Our First Broccoli Harvest

Only one week has passed since my first post about our budding broccoli plants, and already they’re ready to harvest. I’m always a little sad when it comes time to chop my plants up, but I was also really looking forward to finally sampling some homegrown green goodness.

For our first harvest we decided to cook a beef and broccoli stir fry, one of our favourites. We sliced off four of the heartiest crowns and accompanying side shoots and piled them out on the cutting board. I hadn’t really realized just how much darker this homegrown broccoli was until I looked at it under our kitchen lights. The plants, true to their name, had very dark purple crowns, nothing like what we traditionally bought at the vegetable stand.

The stalks of the florets were also much longer and thinner than all the store bought broccoli I’ve eaten. The crowns were not nearly as dense. Instead they felt light and delicate. After we extracted all the edible bits off of the massive crowns we had one big purple pile!

To accompany the broccoli we chopped up some carrots, mushrooms, and garlic and sliced two sirloin steaks as thin as we could manage. Since the broccoli florets were so much smaller and lighter than usual they cooked a lot faster. Once all the vegetables were cooked we added a cup of fresh bean sprouts, a cup of stir fry sauce and, voila! Our first home-grown broccoli feast was ready to eat.

It was delicious! And more than that, it was satisfying to eat something that we’d been growing since August.

Next up, what broccoli dish should we cook for our second harvest?

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Broccoli – Signs of Life

Some might say it’s overly ambitious to attempt to grow broccoli on a balcony with only partial sun. Some might say this, but not me. Nuts to that.

I hatched this plan back in August after discovering the Purple Sprouting Red Spear Broccoli variety available through West Coast Seeds. The plant’s description got me excited:

These extremely cold-hardy biennial plants grow over the winter months ready for early spring harvest. Purple sprouting broccoli provide very small, sweet purple flowering shoots in the spring. Sow in late summer for February to March harvest.

It was already late summer. Why not give it a shot?

I began my mission by germinating and planting 10 seedling. Over the next months the plants grew taller and leafier and broader, and several of the stalks turned yellow and died. I have a habit of overcrowding all of my pots, so I figured this probably wasn’t a bad thing. This was nature weeding out the weaklings for me.

The plants got taller and broader still and by January my mind began to fill with questions: Had I started my seedlings too late? Or was it too cold, too dry, or too dark? Would these plants ever produce any real, edible broccoli?

Then came the snow.

One month later I spotted the very first semblance of a broccoli crown at the apex of the biggest plant. Exciting! Now that it’s almost April, I’m astounded by the plant’s progress every day.

Though I’ve yet to taste this home-grown vegetable, I’m satisfied that my experiment has been a success. My only remaining question is, how will I know when the plant is ready to harvest?

Valentine’s Day at Cafe de Olla, Puerto Vallarta

This year my husband and I spent our Valentine’s Day in sunny Puerto Vallarta. We didn’t know exactly how we wanted to celebrate, but we hoped it would involve our all time favourite “celebration food”… lobster! My husband’s parents recommended the special platter for two at one of their favourite restaurants, Cafe de Olla, fittingly located in the Romantic Zone of the city. It didn’t look like much when we walked by that afternoon but we decided to make a reservation anyway. Good thing too, because when we returned for dinner at 9:00 pm that night the waiting crowd was so large it nearly obscured the whole front entrance of the restaurant. The place was packed!

The host had warned us earlier in the day saying, “Even though you have a reservation, you’ll still have to wait. Everyone who comes here, they all have to wait. Come and you’ll get a table eventually.” At the time we’d shrugged it off, but when we arrived for dinner his words echoed in our minds. The line-up was at least 15 people long (a couple of groups) then there was a second line-up for people with reservations. It was fairly chaotic and, admittedly, we stood in the wrong line-up for at least 20 minutes, but it wasn’t a big deal.

As we stood there on the sidewalk we had a perfect view of the team chefs working in the kitchen, and they were pounding out the food at an impressive pace. Platter after platter of enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and surf n’ turf combo’s came through the kitchen window and were carried past us, wafting the most amazing smells out onto the street. We jittered with excitement as we watched a woman halve plump red lobster after lobster, and salivated as the grill master in front of us tended to a patch of filet mignons and New York strip steaks sizzling over the flames. My goodness, we were dying to eat!

We ended up with a fantastic table just inside the front corner by the open-air window and we each immediately ordered a classic fishbowl margarita (one of their specialties). We didn’t even need to look at the menu. We wanted the special platter we’d heard so much about!

The platter, in all it’s glory, included 2 lobsters, 6 garlic prawns, 2 cheesy baked potatoes, 1 large filet mignon, rice, cooked vegetables and a bowl of heavenly and super garlicky melted butter for dipping.

It was 100% fantastic! And the wait was completely worth it.

By the end of it, our endorphins were surging. I joked with my husband that we should order a second platter. He thought I was kidding, but really I was half serious! It was just that good.

If you travel to Puerto Vallarta I would definitely recommend going to Cafe de Olla for dinner. I only regret that we didn’t have time to go back for a second visit since all the dishes that came out of that kitchen looked fantastic.

Cafe de Olla, Basilo Badillo 168, Romantic Zone, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Telephone: +52 (322) 223-1626
They accept CASH ONLY.
Click here for a map from Vallarta Online.

Our First Glimpse of Spring

I’m always excited for the first bulbs to sprout on our deck. Seeing that first flash of colour in amongst all the green fronds makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. Why? Because I know my efforts weren’t wasted, and soon enough I’ll have pots and pots of colourful crocuses, daffodils, and hyacinths to enjoy.

Spring is traditionally the most exciting time for gardening because of all the possibilities that fill up my imagination. It’s the time of the year when my gardening catalog arrives from West Coast Seeds and I go on and on to my husband about wanting more land so I could plant heaps and mounds of different vegetables, herbs and flowers.  When it’s sunny out I get giddy with gardener’s delight, but this year has felt a little different than before.

This year I didn’t stop gardening through the winter and I decided to do the winter vegetable thing to try something new. It’s been great fun so far, and even though not everything has gone according to plan, we’ll be dining on our winter veggies soon enough. First up will be our brussel sprouts and then, hopefully, some home-grown broccoli.

I’m still totally excited to begin another year of container gardening and all the possibilities at my fingertips, but this year I feel like I never stopped, and that feels satisfying in it’s own way too. It’s a bit too early to begin planting again, but for now I’m content to enjoy my spring bulbs as more open slowly day by day.

My Holiday Workshop is Finally Closed

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody!

Christmas was beautiful this year in Vancouver. I love looking out the window at the snowy North Shore mountains, and all the lights and decorations around the city and our apartment. Red and green garlands deck the halls of our living room and the earthy smell from our noble fir Christmas tree mixes nicely with the rich smells of home-baked goods, melted butter and sugar.

I decided to make home-made gifts for the special people in my life this year and, as usual, my plans were ambitious. I decided months ago that I would make soaps again (they were a huge hit 3 years ago), but I left the actual purchasing of supplies to the second week of December. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem except I also had plans to bake gluten-free strawberry almond sandwich cookies… and chocolate caramels, and chocolate-dipped peanut caramel squares, and peanut brittle. I quickly realized my time was running out and I’d better snap into action. Hence, the holiday workshop was born!

Our two kitchen counters and marble island acted as my work station. Each night for two weeks I’d come home from the office and go straight to work in the kitchen again. The counters were covered in pots, pans and soap molds in various stages of the melt and pour process. I had baking sheets lined in parchment paper at my ready, waiting patiently next to bags of sugar, flour, almonds and cubes of chocolate. Pretty much all my good kitchen utensils were constantly being washed and dirtied again, and there was wrapping paper, cellophane and bits of ribbon everywhere! (Not to mention all the pine needles.) Our apartment really did feel like a real holiday workshop. At the end of each night my feet hurt and my hands were dishpan dry. I wondered if this was how the elves felt?

101 Soaps!

By the end of the two weeks I’d created an impressive tower of home-made goodies: 8 different designs of melt and pour soaps (101 bars total!), plus a tower of individually wrapped chocolate caramels, peanut brittle wrapped in cellophane bundles, and boxed up chocolate-dipped peanut caramel squares and strawberry almond sandwich cookies.

Chewy Almond-Strawberry Sandwich Cookies

I have to say, after all that work, I’m proud of myself. Enjoyment is a cook’s greatest delight and I know all these goodies are bound for good homes and appreciative souls. Now I can dust off the couch and put my feet up: my holiday workshop is finally closed for business!

Wine Tasting Along the Naramata Bench

My husband and I are fortunate to have lots of relatives in wine country. They didn’t grow up there, but over a period of years each family moved from Vancouver to the sunny shores of Lake Okanagan, and we always love to visit. The dry, rocky landscape, unique restaurants and abundance of vineyards are enough to capture our imaginations each time we’re there. In the summer, as we drive along the lake shore passing row after row of grapes ripening in the sun, we think to ourselves, how could you not want to live here? Every time we visit we return with the relaxing afterglow of a satisfying vacation. We sure are lucky!

We recently drove up on the Thanksgiving long weekend, on a mission to give my brother and his girlfriend the full Okanagan wine tasting experience. On the first day, we planned to lunch at Quail’s Gate in their beautifully designed Old Vines Restaurant, then head to a large cluster of wineries along the Naramata Bench. We arrived at Quail’s Gate and were greeted by a thick wall of people in the tasting room. It was packed with wine tourists, clutching leather wallets and wearing fashionable sweater sets. We stood in line to do a tasting and eventually made it past the crowds to the solid wood tasting bar. The view from their sweeping bay windows, over the rolling hills striped with rows of grapes and across the lake to the rocky, arid shores beyond, was worth the wait alone, but in the end we didn’t buy any wines.

Next stop was the Old Vines Restaurant where we were also unsuccessful. “Do you have a reservation?” the teenage hostess asked us, standing next to two other baby-faced employees. We didn’t. The hostess burst out in a short fit of giggles. “Well, we’re fully booked until Tuesday.” Really? It was Saturday. We peered past her and frankly, it didn’t look busy at all. And what kind of a restaurant books up an entire weekend’s worth of seating, leaving absolutely no allowance for any walk-in diners? Oh well. Apparently, we were out of luck. We made a quick stop at Mission Hill Estates, since the views from up there are also stunning, then we changed directions and headed straight for the Naramata Bench.

With so much family living in town, we were fortunate enough to enlist my husband’s cousin as our designated driver for the day – a must considering the new driving rules, and our extensive plans for wine tasting! After a 45 minute drive Southeast along the highway we arrived at the winery-covered hillside of Naramata. Our plan of attack was to start with the wineries farthest away, and work our way backwards in the direction of home.

We went to six wineries in total and by the end of it we’d tasted and spent enough. At a certain point everything starts to taste the same, especially if you opt to swallow the wine (like we did) instead of spitting it.

Lang Vineyards was our first stop, and we were already partial to their wines. We’d served their 2008 Marechal Foch and 2008 Pinot Gris at our wedding the previous summer. This year we went home with two bottles of 2006 Gewurztraminer and a 2007 Pinot Auxerrois instead.

After Lang, we hopped over to Soaring Eagle since I LOVE their rose! We served this at our wedding too and it was definitely my drink of choice. We’d only ordered one case since it was hard to gauge how many people would request it, but thankfully our bartenders quickly got wise to my preference for pink. As the bottles started to turn up empty, they hid a few for my own special stash!

Therapy Vineyards is the winery with Sigmund Freud or rorschach ink blots on their labels. Their wines were okay – between the four of us we bought 3 bottles – but an infestation of pesky fruit flies was a bit of a turn off.

Tucked away in a blossoming fruit orchard, Elephant Island was an absolute delight to visit. The small tasting bar was festively decorated with quirky elephant-themed art and handicrafts, and out the door in their courtyard a live country band was jamming away with a mix of folksy, old-school funk. If we hadn’t already stopped for food on the way to Naramata, we might have stayed here to eat instead. Focusing solely on dessert wines, hence their fruit-bearing surroundings, their products were fantastic to taste, and expertly arranged on the tasting list. Each sip was even more pleasing than the previous bottle.

Next we stopped at Zero Balance. They didn’t have many wines on offer, but we bought one bottle of red instead of paying the $7 for tasting fees and leaving empty-handed.

Laughing Stock was next on our list and it took a little effort to find. Their label design, curious looking at first, actually shines some light on the owners of the vineyard. Both stock traders by day, this husband and wife team decided to change their pace of life and open a winery instead. Of course, their investment-savvy friends thought they’d gone crazy, leading to the name Laughing Stock. Their label design takes a nod from the stock world as well. Across the bottle is a stock ticker tape, representative of the exact state of the market on the day the wine was bottled. An interesting idea, and a great present for any financially-minded wine lovers in your life.

After Laughing Stock, the sun was getting lower in the sky and it was time to balance all the wine we’d sampled with some real food. We’d tasted a lot of amazing varietals, chatted with some interesting hosts, and pulled out the wallet enough times. Yet before the long weekend was over we’d go to one more award-winning, yet elusive, winery still.  I’ll save that tale for another day…

My Peculiar Little Pumpkins

Halloween came and went in a flash this year – we carved pumpkins, dressed up in costumes, ate too much candy and put on a grand old fireworks show while camping for one night in the woods outside of Squamish! It was an exciting weekend of festivities, but what, you may be asking yourself,  ever became of those pumpkins I was growing? Well…

…the pumpkins were officially a failure! I have a few theories about what went wrong here. The most crucial element is that I started the plants too late in the season. I’m the type of gardener that’s been known to say “just plant it in the ground… something will happen!” and usually sticking to that mantra works just fine. But in all other cases, I’m not growing something for a specific due date like Halloween. Whoops! Lesson learned for next year: plant earlier!

These peculiar little pumpkins, which ended up being roughly thumb-sized, were also semi-starved for light (we only get sun from sunrise until 1:30 pm in the height of the summer), and eventually they suffered from mold too. Add to this the miserable November weather picking up, and it seemed like a good time to put the pumpkins out of their misery.

Container gardening on a patio eight windy stories high doesn’t always work out exactly as planned… but that’s okay. It’s still fun to watch things grow, and my mantra wasn’t all wrong – something did happen. Life in the garden goes on, and now I can reclaim the flower pot for some spring bulbs instead!