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.

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.

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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.

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  • 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.
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  • 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.

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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.

Full

I’m stealing the last few moments of an early start to the day.  The WorkHorse was commuting to the city this morning and pointed out this when he got up.

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I’m a sucker for a sunrise, so I started my day at 5:00.

At the moment it’s very quiet in the house because last night the kids got up to this:

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Grandpa decided the Boy should have a place of his own, so for his birthday he received this brand new tent.  The kids camped out there overnight, where they remain this morning.  We were expecting someone to cave and come in the house at some point, but unless they’ve been dragged off by coyotes in the night they are enjoying a sleep-in as I type.  It’s hard to believe anyone could sleep in between the sunrise, the birds and the roosters..so I may have to check on them soon just to make sure that coyote thing didn’t happen.  They did look pretty cozy when I said goodnight….DSC_0020

It’s been so long between posts because life has been very, very full.  We’ve been going at a dead run since early May and the time that I’ve had at Northbrook has been dedicated to gardening and just enjoying it.

This week the kids and I spent a good few days up here, and will return for longer after a quick trip to the city.  We were all set for the Boy’s 10th birthday pool party this weekend.  Then, a wild storm blew through on Friday and knocked out our power out until noon on Saturday.  Since no electricity also means no plumbing, we were forced to cancel.  The boy took it as well as can be expected, but a disappointing blow all the same.  We did our best to salvage the weekend.  Here’s the boy enjoying a cake made and decorated by his sister.

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A lot of the weekend was dedicated to the garden as well.  The WorkHorse has been helping a lot in the battle against the bindweed.  The battle continues and I’m still not sure we’ll be the victors.

Bindweed aside, the garden is also very, very full.  We’ve had early cucumbers, zucchini, pattypan squash, potatoes, peppers, green beans, beets, peas, basil, and cilantro.  993355_10151794682412354_649121073_n

Here’s what I foraged for dinner the other night.

Potato salad from Ian Knauer’s The Farm – I put three or four different colour potatoes in plus basil and cilantro from the garden.

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Mixed beets with goat cheese and basil.

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Beet greens with potent, fresh from the ground garlic.

DSC_0006 Last night’s project was blanching and freezing this pile of goodness,

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and today’s project is cleaning and preparing the garlic and onion harvests so I can cure them in the sun for a few weeks.1012868_10151794664637354_839228043_n

That’s the update from Northbrook.  Here’s hoping good things are growing, eaten and celebrated where you are too.

Delinquent again

A Tuesday morning when the WorkHorse is home and transporting children to school and I have a rare hour to get a few things done.

I’m shocked at the way life has conspired to keep us away from the farm over the last two months.  Here’s what we’ve been up to.

Black belt

My 9 year old black belt.

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The girl is a published author.

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Tough kids after their first triathlon.DSC_0100

 

The Tough Mudder of those tough kids.

There’s more.  The WorkHorse has been traveling for his job like crazy.  The kids are busy at school and I’ve been finishing up the sale of my business.  In the midst of all of this activity, we’ve managed to get the garden put in.

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Isn’t it pretty?  Of course there isn’t enough room – there never will be.  It’s nice having things come up at the start of the season like the chives and garlic.  I put in horrid marigolds (blech) which I hope will repel nasty bugs and which, I’ll admit, do provide a nice pop of colour.  I stuck  a few little flowers here and there, both in the beds and in pots, as well as in my new log planter that the WorkHorse foraged for me.

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Well hello there, handsome.  May I introduce you to one of the pumpkin plants that is going to make many pumpkins this year and not have any trouble with bindweed?  That’s right.

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One of the cherry bushes.  I think it’ll be a few years before anything really exciting happens here.

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Crappy shed bed, take 2.  I planted some salvia, the hollyhocks are back and very happy, a few sunflowers actually germinated this year, and if you look closely, a brand new shiny toad house just waiting for a lucky toad to come along and claim it.  Bat houses have also gone up – we love all manner of things the rest of the world finds creepy.DSC_0031 (2)

Bwah ha ha – my cunning plan of netting the corn foiled the hungry birds this year and it has sprouted.  (Now I wait for it to grow so the raccoons can eat it, like they do to my strawberries.)

I was actually smug about the garden for about 1 week.  After it all went in and started to germinate I enjoyed a brief period of self congratulation, although I knew it was just a matter of time before issues arose.  It’s started.  The cucumbers and peppers are looking very sickly indeed and they’ve barely begun.  I may (and this pains me) have to supplement with nursery-bought plants.  Makes me feel like a fraud, but at least I’ll be a fraud with lots of pickles in a few months.

The next few weeks promise to be equally as hectic,with some much anticipated farm time scheduled for July and August.  I can’t wait.

Tough enough

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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.

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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.