Tag Archives: gardening

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!

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The Freshest Salad I’ve Ever Eaten!

First, I have to admit that I’m not really a salad person. To my taste buds, salad is “okay,” but I never find it that exciting. Perhaps I’m being a bit extreme since there are a few types of salad that I like, but what I’m really not too jazzed about is lettuce. Blah.

For me, lettuce is one of those things I buy because I know it’s healthy. I put it in my shopping cart (often out of waistline guilt) because I know I should be eating salads more regularly than I do. But so often, once I’m finally ready to get down and use it, I find my lettuce old, wilted and rotten.

Rotten lettuce is anti-motivational, but I’ve found a way to restore my faith. I’m growing my own lettuce patch! Now, instead of buying lettuce only to have it waste away in my produce drawer, I pop out onto my deck, trim off a few leaves, and voila! It’s the freshest lettuce I’ve ever eaten.

The best parts about growing lettuce are that it’s super easy to do, it doesn’t take much space (I’ve got 6 heads in an 18″ x 13″ plastic pot), the lettuce is always perfectly fresh when you’re ready to use it, and the plants keep regenerating themselves. Each time you’re ready to eat some, just pluck off the larger, outer leaves and the lettuce head will keep growing for another meal. Somehow I stumbled into Sustainable Salad Eating 101, and the greatest part is, I’m actually excited about eating salads now!

I ordered a blend of Romaine & Baby Green lettuce seeds from West Coast Seeds, and I would definitely recommend them. They germinated quickly, and the leaves have a light, buttery taste.

Last night’s salad, the pinnacle of our home-grown goodness, also featured Swiss chard, carrots and cherry tomatoes grown by us. It was by far the freshest, most pride-inducing salad I’ve ever made. (Sure, we also added cucumbers, mushrooms and feta cheese, but a girl can’t be expected to grow everything!)

So, if you’re like me and you’re not too excited about salads, try growing your own lettuce instead. It’s fun, it tastes great, and you might be surprised at the results.

Making Spring Rolls

Whenever I make or eat spring rolls, I always think of South East Asia. It was four years ago when my husband and I first learned how to make them. We were on a backpacking trip through SE Asia and our little guesthouse, Eagle House, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, offered a full-day cooking course held in the hotel’s lush, tropical courtyard. We’d been enjoying the different cuisines of Asia immensely throughout our trip so we jumped at the chance to learn the secrets of the locals. We signed up with The Chili Club Cooking Academy to do a full-day course the following day.

The next morning, a small group of travelers gathered in the steamy, humid courtyard to meet our instructor, Mr. Visutt. He was a short, friendly man who was clearly very intelligent, and cared very deeply about teaching the traditional way of cooking Thai food. He’d learned his techniques from the elders of his village, his neighbours and his parent – knowledge passed down through generations. He did not believe in “instant” Thai food, and he wholeheartedly disapproved of microwaves.

We cooked five other dishes with him – Red Curry with Chicken and Eggplant, Chiang Mai Noodle Soup, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Mango Sticky Rice, and Red Curry Paste Dip – but the Spring Rolls are the one dish we’ve made again, and again. Each time we do, we think back to Mr. Visutt’s instructions. In his unique Thai-accented English he’d tell us, “You must control yourself, the amount of spiciness,” and “Fresh ingredients, mix together, fresh taste.”

Now that we’re back in North America, we often vary the ingredients we put in our spring rolls to include whatever we have in our fridge. Some great additions have been shredded chicken breast, chopped green beans, bok or sui choy, finely chopped broccoli, and ground peanuts.

Here’s Mr. Visutt’s recipe for spring rolls. You can vary the ingredients as desired.

Spring Rolls (Boh-Bia, in Thai)

4 tablespoons oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
80 grams minced meat (beef, chicken or pork)
160 grams onions, finely sliced & diced
200 grams carrots, finely sliced & diced
40 grams dried shrimp (optional), soak in water for 5 minutes and drain
80 grams tofu
200 grams cabbage, finely sliced & diced
200 grams bean sprouts
240 grams mushrooms (straw, Chinese, champignon), cut into 1 cm chunks
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons white sugar
4 teaspoons ground white pepper
24 grams glass noodles, soak in water for 20 minutes, then cut into 4 cm lengths
8 tablespoons water
12-20 spring roll wrappers
enough egg yolk to seal wrappers
oil for deep-frying

Method:
1. Heat oil in wok on low heat for 15 seconds.
2. Add garlic, minced meat, onion, carrots, dried shrimps and tofu and stir-fry for one minute.
3. Mix in the cabbage, bean sprouts and mushrooms.
4. Stir in the oyster and mushroom sauces.
5. Mix in the sugar and ground pepper.
Add glass noodles and water and stir-fry for 30-45 seconds.
7. Turn off heat and put on a plate.
8. Onto each individual spring roll wrapper, place 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture at one end of the wrapper and spread it to about 8 cm in length. Roll up the wrapper from the bottom to the middle and then fold in the left and right sides. Use the egg for sticking the folds. Roll up to the top and stick again.
9. Heat enough oil for deep-frying at medium heat. Put in the spring rolls.
10. As soon as they are golden in colour take them out, put on absorbent paper towel to drain off the excess oil, and serve with a sweet chili sauce, plum sauce, sweet & sour sauce or peanut sauce.

Kimbe’s tips:
You can vary the sauces and ingredients to your taste. You may not like oyster sauce, but soy or teriyaki sauce work well too. You may also want to add ginger, though sadly, I’m allergic.

There are a variety of spring roll wrappers you can purchase. Some are made with egg and flour, but for those that are gluten-free you can use rice wrappers instead. We learned to use the flour ones in Thailand, but at home we stick to the rice-based wrappers. They’re a little more delicate to handle, and they’re often round instead of rectangular, but they produce a lighter crust on the finished spring roll.

If you’ve got one, save yourself the hassle of chopping and let your food processor do the work for you. I use my chopping, slicing and shredding blades to prep all my veggies, garlic, and occasionally meat (such as shredded leftover BBQ chicken breast) for this dish in less than 5 minutes.

Food-processed ingredients saves a lot of time.

Spring roll size can vary according to your preference too. If you’re making these as appetizers, then stick to the small scoop of mixture that the recipe suggests. However, if you’re making these for dinner, making them larger and longer works well too. Just be sure to crisp them enough on the outside first.

On the subject of deep-frying, I’m not a fan of completely submerging any of my food in bubbling oil. It just seems way too unhealthy. Instead, we use a non-stick pan with a few tablespoons of oil, instead of the 2 litres that Mr. Visutt recommended. If you use our lightly oiled approach, make sure to turn the spring rolls and crisp all 4 sides. You’ll need a good pair of tongs to accomplish this successfully.

If you’re traveling to Thailand and you’re interested in cooking courses, I would definitely recommend The Chili Club Cooking Academy at the Eagle House Guesthouse in Chiang Mai.

Homegrown Carrots

Roughly three months ago, my husband and I were wandering through Canadian Tire and we happened to pass a big seed display. We hadn’t put much thought into our summer flowers yet, so while he wandered the aisles looking for camping supplies, I started scanning the seed packets for plants that fit our growing conditions the best.

The flowers did have a certain visual appeal, but many of them required full sun, wouldn’t work well in small containers, or wouldn’t have enough time to fully mature and flower before the fall weather arrived. For a moment I considered whether I should just buy greenhouse-started plants like I’d done in previous years. But then, I discovered the back-side of the seed rack – the vegetable side.

Of course, being late May already, I’d pretty much missed the ideal time to plant most of the vegetables I was interested in growing. But then I discovered a packet of baby carrot seeds. Baby’s, hey? Perhaps they would grow to fruition faster than normal-sized carrots? Luckily, my initial assumption was correct. These “Little Finger” carrots would produce little orange stubs within 55-60 days!

I have to admit that it has taken a little bit longer than 60 days for these babies to mature, but it’s been worth it all the same. Our balcony is partially shaded by the balcony directly above us, so our plants are always a teeny bit starved for light. But I’m a firm believer that if you put seeds in the ground, something is going to happen. It’s just a matter of what.

I’ve now harvested two delicious crops of these baby balcony carrots, and I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results! Although they’re a little twisted, gnarly and oddly shaped, they pack a rich carroty flavour that I never taste in store-bought carrots, and their sweetness is balanced perfectly by their crunchy texture.

I will definitely try planting carrots again next year, and I’ve learned a few things to help me improve my crop. Mostly, next year I’ll start my seeds earlier, and stick more steadfastly to the planting instructions!

I did end up buying some flower seeds as well, but none of them were nearly as successful, or fun-to-grow, as the Little Finger carrots.