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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
Early yesterday morning while the kids still slept and the WorkHorse and I were engaging in our daily revival ritual (coffee for him, tea for me) I spotted something dark and moving in the back field. Closer scrutiny revealed a deer or two off in the distance. The WorkHorse got out the binoculars to confirm two grown deer and a fawn snacking on last year’s corn. In the nearly two years since we’ve owned Northbrook this was the first time we’ve seen an animal of any size on the property although there are tracks and scat galore.
We called the kids down to see, naturally. And naturally they were delighted. But I’ve been thinking about how often I am asking them to notice the world around them. On Friday night we arrived to a breathtaking night sky full of stars. Living in the city we never see stars, so a sight like this was not to be taken for granted. At least not for me. “Guys, look up”, I said. “Look at the stars. It’s beautiful. It’s spectacular”. I feel like this is my common refrain. “Look at the sunrise, it’s perfect”, “Can you smell a tiny bit of spring in the air”, “Notice the buds on the trees, the birds in the nest, the clouds in the sky, the flowers in the garden”, and so on I prattle at my children.
I, sadly, am a terrible overtalker where my kids are concerned. Intellectually I know that my kids would learn more if I just shut my trap and led by example. I want to believe that if I just went about enjoying nature myself that they’d notice it and begin to appreciate the beauty of the world. But you know what? I’m not sure they would. At least not now.
For my children’s generation, there is no need to wait for the big dipper to appear in the night sky to experience it, they can experience anything they want instantaneously – thank you very much internet. The deer they can see on their computer screens are much closer and clearer than the ones spied through our binoculars. There are no questions that can’t be answered, immediately, via Google. If one of my kids has a question of the ilk, “When was the world created?” or “How did language evolve?” there is no need for discussion and thought, or even to read a book. There is Wikipedia. And then we know, and the need for discovery is gone.
I am certainly not suggesting that technology is anything short of fantastic, but I struggle with how much of the world seems to be happening on screens rather than in real life. And I’m as addicted to my screens as anyone, but I worry that they just may have stolen the magic of the stars and the sunrises from my children.
Did I just use the words beautiful and winter in the same phrase? Sitting here on a warm, rainy and very grey city morning, the images of the weekend at Northbrook are looking pretty good.
On Saturday we hit the Cannington Dog Sled Races and Winter Festival minus the dog sled races due to a lack of snow. The kids still scored a ride around the baseball diamond. There was lots to look at and do and I even left the house for more than 10 minutes in the winter, which is something of a miracle.
Sunday was beautiful, blue sky and crystal snow everywhere. The WorkHorse and the Girl took some beautiful pics.
Oh, I’m waiting for spring alright, but I’m not above enjoying a little winter beauty in the meantime.