May 30, 2012

My Mind's In the Gutter

I guess that should come as no real surprise following last week's post, but this time I actually have gutters on my mind, not deformed produce.

Ever since we built the coop, we've been planning to install gutters on it in order to harvest rainwater for the vegetable garden (which lies directly behind it), but with a never ending to-do list, and a reluctance to spend money unless absolutely necessary, it has taken us almost 3 years to finally get around to it.

The Montana clematis is doing a fine job of covering the coop and run in sweet-smelling pink blossoms.

It seems that this is another good example of how sometimes putting off a project pays off, because my mom and step-dad ended up replacing the gutters on their house last fall, and were able to save us two coop-sized lengths and assorted downspouts. Which means this project meets my two favourite criteria: recycled, and free.

We still have to cap off the front ends, but the gutters are already hard at work, filling the barrels with late spring rain.

May 28, 2012

Today's Post Is Brought To You By The Letter "S"

Just a few quick photos from my day in the garden yesterday.

The strawberry patch is suddenly bursting with flowers and fruit. Now as long as I can keep the robins in check, it looks like we'll have a bumper crop.

The wild salmonberry bush on the edge of my garden is also loaded with berries. I usually leave these for the wild birds, but if there's an abundance, I might just have to experiment with a batch of salmonberry jam.

I startled this mother wolf spider while weeding the pea patch. She was pretty speedy despite having to run with her nest (the white ball) in tow.

My kids are both off on a year-end camping trip, so I'm headed for the garden. I hope you're enjoying your day!

May 27, 2012

Cookbook Binge

One of my favourite things about our new community is the annual book sale, which benefits our tiny local library. It's makes for a great morning, sifting through the gymnasium full of books, chatting with neighbours about your respective finds, and hauling home an armload of new treasures (for a mere 50 cents to $2 per book).

As usual, my first stop was the cookbook table, and I literally came away with an armload:

I've borrowed Mad Hungry from the library countless times, so that was the first thing I snapped up.

The Girls Who Dish is a collection of recipes from female Vancouver chefs. My recipe for grilled eggplant comes from one of their later books.

I love Martha Stewart's recipes, but probably never would have picked up this copy of Entertaining if I hadn't just learned that it's the "favourite cookbook of all time" of my favourite Canadian chef, Chuck Hughes. It seemed like such an unlikely pairing that I had to check it out.

I really enjoyed reading Julie & Julia, and am hoping Cleaving will be just as entertaining.

The other books are packed with information and luscious sounding food, by authors I know I like. Maya Angelou isn't exactly known for her skills in the kitchen, but the recipes in her book are the epitome of comfort food.

The only problem now is that I have lots of work to get done, and way too many distractions...

May 23, 2012

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

I posted a silly link on my Facebook page yesterday (the "naughtiest vegetables on earth"), and thought it would be fun to see if others had any strange or unusual things to share.  So, here's the deal: I'll post the weirdest things that have come out of my garden, and in exchange, I'm hoping you'll be willing to share a photo (or description) of some oddity of yours. Do you have a parsnip with a dirty mind? A spud that looks like your great aunt Norma? A beet as big as your head? I'd love to hear about it! Either add a link to your blog post on the subject in the comments here, link to your picture on Flickr, or post directly onto my Facebook page

I posted a photo of this "buttato" a few years ago, but it's so adorable that it's worth a second glance.

This dirty carrot appeared in my garden in 2010. As my daughter said, it makes you wonder what those carrots are getting up to when no one's looking! Unfortunately, we didn't end up with a bumper crop of baby carrots as a result of the extra appendage.

I've held up my end of the bargain, now it's your turn. Don't have anything at the moment? Feel free to pop back and share anything that rears its ugly head over the course of the summer.

May 10, 2012

Getting My Goat

I'm in need of some good, solid advice, and am hoping my goat-keeping friends out there might be able to help. I've been pining for goats for years, and the urge is starting to overwhelm me. I would be happy enough just to have them as pets (in lieu of the second dog and/or cat my kids have been begging for), but would really love to produce our own milk and cheese one day. Pets with benefits, you might say.


So my question is, when did you know it was time? Do you have any regrets? Do they require a lot of expensive veterinary care (my husband's main concern)? Can you recommend any indispensable resources (books? websites?)? What's your favourite breed? 

I'm really interested in Kinder goats, but haven't been able to find a breeder in our area. I've actually got my eye on an adorable baby boy (which would come in handy eventually), but hubby's concerned that a goat will tie us down way more than our chickens already do. 


May 04, 2012

Oat Fudge Bars

It's been so long since I've posted a recipe that you'd almost be fooled into believing that I don't spend every spare moment of my day perusing books, magazines, and the web for new food ideas. The sad truth is, while I do rely on a few old stand-by recipes, my stomach has a bit of a wandering eye, and is always on the lookout for something it hasn't tried before.

Although, I have to say, that's not exactly the case here. It would seem that this time my stomach was looking to reconnect with a long lost love, one we used to bump into in coffee shops when my kids were babies and pushing a stroller around the neighbourhood was our only form of entertainment. At the time, any coffee bar worth its beans had a version of these oaty, fudgy delights, and while the babies were blissfully napping, we would rendezvous in a quiet corner and dream of the day when we could be together forever.

That day has finally come.

There are several versions of this recipe online, but this a slightly reworked version of the one found here.

Oat Fudge Bars:

1 cup butter (set aside 2 tablespoons for filling)
2 cups brown sugar (packed)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups rolled oats (can substitute quick oats, but not instant)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

Cream butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat until well mixed. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Stir together the flour, soda, salt, and oats, and add them to the wet ingredients; stir until well combined. Prepare filling:

2 tablespoons butter (reserved from before)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla

Combine butter, condensed milk, chocolate chips and salt in medium saucepan over low heat until chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Press 2/3 of oatmeal mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Pour filling over the bottom crust. Spread to an even thickness.

Drop remaining oat mixture evenly over the chocolate layer. Don't expect to have the chocolate completely covered, you want to leave some peeking through.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until topping is lightly browned. Cool in pan. Cut into 2" x 2" squares Since these are so dense and rich, I then cut these two inch squares in half to make triangles - feel free to eat two if you want!

May 01, 2012

On Orchards and Reattaching Limbs

One of the joys of moving from the city is having enough room to put in a small orchard. While our city garden did have a few small fruit trees, it was never going to be enough to supply our apple habit.

We were fortunate enough to be able to bring our trees with us when we moved, so we already had a smallish orchard on the go, but this spring we had a chance to do a bulk order with some of our neighbours, so I ordered five more to go with the seven we already had. In addition to this, a friend of a friend donated an established apple tree that was taking up too much room in her garden. That brings us to thirteen, and while I still need an apricot before I'll be completely satisfied (if anyone can recommend favourite varieties, I'd be very appreciative!), I'm hopeful that an orchard of this size will be enough to meet our needs.

Our peach tree has been very productive over the last couple of years.

Here's what we have ended up with:

     -Five apples: Gala, Cox's Orange Pippin, Liberty, Yellow Transparent, plus one mystery apple
     -Three pears: Flemish Beauty, Comice, Red Sensation
     -Two plums: Santa Rosa, Italian Prune
     -Peach: Frost
     -Fig: Desert King
     -Cherry: Compact Stella

Maintaining an orchard can be tricky, especially when dealing with things like deer. However, it turns out that teenagers can be just as much of a menace as their four footed counterparts, which I unfortunately discovered a few weeks ago following my daughter's 16th birthday party, and a wild game of capture the flag (played in the dark, of course). We were careful to put solar lights at the base of each tree in order to mark their locations, but that didn't prevent my Gala apple from nearly losing one of its three main branches.

Unwilling to just lop it off, I did some reading online and found that arborists will quite often reattach broken limbs to trees. The way to tell if a branch can be salvaged or not is to look and see if the leaves have wilted - if there's enough of the cambium layer left attached to the tree below the break, the leaves will still look healthy. Being mid April, my tree hadn't leafed out yet, so there wasn't really any way of telling, but we decided to go for it anyway.

We carefully placed the branch in its original position, and screwed it back into place. You don't want to do anything like wiring the branch back on, as this will cut off the tree's circulation and kill the branch, if not the whole tree.

If all goes well, the bark will continue growing up around the break, and the screws will become part of the structure of the tree.

We then took some non-toxic outdoor wood glue and used it to seal the break all the way around.

Good as new!

Now that the weather is warming up, the branch is slowly starting to leaf out. They're not quite as big as the leaves on the rest of the tree, but I'm optimistic:

I'll be sure to keep an eye on things, and will remove any flowers or fruit that appear for the next couple of years so as not to stress it further while it heals. Reconstructive surgery on a fruit tree may seem a little drastic, but a crisp, juicy, gala apple is a thing of beauty.

Here are some of my favourite ways to use apples (and the reason we need so many):


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