Rain Day Indoor Activities

julia child rosesWhenever Oscar comes in from the rain he immediately runs upstairs and voraciously scratches and bites at the carpet in my office. I love the sound. After walking in the rain for an hour today, all this wet dog wanted to do was snuggle. But since he also smelled like wet dog I tried to keep a wide berth. He’s got the right idea though, rainy days were made for snuggling and other indoor activities. Following are a few of our favorite ways to pass rainy days.

Indoor Gardening

rain day indoor activities seedlings egg cartonStarting seeds indoors allows them a gentler and more sheltered gestation. It’s also fun being able to closely monitor their progress. You don’t need to go out and buy special propagation trays. Paper egg cartons were born to serve this function. They’re perfectly compartmentalized, and when it comes time to transplant the seedlings, the carton will biodegrade. When planting be sure that none of the carton sticks up above the surface of the soil as this can wick moisture away. I prefer to completely tear all the paper away and plant just the little puck of soil and seedling.

shiso cloche
Pictured above is an improvised cloche that I am particularly proud of. It’s a Starbucks cup and a mini plastic bag that came with a free beer sample they were handing out on the street. This combo gives me a kick. Sheltered within is a precious baby shiso seedling.

Bathroom Ballet

rain day indoor activities balletballetOne of my favorite home alone activities. So many mirrors, so many supporting surfaces. Once when I was a kid I did bathroom ballet using the towel bar as my barre. It was not strong enough and fell off of the wall (loudly). Read More »

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Sharpen Your Fingernails for Shelling Season – Peas and Fava Beans with Chevre and Mint

peas_paws
Fresh peas in the pod have finally arrived at the market. The tiniest peas are so sweet and tender they can be eaten straight from the pod. Larger ones are more starchy and need to be plunged in boiling water for just a minute or two. To get at the peas (and favas) a lot of people suggest snapping off the end and “unzipping” the pod. This “unzipping” rarely works. I find the best way is to just stick your fingernails into the seam and bust the pod open. Put on some music, grab a drink, and shuck away.

peas_favas_mint

I wanted the fresh flavour of the peas and favas to shine through in this dish, so they’re dressed simply with mint and chevre, and moistened with olive oil and white wine vinegar.

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Living Salad Bowl

living_salad_bowl

What I’m most excited about in our garden this year is our tub of salad greens – a living salad bowl. I wake up every morning and peek out the window to make sure its survived a night of critterdom. Kensington Market has an incredible selection of herb and vegetable seedlings at great prices. They’re $1.29 each and often you get 4 individual seedlings packaged together as one. I planted the greens fairly close together since I plan on harvesting the outer leaves often, as opposed to growing each plant to full maturity.

living_salad_bowl_seedlings

Pictured clockwise from top left:
Red oak leaf lettuce, kale, arugula, curly endive, swiss chard, peas.
Following is a guide to growing your own living salad bowl. Read More »

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Smoked mozzarella, tomato and basil frittata

smoked_mozzarella_frittata

At this time of year everyone’s focus seems to shift towards slowing down and relaxing. People are lying around in parks and clinking glasses on patios. At the liquor store today the main display was a wall of rosé wines. This made me smile. The idea seemed so right and appealing I had to pick up a bottle and decided to make a frittata to go along with it.

smoked mozzarella frittata

Smoked cheeses are like bacon for vegetarians. I love the satisfying meaty taste and aroma. This frittata pairs smoked mozzarella with tomatoes and basil. The recipe is adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter. It seems like everything Paltrow does draws a lot of negative criticism, people love to hate her. I don’t bother with that stuff and gladly admit I like her cookbook. The recipes are easy to follow and produce good results. Interestingly the book is filled with photos of her and her children, but none of her husband Chris Martin. In the back of the book, at the very end of the acknowledgments, are simply the initials CM in a heart. Sweet.  Read More »

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Urban Gardening – Coexisting with He Who Scratches With His Hands

 

raccoon
Our garden feels like a small victory. Although we don’t have any yard at all, just a narrow cement walkway to our front door, we are host to heavenly blue morning glories, lilacs, lavender, two rose bushes (yellow Julia Child, and pink Sexy Rexy), our favorite herbs, and various other edible and non edible green beauties. Everything is grown in containers.

urban_gardening_lilacs
Our largest vessel is an old 7-foot long metal school locker we laid on its back and filled with soil. All our non-edibles live in the locker. For edibles I wanted to be sure the containers were food safe so we grow those in copper and galvanized metal tubs. Our garden is often messy and definitely imperfect, but it feels like glorious reclaimed green space.

urban garden copper pot
The biggest enemy of the urban garden are raccoons. Squirrels are number two on the list. The name raccoon comes from a native Algonquian word meaning “he who scratches with his hands”. He-who-scratches-with-his-hands can be spotted all over the city happily popping open green bins and tearing into garbage bags. We have a family living in our roof; we’ve had a one-way door put in…twice.

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Poached Spring Vegetables with Caper Mayonnaise

This recipe is from the beautiful cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. Tender spring vegetables are poached in a golden elixir of lemon juice, olive oil, and lots of white wine (2/3 of a bottle!). The rich yellow poaching liquid looks like pure melted butter, but there’s actually no butter in it at all. Vegetables cooked this way taste wonderfully fresh and flavourful. This is served with caper mayonnaise.

poached spring vegetables
Choose the freshest seasonal vegetables for this dish, whatever catches your eye. Ontario asparagus is really beautiful and at its peak right now with tightly closed spear heads that are tinged purply blue.  I also used fiddleheads, baby fennel, slender bunched carrots, and a couple of handfuls of fresh green peas.

poached spring vegetable stock

poached spring vegetables broth

poached spring vegetables
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Labour of Love – Fava Beans

fava beans

Next in the seasonal parade of local produce are fava beans. These silky green beans come in a large thick pod, nestled in downy white lining. They are hella labour intensive to prepare, but well worth it. Favas, sometimes called broad beans, are also available dried and canned but I never bother with these, they’re a completely different creature – brown and pasty. Fresh favas taste like an avocado crossed with a bean – buttery and creamy.

fava beans shucked
When buying favas remember that most of what you see will be discarded, so get lots. 2½ pounds of favas in the pod will yield just under 1 pound shucked, the weight goes down even further after the second shucking. To prepare, remove beans from pods and plunge in boiling water for 1 minute or until just tender. Refresh in cold water to stop cooking, then pinch off the soft whitish skin surrounding each bean to reveal the tender jade green favas. You will be rewarded with a large pile of garbage and a small precious bowl of beans. Only the tiniest beans about the size of your baby fingernail don’t need to have their skins removed.

fava bean curly endive fennel salad
I like favas best lightly dressed in salads. Here I’ve paired them with curly endive and fennel. There happened to be blood oranges everywhere in the market so I decided to use them in the vinaigrette.

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Ramps

ramps

Although Canadian winters can be long and brutal, I’m glad to live in a climate with marked seasons. When spring comes we shed our layers and everything comes to life. It starts getting exciting when the first shoots poke out of the snow and the days start getting longer. Soon the first tulips pop up and the trees start to blossom. Right now the streets are a canopy of lilacs, their perfume is everywhere.

ramps

Local produce is just beginning to trickle into the markets and when you see ramps, you know that spring has arrived. Ramps are wild leeks with leaves that look like lily of the valley, a purple stem, and a delicate white bulb. The entire pant is edible. Despite their demure appearance they pack an assertive garlicky bite. Chef and writer Robert Pincus describes them as “sharp and mean, like green onions that have joined a biker gang”.

For weeks I had been keeping an eye out for ramps in our neighborhood market, but to no avail. Finally this weekend my husband received an email from The Depanneur announcing they were going to be selling a limited amount the following morning ($10 for a pound). I was anxious to pounce on this opportunity, but knew I would be far too lazy to wake up early on a Sunday. The next morning my husband surprised me by jumping out of bed and saying, “Oscar and I are going to get to you some rakes.” I said, “You mean ramps”.

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Life tastes good.