Our friends came over for a “Stress Free Friday” gathering. A chance to get together, chat, play games and such.
However, one of our friends forgot to write down our house number… but found our house without any trouble. Follow the kale and collards!, he told us. We are the only ones growing them on our street!
It has been a while since I’ve shared a garden update.
The good news: We are now harvesting green beans! Both Romano beans and Kentucky Wonder beans. I thought we weren’t going to get anything except for leaves (too much nitrogen?), but once Rob placed the tomato rings, the plants finally had something to hold onto and they shot up with tons of blossoms. And then over to our neighbour, too!
Last year, I only ever harvested a handful of beans at a time. While I kept a handful of dried pods so that I could plant them this year, I felt so sad, never having enough to make a real green bean dish. Not so, this year. I have harvested over 2 lbs so far. All in the span of a week. That may not sound like a lot but I am quickly going through my favourite green bean recipes. I am also being quite vigilant about my harvesting since if you leave the beans on the plant too long, they will become bitter.
Our herbs and collards are still growing strong. Except the basil, it grew too strong, too fast and I missed its lovely basil prime time. Now it is too zingy for me. I am definitely going back to the Pesto Perpetuo basil next year. I grew it last year and it never bolted. The only downside was that the leaves are smaller.
The not so bad news: My dinosaur kale plants have this funny white bug on them. It has been there a while, and I used to just clean it off before I ate it. However, now it looks like the poor plants are suffering. Anyone know what it could be and a natural way to remove them?
The ugly news: After all our efforts with the kabocha squash plants, they all died. I saved 2 squashes but I think the bugs got to them first. Boo. My zucchini plant hasn’t made any zucchinis either. Am I squash-cursed?
Now onto the food:
The good news: I am on a dolma kick. I made some kick-ass dolmas that I will share soon.
The not so bad news: I made a cranberry lemon tahini dip to go with said super fabulous dolmas. The cranberry lemon tahini dip was also super delicious. But somehow, super fabulous + super delicious did not make super super fabulous delicious. Instead they clashed. Both the dolmas (spiced with allspice, cinnamon and cherries!!) and the dip (cranberry, lemon, tahini) had strong flavours that didn’t work out so well together. However, separate, still very good.
At first, I thought the dip was a bit too sweet from the cranberries, so I added more lemon. The tahini adds a decadent silkiness to the dip. After an overnight chill in the refrigerator, it was perfect. I hummed and hawed over what to do with my dip now that I didn’t want it with my dolmas. Throw it into a collard wrap? Smother it onto broccoli slaw with some tempeh?
My brain went all fancy. My hands went simple. I took the freshly picked green beans and scooped up the dip. No adornments needed. Just crisp veggies. Serve this sweet dip with your favourite veggies and crackers… or go fancy and make me jealous.
Can you guess where these flowers came from?
If you know anything about me, my garden would be filled with vegetables. Only things I could eat.
Hint: I can eat these flowers. And the plant.
Hint 2: I never knew this plant even had flowers.
Hint 3: I’ve already told you I’ve grown this before…
Yes, the flowers are from my kale!
Those are my sad-looking kale plants that Rob and I transplanted this weekend (they perked up by this morning, though). They no longer had a home, so instead of being a legacy gift, we transplanted them to our new home. The funny thing was that when we moved two weeks ago, the plants were maybe 2 feet tall, and now look at them! Huge! With flowers!
I was actually kind of worried because once most plants flower, they are finito. That terrible bolting stage.
Not so with kale. It is a super plant, for sure. Apparently, the leaves are still just as tender and tasty (albeit maybe smaller), and the flowers are edible, too. You can use the unopened flowering portion just like sprouting broccoli. Turns out that kale is a plant that lives 2 years and in its second year, it produces these beautiful flowers.
Now who said kale wasn’t pretty enough to be in a garden?
As you can see the leaves look a little sad, so I am leaving them on the plant until it has revived slightly.
Instead, I will share a recipe for spicy coconut braised greens. You can use kale, too, or collards, like I did.
Whenever I post a recipe for raw collard wraps, I invariably receive a comment from a perplexed reader wondering whether raw collard greens are too tough to eat. Personally, I think collard leaves are one of my favourite greens for raw wraps since they are more sturdy than kale, Swiss chard or lettuce, and I do not find them to be too chewy. Firm and sturdy, yes, but that is why they are the base of the wrap.
However, I know not everyone enjoys greens as much as me (like Rob), and may be more likely to add collard greens to stir fries or soups instead. When I cooked my chickpea-collard roulade, though, I was aghast at how creamy collard greens could become.
Thus, my curiosity was piqued when I saw Cara’s recipe for Spicy Coconut Braised Kale, where the greens are simmered in coconut milk for half an hour. While I have seen greens simmered in coconut before, I was intrigued when Cara used the coconut milk from refrigerated cartons, instead of the canned coconut milk.
Not really a fan of making veggie sides, I employed my latest trick of tossing saucy veggies with quinoa for a complete meal.
After the long braise in a warmly spiced coconut broth, the collards become nice and tender. I liked that it was a rather light dish with a nice coconut flavour, courtesy of the coconut milk beverage. There was so much braising liquid left over, I almost wished I had used another bunch of collards. In any case, the quinoa was a perfect vehicle to sop up all of the juice. Next time, I may add in some squash and chickpeas, or decrease the amount of coconut milk.
I first met Lorraine Johnson during a Jane’s Walk last year where she, along with Nancy Chater, led a small group through the ET Seton Park in Toronto to discuss space, water, history as well as to show us the edible weeds in the Don Valley. Interspersed around Tremco, the largest employer in the Don Valley, Lorraine showed us burdock and its tasty root; garlic mustard, an invasive plant that is good in salad and pesto; dandelions, where the young green leaves can be used in salads; and lastly sumac, a shrub with edible flowers. She had prepared sumac lemonade and garlic mustard bruschetta for us to try! I preferred the bruschetta to the lemonade, but it was exciting to think of what you could forage from a Toronto park.
When I saw Lorraine had written a book, City Farmer, about gardening in the city, I was excited to see what perspective she would bring to the table. Sadly, this wasn’t a ‘how-to’ book about creating your own garden, as I’d love one of those, rather it was an equally awesome empowering read wherein Lorraine shares her passion for gardening. Her tales of procuring gardens in odd and far off places, dilemmas between community gardeners, and her own foils with raising chickens in her Toronto backyard are amusing and engaging. During our walk, she retold her story about making dandelion wine and how it exploded in her basement which is also recounted in the book.
In addition to personal anecdotes, she highlights the importance of local food, with figures showing sometimes local, small-scale operations may not be more environmentally friendly. Obviously the best, most locally grown food is from your own backyard. The other benefits of backyard gardening include people tend to eat more vegetables as well! Schools in the US have started to replace gym classes with gardening classes, as you get exercise with gardening as well as the skills to become a lifelong gardener. What I loved about the book is Lorraine that dispelled my own myth that you need a backyard to have a prolific garden. She highlighted groups within and outside Toronto that encourage community gardening with limited resources. She also features creative ways of gardening, including Marco Pagliarulo‘s balcony pot that houses both a compost and plants in one.
She describes guerilla gardening, where rogue gardeners plant in public places. With a lone tomato plant within a flowerbed, would you stop and ponder its existence? Would you be tempted to pick the ripe tomato? While the public is content with flowering plants, why is it so odd to have edible plants on public property? Why is it so uncommon for people to have vegetables in their front yard? Harvesting fruits and vegetables is typically done with privacy. There is a prolific mulberry tree near the bus stop where I used to work and it always brought a smile to my face when I would see someone pick the berries to snack on as they waited for the bus. There were also a lot more mulberries that landed on the ground, though, recolouring the sidewalk purple.
It wasn’t that long ago, that I said I would not be gardening this year: I had plants on my balcony three years ago, but they would quickly dry out and my red pepper never grew big enough to be picked. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to water my plants often enough, with the hot sticky Toronto summer that has recently dawned upon us. My mom assured me that with a deep-dish planter with moisture-retaining soil, I would have a greater chance of success, so my parents gave me a planter filled with mint, basil, and garlic chives for my birthday.
Consider myself converted to balcony gardener. While I was reading the book, filled with stories of guerilla gardeners planting tomato plants in potholes, I was offered my choice of heirloom tomato plants from Vicki’s Veggies, leftover from their seedling sale. I jumped at the opportunity to snag a few neglected plants that may not otherwise be planted, and precariously balanced 12 tomato plants on my way home on my bike. I was in a tizzy as I read the names of the tomato plants: amazon chocolate, negro azteca, lemon drop, green zebra, indian stripe, ivory pear, tangella cherry, ruby pearl, canabec, green grape cherry, purple cherry… They were initially a bit parched and a bit droopy, and I lost 2 growing tomatoes en route home, but I figured any tomato from the lot would be a bonus. And, I am happy to report I ate my first lemon drop cherry tomato today and it was delicious! No recipe needed, just pluck and plop in your mouth! I look forward to a tomato-, basil- and mint-filled summer.