Working on the Yard

I spent the majority of the last two days working on my back yard. First I put in the garden along the fence I’d been wanting for the last few years:

I’d had one there before, and I’m pretty sure the previous owners of the house had one too, since the soil was black and rich instead of being just clay, at least for the first few inches. I hadn’t done anything with that garden since the old fence started to fall down, but this year we have the new one up, so I don’t have to worry about either a pile of wood or contractors squashing my plants. I planted Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins, Hubbard squash, butternut squash, cucumbers, zucchini, and asparagus, alongside the rather tiny rhubarb plant I planted years ago. I tried putting down landscaping fabric to prohibit the weed growth, but we’ll see how that goes.

I cut back the apple tree, although it’s still pretty huge, all in all. There were a bunch of dead limbs and I ended up losing almost a whole one of the major subsections closest to the house. I really hope that whatever killed those branches doesn’t spread to the rest of the tree, though. One of the reasons I got a deck (instead of a patio like originally planned) is to accommodate the apple tree’s roots. It would really suck if the tree then ended up dying. Also, I just plain old love that tree, especially every second year when it blooms.

In my main veggie garden, I’m happy to report that the potatoes are starting to sprout — alongside a bunch of tiny weeds. I only just weeded that bed, I’m a little annoyed that the weeds are already returning. Hopefully the plants I actually want will grow tall soon and start choking out the plants I don’t.

A friend of mine gave me a black tomato plant to add to my cherry tomatoes, and I’m curious to see how the fruit turns out.

My pear tree is flourishing, despite still being shorter than me. I might get twice last year’s harvest, so… Ten fruits, maybe? I always like how pears grow up while they’re tiny, but then the weight of them drags them down to hang how you’d normally expect over time.

I also had to mow the grass, at which point I discovered that apparently I have wild strawberries growing in my front lawn, which surprised the heck out of me. I don’t care much about my lawn so long as it is green — grass, clover, strawberries, it’s all okay by me, so long as it’s not thistles, which are painful to step on. After a quick Google, I discovered that wild strawberries are perfectly safe to eat, especially if you know that the ground they grow on is pesticide- and herbicide-free, which mine definitely is. They’re not really big enough to make much of a crop, but they are definitely more flavorful than the commercially-grown variety.

I finished the day with a barbecue dinner for my family, my parents, my brother, and his friend. I made salmon on the smoker barbecue — not burned, just a little ashy — with a glaze of maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt. My mom brought over her famous potato salad with bacon, and I grilled up some zucchini and steamed asparagus. I also made some rice to serve on the side, at my kids’ request. All in all, it was a lovely meal, and I’d eat it again in a heartbeat.

Not Charcoal Briquettes

Last night for dinner I wanted something quick and easy, as well as something that could preferably be cooked on the barbecue. I just wanted to spend time on that lovely new deck! There are lots of options along those lines, but unfortunately not a lot of them could be made without having to make a run to the grocery store this time. Honestly, I have run out of rice, potatoes, and carrots, which are three of my main staples. I really must go do a large grocery run. But I still needed to cook a family dinner with what I had at hand.

So I went with what I’ve been resorting to all too often of late: eggs and toast. The toast was day-old Fluffy Dill Bread. (I’d run the bread machine in the garage since it was so hot and humid the day before, and I didn’t want to heat up the house.) Eggs are always quick and simple, so I made both over-easy and scrambled, to peoples’ preferences. But then there was the sausages to go with the dinner, which are not, as one might think, charcoal briquettes.

Something about the kind of wood pellet we’re using at the moment in the smoker grill turns everything cooked in there black on the outside. I think it’s just a high-ash mixture. You can see it to a certain degree on the burgers, but the buns hide the worst of it. But with the sausages, it just looks horrible. It’s funny, though, because the meat tastes absolutely fabulous. It’s juicy and tender and not at all overdone. And, of course, there’s a lovely smokey flavour and scent that comes through with anything on a wood pellet grill. We’re just going to have to invest in some nicer pellets next time we run out. The ones we’re using came with the grill when we got it last fall second-hand from my in-laws, and I have no idea what kind they are. After all, not every dish needs to look as if it’s been blackened.

Teapot Herbs

A couple of months ago I was in the middle of selling a lovely Sadler “Brown Betty” teapot to a customer. I had already made the sale, had cash in hand, and was just wrapping it up in paper for safe transit. We were chatting while I packaged, and she said, “Oh, I have a teapot just like this at home, but I dropped the lid and smashed it. I just had to get a replacement.” To which I replied, “Oh yes, it’s always the lids that go first.”

And then I dropped the lid.

Of course, it fell straight down onto the concrete floor and smashed into tiny little pieces. The customer and I stared at each other mutely for a moment, and then I asked her, “So… Do you want the brown and green one instead?”

So I returned home that day with a pretty little teapot with lots of life left in it, but that is unsalable because of a lack of lid. “What am I going to do with this?” I thought. But then it occurred to me that Mother’s Day was coming up, and that my mother loves tea, so maybe I could make her something? I ended up using the teapot as a little herb planter. I planted basil inside, two different varieties.

Mom liked the gift so much that I’ve started hunting down lidless teapots to use as planters for different herbs. So far I’ve found her a metal one that obviously used to be used on an open fire, and one of those vibrantly-painted ones that’s a tea-for-one set with a pot on the top and a matching cup on the bottom. I think that after a while we’ll have a full-fledged herb garden, possibly even branching out to flowers or seasonal arrangements after a while. It really pleases me that we now have a use for these otherwise-unusable items — and now the hunt is on for more teapots to rescue. This should be fun!

In the Back Yard

This Sunday was Father’s Day, and our family had the chance to spend the day primarily out on the new back deck. You see, as of two weeks ago our back yard looked like this:

You see, we had a deck when we first moved in, but the previous owners had done everything wrong. They’d tied it into the house, they’d painted it with interior paint, they’d lined the ground underneath with plastic causing water to pool there… So much poor construction. There are all kinds of pictures of the original in my post about building a garden, when I took the old deck out to make room for my vegetable garden. But when that deck was gone, we didn’t have the funds to build a new one right away, so that section just became a mud pit for a few years (the ground here is mostly clay and is slick when wet). My husband used a few salvaged paving stones to keep the barbecues from sinking too badly, but that’s all we were able to do for a while.

Last week, though, my brother-in-law built us a deck. The actual work only took a couple of days, and with all of his experience in the trade he made it look so easy! (It would have taken me a month, and much frustration and swearing.) Not only did he build the deck, but he re-leveled the ground underneath so that now it drains away from the house instead of toward. He also put in gravel with a layer of landscape fabric underneath, creating better drainage and resisting weeds at the same time. (You would think that the lack of sun underneath would keep plants from growing at all, but I have been waging war against an ivy vine since I moved into this house.)

So no more mud pit, proper drainage, and a lovely deck upon which to spend the summer! We’re just waiting on the delivery of some new boards for the stairs so that they match, since I’d salvaged old stair brackets we wanted to use. But for now it’s totally functional, and still beautiful. I am so happy!

Having a brand new lovely deck encouraged me to get off my butt and plant my main vegetable garden, too. My tomatoes actually self-seeded this year — not in those nice straight lines, I picked the best ones and arranged them how I liked. Now we’ll have to see how well they fruit. I also planted white radishes, eggplants, onions, beets, and potatoes. The potatoes are where nothing has sprouted above-ground yet, but I find they can be slow starters.

The weather was so lovely this weekend that we ended up spending most of our time in the back yard. Sunday was especially warm, and I didn’t want to cook indoors, so my husband did the stereotypical thing of grilling up some hamburgers on Father’s Day. It was so nice to be able to just sit outside and enjoy the summer — although there was a fair amount of goofing around too, and my hubby playing soccer with the kids. All in all, it was a lovely, low-key Father’s Day.

Now to plan a nice barbecue for next week so that I can have my BIL over for a thank-you meal!

Russell Flea Saturday June 16th

So it looks like tomorrow will be the last Russell Flea of the season! Originally there was supposed to be one more on June 30th, but the school where it’s held couldn’t get a janitor to work that day (not surprising, as it’s the holiday weekend), so it had to be cancelled. I’m not terribly upset, since this means I’ll get to spend all of Canada Day weekend with my family. That being said, this means I have to cram all of the new-to-me summer items into my stall tomorrow! I’ve been doing some serious hunting for vintage housewares, so there’s all kinds of new things to see. Given the beautiful weather today and the completion of my new deck, I had to head out to my back yard to take some pictures.

I’ve found a lovely handmade pottery bowl set from 1978, which includes six salad bowls and a larger serving bowl. Perfect for hosting summer barbecues!

There are some fun metal 1970’s canisters that would protect your coffee, tea, and sugar from insects and rodents at the cottage or camp.

Lots of melamine picnicware up for grabs, including cups, mugs, plates, and bowls. They’re lightweight, hard-wearing, and great for camping or just lounging near the pool.

And of course I always have classic Tupperware! I grew up with this style of colourful bell tumbler and juice jug. At my house, they were mainstays of the kids’ table.

Of course there is a lot more that I haven’t taken photos of (yet)! You can see it all at Russell Flea tomorrow. Hope to see you there!

Overnight at the Cottage

As I mentioned previously, last week I had the chance to take my kids up to the cottage that my parents rent for an overnighter. It was our first trip of the season, and we arrived in time for a late dinner the first day (a big thank-you to my mom for cooking!), and we only stayed up until mid-afternoon the second. We still managed to have a nice, relaxing time, though.

We started the morning of our second day began with a hearty breakfast that, timing-wise, was really more of a brunch. The meal consisted of bacon, eggs (scrambled or over-easy), fresh fruit salad, potato bread toast, and home fries.

Then it was time for the kids and my dad to break out the fishing rods and head down to the water to try to catch the ever-elusive lake trout, while my mom and I cleaned up. I don’t think anyone caught anything that time.

Highlights of the day included shooing a decent-sized painted turtle off of the road so it didn’t get squished by passing cars…

And making my first attempt at teaching the girls how to play marbles. The version I grew up with is what we called “pit marbles” or “hole marbles”, and the rules are similar to these. However, in our version the winner gets all of their marbles into the pit first, and billiards- or curling-like tactics are perfectly acceptable.

The lake wasn’t really warm enough for a swim, and the air never got above 20°C (68°F) or so anyway, so even the kids weren’t really pushing for a jump in the lake. But I did paddle the girls out in the canoe over to a shallow, marshy area of the lake where they could peer under the water and observe the life below. What with busy end-of-school schedules, it doesn’t look like there will be another trip to the cottage for our family before the start of July — but I know we’re all looking forward to the next one!

Healthy Summer BBQ

We are almost done having a deck installed in our back yard, covering the mud pit that used to be there where the old, rotten deck used to be that we hadn’t had the funds to replace. The new deck was supposed to be done last week, but some of the deck boards in the package that was bought were warped or otherwise damaged, and we’ve been waiting since last Wednesday for Home Depot to deliver the replacements. Two delivery dates have come and gone, and the delivery never showed up… Needless to say, we are not amused.

But most of the deck is done, which means the barbecues are back in place and it’s time to cook outside!

Dinner started with a lovely fruit smoothie: banana, peach, strawberry, mango, and orange juice, with all the fruit other than the banana coming out of a package in the freezer that I really needed to use up. The kids loved it.

Dinner for me was quite filling, although you’d never believe it from the look of it! It was salmon in a honey dijon marinade, which I bought grill-ready from the grocery store, and zucchini cooked with a bit of olive oil and salt. I made it all up on the wood pellet barbecue, which added a lovely smokey overtone to the whole dish.

Of course, the kids wanted — and received — hot dogs made in the microwave. You can’t win them all.