Northern Gardening Reflections: A Mouthful Of Rainbow

Summer gardening season is in full swing. It’s time for fresh corn on the cob, cucumbers, tomatoes, and of course the ubiquitous zucchini squash to be on our supper tables. You’ve heard the old joke appropriate for this time of year – if people in town start locking their car doors, it’s because they don’t want anybody else to leave zucchinis behind. Now that gardens around our community have recovered from the worm infestation in June, there is much fresh produce being enjoyed. One of the vegetables that we have in abundance in our own garden this year is swiss chard. It can be substituted for spinach in most recipes, but it’s easier to grow and doesn’t bolt, even in hot weather, so we’ll definitely plant it again next year. One of the varieties we planted this year was rainbow chard, which grows in the great colours, including red and yellow. The extra colour adds a decorative touch to salads and casseroles.

If you are looking for recipes to use up your garden abundance, here are a few that we tried out last night at a spontaneous chard-fest potluck meal at our place. Fellow local foodies brought along some samples of their garden produce, and the result was delicious. The menu included zucchini and goat cheese appetizers, sauteed onions and swiss chard in white wine, crustless swiss chard quiche, green salad with nasturtiums, freshly canned mustard beans, and fresh bread. For dessert we had chocolate zucchini loaf, lemon tarts with wild blueberry sauce, and coconut cupcakes. Yummm.

Here are some pictures of the gardens that contributed to last night’s supper, and a few of the recipes. I hope you are enjoying your summer garden cuisine with good friends, too.

Mark’s greenhouse, just completed in June.

Zucchini and goat cheese appetizers (from the Sierra Club’s blog):

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Sliders
Serves 2-3
Ingredients:
2 zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
Dash of sea salt
3 ounces soft goat cheese
1 tablespoon chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon olive oil
Dash of salt and pepper
Dried mint for garnish
Directions:
Slice along the length of the zucchinis, cutting pieces 1/4-inch thick. Layer them on a greased baking sheet, season with sea salt, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until the zucchini is elastic, able to bend freely without falling apart. You could alternatively grill the pieces, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side.
While the zucchini is cooking, in a small bowl combine the goat cheese basil, and sun dried tomatoes. Mix until evenly combined.
When the zucchini has finished cooking, place 1-2 teaspoons of the goat cheese mixture on the end of each piece. Roll the zucchini unto itself, starting with the goat cheese side. Serve with a garnish of fresh or dried basil, mint, or oregano. Enjoy!

I would add that you will need to allow the zucchini to cool for 5 or more minutes, before you can add the goat cheese and roll it up. And my daughter Emma suggested that next time we could scoop out the seeds and mix some goat cheese and cottage cheese (or ricotta cheese) together, along with the fresh basil and sundried tomatoes, and place that in the hollowed out centre and grill them. It was slightly fussy to prepare the “sliders”. But they were very very tasty.

Suzanne and her luscious “three sisters” garden

Crustless Swiss Chard Quiche (from Food.com):

1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 sweet onion, 1/2 bunch swiss chard, 2 1/2 cups shredded cheese, 4 eggs, 1 cup skim milk,  salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2 Wash and dry swiss chard. Cut off the very ends of the stems. Roughly chop (leaving stems intact) the chard. 3 Add onion and Chard to the oil and saute until stems are tender (do not overcook). Add salt & pepper to taste. 4 Meanwhile, grate 2.5 cups of cheese. Use whatever varieties you want/have. Be creative! I used Swiss, Cheddar, Parmesan, and Cojito. 5 Wisk eggs. Add milk and cheese. Fold in the onion/chard mixture. Add salt & pepper to taste, if necessary. 6 Pour into a pie dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. 7 Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and no liquid seeps when you poke it with a knife.
This recipe was fast and simple, and also very tasty. You could throw in extra herbs, like parsley and basil, and cook it in a frying pan if you wanted a frittata instead of a quiche.
Now, just for fun, John Denver on the Muppet Show:
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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3FkaN0HQgs]

We Are The Solution As Well As The Problem

This podcast features Joel Salatin,  interviewed by Chris Martenson from Peak Prosperity.com. Salatin rejects the idea that all human involvement in shaping the landscape is bad; in this interview he discusses how humans can improve the environment through “ecological participation”. I always feel better, and more optimistic, after listening to/reading America’s foremost “philosopher-farmer”, so I’m happy to share this conversation with you in the hope that your day is improved, too. I’m going to listen to it again while I sort through the 6 litres of wild blueberries I picked yesterday (I think Mr. Salatin would approve!).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT-_C7wDU1w&feature=player_embedded#!]

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PeakProsperity.com

Polyface.com

photo: wikipedia commons

Transformation

What are you making for supper on this Meatless Monday? Right now we have an abundance of swiss chard, although our other greens have been slow to come in. I substituted chard for kale in this family-favourite salad yesterday, and it was deemed acceptable by the more discerning (aka “picky”) members of the family.  So if you have kale or swiss chard handy, here’s the recipe; served with a loaf of fresh bread and cheese, it’s a tasty and easy Monday summer supper. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the transformation of a garden from a barren plot of dirt in April to the abundance of a mid-summer riot of greenery and colour.

Favourite Kale Salad Recipe

Dressing:  ½ cup extra virgin fruity olive oil, 3 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 clove garlic chopped or put through a press, 1/2 tsp salt

To make salad: Toss above with a large bowl of kale, ½ cup chopped oil packed sun dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup cup toasted pine nuts.

And while we’re on the theme of unlikely pairings, check out this video from the U.K., The Edible Bus Stop, which asks the question “what spaces are waiting to be transformed in our communities?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C51FZ3zW6w&feature=player_embedded]

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Grist.org: Edible Bus Stop turns London transit routes into network of community gardens.

And here’s an interesting article re the pressure on the USDA to retract it’s support for Meatless Monday (which it promptly did!): USDA Retracts Meatless Monday Recommendation.

Vandana Shiva: A “Dinosaur” Mentality Guides The Planet Right Now

One of the best interviewers on television, Bill Moyers, speaks to one of the global sustainability movement’s “superstars”, physicist and food activist Vandana Shiva. The discussion is wide-ranging but centers around genetically modified seeds/foods and the fight against corporate agro-giant Monsanto:

These seeds — considered “intellectual property” by the big companies who own the patents — are globally marketed to monopolize food production and profits. Opponents challenge the safety of genetically modified seeds, claiming they also harm the environment, are more costly, and leave local farmers deep in debt as well as dependent on suppliers. Shiva, who founded a movement in India to promote native seeds, links genetic tinkering to problems in our ecology, economy, and humanity, and sees this as the latest battleground in the war on Planet Earth.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fG17oEsQiEw]

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For the full 25 minute interview, as well as the full transcript, go to BillMoyers.com.

A Radical Monday Morning

Today is the first cool and rainy day in quite a while, so I’ll be spending the morning the way other “radicals” the world over are, in the kitchen and the garden reclaiming democracy and occupying the food supply. I’ll be  cooking up strawberry & rhubarb jam with organic local fruit,  and possibly making jelly out of our nanking cherries,which – for the first time – we have a prolific crop of this year. Here’s what the beauties look like (and remember, I live in northern Ontario, not a fruit belt by any stretch of the imagination):

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ripe nanking cherries
Ripe Nanking Cherries

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Last night I watched Thrive: The Movie. Thrive bills itself as:

an unconventional documentary that lifts the veil on what’s REALLY going on in our world by following the money upstream — uncovering the global consolidation of power in nearly every aspect of our lives. Weaving together breakthroughs in science, consciousness and activism, THRIVE offers real solutions, empowering us with unprecedented and bold strategies for reclaiming our lives and our future.

I confess to being a bit surprised that early in the movie it ventures into the territory of crop circles and UFOs. I found the discussion of the U.S, and global, monetary system informative as well as alarming. But when the movie ventured into climate change territory, and referred to a carbon tax as a tool of global repression it lost some credibility, as it did when it offered a vision of no taxation as part of an idyllic future. I don’t mind paying taxes to contribute to a healthy society (with healthcare, libraries, roads, public transportation, etc).  But I’m not sorry I watched it; I think it might inform and “wake up” some people to the need to participate in shaping a better future for all of humanity, not just the 1% who are thriving right now off of the misery of the majority.  If you’ve seen it, I’d be curious to hear what you have to say. Here’s the trailer:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OibqdwHyZxk]

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More links:

Thrive: The Movie

Thrive The Movie Isn’t About Thriving At All

Nanking Cherry Jelly

Nanking Cherry Pancake Syrup

Meatless Monday Thoughts: The Stinky Circle of Life

One of the problems in our industrialized, heavily urbanized North American society is the huge disconnect between our food system, and the cycle of life and death that nearly every other generation of humans in the history of our planet has known intimately. As I sit here at my computer this morning I’m reminded quite vividly (and pungently) about how close I am to (some) of my food, as well as the circle of life. First thing this morning I watered my hugel kultur raised beds with the liquid fish compost that my husband Mark has been cooking up for a few weeks in a plastic garbage bucket in the garage. Phew – what a stench! I can’t seem to quite get the smell off my hands, despite scrubbing hard with soap and orange hand scrubber. I had to change, too, because the hem of my pants got a little damp while I was watering and the smell was overwhelming. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood on a prairie farm every time I get a whiff. Here in our corner of northern Ontario we have more access to decomposing fish parts than to livestock manure, so it makes sense to augment the fertility of our garden with a local source of rich organic material. We’ll have to see what our neighbours say, though – be thankful you are reading this in the comfort of your own fish-fertilizer-free home.

And speaking of food (and it is Meat Free Monday) here’s Michael Pollan on why a bunch of carrots costs more than a package of Twinkies:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH-Qv3f73x4]

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According to a new report by two genetic engineers, genetically engineered foods are not safe, have not been properly tested and pose a serious threat to human health and the environment.

In GMO Myths and Truths, the scientists refute the claims made by companies that produce genetically modified crops and organisms (GMOs):

“GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides and can help solve world hunger,” said co-author Dr. Michael Antoniou of the King’s College School of Medicine in London, U.K.

Click here to read full article in the Toronto Sun, or read Marion Nestle’s review of GMO Myths and Truths on Alternet.

More links:

Nourish Life.org

Meatless Monday.com:   One day a week, cut out meat

Check out my new apron from my sister in spirit (and rabble-rousing) Donna

*Update: At lunch, my husband suggested I remove the hat I wore in the garden this morning. Which seemed a little random, as it hadn’t been anywhere near the watering can. But I did take it off, and realized it was quite pungent. Apparently anything within 5 feet of an open fish fertilizer bucket will stink to high heaven for quite a while after exposure!

Growing Food, And Other Radical Acts

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It’s time for a tour of my garden, as promised. I should preface this by saying there’s a reason that I’m attracted to the randomness/wildness of the “hugel kultur” raised bed garden. (“Hugel” means hill in German – thanks Mom Polle – so saying hugel kultur – pronounced “hoogel kultoor“-  raised bed is redundant; but it is kind of fun.) As you will be able to tell by the pictures, my HK piles are not very lovely – I’ll leave the aesthetics to my husband who likes symmetry and orderliness in his well-tended garden beds. My good friend Suzanne, a sister Citizens Climate Lobby volunteer and avid local foodie, introduced me to the idea of hugel kultur piles early in the gardening season. This spring, Suzanne made an in-ground hugel kultur pile where she planted a “Three Sisters” garden, based on the traditional indigenous way of gardening, planting corn, beans, and squash together. This inspired me to get to work on my own hugel kultur raised bed, which grew into two (with two more in development for next year), as I discussed a few weeks ago. Hugel kultur raised beds, for those who missed my earlier posts, are made by piling logs and branches together and covering them with soil, to make a garden bed that needs little watering (because wood absorbs water as it decomposes) and also improves as it ages, as the decomposing tree matter adds nutrients. In our part of the world, it also saves money because here in the Canadian Shield we have lots of trees, rocks and lakes, but little rich garden soil. And speaking of rocks, hugel kultur piles can be built up right on top of rock, which is clearly a benefit in northern Ontario (see Wendell Ferguson’s “Tree and Rocks” song below).

Here are some pictures of my hugel kultur beds. I transplanted several squash seedlings a few weeks ago (thanks Donna!), and most of them survived. A week ago, I planted corn and scarlet runner bean seeds in pile #1, which gets much more full sun than pile #2.

My three sisters hugel kultur garden

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The second pile was an after thought, and after all the work of piling the trees and branches for both of the piles, as well as covering each of them with well composted wood shavings  (obtained from a local logging company for free), I wasn’t going to go to the trouble and expense of the last step, covering the second pile with soil. But in the end, I couldn’t resist completely. Rather than covering the entire pile with soil, I did some “skin grafts” onto strategic places. The result isn’t beautiful, as I said earlier, but it is surprisingly good at growing things. I planted cucumber seeds there last Monday, and they started coming up this weekend. I also transplanted an extra tomato seedling and a squash seedling, and they seem to be doing alright.

Cukes up in 5 days

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It ain’t beautiful but it works

More garden updates will happen over the summer. In the meantime, here’s some other interesting things growing in our one and a quarter acre Canadian Shield garden:

Mark is the real avid gardener in our family, and he’s recently developed an interest in grafting fruit trees in interesting combinations. Here is a hybrid cherry-plum branch that is flourishing on a native pin cherry tree:

hybrid cherry-plum grafted onto a pin cherry tree

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This spring has been good to our grape vines as well; they are well ahead of schedule, and have started to put out abundant bunches already:

Look hard, you can see the bunches already formed

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Grape vines need to be well trimmed every spring. This year, Mark took the cuttings and, after sharing them with friends, had enough left over to plant in various places around the yard, including on the edge of the bush. Grape cuttings seem to be quite hardy and will grow in many kinds of soil, as long as they are kept well watered in the first few months. Here’s some flourishing on the edge of our bush:

grape cuttings planted on edge of the bush

Now that you’ve had a tour of our Canadian Shield garden, here’s Canadian singer/songwriter Wendell Ferguson singing about his visits to northern Ontario (“…rocks and trees, trees and rocks, by the time you hit Kenora, you don’t wanna see any more of, rocks and trees, trees and rocks…”).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNjsrqdh0oQ]

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And speaking of radical acts, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, just ruled against Elizabeth May’s Point of Order regarding the Harper government’s horrible omnibus budget bill, C-38 .  In doing so, Scheer has ruled against a century of parliamentary tradition, clearly for partisan reasons. Canadian democracy is being killed not incrementally by this government, but swiftly and surely as they stomp all over Canadian values and democratic tradition. If you are a Canadian and you care about our freedom, please call Andrew Scheer’s office, 619-992-4593, and let him know how appalled you are by this ruling. For more information about May’s Point of Order, and its importance, see these links:

Macleans.ca: To Allow C-38 to Masquerade As A Legitimate Omnibus Bill Will Bring Our Institutions Into Greater Disrepute

CBC.ca: For The Record: House of Commons Speaker Rules Against Elizabeth May’s Point Of Order

A Bushel And A Peck of Tomatoes

We’re still enjoying the bounty of our summer garden in the form of plenty of fresh tomatoes. I’ve been looking for  creative ways to eat/cook with them – even tomato sandwiches, which I love, can become tiresome. I’m not a huge fan of tomato soup generally, but I found a recipe on the Food Network, tweaked it a bit, and really like it. I’ve made it twice in the last week, and am looking forward to having a bowl of leftovers for lunch today.

The secret is to brown the tomatoes before hand. This adds a lovely roasted flavour to the soup. To view the original recipe click here; here is my lower-fat version:

October Tomato Soup

3 lbs tomatoes, halved lengthwise (I used various sizes, from cherry, plum and regular tomatoes. I decreased the grilling time by half for the cherry tomatoes)

4 T olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

pinch of sugar

1 T butter & 2 T Olive oil

4 shallots, chopped

2 T tomato paste

4 cups chicken stock (I used  vegetarian bouillon cubes)

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup milk

3 T basil leaves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange tomatoes, flesh side up, on 2 wire racks set on sheet trays (I put parchment paper on the cookie sheets the second time, as it was difficult to clean up the first time). Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, making sure they are well covered. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar.

Roast tomatoes in the middle rack of the oven until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour (less for smaller tomatoes, as noted above).  Cool slightly.

Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil. Saute the shallots for 2 minutes, then mix in tomato paste for a few more minutes (I used some of my homemade tomato sauce rather than tomato paste). Add stock and cayenne.

Mix yogurt and milk in medium bowl, then add some of soup base and mix together. Add this mixture to the rest of the mixture in the pot, stir well. (It may appear slightly “curdled” because of the yogurt, but this will disappear when the tomatoes are blended in).  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the roasted tomatoes to the pan. Puree with an immersion blender (unfortunately mine broke the first time I tried to blend the soup, so I mixed it in a blender. This didn’t work as well with the doubled recipe I made last night, and some soup ended up sprayed around the kitchen out of the top of the blender – very messy!)

Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish generously with fresh basil (don’t miss this step, it really makes the soup special). I used fresh thai basil that we have growing in a pot in our kitchen – deeelicious!

Blueberries and Climate Change

It’s the Labour Day weekend in North America, signalling the end of summer.  From here on in, the mornings become crisper and the nights cooler. Children return to school and the whole family adjusts to new routines. At the same time, it’s a time of bounty in the garden and in nature. Our tomatoes and zucchini are producing prolifically, and while blueberry season is over in most parts of Canada, in our corner of the world wild blueberries are still abundant. The best picking is often in the first few weeks of September. It’s a chance to get out in the bush and to enjoy both the beauty of the wilderness and the company of good friends (picking blueberries alone is not recommended, as it is a favourite food of black bears as well as people!).  Berry picking is also a good time to remind myself of why I’m a climate activist; we live in such a beautiful and abundant world, why wouldn’t we want to preserve that heritage for our children?

The harvest from one blueberry picking outing

More food-related links:

Weather Could Affect Pasta Prices

Meatless Monday