A Very Early Spring

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It’s been an early spring here in Vancouver and despite all the rain that’s come with the Pineapple Express, the early flowers and warmer temperatures have been kind of great. I’ve even heard that some of the cherry trees are already in bloom.

It’s worrisome, too – climate change is set to bring hard times to ski resorts in the south coast temperate zones and a bright future for BC wineries, but whatever else comes with it is much more unpredictable.

For now, though, I’m going to drink in the colour and get an early start on cleaning up and preparing my garden beds. And I’m going to start dreaming my way through the copy of the West Coast Seeds catalogue that just showed up in my mailbox today.

I’m excited that soon enough it will be rhubarb season again and I can get busy making Roasted Rhubarb, Rhubarb Curd, Rhubarb Baby Cakes, and Hungarian Shortbread. I’m also looking forward to finding even more uses for my favourite harbinger of spring.

Whether you’re still snowed in or starting to feel the heat, I’d love to hear what’s in store for you in the coming weeks. Let me know in the comments!

Cottage Cooking Club – January 2015

Early spring

Spring is a few weeks ahead of itself here. The blooms that start popping up in February have been appearing everywhere around the neighbourhood over the last two weeks. It’s a welcome sign of renewal.

I’ve been experiencing renewal in a slightly less pleasurable way since the turn of the year. Our building was completely re-piped over the last few weeks and it was disruptive enough to throw off my blogging schedule (among other things). Half of my kitchen’s contents were piled on the other half and the rest of our place was uneasily accommodating the contents of our storage and coat closets, along with the substantial contents of a big built-in bookshelf.

There are no more holes in the wall and in their place, there are bright new coats of paint. We’re slowly organizing and putting away the things we’re keeping and working on getting rid of the rest. (One of the advantages of this sort of project is that it inspires you to purge unneeded belongings.) One of the disadvantages of work of this kind is that it saps creative energy, so we’ve been existing on some pretty utilitarian cooking lately and writing inspiration was a little hard to come by.

But that’s all over with, so I’m back in the kitchen and at my desk and will be catching up on some promised posts soon. For now, I’m glad I only committed to one Cottage Cooking Club selection this month, though all of them looked like things I’d love to try.

Curried Bubble and Squeak

Bubble and Squeak

Just before the chaos began, I made a big batch of this bubble and squeak. The traditional version has been a comfort food favourite of mine for many years, but one that I don’t often remember to make. This curried vegan version, which uses leftover cooked cabbage and potatoes, is economical and delicious. (And as a bonus, it reminded me that simply sautéed shredded cabbage is a delicious side dish all on its own.) I added chickpeas to the dish, for a little protein and fibre boost, but otherwise followed the recipe. My only quibble is that curry powder is such an imprecise description. I’m going to be playing around with curry spices as I make this dish again, until I get a combination I really love.

I also made the fennel and celeriac soup with orange zest, which was delicious, but that was when the work in our kitchen began and I neglected to get a photo. I love this sort of soup, especially when the weather is cold or rainy. Citrus and fennel have bright notes that help to make up for sunless days and celeriac has the same sort of earthy heft as potatoes, which braces against the cold. A perfect winter soup.

Now, we can move on to February. It’s a cold and dark month in many places, but here in Vancouver, it’s often full of spring.

Here are the links to the rest of the group’s posts for this month. I encourage you to check them out – you’ll meet some wonderful bloggers and get some great inspiration for vegetarian eating.

Seasonal Produce Anxiety

Rhubarb

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend the winter worrying if I’ve made the best use I could of storage vegetables. As good as they are, the selection is small enough and their shelf life is long enough that I’m ready to move on as soon as spring arrives.

That’s when my anxiety begins, from peas to tomatoes, from rhubarb to peaches, warm weather produce has its short turn on the stage before retreating for another year. Every year, I make grand plans to use each of those fruits and vegetables in multiple recipes and every year my accomplishment consists of not missing them entirely. Bonus points for freezing a bag or two along the way.

I’ve meditated – I know that being present in each moment is a healthier path, but I can’t help feeling a growing sense of panic when I realize that one of my favourites (or that one I keep saying I’m going to try, year after year) is disappearing from the markets. I also seem to manage to make the recipes I’ve loved since childhood more often than experiment with the masses of new ones I bookmark each year.

This year, I’m batting above my average (at least, I think that’s what I’m doing – baseball metaphors are not my forte). One of my mother’s friends gave her an enormous bag of rhubarb and I’m crossing a few of those new concoctions off my list.

Shortbread

My favourite so far is rhubarb curd. I used Lara Ferroni‘s recipe and went ahead and made the rhubarb bars, too. The shortbread topped with baked curd is heavenly, though I think that next time I’ll have a little beet juice ready when I make the curd, to punch up the colour. The bars only used half the curd, which I’m reserving for some parfaits that are going to show up here soon. If you make this, I recommend baking a visitandine at the same time, as it uses up four egg whites. If you have any ideas for the other two, let me know.

There is still quite a bit of rhubarb left, so there’s definitely some roasted rhubarb and a strawberry-rhubarb crisp in the offing. I might try one of the savoury rhubarb recipes I’ve been eyeing, or I might revisit this recipe or this one. With a bit saved in the freezer, I’d say I’m actually making good use of rhubarb this year.

Now, if I can just stop thinking about all the things I meant to do with spring peas or the fact that strawberry season has arrived.

Green As Spring Venison Stew – A French Fridays Catch Up

Stew

Every eater has limits. It might be something simple, like avoiding raisins in other foods (unless it’s chocolate). It might be something broader, like avoiding whole categories of food for health or ethical reasons.

Though I have a few mild food sensitivities, I don’t talk about them much.They’re boring, annoying, and better kept to myself. I do talk about eating gluten-free, since that’s an absolute necessity for my partner. I’ve also talked a little bit about his movement toward eating vegan or vegetarian most of the time, since that can affect what I post for French Fridays. Some dishes, like the one I’m posting about today, have to wait until I’m cooking for meat-eaters.

Most of my decisions about what I cook and eat are based on some broad parameters, that I adjust as necessary. I try to eat fresh, local, sustainable, in season, and organic as often as I can. I try to shop at locally-owned places more often than I do at large chains. I try to eat meat less often than I eat vegetarian or vegan.

There are always exceptions, of course. There are national brands that I trust. Sometimes I shop for the items I need for a particular recipe, rather than cooking what’s in season. Sometimes a frozen vegetarian pot pie is the best option for a busy night.

There are also a few things I never budge on. Veal is one of them. I just don’t feel right about eating it. So, I don’t. Instead, I usually substitute wild venison wherever it’s called for. I’m lucky enough to have access to wild meat from hunters I trust. That said, I know that my choice is an arbitrary one in a food system that’s often broken. I’m sure that I’m ignoring other food choices I make that are equivalent to veal’s problems. I certainly wouldn’t condemn anyone else for their choices around eating. There are far too many factors that govern where each person’s choices and limits lie.

At any rate, this recipe is a winner whatever you choose to feature as your protein. It’s also at least as full of healthy vegetables as it is protein. The secret is in the sauce. The usual aromatics are cooked with the meat, but at the end, cups and cups of fresh arugula, spinach, dill, parsley, and tarragon are added to the broth, along with a little crème fraîche (or in my case, some sour cream I already had in the refrigerator).

The result is a vibrant green sauce that tastes as much of the greens and herbs as it does the broth. We had the stew over potatoes I’d roasted with garlic and rosemary the first night. The next night, the leftover sauce topped simply roasted chicken thighs, with a salad on the side. There was still a little sauce left over after that, so it went into the freezer to be used to flavour a soup some time.

I could see this sauce as an accompaniment for any number of proteins or poured over all sorts of roasted vegetables. It’s one I’m going to come back to over and over again, I can tell. Without reservation.

You can find out what the rest of the French Fridays crew got up to this week here: Smoked Salmon Waffles And here is the link to the rest of the group’s thoughts about this recipe: Green As Spring Veal Stew

Seedy Saturday

Library

At summer’s end, I like to pass along some of the seeds I’ve saved from my favourite beans to other gardeners. I originally got them from my Great-Aunt Vivienne, whose family brought them from Belgium generations ago. They’ve been sharing them ever since. Gardeners have always shared seeds in this way, promoting varieties that they like or that show some genetic advantage in the area in which they’re being grown. Over generations, farmers and home gardeners alike would save seeds from the plants that showed the most promise, or cross varieties with different strengths until they came up with a new strain that held the desirable qualities of both and bred true.

Seed libraries are a formalization of this process, in a world in which the competencies of seed-saving and plant breeding are disappearing. They provide a place to house and lend out seed stock, along with providing public education and outreach, just as a traditional library does.

Seeds

I got to experience this first-hand this past weekend, when I attended a Seedy Saturday event hosted by the Kensington-Cedar Cottage Seed Sharing Library. A guest speaker gave a lecture on permaculture and companion planting, we had a hands-on seed starting workshop, and we ended with a seed swap and an opportunity to check out seeds from the seed library. I chose nasturtiums and a “Bee Blend” of wildflowers, as one of my goals this year is to make my garden more pollinator-friendly. The idea is that at the end of the season, I’ll collect and dry seeds from these plants and then return them, so that they can be passed on to another patron. It is a library, after all.

Hands

I’m confident in my ability to do so with the nasturtiums, but I’m a little worried about some of the wildflowers – their seeds came in a wide variety of sizes. I’ll be watching them carefully to see what sort of seeds they produce and try and come up with some strategies for collecting them.

If you live in the Vancouver area, there’s another seed swap this coming weekend, at Strathcona Community Garden. I may stop by, to see if I can find some heritage seeds to fill in the holes in my planting schedule for the year. If you don’t have any physical seed swaps in your area, don’t despair. Like almost everything else these days, seed swapping has gone digital. You can join sites like this one and have access to a world of different plants and varieties. Just make sure the seeds you’re asking for are suitable for your growing region.

I’m still a novice at seed-saving, which limits my seed swapping activities. So this year, I’m reading up on seed-saving, so that I can expand my own end-of-season activities beyond poppies and beans. I’d like to plant a heritage variety of tomato this year, so that I can try the method of seed-saving I learned from Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground. I’d also like to see what results I can get from plants like cucumber and squash. I’ll save the biannuals like beets and carrots for the future, when I have a little more practice.

Leeks

Here are a few selections from my reading list:

Seedswap
Seeds
And a gem from 1977, which was send to me by the wonderful Cher of my French Fridays crew, Vegetables Money Can’t Buy, But You Can Grow

So, now it’s your turn. What are you growing on your balcony, patio, or garden? Do you save and share seeds? What resources would you recommend to a novice seed-saver?

Let me know in the comments.

Spring Into It

Blossoms

I’m looking forward to spending more time outdoors, now that the blossoms are out, though it looks like the weather won’t be cooperating for the next week, at least. There’s a lot of rain in the forecast. I hope it lets up soon, because there are plenty of events on the horizon here.

In Bloom

March and April are Vancouver’s most beautiful months, in large part because we have so many blossoming trees at this time of year. The Cherry Blossom Festival takes full advantage of their beauty and celebrates with events all month long. Here are a few highlights:

Sakura Days Japan Fair
Plein-Air Blossom Painting
Bike the Blossoms

Crafty Sales

Spring is a time for clearing out the old, but that just makes way for the new. So, it seems natural that craft and fashion sales are making a reappearance at this time of year:

Nifty for Fifty
Great Canadian Craft Show
Blim
Got Craft?

Foodie Fun

It might be time to start the garden, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay at home to taste and talk about food:

Bakers’ Market
Slow Food Vancouver’s Olive Oil Tasting
Food For Thought, a governance conference focusing this year on food security, sustainability, and sovereignty
EAT! Vancouver

Art Attack

Food may be a creative outlet for many, but there are plenty of ways to experience more traditional artistic expressions this spring, too:

Discuss public art, immerse yourself in FUSE’s mix of performance and music amidst the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current exhibits, and get in there and root for artists making art at Art Battle Canada.

Or, go DIY and head out to Vancouver’s Mini Maker Faire, instead.

Kicking It Up a Notch

Roller Derby is high-energy and a lot of fun. Fitting for a sport that takes off as the weather gets warmer. Terminal City Rollergirls’ Season Opener is on April 5th. If you want to make your own mayhem, you might want to show up for Pillow Fight Club 9.0 instead. Or perhaps a perfect storm of “wibbly wobbly… sexy wexy… stuff” is more your speed – Geekenders have got you (at least) covered. But maybe you’re more of a hardcore nerd – thank goodness for Fan Expo Vancouver.

As for me, I’m going to be spending a lot of time planting, weeding, and rearranging the garden over the next six months. I think that’s a good enough reason to reward myself for my hard work with at least some of these less labour-intensive forms of fun.

Dirt

Seedtopia

Seeds

My gardening goals for this year are concentrated on learning more about seed saving and increasing the variety of foods I grow in my vegetable garden. I’d also like to keep extending my perennial flower collection across seasons, eventually having colour in the garden year-round.

I’ll be replacing a few plants, like the thyme that died mysteriously last summer and perhaps building a vertical squash structure if I’m feeling ambitious. Mostly, though, I’m going to try and take advantage of some of the workshops and seed swaps that are happening in the next few weeks. I think it would be great to connect with some Vancouver gardeners.

Here are some of the things on offer around here this growing season:

Garden Basics

Village Vancouver offers gardening workshops across the city

VanDusen Botanical Garden has a range of courses for the budding horticulturalist

City of Vancouver workshops are affordable, basic skill-builders

The World in a Garden has great workshops throughout the season

Farm Folk City Folk‘s Knowledge Pantry is full of wonderful resources

A little farther afield, North Van has GardenSmart Workshops

There are a number of neighbourhood-specific workshops that are tied to food security and food justice: Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Security Institute, the Edible Garden Project, and Cedar Cottage’s Seedy Saturday and Planting Workshop are a few examples

Victory Gardens’ workshops are well-regarded

Getting the Goods

Treekeepers provides $10 fruit and decorative trees to Vancouver residents

West Coast Seeds is a great source for organic seeds and their website is full of information – they also offer workshops

Salt Spring Seeds focuses on heritage and heirloom seeds

Sharing the Wealth

Plant a Row – Grow a Row

Vancouver Fruit Tree Project

Sharing Backyards

Advanced Adventures

City Farm Boy is for the ambitious urban farmer

Vancouver Urban Farming Society is a great resource if you want to make growing your business

Beekeeping courses

UBC’s Landscape & Garden Design Programs

Extending the Season

UBC Botanical Gardens’ Year Round Harvest Workshop

Winter Harvest resources

There’s a lot more, but that gives you a sense of the Vancouver gardening landscape. Now, tell me, what’s happening where you live? Are there plenty of resources, workshops, and community connections? Or do you rely on online resources to find what you need?

FFWD – Hélène’s All-White Salad

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My salad for this week’s assignment wasn’t so much white as spring green, matching the turn of weather we’ve had this week. After a period of cold, damp weather that seeped into the bone, it now feels like time to put away heavy coats and sweaters until autumn rolls around.

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It’s also that in-between time where there isn’t much produce that’s in season, save for a few brassicas and storage fruits and vegetables. So, salad featuring cabbage and apples is perfect for this time of year. With mushrooms for meatiness and celery for extra crunch, this salad made for a surprisingly filling dinner.

I wasn’t sure about the lemon-yogurt dressing – it was entirely too tart when I tasted it. The sweetness of the apples in the salad transform the taste, though. I think if I make it again, I’ll add in a shot of apple juice to make it a little more versatile.

Kevin skipped the dressing altogether and sprinkled some lemon juice on his, instead. He’s trying to work toward becoming vegan, or at least vegan-ish, so some French Fridays assignments may get put off until I have a meat-eating audience at hand, as last week’s Boeuf à la Ficelle did. Maybe I’ll do a game version of that one for my parents some time.

If you’re looking for a meatless meal that suits this season, you can find the recipe for this week’s dish here.

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You can check out everyone else’s white-on-white greens here: Hélène’s All-White Salad

Aspiration Season

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Thoughts of spring come a little earlier around here than in most places in Canada. Shoots erupt and trees start to bud in January, even though we often have a final bout of cold weather (and occasionally snow) in early February. In about a month, though, it will well and truly be spring. And all that garden cleanup I procrastinated on last fall will become an urgent task.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy my newly arrived seed catalogues, making overly ambitious lists of varieties I’d like to try growing, while studying my charts of gardens past.

Do you have space for plants where you live? Are you a balcony gardener or a backyard farmer? Do you grow for show or for food? What new plants or varieties have caught your eye this year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

FFWD – Asparagus Soup (and Financiers)

Asparagus soup

There was a little bit of synchronicity across the Dorista-sphere this month. While the French Fridays crew was tasked with making asparagus soup this week, the Tuesdays with Dorie crowd was busy stuffing brioche pockets with asparagus tips. Making both on the same day meant not having to worry about how to use the leftover asparagus stalks – they went straight into the soup pot.

Making both recipes on the same day also meant I was a little tired, so when my photos stubbornly refused to admit that my soup was green (not the brown you see above), I didn’t have enough gumption left to keep playing with the lighting. What you see isn’t always what you get.

This soup was a little fussy (I’d really recommend getting thick-stalked asparagus, rather than the thin ones I found), as there was a lot of allium-chopping and asparagus-peeling to do. Once the prep was done, though, it was smooth sailing. I especially loved that the scraps and ends of the asparagus are used to intensify the flavour of the soup and that the base of the soup is the blanching water, which intensifies the asparagus flavour even more. The soup was good on its own, but really shone with a spoonful of Greek yogurt mixed in. Very much worth all that prep work.

Financiers

I also caught up on another recipe that’s worth a little fuss, the financiers from a few weeks ago. These are very worth the time it takes to brown the butter and to heat the egg whites with sugar and almond flour. I gave the batter a good, long rest in the fridge and the cakes came out beautifully. My grandmother’s little cake pans were the perfect size for these. It was nice to have an excuse to use them. My only difficulty was deciding what to do with the six egg yolks that were left over. I found this egg yolk cookie recipe and adapted it by exchanging a cup of the all purpose flour for whole wheat and using a little lemon juice and orange zest in place of the extracts. (You can see them in the background of my financiers photo.)

Cool vintage cake pan - tiny cakes!

There are no more strenuous kitchen projects in my immediate future. I’ve just got some homemade pistachio oil in the refrigerator, awaiting next week’s recipe. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the weekend, hanging out with friends and sampling goodies at Eat Vancouver this weekend. I hope you’ve all got some lovely weekend plans lined up, too.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Asparagus Soup. Everyone’s posts on Financiers can be found here.