quiet life

the garden

I've been thinking about writing about gardening here. Not how-to, by any means as I'm still slowly figuring that out, but about the gardening itself. This is the third summer we'll have this garden. The first year, we roto-tilled the grass under, bought a few inches of topsoil, lime and other things to amend the heavy clay. We sprinkled seeds, sowed seeds in rows and grew starts in the living room. The garden that year was a jungle. Cosmos and hollyhocks tangled with orach, chicory, tomatoes and brussels sprouts. It was dense, lush, verdant and a mess. We planted so much that there were beautiful plants tumbling over themselves and each other in a feral tapestry. Last year we had another project on the go and thought we would be moving so we mostly left the garden to its own devices. I have an incorrigible curiosity when it comes to gardening and had let almost everything from the year before go to seed. I am also reticent to pull unknown plants in case they turn out to have pretty flowers, or to maybe be something I planted and forgot about. I delighted in American black nightshade for weeks thinking I had hit a west coast eggplant jackpot before they developed enough identifiable characteristics that a google search led me to pull them all out. I also let an elegant frondy member of the carrot family grow to monstrous proportions before a parent pointed out it was poison hemlock. But there was broccoli, and beets and raspberries and strawberries, and the borage, nasturtiums and lupins came back along with the ever-present fennel and what I think hope is lovage. A thimbleberry shrub erupted in one of the main garden beds and though I've relocated it three times, I'm sure it will be back as I can't seem to get at the deeper roots without dislodging neighbouring plants. Last October, I picked up some gardening books but had to put them away after reading "I understand plant domestication as an eternal contract whereby we humans promise to nurture a wild plant and protect it and its progeny from competition." in Steve Solomon's introduction to Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades (it took me six months to pick up the book again and finish it). So much for my curious, laid-back approach to letting plants seed themselves and see what happens. I like wild places and find that nature rarely looks messy to me. But I didn't want to be mistreating my vegetables and causing them to struggle. Our soil is bad enough as it is. That, and the relentless wind around here, and the shading buildings, and the slugs. So this year, this year things will be tidier. I've let the raspberries migrate where they like though, because I have never had too many raspberries, and have moved the strawberries to where it looked like they were trying to go. Those giants, fennel and hollyhocks and lovage(?), that turn up throughout are being moved to the edges. I'm not sure I have the heart to pull the poppies(?) that are coming up amongst the leeks and garlic, but maybe I'll try to move them. I was going to plant a small bed of parsley, and a small bed nearby appears to be full of parsley seedlings, so that works. The big plan for the garden this year was to grow lettuce for the rabbits. Unfortunately, most of the ground I thought was free is now home to a multitude of little gemlike chard seedlings. It's a good thing rabbits also eat chard. The things I have planted so far (peas, sweet peas, endive, lettuce, orach) have all been in rows, but I couldn't resist also sowing blanketflower, marigold and borage (and zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers to come). About the gardening: I don't think I quite actually like pulling weeds, but I do like the moments when I'm out there weeding. I like the meditative calm that comes of having one's hands in the dirt, and the quiet of the sky and the birdsong filtering through my thoughts. At the risk of sounding cliche, it's grounding. At the end of a busy workday downtown, the garden feels like an oasis.

the light

Out of the corner of my eye I witnessed the sun come out.

I'm drawing a sleepy blank on what to say but I wanted to post a few pictures from the past month. I flipped through my notebook for inspiration and was reminded of a few things. In January and February I was especially glad for this year's seed catalogue, Zephyr the rabbit's silver feet, raspberry leaf tea, cara cara oranges, satsuma mandarins, AlterEco brown butter chocolate, the previously mentioned frozen cookie dough portioned out in the freezer and sideways-pouring silver rain. This month, I am grateful for bright mornings, marmalade! (on everything, now, with butter), flighty spring weather, lengthened light in the evenings, and riding my clattery blue bike, especially through the park where there are ducks and squirrels! galore. This is not to say that mornings have been easy this week with the time change (I almost wrote "moanings" instead of mornings there, and almost left it), but the light- I'm glad for the light. On the subject of marmalade, that bittersweet tangy light in a jar, I am blessed with a mother who makes a batch every winter and have amassed a small -yes, now dwindling- collection of the glowing jars. They taste of days spent scraping citrus rinds around my grandparents' table with cousins and aunts, the fragrant pot steaming on the stove, and the flavour of these gatherings concentrated in the vintages that line our pantry shelves. It's deeply reassuring to me that no matter what else, every year my mother hands me a small fiery jar of her grandmother's recipe. I missed the marmalade making this winter but, with my renewed appetite for the stuff, will be sure to join in next year-it's what we do.

February 29

I love that today is a leap day- it seems like a special pocket of time.

Outside, the cheery trills of robins are balancing the soft dreariness of grey sky on the verge of rain. This afternoon, the sun shone and lit the pink cherry blossom and warmed the rug. In the morning, as on all mornings here, sea gulls dotted the field like sheep.

This past week there were some glorious spring storms, erratic wind/rain/sun and all colours in the sky. I dug out my paints. I finally bought an umbrella. Days were segmented by cappucinos, africanos, earl grey and herbal teas. Our rabbits are molting winter down. The daffodils are nodding bright heads.

I hurt my back by lifting a bin incorrectly and have spent the past few days feeling like a century has been tacked on to my years. It's easing up now and I am so glad. (That icy-hot stuff is so weird!) How easy it is to take health for granted.

I'm including the recipe for what I wish I was making right now. I like to make and freeze a batch of these cookies to have on hand - a gift to our future selves.

Chocolate Apricot Pecan Cookies Adapted from Leslie Mackie's Macrina Cookbook. The original recipe does not call for pecans, so feel free to leave them out. 

In a medium large bowl, stir together with a whisk then set aside: 1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour 1 c all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp salt 1/2 tsp finely ground espresso beans

In a medium small bowl or in a KitchenAid mixer, cream until light and fluffy: 1 c butter, softened 1 c good raw/brown sugar such as panela-rapadura

Add eggs to creamed butter and sugar one at a time, mixing well, adding vanilla with second egg: 2 eggs, room temperature 2 tsp vanilla

Add dry ingredients and stir to mix until flour is just incorporated. Then stir in: 3/4 cup dried unsulphured apricots, chopped 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and cooled, roughly crushed by hand 8-9 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

Let dough rest in the fridge for at least an hour before scooping and baking cookies. Or scoop then freeze dough to later thaw and bake whenever you need a few cookies! Makes about 16 cookies. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes. 

the season so far

The season so far has been like every other coastal February- the brightest, best days since summer, bookended by days of soft, sleepy grey rain. I love it.

Most notable is the light lingering towards evening, and that I've left my sweater at home every morning this week and haven't missed it.

While dinners lately have tended towards dull, parsnips have been the shining stars of several meals, as have broccoli, cabbage and sambal olek. We found last year's  rhubarb in the freezer and had it sauced with pancakes. Then there was chocolate cheesecake for my dad's birthday...

Chocolate Marble Cheesecake Makes one 9" cake. My mother's recipe- I'm not sure where she got it from.

Crust 1/4 c butter, softened 2 tbsp sugar 1/2 tsp vanilla 1/2 c flour

Preheat oven to 400º F. In large mixing bowl, beat butter till soft. Gradually add sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and stir in flour. With floured fingertips, press dough evenly in bottom of ungreased 9" springform pan. Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

Cheesecake 1 recipe cheesecake crust 3/4 c sugar 2 tbsp flour 1/8 tsp salt 3 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, at room temperature 2 eggs, at room temp. 1 c heavy whipping cream (unwhipped) 3 oz bittersweet baking chocolate, melted

Make crust. Preheat oven to 375º F. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt; mix well. Add cream cheese. With mixer at medium speed, beat until smooth and well blended. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla;  beat just until well blended (scrape down bowl to incorporate and prevent any lumps). Set aside 2 c filling. Pour remaining filling on top of crust. Stir chocolate into reserved filling until well combined. Drop chocolate mixture by tablespoonfuls into cream cheese filling, forming 6 "puddles". Swirl filling with a knife 2 or 3 times for a marbled effect. Bake 55 minutes (centre will be slightly soft). Immediately run spatula around edge of cake to loosen from pan (this helps prevent cracking). Cool on wire rack 1 hr, then cover and chill at least 4-5 hrs before cutting.