Monthly Archives: June 2012

Seasonal recipe round-up: Peas!

One of my favourite parts of summer is eating fresh pod and sugar snap peas right from the garden.  Honestly, I don’t usually plant enough to actually have any left over to cook with after my snacking frenzy has abated (with the exception of my year farming when I was drowning in peas but lacking in time to cook them), but I made an effort to plant more this year and am hoping to try out some recipes.  I’ve collected some delicious looking options below — hope you dig them!

Minty Pea Pesto:  If you’re still only making the standard basil/parmesan/pine nut pesto, it’s time to start branching out.  Not just because pine nuts are now approximately the same price as gold, but because because there are so many other tasty flavour combinations to check out.  This minty pea pesto from The Cozy Herbivore is vegan (miso subs for parmesan to create a similar depth of flavour while cutting out the dairy) and looks incredibly flavourful.  Pesto freezes well, also, so this could be a good way to stock away your excess pea harvest.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas:  This recipe for hot water bath canned pickled snap peas from Blazing Hot Wok would be pretty fast to make, and looks amazing (of course, that statement is coming from someone whose judgement is altered by a fairly serious pickle addiction, so keep that in mind).   The author suggests the pickles as a good companion to charcuterie, but I suspect they would be pretty totally great just fished out of the jar and eaten on their own as well.

Fresh Pea Salad:  Heidi of 101 Cookbooks describes this dish as a “jazzed up pea salad with a spicy mint-date dressing [with] some shredded romaine lettuce and a few toasted pumpkin seeds for added crunch and texture.”  I’ve long been a fan of Heidi’s simple but original recipes, and this one is no exception.  The mint-date dressing sounds like it could be pretty versatile as well — you could always make a double batch and try tossing it with grains or pasta as well.

Chilled Pea Pod Soup:  This soup recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini is most excellently frugal, as it makes use of your pea pods after you have already shelled and devoured their contents.  The author describes it as “the nose-to-tail philosophy applied to the vegetable kingdom,” which is a pretty fantastic idea.  I had never realized that I could do much of anything with my pea pods besides toss them into the compost, so I’m stoked to try this simple but delicious looking chilled soup.

Fresh Green Peas and Sugar Snap Peas in Sesame Dressing:  You can’t get much simpler and faster than this double-pea recipe from Epicurious — the peas are just-cooked and tossed with an easy but flavourful looking dressing.  It looks like a great summer side dish, and you could easily adapt the idea to any flavourful dressing or sauce.

Peas and Lettuce:  I have always, perhaps unfairly, been slightly suspicious of cooked lettuce.  Maybe it’s just a lack of imagination on my part, but it kind of weirds me out, frankly.  With that said, this recipe for peas and lettuce with its allusions to simplicity and adaptations of traditional French cooking techniques makes a reasonable case for lightly cooked lettuce.  Plus, it’s a good candidate for an all-garden meal, with the main ingredients being peas, mint and lettuce, all of which many of us can pluck straight out of our yards.  I should probably at least give it a try in the interests of not narrowing my culinary options:  if cooked lettuce proves to be amazing, I will feel like a bit of a jerk for neglecting it all these years.


Urban Wild Foods

Thanks to everyone who attended last week’s Urban Wild Foods workshop, and mega thanks to our great facilitator, Katy Harding!   Katy has kindly given me permission to reproduce some of her information here, so you can still get some great wild food info, even if you missed the workshop.  As well, Katy may do another wild foods workshop later in the summer, and will be teaching a wild e other chances to learn from her.

Katy started us off by emphasizing the importance of safety and research, and I thought that would be a good area for us to start by taking a look at as well.  Here are her criteria for the qualities you should be looking for in a plant before you eat it:

  • Plants you are 100% sure about:  It’s important to be quadruple sure about your plant identification before you start noshing.  Make sure you’re familiar with the plant at every stage of its life, aware of any poisonous doppelgangers it may have (i.e. the picture to the left is  poisonous Bindweed, not the similar looking delicious Sheep Sorrel!), and that there’s no doubt in your mind about the identification.  Don’t rely on an unclear memory, a friend’s guess, a blurry guidebook photo, or a dodgy website:  confirm your ID with numerous sources before you snack!
  • Plants found in an area you know is free of pesticides, other chemicals, or wastes:  If you’ve seen someone spraying pesticides on a garden (or aren’t sure of the organic status of it) or you’ve noticed that an awful lot of dogs walk by past a certain area, don’t harvest from there!
  • Healthy, disease-free plants:  The city is full of dandelions — don’t eat the droopy, blotchy ones you find first when there are perfectly delicious specimens half a block down the road!
  • Vigorous, well watered young plants:  Generally, eating an older plant or a less well nourished plant isn’t going to hurt you, but it will disappoint you and dampen your enthusiasm for snacking on wild foods.   Just like you wouldn’t eat a plant from your garden that had bolted and become bitter, be choosy about your wild edibles.

Sorry about the picture quality — our straw bale building is a great place to learn but a terrible one to photograph!

We covered a lot of ground in the workshop, learning about Dandelion, Hairy Cat’s Ear (best named plant ever!), English Daisy, Sheep Sorrel / Wood Sorrel, Dock, Chickweed, Pineapple Weed, Stinging Nettle, and Highland Cress.   For each, we learned about the appearance, characteristics, best recipes/uses, and common lookalikes.  Katy even brought in samples of each plant and its doppelgangers, so we got to see, touch, smell and sometimes taste them, which was a great way to learn.  It’s one thing to see a plant in a guidebook and quite another to get to manhandle it in person, and it really makes a difference for your confidence level in doing plant IDs.

While we don’t have space here to reproduce the full amount of information in the workshop, I thought it would be great to include a profile of one edible plant from Katy’s slides.  I chose Curly Dock, as it’s quite easy to find and doesn’t seem to be commonly known as an edible weed (I certainly had no idea you could eat it until the workshop).
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is a perennial herb ~1m tall
ID characteristics:
  • Long spoon shaped leaves with wavy/curly margins
  • Ocrea present
  • Large yellow/orange woody tap root
Edible areas:
  • Leaves
  • Young stems
  • Seeds
  • Use in the same way you would spinach
  • Best results from boiling or sautéing
  • Use as cabbage to make dock rolls

Lookalikes:  Broadleafed Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)

  • Closely related to Curly Dock
  • Leaves usually flatter, shorter and broader
  • Edible, although the flavor is not as good as curly dock
I hope you enjoyed that peek at the workshop, and that you’ll feel intrigued enough to start researching wild edibles for yourself!  I found that in the days following the workshop I was checking out all the plants around me way more attentively, and I noticed lots of edible plants that I otherwise would have completely missed.

Sourdough Bread Workshop: Wed July 4th, 7-9 pm at the Fernwood Community Centre

The sun is shining, the bees are buzzing and nothing says summer like fresh bread and the last of fall’s preserves. Come out and learn the secrets and science involved in domesticating and caring for your own sourdough “Mother” starter.

Learn what makes sourdough starters and sourdough breads special, digest some tips and tricks to making and baking beautiful breads, and leave empowered by a basic know-how that will guide all your adventures for a lifetime of sourdough bread making.

Please come with your own knowledge as well as problems you have encountered and we will work to solve all manner of mysteries regularly encountered in our forays with flour and yeast with reference to science and our experiences.  Also, please come prepared to sample some delicious bread!

Karen, our instructor for this workshop, is a professional baker as well as a DIY sourdough enthusiast.  She has lots of experience and knowledge to share, and is an awesome lady to learn from!

Suggested donation:  $10 (no one turned away)

Location:  The multipurpose room at the Fernwood Community Centre.  The FCC is just around the corner from the Compost Education Centre, at 1240 Gladstone St.  To reach the multipurpose room, head in the front doors and turn left.

** Please email to register for this event! **

Book Review! Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

This book is amazing!  I got it from the library, but am seriously considering buying my own copy:  such is the radness contained herein.  Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen also wrote The Urban Homestead, which I dug, and I think this book is even better, or at least a fantastic follow-up.  In the intro to Making It, the authors talk about how The Urban Homestead was basically a book of ideas, and they wanted to follow that up with a practical toolbox.  I’m all for this line of reasoning — we need broad and inspiring visions for the future every bit as much as we need the nuts-and-bolts skills for how to get from here to there.

Coyne and Knutzen have a pretty epic urban homestead from the sounds of things, but many of these projects will also be completely within reach for folks who live in apartments and are just starting to learn how to garden or compost or become do-it-yourself makers of stuff.  I like how approachable they make the process of learning:  the book is organised into five sections:  day to day, week to week, month to month, season to season and infrastructure.   Each individual project gives you a very clear idea of the time commitment you’re making by taking it on.  If you’re working from the day to day section, you can start with what the authors describe as “gateway projects that may addict you to a more homegrown lifestyle,” such as homemade oil lamps that take five minutes to make, simple homemade tooth powder, styling gel (just flaxseeds and water, amazingly enough!), and the like.  Week to week tackles anything from easy one-pot meals to old-fashioned vinegar-based sodas like the adorably named switchel to basic sewing skills.  Month to month will school you on indoor gardening, tinctures, cloth menstrual pads and many other handy things.  Season to season contains more ambitious projects like soap-making, saving seeds, and how to espalier.  Basically, this book will inspire you, but also give you the practical tools and instructions needed to turn that inspiration into concrete results.

If you’re feeling inspired already, but your copy of Making It hasn’t appeared o the library hold shelf, I would recommend checking out Coyne and Knutzen’s blog, Root Simple.  They are mega frequent bloggers, posting anything from cool random DIY links to more involved tutorials or descriptions of their projects.  Definitely worth adding to your list of places on the internet machine to check out from time to time.

My initial quick browse through Root Simple turned up some inspiring and varied projects that I wanted to share:  Our New Earth Oven and How We Built It, Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting ToiletHow to Roast Your Own Coffee in a Stovetop Popcorn Maker, and 3 Things To Do With Citrus Peel are all pretty totally fascinating, clearly presented, and look really fun to work on.  

Seasonal Canning Workshop: Strawberry Rhubarb Butter, Tuesday June 19th, 6-8 pm

The weather’s warming up here on the Island, and that means the local strawberries are coming into their own! At this hands-on workshop,
we’ll celebrate these fruits by combining them with rhubarb and flavourings to make a batch of heavenly, spreadable Strawberry Rhubarb Butter.

As a change from the typical fast speed of cooking jam, this recipe is made in a slow-cooker, which is a neat tool to add to your home canning skill set. As we can the fruit butter in glass jars to preserve it, we’ll also cover the basics of modern hot-water bath canning techniques, equipment, safety issues, and resources for the home canner. Each participant will take home a small jar of fruit butter and the recipe.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria, BC

Suggested donation:  $10 (no one turned away)

Please email to register!

Seasonal Recipe Round-up: Radish Rampage Edition

I was thinking that I must be ridiculously behind on the gardening front since I’m still getting lots of radishes and not a ton of other produce from my garden, but my informal survey of pals tells me that due to the cold, wet spring, we’re all pretty much in the same boat.  As such, the theme of this month’s recipe round-up is a radish extravaganza.  As good as they are to eat straight out of the garden or sliced in salads, it can be good to switch it up once in awhile.  Hope you get a chance to try some of these recipes and that you dig them!

Quick Pickled Radishes:  Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars doesn’t really seem to be able to write a non-compelling recipe.  As such, this quick radish pickle looks great.  She suggests this recipe as a great way to deal with a glut of extra produce (it’s so easy to make that it would be easy to scale up), and notes that the recipe is a bit of a blank slate and is great to customize with whatever seasonings suit your fancy.

Zero-Waste Radish Green Pesto:  I’ve never really sorted out a good use for radish greens, so I was stoked to find this pesto recipe from The Cultivated Life.  The recipe itself looks delicious (Meyer lemon peel and pistachio = maximum tastiness), but I think you could also veganize it or sub radish greens into a favourite pesto recipe of yours if you’d like to switch it up.

Radish Butter:  Described as her “most favorite radish recipe ever” by the author at Grow It Can It Cook It, this radish butter recipe looks kind of totally amazing.  For one thing, you can use even your more ugly cracked, split radishes for it; for another, it is pretty much as easy as mixing it all together, and finally, c’mon, it’s a bunch of butter — you can’t go wrong.

Baked Radish Chips:  If kale chips are getting a little old and you’re trying to avoid cozying up with a bag of potato chips too often, these radish chips from Simple Comfort Food look like a great option.  They get bold colour and flavour from turmeric and curry powder, but you could likely tweak those seasonings to good effect, if you were so inclined.

Spicy Radish Relish:  This radish relish recipe from Milkweed Diaries would be mega fast if you had a food processor, but a good meditative process with just a hand grater as well.  The author says it makes a potent relish that can be used as a topping or palate cleanser, but she also suggests it as a great healing tonic for the winter months when your immune system is feeling less than peppy.

Radish Salsa:  This Mark Bittman recipe was a total essential for me the year I was farming.  We were essentially drowning in radishes all through the spring and I rapidly exhausted my existing repertoire for radish recipes.  This salsa is easy to make as well as shockingly delicious.  Give it a try!

Urban Wild Foods workshop, Sunday June 17th, 1-3 pm

Ever wonder if those weeds growing in your garden have any other uses besides just taking up space? Many of the wildflowers you see growing in your neighbourhood are actually non-native plants bought to Vancouver Island as food crops.  Harvesting urban wild foods is good for your health, good for the environment and can even make you excited to weed your garden! This workshop will focus on several common species, how to identify them (as well as their poisonous lookalikes),  and their uses as food or medicine.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria BC.

Suggested donation:  $5 (no one turned away)

Please email to register for this event.