Friday, 22 April 2016

First Post from the Garden

So, usually by now something is going on in the garden. And I guess something is going on in the garden, just not very much. It looks nice and neat though! We didn't make much progress on extra projects last year, like finishing the gravel walkways, but we did manage to keep on top of the weeding.

We have planted our earliest peas in the cloth covered beds, and spinach and lettuce is in the plastic covered bed. It's looking the worse for wear after our long, cool, freeze-thaw spring. If spring is the word.

I watered the pea when I planted them, as it was already looking a bit dry! Very little snow cover this winter. These beds were the fruit and leaf beds last year; this year they will be the root and fruit beds as everything moves on one rotation. We planted garlic in the ex-fruit bed (where tomatoes were planted) last fall. You can see that 3 of the 4 varieties are coming up strongly already. The 4th variety, which I believe is Tibetan, is slower but it too is coming up.

I left a lot of carrots in their bed last fall, in the hopes that they would go to seed this year. Between the freezing and thawing, and that the local hoodlums deer broke in and ate a bunch, I'm not sure how many I'll have or how choosy about their quality I will be able to be. Usually the pests I worry about eating carrots are mice and voles. If I have to start worrying about deer too, I'll be annoyed. Which yes, I guess means I'm annoyed.

We put our onion, leek, celery, and celeriac seeds into our freezer/greenhouse, along with a few perennial flowers. They were doing well until we went away for 2 days. We knew it would be warm, so we took off the covers and watered them 'til they were swimming. They still kind of frizzled, especially the leeks right up against the back and side. *sigh* I  have reseeded, but with a more limited selection of varieties because I had used  up some of my seed in the first planting.

The usual inside suspects are inside. As usual, we drag them in and out according to the weather. Sure will be glad when we get them into the ground and this nonsense finishes. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants at the moment; they should be joined next week by cucumbers, squash, melons and watermelons, and the brassicas.

The potato seedlings from seeds planted in the winter have not died down yet, although some are looking tired. One of them is stupendous, and looks like it could take over the world. Another has an interesting, long thin not very leafy stem that makes me wonder if you could grow potatoes the right potato up a string, like peas. Other than that they look pretty typical. If they think they are getting planted out later this summer though, they need to shake a stolon and go dormant now.

One of the things about a long, slow spring is that I have been stuck indoors a lot, and since I am hankering for spring to come, I go looking at pictures of flowers. As a result of that, my interest in peonies has been steadily turning into an absolute obsession. It's not helped by the fact that my paeonia daurica mlokosewitschii seedling HAS A BUD after just 4 years in the garden and looking like death warmed over for the first two. Did you hear screaming? Not "Help me" screaming but ecstatic screaming? Yeah, that was me, sorry. I'll try to keep it down.

It'll be hard though, because I also have 2 self-sown peonies popping up for the second year, and a whole bunch - like, maybe 30 - peony seeds germinating for the first time. I threw them into a spare bed 2 years ago and now they are finally germinating. I AM SO EXCITED. I go out and look at them about 6 times a day.

Anyway, over all we are kind of behind and haven't done lots of things that we should be doing. The weather is only half the problem. The other half is that we are taking a bunch of licence plates to a licence plate meet this weekend, where we hope to sell enough of them for enough money that we will need a Brinks escort out of the place, but getting organized for this has taken up pretty much ALL of Mr. Ferdzy's time for the last month. We will be glad when that is over and we may sleep for a week afterwards. Posting will continue to be a bit slow, is what I'm saying. Still, things are happening...

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions

 "I did the mash... I did the onion mash..."

This idea came from my Ukrainian friend... and it's very timely, as there isn't much left in the cold cellar at this point, but rapidly sprouting onions and rapidly sprouting potatoes. I don't usually peel my potatoes, but starting sometime in March the trimming required expands and by now not too much skin gets left on. Somehow the scurf just doesn't come off the slightly softer skins the way it once did. The potatoes are still sound, though!

It doesn't get too much simpler than this, and it was a great variation on everybody's favourite mashed potatoes. Will do again!

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions

2 to 3 large onions
1/4 cup unsalted butter or mild vegetable oil
1 kilo (2 pounds) starchy potatoes
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little more butter, if wanted...

Peel and chop the onions. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and cook the onions, stirring regularly, for about 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft, reduced in volume, and golden. Reduce the heat if they show any signs of browning.

Meanwhile wash, trim, and peel - if you like - the potatoes. Cut them into even chunks and put them in a pot with water to cover them well. Bring them to a boil and boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well. Tip a few of them into the pan of onions and mash into the onions, then dump the pan of onions into the pot of potatoes and continue to mash until done to your liking. Season with salt and pepper, and mash in a little more butter if you think they could use it - it will depend a bit on just how starchy those potatoes are, I expect.

Friday, 15 April 2016

A Visit to Whiffletree Farm & Nursery

Well, it was a very flying visit, I'm afraid, as we were on our way to see Meeting Place Organic Film. I have to mention Whiffletree Farm though; they have become such an interesting source of unusual fruit trees, shrubs, vines, and canes in just a few years.

Above, Lowell Martin trims one of the trees we had ordered for pick-up. It's a shipova; an unlikely cross between a pear and mountain ash. I guess (hope!) we will know what they are like in about 10 years. We've never had one! Most people haven't, I would say.

While we were there, we got a Meader male kiwi (actinidea arguta) to replace one of the 2 male kiwi vines we  have in our planting. All the females are growing quite nicely, but the males are not doing much. We will replace the weaker of the two and hope that this puts the fear of yanking into the other.

Whiffletree Farm & Nursery is located north of Elmira, on 8th Line West. It looks like a pretty typical farm as you drive in, and even once you are in it doesn't look like a major nursery. It is though!

Blueberries, kiwis, and something I didn't check out - oops - sit out, enjoying the lovely spring weather. (*snort*)

I've seen this set-up before for bare-root trees, but it's always a little shocking to see all those bare sticky things.What a way to treat a plant! But ours have always done well, or if they  haven't it hasn't been the fault of the nursery. (Subsequent to planting 'orrible weather is the culprit, usually; followed by picking a spot that was too wet.)

Lowell said that they grafted 10 to 15 thousand trees last year; this year they expect to do 20 to 25 thousand. That's a lot of trees!

Ooo! It's another impulse purchase opportunity. These nice (not so) little lingonberries were $15 each; a bargain, I thought, considering how good they look. We bought two, which we will plant with our existing single lingonberry plant, but in a different location as the one we have now is plainly not too happy under a giant spruce tree. The acidity is nice, but too many roots and too much shade. We also bought some blueberry fertilizer/acidifier for our only semi-happy blueberries. Seriously; these guys have everything!

Their print catalogue is actually a little more wide-ranging than their website; and full of all sorts of marvelous things: almonds (oh damn, we swore we were not buying any more trees), apples, apricots, aronia, blackberries, blueberries, butternuts, cherries, chestnuts and chums - I'm already omitting items - cranberries, currants, elderberries, and on and on to wintergreen, yarrow, and yellowhorn. Wow, they have Ivan's Beauty mountain ash-aronia cross. Please remind me; no more trees! Waaaaah! (But that doesn't mean YOU can't have them...!)

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Onion Soup with Toasted Barley Flour

In spite of all the snow out there and the fact that they are shut up in a lightless cellar at the same temperature they've been at all winter, my onions are absolutely convinced that spring is here and they are starting to sprout relentlessly. Thus I was looking to use up quite a few at once.

This is a simpler version of Four-Onion Soup, and uses the toasted barley flour technique from this Vegetable Soup. In spite of being simpler, I have to say I think it is just as good as either - an intense and oniony soup experience. The long slow cooking is what makes it so amazing; okay, that and the butter. 

It's a huge quantity of onions to start off with, and you may find it easiest to divide the butter and onions between 2 skillets for the onion-cooking phase of the recipe; hopefully you can then consolidate into 1 pan to finish.

The onions don't really require a lot of attention while they cook; every 10 minutes or so the aroma would increase as would the sizzling, and I would stop reading and go stir. Once the onions are peeled and sliced 90% of the work is over. It's a good project for a very cool spring day.

4 servings
1 hour 45 minutes prep time

Onion Soup with Toasted Barley Flour

Cook the Onions:
1/4 cup barley flour
1.5 kg (3 pounds; 8 medium-large) yellow skinned onions
1/2 cup unsalted butter

But first; toast the barley flour. Heat a very large skillet over medium heat, and dump in the barley flour. Toast, stirring constantly, until it turns a light brown. It will do this a bit patchily, which is why you need to stir. When it is a nice paper-bag brown, turn it out immediately onto a plate to cool.

Peel and slice the onions, and cut the slices into quarters.

Heat the butter in the very large skillet (you should rinse out the barley flour first) over medium heat, and when it is melted add the onions. Cook them for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring regularly. They should get quite soft and cook down in volume quite a bit, but show only faint signs of browning.

Finish the Soup:
4 cups unsalted beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup sherry
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sprinkle the toasted barley flour over the onions, and mix it in well. Add the stock, and mix in thoroughly. Add the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sherry, and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes or so.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Swedish Colcannon

Well now that I have pissed off both the Swedes and the Irish, let me admit that this is not a Swedish dish (that I know of) and it's not exactly Irish either. Although I'm pretty sure that the Irish eat rutabaga, and call it Swede, so maybe. On the other hand these are the people who have one name for a dish made of potatoes, cabbage, onions, and butter*, and a different name for a dish made of potatoes, onions, and butter**, so maybe not. Or if they do this, it would have a completely unrelated name, on account of being a completely unrelated dish.

Anyway, it's certainly high time someone did this, because it is delicious. DEEE-licious. Yes, it takes 2 pans but on the other hand a little piece of protein - Chicken piece? Pork chop? Sausage? Fish? - will be all that is needed to finish the meal.

4 servings
1 hour prep time

Swedish Colcannon; a mash of rutabaga, cabbage and onions

4 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
2 medium onions
4 cups finely chopped green or savoy cabbage
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel and dice the rutabaga, and put it into a pot with plenty of water to cover. Bring it to a boil and boil until tender; about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions. Heat the butter in a large skillet. (Large! Everything's all going in there!) Add the onions when it's melted, and cook them gently over medium heat until they soften and caramelize; they should be done about the same time as the rutabaga. Stir regularly.

Meanwhile again, wash, trim and chop the cabbage. About 5 minutes before the rutabaga is done, add the cabbage to the pan of onions, along with a good slosh of water, which can come out of the cooking rutabagas; I don't mind and I doubt they do either. Stir a bit. When they are wilted down and the rutabaga is done, drain it (rutabaga) very thoroughly, and add it to the pan. Mash it with a potato masher, mixing it into the onions and cabbage as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook, stirring pretty frequently, until any liquid in the pan has evaporated and you are getting signs of browning. Then into the serving dish with it and so forth.


Friday, 8 April 2016

Meeting Place Organic Film

Last Saturday we headed out to Goderich, to the Huron County Museum. We were there to see the world premiere of Meeting Place Organic Film. Yes, that title does resemble Meeting Place Organic Farm. No coincidence! The film is about how the McQuail family created the farm, and their history of mentoring young ecologically-minded farmers in Ontario. It was the creation of Rebecca Garrett and a whole bunch of other great people. There she is up above, introducing the audience to the treat in store for them.

And a very good audience it was too, especially for a snowy April day. Every seat was taken, and about 30 of us had to camp out on the floor and along the walls. 

After the film, which took about an hour, there were snacks and drinks in the lobby.

Tony McQuail greets some of his fans as they exit the theatre.

Their usual farm event display was up, along with samples of their own apple butter.

Some other local companies had donated goodies as well. This is a selection of cheese from Blyth Farm Cheese, dwindling fast as people scarfed it down. It was certainly excellent cheese and a source not previously known to me... notes taken... I will be searching them out...

I got to this set-up even later than I got to the cheese, and not too much was left. These are pastries from  Cait's Kitchen and they were superb - I haven't had their like in years.

Alas, I didn't see any of the hard cider their apples are allegedly going into, but there were little cups of their own fresh pressed cider.

After the munchies Fran and Tony took questions from the crowd.

So, how was the film? Very good, and pretty much what the label said. It's a little odd watching a biographic film of people you know reasonably well. I suspect it may be quite a different experience for people to whom the people and ideas are new. Fran and Tony have been absolutely vital to the growth of organic and ecological farming in Ontario - in fact they were amongst the original founders of the EFAO; and it's great to see them get this tribute.

One thing I hadn't known before the film was that there were 2 main reasons they went organic. One was economic - they couldn't really afford much in the way of inputs - but the other one was that they had a field that had been sprayed  heavily with atrazine, and in particular had obviously had piles of it sprayed in one spot. That spot was so dead it took at least 5 to 7 years before it would grow anything normally, although Tony pointed out to one questioner that given what they know now, they could revive such a spot more quickly. Still, it really drove home to them that they did not wish to work with such toxic substances.

This film would be a great discussion starter for local groups interested in ecological agriculture. If you are interested in screening it, you can contact them through the website. I recommend it!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Spinach Salad with Mustard Cream Dressing

This salad is inspired by one I had at a restaurant in Port Colborne a few weeks back. I'm so used to spinach salads in restaurants being horribly anemic, with "baby" spinach leaves from California that have all the fine flavour and texture of damp tissue paper. This one had good sturdy little leaves, crinkly and dense but tender and delicious. "This is local spinach, isn't it?" I said to the proprietor, and she was delighted that I could tell. Not hard though!

The Niagara peninsula has a lot of greenhouse growers and it will be easier to find spinach there now than just about anywhere. Well, apart from our back yard where it has overwintered. But soon it should be more widely available.

My restaurant salad used a soft chevre as the cheese, and that would be fine. I used Capra Nero (yeah, I know: not actually named by an Italian); a firm goat cheese from Pine River. Fortunately they are better at making cheese than they are at conjugating gender, if that's the right phrase, and it was very good. They also used pine nuts, but I actually prefer sunflower seeds, and not just because they are a lot cheaper and at least potentially local. You can use sunflower seeds or pepitas that you buy unroasted; just toast them yourself in an unoiled skillet until lightly browned, then turn them at once onto a plate to cool. Or you can buy roasted and salted seeds and use those, but in that case take it easy when (if!) you add the salt.

Even at 2 servings this is more of a side salad than a meal salad. although if 2 people eat it as an introductory course, they will need less of a main course than 4 people would need.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Make the Dressing:
3 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons 10% cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients in the salad bowl.

Make the Salad:
4 to 6 cups packed baby spinach leaves
2 medium-small carrots
1/4 cup toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
100 grams (4 ounces) goat cheese

Wash and pick over the spinach, and drain and dry it well. Peel and trim the carrots, then use the vegetable peeler to cut them into thin curls. Toss the spinach, carrots, and half the seeds with the dressing, then serve it out into individual serving dishes. Sprinkle the salads with the remaining seeds and the cheese, cut or crumbled into bits.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Thüringer Mohnkuchen; German Poppyseed Cake

I feel a little bad about posting this recipe, even though it's a damn fine recipe and makes a damn fine cake.

The problem is grinding the poppyseeds. In the recipe I say "Grind the poppyseeds and set them aside with the raisins." Here's how that actually worked for me: first; I spent several years (off and on, admittedly) trying to grind poppyseeds using a food processor (no), a Vitamix (no), and a coffee mill (no). Then I got taken on a riverboat cruise of Europe (Thanks, Mom!), and while in a large German town (was it Nuremberg? Maybe; but it might have been Regensberg) I dragged my mother and Mr. Ferdzy all over town until I found a kitchen supply store, where I went in and bought a little hand mill designed to grind poppyseeds and nothing else, and paid 22 Euros for it. We then had to RUSH to catch our boat and I dragged it - a solid little metal object - around with me for the rest of the trip. Your dedication to being able to make baked goods requiring ground poppyseeds may vary.

Anyway, I have to say this is delightful, if you like things made with poppyseeds, and plainly, I do. The texture is like a kind of seedy cheesecake and it is not too sweet, which suits me.

Unfortunately I've never heard of locally grown poppyseeds, and whenever I have planted them they have been resolute in their refusal to germinate. When I say "semolina" what I used, living in the boonies and all, was Cream of Wheat.

I'm allowing 1 1/2 hours to prepare the cake for baking, which is a  lot. But I'm assuming that, like me, you will grind some poppyseeds (hand cranking!), get tired, take a short break, get back to it, etc. I have never tried eating this cake the day it was made either; it just seems like one of those things you instinctively know will be better for thoroughly cooling and even a little resting. Refrigerate it, though.

This is also a mighty big cake and next time I might make half the recipe and bake it in an 8" springform pan. On the other hand, it freezes very well.

If anyone has any insight into grinding poppyseeds without a specialized mill, or even any suggestions as to how to find such a mill without actually flying to Europe, please comment!

12 to 16 servings
3 hours - 1 1/2 hours prep time

Thüringer Mohnkucken; German Poppyseed Cake

Start the Filling:
1/2 cup raisins
300 grams (10 ounces) black poppyseeds, ground
1/4 cup semolina
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup unsalted butter

Chop the raisins, and put them  aside. If they are dry you may wish to sprinkle them with a little rum or apple juice. Grind the poppyseeds and set them aside with the raisins.

Put the semolina, salt, and milk in a large (2 litre/quart) pot with the honey and butter, and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring frequently. Let it simmer a minute or two, until it thickens and then remove it from the heat and add the raisins and poppyseeds. Stir until completely blended and set aside to cool.

Make the Base:
1 cup soft unbleached pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup soft unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Cut the butter - which should be at room temperature - in with a pastry cutter, until the butter is all in bits the size of a small pea, or smaller. Break in the egg, mix it a little, then add the vanilla extract. Mix well until it all comes together to form a ball of stiff dough.

Line a 10" springform pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Roll or pat out the dough to line the bottom of the prepared pan; use a little flour to keep it from sticking.

Finish the Filling:
1 large cooking apple
1 large egg
1 cup full-fat thick yogurt OR sour cream

Peel and grate the apple; discard the core. Add the grated apple, the egg, and the yogurt or sour cream to the cooled poppyseed filling mixture.  Mix thoroughly. Pour this over the prepared base in the springform pan. Level it out as evenly as possible.

Make the Topping:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup full-fat thick yogurt OR sour cream

Beat the eggs, sugar, and yogurt or sour cream in a small mixing bowl until very smooth. Pour this over the poppyseed filling of the cake, gently smoothing it out to cover the top of it as evenly as possible.

Bake the cake at 350°F for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the topping is set and browned around the edges. Let cool completely before serving.

This can, and perhaps should, be made a day before serving. It also freezes very well. Allow 24 to 48 hours for it to thaw in the fridge before serving.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Korean Sweet & Salty Potatoes

I always enjoy this one when I get it at a restaurant, and it comes quite often. Not surprising; it's a very inexpensive and easy dish to prepare. Qualities I like at home too! I used my Pink Fir Apple potatoes for this and they worked well.

Sometimes green onion is added to this, and I've seen some recipes that call for a small onion peeled, chopped, and cooked with the potatoes, but one of the problems with my selection of Korean dishes was that I was finding many of them called for very similar ingredients and I wanted to vary them as much as I could. Therefore I omitted them. You can add them if you want, of course.

Most of the recipes I saw called for much less water to cook the potatoes, but in a large, shallow skillet and perhaps with the type of potato, I definitely needed more. You will need to use your judgement.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time
at least 30 minutes cooling time

Korean Sweet & Salty Potatoes

250 grams (1/2 pound) waxy potatoes
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
about 2 cups water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Peel and mince the garlic finely.

Heat the oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook, turning regularly, for about 5 minutes, until they get a little colour. Add about half of the water; enough to just cover them. Cook them, stirring regularly, until the water is evaporated. If the potatoes are not cooked at this point, add more water and repeat the process until they are cooked. They should not be mushy but still fairly firm - yet definitely cooked.

Once the potatoes are to your satisfaction, add the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Continue cooking and stirring constantly until these new ingredients are absorbed into the potatoes, then turn them out into a serving dish. Cover and let them cool to room temperature before serving.