Monday, December 26, 2011

Xmas dinner locally

The weather the last week has been lovely so we've been out skating every day. We even managed a short time down at the Leg on Christmas Eve while Jenn prepared dinner (although the picture below is from Hawreluk Park on Christmas Day). We managed to source almost the entire dinner locally.

The vegetables were from our garden or local farmers. The turkey was from Serban Farms by Smoky lake. Jenn ordered it last spring and, although it was slightly drier than she expected,it had a huge amount of meat on it compared to store bought birds we've had in the past. The buns were from a local bakery and the rest was made from scratch.

About the only things that weren't local were the cranberries, the coffee and some of the ingredients for desert. I made carrot cake and fruit cake and there just aren't a lot of local nuts or local candied fruit.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Holidays

We've been busy skating, baking and enjoying the remains of the summer harvest (strawberry-rhubarb pie last nights).

Here's a quick snap of the legislature all lit up this evening. A lovely evening at +4 walking among the lights.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Xmas baking

With winter firmly here, Jess and I have turned out attention to some holiday baking. We have a long list of things to make for various friends and family.

First up was some short bread. In the past we've put a large chocolate chip in the middle of the short-bread cookie but this year we made a thumb print and dropped in some raspberry jam. There was some skepticism when I suggested we modify this family favourite but the outcome is fantastic!

We also baked some gingerbread this afternoon--a mix of gingerbread men and trees. I think next on my list are some peanut butter rum balls, although I wonder if all of the rum has been used in the fruitcake we've been aging in the cupboard.

In exciting news, as I was rummaging around for Christmas-themed cookie cutters this afternoon, I found a lone paper bag of red potatoes in the storage cupboard. They look great (about four months of storage) so I expect they will be part of dinner tomorrow night. Perhaps mashed with some bakes beans while we watch the Grey Cup?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas lights

With the snow finally here, I'm excited that Jess is now old enough to shovel snow! Although her enthusiasm has waned now taht the temp has dropped below -20... .

We were also featured in the Edmonton Journal in a piece about folks who put up their Christmas lights early.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Last push before the snow

With the first real snowfall of the year predicted for this evening, I decided to put a day off to good use. I knocked the ice out of the rain barrel and inverted it. The pattern on the inside was quite amazing.

I then went and planted some left over spinach seeds in a sunny southern bed for some early spring greens. Not sure what the neighbours thought of this late-year gardening--mostly they just look away when I start!

I've also been collating my notes on this year. For next year, we're going to grow more russet and red potatoes in the old vegetable bed. This is on the north edge of the property and has a nice southern exposure. It doesn't look like much but it is six feet deep by about 20 feet long and I dug it down more than a foot this fall. In the foreground you can see the strawberry patch.

Out front we'll be doing tomatoes (cherry and early girl), celery, beets, lettuce, zucchini, broccoli and peppers. The back beds will be beans (pinto, bush) and beets with more pinto beans and carrots in the big bed below the deck. Somewhere we also need to work in an herb garden--again, perhaps out back.

We've also been trying to do some walking in the valley before the snow flies. What we've found is a huge number of wild asparagus plants. I've noted these locations so we can go poke around in the spring and see if any spears can be found. Our own plants will take a few years to mature and this might be a fun way to collect some local wild food.

If I find the energy, I'm going to try my hand at making buns this afternoon. I think I have a good handle on bread--we've been eating basically only home-made bread since the summer--but buns might be a fun challenge.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gardening in the winter

With the summer garden wrapped up, I've put the finishing touches on my winter gardening--Christmas lights. Jess and I strung up the lights in the trees as well as the easy lights on the house and garage on the weekend.

Earlier, I had done the higher lights that required ladder work.

We also then put up the rabbit fences around the fruit trees. This has become necessary over the past few years to save the bark. The fence is fairly ugly but is lower maintenance (and quieter) than penning a coyote in the yard all winter.

We'll test the lights tonight (I connected everything today at lunch--I think!) and then give them a show for Hallowe'en. I presume there will be some swearing and ladder work required tomorrow. I'll post pictures when I get a good one.

We've had some lovely late-season leaves on the columnar swedish aspens.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cold Frame

One of my autumn tasks was to knock together a cold frame. This is one of those things I think about in the spring but, by the time autumn rolls around, forget or lack the enthusiasm for. Today we put together a rudimentary one to see how it works next spring.

While a proper cold frame might well be more elaborate (with a slope and hinged panes), I wanted to experiment for as little cost as possible. I picked up some old windows from a house being renovate up the way. These (more or less) were the right dimensions to fit over a 4x4' raised bed I have on the south side of the house.

So today we picked up some extra wood to add some height and put together a frame to sit on top of the existing box. I will put the glass on in early spring andm when summer comes around, I can remove the glass and extra frame and store them under the deck. Not bad for $12 and about two hours of work.

There is a slight overhang here which is aesthetically offensive but of no practical concern. I think a bit of felt on the top of the wooden frame will adequately seal the glass to the frame. The two panes will just sit loosely. If this works out next spring, I'll consider building something more elaborate next year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

First Frost

We woke up to our first good frost this morning, which has brought most of the gardening season to an end. There are still a few carrots in the ground and there is a lot of clean-up work, but I'm basically done for the year.

We spent most of the weekend inside cooking--tomato sauce, bread, pumpkin pie, etc. I also did some work prepping for next year. We have a large bed along the north side of our backyard which was originally a vegetable bed. Then, with the house construction, because a refuge for the perennials.

I've spent the summer relocating the perennials. With the cucumbers packing it in (I picked the last four Friday night), I've started to dig it and mix in leaves and other stuff to loosen the soil some. Next year this will be the potato patch so I'm placing stepping stones with that in mind.

I've managed to dig about half of the 120 square feet and will spade up some more this afternoon. I also transplanted 10 strawberry plants from the side to beneath the aspen on the back right to free up some beds on the south for vegetables.

Jess' enthusiasm for gardening has dried up as the weather has cooled. I was out poking around and see that a couple of onions we planted for next spring are up early. These were bulbs that grew and died off this summer without making much of a size gain. So we moved them around the front to some better soil and more sun. I wonder how many will come up in the spring!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Growing Food in the City

The City is hosting "Growing Food in the City" on Sunday, October 16, 2011 (noon to 5) at the Muttart Conservatory to celebrate United Nations’ World Food Day.

City staff will be on hand to share information regarding food and urban agriculture and how to be involved. There are door prizes and a food bank donation entitles you to discount passes.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn gardening

We spent as much of this weekend out of doors as possible, both cleaning up the garden and walking and cycling in the river valley. The autumn colour is fading but still quite spectacular.

We dug up (for the first time in three years) the 12x4" raised bed below our deck and dug in a large amount of leaves. The soil here gets quite compacted by the weight of the snow.

We also moved a small group of green onion bulbs (which Jess is pushing in here) for an early spring harvest. We also discovered a small green pepper growing on of the plants.

The valley had some lovely autumn colour, including a patch of these flowers in one of the gullies. I've never seen these and wondered if they were something foreign that had taken root in the boggy soil.

We're almost finished with autumn gardening tasks--only a few more beds to dig up and fill with leaves.

Up next: A bit more baking and freezing is planned as Thanksgiving cranberries are now deeply discounted and available in large quantities. I hope there is room in the freezer!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cooking up the harvest

With autumn stretching out seemingly forever, we've been enjoying harvesting and cooking. We caught the last of the outdoor markets this weekend. In addition to some lovely apples, we say these hilariously large zucchinis (each is about 7 inches in diameter).

We also picked up a couple of pumpkins. I've cooked and frozen enough pumpkin for four or five pies over the winter as well as cooked up a nice batch of seeds. These fellows will make a pie this week and probably add two more pies to the freezer. We also made a sweet potato pie this week, which was an interesting experiment--a slightly different texture.

A friend gave us the remainder of her apples. I was going to sauce these but we ended up making a couple of apple crisps; the rest of the apples had started to get pretty soft so I dug them into one of the beds.

Jenn has been keen to stay on top of the tomatoes on the window sill. Having tried tomatoes every which way and given away a fair number, she decided to sauce some last night for pasta. This was quite tasty and yielded some extra for the freezer.

While I was out putting up Christmas lights I noticed the strawberry patch has put on a last burst of fruit. These were very nice and sweet.

We have a fair bit of end-of-the-season yard work under way which will take up some of tomorrow. I also would like to get a cold frame built for the spring.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fall clean up

With Jennifer away visiting a friend this weekend, Jess and I started the autumn clean up. This includes policing up the many, many leaves that the lovely old elm trees drop on our lawn.

In the past I've used these as mulch but this year I have been digging up the garden beds and alternating shallow layers of leaves and soil. This should give the worms something to chew on and is hopefully a step towards keeping the soil fertile and breaking up the clay. We turned in some manure earlier this fall and I will lime the beds in the spring.

The leaves added about four inches of depth to the two alley beds that Jess intends to "farm" next spring, although snow and rot will likely pack things down again. But she should have 10 inches of loose soil for carrots.

All of our alley beds have been quite productive. We have four 6x3' beds and one 6x6. The three beds Jess hasn't call dibs on will host beans and beets and maybe broccoli. I then started digging the both the front and backyard veggie beds but called it when my back started complaining. The weather looks good so there is still plenty of time to get this work done.

Retreating back inside, Jess and I made a salad for dinner (found a few more cucumbers on the garden while I was digging) and an apple pie. And then I hauled down the fruitcake and put Jess to work added more rum. They smell very good and have a nice moist texture.

Up next: LIkely Christmas lights and more bed amendments. I haven't the energy to put in any bulbs this year (we put in about 200 last year) but I may move the strawberries. I would also like to put together a cold frame for the spring now that I have secured some glass.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Apple pie, sauce and cake

Jennifer re turned from coffee with a friend with two big bags of apples. So last night we got down to doing something with them. Before dinner, I made an apple pie which was (if I may say so) delicious.

After dinner we peeled and froze apples for three more pies. I'm not sure what these were but they were tart with a crisp white skin and about the size of a MacIntosh.

Jess made an apple upsidedown cake. I also made three litres of sauce but decided to just put it in the fridge rather than bath and can it properly. I've come to enjoy it on oatmeal and will likely be through this long before it turns.

We also froze the last of the beans after a quick blanch. No real frost yet but these were ready to be picked and now i can turn this bed down.

Up next: More Christmas lights will be hung this weekend and there are many, many leaves to rake and turn into the beds. And I may make more oven-roasted tomatoes as I can't quite stay ahead of the ripening on the windowsills.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Potatoes and carrots

With the temperatures in the high 20s, we spent much of the weekend outdoors. We harvested the last of the potatoes from the front bed along with some carrots that were lingering out back. Yes, they could stay in the garden longer but them they would not be in my belly.

We've pretty much got the five raised bed around the back of the garage cleaned up. I'll turn in some leaves when I rake them and maybe lime the bed in the spring. But otherwise they are basically ready to go. I'm thinking beans back here next year along with beets. Jess has also called dibs on two 6x3' boxes next year for her own garden so that should be fun to plan for.

We also started hanging the Christmas lights. This is the first Jess could do more than act as gopher. Still too younger for the ladder but she's tall enough to stand on the garbage to do some of the garage as well as some stuff on the deck. And, to my colleagues, yes it is child labour and no she's not wearing any fall protection. "Fortunately", in Alberta the rules around these things are never enforced.

The last of the carrots were very sweet this year. The may have gotten just a touch of frost in a low spot in the back last week. This bed and the one below the back deck will get some attention today.

We also had time for a lovely bike ride over in Riley Park. We rarely make it over here even though we go right by on our way to Elk Island.

Up next: Tonight we're going to make a vegetable stew and a sweet potato pie. And i see I'll need to to make some more oven-roasted tomatoes tomorrow.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Too many tomatoes

Well, I don't know that you can ever have too many tomatoes, but we're certainly in the height of the harvest. This year I planted 14 tomato plants (early girl, beef stake, cherry, and a yellow, pear-shaped one) and then took a late-season donation of seven more (Brandywine)

We've been harvesting all summer but I finally pulled the pin last weekend when there was a frost warning. I'm oddly happy to plant the last weekend in April (eliciting a series of backhanded compliment from the older folks in the neighbourhood) and roll the dice, periodically covering the yard in heirloom Irish linen. But come fall, I'm very conservative. So, we ended up with four window sills (as above) mounded with red and green tomatoes.

Subsequently, we've been eating a lot of tomatoes. And making salsa. And oven roasting some to freeze. Jenn even made fried green tomatoes (which I've come to quite enjoy). After giving some away, we're now down to two window sills so I expect that will carry us through until some time in October.

Up next: today we're going to start cleaning up a couple of more garden beds: the corn patch out back is first and then maybe the large raised bed in the back yard. As the weather is supposed to be nice I'm also going to start putting up the Christmas lights. While that sound crazy, I have a lot of lights and a couple of high peaks so I'd rather do it now than be hanging off icy eaves on Grey Cup Sunday.

Monday, September 19, 2011


We decided to try our hand at at apple picking this weekend and headed off to Sprout Farms, just northeast of Bon Accord.

Sprout Farms is a modest-sized orchard with quite a selection of apples. After a quick orientation, we were left to our own devices to wander in the orchard and pick what looked good. We were mostly interested in baking apples; there is a separate section for juicing ones and a press on site.

It took us about 20 minutes to pick about 20 lbs of apples. We also picked a few pears. Overall, a successful trip without the Burma-death-march experience that sometimes pervades our u-pick trips.

We came home and made a fantastic apples pie. Jenn and I then peeled, cored and chopped 36 cups to make sauce with. I managed to get eight litres canned last night and I think we still have enough apples for one more pie.

Up next: We're going to turn under the corn patch tonight as it is done for the year. The tomatoes continue to ripen and I need to think about what to do with the bunch on the window sill before the become over-ripe. Maybe salsa?