Tough enough


I’ll admit that a 10+ mile military-style obstacle course is a little more extreme than gardening and cooking – the way I usually spend my weekends.  But it was, apart from the near hypothermia, a fantastic experience and I find myself planning for the next one.  Fortunately, it’s scheduled for the end of the planting season, which means it’s just me and my plants for the next few months.  Lovely.


The return

It’s May, and I feel like I’ve returned to the farm after a long hiatus.  I actually thought ‘I’ve missed this place’ as I sat in the garden among the unplanted beds a couple of weeks ago.  Odd, considering I’ve spent most weekends there this year.  It turns out there is a difference between hiding out in the farmhouse cooking and reading all winter and being outside around the farm.

Spring came late this year, and all at once.  There was nothing to do in the garden in April, it was too cold and the ground was still frozen.  Two weeks later, the grass desperately needs to be cut.  Now I can’t wait for the gardening season and feel frustrated by the city-life demands that are keeping us from being at the farm more.  Since we can’t get there this weekend (tragic, since May is officially my favourite month at Northbrook), I hurried to plant all of those ‘early spring’ plants last weekend.  In went arugula, spinach, kale, lettuce, leeks, peas, a few potatoes, parsnips, radishes, broccoli, celery and a few flowers, although I have terrible luck with growing flowers from seeds.  Of course I expected I’d have miles of room now for everything with the expanded garden.  Nope.  I’m starting to think that until I start taking back some of the rented-out acreage there will never be enough room for planting.  At the end of last season I wanted more of everything.  But then I got greedy and ordered about a billion packets of seeds – and now I have more kinds of vegetables growing, but I don’t have room to grow as much as I want of each vegetable.  Is garden balance possible?

Here’s the new garden with the first seeds in.  Fingers crossed the netting keeps the birds from pilfering my peas as they did last year.


The next time we’re at Northbrook will be the big planting weekend.  I’ve ordered my tomatoes again – about 21 plants compared to last year’s 7.  I still feel like I need lots and lots of things to make the garden complete – herbs, more flowers, little annuals to pot up and place around for colour.  Then there’s the irrigation to go in.  With the garden expansion we need expanded watering capability.  Naturally, the WorkHorse is dreading adding a new irrigation line.  I smile politely and say very little when this subject comes up.  So far, so good.

I’ve been quiet on this blog over the winter.  My focus (obsessive nature) has been on my fitness as I switched up my plans for the Tough Mudder.  Rather than planning my first Mudder for September, I’m doing it in two days time.  Yes, that’s right.  Utter panic over here.

Getting that adventure behind me should open up some mental and physical space for the farm in general and the garden in particular.  I can’t wait.  Where I live, spring can be very quick – if you’re not actively paying attention you can easily miss it.  Even when I try I’m always surprised to come out of the front door in the morning and find that everything is perfectly green and in bloom.  However, you can’t miss spring at the farm.  The place is practically pulsing with new life.  The smell of the plants and the warm, clean air mixed with the noisy singing of the birds makes for a bold and joyful declaration of the new season.  After a long dark winter, the return of spring makes everything seem possible.  Maybe even Tough Mudder.



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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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


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!


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.


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?