Blizzard

Yesterday was a snow day here in Ottawa — and by that I don’t mean the standard “school buses are cancelled, but schools and everything else is still open”, which is what generally happens around here. A large storm was incoming, so the elementary and high school boards closed the schools entirely the evening before (meaning no after-school extracurricular activities) and didn’t reopen them until this morning. All of the colleges and universities cancelled everything for the day. Anyone who had a job that let them work from home was encouraged to do so — and this is a government town, which means a lot of office workers. Any retail outlet that could keep the lights off did so, or at least waited until later in the day after the worst of the snow had been cleared to open to the public.

What this meant for my little family is that we were all home together yesterday. My husband worked from home while I watched the kids, both of whom were excited for the extra day off to complete their Valentine’s Day preparations. The four of us spent a good hour and three quarters clearing the driveway in the afternoon — well, my husband and I cleared it while the kids ever so slowly worked on the walkway. It was a lot of work, but at least the weather was lovely, hovering just below freezing and sunny once the snow stopped falling.

I have to admit that this season has really gotten me down. I’m not usually subject to the winter blues, but it’s been a rough year. There hasn’t been a week where someone hasn’t been home sick since the fall, which really isn’t helping. January was the snowiest one on record, which meant the kids missed a lot of school because of snow days as well. Between the sickness and the snow and the many very cold days, I think we’re all feeling kind of housebound.

So when I was out grocery shopping early the other day in preparation for the storm, I grabbed myself a bouquet of flowers at the cash. I know they’re probably meant for Valentine’s Day, but I thought that our house needed a bit more colour to contrast with the snow outside. Roses are traditional this time of year, but I am particularly fond of lilies, since that’s what I carried at my wedding. (I am also partial to orchids, since they’re my husband’s favourite flower and what he wore on his lapel at our wedding.) Every time I see these flowers they make me smile, and I remember that it won’t really be that long until we start seeing green outside again too.

Golden Berries

A while back, just in time for my annual Halloween party, I was shopping for fruits and veggies from Costco to include on some platters. On a whim, I picked up a box of golden berries, which I honestly thought I’d never seen before. After a little bit of research at home, I discovered that they’re also called “ground cherries” or “husk cherries”, which I’d actually seen at the farmers’ market, and I’d seen the plants at the garden center. Despite the names, they’re not cherries at all; they’re part of the nightshade family, and are more closely related to tomatoes. The berries grow inside of paper husks that strongly resemble Chinese lantern plants. Apparently they’re pretty common to grow (varieties are native throughout the US and Mexico), but aren’t sold commercially here very often, which is why I wasn’t familiar with them.

I discovered that golden berries are a strongly sweet/tart flavour that is really hard to describe, except to say that they are delicious! They have a texture similar to a very meaty tomato, something like a less-juicy Roma. I served them as-is, but later I went back to the store for more and included them sliced in half in salads, and blended into smoothies. When garden planning season rolls around next year, I think I will try to add a few golden berry plants to see how they like my soil. I’ve had good luck with tomatoes and satisfactory harvests of potatoes, but my peppers haven’t fared nearly as well, so who knows how this new nightshade-family plant will fare. I’ve read that they can even be perennials, but sadly that’s for Zone 8 and above; it gets much too cold here in the winter.

What I’d really like to do is make golden berry jam next fall, since I found the fruit’s flavour to be a refreshing change to the usual fare around here. I mean, I could do it with store-bought fruit this year, but at $5.99 for 340g (which might maybe make a single jar), making a batch is a tad out of my budget.

Spicy Green Tomato Chutney

I spent most of yesterday evening and well into the night putting up the last of the green tomatoes — not only my own, but a whole bunch of them from a friend’s garden as well. Sadly, I waited a bit too long and some of them had spoiled, but I did have a satisfactory result nonetheless.

That’s twenty 250mL jars of spicy Green Tomato Chutney, the recipe for which can be found on page 208 of The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (2012). I’ve made a few versions of this chutney over the years (I believe I have at least four versions in different cookbooks on my shelf, let alone the ones that can be found online), but this is by far my favourite. I was really happy with how it turned out this year! I made it a little hotter than usual by including the jalapeno seeds, but otherwise I kept the recipe the same. I labeled mine as “spicy” this year, and it does have some heat, but given that chutney originates in India, it’s not the spiciest one out there by far. To me, it’s just spicy enough to pack a nice punch.

Chutney is supposed to be savoury and sweet and spicy all at the same time. Preserving says this version is especially good with eggs in the morning, but I would say that it is great on a sandwich or grilled cheese or burger, with cold cheese, with most meats, with roast potatoes or other veggies, as a dip or a glaze… Basically, if you want to take the flavour of anything savoury up a notch, chutney is perfect. And now I have five liters of it, some of which will stay in my pantry, and some of which will become Christmas gifts.

Last Harvest of the Fall

Yesterday I spent a number of hours out in the back yard bringing in the last of the harvest from my garden. My mother popped by and was nice enough to help out for the low, low payment of some cherry tomatoes. Canadian Thanksgiving happens this coming weekend, which is usually a good marker for when the harvest should be in. Also, we’ve had one light frost already, and I didn’t want to leave the tomatoes out in that. The root vegetables would have been fine, but frost can totally ruin a tomato crop.

I filled one half of my double kitchen sink with tomatoes — mostly green or otherwise unripe ones, true. (The black tomatoes ripen from green, to green and black, and finally to red and black or all black, so they’re often hard and unripe event though they may be mostly darkly-coloured.) It took me ages to wash all of them, but it was worth it! The ripe ones will become the last batch of salsa, while I have a few recipes for the green tomatoes, which include green tomato chutney.

I also harvested a whole bunch of potatoes, enough that when they were washed and stacked they barely fit into my potato bin. I planted two different kinds of potatoes this year — a purple-skinned variety, and a white-skinned variety — but heaven forbid that I wrote down their exact names. Record-keeping was one of the things that this blog was supposed to help me accomplish, but I guess it doesn’t always work out.

I also harvested four good-sized eggplants (not bad considering I only had a few plants), as well as two plants-worth of Jerusalem artichoke tubers. I’ve never eaten these tubers before, so I’ll just have to see if they are any good — and if they agree with my stomach!

Taking advantage of the day’s harvest, last night I made everyone bacon, cheese (cheddar for the others, lactose-free Edam for me), and tomato sandwiches. It would have been much nicer if I’d actually thought of this for dinner earlier in the day, in which case I would have had time to make some fresh bread. But given that bread takes a minimum of three hours to make, I had to send my husband out to the grocery store instead. I asked him to pick up “a loaf of nice bread”, which he interpreted as “a loaf of whole-wheat Dempsters”. I’d say his idea and mine of “nice bread” differ quite strongly…

Too Many Tomatoes

It’s that time of year again when everything seems to be ripe at once and it’s physically impossible to eat it all before it goes bad. Case in point: my tomatoes. I grow predominantly cherry tomatoes, although a friend did give me one black tomato plant that has done very well this year. I just find cherry tomatoes to be more flavourful than most of the larger varieties. And I plant tonnes, since I know that I’ll want to include them in a number of preserves come fall.

Case in point: this is what I brought in from the garden the other day. I think that these tomatoes, and probably the onions as well, will soon become spaghetti sauce. I might even go for the healthy veggie tomato sauce I made last year, and include the eggplant that should be ripe in a few days. (I had a lovely huge one ready to go, and then an animal go to it. Figures.)

At the same time, I had a few small radishes, the last of the cucumbers (the vines were starting to die back), and a few potatoes that were beginning to poke through the surface of the dirt. Something needs to be done with all of this produce before it rots!

The first step for me is to make at least one dinner with the fresh ingredients. I barbecued some chicken thighs with my usual spice mix (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and sea salt), and cooked up some of the potatoes on the grill at the same time. I know that they look very similar post-grill, but the difference was immediately apparent once they were cut open. I added some cherry tomatoes and sliced radishes as a veggie once everything else was cooked. It was a very simple meal, but it was both tasty and easy to prepare — which I needed after spending a couple of hours in the garden!

The Beginning of the Autumn Harvest

We’re starting to get a few cool days, and more than a few cool nights, which, in conjunction with the shortening daylight, signals to the garden that it’s time for fruits and veggies to ripen. I’ve had some meager results so far, if you don’t count the tomatoes.

For all of my efforts with gourds, a powdery fungus attacked the leaves of my plants and killed most of them off. I ended up with only one yellow zucchini, no green zucchini, no pumpkin, and only this teeny tiny butternut squash. It’s so cute that I’m seriously considering not eating it at all and carving it up or decorating it as a Hallowe’en decoration.

I did have about ten good-sized pears on my baby pear tree this year, but I didn’t get to them in time and the local squirrels and chipmunks made serious inroads. This is all that was left for me to bring in. The one on the far right developed kind of small and deformed, but it was still healthy inside. These fruits will be (and actually, all except one have already been) eaten raw, generally in packed lunches.

Despite fighting for my potatoes for sunlight, my few beet plants did okay. The roots weren’t much to talk about; I ended up with just enough to fill a single 500mL mason jar if I planned on preserves. However, the greens — which were actually red in this case due to the variety I planted, but at any rate the leaves — are also edible, and actually quite tasty! They’re good in salad, pesto, or stir-fry; basically, they’re tasty in any dish where you’d use lettuce or a similar leafy green. So I’m tolerably satisfied with my yield of beets, especially since I put in so few plants in the first place.

Garlicky Pasta Primavera

Last night I was inspired by Delish to make their Bowtie Primavera recipe. It was originally posted back in 2016, but the video popped up again on my Facebook feed, and, well, I had lots of cherry tomatoes that needed eating, so I figured it was timely.

This dish features a lovely rainbow of vegetables: asparagus, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. I find it funny that it’s advertised as a “spring pasta” because really the only spring part is the asparagus; the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and most mushrooms are late summer/early fall produce. I actually couldn’t find fresh asparagus at the grocery store right now and so had to use frozen, but that works just fine cooked in a sauce anyway.

My cherry tomatoes were really juicy and released a lot of that juice when cooking, so I found that 1 cup of reserved pasta water was excessive. I ended up having to boil down the sauce in order for it not to be, well, soup. Additionally, I used lactose-free sour cream, which I don’t think make a huge difference to the consistency but it did mean that I could actually eat it. (I would assume that, to make this dish vegan, a cream cheese substitute could be used effectively.) I also didn’t garnish with chopped basil because, to be completely honest, I forgot to buy any.

All that being said, I was really happy with the end result. This dish was creamy but not cloying, came together quickly (although not as quickly as the recipe indicated), and was both healthy and tasty. I will definitely be making it again.