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Archive for the ‘Food and cooking’ Category

Today I wanted to provide a progress update on the seeds I started last weekend and pot up some of my previously started seeds into cups – this will likely be their last home before they get transplanted outside (if the weather cooperates). “Potting up” is needed in order to ensure they get enough water and nutrients for their larger (and hungrier/thirstier selves) selves. πŸ™‚

First, some updates on the kale and lettuce seeds started last week:

At the rear is the cabbage I started 2 weeks ago (which we’ll be up-potting today.

In the row in front of them are the kale – all came up.

Lettuce is in the 2 rows in front of that, some are slowly starting to sprout (which is normal).

Let’s transplant the cabbage seedlings into cups. I use styrofoam cups since they last long (even though I know it’s no longer politically correct to use it – I’ve had them for 3 years now and will only throw them out if they die on me).

Step 1: Get your cups/larger containers ready. I poked holes in the bottom of these cups with a chopstick to let water drain out. I fill the cup halfway with seed starting mix or potting mix (something light and airy so the roots can grow well)..

Step 2: Thin them out. Remember how we planted 2-3 seeds per pod? Now is the time to snip the weaker ones and keep the strongest to transplant. Use scissors and carefully snip the weak ones – don’t pinch them or pull them out in case it disturbs the roots of the one you’re keeping. Here are my casualties – which I sprinkled over pasta for dinner – no waste!

Step 3:Β If you can, remove the pod mesh wrapping from the seedling – very gently so as not to damage the roots – and plop it in the cup.Β  I prefer to to do this now, and don’t plant them in the garden outside with it on – I’ve found these a year later in my soil – they don’t disintegrate like they’re supposed to. I gently twist it in a bit so it’s snug – but again, gently – there are roots coming out of these and you don’t want to damage them.

Step 4: Add more seed starting/potting mix to the cup to just under the rim.

Do the same thing for each seedling you want to move to a larger cup/pot.

Step 5: Water them in – I stack them into foil roasting pans – easy to transport around, catches water that drains out – they last for years and are not expensive. Highly recommend.

Done! Now, they go into my south-facing window, I rotate them often, make sure they’re watered. Provide a very light fertilizer to feed them and keep my eye on the weather. πŸ™‚

 

Now, let’s start some more seeds – this time for marigolds (which I plant around the garden for pest control) and roma tomatoes (for sauce and salsa).

Same drill as last week: Prep the pods first – I rearranged my kale to the back row to make room for more empty pods, then added water so they poof up. I’m planting 17 marigolds and 7 romas. (Oh, you can see a lettuce sprouting in the bottom right poofed up pod!)

First the marigolds:

Then the tomatoes:

Fluff up the peat in the pods, add 2 seeds to each pod.

Then cover the seeds with a bit of the fluffed up peat and you’re good to go. I added a bit of water to the tray to make sure they stay moist. Covered them with the dome again and the waiting (and fawning) continues. πŸ™‚

Here’s a peek at the basil I started in another tray last weekend – starting to sprout as well. πŸ™‚ I LOVE SPRING!!!!

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I’ve been getting questions about starting a garden, likely because more and more folks want to be able to grow their own food in these uncertain COVID-19 times. Since I’m in the process of starting my own seeds indoors to transplant into my raised beds in a few weeks, I figured I’d take pics of the process and provide some tips and tricks for anyone interested. πŸ™‚Β  Here goes!

I typically use a seed starting tray with Jiffy pods to start seeds but there are other ways for those so inclined. I like the simplicity of the pods. I don’t use a heat mat – I have a south-facing window in my office/seed-starting room and it gets plenty warm in there. This year is the first time I’ve used a grow light (I have a south-facing window but thought I’d experiment with a light to see how it goes).

To start, I plan out how many plants I want to end up with, then start a couple more seeds in case they don’t all germinate. I follow the square foot gardening method (see the details of that method explained here by the amazing Mel Bartholomew).Β  Today, I’m starting kale and lettuce.

I started cabbage last weekend so don’t mind the existing seedlings in the pics. They’re going to be roomies for now.

Step 1: The first step is to place the pods in the tray “circle side up”:

Step 2: Water them so get moistened and expand. After the first watering, wait about 5 minutes to see if they’ve puffed up enough. They may need a second watering. You know you’re good to go when they look like the empty ones in the top right – all poofed up – that’s what you want:

Step 3: I open up the “holes”Β  (the mesh is really delicate – you can tear it very easily with your fingers or a toothpick) and fluff/loosen up the peat (which is what the pods are made out of), with a toothpick, chopstick, tweezer, whatever you have that has a small pointy end will work. This is so that when you add the seeds, it’s easier to cover them with some loose/fluffed up peat afterwards.

Step 4: Get your seeds ready. Let’s start with the kale seeds. I place 2-3 seeds per pod (2 if they’re new seeds and more likely to germinate, maybe 3-4 if I’ve had them a few years). Yes, they are small and sometimes tough to pick up with your fingers. I usually grab a pinchful and try to get about 2-3 in each pod. Don’t stress. Gardening is meant to be fun. πŸ™‚

Now for the lettuce:

Step 5: I cover up the seeds with some of the loose peat (read your seed packets since some seeds need light to germinate and shouldn’t be covered).

Step 6: Add the plastic dome to cover the tray and keep moisture in. Make sure they stay moist and never dry out – that’s very important.

That’s it! These should sprout in a few days. I’ll keep you posted on how things go! πŸ™‚

P.S. You can see my sage (greek mountain sage for tea) seedlings on the bottom tray – first time growing those.

 

 

 

 

 

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I love this time of year. I get to think ahead and plan what I’ll be tackling from my Life List in the coming year. Similar to years past, we already know where we’ll be traveling, so those will get crossed off in 2020. I want to cross off a few others as well; some of which I’ve been carrying forward for a couple of years so it’s time to get them done. πŸ™‚

  • Travel to England
  • Travel to Scotland
  • Ride on the Tube in London
  • Visit Buckingham Palace in London
  • Visit the Tower of London
  • Tour a castle in Europe
  • Ride the Jacobite Train in Scotland
  • Visit Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Visit the Highlands, Scotland
  • Take a picture with a guard in London
  • See Big Ben
  • Have bangers and mash in England
  • Visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour in England
  • Learn to crochet
  • Knit a shawl
  • Attend a paint & wine class
  • Make yogurt
  • Make cheese
  • Make homemade pita bread

I’ll also be keeping my usual “annual” goals:

  • Watch 50 movies
  • Cook 30 new recipes
  • Read 10 books

I’m still figuring out what to add in terms of houseplants and other gardening things and will do so eventually. πŸ™‚ Looking forward to 2020!

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I’m starting the year on the right foot. I’ve already watched a couple of movies to start my annual tally, as well as tried a few new recipes and it’s only the first week of January! πŸ™‚

I have always had “make fresh pasta” on my life list. Ever since our trip to Italy two years ago, and our return trip last year (love Italia!!!), it’s bumped up on the priorities.

I figured since I don’t own a pasta machine or a stand mixer with pasta attachment, the easiest noodle to make would be ravioli. So I scoured cookbooks and online recipes until I found a recipe that would suit a first timer and had a lot of good reviews.

I ended up following the dough from here, and tweaked the pesto sauce to accommodate what I had on hand and reduce the recipe to 2 servings for my husband and I.

I admit to being a bit nervous. Homemade pasta just seemed so intimidating. But I persevered through my little well of flour and egg mixture, then through the rolling (and rolling and rolling) trying to get the dough as thin as possible. Then adding the filling in little piles on the first sheet of dough, brush with egg wash, cover with second sheet and I used a ravioli cutter but you could easily use a knife or a pizza cutter. Boiled them, then baked them for 4 mins to turn brown.

The filling was delicious with four cheeses: mozzarella, provolone, cream cheese and ricotta. For the sauce, I heated olive oil, added a fresh crushed garlic clove (from my garden last year), a 1/4 cup of my Genovese basil pesto that I froze last summer (and thawed overnight), about a half cup of heavy cream and 1/4 cup of parmesan. It turned out great (albeit the color was off because I didn’t blanch my basil when I prepared the pesto last summer..serves me right). πŸ™‚

I was relieved it all turned out and the little pillows were delicious. Wonder what I’ll make next!

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So here we are – it’s time to plan what I’ll be tackling from my Life List next year. Since we already know where we’ll be traveling to, those will likely get crossed off in 2019. I also have some food-related and skills I want to tackle.

This is the list for next year:

  • Stay in a cabin or lodge in the woods
  • See Lake Louise in Alberta
  • Stargaze in a dark sky reserve (Jasper)
  • Visit Banff, Alberta
  • Visit Jasper, Alberta
  • Drive the Icefields Parkway, Alberta
  • Hike in the Rockies
  • Hike to one of the tea houses in the Rockies
  • Learn to crochet
  • Knit a pair of stockings
  • Knit a shawl
  • Grow a fruit tree
  • Attend a paint & wine class
  • Make yogurt
  • Make cheese
  • Make homemade pita bread
  • Try canning
  • Make fresh pasta

I’ll be keeping my usual “annual” goals but have adjusted (greatly lowered) my reading one since I’ve been spending a lot more time doing other things:

  • Watch 50 movies
  • Cook 30 new recipes
  • Read 10 books

Can’t wait!!

 

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My sister and her two girls came down to spend the holidays with us again this year. They arrived on Friday (flew into the Toronto Island airport) and for dinner we had rigatoni with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil (by request :)), followed by buche (yule log). We headed out for a stroll in the neighborhood to admire the holiday lights. Once back home, we watched Daddy’s Home (first time for Chris and I, it was cute) and everyone got settled and went to bed.

Saturday we braved the mall and went shopping for some last-minute gifts – we went early and avoided the crowds (and we all wore our plaid flannel shirts :)). We ate lunch at Jack Astor’s, then back home to get ready for our evening at Westfield Heritage Village; a pioneer-style village where the staff dress up in period costumes and explain how a village ran back in the day. I love that place and learning about all the “old-time jobs”, with old-fashioned decor – super fun. We swung by Boston Pizza on the way home and hit the sack.

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Sunday we spent outside enjoying holiday festivities downtown. We had brunch at Eggspectations, then visited the Fair in the Square at Nathan Philips Square where they had a Christmas market, outdoor skating, food and drinks (mulled wine!). I bought some wool leg warmers at one of the stalls. Cozy!Β  Our next stop was over at the new winter festival Aurora at Ontario Place by the lake. They did an amazing job – it was gorgeous. There was a market as well (bought the girls stuffed alpacas and myself an alpaca sweater – love it). We had some food, warmed up under the heaters then the adults went over to the bar (warm cider) while the girls went tubing. We peeked at the skating pond (beautiful) but everyone had their fill from skating earlier in the day. We all went on the carousel and the mini-train. We loved the mystical world with all the lights – it was gorgeous. Great new winter festival to add to the holiday festivities in the city. Back home and everyone crashed.

Nathan Philips Square:

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Aurora:

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Monday (Xmas Eve) was baking day – we made kovas (nanaimo bars), ginger nut cookies and double chocolate chip cookies with mint chips. Everything turned out great and they were all gone by the time the family left later in the week. The girls also helped me with making lunch (chicken and Greek salad). After lunch, we headed out armed with an outdoor scavenger hunt game and walked through the neighborhood to Starbucks, then made our way back. If your family is into games but want to spend time outdoors, this game is awesome and kept everyone busy along the walk.Β  Luckily my sister brought her Christmas light necklace (equipped with working flashing lights) to drape over a mailbox so we could count the “decorated mailbox” as found on our hunt. πŸ™‚

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We got back home, had our usual charcuterie, cheese, crackers and other goodies for dinner, watched Daddy’s Home 2 (again, first time for Chris and I – funny) and got everything ready for the big day tomorrow. πŸ™‚

Tuesday was Christmas Day and after a morning opening gifts, we enjoyed our turkey lunch with all the usual fixings. We all ended up playing the new games Santa brought. Mad Gab (you have to read a card out loud that’s made up of words that sound like something else) – tough to explain, even tougher to play. We also played Hearing Things and had a blast – one player wore headphones with sounds that blocked out noise while your teammate whispers a phrase and the headphone-wearer tries to read their lips to guess what they’re saying. This was hilarious!! We ended the night watching The Holiday and snacking on holiday treats – even the cat joined in resting in his bed in front of the fire.

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Wednesday was Boxing Day and we headed down tot he King Edward hotel to have afternoon tea. At this tie of year they have a festive “Nutcracker Tea” and it was awesome. The finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, jam and lemon curd and pastries – everything was yummy, festive and filling. Back home, we played Christmas charades, then off to see Mary Poppins Returns.

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Thursday was “big breakfast” day including scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast. Followed by ornament-making – this year we made pine cone ornaments with berries and branches, topped with plaid ribbons. They turned out pretty well!

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Lately I’ve been really focused on skills that have been lost over generations or simply not passed down from our parents and grandparents. I don’t know if it’s due to the younger generations not caring, a general waning interest in those types of skills or a lack of time when convenience is just easier to satisfy the needs of ourselves and our families.

That being said, I’ve been happily learning and honing those skills for my own enjoyment and fulfillment. Call it taking care of my family or call it preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Either way, I’m fairly confident that in the event of a food shortage or other similar emergency, I feel like I’d be ableΒ to provide and help my husband and I not die (the bar is low folks). Unless we’re talking full-fledged apocalypse where people are killing each other for a tomato, well, I’d probably have problems and a tomato would be the least of them. But I digress.

Back to me and my epic skillz. πŸ™‚

I started a list (of course) of skills I wanted to learn and I’m happy to say I’ve been making great progress. I’ve plsit the list into four categors of “learning”: Things I already kow, things I’m currently learning (In Progress), Things I want to learn, and Things I don’t need (yet). I reserve the right to change my mind on that last one if, you know, zombies and all.

Know In Progress Want to learn Don’t need (yet)
Learn to make dried herbs x
Learn to make freezer jam x
Learn to rotate your crops x
Learn to bake bread x
Learn how to weed properly x
Start your seeds indoors x
Learn to garden x
Learn to cook from scratch and in season x
Learn to knit x
Learn how to forage for wild edibles x
Learn to store food x
Grow an indoor fruit tree x
Know first aid and CPR x
Learn a fiber arts skills such as rug hooking, spinning, weaving or felting x
Learn how to make lip balm x
Learn how to prune x
Learn to can – pressure x
Learn to can – water bath x
Learn to crochet x
Learn to grow and store medicinal herbs x
Learn to make butter x
Learn to make candles x
Learn to make cheese x
Learn to make dried fruit x
Learn to make dried vegetables x
Learn to make home medecine ointments and salves x
Learn to make vinegar x
Learn to make yogurt x
Learn to save seeds x
Learn to sew basic stitches x
Make bar soap x
Make dish soap x
Make laundry soap x
Plant a fruit or nut tree x
Learn to fish x
Learn to hunt x
Learn how to start a fire x
Learn to purify water in different ways x

That being said, these are some the tasks I have been tackling this year to hone said skills:

  • Expended my garden to 4 beds (16 square feet each), for spring, summer and fall crops. I’m still not saving seeds yet but I will eventually. I do start my seeds in doors and transplant once risk of frost is past (in my area zone 6b).
  • I grew mint and chamomile to dry herbs (with a dehydrator) for tea. This has been great – love my very own tea blend. πŸ™‚
  • I grew lavender and made sachets (second year in a row now).
  • I bought fruit at our local farm and made freezer jams (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and peach). So excited to have a freezer full of jam for the winter.
  • I bought local pickling cucumbers and made refrigerator and freezer pickles: dill, sweet, bread & butter. Delicious. And we’ll have some for months!
  • For the first time, I planted garlic (last fall) and harvested and cured them. They turned out great and we had the first clove in dinner yesterday – holy moly – tasty!! We have 13 bulbs total to savor over the coming months.

Some pics:

Garlic harvest

Garlic harvest (TV remote for size comparison)

Lavender harvest

Lavender harvest

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

Drying chamomile

Drying chamomile

Pickle batch

One batch of pickles

Freezer jam - strawberry

Strawberry freezer jam

Peach freezer jam

Peach freezer jam

Freezer jam

Freezer drawer of jams and pesto

I’m also planning on tackling these tasks in the upcoming months:

  • Make basil pesto (once I harvest the basil in my garden)
  • Make apple chutney (and freeze), apple sauce (and freeze), possibly make apple pie filling (and freeze) – to take advantage of the apple harvest in our neck of the woods
  • I’m planting cabbage as a fall crop and will make sauerkraut (my first go at fermenting!)
  • I’ll be making vegetable chips in my dehydrator, possibly some dried fruit too for some healthy snacks

Once the food season passes, I’m going to work on other skills that are more indoorsy. πŸ™‚ Good times.

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