Friday, December 27, 2013

A New Season of Flavours

~ thawed raspberries on the stove ~
I've been watching a lot of cooking shows on TV lately...all late at night, which leads to interesting experiments in the kitchen the following day after dreaming of new flavours all night long.

Today's Kitchen Experiment: Raspberry Mustard dipping sauce.

I have a lot of raspberries in the freezer - it was a bumper year for me & I'm looking for new things to try with the berries.

~ grainy mustard ~
I got up at 5 this morning to take the raspberries out of the freezer - yup - dreamed of this recipe all night long...

Cook the raspberries with sugar (2:1 or 3:1 ratio of berries to sugar, depends on how sweet you want the end result) til mixture thickens up slightly (15 minutes).

Throw in a couple tablespoons of grainy mustard or Dijon if that's all you've got. Or a mix of the two.
~ raspberry mustard dipping sauce ~
Jar it up & let cool. It should thicken up slightly once fully cooled. Taste & adjust flavouring with hot sauce, red pepper jelly or even some honey.

This is going to be great on chicken or with roast pork (might add sage if doing it with pork). The original recipe I saw this with was as a dipping sauce for fries cooked with duck fat & served with shredded duck meat....

(we had duck for Christmas dinner & I'm craving more...)

The hubby just had some with the tourtiere turnovers we made yesterday (see recipe here) & I think he approves...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 7 (another one?!)

 Today's Challenge - what do you do with 3 pounds of cranberries & several bags of blackberries? Well, you make chutney, of course!

Bear in mind, when I make jams or jellies, I make a very large batch & this was most certainly the case with the chutney. I felt that if it was going to be as a-may-zing as I envisioned, than I better have enough to share. Plus it can be used as Christmas gifts or hostess gifts when going out to the neighbours' for dinner!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 6 (are we done yet??)

~ peace ~ joy ~ love ~
 Today's Challenge - looks very similar to yesterday's but requires a brave heart & a big chunk of wall.

I found 3 canvases in my art supplies & again, saw another idea for creating a big, bold holiday statement/wish/feeling that would take up a big chunk of wall space. In this case, this wall space will remain empty for the rest of the year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 5

~ have a holly jolly Christmas ~
 Today's Challenge - change your wall art to something seasonal!

This one might be a challenge - but the idea is to change the art you hang on your walls to something that will hang there only for the holiday season. Changes the look & feel of your space & allows you to feel like you've refreshed your living space without having to bust out the paint supplies.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 4

Sometimes don't you wish you had a clue as to how to utilize some of those amazing things you hold on to?

Today Challenge - fill the red flowerpot vase with something decorative.

Again, another easy one. I've been holding on to this amazing vase in the shape of a red flower pot for years & this year decided to fill it with twigs & hang some mini decorations from it. (it's really hard to take a decent photo of this one!)

The little Christmas balls are blue & silver - not really in with the colour theme I've been gathering over the years (red & gold), but it works. I also found some pine cones at the Dollar Store (yes, our evergreens don't give us the nice sized pine cones unless you really hunt) & they are in a nice gold colour. I have a few feathers around the house that I tucked in & think I will keep my eye out for more wild bird feathers over the year to add to the mix.

This piece is more a textural change to my leafy tree in green. Next year I might try to find a rose bush with hips on them still & use those! Mother Nature has already decorated them!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 3

Christmas Craft Challenge - create a wreath from canning jar rings.

OK, this one isn't too difficult. It's actually been on my radar for a couple years, ever since the great 'community jam jar recycling' project I did a few years back. (I got about 500 jars & had to meticulously go through all the jars, rings & lids before I could start to use them). I've held on to all these rings with a wispy image in my mind of what I wanted.

I took a length of stiff wire (I had left over from when I tied up the raspberry plants) & I looped it through the rings. After absent-mindedly fiddling around with trying to figure out how to keep the wreath from flopping in on itself, I realized that if I punched a hole through one of the top rings & brought the wire up - thus creating a loop at the top to hang the wreath! - the whole structure was relatively sturdy.

Add a bit of ribbon & a couple tacky bows & viola! A very simple, traditional looking wreath that will, over time, rust up & become more of a keepsake piece vs a noticeable recycled piece.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 2

~ construction in winter sunshine ~
 Christmas Craft Challenge - making a Christmas tree.

For years we have been on the search for the 'perfect' tree - either a real tree cut from a Christmas tree farm or a potted tree to be planted in the spring or even a (dreaded) fake tree.

I won't bore you with the ethics behind any of the choices you have made in your own personal quest for the 'perfect' tree as this is not what this post is about. The 'perfect' tree is a myth...but I just may have brought some mythical magic into my home this Christmas season!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Crafts - Challenge 1

Today's Christmas Craft Challenge: citrus honey.

This one is easy! If you are host to a gathering & find yourself with left-over wedges of lemons &/or limes, grab your honey pot & a tall clean jar.

Scoop some honey into the jar & then squeeze the citrus wedges into the jar (make sure you remove the seeds first so you don't have to deal with them later) & toss the wedges into the jar. I've put about 2 limes & probably 3 lemons into this large jar.

Top up with more honey & warm up in the microwave. Stir up the citrus juice with the melted honey, adding more to fill the jar up.

Label & date & then let it marinate anywhere from 5 days to 5 weeks. The fruit juice should keep the honey from crystallizing or returning to its creamy state. If you'd like, add a touch of salt or fresh grated ginger!

You can decant into smaller jars as gifts - make sure to include a few pieces of lemon & lime for presentation. You can still use the citrus in your cooking (think: roast chicken with some honey drizzled on top & a couple wedges of citrus tucked in around the bird).

I'm looking forward to using the honey in teas during the winter (I have a jar I made last winter that is absolutely perfect right now - it has lots of ginger, a touch of lavender salt & is rich in citrus zip & zing!)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Snow - Yup, that's a Four Letter Word...

~ road down to dock ~
 Snow - in my dictionary is a swear word. It fits - it's four letters & it's nasty. Well - that's my opinion...

Today, it snowed. Actually, it is STILL snowing & I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring. The end of the world? A lock down in the community life? Crazy antics from people who should know better? I just might call in sick due to snow...

This was my journey home today from work. And yes, I left work early due to snow...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mother Nature Putting on Her Festive Colours

 I enjoy poinsettias. 
I prefer my poinsettias without sparkles or strange 'unnatural' colours.

 I like that these plants are tropical & grow well in the ground in other parts of the world, but that I can treat them like an annual for just the Christmas season.

I have also admitted to myself that I am not one of those people with super powers who can have their poinsettia last til Valentine's Day or even til the next holiday season. 
I kill each & every one of my poinsettias but I still love them & the sense of exotic flare that Mother Nature has at this time of year.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I keep Cutters in My Back Pocket

~ winter lavender harvest ~
I DO carry my cutters in my back pocket - I can't help it...

When I go for walks, I find myself pruning or deadheading flowers & shrubs in my neighbour's yard.

Or there is a cutting I dearly would love to have & you never know when the right opportunity will come along to get that cutting.

Or you are walking through your own yard & come across your lavender shrubs that have flowered for you once again & you really want to quickly bring them in the house before darkness falls in 5 minutes & they freeze overnight.

Who knows what I'll do with these lavender bundles, but how wonderful to have fresh lavender at this time of year!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Surprises in Boxes

 Flower boxes are still a puzzle for me. How often to water, what time of day is best, how often to fertilize, what are the best plants, drainage, sun/shade, novice gardeners ripping out plants instead of weeds...

I volunteer with a few other green & brown thumbs in town to plant & maintain a collection of flower boxes along the boardwalk railing running down the west side of our town. This year, we tried a selection of perennials, herbs, succulents & 'extras' growing in our own gardens.

Come November, the boxes are generally pretty empty for forlorn looking for the winter season. Not so down by the Post Office!!

Our Post Mistress is starting to show off her green thumb in a few of the boxes that grow outside her office. On this late day in November, she still had a box full of flowers & in the sunshine, they really did make many people's day brighter.

I thought we would also try some flowering kale in the boxes for the winter. We'll have to check back towards Christmas to see how they are doing.

I think with the return of the rains & the continuing sunshine, the flowers decided they would show off for a while longer.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It's Always Greener in your Neighbour's Garden

~ house mate's kale ~
 November has been a strange month in the garden. We are used to receiving the first & nastiest of our winter storms, days upon days upon days of rain & gray skies, washed out roads, possible power outages & generally ugly days.

This year it seems to be quite different - sunshine & practically perfect in fact! Actually, it feels positively like January - which is disconcerting because we are still 2 months away from that... The days have been wonderful for working in the gardens & getting those last minute chores complete.

One of them is harvesting kale for the freezer to use in the winter, just in case your plants in the garden don't make it.

Our housemate grew kale this year - first time ever & he did such a great job! He's since moved on & has left me an abundance of kale for the winter. I don't mind... I foresee a lot of kale chips in the next few months...
~ my kale ~
  My kale is starting to recover from being neglected all summer. They are actually the exact same plants as the ones in my house mate's garden bed, he just watered them while I didn't. 
~ neighbour's kale ~

 I was visiting my neighbour (see house behind me) & noticed she had a HUGE crop of kale in her garden. Much more than over in my yard & I immediately had kale envy...

Now her's was all flat leaf kale (possibly Red Russian) & I personally prefer the curly leaf variety, but since I wasn't actually going to harvest her kale for ME to enjoy, I was more envious of her ability to grow such a quantity. She's a busy lady, so I hurried over & proceeded to do a 'good neighbourly' deed - I harvested half of it for her, removed the leaves from the stalks, washed, spun dry & bagged it up for her to put in the freezer for winter dishes.
~ neighbour's kale packaged ~
  My neighbour is relatively new to eating kale so I then had to share with her (in written form of course because who is going to remember ideas for food in January?) all the wonderful potential things she can put her kale in.

Soups are the easiest & I love soups in the winter. Beef barley, turkey rice, chicken noodle, curry lentil... How about stews? Stir fries? Breads, loaves & muffins? Or the traditional Dutch treat with mashed potatoes & smoked sausage? mmmm....

I think I'll have to head outside to harvest some of mine too, just so I don't forget to eat it this winter. Oh look - the sun is shining still!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Something Strange This way Blooms

~ flowering in mid-November ~
Years ago I was given a plant from some neighbours who claimed it was either a papaya or an avocado - I can't recall which one they said. It lived in my house for many years & then, when we built the new house, I just didn't have the space inside for it & thought I'd see what it would do outside.

I planted it on the North East corner of the house. It has been 5 years now & I'm pretty sure the plant is well over 7 feet tall. I do nothing with it - no fertilizer, no mulching, no proper watering, no pruning.

I want to see what this thing can do!

 What it's doing now, is flowering.

It flowered last year, but I think there are more flowers this year. I'm trying to figure out if they have scent, but at this time of year, there are lots of wonderful smells outside & I can't quite reach the blooms to get my nose right in there.

I'll have to keep track of these & work harder this year on proper identification. I get side-tracked when trying to identify something I've had for years & have been trying to id for years - it will eventually let me know what it is...

...but if you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Time to Let Go

~ raspberries at end of October ~
It doesn't quite feel like winter, even with the few mild frosts we've had & the dramatic changes in the garden.

But today was the day to let go - of the raspberry patch & potential harvests like this one on the right. I have to admit that I won't be picking these anymore this season because the temperatures just aren't warm enough to ripen the remaining fruit... (sad sigh)

So I did a bit of 'spring clean-up' a few months early!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

First Frost of the Season

~ frosty lawn ~
 It's late in October, the weather has been wonderfully dry & warm & sunny, so I'm not sure why I was slightly surprised to see frost this morning...

I'm still busy out in the gardens planting new bulbs & transplanting things out of the veggie beds & into the flower beds.
~ frosted clary sage & purple toadflax ~

 We are lucky out here on the coast to be so close to the ocean. While it does bring us fog in the late summer, it does keep us moderately snow free in the winter.

I'm glad the ground won't freeze for another month or so & I'm also glad I put the plastic row cover over my winter greens!

In a few hours it will be warm enough for me to head back out in shorts & t-shirt to continue playing in the garden!

Monday, October 21, 2013

King Bolete Jackpot!

~ Boletus edulis ~
 I came home the other day & saw a group of mushrooms growing alongside the road. I knew they were Boletus mushrooms (Boletus on Wikipedia) so I quickly picked them & brought them home for further identifying.

This was the Jackpot!

They are Boletus edulis - or King Boletes - probably one of the best flavoured mushrooms out there. (well, according to my tastebuds...)
~ jackpot! ~

~ Second one: 2 lbs! ~
~ First one: 2 lbs! ~
There were 2 very large mushrooms & each weighed 2 lbs! That's a lot of 'shroom!

Since mushrooms are tender finds, you'll want to process them immediately, so I chopped up the 2 large ones & fried them in butter & garlic.

I now have servings in the freezer for winter stews & soups.

The smaller ones I sliced up & dried. I like to grind them & add sprinkle them on whatever I'm cooking for some added nutty flavour. One of my preferred ways to use it is when I'm making rice - grind it up, sprinkle in with the rice & water & instant yummy flavour!
~ mmmm-mushroom! ~

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

~ surprise lupin ~
Thanksgiving weekend is upon us once again. My favourite time of year!

The sun is shining & there is still warmth in the air. A great time to be outside in the gardens...

Here is a bit of what I did this weekend:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Time to Plant your Garlic

~ Russian hardneck garlic ~
 This is the perfect time of year to plant your garlic for next year's harvest.

This year I purchased some Russian hardneck porcelain garlic from Gabriola Island (on the east side of Vancouver Island). The cloves are nice & large - which is what you want; plant large cloves & you should grow large heads of garlic!

Pull the cloves apart (keep the small ones for cooking - you do want to know what your future harvest of garlic will taste like), don't peel them & I wouldn't plant any that are damaged or don't look plump - they might not develop properly.

~ trenched & bonemeal added ~
I dug trenches about 4 inches deep & 2-3 inches apart. Put about 1 tsp of bone meal under each clove & plant them pointy side up (just like your tulip bulbs!) Cover them up & if you know there won't be rainfall for a bit, give them a drink of water.

They should send up shoots in a few weeks & then go dormant for the rest of the winter. Next spring when the soil starts to warm up, they'll start to grow again - apply some more bone meal & a pinch of lime to the soil around the shoots & water regularly.

They will send out flower shoots called scapes, which you will want to cut off & eat. The flowers will take energy away from the development of large cloves & they taste amazing in stir fries. Garlic will be ready towards mid-July; the leaves will start to dry up & turn brown. Reduce the amount of water they receive about 2 weeks before you are ready to harvest. Dig them up by hand, hand to dry out in a dark, cool area for a few weeks. Brush the soil off, trim the roots & you can either braid the stalks together or cut them off a few inches above the top of the head.

I just remembered that I have some garlic downstairs that I grew last year & haven't eaten yet. I should take a look at it & see if there are large enough cloves to plant. Garlic will acclimatize to the conditions of your own garden soil & if you re-plant your own garlic, over the years it will develop its own unique flavours. I would like to try this! In one area grow 'new' garlic & in another continue re-planting what I've grown year after year.

Happy Thanksgiving to you & Happy Fall Gardening!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Berries in the Fall

Fall is my favourite time of year.
The weather may be unpredictable but the rains are necessary after the drought of summer & usually mean a continuation of the growing season for another couple months.

As long as the sun shines, the berries will continue to produce & I absolutely love fall raspberries!

This year my raspberry patches were great producers. I've never had such an abundant crop in the summer & the berries were all large & full of flavour. Must have been the mason bees I invested in!

The fall crop is also doing extremely well - check out the size of these berries!! Must have been the pig poop I applied & the well timed rain fall...

Many of the canes are well over 8 feet tall & since my supports aren't that strong, they all lean over, nearly touching the ground. This means that the flowers are closer to the level that I find most of the fall pollinators are flying at. They seem lazy & sluggish, but I always double check the canes before wading in to pick fresh berries.

I hope to get a picture of some of the pollinators - they are the late season bees & lots of wasps - yes, wasps are pollinators too!

Looks like I'll be picking well into November this year! Can't wait.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Savage Nature in my Backyard

~ June - just moved in ~
 On June 11 we opened our gardens & our hearts to 3 cute little ducks.

~ June - learning the pool rules ~
~ June - morning coffee time ~
~ June - getting bigger ~
~ June - morning snack time ~

~ foraging in the yard ~
~ July ~

~ August - morning stretches ~
~ August - we love snack times~

~ August - helping in the gardens ~

~ Duck Rogers ~
~ Lucy ~
~ Sweet Pea ~
~ August foraging in the yard ~
~ Rains = big puddles ~

~ September rains make new favourite spots ~

~ September:follow us around like dogs that don't want to be petted ~

~ October mornings as full grown ducks ~
We lost our ducks on October 7th to late-night marauding raccoons
Rest in Peace
Sweet Little Ducks
Duck Rogers, Lucy & Sweet Pea