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
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
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

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:

Eating Local, Eating Well: Meals From A Northern Garden

We woke up this morning to a hazy world, like many of the other communities in northwestern Ontario. Our corner of the province has 100 forest fires burning, and two First Nation communities north of us, Keewaywin and Sandy Lake, are being evacuated today. So far this year 178,514 hectares have been burned, compared to last year (a slow fire summer) in which 13,863 hectares were destroyed by fire. The average is 61,479 hectares, so we’re well over that this year, and it’s not even the end of July. A friend who lives in downtown Red Lake took this photo of this morning’s sunrise over Howey Bay:

The view of Howey Bay from downtown Red Lake this morning. Photo by Kathy Tetlock

Eating local is part of moving away from oil dependency to local resilience. The good news is, it’s also healthier and tastier than the pre-packaged fast food and junk food that makes up the average North American diet these days. As rates of diet-related disorders such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease soar, eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food laced with sugar and/or salt becomes a way to live longer and happier, not just live more lightly on the planet.

Today is “Meatless Monday“, where people are encouraged to cut out meat as a way to eat healthier and combat climate change. In our household these days, every day is meatless because our two university-aged daughters are home for the summer, and they are both vegetarians. Luckily, they are both good cooks, too, so Mark and I haven’t missed eating meat. And both girls make an exception in their vegetarian diet for fresh,local fish, so that has been a delicious supplement to our mainly meatless diet.

Last night Emma, our youngest, took charge of making supper. The result was a delicious, mostly local meal of homemade pasta, fresh pesto made with basil from our garden, and a strawberry lettuce salad also made with garden-fresh ingredients. What a blast for the taste buds that was!

fresh pesto
Homemade fettucini with fresh pesto
Lettuce salad with strawberries

Here’s the link to the pesto recipe that Emma used (although she used 4 cups of basil, and decreased the olive oil to 1/2 cup): Basil Pesto Recipe.

As I was preparing to post this, I got another reminder, besides the smoke, that I live in northern Ontario. I heard our dog barking madly, and looked up to see a black bear in our backyard, not 10 feet from my office window. I would have loved to have snapped a picture, but our dog chased it off promptly. My oldest daughter arrived home on her bicycle five minutes later, taking in stride the fact that she had met up with the same black bear on the road!

More links and Resources:

Northern Ontario battles 92 Wildfires As More Loom

MNR Photos of Red Lake Fire #59

Climate change 2 : Forests soak up third of fossil fuel emissions : ‘Science’ study

Gardening In a Short Growing Season by Graham Saunders

Carbon-busting Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

I decided the focus for my blog this week was going to be food, as these days in our household there is much talk about and action on getting our garden in, now that we are back from holidays. Mark is the gardener in our household, while I provide support services like bringing out glasses of ice tea and weeding sporadically. I do play a more active part in the harvesting, preparing, and eating department. However, since I’ve become more aware of the crucial role food plays in our unsustainable North American lifestyle, and particularly after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve promised Mark that I will change my non-gardening ways. He remains skeptical, but I’m optimistic. There’s so much room for improvement, how hard can it be?

Rhubarb is the harbinger of spring up here in the northern climes. It starts to peek up from the dirt while there’s still patches of snow lingering in our yard. Mark is a big rhubarb fan, and as a result we now have 5 large, healthy rhubarb plants around the yard.

The great thing about rhubarb, from a gardener’s point of view, is that it’s a perennial which needs a minimum of attention from one spring to the next. That’s the kind of plant I can appreciate.  And from an eater’s point of view, unless you are a rhubarb-hater (I know a few!) there’s little that compares to a fresh rhubarb crisp or a homemade rhubarb muffin. Nutritionally, rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. As a child growing up on a prairie farm, rhubarb was the first harvest from my dad’s garden and we kids would eat the stalks raw, dipped in sugar.

I’m busy with a work project that has a looming deadline, so I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening right now, as the project is consuming most of my waking hours. However, I did find time a few days ago to pick some rhubarb and make muffins, which in turn provided sustenance to Mark as he planted our home garden, so I’m kind of helping with gardening.  My daughters were lobbying for our usual rhubarb muffins, but I tried out a new recipe and after tasting the result they gave it their stamp of approval.  I found the recipe on . I like the recommendation to mix a portion of the streusel crumbs into the batter, which I’d never done before. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, so here’s my version of Rhubarb Streusel Muffins:

  • Streusel Topping

1/4 cup (31 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28 grams) spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt, use whole wheat)
1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter, melted (I used light olive oil)

  • Muffin Batter

1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (71 grams) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm ( I used light olive oil)
3/4 cup (177 ml) sour cream (I used yogurt)
1 cup (approx. 120 grams) spelt or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 16 muffin cups.

Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.

Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.


More links: Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life

Curb Your Food Waste – It’s Good For Your Budget, And For Your Grandchildren

Every year, in the United States, $54 billion worth of food is thrown away. Ninety-eight percent of the food ends up in landfills instead of compost bins. What does this have to do with climate change?

Global climate change is connected to both how our food is grown and what happens to it when we send it to the landfill. Of course, in many parts of the world no food at all is wasted. But in the industrialized world, we have become a “throw away” society, and that includes food.  Landfills produce methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, landfills are the second–largest human-related source of methane in the U.S., accounting for 23 percent of all methane emissions in 2007. Methane is generated in landfills and open dumps as waste decomposes under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions.

So, if you have a fridge full of leftovers, don’t let them go to waste!  In our house, we love leftovers for lunch, but if you’re not that keen on having what you had last night for supper again the next day, freeze a single-serving container to enjoy for a future hassle-free lunch. And, of course, compost food scraps if you can – everything but meat and dairy.  In our corner of the world, people sometimes are opposed to composting because they’re concerned that compost piles attract bears and other wild animals. All I can say is,  we have been composting our food scraps for 10 years without a bear ever going near our bin (I did see a mouse once, though).

Here’s a video about food waste and how to avoid it:


And while we’re on the topic of food, I thought I’d share a picture of the amazing pizza my husband made recently.  It tasted as good as it looked!

Mark's homemade veggie and sausage pizza

Remember, today is Meat-Free Monday, so consider ways you can eat vegetarian today.  One of our favourite, and fast, meat-free meals is Broccoli Garlic Pasta (click on the title for the recipe).

More links:

Methane: Sources and Emissions

10 Ways to Curb Your Food Waste

The Meatless Monday website offers recipe and information.