End of summer angst…with a side of salsa

It’s been an angst-ridden kind of week. Strange, since we were thrilled to pick up the kids on Monday after three weeks of summer camp, and since the WorkHorse was on vacation all week.  This week had no business having even the tiniest bit of angst.  But still, it persisted.

My malaise stemmed not from any unhappiness, but rather from a surplus of it.  It’s been a wonderful summer.  In August, the WorkHorse and I enjoyed three glorious, kid-free weeks, during which I maintained a perfect no-cooking record.  The kids had a great time at camp and were glad to come home.  We had a fabulous, if busy, trip to London and Paris in June and the kids had a great July of day camp and farm time.  While in the city we ate good meals, had great nights out and I worked with clients whom I genuinely enjoy.  All good.  Now I’m staring down the school year and real life and it’s making me just a little itchy.  I’m not worried, I’ve been like this every school year since the first one.  It’ll pass.  Mums will replace the impatiens.  Life will pick up speed.  The WorkHorse will race nearly every weekend this fall, the kids will have lessons and birthday parties.  We’ll host the second annual Thanksgiving Olympics, and with a little luck, all will be great, or mostly great anyway.  I think it’s the change in the changing of the seasons that never sits well with me.  Ignore me.

With the return of the kids came the return of cooking.  We ate ribs with Caesar salad as the homecoming meal.  And then I served them a zucchini chocolate cake, which was delicious…and they had no idea there was zucchini in it.  I made the same cake later in the week only I cleaned it up so I could eat it too – gluten free and lower in fat, and somehow it’s even better.  You should make it.  Don’t tell your kids about the zucchini, it’ll be our little secret.  The Girl made homemade gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce for the second year running.  It’s insanely good even if it does take all day to make.

gnocchi

We also ate chicken chili, flank steak and piles of tomatoes fresh from the garden, sliced and topped with sea salt and our basil (which is turning bitter but I don’t care).  Every meal has also had a jar of our pickles on the table.  (There are 30 large jars of pickles in the basement fridge.  Don’t judge us – they are perfection in a mason jar – just the right balance of sweet and sour.)  We’ve also developed an addiction to the zucchini salad I invented earlier this summer when the Fairy Grandmother came to visit.  Even the Girl loves it.  I’ll include the “recipe” below – it’ll make you love zucchini, I promise.

We made our annual batch of salsa.  This year the kids pitched in too.  Here’s the Boy discovering the joys of peeling a tomato.

boytouchingtomato

By contrast, here’s his younger sister managing the blanching of the tomatoes.

girlpeelingtomatoes

Regrettably I realized we’d forgotten to add cilantro just as we were removing the jars from the water bath.  Oh well.  That’s what you get for letting the kids manage the recipe – but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

More salsa pics:

workhorse and peppers tomatoesforsalsa kidssalsa2013 girlstirring

The WorkHorse made pickled beets.  It turns out he has a thing for canning – who knew?  He tells me it’s extremely satisfying.  I totally agree, as it happens.  In fact, as I write this the first batch of apple sauce is underway. The apple tree is jam packed with fruit this year, after not producing a single apple last year.  (It’s wonderful but it’s a pain in the ass to mow around with so many apples on the ground.)  I think there will be many, many batches of apple sauce to come.

apples

Elsewhere around the farm we are busy planning for the fall renovation of the summer kitchen.  I’m excited but also a little nervous about the impending destruction.  More to come on that front.

In the big shed we added a squat rack and a set of dumbbells.  It’s the best thing ever.

Inside we did a little decorating of the front hall.  We changed  out the old yellow brass fixture for a beauty from Restoration Hardware, which is a replica of a barn door pulley.  I found some $3 prints (turned out to actually be framed fabric) from a local antique store and fixed them up with some new Ikea frames.  A friend of the farm (originally a friend of the Master Gardener) donated some lovely antique keys which went up, as did a collection of family photographs.  The Fairy Grandmother gave us a lovely vintage hand hooked rug which makes the whole thing perfect.  Would it be weird to just hang out in the front hall?  I kind of want to.

front hall

We’ve added a few things to the dining room too, but I’ll save that for another day.

Zucchini Delicious Salad

– a zucchini of any size, made into ribbons with a vegetable peeler

– a glug of avocado oil

– a splash of white wine vinger

– some sea salt

– some lemon zest

Toss and enjoy.

I’ll make sure to enjoy my final days of summer and try to leave the angst behind.

Perfect

There’s a deeply ingrained ritual here at Northbrook farm.  On weekends, or other vacation-y times, somewhere between 5:00 and 6:00 the children are invited to watch television.  This frees up the parents for Northbrook cocktail hour.  Most often this happens on the side deck where we can both look out at the back garden and keep an eye on whatever is on the barbecue.

gardenaugust2013

At that time of day the light is lovely, from spring to fall.  There’s a pinky golden warmth illuminating our drab grey barn, and the back fields somehow look as though they are resting in the sunshine.  Not infrequently in these moments, the Workhorse will turn to me and ask, “how’s your farm?”, to which I always reply, “it’s perfect.”

Northbrook has been very good to us this summer.  The garden has been generous and bountiful.

bountyaugust13

  • Last night we made our fourth batch of pickles (6lbs per batch).  I’m happy to report that I was able to keep up with the cucumbers with enough dill, onions and garlic this year.
  • The determinate tomatoes are offering up beautiful specimens, and although I was supposed to use them for salsa, I’m doubtful that any will be left when salsa making happens.  The indeterminate tomatoes are making stunning and delicious, improbably large offerings to the salad plate.
  • There are bushels of potatoes.
  • We’ve got hot and sweet peppers.
  • The freezer is full of green beans (probably my favourite crop for low input-high output).
  • The leeks, carrots and parsnips are still in the beds.
  • The beets only flourished in one of the locations I planted them but they were beautiful.
  • I did manage to grow peas this year, but harvested them too late – delicious still, but maybe a victim of being a weekend gardener only.
  • I got much better at succession planting the herbs, so we’ve had a constant supply of cilantro, basil, parsley and dill.
  • The garlic was not only delicious, but also lovely to look at in the garden, which made up for the small onions again this year.
  • We’ve managed to avoid powdery mildew on the summer squash and have enjoyed patty pans as well as zucchini.  bounty3aug2013
  • I’m optimistic about the asparagus, which seems to be filling in even though I broke the cardinal rule and moved it last fall.
  • I wasn’t as good at keeping lettuce going in the garden as I was the herbs, which is just ridiculous considering how easy it is to  grow, but there is a bed with tiny seedlings of lettuce, arugula, spinach and kale, which I hope to add to the September and October plates.  bounty2aug13
  • After months of waiting and almost pulling it out, the broccoli is finally flowering.
  • Of course the pumpkins, winter squash and melons stubbornly refuse to grown, but at least the sunflowers have done my bidding this year, making for a great backdrop to my garden bench.
    sunflowersaug13
  • The apple tree is struggling under the weight of all the apples.  I’m predicting lots of apple crisps, apple sauces, apple muffins….

One of my favourite things about the garden this year is how noisy it is.  I planted more borage this year because it’s beautiful and happens to like living at Northbrook.  It’s a great companion plant and the edible blue flowers dress up of a plate of sliced vegetables like no one’s business.  I didn’t realize how popular it would be with the bees.  The garden is so full of bees and other insects that it’s bordering on the excessive.  The cilantro I let go to flower is probably the second favourite insect spot, followed by the mullein weed that snuck in but which I couldn’t bring myself to pull out since the bugs seem to like it.  The giant sunflowers are just about to open, which might bring some relief to the borage.

borage2013

We’ve also found toads and frogs, which is a good sign of a happy garden.  There is no evidence of the toads living in the homes we made for them…yet.

Of course the farm wasn’t entirely perfect this summer.  We battled with our two-year neglect of the water system and got the dreaded unsafe water test result.  This meant weeks of bottled water, lots of calls and trips to the city health board, and getting the local water company on board.  The good news is that we now have not only clean and safe water, but also a handle on the system.

There were multiple power outages.  One caused us to lose all the food in our fridge and freezer, the other was responsible for cancelling the Boy’s birthday party.

There was lots of work to do around the farm.  Weeding, clearing, planting, painting, schlepping, cleaning and so much more.  Despite it all, Northbrook gives us much more than it takes.  Beyond all of the vegetables, we’ve enjoyed all kinds of nature.  We’ve had two sets of babies this summer on the front porch – sparrows and robins.  A pair of bluebirds flew around us all of July.  Our many hummingbirds love to come by at all hours.  The corn in the front field has given us privacy and quiet, and the flowers have bloomed all over the farm giving us colour and beauty.  The hollyhocks grew to more than 8 feet tall and were stunning.

Mostly though, Northbrook gives me peace, room to breathe, and a place to be centered.  Perfection to me, indeed.