Tomatoes, Tomatoes

Author: helga
Last year's green tomatoes

These are last year’s green tomatoes picked before the big fall frost. If I kept a garden journal, I would know what variety this is. What’s done is done. Now it’s time for this year’s tomatoes.

Siberian Tomato

Greenhouses, grocery stores, and  home improvement stores are all selling plants at this time of year. How to choose? Italians have perfected all methods of cooking tomato sauce, so  Little Italy seems like the place to go.

Manitoba tomato

Zocalo  has racks and racks of tomato plants including many heirloom varieties.

Celebrity Tomato

Zocalo’s blog describes only a few of the  varieties that are available for planting. The Cherokee Purple Tomato seems particularly intriguing.

Siberian Tomato

I hope I will have some good results.

 

Dandelions For Lunch

Author: helga

Dandelion Tuna Sandwich

Dandelions. They’re everywhere. For decades we’ve been told to spend money buying toxic chemicals to kill them. Ironically, they’re growing here because Europeans brought them for their gardens. Dandelions were considered important plants for their nutritional and medicinal properties. The flowers, the leaves and the roots are all edible and full of vitamins. Today’s internet has a plethora of recipes for using all parts of the dandelion.

Here is my first attempt at dandelion cuisine. I’ve added the dandelion petals to a tuna sandwich.

  • handful of dandelion blossoms – pluck the petals from the green sepals
  •  can of tuna – drained
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • one green onion – chopped

Mixed together and served on a couple slices of Sunflower Rye Bread from the Italian Centre Shop. Yes, it tastes good!  Dandelion petals add a fresh, lively  taste to what is usually a boring  sandwich. The yellow petals could also be a tasty and colourful addition to egg salad or potato salad.

Experimenting with dandelion blossoms requires being  attentive to the weather and the plant’s growth cycle.  If I tell myself  “I’ll do it next week”, the blossoms will likely have disappeared.    Already there are few dandelion blooms left. They’ve turned to seed and the dandelion season is over.

Next spring I’ll be ready with lots of recipes collected, waiting for that burst of yellow.   Dandelion cookies. Martha Stewart’s Dandelion Salad. Stir Fried Dandelion Greens. Endless possibilities are available to experiment with.

Dandelions are a great way to introduce the first  freshness of spring into our diets. These  green sprouts, coming up after the snow, are growing outside our homes whether we want them or not.  It’s only a matter of time before restaurants add dandelion to their locally grown, seasonal  fare.

When the dandelion fields bloom again, I’m hoping someone will teach me the centuries old tradition of making dandelion wine. While processing all those blossoms, we’ll be preserving the warmth and colour of spring to keep us comfortable during the frozen winter. What’s not to love about that?

 

A Garden Journal

Author: helga

Garden Journal

Gardens and kitchens have a long tradition of existing side by side. For many of our grandmothers all  vegetables came from the garden.  Today, there is a growing interest in urban gardening, even if it only consists of a patio pot of herbs or a balcony tomato plant. I’ve given in to the gardening urge by renting a plot in my community garden. I’m amazed how much food can be produced from a 10 X 13 plot and how much work it is to preserve it for the season.

Last year I planted one tomato plant and thought I would remember what variety it was. But a year later I have no idea which of the many varieties I looked at is the one I planted. (I blame all the internet passwords taking up space in my brain.)

A garden journal of some kind would have let me know what I planted and help me decide what variety might do better. There is no substitute for information from our own garden. Our climate is unique and every little patch of soil is unique in its characteristics and chemistry affecting the growth of  vegetables.

A journal can be as simple as keeping notes on your phone. It only needs to be  a record that you can look back on from one year to the next. It will be useful to know what was planted in previous years, how quickly it grew, how frost resistant it was, and let’s not forget, how well it tasted.  I’ve decided on a traditional paper journal, mostly because I am a compulsive buyer of notebooks.

There are gardening apps available for iPhone and iPad that look promising but I haven’t found anything for Android that looks useful.  Paper notebook it is.

If anyone finds a fabulous app for garden planning please do let me know.

Rosemary

Rosemary is a Mediterranean evergreen. it’s leaves are shaped like needles and it has a pine like scent. In our northern climate  we need to plant it every spring.   I wanted rosemary for roasted potatoes, so why not get a head start on spring with a fresh plant.  I stripped the bottom branches and the rest will keep growing.

Rosemary roasted potatoes are so easy to make. All you need is some potatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of finely chopped rosemary.  They taste so much better than boiled or microwaved potatoes!

Preheat your oven to 400° and get a metal, glass or ceramic pan. Any pan you have available will likely be adequate, but flat is best so they can spread out in a single layer.  Cut potatoes into approximately equal size pieces, coat with a couple spoonfuls of oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the chopped rosemary.  Cook for 45-60 minutes. Stir a couple of times while cooking  to brown  them more evenly.

This is a very flexible recipe. The potatoes can be cooked at a lower temperature if another dish is in the oven at the same time. They will taste good, if all you have is oil and some salt and pepper. If you prefer,  garlic can be added as well, or a  couple tablespoons of lemon juice. Grated parmesan can be added for extra crispiness.

Easter Egg Decorating

Author: helga
10 years of Easter eggs

10 years of Easter eggs

Our family has been decorating eggs in various ways since the children were small.  My favourite memory is an Easter dinner where everyone decorated eggs after dinner.  The adults needed a little persuading, but everyone did participate.  No special materials are needed. Find  markers,  acrylic craft paints, white glue, coloured paper and whatever other inspiring materials might be around the house.

Painted with acrylic paints

Painted with acrylic paints

Collage with white glue and gift wrap or magazines

Collage with white glue and gift wrap or magazines

Collage with tissue paper and white glue

Collage with tissue paper and white glue

Tissue paper collage with dollar store bling

Tissue paper collage with dollar store bling

Coloured or patterned tissue paper works well with white glue. It creates a smoother surface than paper. It also covers the holes if you want to use decorated eggs as table decorations or in gift baskets.

Rose petals and white glue

Rose petals and white glue

Experiment with real  rose petals.

Dyed with Silk

Dyed with Silk

This year we tried dying eggs with old silk ties. When boiled with vinegar, silk will transfer its colour to the eggs.  The silk can be used from old ties, scarves or clothing scraps. It must be silk. Polyester or cotton will not work. We used empty shells which, unfortunately,  float instead of staying in the boiling water. Putting a small pot lid or plate on top to hold them under water solved the problem.

This technique produces a swirly, tied-dyed effect. To get a more direct transfer of the pattern wind the cloth very tightly with thread.

Eating Eggs for Easter

Author: helga

Since the first human watched an inert egg hatch into a moving, living bird, eggs have been a symbol of new life.   Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition in many cultures and one that our family has always enjoyed.  We like to have blown out shells to decorate and that means eating a lot of eggs before Easter.  An extra egg or two can always be added to a pancake or waffle recipe to empty extra shells. But to have a plethora of egg shells,  cooking some egg dishes is required.

These will likely be an omelet, a frittata, quiche, or simply scrambled eggs. It needs to be a recipe where egg yolks and whites are cooked together, not separated, like in a soufflé.  Omelets come from the French tradition, frittata, a little thicker,  are Italian. Both are like an egg pancake cooked in a round pan. A quiche is more like a pie with a crust underneath the egg mixture.

Here is Julia Child, herself cooking an omelet. The process  seems a little complicated when I’m just in a hurry to make some eggs. However, the shaking involved is quite intriguing – I will try this later.  Epicurious has The Only Frittata Recipe You’ll Ever Need. A nice summary page that shows the various ingredients that can be added to a frittata for variety. Canadian Living has a very nice recipe for Quiche.  A little secret for a quick meal.  Almost any ingredient added to a frittata or omelet can be added to scrambled eggs when you’re in a hurry.  Stirred eggs don’t taste  significantly different from solidified eggs.

My egg recipe of choice turned out to be scrambled eggs, quick and simple stirred up with some butter and green onions.
Scrambled eggs

Now if you want to make scrambled eggs like a celebrity chef, here is Gordon Ramsey.

 

The eggs need to be blown out of the shells obviously, not cracked into a bowl like usual.     The smaller the hole, the nicer the egg will look but the harder it is to blow out.  One quick way is to stab each end with a small nail (like a picture hanging nail) and then blow out the egg.

 

These cookies are popular with kids and adults alike. They taste like a delicate shortbread and I actually prefer them to sugar cookies made with wheat flour.

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar                  1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter                  4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract       1-1/2 cups potato flour
2/3 cup cornstarch         2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Directions
Take butter and shortening out of fridge a couple hours in advance so they are at room temperature.
In large bowl cream  butter, shortening and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla and  mix until combined (a whisk works well for this).

In a medium bowl mix potato flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture a little at a time and stir till mixed in.  Mix with your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Cool dough in refrigerator for at least half an hour until it feels more solid.  (Shaping the dough into smaller balls with enable it to cool faster.)

Preheat oven to 375°F . Grease cookie sheets or line with wax paper or parchment paper. The dough is light and delicate.  Sprinkle rolling pin and surface with dusting of cornstarch to keep from sticking. Roll dough to 1/8″ thickness on wax paper or pastry cloth.   Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place on baking sheet with a cookie lifter.   Combine dough and re-roll scraps until dough is all used up. Dough will likely need to be chilled again to make it workable. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until firm. At the very slightest sign of browning around the edges the cookies are done.  Let them cool on cookie sheet until they feel solid and can be removed with a cookie lifter. Cool on flat surface. Don’t stack  until completely cool – they will stick to each other.

The cookie lifter with a sharp edge  is my best friend when making these. The unbaked dough is hard to pick up and the baked cookies tend to crumble  easily.

Cookie lifter

 

Buddha in My Kitchen

Author: helga

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This ceramic Buddha sat on my kitchen counter for many years. I bought it in memory of a Buddhist friend who had died young and unexpectedly.  Eventually it took on a more personal and empowering meaning.

During those years I was a stay at home mother who spent a good part of every day in the kitchen.  I found myself, sometimes, resenting those hours, especially time spent cleaning. As a feminist growing up in the 1970’s, I hoped to make an escape from the kitchen that held women in their place for centuries. I was living in a new world where earning a pay cheque in the market was the place to be. At some point I heard about how Zen monks consider cooking and cleaning as spiritual practice. These daily tasks are done with reverence.

How is it that the same activities can be holy in one context and demeaning in another?  I’ve never heard anyone use the word “housewife” with reverence.  If these tasks are holy for celibate monks then surely, these are holy tasks when done for the health and welfare of my children.

I made the choice to see kitchen work as holy work and the Buddha was there every day to remind me of my value.

 

 

 

 

My Mother’s Mushrooms

Author: helga

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My mother came to our Canadian farm from Germany. What she knew about wild plants was what she recognized from home.  Our land was abundant with mushrooms but my mother only allowed us to pick and eat one particular kind.  Now when I am surround by an abundance of mushrooms that is the only one I recognize as edible. I loved mushrooms as a child. If I found one mushroom in the woods I would bring it home and beg my mother to cook it. My only connection to the knowledge of what is growing in my back yard is through my mother who came from another country and was not at all familiar with what grows here. Apparently this is also the official mushroom of Alberta. Who knew?

As an adult I cooked the white mushrooms from the grocery store the same way my mother had (fried up in butter) but they didn’t taste the same. For years I thought there was something wrong with my cooking technique. Only when I tried Portabella mushrooms did I realize that it was the mushroom that made the difference, not the cooking. Portabella mushrooms have a flavour somewhat closer to that of wild mushrooms.

Mushrooms are an amazing wild food growing everywhere. We’re missing out on both the taste and nutrition. Because some of them are poisonous and knowledge is important we have dismissed them as a food source. Interesting that here we are in the age of information. Information on any subject is available to us from anywhere in the world and we do not understand what is safe for us to eat in our own backyard.

Hands on learning about what’s growing in our neighborhoods and forests is available through the Alberta Mycological Society.   They host many events every year where we have the opportunity for mushroom hunting and real life hands on learning.

If you have any interest in wild mushrooms at all, the Mushroom Exposition at the Devonian Gardens is worth going to. They provide a day of educational talks, displays of a multitude of local mushrooms, both edible and not.  Deliciously prepared samples are available as well. This year it’s held on Sunday August 18. Mark your calendar.

People might assume because mushrooms don’t look like vegetables they don’t’ have much nutrition, but this is not true at all.  Mushrooms contain protein and a significant assortment of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D.  Wild mushrooms have been used for their medicinal effects by traditional societies for thousands of years. I suspect there may still be many undiscovered health and medicinal effects. Especially since mushrooms differ so widely in their chemical characteristics.

Mushrooms are an important ingredient in today’s cancer research.  This  informative post by Jennifer Molnar talks about the biology and medical effects of mushrooms. I’m definitely  going to be adding more mushrooms to my food.

 

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 I was thinking of cooking quinoa for breakfast hoping to add more protein to my diet.  While doing a little on line research I discovered that the oatmeal we’ve been cooking for years has more protein than quinoa. Quinoa is the trendy high protein grain.  No one is talking much about oatmeal. One cup of oatmeal has 11 grams of protein compared to 8 grams in a cup of quinoa.

And guess what – we don’t need to buy instant packets.  Plain old rolled oats can be cooked in the microwave just as easily as the instant oatmeal.  Put 1/3 cup of rolled oats with 2/3 cup of water in a big bowl (it tends to boil up) and microwave for 2-3 minutes and it’s done. Half an apple and some cinnamon is enough to give it flavour .I add a cut up apple with its skin for more fibre. A pear also adds lots of sweetness and a different flavour. If you like cinnamon, feel free to throw in as much as you can stand. Cinnamon has lots of great health benefits  as well.

The only thing to remember is two parts water to one part oatmeal. The rest can be improvised.  You can cook more or less depending on your appetite.  . Any type of dried fruit, nuts or seeds can be added for extra flavour and nutrition.

The fibre in less processed oatmeal makes us feel full sooner and longer. First bonus for anyone wanting to lose weight.  Fibre also helps regulate blood sugar.   When we eat a sugar or carbohydrate with lots of fibre it is digested more slowly and the sugar enters our bloodstream slowly. The body is able to use the energy and does not require large amounts of insulin to reduce blood sugar to a healthy level. This is the reason sugar in a raw apple affects the body differently than sugar in a glass of juice.

Oatmeal has protein, high fibre and is quick to cook. At my grocery store, No Name rolled oats prices out at $2.49 per kilogram. A kilogram of oatmeal takes a long time to eat. Organic rolled oats at $6.49 /kg and name brand instant oatmeal is $10.03/kg.  Instant oatmeal in handy packages comes in a very expensive box. There are more satisfying ways to spend our money.