Friday, May 27, 2011

A wild and foraged meal...

The thing about foraging is how  much you get to learn!

I posted earlier that we found morel mushrooms.  I figured I had better do some research before we did anything with them...I heard a rumour they were poisonous.

It turns out they were right!!!  You CAN NOT eat a morel raw...which is good to know...not that I was tempted to do so.  Those suckers are mighty ugly!  If you want more info on morels, please check out The Great Morel's website...its chock full of great info, tips, advice and recipes.

Of course, we cooked them...and I thought I would share what we created!  It turned out to be a wonderful foraged and wild meal.  YUM!

First we hiked in the woods....and found the golden lovelies!  Then we brought them home for a good soak in cool water.  We sliced them length-wise...

It was my hubbie's idea to add our wild leeks too!  Slicing them length-wise as well...

After towel drying the mushrooms, we dredged them in flour.

We added the leeks after the mushrooms had simmered for a bit first.  That left the leeks nice and crunchy!

While Ches simmered the wild goodies, I ran out back and grabbed some more asparagus!  (It goes with pretty much EVERYTHING).  It gave the meal a spring time feel.  Plus the punch of colour didn't hurt either.  I nuked them in the microwave...leaving them soft and crisp at the same time.  Dash of salt and a squeeze of lemon...thats it!

I grabbed some chicken breasts from the fridge that I had been marinating.  Simple marinade for the folks who like plain old chicken...veg oil, paprika and salt.  We quickly grilled them up and served them piping hot!  

The end result was a fabulous meal that made us feel like we were eating at a five star restaurant.  The only thing missing were truffles!!!  hahahaha just kidding. 

Now if I were to do this meal again, I would have liked to have fresh caught perch for an absolutely wild and foraged meal.  (Better get the boat in the water if we want to do that!)

Has anyone tried foraging before?  Tell me all about it! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adventures in foraging....Wild Leek Edition


Three years ago, a family friend showed up where to go and how to pick wild leeks.  It was such an amazing experience that we've continued going each year since.  I can't tell you where we go....or I'll have to kill you.  Seriously.  Its a well guarded secret location. 

This was the first year I noticed WHY its such a well guarded location.  The leek crop seems to be less and less.  When I discussed this with my hubbie, we talked about how the conditions were substantially wetter than previous years.  That could be a factor as to why there are less leeks on the hillside than before.  I read an article in Reader's Digest about the foraging phenomenon.  The article discussed the fact that in Quebec, you are no longer allowed to legally pick leeks.  Its actually against the law now, the leek population was in such decline.  We try to leave at least one leek per bunch, just to keep out little secret place going year after year. 

I thought I would blog about our trip this you all know what to look for and what to do with them!


Bug protection, long pants, and a bunch of bags.  Thats really all there is to it.   The time of season you get to pick leeks are when the black flies are at their worst and when the mosquitos are just starting to suck blood.  Its not an ideal time for humans in the woods, but its definitely prime for leeks.  The kids always get the bug jackets...just for convenience sake.  If this is your first time picking, you may not want to look this dorky....but trust me...its WELL worth the one-time expense.  Bug spray is key as well.  Sturdy shoes for hiking in the woods are also helpful and proctect your ankles from pesky bug bites.

Owen sports the latest in leek picking fashion

You'll want to look in an area where you can see trillium flowers.  You know, those white, pink or purple flowers you CAN'T pick?  Yeah, those areas in the woods where the canopy of maples and birch stretch tall and the forest floor is covered with dark mulchy leaf matter. 

Look for broad leaved plants with a small crimson flower bud (as shown below).  I think leeks disguise themselves as trilliums, as I think that's what I always mistook them for.


Brush the leave matter away from the base of the plant...shown below...

Sink your fingers right into the'll feel some bulb like things under there.  If its too early in the spring, the bulbs will be deeper.  The later on in the season, the closer to the surface you'll find the bulbs!

The earth is loose and moist, so it should be no trouble at all.  Sometimes, we've found leeks growing out from under thick roots or big rocks.  Those we tend to leave behind.  Its not worth the struggle when there are ususally so many more readily available leeks nearby.


Another telltale sign you've been picking leaks is the smell.  Shortly after you pull a few wild leeks, you'll start to notice a distinct garlic aroma around you.  You'll wonder if someone just started cooking a fantastic Italian meal right there in the woods.  Its amazing really!  We always bring snacks on our foraging trips, mainly to keep the kids busy when the thrill of digging in the dirt has worn off, but sometimes its because WE get hungry smelling the lovely garlic! 

A gorgeous bag of leeks ready to come home with us!

One of the big surprises this year was finding my first Morel mushroom!  I've never come across one in the wild, but I've done lots of reading about them in hopes that someday I might.  I was so excited!  Its like finding treasure!  (The gold colour helps with the illusion)  My step son was wondering why I was so stoked over a weird looking thing I grabbed out of the dirt.   When I explained that they are expensive in stores because they are so hard to find...his eyebrows went up!  When I told him I'd never seen one in the wild in all my 35 years on this earth...his whole face changed.   Thats when he stopped leek picking and started his adventures in morel hunting.  ( they're going to get away on you or something)


When you get these leeks home, be sure to soak them in cool water.  Snip off the green ends and the root base.  We composted our greens and discovered that our compost bin has never smelled better!

Fresh wild leeks ready for picking and the freezer

I really enjoy taking my kids out on excursions like this.  Its truly an experience I appreciate, coming from a childhood in the city myself.  Exploring the woods is always a good thing, even in an urban environment.  Once you discover the hidden treasures the forest has to offer, you'll never look at it quite the same.

At one point, during our picking session, I noticed Owen became very quite.  I looked around to see what he was up to.  I was suddenly struck by how serene he was.  He was standing on a fallen tree, looking out into the wooded valley.  I could hear a million spring birds.  I could smell the lushness of the forest.  I could hear chimunks, squirrels and other critters telling each other about our presence.  No planes, no cars, no sirens.  It was divine. 

I could tell that Owen was soaking up every second of it.

Next post - the wild and gathered spring feast - BBQ'd chicken breast with fresh asparagus and fried leeks and morel mushrooms.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Types of Gardening Beds and Containers for all types of Gardeners!

What ever you decide to grow is fine by me.  I am just thrilled when I hear someone say I grew that...or taste this, its from my garden.  There is a sense of pride that comes from seeing something from seed to something!  You grew that thing that someone else recognizes.  Its a thrill that you feel accomplished and also empowered.  If the whole thing goes up in flames, we'll still be able to provide for ourselves.   

Everyone lives in different circumstances, making it amazing to tour other peoples gardening solutions.  Perhaps you have an urban garden and have to re-establish the soil from clay to actual soil again.  Maybe you have drainage issues making your garden really moist.  Perhaps you live in a dry, windy area.  All of these thing are to be considered if you are just starting out a garden plot of sorts. 

Don't be discouraged.  It isn't all that difficult.  Trial and Error is the method we swear by.  That often means we have a weak year for some things.  Usually we learn lots about what we're going to do NEXT season....before this season is actually through. 

A response on my facebook page for my blog prompted me to talk a bit about what you can garden in...meaning containers and different structures you might find in your garden.  We have the best of a few worlds.  We have a flat garden patch, a long running patch, an old claw foot tub, a boxed in area, and loads of containers.

A variety of sized potters - all reclaimed from various sources


Let's talk about easy gardening...virtually no weeds, and the plants are managable in size.  Easy right?  The only challenge you may encounter here is keeping these containers water enough.  They tend to dry out very quickly, especially if the container itself is a dark colour.  Another issue is loss of soil.  If you don't pick the right container, the soil may just wash out of the bottom.  Make sure you have containers with a reservoir section on the bottom, or a separate piece that catches most of the water. (see the blue container?  it has a reservoir)  This kind of gardening is great for apartments or townhomes without much of a yard.  Its also great if you want to grow things that tend to get out of control in flat deep soil, like cherry tomatoes.  We grew herbs in ours last year with a great deal of success.  Plus I hear that container gardens are "all the rage" these days.  You can use random pots, matching pots or an assortment of collected old boots!

Our HUGE potters - a White Rose closing sale steal!

These beauties are almost 2 feet across!  They do take a large amount of soil to fill, but are fantastic for us when we grow cherry tomatoes.  Like I mentioned above, we grow cherry tomatoes in them, because our experience has shown that when we plant cherry tomatoes in our flat garden bed...they take over!  They are so invasive that often they lay right down on other veggies and stiffle their growth due to lack of sun.  These pots are the perfect size to still get millions of cherry tomatoes while also keeping our other veggies safe from smothering.  Just make sure you have them where you want them BEFORE you fill them.  Gravel in the bottom is a must for drainage, as you don't want your tomaters to suffer from root rot.

small constructed areas shown above are easy to make and look organized


We discovered an under utilized area in a corner of our we got crafty!  We found some wood 2 x 4's and manufactured (or jimmy-rigged) this planter box.  Its literally dollars from the hardware store, even if you do have to purchase the wood too.  (take care not to buy pressure treated wood)  A couple of L brackets and a couple of screws each make for a wee box for our rhubarb.  As we don't till that area, we don't have to worry about moving the box or anything.  Each year we do shovel in some fresh compost or manure just to keep the plants from getting stagnant with old soil.

our claw foot tub salvaged from a dump

You can use just about anything for a garden, as long as you add some sort of drainage.  We love salvaged items, like this old clawfoot tub from a dump.  We hauled it home and decided where we wanted it to go (like the extra large potters, you need to decide BEFORE you fill).  This thing was heavy even before we lined the bottom with rocks and added fresh top soil and manure mix.  Last year we grew the alliums in there, green onions and leeks.  Neither did very well...probably because we didn't 'lighten' the soil with peat moss.  This year, I've shovelled out a bunch of soil and will be adding fresh manure and peat mixture.  (Owen and I also scraped and re-painted it too!  It looks GREAT!)  An added feature with tremclad paint is that the boys can paint on it with water based paint and it will wipe right off.  Garden art!  I've seen old boots, sawed-off barrels, wash tubs....I've even seen a garden patch that was lined with an old wrought iron bed frame!  Use your imagination.  Visit a nearby dump.  Check out Value Village.  You'll never know what you'll find.  Just make sure what you use as a planter won't deteriorate when water or the elements hit it or that it won't leach toxins into the soil. (ie. lead based painted anything, pressure treated anything)  Also, make sure you wash it thoroughly before adding never know what's been in there before it got to your garden! 

Rocks reclaimed from our neighbour adds a rustic flare

In our flat garden area, we find that its difficult for the kids to know where the yard ends and the garden begins.  So create structures that will look cool as well as inform...DON'T WALK THERE.  We salvaged a lot of rock from our yard as well as our nearby neighbours.  We created a mini rock wall....its only about 1-1.5 ft tall.  It may not look like much now, but it looked so great last year with the squash vines and blossums pouring over it like a living waterfall.  You can use bricks, cinder blocks, stones, wood...just about anything.  Creating a wall makes your garden feel more contained and also looks great too.  Again, be sure to steer clear of pressure treated wood or railway ties, etc.  They are all coated, sprayed or treated with stuff you don't want anywhere near your food. 

Image found at - raised garden bed


Raised beds are great if your yard is small or if you have trouble bending or stouping over for long periods of time.  There are lots of benefits and a few drawbacks to raised bed gardening.  The up side is that you'll have a very neat and tidy area for growing.  The walls will retain heat from the day time and you may find your veggies will grow faster because of it.  Depending on how tall you build your bed, will determine how much you have to bend over.  The taller the bed, the more you'll have to think about what to line it with...again thinking of drainage.  Also, it would cost you a fortune in top soil to fill it completely!  The draw back to a raised bed would be that because you have a warm toasty bed, you'll have to be on the look out oftern for fear your veggies will bolt (or send up seedy stalks) sooner than your flat bed counter parts. 

Our flat bed will look better when its got good things growing in it...just just trucks...


Ah the traditional garden.  Flat.  Your back may not thank you, but the amount of food you can cram into it will blow your mind!  So far, its my favorite type of garden bed, but the weeding remains the biggest obstacle.  I'll elaborate more on the flat bed when we get our going.  I'll dedicate a whole post to the flat bed....keep your eyes peeled!

What type of garden do you plan on having this season? 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dandelions....a springtime green to add to your cooking!

A weed nightmare?  or a veritable grocery store?

I follow a reknowned yogini named Rainbeau Mars.  I have been enamoured with this girl since I was pregnant over 4 years ago.  She was the star of a yoga for pregnancy video.  Her take on yoga inspired me.  Now I follow Rainbeau for more than just yoga instruction.  Her belief is yoga is only one part of the whole when it comes to whole body health.  That is how I discovered her mother Brigitte Mars.  She is a master herbalist and Rainbeau speaks of her highly and often.  On a recent post from Rainbeau, she discusses whether or not to mow your lawn...

Click above for the whole newsletter!

Click above to go directly to Brigitte Mars discuss your living lawn and the healthy benefits of dandelions!  (she talks about dandelions around the 1:08 mark)

After viewing the above video, I decided to take a second look around my lawn to see what I have growing there.  I saw loads of clover (which the local bunnies just love) and an extremely high content of dandelions.  (even more than I noticed yesterday!!!)  I found a small patch where the leaves were visable and the flowers were not out yet.  I plucked the leaves and brought them inside, washing them thoroughly in cold water and diced them up to sprinkle on my lunch salad.  As an avid salad lover, I find it challenging to keep the ol' salad interesting sometimes. 

Spinach and Dandelion salad with Balsamic Vinigrette

This salad did NOT disappoint!  A healthy base of baby spinach, topped with chopped avocado, diced, turkey slices, cukes, tomatoes and the lovely dandelion greens.  Drizzled over the lot was my home made balsamic dressing.  WINNING!

I was VERY surprised at how the leaves tasted.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, perhaps a bitter strong flavour that would over power the whole mess.  I stand corrected!  They added a flavour that was not unlike a fine mescalun mix or the same strength of flavour as arugula. 

For REAL wild and gathered greens salad....I dare you to try dandelion greens on your next salad.

I double dog dare you!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From garden to plate in two days!

This is a follow up post to my asparagus post.  I decided to make something from the Ontario Grows 2011 calendar.  In fact, its the featured recipe for the month of May!

Ontario Grows 2011 May recipe
 Yes, you read that right.  Grilled Prosciutto and Asparagus bundles.  My husband and I tried them tonite.  You also read that right.  I picked asparagus yesterday and today.  We then made something out of something that grows wild in some places.  I'm not talking about the prosciutto. 

I have never attempted to make anything meat based on my own...I'm talking about sausage or other meat type things.  I'm not sure I would trust myself with that.  Vegetables?  Pretty hard to screw up that badly with veggies.

These were a hit.  I would definitely make these again when I have enough money to blow on that wonderfully salty meat product.  Man, its expensive!  The worst was the day when my step son decided he liked it too....uh, can't like something that expensive.  Not allowed. 

I guess these kinds of dishes really inspire me to do strange and new things in the garden.  I never ate so much asparagus as I do now.  How can that be bad?  I grow it, it gets picked and then we eat our faces off for relatively no money.  Obviously except the additional ingredients, which in this case did NOT fit into my budget. Apparantly I'm also not allowed to like something that expensive.  I will continue to search for new and interesting recipes.  Trying new things all the time.  But in continuing my search, I will also strive to post things that are largely based out of my garden and less in the fancy cheese, fancy meat section of my local Foodland. 

Four easy steps to a fabulous plate!
 I'll continue to post asparagus recipes until we stop picking them.  It will also give me a chance to keep track of how long the season actually is. 

This recipe was short and I'll repost it below:

Grilled Prosciutto and Asparagus Bundles
wash and cut asparagus
toss in olive oil and sprinkle on salt
grilled on medium - high heat (or on BBQ)
grill until prosciutto is crispy
serve with drizzled olive oil


Monday, May 9, 2011

Asparagus...the dream of owning land!

Once my husband and I started gardening, there was no going back.  We tilled and worked each and every place we rented.  We grew everything we could with the exception of the odd veggie that was known as a perennial.  For those who don't know, perennials are plants that come back every year.  Asparagus is one of those plants.  You have to plant it and then demonstrate extreme patience as you wait until its third year before you can really harvest them.  As we never knew when we would have to move from our rentals...we never bothered to start them.  Instead we coveted those who had glorious big bushes of asparagus growing on their property.

Then the day came when we signed our names on the dotted line....a MORTGAGE!  Now there's an experience that is truly sobering.  Nothing makes you feel so adult than saying you are in debt to the bank for the next 40 years. 

On a positive note, we had ourselves a property that we could call our own.  Our darling neighbours June and Ron Goodberry traded with us some seedling asparagus in exchange for some purple tulips left by our predecessors.  We felt like we got the better end of the deal, since we feel if it doesn't feed us, we aren't excited about growing it. 

Our asparagus has grown so much in the last few years....I believe this season will be its 4th year in our soil.  We really dropped the ball last year, letting too many of the stalks go to seed.  This year we are determined!  Pick and be eaten we say!!!  Not only are they delicious, asparagus is incredibly healthy for you.  High in vitamins A, C, K, and B complex.  They contain trytophan and minerals such as manganese, cooper, phosphorous, potassum, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium!  Its also a be warned!    

I have to say I do chuckle when I see asparagus in the grocery store and the price tag attached to them most of the year....seriously?  I will admit I do get a hankering for them at some points during the winter....but I refuse to buy them....because they are FREE in my backyard...if I'm only patient.

If you do decide to grow asparagus, make sure to do some looking around first.  They will be there for a long time and they do grow big!  I was amazed when I saw how bushy they can become if left to go to seed.  Make sure they won't be in a location where they will block out the sunlight for your other veggies. 

On a side note, we seriously need to weed out our asparagus patch...they do not like competing plants in their space.  And we also did some spring pre-treating of the area.  We added some of that composted manure we bought last fall (when they were on sale) right on top of where we knew they would poke up their little crowns.  They love the nitrogen boost!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The early birds...

Spring is such a wonderful time of year...and I ache to get back into the garden.  I do have trouble resisting the urge to plant stuff outside right what do I do to combat those urges?  I plant indoors!  Its a little tricky, as our cat Buster tries to help himself to the new green sprigs....but we try to keep the seedlings in an area that is tough for him to get to.  When the seedlings are big enough and the nights are warm enough...we move everything outside to our enclosed sun porch.  Finally they reach the garden and stay there until they are ready to harvest.

In case you were wondering, there are several things you can plant earlier than others.  There are also some plants that, if you are starting them from seed, you must start them early.  Peppers take a while to grow to maturity in Canadian be sure to get those seeds germinating well before you plant them outside. 

Here are a few things that you can plant directly in the ground just before the May 24th weekend:

Some lettuce varieties

We like to get some going before that here is the growth update on our spinach!

Pictured taken right before said cat dumped the lot...some lived...miraculously
 We start the seeds in manure or potting soil with a layer of plastic wrap on top.  The plastic wrap acts like a mini-greenhouse, trapping in the heat and moisture.  Use a spray bottle to wet down the soil once a day or so for the first while.  It takes some time, but if you persist, the seeds will sprout.  Once the seedlings reach the plastic wrap, we peel it back and let them soak in the sun!

When we start things like peppers, the package says to start them in a soil-less medium.  If you're wondering, we use a clear pyrite baking dish, 9 x 13".   You wet down a paper towel and line the bottom, then sprinkle in the seeds.  Add another layer of wet paper towel and seal with plastic wrap.  Set in a sunny window for a few days, checking on moisture and spritzing down when needed.  You should be able to see the seeds sprout a tail and then its ready for the soil medium!  Start pepper seeds in March if you have a warm sunny place available.  Keep planting pepper seeds each week to get a full crop that lasts the whole season.  Peppers, sadly don't store well for a long period of time.

Spinach is a great plant for succession planting, as you can plant in cooler weather and  it will still grow wonderfully.  August is tough for spinach though...dry and hot...spinach tends to bolt (go to seed) quickly in those conditions.  Last year was terrible for our spinach...but then again, we were experimenting with location of leafy greens.  Can't always predict what will happen in new conditions. 

What are you planting these days?

Are you itching to turn soil yet?

I am...