spiders and scratches, spilled buckets and tears; but there were also picking contests, laughing and talking while we picked, and the simple satisfaction of filling the bucket and being done for the day. 

Now we have a Nanking Cherry hedge that grows at the back of our garden - this year the cherry crop is heavy. I started picking early, when the morning was fresh and quiet. Just the birds, the squirrels, the spiders and me. Thomas, Jane, and Theo joined me partway through the morning and were a very welcome distraction. (I must admit that when Jane walked into the garden in her perfectly adorable black and white dress I felt totally under-dressed at my own cherry picking party - my perfectly comfortable and grubby grey knit shorts just don't have the same cachet.) Theo announced that he was going to pick 200 cherries .... I think he probably did! 

I am grateful that I had to pick cherries - that my parents were wise enough to teach me the value and satisfaction of doing a chore and doing it well. It is a joy to see my children teach the same lessons to their sweet children, even though it is no easier than it was for my parents to teach me. I love that we have a family culture of working together - and that working together is fun.

Post script - wow! father and son... not just a little alike!! And (excuse me, please) but sooooo swoon-worthy handsome. Love them, I do :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

collecting silver

Long ago a 15 year old me vowed that I would never color my hair. (I was thinking more in terms of covering grey than of simply having fun with color.) I have more or less stuck with that commitment. When the first white hair showed up I succumbed to peer pressure, tried an at-home color - and shocked myself every time I passed a mirror. Was that me?! Deciding that it didn't feel like it was 'me' I embraced my earlier determination to love my natural color, even if that color was grey.

Sometimes when I see a photo of myself taken when I was younger and my hair was still dark, I am surprised by just how dark it was. And I miss that version of me - just for a minute. More salt and pepper than silver yet, I am working on my collection. Like most personal collections, it is a reflection of the bits of my life - some inherited, some chosen, some happened upon - but uniquely mine.

I am comfortable with my silvering hair. I look forward to when it is completely, beautifully so. When I see examples of women - beautiful, confident, amazing, interesting, and silver-haired - I am inspired with a desire to be the same to whatever degree I am able.

The other day I stumbled across this site - portraits of graceful, classy, cool women. Incredible images. Inspiring. Helping me see what silver can be.

Friday, August 10, 2012

zucchini bread pancakes




The justification for another pancake recipe is simple: the zucchini is 'on'. 'On' for zucchini means full-stop ahead. Not that I am complaining - we wait all year for this bounty. Even with the mythical abundance and sad jokes about locking doors, my five (yes 5) plants have a hard time keeping up with the demand. There is zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini cake, chocolate zucchini muffins, lemon zucchini cake, and bbq'd zucchini (a family fav). It takes a lot of zucchini just to run through the repertoire once and once is never enough! Of course, as we love all of those, I am always looking for more to love so when I saw a recipe for Zucchini Bread Pancakes over on Smitten Kitchen I determined that it would be one of the first new zucchini recipes to try this season. We were not disappointed. Maybe next year I will have to plant yet another seed :)

I have made these pancakes twice. First time, just as Deb wrote the recipe. Second time, I made a few tweaks. Not because I thought I could make them better ... I just wanted to increase the nutrition a bit. After all, we most often eat pancakes for breakfast and we keep hearing how important that meal is healthwise. So I used almond flour in place of some of the white flour, sprouted whole wheat flour, replaced the buttermilk with soured nut milk (almond today), and added sprouted ground chia seed. I also cut the sugar and used 1 tsp of honey instead of 2 Tbsp of brown sugar. Even with nothing on them, the pancakes were still pleasantly sweet. So... all good changes nutritionally and none that compromise yumminess. 

Deb's suggestion to mix plain yogurt with maple syrup is simple and absolutely genius. I mixed 1/2 cup yogurt with 3 Tbsp maple syrup - whisked a minute and yummmmm. A few blueberries and raspberries were pretty, healthy, and delicious.... but just pancakes and syrup would still fill the bill. For sure. 

Note: if you wanted to make these gluten-free simply use a gluten-free flour mix in place of the wheat flours - so about 3/4 cup of gluten-free flour.

zucchini bread pancakes
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 large eggs
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup soured almond milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 heaping cups shredded zucchini
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 sprouted whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp sprouted ground chia seed
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine the eggs, oil, honey, sour milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Stir in the grated zucchini. Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture, mixing just until combined.

Heat a griddle or large frying pan over medium heat. Melt a tiny bit of butter and spread it around with a spatula. Scoop batter in scant 1/4 cup dollops onto the pan and using the back of the spoon spread the batter out a bit. Cook until bubbles appear. Flip and cook until golden on bottom. 





Thursday, August 9, 2012

I felt validated and a renewed commitment to my daily walk after I watched this cool video. Sometimes a reminder is a very good thing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

dilly corn salad




We had this salad a couple of days ago. The recipe I started from suggested that it would feed 6 as a side salad but David and I each ate what must have been meant for 2! lol.  I'd say that as it is full of vegetables that can't be a bad thing :) and I can't think of anything more to say to entice you.

Hit the closest farm stand and get your corn as freshly picked as possible. Then make a bowl of summer for lunch!

I took a couple of liberties with the salad ingredients but totally changed the dressing.

dilly corn salad
(inspired by a recipe from Food52) 

2 ears of fresh, uncooked corn - kernels scraped from the cob (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 English cucumber, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 green onions, white and green parts sliced thinly
1/8 cup (lightly packed) fresh dill, minced
1 avocado, diced

dressing:
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 Tbsp milk (I used coconut milk - choose what you like best)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.

In a separate bowl combine the dressing ingredients and whisk together. Pour over the salad ingredients. That's it. Simple. Yummy.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

curried quinoa chicken salad




Simple. Fast. And sort of addictive. This is the perfect lunch or light supper. Easy to make a batch and keep in the fridge, then pack to take for lunches at work (Jonathon?) Eden had some and figured she needed to eat it daily. I pretty much agree.

The 2 Tbsp of curry powder is not a typo and is in no way a mistake - go for it. Use walnuts if you prefer them to the pecans (I'm allergic so I always use pecans). If you don't like cilantro use parsley. I have given up peeling ginger (unless all I can find at the market is kind of old and tough looking) - nobody complains or even notices. I figure there has to be good stuff in the skin so why peel it off?

When we had this salad for supper one night I served it on a bed of mixed greens. When I took it for a lunch a couple of days later I skipped the greens and it was absolutely as good - just different. Either way. Choice is good, right?

curried quinoa chicken salad
(from 20 minute supper club, tweaked)

2 cups quinoa, cooked
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces
3/4 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp curry powder
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

Combine the quinoa, chicken, apricots, green onions, pecans, and cilantro in a bowl.

In a separate bowl whisk together the curry powder, vinegar, sea salt, olive oil, and freshly grated ginger. Drizzle over the quinoa mixture and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: if you aren't sure how to cook the quinoa you have two choices. You can cook it in a large pot of boiling water - a la pasta - and drain when it is just tender. Or you can bring 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa (in this case 4 cups water, 2 cups quinoa) to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off but leave the pot on the burner - still covered - for another 4 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork. Done.