How time flies…

November 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm (environment, food, Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Is it really November already?  Seems like just last week the tomato vines were laden with heavy ripe fruit and we were eating garden-fresh salads daily… oh, and it wasn’t raining every dang day!

Yes, November is one of the wettest months in Vancouver, so when the sun is out we have to make good use of it.  Already this month I’ve dug up two patches of the front lawn for new veggie garden beds.  One, the garlic bed, is about 15′ x 2′ and it’s up against the hedge row on the east side of the house where it will get good sun for much of the morning and mid-day hours.  After two beautifully sunny days of working on this project–removing all that grass, and digging in 3 very full 5-gallon buckets of compost into the top 10-12″ of soil–Day 3 saw rain, rain, and more rain.  Nevertheless, I trudged out to the yard in full rain gear to plant 54 of the largest cloves of garlic I could get my hands on.  I finished off with a layer several inches thick of decaying leaves collected from my own yard, my neighbor’s yard, and even the street.  About the garlic, some 20 cloves are a hardneck type called Music that I purchased from one of my favorite Farmer’s Market vendors–Brian from Sheffield Farm.  The rest are supermarket garlic–smaller, less pungent, but guaranteed to be organically-raised and as local as you can get.  I know, I know, 54 heads of garlic sounds like a lot, and maybe it is, but I’d rather have too much than too little.  It’s fun to share!

Besides, I was inspired to try growing enough for a whole year when I recently attended a workshop on the long-term storage of raw foods like squash, pumpkins, onions, garlic, potatoes, tubers and root vegetables.  The class focused on how to cure veggies for storage and how to decide where to store them so that they receive appropriate amounts of moisture, warmth, light or dark–just as you decide where to plant what in the outdoor garden based on the “micro-climate” of a given spot (how much sun it gets, how well-drained the soil is, or whether the spot is warm and protected from wind due to a nearby wall, for instance).  The workshop, taught by Robin Wheeler (whose book Food Security For the Faint of Heart I devoured in a matter of days and ultimately got her to autograph!) was a nice complement to my recent interest in other types of food preservation such as canning and drying.  This summer saw my first rough attempts at hot water bath canning.  I did some whole, peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce (from some beautiful Ambrosia and Gala apples obtained at the Farmer’s Market), huckleberry jam (a failure due to bad recipe calling for waaaaay too much sugar), blueberry-rhubarb jam (a winner), and spicy dill pickles.  I love the look of all those colorful jars up on the kitchen shelf and the feeling, not just of security and comfort knowing it’s all there waiting to be eaten, but of satisfaction and pride in having put it all by, all by myself:)

Oh yes, back to the garden work I’ve been up to… The other new bed that I created in the front yard is a large round area tucked up against the west side of the porch stairs, a perfect spot, some would say, for some lovely ornamentals and perhaps a colorful flower border.  But not me!  I transplanted my rhubarb crowns there and look forward to seeing their bright red stems and broad green leaves displayed next to the lilac bushes, tucked in with the perennials as if they belong there–and they do!

Since I’m renting, I’ve inherited a yard that is well-planted, but somewhat over-landscaped (for my tastes and purposes) in bushes, bulbs, and ornamentals.  My plan is not to commit to any major earth-works and not to invest too much time and effort in tearing stuff up and starting over, but to work with what I have, even if it means that I end up mixing veggie plants and berry bushes into the established perennial borders.  In fact, maybe the result will be all the better for being nice-looking as well as edible.  Edible landscapes are a recent phenomenon, you know… As an aside, I picked up a circa-1970’s gardening book from a thrift store over the summer and I was amazed (in a horrified kind of way) and kind of saddened to see the vegetable gardens all tucked away in hidden, unused corners where they do not detract from the look of the landscaped yard.  Interesting how times have changed…

Other stuff that’s changed since last I wrote–I know, I know, I’ve been really bad about updating this blog lately…  Well, I completed my yoga teacher training program at the end of June and taught two classes over the summer.  The first was nerve-wracking; the second went so smoothly and the response from my students was so positive, it was a major confidence booster.  I came out of that class feeling like I had really achieved something and had really made a major transformation from the beginning of the training program to the end.  I still don’t know if I want to pursue being a yoga teacher as a profession; that was never really my intention in deciding to enter the program.  I wanted to challenge myself to do it for the deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and physiology, as well as to push myself into a deeper commitment to my own yoga practice.  Unfortunately, summer visits, trips and the lack of free time due to no more Happy Hands for Eleanor have all conspired against my sustaining a regular yoga practice and, because I feel out of practice myself, I do not feel like I’m in a position to teach.  However, I’m trying to get back into a regular practice and I have noticed in the brochure of classes offered in the new community center that there’s no one teaching a mom-and-tot yoga class or a class for moms with child-minding available (it was for want of these types of programs when Eleanor was a toddler that I first got it into my head that I could become a teacher and offer them myself), so we’ll see what the following year holds…

Deciding to do the yoga teacher training program in December of last year also held out the hope of possibly being employable if Stephen’s job ended up taking us to Switzerland, where his boss was and presumably still is trying to start up an office.  Well, I don’t know if you all have noticed, but the economy hasn’t been that great lately and financial services companies have been especially hard hit.  Stephen’s employers are apparently doing just fine, but certain things like opening offices in Switzerland have taken the back burner for now.  That’s okay, though.  Stephen has decided that he wants to go back to UBC and complete his PhD.  He can continue working for his current employer nearly full-time and incorporate his work-work into the work he’ll be doing for the PhD so he can continue to be paid as he currently is and we can consider ourselves settled for the foreseeable future–which is a good thing for me since I just went to all the trouble of digging up two new garden beds and I’m sprouting asparagus from seed this winter and I won’t be able to harvest it for at least two years!

Here’s a thought…  Renters are hesitant to do much in-ground gardening and they certainly don’t bother to plant things like berry bushes and apple trees that take years to produce their first crop, mainly because they regard their adobes as temporary shelter, they know it’s only a matter of time before they move on and they don’t want to make long-term investments of which they’ll never reap the benefits.  Imagine, though, if every renter who felt that way went ahead and planted those long-yielding perennials anyway.  Then, every time they move, they wouldn’t have to mourn the loss of those raspberry canes or that strawberry patch, because they’d have fresh blueberries, and an established, productive asparagus patch to look forward to.  It would take a change of attitude on the part of renters everywhere: namely, to stop thinking of their gardens in terms of what it produces for them, or how much money it saves them, or that it’s even “their” garden.  A garden does not serve the gardener.  A garden is self-creative and self-renewing; planting one and cultivating it is a service to the earth and to one’s community.  Renters should go ahead and plant anything and everything that strikes their fancy, knowing that they’ve done their small part to heal a little piece of earth (and more, the more they frequently they move) and that one day down the road many, many people will enjoy the benefits of their labor, as as they themselves will go on to enjoy the benefits of someone else’s labor at their new place… Just a thought…

In other news, Eleanor’s doing great.  She’s as smart as a whip and very clever, too.  She’s got a real sense of humor these days and, though she doesn’t shy away from poot jokes, she’s also very mature for her age.  She’s in a combined three- and four-year-old preschool class for two hours two days a week.  Her favorite thing to do at preschool is dress up in the beautiful dress-up clothes.  She’s a real girly-girl.  She was also doing ballet and gymnastics once a week and a program called Happy Hands, which is just like preschool, all at the community center.  The center has been slated to move into a new location for a long, long time and the time had finally come… or so we thought.  The old center closed and took reservations already for classes at the new center, but they’ve just informed us that construction delays at the new center have held up the move once again, so everything is canceled for the rest of the year.  Boo hoo…  That community center was like a second home for me when Eleanor was young and we were new to Vancouver and to parenthood.  I started taking her there when she was just a baby; I met a lot of my neighbors and other moms there; Eleanor’s practically grown up at the tot gym there… and now it’s all over… and we’re stuck waiting around for the new center to open.  The new center will be very nice and I like that it has a library in it and it will be easier to get to from our new house.  In the meantime, Eleanor and I have been forced to find other things to do on the days that she doesn’t have preschool.  We’re discovering free drop-in playgroups and strong start learning centers all over the place.  Vancouver’s publicly-funded services for families cannot be beat!

Well, there’s a lot more I could write about.  Seeing as I haven’t blogged in well over half a year, I have a lot of catching up to do.  Knowing myself, I won’t make promises to be back often and fill in all the details of the summer months or recent projects taken up around here, but I’ll do my best.  Even if I never get into the habit of blogging about everything that goes on in my life, I would like to share more of my thoughts and philosophical ideas about the world and what in it is important to me–my family, community, good food, the environment, my garden, sustainability, politics… I could go on and on and on…

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Vegan Summer Squash Bread Perfection!

August 28, 2008 at 5:35 pm (food) (, , , , , , , , , , )

This always happens when I go to the farmer’s market… I have two or three things in mind that I need to get, but I end up buying fresh, local produce until either my backpack is full or my wallet is empty.  So, this week I ended up with some delicious yellow summer squash that I needed to use up.  I thought, if carrot cake is classic and zucchini bread is divine, why not give squash bread a go?  And why not make it vegan while I’m at it?  Here’s what I came up with:

Delicious Vegan Squash Muffins

(Due to the amount of squash I had on hand, I made enough batter for six muffins and one large loaf, but the recipe can easily be halved for a single medium-sized loaf, in which case you’d just want to bake it at 350 deg. for 55-60 minutes.)

Dry ingredients:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 2 c. coarsely grated summer squash
  • 2 c. raw cane sugar
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 over-ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 carrot, finely grated
  • zest of 1 lime

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the center, and set aside.  Mix wet ingredients in a separate large mixing bowl.  Add wet mixture to dry mixture all at once and stir just until moistened.  If desired, fold in 1 cup chopped pecans.  Fill six paper-lined muffin tins level with top of pan.  Pour remaining batter into a greased 8x4x2 loaf pan.  Bake loaf and muffins for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of a muffin comes out clean.  After removing muffins, lower oven temp. to 350 deg. and bake loaf for another 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for 10 min. in pan on a rack, then remove from pan to cool completely.  Now, sit back and enjoy Vegan Summer Squash Bread Perfection!

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Victoria Day Weekend

May 20, 2008 at 7:44 am (Other) (, , , , , )

With me only working two 2.5-hour shifts this weekend, Stephen staying home Friday morning, and today being Victoria Day, it’s as if we’ve just had a four-day weekend!  

Friday, I unfortunately had a demo at 2, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous and it was the first truly hot day of the year, so Stephen spent the morning with Eleanor and I.  Normally, we would have gone to the tot gym and hung out with friends, maybe gone to the grocery store and ridden the mall pony… Instead, we thought, “It’s duck-feeding weather!”  Of course, we didn’t see the Please Do Not Feed Wildlife sign until our last piece of bread had been decimated by the angry Canada goose.  (Recently returned from his travels South, he wasn’t as polite as I’ve come to expect of most Canadians.)  

This was at Queen Elizabeth Park.  We then walked the meandering paths looking for Totoros and ended up at the top of the hill where there is a conservatory, fountains, and viewing areas.  The views, I have to say, were a little disappointing, as the beaches and most of the city were obscured by trees and the North Shore mountains from so much pollen in the air.

A quick jaunt back down and we were back at our old haunt: Main and 32nd, the little dive we called home for all of three months, having been forced to move due to a pregnancy and an idiot.  Didn’t know it at the time, but there existed all along this amazing Vietnamese, French Bread sandwich shop for which Stephen only recently read a review.  Lately, I’ve found a new love in Vietnamese food (in part thanks to the take-out place down the street from where we now live).  Then we rushed home for me to go to work…

The next day was opening day for the local Farmers’ Markets.  Saturday is the East Van Market at Trout Lake, a comfortable biking distance if you avoid the Mosaic route with the killer hill.  When we arrived, we had to walk our bikes a good 100 ft. down the lane to find an opening to chain them up.  I love how bike-friendly this town is!  Anyway, the crowd was a little intense: the line for tomatoes was 20 ft. long and it took almost 30 minutes to get Eleanor’s face painted, but at least it wasn’t raining and someone was playing gamelan music!  After a tiring bike ride home, I planted the rosemary and sage in the garden and Eleanor played with the neighbor’s son in their sprinkler and kiddie pool.  Also, we got to meet the brand new baby that was just born to our upstairs neighbor.  Now, I want another one!  Dinner that night was wild-caught salmon (the only salmon), local potatoes and a salad of fresh field greens with dried peppers and a touch too much olive oil.  Hehe.

Sunday… We never have so much time together in a weekend, by the way… Sunday, I did have to work, but again, it was only a 2.5-hour shift, so we had all morning together and I got home around 5, just in time for a BBQ.  First off, we went for bagels at a place with a “Don’t Kvetsch, Be Happy!” sign next to the till.  Yummy, albeit not what I ordered.  A long walk led us even further south and east than the old apartment–to the cemetary and Fraser St.  A walk north long Fraser revealed an ethically-diverse business district where there happened to be hiding away exactly what I’d been hoping to find for some time: a large fish store with an amazing selection of fish and equipment at reasonable prices!  I was so excited, I started fantasizing about my next tank set-up (moss wall, for sure).  A brisk walk home left me out of breath, rushing out the door to yet another shortened demo (yay!).  When I returned, Stephen was setting up the BBQ (grill, for the Americans) so that we could BBQ (cook out of doors, for the Americans).  The smell of the neighborhood on the walk home from the store that evening revealed that we were taking part in a city-wide celebration of the coming dry season: the first BBQ of the year.  

Today, day four of this unusually-long-weekend, was Victoria Day, an event for which I hardly noticed any fanfare, not even a great-than-average number of store closings (for a Monday).  As the day progressed, my confidence that it was indeed a statutory holiday that I was getting paid for began to wane, to the point that Stephen had to ask a store clerk, presumably a Canadian for whom Victoria Day might mean something.  Her response: “Um, yeah, isn’t it?”  Anyway, it was raining.  We appeased Eleanor’s two-year-old desire to spill juice on a restaurant floor by taking her to The Pancake Store (a.k.a. White Spot) for breakfast.  When we got home, we cleaned the house from top to bottom–even the mold that grows on the underside of the toilet tank from clinging condensation.  Oh, and in between rain showers, we took long walks and breathed the smell of clean flowers… 

The days are already so long I put Eleanor to bed with light still clinging to the edges of her blinds, and as the weather warms up, I look forward to many more such perfect weekends.   

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