Sunday, July 28, 2019

July Garden Update

Full view of my Denman Island 'garden in the forest'
Yikes!! It's the end of July already!
I've been so busy with the early, warm spring and summer; planting, shading newly emerged winter crops and watering, that I've had little time to sit at the computer these days. I've taken a few weeks off from the salon for my annual summer staycation. Don't get too excited about that, it's 2 weeks I take every summer to 'catch up' on weeding, defrosting freezers, removing thistle seed heads on the property, pruning back Grandma's lilac so clients can get through the gate, cleaning the salon and if I have time ... making some freezer meals and soups for when I'm back at work. And that's the short list!!
Winter carrots and beets under remay
I took some photos in the garden on July 18th and this morning (10 days later) while watering, realized the winter carrots and beets have almost doubled in size, so it's time to get a July update happening! 
Garlic Harvest - 2 varieties July 18th, 2019

I pulled the garlic between rain showers a week earlier than last year. I was worried it would get too wet and a test pull of 2 heads proved there were 5 skin wrappers left, proof it was ready to be pulled and dried. Because the roots were a little more damp that I wanted, I cleaned the heads and removed most of the stalks to hopefully speed drying time. A few years ago I set up some old window screens and a fan system in the garage for drying. It is easy to manage and no threat from the weather.
2019 garlic drying

Most crops for winter harvest on the West Coast need to be in by July 1st. 
I have not grown winter carrots for about 4 years because of the damage from the carrot rust fly. To avoid this pest, the carrot beds need to be covered with remay or an insect mesh until at least October. Remay is great in that it provides extra heat, so the seeds germinate well and grow quickly, but it is a challenge in that it must be elevated by supports to allow the carrot tops room to grow and lifted off the bed to water properly.
Carrot bed #1 covered with remay

I'm so excited for winter carrots that I've put in 2 beds. A small bed first then a second bed including some beets with the Lennox cabbage, a 120 day variety. 

Winter garden bed - carrots, beets (remay) and cabbage       

Carrot bed #1 uncovered for watering

 The beets and carrots will be heavily mulched in the fall and we will use them starting in December and through the winter till March. The Lennox cabbage will be harvested in January. 

I've noticed lower than normal pollination this year. Although I've planted more flowers, including marigolds and nasturtiums between the vegetables, I have been hand pollinating the tomatoes, Mercury cucumbers in the greenhouse and winter squash. 
Sunshine and Butternut winter squash
Next year I will plant more pollinator flowers both in the garden and up near the house and greenhouse.

The second crop of Seascape Strawberries are just starting. A few huge, red berries every few days with stems heavy with fruit to come. The Desert King Fig is almost finished ripening. A crafty squirrel has discovered the figs this year and damaged/eaten quite a few of the fruits. 
Seascape Strawberries and Desert King Fig

For the past 2 years I've been pruning the fig tree into a structure that will produce a high breba crop. Breba is the first crop and this method is best suited to the Desert King that I grow and is in the photo. Because of the heavy pruning each spring, my fig crops have been very small ... and that darn squirrel hasn't helped the harvest this summer! 

Until next time... Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Celebrating My Family Roots

All of my followers who have read my food column and/or have a signed copy of my cookbook have read and heard many stories of my family's Market Garden and Greenhouse business, Wallish Greenhouses. My grandparents John and Sally Wallish started out in 1919 and eventually the business moved to Bremner which is now called Sherwood Park, Alberta. 

Jean and Charlie in the wagon, with big brother Robert in 1932
I have many fond memories of growing up a short mile down the road from the 'Greenhouse' business where my Grandma Sally and Uncle Robert lived. By this time the second generation had taken on the business with the three families as partners. I was there almost daily either with my parents or a short bike ride or walk down the road for a visit, 'tea time' or to lend a helping hand. I am the second grandchild and loved being in the fields around our house to help with planting and harvest. It was not unusual for me to pick a head of lettuce or fresh corn cob and eat it right there in the field! When I was too young for the heavier work, I was out there anyways and used to come to the house early to get lunch ready for the family. Through my teen years I took on more jobs; from weeding never ending rows of onions, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower ... to this day I hate weeding, to pruning long quonsets of English cucumbers to 2' off the ground, transplanting bedding plants, mowing lawns, dragging the corn sack while Uncle Robert expertly picked ripe cobs and eventually a weekly Saturday job at the Edmonton City Market. Then there was the onion harvest from the fields at my family's property, loaded onto wagons and moved to the drying room at the Greenhouse. Once dried, the onion necks had to removed by 'wringing' them to create a seal to keep the onion in storage longer. The dried onions were stored and taken to the Market. In this same area of the property there was a root cellar and eventually a large walk in cooler beside the vintage gas pump for the tractors.

My Uncle Robert was the face of Wallish Greenhouses at the Edmonton City Market after my grandma stopped going. My older sister and I remember the old City Market but it wasn't until I was a bit older that I got to go help Uncle Robert every Saturday morning. I loved the Market and Wallish Greenhouses had a permanent stall there for 49 years. Bedding plants in the spring, fresh vegetables, geraniums and 'spikes' through the summer, sacks of dried onions into the winter months. Every Saturday morning my Mom would wake me early (not my style for those who know me!), Uncle Robert would pick me up with the truck loaded and ready for a Market day. I loved the Market, bustling with friends and fellow stall holders, shoppers, aromas of soil, flowers and food, a social atmosphere with talk and laughter.  

My cousins have taken the family business into the third generation and it has changed a lot from what I knew. This year is 100 years since my grandparents started Wallish Greenhouses and I am celebrating my family roots and history. Although with great sadness, two business partners of the second generation are no longer with us. 

Today is a year since my Mom passed away, on the same day as my Dad 18 years before. Uncle Robert is also gone ... may they Rest In Peace. My Uncle Chuck, in semi-retirement has moved to the old Greenhouse property that I knew so well... growing up, it was my second home.

In honor of my family history and those who are no longer with us, I Celebrate My Family Roots.

Until next time... Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit
Photo archive from my Mom

Sunday, May 26, 2019

First Miniature Harvest

I was pretty excited this morning to pick the first small zucchini and Corentine cucumbers!! It's no use leaving these tiny specimens to mature, I would rather let the plant put its energy into growth right now... so tonight I get a delicious miniature salad for dinner!

The nights are still cool, so these 2 beds of delicate plants are covered and tucked in with remay over hoops. In the morning I lift the remay cover around the edges for air circulation, then add an additional shade cloth over top... the delicate, small, pickling cucumber plants were not doing well in the sun. 

First of the Season!  Partenon and Cassia Zucchini,
 Winter Kale, Red Orach, Corentine Cucumbers, Dill Weed
Most of the winter kale has gone to seed but I have one unknown variety that was from a 'Winter Kale Mix' packet of seed that is still tender and sweet. The Red Orach is allowed to volunteer in the garden, so I have it in 3 of the raised beds and have numerous beautiful fuchsia plants to pick from. Even Canadian Living Magazine featured an article May 2016 stating "Orach is the new kale!" It is a distant relative of spinach, simple to grow and a good ornamental plant because of its beautiful color. 

Dinner is served! Salad garnished with crumbled  
goat cheese and toasted pine nuts
On another gardening note... I've had it with fighting my collection of heavy, stiff, kinking, commercial grade, 80' garden hoses. A few days ago I decided to trade up with the new "Flexzilla Swivel-Grip" 100' garden hose through Lee Valley Tools. Flexzilla has been around for a while and when my friend got hers a few years back and suggested I 'drag it around her garden' I was impressed at how lightweight and kink free it was! 

Watch for my reviews of the Flexzilla in a future post... and Denmanites, guaranteed, the commercial grade hoses will be part of my summer Garage Sale! 

Until next time... Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!
Photo by Sally Rae

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Weird Weather and Early Planting Experiment

Garlic bed May 12th, 2019
Today is an overcast, rainy day... never thought I would be happy about that around here! However, it has given me time to finally get some indoor work done including a much delayed Blog Post!!

Our weird weather continues... it was a shock to start watering the garlic and strawberries in March! Once fertilized with blood meal and watered, the garlic shot up and is looking great! It has been very sunny, hot and dry, so the straw mulch will remain until a few weeks before harvest.
Broccoli w. copper blocker, mulch & shade
The brassica starts were planted out on April 29, 2019... they could have been put out the week before when the weather was a bit cooler. Each plant was amended with steer manure, my fertilizer mix and lime. Once planted, all brassicas were surrounded to the stem with wood shavings to prevent root maggots, I have had success with a ring of copper blocker around each transplant to keep slugs away, the straw mulch retains moisture and cools the soil for new small plants.
Elevated remay, open sides for shade
With the hot, sunny weather, I used hoops to elevate remay to shade the cabbage and broccoli plants but still provide ventilation. 

Brassicas, shaded from afternoon sun
Remay will create warmth which is not needed for brassicas at this time, it is used to shade from the afternoon sun until the plants have a more sturdy root system. Black plastic mesh trays, burlap or cardboard can also be used for shade, see examples in Early Summer in the Garden from June 2016 and Let Planting Begin from May 2015.

Plastic cloche over April squash transplants
Last year I did an early planting experiment with one winter and one summer squash plant. It was successful, I was eating fresh zucchini when most were getting their plants in the garden... so I did a repeat this year with all my squash plants, summer and winter varieties! 
On April 29th I put in 4 hills of Sunshine Winter Squash, 2 hills of Butternut Squash, 2 hills of Partenon Zucchini and 2 hills of Cassia Zucchini, all started from William Dam Seeds.
Triple layer of protection for squash

The squash hills were prepared with steer manure and my fertilizer mix. Fresh straw was used to mulch close around the plants and the complete bed. A plastic cloche with vent in the top was placed over each hill of plants then straw piled up the sides for more insulation, see above. The third layer of protection for the cooler April nights was a complete cover of remay for warmth, with only a little airspace left on the sides. Over 2 weeks later everything is still alive and looking healthy. I had removed the plastic cloche from all squash plants and just had the straw pushed up higher around the plants and remay to cover the bed. With recent cooler nights and rain, the squash now have their cloche and remay tucked in tight again for warmth.

Wishing for warmer weather so the pickling cucumbers can go outside soon! They are getting too big for the sunroom! 

Until next time... Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!
Photos and gardening by Sally Rae

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Portobello, the Giant Mushroom

Large Portobello Mushroom, compared to a can of tuna
I've got a new obsession with the ginormous mushrooms you've probably seen in stores, known as 'Portobello Mushrooms'. When immature and white, this mushroom may be known as common mushroom, button mushroom, crimini mushroom and champignon. When immature and brown it may be known as cremini/crimini mushroom, chestnut mushroom or Swiss, Roman or Italian Brown Mushroom. When mature they are known as Portobello Mushrooms, (also Portabella and Portobella).

One of the things I like most about the Portobello Mushroom is their 'meaty' quality. This may sound odd because it is a vegetable after all, but the texture is satisfying, dense and well... just meaty! And you never have to worry about food safety, cross contamination or internal temperatures! For vegetarians, they make a great meat substitute without relying on processed soy alternatives. Portobello Mushrooms can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, stuffed or baked. They are a quick side dish or vegetarian meal served as 'steaks', 'burgers' or stuffed with your favorite filling as a hearty main course. The mushroom itself is low in calories and a good source of plant based protein.
Sauteed Portobello slices with onion

The key to success with this giant is to enhance the fairly neutral flavor with a marinade or seasonings that will play up their earthy factor. Easy marinades can include; balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, granulated garlic, (Note: avoid fresh minced garlic because it may burn), black pepper, cayenne, rosemary and fresh thyme. Marinate for only 10-20 minutes, no longer than 30 minutes. If in a marinade for too long they may get a slimy texture that is not appealing.

Often I've heard that people don't know what they can and can't eat of the Portobello. The stems are technically edible but sometimes have a 'woody' texture, although I have not found this to be true... so far! The stem can easily be pulled off with your hands and used for another recipe, in bone broth or discarded. To clean the mushroom, rub off any dirt with a dry cloth. Some people remove the darker 'gills' with a spoon, they are edible so if they don't bother you, skip this process. I would however suggest to remove the gills if you are going to marinade and grill them or when making stuffed/baked recipes.

Because of their size and weight, Portobellos can be quite expensive. Look for them at Costco for a descent price, in packages of 3-5 (depending on size) and grown in Langley, BC. Choose mushrooms that are firm and the edge of the cap curves under, not flared out. The flared caps have an older and inferior texture. For an example, scroll to the bottom of this page to the 2 Portobellos in marinade. The mushroom cap on the left is still curved, the one on the right is slightly flared out and a bit ragged looking. 

If you love mushrooms and this is your first time with a ginormous Portobello, fear not!! You're now equipped to enjoy its versatility, ease of preparation, quick cooking time and 'meaty' texture!

This is my recent Paleo Diet, go-to obsession; a fast, simple and delicious side dish or snack! Leftovers are great in any number of incarnations.  Note: *ghee is clarified butter.
Mise en place

2 medium or 1 very large portobello mushroom
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
1-2 Tbsp. coconut oil or *ghee
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional seasonings; granulated garlic, thyme, rosemary
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (sulphite free for Paleo Diet)

Clean the portobello mushroom, remove the stem and slice the mushroom cap 1/2" thick. Heat 1 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee in a stainless steel fry pan over medium heat. Place mushroom slices in the pan but don't overlap. If the pan seems dry, add more oil or ghee. Saute until golden brown then turn over each slice, add more ghee if the pan seems dry. Place the onion slices around the mushrooms so they have contact with the pan. Season with salt, pepper and any optional seasonings, push them around a bit with tongs so they lightly brown. When the mushrooms and onions are caramelized, remove from the heat and immediately, pour in the balsamic. Toss or stir quickly to coat all and move to a serving plate. Serve warm.
**NOTE: leftovers are delicious chopped up and stirred into scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Sauteed Portobello with Onions and Balsamic Vinegar

PORTOBELLO SANDWICH       Yield: 1 sandwich
Although not Paleo, this recipe is a favorite from my cookbook 'For the Love of Food'. Who said you need meat to get a messy, juicy, run down your arms burger? This sandwich is just that! The amazing crusty roll in the photos was purchased at 'The Church Street Bakery' in Comox, BC. 

Meaty, juicy, messy, run down your arms goodness!
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 sun-dried tomatoes, minced
10-12 capers, minced
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 sprig fresh thyme, remove & mince leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large portobello mushroom
1 large crusty roll
    or 2 slices sourdough bread
Dijon mustard 
Avocado slices, optional

Preheat oven to 400F. Clean the portobello, remove the stem and leave the gills intact. Mix butter with sun-dried tomatoes, capers, chili, garlic and thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and spoon over the inside gills of the mushroom cap. Bake in a parchment paper lined pan for 10-15 minutes, check and add another 8-10 minutes or until tender. 
Toast the crusty roll or sourdough bread and spread with Dijon mustard.Top with baked mushroom, it will look very juicy, don't worry, the bun will absorb most of it. Cover with the other half of bun or bread. Press down firmly and cut. Add the avocado slices if desired.

GRILLED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS         Yield: 4 portobello mushrooms
These simple, grilled Portobellos are perfect as a side dish, mushroom burger or vegetarian 'steak'. Avocado oil is Paleo compliant and used for its high smoke point. 
Marinate for 15, no longer than 30 minutes

4 medium/large Portobello mushrooms
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (sulphite free *for Paleo)
1 Tbsp. avocado oil
1 Tbsp. coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
2 sprigs chopped fresh rosemary (about 1 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. granulated garlic 
1/2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
Avocado oil for grilling

Wipe the mushrooms clean, remove the stem and gills. In a shallow baking dish whisk together marinade ingredients; balsamic vinegar, avocado oil, coconut aminos, rosemary, granulated garlic, and coarse black pepper. Place the mushrooms in the marinade and turn to coat, spoon a bit of marinade into each cap. Marinate for 10 minutes, turn and marinate another 8 minutes. 

Heat a BBQ grill or grill pan to about 400F. Brush the grill or pan with avocado oil. Remove the mushrooms from marinade and shake off any excess. Reserve remaining marinade for basting. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side, or until caramelized, golden brown and softened. Basting with reserved marinade as they cook. Serve warm as a mushroom burger or slice for a side dish or vegetarian 'steak'.

Until next time ... Happy Easter and Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae
Recipes by Sally Rae

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Finally, Welcome Signs of Spring!

Storm #3 Denman Island ~ February 12th 2019
Most of Canada and the US had a rough 2018/19 winter and Denman Island was no exception. The fall brought high winds, broken trees, power outages and rain. By mid January we had high temperatures and spring like weather. Everyone was out pruning orchards, the daffodils hung heavy with buds ready to pop open... on Vancouver Island, Victoria was in bloom! I picked the 4 remaining large cabbage from my garden and made a big batch of Dill Pickle and Garlic Kraut. In the garden, garlic shoots were poking through the maple leaf mulch. We were even contemplating mowing the lawn ... in January!!
Storm #3 Denman Island ~ February 12th 2019
Too quickly all our 'BC weather boasting' went down the tubes as a polar vortex set in. By February 3rd we had a dusting of dry Alberta-style snow and cold winds whipped us from the north. Next came the storm systems, dumping snow in white-out conditions about every second day, to an accumulation of over 31 inches. The temperatures stayed cold and you want to bet I was not happy. I left Edmonton to get away from this kind of weather. We had snow and ice on the ground for almost 6 weeks. I can't remember in the past 29 years on Denman ever having snow on the ground for that long.
Yesterday we finally got the lawn mowed, there has been no rain to speak of for months. Most of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands were already in a state of drought in March! Last month I had to start watering the garden; garlic, strawberries and kale. With the temperatures now at daytime highs of up to 21C and lows still around 6C, if this crazy weather isn't climate change I don't know what is. I'm now seeing the damage from the cold. My rosemary plant has died, the strawberries are slowly growing, the garlic looks okay although much smaller than the April 2016 crop.
Garlic - April 2nd 2019

Seascape Strawberries - April 2nd 2019
Today, April 2nd 2019, I dressed the strawberries with my organic fertilizer mix, they seem to be struggling but some plants have blossoms starting. The garlic beds got a good helping of blood meal and I'm watering now every second day, waiting for rain!

Hardening off the seedlings
My seedlings are in desperate need of transplanting but with the warm days, they are on the deck to harden off a bit, then back into the sunroom for the cool nights. I put up my two little portable greenhouses on the weekend but it is still too cold at night to put anything in them. At least they are ready when the weather changes to warmer nights. I have started squash seeds early following my experiment last summer. 
Portable greenhouses

At the end of April 2018, I put out a 'Partenon Zucchini', a self pollinating variety, and a 'Sunshine Winter Squash', both from William Dam Seeds. Each plant was mulched, covered with a cloche, then straw around and covering about half of the cloche on the outside. It worked!! I was eating zucchini from my garden when others were just getting them into the ground. This year, I am going to experiment with early squash planting on a larger scale. 

I'm anxious to get out in the garden and get dirt under my fingernails ... horray for Spring, finally!
Until next time ... Happy Spring and Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae

Monday, March 11, 2019

Coconut Milk Yogurt in the DUO Instant Pot

Changing my diet to Paleo and omitting dairy was a challenge for me. I used to consume a great variety of cheese, homemade kefir, homemade Greek yogurt, Ricotta Cakes made in the Instant Pot, whipping cream in my coffee... 
One interesting result of going off dairy was that within two days, I was no longer congested. My 'drippy nose' and cough went away too! 

Removing and replacing foods that we love and ate often is disappointing to say the least. I now use coconut milk to replace whipping cream and also use it to make Coconut Milk Yogurt in my DUO Instant Pot. 
The ingredients used in this recipe
Working with non-dairy milks can be a bit tricky. I tried different brands of coconut milk, both organic and regular. Also different ratios of coconut cream and coconut milk combined or just all coconut milk. For my preference in flavor and texture, in this recipe I use 'Real Thai Coconut Milk' in the 1000ml tetra pack and 'Real Thai Coconut Cream' in 400ml tins. The tetra pack coconut milk can be purchased online through London Drugs or at Superstore.

The 'Vegan Yogurt Starter' was not easy to obtain and fairly expensive. I found it on Amazon and also by special order at the local health food store, Edible Island. My best results were achieved with "Cultures for Health" 'Vegan Real Yogurt'. The box of starter includes 4 packets, each packet makes up to 2 quarts.  It must be stored in a cool, dry place and for long term storage, keep in the refrigerator.

To avoid transferring flavors to dairy and delicate foods in the Instant Pot, I have two separate silicone gaskets ... one used for meat and savory dishes and another used strictly for yogurt, Ricotta Cheesecakes and other sweet, delicate flavored foods. Before making yogurt I always sterilize all the utensils including the Instant Pot.

COCONUT MILK YOGURT in the DUO Instant Pot        Yield: 3-1/2 pints   
Be sure to sterilize your utensils, jars and the Instant Pot with a clean silicone seal. 
3 - 400ml cans coconut milk
1 - 400ml can coconut cream
1 Tbsp. gelatin
1 packet Vegan Yogurt Starter Culture

To sterilize the Instant Pot; place 1-1/2 cups of water in the stainless steel inner pot, close the lid and set the valve to seal. Push the steam button then the [-] button until it reads 2 minutes. When the program is finished, quick release the pressure and pour out the water. Cool the inner pot before proceeding.

Set to... Yogurt - Boil/More
To make yogurt directly in the stainless steel container; pour coconut milk and coconut cream into the stainless steel inner pot and place in the Instant Pot base. Plug in and press the 'Yogurt' button until the display reads 'boil/more' on the DUO model. Close the lid with the valve in any position. Whisk and check the temperature often, it will only take 8 to 10 minutes. When the temperature reaches 140F press 'cancel/keep warm'. Remove 1 cup of the coconut milk, sprinkle gelatin into the warm coconut milk and mix well so it is fully dissolved and lump free. Through a fine mesh strainer, strain this back into the rest of the coconut milk and mix well.

Place the inner stainless steel pot with gelatin/coconut milk mixture in a sink with a few inches of cold water. Whisk and cool to 110F, it will cool quickly, check the temperature constantly. With the temperature at 110F add the Yogurt Starter Culture and mix well. Dry the outside and bottom of the stainless steel inner pot and place back into the IP base. Close the lid with the valve in any position. Press the 'yogurt' button until the screen says '08:00' which is the default time, adjust the [+] or [-] buttons for different timing. I incubate on "Yogurt/Normal" for 10 to 14 hours for a more tart yogurt. When the program is finished "Yogt" will appear in the display.

Whisk, pour into sterilized jars and refrigerate
Whisk the finished yogurt, pour into sterilized containers and refrigerate. Coconut Milk Yogurt will not thicken until after refrigeration time, this may take up to 24 hours. 

**CHEF'S NOTE: To make a smaller batch of Coconut Milk Yogurt, use 800ml of coconut milk and 1-1/2 teaspoons gelatin with 1 full packet of Vegan Yogurt Starter.

Until next time ... Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae
Coconut Milk Yogurt by Sally Rae