Monday, August 29, 2016

The View is Better from Up Here

Spook has become an amateur vertical space-cat...

The view of the gardens in our neighbourhood is much better from this vantage point and she quite enjoys her little game of 'where did the cat go' with us.

I'm not sure the birds in the neighbour's tree will appreciate her humour but until she achieves true cat stealth ability, she makes her presence very well known as she scrambles up the fence and talks to us when we are searching for her.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Blooming Strong

 With all this amazing Oceanside Sunshine and Heat, there are lots of flowers still blooming strong in the gardens.

A few new ones popped up too - which means I've probably been pulling them out all summer long thinking they were weeds, but with the heat of the last couple of weeks, I've not been as meticulous in the weed pulling department so they've had a chance to grow and bloom.

The African Daisies are a wonderful surprise. Will save some seeds for next year!

 The violas are ever changing and ever growing and ever spreading!

Hidden under the leaves of the kale and Brussel sprout plants I found some that looked almost black.

Love these little pretty faces peeking out at me.

And the yellow rose put on a spectacular performance!! I've learned to enjoy the roses from outside because when I cut some to bring in the house to enjoy, they are drop their petals within 24 hours. It just means I have to enter the garden and get close to the roses to enjoy them fully. I'm not complaining!

Wonder what will pop up in the gardens once the rains return?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Apple Harvest

 The last couple of weeks have been very hot and it was all I could do to turn the sprinkler on in the evening & enjoy an hour in the cooling air.

I've been keeping an eye on the apple tree - watching as it gets more laden down with beautiful fruit that still have yet to be named.

The neighbour said there are raccoons visiting their yard, so I thought it would be best to see what I could harvest off the tree immediately to prevent a critter invasion on my side of the fence.

As usual - my shadows were with me: Spook the cat, getting under foot...

And Nola, looking for a treat.

I'm rather impressed with  the size of most of the fruit and have learned a very valuable lesson. It is better to thin out fruit after pollination in order to have a healthier tree and healthier fruit at harvest time.

Made a lovely apple-blackberry crisp with the smaller, slightly buggy fruit which will satisfy our sweet-tooth cravings this weekend.

* note: I did a harvest earlier in July in order to save the tree as it almost fell over & made some lovely apple sauce *

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fizzy Beverage - Part 1

I have finally stumbled into kombucha and have no idea why it took me this long to even taste it!

Fizzy, gingery, yummy....

So, we picked up a starter kit and I have brewed up the sweet tea to add to the mix. This now sits in the pantry and I'll be checking on it in a few days to see if it is working.

Am already looking forward to adding seasonal fresh flavours and exploring different teas as I gain more confidence with this particular type of brewing.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Hit of Sunshine

 We have moved into the lazy days of mid August where it feels like fall is fast approaching.

The gardens are growing and it is a wonderful time of year where we are not socked in by fog! The first summer in 15 years where the temperatures are consistent and the sun shines brightly.

I'm in my happy-place now...

Here are just a few photos of what we have in the gardens this week:

Self-seeded petunias?
I'll keep them!

A wild mini-forest of violas.

Roses that keep blooming and scenting the yard.

Marigolds growing thick and rich.

My little constant shadow - Spook -

Joy in a Jar

Ok - so I was still stuck on the Sunshine in a Jar idea and I still had plenty of nectarines that needed something creative done with them.

I didn't have enough for a batch of wine (the wine kit is still packed away), so I thought I would create my own Joy Jars...

Amazingly enough, there was still rum left over from making the rumtopf, so I thought to can up some nectarines in a honey syrup with a bit of rum in each jar. I added a bit of lemon rind and sliced ginger to each jar, tossed in a few cloves to the honey syrup and bingo-bango.... Joy in a Jar!

So easy! Love the colour and this will definitely bring a smile to our faces this winter when we are craving something different.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Boozy Preserves - the Rumtopf

 The bounty at this time of year seems endless and I really do wish there were more hours in the day and more room in the pantry!

The box of nectarines are ripe - a little more ripe than I had anticipated, so immediate creativity was required. The Sunshine in a Jar experiment seemed to have been successful (no I haven't cracked open a jar yet!), so I thought I would try something similar - yet completely different - with the nectarines.

 I stumbled across exactly what I needed and it's called Rumtopf.

As usual, the Brew Master mixed things up a whole lot and went with the nectarines, slices of lemon and lime, loads of sliced fresh ginger, fresh honey and fresh mint from the garden.

It smelled divine!!

As I was stirring things up and adding the rum, I found some almost forgotten strawberries in the fridge and at the last moment tossed in a generous pinch of dried lavender.

I covered it with saran and put the lid on. Now it will sit in the back pantry for a few months (yeah right - a few weeks until it 'needs' to be tested) and this will be a great Christmas addition to our celebrations.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


 Wild flowers have their own special place in the garden. They will try to take over, they will grow only where they want to grow & never exactly where you want & then they will self-seed either in a most successful way, or not at all.

The annual red poppies are finished for the year, except for a couple late bloomers.

Now it is time to harvest the seeds for next year.

The back yard is in a rather dead state of affairs right now. Mid-way to the next project of yard reno. I've just been keeping the weeds down to a dull roar for the last month.

You know when the seed heads are ready to harvest when the crowns are dry and open up. Of course, there is a high likelihood that while you are cutting off the ripe seed heads you will aid in the self-seeding process, which is not a bad thing as you will gather more seeds than you know what to do with.

I let the seed heads dry for about a week inside and gently shake out as many of those wee seeds as possible. I'll jar them up & start the seeding process late in the winter around February.

 The poppy seeds that I planted out in the new gardens are now finally blooming, so the earlier you sow seeds, the earlier you'll have blooms. I like that these later blooming poppies are pink - a bit of a change from the sea of red we had.

I think successive seeding of the annuals might be the way to go for an extended blooming season.

Monday, August 8, 2016

My Favourite Place

 Right now, my favourite place is this little corner of paradise in our back yard. A lot of it is wild & over-grown, a small bit of it is actually dead, there is still some that is bare and there are surprises popping up all the time...

But what we've planted back here is a joy to the eye & so much fun to see the dog & cat enjoy just as much as we do.

There is a lot of wonderful white (sweet alyssum and feverfew) plus popping purple in the lavender and violas.

The lattice garden is going a bit wild as well... The marigolds finally bloomed and are now being covered by calendula and nasturtium. I'm constantly tying up the sweet peas and weaving the honeysuckle and jasmine through the lattice for future blooms.

What a wild piece of green & fragrant blooms...

One of my favourite things about this garden is that the kitten - Spook - loves to come out with me to explore the plants and search for bugs and hopefully enjoy a newly dug hole in the cool soil. I catch her 'smelling' the flowers every once in a while and if we can't immediately see where she is at, I know she has found a cool piece of soil underneath a plant...

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What a Crock - Part 2

 About a week ago, while making my first batch of pickles, I ran out of jars but not imagination (What a Crock (part 1)) and today I'm sharing an update.

The crock did not actually make it out into the garage immediately - it sat on the floor under the kitchen island for the last week & I've been peaking into it almost daily.

There was a film of white yeast on the top, which is harmless but should be removed (skimmed off) as much as possible. This indicates that I also need to move the crock out into the garage where it is cooler. I will sprinkle a bit of salt on the top & around the edges & monitor things to ensure that the yeast doesn't return too heavily. It might impart a flavour to the pickles that we don't necessarily want.

The pickle we tested for breakfast was wonderfully crunchy! Not very salty at all (so the addition of a wee bit of extra salt to the brine at this stage shouldn't make the final product overly salty).

I like that we can dip into the crock and eat fresh pickles much sooner than with my canned pickles - which I will wait to test for a while longer.

Wonder what other veggies I could toss into the mix for some amazing crunchy treats?
I'm trying my luck with Brussel sprouts this year. I rather enjoy roasted sprouts & this is definitely a fall-winter crop to have in the garden.

I picked up a few plants a few weeks ago & planted them in the back garden where things seem to be doing very well. I'm tempted to cut the lower leaves to see if they are a nice addition to a stir fry.

Hopefully the summer weather - which has finally arrived - will get them to the size they need to be once the fall weather hits us.

Can't wait to see how much they grow over the next few weeks.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Finally Some Food in the Garden

I picked up some Swiss Chard starts a few weeks ago to have a bit of a 'winter garden'. Well, the chard seems to really like where it's at & I'm harvesting a few stems already.

Love the colour & the texture that they give in the garden. Mixing edibles in with the flowers is a bit a new thing for me (since I don't have the veggie space prepared just yet) and I'm thinking that it will be something I'll try to incorporate in future flower beds...

Friday, August 5, 2016

Slowly Ripening

The apples are slowly ripening and I'm finding it difficult not picking one to taste it...

Since they are slowly turning red, I believe they are 'red' apples and hopefully sometime in the next month, I will be able to harvest some ripe & tasty fruit from my own tree.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What a Crock...

So, I ran out of jars when making pickles this weekend but had a back-up plan for that remaining amount of pickling cucumbers.

Why not try my hand at fermenting them?

I picked up a 5 gallon crock - something I've been looking at for a while.

The idea is to let the cucumbers sit in a cool place in the brine & slowly bubble & ferment into crunchy goodness. Since I make lots of fruit wine, I understand the concept of fermentation quite well, but this is done with vinegar & not sugar, so we shall see what happens.

I made again the simple brine: 4 cups water, 2 3/4 cups vinegar & 1/3 cup salt. I chopped up some onion & garlic & the remaining dill. The seasonings I layered on the bottom, sliced the tips off the cucumbers (which I'm leaving whole for this experiment) and layered them on top. I had enough to do 2 layers of seasonings and cucumbers.

Then I poured on top the brine - which I did not boil, but stirred til the salt was dissolved.

I put a clean plate on top of the cucumbers to ensure they remained below the liquid level (weighted down with clean jars full of water) & put the lid on the crock.

I'll check on it in a couple days to see what's going on in there, but it will live in the garage beside the freezer where it is cool and out of the way. I'm sure I could toss in other veggies for a quick pickle too - like beans and carrots...

Will let you know how this one works out too!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Garlic Dill Pickles

 This weekend I thought I would try my hand at another new skill: making pickles!

I picked up a 15 pound bag of freshly picked pickling cucumbers and we sorted them according to size. It's easier to process and pack jars with items that are relatively uniform in size.

I did a lot of research into this as 15 pounds is quite a bit to work with and I won't know for a few weeks if the end result is worth sharing with friends and family.

 Fresh dill is a must when making pickles. I would have preferred the seed heads to be a little more mature as the true dill flavour really is in the seeds, but I've got enough here to satisfy.

I also was hoping for fresh garlic - you know - the juicy, spicy rich cloves that haven't yet been cured. Those were available a few weeks ago and these lovely red Russian bulbs are almost exactly what I was looking for.

Again, prepare all your equipment: jars, lids, hot water bath, tools and work space.

* 4 cups water
* 2 3/4 cups vinegar (I used just plain white vinegar)
* 1/3 cup kosher salt
(if you want to add pickling spice to the brine, do so)
- boil brine to dissolve salt & keep at a hot simmer
- depending on how many jars you will be processing, you may have to keep adding to the brine to fill the jars - I made this brine 3 times for about 12 pounds of pickling cukes.

Prep your jars for filling. This is the most time consuming part of the whole process. Do your research into what you want to put into the jars. I didn't want to overpower the pickles with any specific spice (the pickling spice I picked up has a sweet flavor in it that was OK for flavoring the brine, but not what I wanted in the jars.

I sliced up some white onion & because those beautiful garlic cloves were so large, I sliced them up too. I think I put about 3/4 of a clove of garlic in each jar & at least a good tablespoon of onion. Then I put in some of the fresh dill leaves & seed heads.

The small cukes I left whole & just sliced the tips off each end. I read that there are enzymes in the blossom end that causes the pickles to possibly become less crunchy. Stack them vertically in the jars & cram as many in as you can without mashing them.

If you want, put another sprig of dill on top & then pour in the hot brine. Screw on the lid & gently put into the hot water bath. Process at a boil for about 10 minutes. Again, do your research and ask questions of others as I read that some people process theirs for 20 or even 30 minutes. I want crunchy pickles and my jars are small, so I reduced the time.

Cool on the counter & then let mellow in the pantry for a few weeks.

I'm more anxious about the pickles than I am about the apricots as a mushy pickle just is not a happy pickle and I've got almost 2 dozen jars!!

I'm marking my calendar & am looking forward to Pickle Tasting Day! Will let you know how it all turns out...