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garden: patio style

i love my outdoor space.
i don’t have very much of it, although my patio is large for condo standards, it’s still just a patio.
but i make do with what i have to work with and try to squeeze in every last bit of space into something functional.

and as such, i don’t feel i have much time for flowers.
i just really don’t care that much.
i’m a plant girl.  i like the green.
but i’ve been making an effort to incorporate a little colour this year.
and these are some of the fruits of my labour.


what i really enjoy is growing the “useful” plants.
herbs and vegetables and fruits and things i can eat.

this years herb garden is coming along nicely, although i think i’ve gone overboard on the basil.
somehow i’ve ended up with 5 pots of basil.
so clearly, pesto is imminent.

but this year i’ve also go some rosemary, thyme and tarragon.

and then i get into the really useful plants.
in the past i’ve always tried to grow tomatoes.  but this year i’m just accepting defeat and not wasting my money.  tomatoes just do not want to grow on my patio.

but in turn, i’m trying a few new things.
like dwarf zucchini plants that i can grow in a pot.  and yellow wax beans.  and kale.

and then of course, the good old standby – strawberries.
i’ve had my strawberry plants for 4 years now and they’re still going strong.

in fact, if this is the only yield from my patio this year…
well, i’m okay with it.

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food: new and exciting

i’ve been eating solid food for over 30 years now.  and while i wouldn’t call myself an “adventurous eater” necessarily, i’d say with confidence that i’ve eaten or am least aware of eating a wide variety of food.

so when i’m presented with something that i’ve never seen eaten, but it makes total sense, i do a facepalm and an “of course!”

we live in a very chinese neighbourhood.  well, that could be said for most of the metro vancouver area, but in our area of coquitlam, there is definitely a very large asian community including japanese & koreans as well, but mostly folks of chinese decent.
which means a few things, including a delightful presence of pretty authentic chinese, japanese & korean restaurants… but also grocery stores stocking ingredients that you otherwise wouldn’t see in a “western” grocery store.

we also have a solid persian community here.  which again, means persian markets and a handful of restaurants.
which is awesome.  because persian folks that i know have informed me of some little culinary secrets, like that halal meat is grass fed.  so all those months i spent feverishly searching for grass fed meats, they were right under my nose for cheaper than i thought.  although halal is not a guarantee of quality of life for the animals (and there is a very divided view on the slaughtering of the animals), so my preferred purchases are still from the farm, but in a pinch, its good to know there’s options.

we try to soak up as much knowledge as we can… whenever we see a vegetable thats unknown, we also whip out our phones and try to figure out what it tastes like and how (or if) you cook it.
vegetable adventures are fun to me.  because at the very worst, its just a vegetable.
i can’t claim to be *quite* as adventurous when it comes to mystery animals found in the exclusively asian targeted grocery stores.
frankly, i’ve come to the conclusion that in many other parts of the world, asia in particular, people will eat parts of animals that us north americans just haven’t quite wrapped our heads around yet.  and i’m not entirely sold that we need to, lol.
organ meats in particular just don’t jive for me.  *shudder*

but i digress,  because this is a story about vegetables.

over the past year, i can think of 3 new vegetables that we’ve “discovered” that i had previously never known.
one was a whole new thing altogether and the other 2 were just other parts of plants i already knew.

brand new to me: fenugreek.

i was familiar with fenugreek as a spice, but until last year had never seen (or noticed) it being sold as a vegetable.
so, thanks persians in my neighbourhood!

apparently fenugreek has long been used as a milk stimulant in lactating mothers and a libido enhancer.
but i just ate it as a tasty vegetable.

we enjoyed it in salads and also cooked down by lightly sauteing with butter, garlic & lemon.
it was peppery, flavourful and cheap.  and entire big bag of fenugreek leaves was about $1.50 and lasted us for several meals.
so while this is a very prevalent ingredient in persian cuisine,  it was totally new to me.

brand new to me last year: garlic scapes.

hello gorgeous!
i LOVE garlic scapes.  LOVE THEM.
contrary to what they may look like, they’re not super curled green onions.
think of them more like a fresh green bean or asparagus with a mild garlic taste.  aka – fucking delicious.

we came across these last spring at the farm market and bought them on the advice of the vendor.  he said to chop them and saute them in butter and nom down.
so we did.  and we’ve never looked back.

now they’re one of those items that if we see them, we buy up as many as possible.
they’re extremely seasonal.  and you’d only ever see them if you shop at good farm markets.  this is certainly not a big grocery store item.
and sadly for me, garlic scape season has passed with the spring.
but next year i’ll be prepared – i’m going to grow my own.

anyways, it seems that most people (on the internets) use the scapes raw in a pesto.  i liked mine raw too, but one of my favourite methods was to rub them with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper and throw them in the bbq like i do my asparagus.
you end up with a very similar texture, but a yummy garlic flavour, like you’d seasoned them.

they’ve proved to be as versatile a vegetable as the asparagus to me.
when raw, they can be slivered and added to salads, soups, as garnish, whatever…
and they saute, steam, roast or grill wonderfully.

if you’ve never had them, i can’t recommend them enough.
and bonus – they are also pretty cheap.  usually $1.50 to $2 a bunch.

and lastly, brand new to me as of 2 days ago: pepper leaves.

yes.  like the actual LEAVES of a pepper plant.
and here’s my internal self conversation:  “you can eat those?  of course dummy, why *wouldn’t* you be able to eat them?”
it was just not a thought that had ever occurred to me.
but those clever and waste-less folks at the local chinese owned produce market schooled us on them.

this is information i wish i’d had years ago.
i’ve grown many pepper plants over the years.  and while my actual pepper production has been spotty… there were always at least leaves.
and i wish i had known they could have been eaten.

my husband was at the market and picked up a bag of dark green leaves and asked “what are these?” and was told by the staff that they were pepper leaves and were really good.  he asked if you eat them raw and they kind of chuckled at him and said “no, we saute them, like stir fry them.”
so alright.  home they came.

last night we chopped them up and used equal parts pepper greens and kale and sauteed them with a touch of butter and coconut oil, garlic and lemon juice.
and they were GOOD.
slightly spicy and peppery (duh) but with a nice spinach meets kale texture.

this whole pepper leaves thing especially is now making me question my garden.
what else could i be eating that i’m not?
how much is hitting the garbage that should be hitting my plate?
this may require some further investigation.

learning: back to basics

about a month ago, i came across this book; the back to basics handbook.

it was at costco (ironic?) and when we flipped through it, we were instantly interested.

my husband has a dream of owning a farm.
to be honest, i find this dream slightly hilarious, because as much as i love him, he’s never farmed a day in his life and doesn’t really have a green thumb or a lot of patience.
but, his life aspirations definitely culminate with a plot of land away from society.

for me, its not so cut and dry.
part of me loves that idea and part of me knows i would hate my life if i wasn’t close to the city.
so, i picture more of a centrally located moderately sized house with land to grow stuff on.  and a lot of making my own food and endeavoring to cut out the grocery store.

so this book, i guess i you would call it life porn.

they cover EVERYTHING.  from finding a plot of land (checking for natural sources of water, the proper slopes for crops ect) to building your own house from wood found on the land… and then raising various types of livestock, growing crops, cold storage of crops, preserving ect.

this book is absolutely fascinating to me.
it literally chronicles the “need to knows” for a dying lifestyle.
this is true sustainability.

naturally the front half of the book, about land and farming and raising animals isn’t really applicable to me at this stage in my life…  but the second half of the book is all things that i could use today.
they call it “household skills and crafts”… its a mixture of some skills i know like canning and preserving, but also cheese & sausage making, preserving all kinds of food for long term storage without chemicals, making fermented foods…
and then basket weaving, candle making, tanning leather, natural dyes, soapmaking and more.

and what i love is that it really guides you from the start.  like, for natural dyes, there’s a chart of plants, pictures of the plants and a guide on where to find them growing so you can forage for them.
at no point in reading this, do you scratch your head and think “where the heck do i find X?” because this book has already shown you how to grow it or make it from something else.

i have a huge soft spot for this kind of thing.  clearly.
when i was a young girl, i was absolutely obsessed with laura ingalls wilder books.  i had them all memorized by age 7 and read and reread them voraciously trying to fathom this lifestyle that she described so vividly.
my mom was a little helpful on the matter because she was born and raised in saskatchewan with no running water.  so a lot of things could be explained by her.  but i’ve never forgotten the descriptions of the mill used to grind wheat to flour or churning butter and the soaking of the salt beef.  the things you just don’t see today.

this book made me nostalgic for my childhood visions of frontier life.
and while i’m still very firmly a city girl in many respects, i have an unabated interest in this simple country life where everyone worked their balls off just to keep alive.

maybe its just because i’m super stressed at work lately, and maybe its what happens as you get older… but i find myself dreaming of working hard.  not for a paycheque at an office… but for my household.  raising and growing my food, making my cheeses and soaps and whatever i could.  running away from society and being self sufficient.
these days, that seems like bliss.

the supermarket seems like a scary place to me.  full of poison masquerading as food.
stocked to the brim with faux-foods designed to deceive your body and re-write your natural rhythms.
sometimes i wander the aisles at the “heath food” store next to my office on my breaks.  its row after row of pre-packaged foods and supplements and substitutes… there’s little to nothing that my brain naturally recognizes as actually being healthy.  but yet, its what we accept as health food as a society.
to me, the farm market that sells only produce next door is the real health food store.

these are good reminders to myself.  if a lifestyle of ultimate sustainability is my goal, then it has to be carried out in daily life.  and i have much work to do.
it means that bag of cheesies or chocolate bar that i was craving needs to be forsaken.  and that hangover meal of macaroni & cheese out of the box needs an overhaul.
its a slow process… tough to break a lifetime of addiction… but i’m working on it.

food & travel: O’o Farms, Maui

one of my favourite parts of my trip to maui was O’o Farm.
I know, for a girl that lives mere minutes away from farmland, you’d think that seeing a farm wouldn’t be a high priority.  but i’m oh-so glad that we made it one.

the farm itself was a marvel to me. existing only to service two high end restaurants with fresh organic produce, this is not really a “working farm”, but more a culinary indulgence of chef/owners.  which i think makes for a really unique and special farm experience.

every single thing grown there exists because the chef has requested it for the menu or because it is a control plant to attract/detract pests or to add or remove nutrients to/from the soil.  everything has a purpose here and nothing is wasted.  in fact, there’s not even anything extra to sell.  the restaurants and the farm tour use everything grown here.
even the fish carcasses from dinner service and coffee grounds make their way back to the farm to be composted. this was a beautiful working example of a sustainable farm.

i left here feeling inspired.  this is the lifestyle of my dreams. to be in hawaii, growing the food that i serve at my restaurant?  i don’t think they could have possibly pinpointed this better for me.  so if i run away, this could very well be where i am.

okay, now on to the good stuff… we’ll start with the view.  the farm is high up the crater with a spectacular view of kihei.

ya, pretty rough, hey?  that could sooooo be my workplace view please.

first off, after intros and pleasantries, we went to the coffee plants.  now, these plants are just starting to produce and they’re relatively new to this farm, so their beans aren’t being used yet in the restaurants, but they will be soon. until then, they use beans from a farm down the road that are roasted at O’o Farm by the cutie that was our guide for the tour.  (seriously, this farm has everything. even dark curly haired gentlemen with strong jaw lines – aka “my type”, lol)

after sampling the berry of the coffee plant – you eat the red ones and spit out the beans.  it’s really an interesting flavour… very sweet off the start with a tart finish.  of course here there’s no waste, so they use the berry in cooking & garnishes in the restaurants and dry it to make tea from it (which i bought a bag of) and then they roast the beans inside.

we moved on to the orchards after our coffee plant lessons… first the citrus grove.  literally, a few of everything was growing here… pink lemons, pomellos, limes, clementines and even buddah’s hand… which i’ve never actually seen growing before!  so cool!  (it’s basically a citrus made almost entirely of rind & pith, usually candied or preserved and used as a strong citrus flavour agent)

the stone fruit trees were done for the season (funny to hear about it being “winter” in hawaii) so we moved over to where we’d be dining and met the chef.

she told us a little about the food we’d be eating and where it came from (everything from the farm except the fish which was caught yesterday just off the maui coast and the tofu).  she also shared her culinary journey and how she ended up cooking for the tours and such.
then we moved on to see the fields and pick our salad greens for lunch.

here’s a shot of my husband picking some yummy sorrel for lunch…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorrel

…and showing off our bounty of lunch greens and filling us in what each one is and how its grown…

…and grabbing a little more arugula.

this one is just a cool picture of a kale plant.  because i dig kale.

then we ventured back to the “dining room” for our feast.

first up was the fresh avocados with citrus and the selection of root vegetables… candycane & watermelon radishes, fennel and kohlrabi for the salad…

and my plate all loaded up with the tofu, beet & chard dish, the mahi mahi in sweet maui onions & citrus and of course the fabulous salad.  all wheat-free, and all absolutely delicious and bursting with freshness. everything from the farm had been in the ground mere hours ago.

after a plate (okay, maybe and seconds) we chatted with the people sitting around us… almost everyone had brought their own bottle of wine (ours white & refreshing) and we discussed the farm and our own personal reasons for being drawn to visit it.
there were lots of foodies that were fans of the restaurants associated with the farm… a lot of gardeners, both hobby & small business… and just generally people that loved this lifestyle of natural, sustainable living.  it was very cool.

after a bit, the chef brought out a plate of chocolates that she had made and a big bowl of still-shelled macadamia nuts for us to crack & snack on and our guide invited us up to the “coffee house” where he had brewed us some coffee that he had roasted that morning.

my husband and i gladly trucked up the hill and had 3 cups of the coffee each, while chatting with our guide about the coffee, growing it, roasting it, varietals ect.  we ended up buying $100 in premium coffee from him, including a batch that had just been roasted, but wasn’t even bagged yet for sale.  we just got talking about it and so he ran down to the roasting house and pulled some out for us.  people, you can not beat this.

honestly, if this kinda thing isn’t up your alley, then there’s nothing i can say to convince you… but if this kinda thing tweaks your fancy, then you MUST do O’o Farms tour in Maui.  it was $50 well spent on an excellent and truly awesome experience.  in fact, we decided that we would do this every trip, just to see what’s growing at different times of the year.  and the restaurant is definitely on our “must eat” list for next trip too.

travel: maui foodie activities

i’ve been on the lookout for something fun for the husband & i to do in maui.  just the two of us. he’s really good with my family, but if after 12 days i’ll be going crazy, he’s going to actually murder someone.
so an “alone” activity needs to be planned.
i’d been looking at hikes and such, but i figure that can be more spur of the moment… we already have a luau booked as a family for dec 23rd… and we’re planning on getting in a boat & doing some whale watching & snorkeling… and i’d really like to watch the sunrise from the crater… but that’s “everybody inclusive”, right?

yesterday my friend sent me on facebook a link to some cool foodie related maui activities and i booked us into the O’o farm lunch & tour.

it’s a beautiful organic farm that exists mostly to supply their restaurants with organic produce.  and i’m pretty excited to eat a freshly prepared meal right smack in the middle of the farm.

i’ve enquired, and yes, they are happy to accommodate me with a wheat-free meal. in fact, theeir food often doesn’t contain much wheat, since it’s all focused on being as farm fresh as possible.  i’m pretty excited and i’m going to take 5000 pictures there, lol.

this whole experience is a good value, $50 per person plus tax & tip.  but i’m getting a slight discount on account of my travel-agent-ness.  still, the food served is akin to their higher end restaurant’s servings, so the price point is just fine.  as well, they encourage you to bring your own bottle of wine. perfection.
www.oofarm.com

i did also consider the tour of the goat farm with cheese tasting, because i am a whore for goat cheese… but the tour & tasting weren’t really well received by reviewers on trip advisor.  so i figured i’d skip it. it’s in the area of this farm, so we may drop in anyways.