Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Once again it is time to pull out the new calendars, as another year rolls by and a shiny new one awaits.
I'm not sure how you feel, but I feel really optimistic, even though I know that all that separates this year from the next is now a mere 7 or so hours.
How can that small bit of time make things different?
I guess the answer is that it is all in your head, as in fact so many things are.
The proverbial clean slate, a chance to do things a wee bit differently, and most of all to think about things differently.
That's my goal this year.
Are you like me? Sometimes I don't do things because I anticipate the worst, which is rather strange because I tend to be an optimistic person.  I don't make a left turn across traffic because I may have to wait and wait. So I take another route that may be much further and out of the way.
I won't go someplace because I think it will be too crowded. I don't accept an invitation because I have to get up early the next day.
But 2014 is not the year for this kind of caution. I think 2014 is the year to throw caution to the wind. To understand that with the bad comes the good, and just because something went a certain way once, doesn't mean it always will.

And the garden teaches us that, doesn't it? A poor year for tomatoes could be followed by the best year for tomatoes. Not everything in the garden succeeds every year, but every year some things do. So we keep on planting.
And if you focus on the good, yes, it is enough.
Best wishes for 2014, my friends. I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

It is the day before Christmas, and I'm alone.
Although I suppose my reality is I never am alone. I have cats and dogs, roosters crowing and Joey snorting at regular intervals with the hope of scoring a snack between his two regular meals. I have a bunny hopping around my kitchen chasing Basil Rathbone and sometimes it is the other way around.
 I am sans human companionship, but I am content.

With the gentle snow coming down outside, I will be happy in a few hours when my oldest, Emily, pulls in the driveway, her kitty in tow.
Mollie will be home in the early morning, and as we have always done, we'll sit together in the living room and open presents together, then make the trek to my sister's in Dundas to gather with the rest of the family.
I have friends who don't celebrate Christmas and I respect that just as they respect my right to live the life I have chosen.
Regardless of beliefs, I'm glad to hear from friends at this time of year, grateful for the goodwill shown to me, and grateful beyond words for the companionship of my girls and family....right down to little Terry the Turtle.
I will say now what I think everyday, not just at this time of year. I appreciate your friendship, whether we have met or not. I wish you love and a peaceful mind and heart.
From all of us here we wish you the best!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Self Saucing Chocolate Pudding

In a house with 3 dogs and 5 cats, the tree isn't always straight!

Christmas is fast approaching. That's a fact.
I don't really go for lot of decorating or carol singing, Christmas movies or baking. I'm not a scrooge, but it is just not my thing.
I try to make it special for my girls, especially Mollie, who is still young, but not young enough to believe in Santa. She'll be a teenager early in the new year, and tonight I reminded her that she's starting to act like one. A wee bit more opinionated, which doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing. Unless she disagrees with me and the disagreement is about cleaning her room.
 I digress.
I do remember how magical Christmas was when I was young. My fondest memory is of the Sunday School Christmas pageant. We would generally act out the birth of Jesus every year, replete with lambs and shepherds, forgotten lines and stifled giggling. We would sing, and then towards the end of the evening, Santa would burst into the church basement, with his sack over his back. He would "ho, ho, ho" and greet us all, then settle into a small wooden Sunday School chair. We waited nervously as he would call us up one by one to get a gift, a Malted Milk chocolate bar and an orange. Year after year a Malted Milk bar. Funny to think about it now.
When we returned home after the pageant, mom would urge us to get ready for bed because Santa couldn't come until we were sleeping. I would sneak into the dark living room where the tree was set up and lay on the floor, gazing up at the tree's twinkling lights. It was just magical and thinking about it now makes me smile. It was so simple and it was so good. These are such rich memories and I hope my girls have similar wonderful memories of being children at Christmas.
Families create their own traditions at this time of year. Ours remains pretty simple. We open our gifts early in the morning, then gather with the rest of the family for a noon time meal. If I am hosting, the meal I prepare is a vegetarian one, but someone, generally my sister, brings along a turkey and all that goes along with it. In the spirit of the season I accept this as her preference. Plus, she is bigger than me and I have memories of her sitting on me when we were younger.
There are some foods that my girls expect from me because it's what I always serve for special holidays. My Bean Bird, roasted veggies, and salad from the hoophouse are pretty standard Christmas fare, as well as dishes I fully expect from my sisters every year.
There is a dessert that my girls always expect from me too. It's not Christmas-y at all, but they both love it and recently have started asking for it instead of birthday cake as well.
It's very simple. I hope you will enjoy it too!

Chocolate Pudding

This is a self saucing cake pudding. You just can't mess it up!

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup milk (can be soy or any other)
4 Tbsp melted butter (or Earth Balance)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together, then spread in a greased 8" pan. The batter will be quite thick.

Mix together:
4 Tbsp cocoa
1 cup brown sugar

Sprinkle this mixture over the cake batter in the pan.

Pour 1 3/4 cups boiling water over it all.... don't stir!

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40-45 minutes. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December and 2014 Plans

The cold has caught me off guard, although I guess in the long run it has all turned out okay.
My wood stove is cranking out the heat and the wood pile looks big enough to get us through the season.

Last Thursday I ripped the remaining, and now dead, tomatoes from the hoophouse and seeded some new crops. I know it was warm that day because I was working in a t-shirt and was plenty warm. I planted some tatsoi, kale, and more varieties of mustards and then covered them with ag fabric to hopefully speed along their germination and growth.

Monday of this week was a blustery and cool day, but not cold as was yesterday and as is today. I was happy to be able to dig out the rest of the carrots because the ground wasn't frozen, and was happy with the quantity I got. They are now safely stored in my garage, drying. I'll layer them in straw when they are completely dry and see if it is sufficient to get me through the winter.

I'm working on getting my seeds ready for 2014 sales, with seeds still needing to be cleaned, packed and labeled. Some people have placed orders already, and although I do have my 2014 Seed Savers pre-packaged seed available now, I'm still working on the rest and am hoping to have it ready by mid-end of January. You won't need it before that, right?

The seed help

Some of the Seedy Saturday invitations have come in already for 2014 and I'll be making the rounds again.

This year I am not organizing Niagara Seedy Saturday as I felt it was time to turn it over to others. Master Gardeners and the region's Horticultural Societies have stepped up to the plate, and I suspect will put their own spin on it. So....mark your calendars!  February 8th, 9:30-3:30 at St Giles Church, Linwell Ave., St Catharines. I will write a complete post with details to follow in January. I look forward to seeing everyone there and I'll have lots of chances to talk to everyone this year at my table, which I haven't had in the past as the organizer. Yahoo!

Early In January I'll also update my website with information about the CSA for next year. Please let me know as soon as possible if your are interested as the spots do fill up quickly (for which I am eternally grateful.)

I'll also get the information out about my spring "Come Seed with Me" workshops here on the farm. These have proved to be quite popular, and fill up every year. It is a great chance to learn, and also go home with everything you may need to plant your 2014 garden. It's dirty fun!

And last but far from least will be the updated information about my seedlings available for purchase in the spring. There will again be an opportunity to preorder your favourites, and that list will be available by February this year. Hope you like what you see....there will be some "new" and exciting ones.

Yesterday was Week 12 of my fall/winter CSA and the carrots in the baskets were freshly dug, the greens freshly picked. No doubt at all that the storage veggies are getting down in quantity, but surprising, even in this cold, the greens just keep on growing. I find it just amazing, and it sure makes me happy.

On a very chilly and overcast day like today I leave the ag fabric over top of the crops during the day, but on sunny days when it heats up inside, the covers come off and the greens just love it.

I've got a chair set up in the hoophouse for me too. I seem to thrive in the sun on cool winter days also. The temperature can rise to the 80's and 90's, (F), and heat just goes right through you. If you close your eyes, you can nearly hear the waves on the beach.

I'm looking forward to making plans for the new year. Optimism is the true gardener's best ally, and the chance to do it all again the next year, but to do some things just a little bit differently.

A CSA share

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Guest Post by Suzanne: Having Faith in Slow Food

By Suzanne Taylor, wannabe pawpaw farmer, raptor spotter, and nosy local foodie.

I drove up to Wellandport today to get a basket from Linda, noting that even though the snow had mostly melted in Grimsby, there was still plenty on the roads out to West Lincoln and the myriad little towns you pass through. It was a fine day for raptor-spotting, and I saw both a golden and a bald eagle on my drive, as well as several American kestrels looking for field mice from the telephone wires.

I went out and talked to Linda for a while, about why nobody farmed exotic mushrooms in Niagara (she says that's because they are annoying to grow), and how interesting the Niagara-grown pawpaws that Tiffany had gotten me were, and did she know they weren't pollinated by bees, because the pawpaw trees predate bees evolutionarily-speaking, and that instead they were pollinated by beetles and flies, and you could attract those by hanging roadkill in the trees? 

(The look on Linda's face when I told her that fact cannot be captured in words.)

Despite being a native of Ontario, I never did quite become a winter-lover. The four months of basically living in a slushsicle isn't something I enjoy, and the look of drab winter tires and salt-caked snow boots and the wide emptiness of January are just depressing to even consider, even though we aren't even quite yet in the thick of the Christmas season. 

I lived for a year in the southern US, and remember my roommates having fits because we had a 5 cm snowfall and those people simply don't have snow-clearing equipment for the roads or their cars. They brushed their cars off with kitchen brooms and drove to the store to buy out all the milk, and then it'd melt two days later. I was half-tempted to take them for a trip to Thunder Bay and introduce them to real winter, but those people don't own boots or coats.

Anyhow, in October my husband and I finally turned our little patio garden over and put it to bed for the winter. Most of the tomato plants had given up ripening outdoors and I brought the green tomatoes in to ripen inside (which they did quite nicely), and pulled out most of the rest of the plants. 

But my peppers were a source of indecision for me on that chilly October afternoon. We had planted three kinds of heirloom peppers this summer, and being peppers, they sort of farted along for most of May to July and didn't do very much. We had that giant hailstorm in mid-July which did some damage to our tomato plants, and pretty much figured the pepper plants were wrecked after that. 

The peppers, however, had other ideas, and in late August and early September began shooting up and putting out flowers, and some tiny green fruit appeared. Which was rather annoying, since it was going to be a race against time to ripen anything, but they kept merrily growing along to spite me. I didn't want the frost to kill them after they came back to life. 

Finally I had to make a decision, and so I brought the pepper plants inside after repotting them. I paged through the gardening advice blogs, and determined that even if they didn't ripen, bringing them in would strengthen the plants for the next growing season, and so I did that. I had a pepper on each plant, not much worth saving, but why not, right?

Well, one of them shrivelled into nothing and fell off with a plop while watering last week. The other one is looking grim and I am not holding out high hopes as we begin to motor through December. 

However, one pepper has finally ripened as of today. The plant is called a Quadrato D'Asti Giallo, which is a yellow Italian bell pepper variety, and it has produced a single pepper for me to feast upon in this long December.

This little lonely pepper sort of illustrates what I like about eating locally and eating organic heirloom veg and being a CSA member. Not every plant is going to work, not every crop has a good year. In 2012 the apple crop was mostly wiped out; the 2013 apple crop is a bumper year. This year I hear they picked ice wine grapes in November. 

But that's what eating local is about; having faith and patience in what grows. Winter in Niagara is long, but the local foodie crew has faith that the growing season will come again, even if your stubborn plants manage to make it stretch to December. 

With the winter growing season upon us and Linda's hoophouse offering greens by the bundle, I leave you with a recipe for baked eggs with greens and mushrooms, the latter of which Linda won't grow because they annoy her, courtesy of Brooklyn Supper (www.brooklynsupper.net). 

Happy winter, fellow Niagara food nerds; may the long December bless you with many delicious things. 

Baked Eggs with Greens and Mushrooms
2-3 bunches of leafy greens (I used collards, swiss chard and beet greens)
4 eggs
1 pint fresh mushrooms, or a handful dried
8 oz. marscapone
2 oz. feta
2 tablespoons butter
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon chives, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large baking dish and set aside. If using dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes. Wash the greens thoroughly, spin dry, and chop roughly into 1″ strips.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs and the marscapone. Things will be lumpy, but blend them as best you can. Crumble in the feta, and add the chives. Add a pinch or two of salt. Set aside while you prepare the greens.

In a large saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter oven medium heat. When it is bubbly and fragrant add the garlic, lemon zest, and mushrooms. Saute for 3 or 4 minutes, add the lemon juice and then the greens. Gently cook until the greens have wilted, but still have some crunch. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the greens to the baking dish and pour in the egg mixture. Make sure everything is evenly combined, and put into the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the eggs are just set. Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes, and serve with rice or quinoa.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fall/Winter CSA Week 11 and Mustard Green Pesto

Alas, again I have neglected my blog. It is December and it is busy, but maybe it's not what you think.
Every year when December rolls around, November even, the world goes crazy. And I just get turned off.
Black Monday there, is now supposedly Black Monday here. Then there is Cyber Monday, and oh yes, Red Thursday. Are you kidding? Why don't we give every single day of the week a colour and another excuse to shop.
The more stores roll out this stuff, the more I just want to stay away from them.
Honestly, who needs all this stuff? All this "stuff" has created so many problems, from people who live in poverty making it, or die trying to, to the mess it makes of our air, our land and our waters.
Messing up Mother Earth seems totally at odds with what Christmas is all about, or was all about.

No, I haven't been shopping. And really over the last week I haven't contemplated the garden, or the seeds or anything a whole lot because of a sad situation in our family, the passing of my girls' grandma.
Things happen quickly, and then when you have a moment you sit and reflect on memories and different times. Such has been my week. I've been lost in my past, emerging now to a bit of a changed world in our family.

When I wander around my garden and hoop houses, I see everything is a bit confused. Today was quite mild, but the damage of very chilly night shows in the remaining veg in the garden. The mangels which characteristically push themselves out of the ground to some degree, looked great when I pulled them, but clearly as I pushed my finger against them to check firmness, they were all lost. Boo. They had been frozen solid, then thawed...then no good.
The carrots are still good, and I picked some kale outside, actually a good bit, herbs too. The jerusalem artichokes are still good and came up on my shovel caked in mud.

The vast majority of produce now though is being picked fresh from my hoophouse, or from storage inside.
It has been chilly and cloudy though and there hasn't been a whole lot of growth in the greens in the hoophouses. I cover them up at night and pull off the cover in the morning. Today the sun did shine bright and i'm hoping for much, much more of that. Tomorrow though, they are calling for rain.
Then back to the chill.
Of course, you can never depend on the weather, and that is indeed exactly what growers depend on. It makes perfect sense of course to depend on something that can't be depended on and that is surely why there is such a mad rush of folks wishing to become farmers.
Baskets today had a good variety of mustard greens, jerusalem artichokes, carrots or beets, leeks, garlic, pac choi, sage, rosemary, thyme  and preserves.
There are lots of recipes on my blog about ideas for these veggies. One thing I have tried recently is switching up the traditional "Leek and Potato Soup" and turning it into "Leek and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup". Same recipe and just a straight substitution of the potatoes.
This recipe that I posted pretty much a year ago is a little different idea for the mustard greens.
The recipe is from Bon Appetit.

Mustard Green Pesto Pasta with Mushrooms



  • 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cups (loosely packed) coarsely chopped mustard greens


  • 8 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound fusilli (spiral-shaped pasta) or rotelle
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated smoked mozzarella cheese (about 2 ounces)



  • Blend 1/2 cup oil, pecans, and garlic in processor until finely chopped. Add vinegar, then Parmesan; process to blend. Add mustard greens alternately with remaining 1/3 cup oil in 2 additions each; puree until almost smooth. Season pesto with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. DO AHEAD Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before using.


  • Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sage and sauté just until mushrooms wilt, about 3 minutes. Add wine and sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return pasta to pot. Add pesto and mushrooms; toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl. Sprinkle with smoked mozzarella cheese and serve.