There’s always a project on at the farm. We put in the garden, expanded the garden, did the renovation, expanded the garden, had the berm built… Part of the appeal of the farm is the endless possibility of things to add, improve or create.

This year we’re busy adding to our tree count.  The local conservation authority has a program to sell tree seedlings very inexpensively as long as you can prove a good reason for planting them and are willing to take a lot at once.  We’d been meaning to do this for a few years but it sneaks up on us and we’ve missed the deadline in the past.  This year we got organized and did our first order of 50 maples, 25 pine, 50 cedar, 25 serviceberries and 25 dogwoods.  The WorkHorse put his tree planting high school summer job experience to good use as he got busy planting them.  It took a full 2 days to get them all in – the ground at the farm being a little more pliable than concrete – but with his team of helpers (the kids) he got them in.  At one point they were digging holes near the neighbour’s property and their chickens came by and kept eating the worms out of the WorkHorse’s shovel.  The chickens at least were big fans of the tree planting effort.


We have a whole crop of orange markers everywhere.  This will give us a 3% chance of not hitting the trees with the mower.

Besides looking to fill in some gaps for a bit more privacy (that’s what the conifers are for), we’re worried about our aging maples.  There are probably a hundred around the perimeter of the farm and down the driveway and they are probably a hundred years old.  Hopefully we’re getting ahead of the tree decline.

The kids couldn’t understand why we were planting all of these baby trees since it will be decades before they’ll mature.  I guess our vantage point is different.  We explained that we’re planting these trees for their children.  Makes sense to me, someone planted them for ours.

Besides the big tree plant, we also added more fruit trees.  Two more plums, two pears and two more apples.  The beautiful old apple tree is on its last legs unfortunately and we like our applesauce at Northbrook.  The WorkHorse planted the new trees near some apples we’d planted last year and the year before and it’s turning into a lovely little orchard space.  I’m thrilled with it and I have visions of setting a table in the middle of the these trees for a special occasion one day.

I’ve always thought that our job is to protect and add to the natural beauty of the farm.  Investing in a whole pile of trees seems like one of the best ways to accomplish that.


One of new baby trees



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….

DSC_0020 (2)

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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.

Around the farm…

The previous owners put this up but it makes me happy

The previous owners put this up but it makes me happy

The Girl and I baked up a storm for a dear friend's wedding shower

The Girl and I baked up a storm for a dear friend’s wedding shower

stupid good

stupid good

From Glen Road Organics

From Glen Road Organics

The Boy carved a happy face onto the lichen.  I'll admit we weren't happy at the time, but now I find it kind of cheery

The Boy carved a happy face onto the lichen. I’ll admit we weren’t happy at the time, but now I find it kind of cheery

The Girl's boots by the side door

The Girl’s boots by the side door

In a rare pic of me, I'm happy as a clam surrounded by beds full of dirt

In a rare pic of me, I’m happy as a clam surrounded by beds full of dirt

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!