Racing to the end

Yesterday was our last full day of summer at Northbrook Farm.  Today we pack up and head back to the city in anticipation of back to school/life/work on Tuesday.  You’d think we spent the day swimming, eating, drinking and generally partying, wouldn’t you?  You’d be wrong.  We spent the day running as hard as we could.

First, we were expecting the annual wood delivery.  Usually Clayton and his buddy load the wood, with the aid of the WorkHorse, into the summer kitchen.  Since we’re about to rip the summer kitchen off we had to relocate this year.  So, we cleaned up the potting shed area of the Crappy Shed.  Clayton came and we helped him unload.  Then, and this is the fun part, we moved all of the remaining wood from last year from the summer kitchen to the crappy shed.  We unstacked it, transported it and restacked it.  Good times.  It’s a job done and at least the potting shed has had a much-needed cleaning.  I do like to keep it nice for the raccoons….

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After that, laundry.  So much laundry.  While the laundry was going I made a pot of chili for the freezer and supervised (minimally) the Girl making bread.  The WorkHorse never stopped all afternoon either. At 5:00, after picking a batch and a half of pickling cucumbers and dill, he decided to take the kids to find more apples while I made dinner.  After dinner the pickling and canning started.  While the apples were breaking down we made what we think will be the last dills of the year.  I then went to work on some Zesty Honey Pilsner pickles using the salad cucumbers from the garden, of which we had too many.

Everything took longer than anticipated and at 11:00 the madness was still ongoing.  In hindsight I’m grateful that a shortage of jars stopped me from making pickled carrots!  I was inspired by the pickling recipes in Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and I’d made the pickled grapes the night before (oddly delicious, as I’d suspected).  The carrots will have to be pickled another day!

So far, 2013’s canning tally is:

dill pickles – 35 quarts

applesauce – 13 quarts (more to come hopefully)

salsa – 10 quarts

beets – 2 quarts

honey pilsner pickles – 4 quarts

pickled grapes – 1 quart

Total madness, right?  At the very least, we’re in good shape in the event of a zombie apocalypse, which when you live with a 10 year-old boy, is a topic that comes up more often than you would think.

Happy return to life to you, and let me know if you need a jar of pickles.

P.s. Here’s a shot of the garden this morning.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

200 loads

When we moved into this place I had to procure not only all of the furniture, but also the linens, the dishes, the plastic wrap, garbage bins, salt, olive oil, etc. etc.  Naturally I hit Costco for the largest of everything since I believe I’ll never get over the novelty of having endless storage.  Yesterday I came to the end of the laundry detergent I bought – the one with the label boldly boasting ‘200 loads’.  Now, this is odd, because I’m pretty sure I did 200 loads of laundry just yesterday.  But I guess we’re well and settled here if I’ve done 200 loads…is it odd that I mark the passing of time by Costco items consumed?!

Other than endless laundry, what we’ve been doing is eating and cooking.  Last weekend we had friends up.  I made Filet of Beef Bourguignon from the Barefoot Contessa, only to overcook the meat at the last minute… #fail.  I also made this bread.  Only this time, I tweeted the book’s author @iknauer to ask what had gone wrong the first time.  He tweeted back immediately with a suggestion for a lower temperature and the bread was much more successful.  I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter, but for being able to reach out to the otherwise unreachable, nothing tops it.  The Girl was envious of my bread making so she made a batch of her own, which we all devoured warm with loads of butter (I’ve had a couple of gluten-free-FREE days).  I didn’t get pictures last weekend as I was busy living, but when she made another batch this weekend I did capture a pic.  This bread is light on yeasty flavour, but fresh bread is never, ever bad – especially with butter and some strawberry jam!DSC_0016

The Northbrook kitchen also produced mulligatawny soup for lunch yesterday and some pumpkin quinoa muffins, to which I added chocolate chips and substituted gluten-free flour for the regular stuff.  I had forgotten about this wonderful recipe, but was inspired by my Bestie this week when she whipped up a batch and gave me one to devour in her kitchen.DSC_0007

Finally,  I made use of a blade roast from the Meat Box with this pot roast recipe.  To be honest, I’m not much of a pot roast girl, but the WorkHorse loves all manner of roasted meat, so he was happy.  The weirdest part of dinner yesterday was sitting down in full sun for dinner. I can’t remember the last time we ate dinner and it wasn’t dark.DSC_0021

We’ve got a busy city week ahead, so the memories of a weekend spent cooking, as well as some leftovers, will have to sustain me until next week.  In the meantime, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I leave you with this Irish blessing, which I have always loved.

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image credit: http://courtsbrogno.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/an-irish-blessing-of-sorts/

 

What happened to February

So I looked up and realized I didn’t blog once in February.  Now, not a ton happened in February, but it’s a month I hate less than most people do, and it certainly deserves better from me.

In case you were wondering – oh, and I know you were – here’s what happened at Northbrook in February…

What we did:

Some people in my household did things like this:DSC_0883

Yes, that’s right – full winter-gear trampolining.  Others of us (okay, me) looked at the thermometer, put the kettle on and added a quilt to the day bed.DSC_0884

Also, my birthday happened, and I got these two amazing books, plus I’m hooked on this series of books by Justin Cronin.  (See daybed activity above).DSC_0902

What we ate:

When we signed up for our CSA we also opted for a monthly meat box, which brings all kinds of interesting goodies each month.  Many of them have been finding their way into my various attempts at cassoulet, which the WorkHorse loves.  I’ve been blending multiple recipes based on what I have, but early learnings are that some kind of tomato addition (paste, canned) is essential for the flavour of the beans.  My cassoulet is er, a work in progress, but nothing bad every came from a plate of hot white beans with duck and sausage.DSC_0901

We had a banner month of city eating.  Very atypically we wound up with two fun tasting dinners.  These days, fine dining involves a burger at the local joint – so our Veuve Cliquot dinner at Nota Bene was a real treat. But for the cool factor, our long-awaited dinner at Charlie’s Burgers couldn’t be beat.  We found out about Charlie from some new friends we met at Eigensinn Farm last year.  Want to find out where to eat?  Ask a foodie.  Charlie’s Burgers is a private dinner club that hosts 5-10 pop up dinners in Toronto each year.  For each dinner a hot chef is brought in and a totally new menu is on offer.  To gain entry you have to fill out a questionnaire on the web site and then hope that you will eventually get an invitation.  (Apparently once you’re in, you’re in – you get all of invitations from then on.)  It took about six months for us to receive an invite.   When the invitation comes you have to be very, very fast.  There are a limited number of spots and tickets go fast.  You are given the date and the general location but no specifics as to where.

In our case we were instructed to go to an alley downtown and find a man standing on a wine barrel.  We did, and he handed us a sardine tin which we opened to find a vial of a very strong cocktail and directions to dinner (fortunately for us, a historic building next door).  We spent the next 4 and half hours drinking and eating with other adventurous foodies. It was a blast.  The wait staff, host, sommelier and chef are fabulous and friendly.  And, in case you get thirsty, there are buckets of beer in the restrooms.  It was overall a very good meal, but it was a hell of a party.  I would absolutely recommend trying out Charlie if you live in the area.  It’s spency, but it’s a terrific night out.

The rest:

I spent the rest of February as I usually do – obsessing about my training and waiting for spring to come so I can start my garden.  A girl can only sort, then resort, then sort again her pile of seed packets so many times.  The good news?  It’s March now – I can see the outlines of the raised beds peeking through the softening snow and I’ll be starting my peppers from seed this week.  Goodbye February and Hello Sunshine!

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Screaming

We were woken by the sound of the wind howling, yelping and positively screaming around the house this morning.  The alarm clocks were blinking and, when I got up to see what kind of havoc the storm was wreaking on our rickety old maples, I found that I couldn’t see out of many of the windows for all of the snow blown on them. Here’s a view from this morning:

DSC_0537 The WorkHorse immediately considered the drive home. Not me, I’m just thinking about another day of totally justified laziness.  Yesterday I did so little that if there were an olympic event in slothery I’m fairly sure I would have medalled.  It’s not my fault.  The kids and the WorkHorse went into town to get some raccoon traps (more on that in a moment) and I was gloriously alone in the house.  After an hour of so of reading/obsessing about the garden (my seeds were delivered this week) I flipped on the TV where Patrick Swayze was just about to tell Jerry Orbach that no one puts baby in the corner.  That morphed into the last hour of Becoming Jane, followed by the entire Pride and Prejudice, which I cannot resist ever if it’s on.  So went my day yesterday.  Tough Mudder training started this week, and the additional cardio, plus some heavy deadlifts had left me sore and exhausted.  Thank goodness I have 8 months to get ready for this challenge – I think I’m going to need every minute.

I did pull it together enough to supervise the Girl in making some cookies with a batch of gluten free healthy cookies (they smell like dog food and taste only marginally better) for me.  For dinner I made my new favourite recipe.   I make two chickens because I eat a LOT of meat and the leftovers make me happy.

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We get a lot of root vegetables in our winter CSA, so I roast them too – delicious.  And I’ve gotten into a very delightful appetizer.  Have you ever heard of watermelon radishes?  I hadn’t, until we got them in last year’s winter CSA.  I’d never been a fan of radishes, but then I read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, and I have to admit that she converted me.  There are many radish references in her lovely book and I decided to give them another chance.  Now I’m loving them.  Particularly a watermelon radish, sliced as thinly as my $5 farm mandolin will allow, drizzled with good olive oil and fleur de sel.  I ate this last night while the chicken was cooking.  And then I ate the other half of the radish.  The WorkHorse was in another room and I didn’t exactly offer to share.  Can I justify my radish hogging by whining about my gluten (good cookie) free existence?  I’m going to try.

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Today’s adventure had to do with our (so far fruitless) attempts to trap the raccoons who winter in our summer kitchen (it’s an old, uninsulated addition to the house where I guess they used to cook in the summer).  They summer elsewhere, it seems, but in the winter we can hear them going about their raccoony business and we can certainly smell them when we’re in the summer kitchen.  This weekend we decided to try and trap them.  The WorkHorse had read that cat food was their drug of choice, so he got a couple of traps – one where they enter the summer kitchen (under our kitchen porch stairs) and the other in the kitchen itself.  This morning we found the trap in the kitchen politely moved aside and the food eaten.  Under the kitchen porch was a very unhappy trapped cat.  Here’s the WorkHorse freeing the feline offender.

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Once released, that cat moved so fast I actually couldn’t capture it on film.  Of course, I’m a clumsy photographer, so there’s that – but that cat was hauling ass off our farm.  At least one of us was moving this weekend.  The quest to become raccoon free will continue.  Mostly it’s just giving me more reason to want to renovate the summer kitchen into something like this.  Doesn’t a big stone fireplace, lots of windows overlooking the fields and endless comfy seating sound better than trapping raccoons?  I think so.

Christmakah

Long time no blog.  I’d feel regretful except that well, a) I’m not disappointing thousands of loyal readers 😉 and b) we haven’t been at Northbrook much.  We’ve been busy in the city, most recently with the Girl’s 8th birthday, which involved a gaggle of girls singing karaoke to Katy Perry in the basement and eating copious amounts of jelly beans.  It also involved this pink confection.

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This weekend at the farm we kicked off Christmakah.  Since we tend to do holidays from both of our traditions it means a whole lot of everything.  We had a Chanukah gathering in the city to prepare for, so the kids and I baked up some Chanukah themed shortbread and well as our usual gingerbread men. DSC_0354 DSC_0356

For me, some gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate cookies:

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We also put up the tree and lit the first candles of the season.

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Needless to say, I passed out cold at 9:30, but it was all worth it.

I don’t want to give you the impression it’s all baking around here.  Here are a few other things we’ve been eating at the farm lately.

First, decadent and ridiculously delicious Chicken Stew with Biscuits from Barefoot Contessa.  I made a triple batch as I’m working on my annual Christmas gift for the Fairy Grandmother (a freezer full of food) as well as dinner for the gluten and dairy eating members of my family.  If you have time I heartily recommend this dish.  It’s best not to think much about the ingredients when you’re actually eating it – just enjoy!

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We’ve been receiving brussel sprouts in our CSA from Culinarium and it’s been determined that everyone in the family will not only eat them, but actually pig out on them if they are cooked with some bacon.  Of course my kids would probably eat anything if I cooked it in bacon.DSC_0333

I made this bread from my new cookbook The Farm, when I realized we’d forgotten to bring any bread to Northbrook for the weekend and I was too lazy to get in the car and go to the store.  Looks a little…crispy..doesn’t it?!  The recipe appropriately warns that the dough will be wet, but then it directs the cook to bake the bread at 500 degrees for an hour.  I have to say, I did wonder about that.  Then at around 40 minutes the Workhorse asked, ‘is something burning?’ and I just got this bread out before all was lost.  It was a little charred, but the family really liked it.  I would definitely make it again, and the Boy keeps asking me to, but I’ll definitely adjust the timing on the recipe.

Finally, quinoa with mushrooms from the farm box with rosemary and onions.  A little bland if I’m being honest, but good for me and hearty with the pot roast we got in our monthly meat box.

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It’s not all food though.  Since the garden has been put to bed for now, I’m directing my obsessive qualities to the gym.  In short, I’m working out harder than ever and loving it.  And next year has a new goal/fixation/madness – check it out here.  Care to join me?

thankful

I know it’s late for a thanksgiving post.  A week late, to be exact.  But I’m still feeling pretty thankful for the wonderful holiday we enjoyed together last Sunday.

Last year the farm was new to us, but even then I knew this place was designed for celebrating Thanksgiving.  Since we’re in Canada, we do Thanksgiving the second week of October- so most years it’s incredibly beautiful outside.  The leaves are changing and it’s the perfect amount of crisp outside.  Plus, I believe that Thanksgiving is far superior to Christmas.  Think about it – family and fun, but no gifts to fret over, buy and wrap.  Great food, no pressure or fatigue from baking 15 dozen cookies.

I pitched hosting our extended family up here last year but couldn’t sell the idea.  This year I began my campaign earlier.  Immediately after last Thanksgiving, in fact.  I figured that I had better make the day something special if I wanted to drag all of those people to the farm, and then get them to come back each year.  So was born the Northbrook Farm Olympics.

We were 17 people in all this year, with a special guest appearance by Howard and Val, my dad’s oldest friends, visiting North America from their native Australia.  Our crew ranged from 2 years old to nearly 70.  The weather cooperated well.  I had thought at one point that I could set up lunch outside if it were warm enough, and it often is on Thanksgiving, but not this year.  However, it was dry and cool, with the leaves putting on a spectacular show.

We raced, pulled muscles, competed in trivia and paper airplane throwing, and finished off with a soccer game on the front lawn.  The teams were a little uneven and may require some adjustment next year, but no one really minded what the final score was.  This year’s spot on the trophy went to the Wild Turkeys, with a triumphant comeback by the Roos expected next year!

What really delighted me about the whole thing was that it had occurred to me that we had never really played together as a family before.  Here’s the abridged back story: After a lot of years of not getting along very well, about 10 years ago we all pulled it together and started really enjoying each other.  Since then, we’ve had tons of meals together, shared life cycle celebrations and cousin sleepovers, but we’ve never gotten up from the table and done anything together.  I’m not suggesting that we’ll all be taking weekly Zumba classes together going forward or anything, but it’s satisfying to think that once a year we can shake it up a little and have some fun outdoors.

The drawback of all the pre-lunch fun was that I wasn’t all that focused on the food.  I overcooked the turkey.  I was underwhelmed by the whole brine thing – but since so many people swear by it I’ll try it again.  The turkey was fine, I didn’t suck every ounce of moisture out of it in the overcooking, but I didn’t do it any favours either.  Also on deck were sweet potato soup, my favourite make-ahead mashed potatoes, roasted rainbow carrots from the garden and green beans sauteed in garlic.  The Master Gardener came to the rescue with stuffing, perfect pumpkin pie and berry crumble. My sisters in law brought veggies and salad, and a friend brought more stuffing, since there is never, ever enough.  Magically, 17 people fit in the dining room, and we fulfilled the worldwide Thanksgiving tradition of eating far too much.

I’m pretty sure it was the best Thanksgiving ever.  As a family, we created a new tradition, which always takes an open heart and a decent amount of work.  It was worth it.  I can’t wait for next year.