Onions.

I hate onions.

Onion

Ok, so I don’t hate them. I don’t like them much. I certainly don’t like them enough to choose them as the primary ingredient in a canning project. So when Alliums (onion, garlic, etc.) were chosen as the ingredient for this month’s Can Jam, I considered just leaving them as a background ingredient in something like a salsa. But I decided that was cheating. So I went through my two favourite canning books and found a recipe that uses another ingredient that is interesting, but still not my favourite: fennel.

Fennel

Add in some sweet red pepper:

Red Pepper

Mix it all up with some salt and let it sit for 4 hours, then rinse and drain:

Rinse and drain

Do some basic picking steps (see the recipe below) and can ‘er up with bay leaves and peppercorns:

Almost done

And voila!, something that I might eat, but likely will just give to my husband, who will love every bite:

Sweet Onion & Fennel Relish
Fennel & Onion Relish

Although it’s also possible I’ll like it. I won’t know for another two to three weeks because, like all pickles and relish, this will have to sit at least that long before it can be eaten so all the flavours can blend. When I opened last month’s dilled carrots, I was surprised that I actually liked them, despite my intense dislike for cooked carrots. Let’s cross our fingers that this will be the same! And if not, maybe I’ll have better luck with next month’s Can Jam and end up with an ingredient I love!

Sweet Onion & Fennel Relish
From The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard
Yield: 4 cups (mine made 6 cups)
Level: Beginner to Intermediate (I find hot-pack to be slightly more intimidating than cold-pack, so I’d say it’s slightly harder than last month’s carrots)

1 large sweet onion, such as Spanish or Vidalia (about 8oz/250g)
1 fennel bulb (about 10oz/275g)
1 sweet red pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 1/2 tsp pickling salt, divided
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 bay leaves (I used 6 very small leaves in 6 jars)
8 black peppercorns (I used 2 per jar for 12 total)

1. Slice onion in half lengthwise, then in very thin slices crosswise to form half circles (I used my mandolin, which is right up there with my apple corer and jar lifter for favourite canning tool ever). Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise and remove core; thinly slice crosswise to form half circles. Place onion, fennel, and pepper in a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle with 2 tsp (10mL) salt. Toss and let stand for 4 hours. Rinse twice and drain thoroughly.

2. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and 1/2 tsp (2mL) salt in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add vegetables and return just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

3. Remove vegetables from liquid with a slotted spoon and pack into hot jars. Pour liquid over vegetables to within 1/2 inch (1cm) of rim (headspace). Add bay leaves and peppercorns.

4. Process 10 minutes for half-pint (250mL) jars and 15 minutes for pint (500mL) jars. [Don’t know how to do this step? Check out the Tigress’ great Canning 101 post for a great primer.]

Fennel & Onion Relish

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The Beach in February

The great thing about living in The Beaches (or, if you prefer, The Beach) in Toronto is the easy access to walk along the waterfront. I especially enjoy spending time there with my brother, his wife, and their two dogs.

Today started out so well. I did a great pushups workout with a new PR for number of reps in a single set, I went for a walk along the beach with my brother and his wife and their two dogs, I finally got my mess of a seed collection somewhat sorted (more on that in a later post), I got a load of laundry done… in general, a very productive day. And then, as I was happily finishing up my carrot pickle recipe for this month’s Can Jam, I went searching for the Twitter hash-tag to tweet my progress and – horror of horrors! – realized I’m a day late posting! I was so sure I had until Saturday night, but it turns out this was supposed to be posted by last night at midnight! Gah. It may end up that I don’t make it in this month’s round-up, but I’m posting anyway. The pickles are gorgeous and I’m doing this for the canning not for the notoriety!

I considered many different options for this month’s Can Jam, but most of them were sweet and I have too much jam in my basement, so I settled on a really basic pickle recipe from the Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. The dilled beans I made in the summer were incredibly popular, so I decided to try out the dilled carrots too. I don’t generally like cooked carrots, but I’m hoping these will be an exception!

I had some carrots in the fridge, but I knew I didn’t have enough, so I stopped by Meat on the Beach, a fantastic independent grocer a few blocks from my house, and found these babies:
Heirloom Carrots
I don’t know if they’re local or organic, but they’re fantastic colours, so I grabbed a bunch of them.

The only purple carrot variety I’m familiar with is Dragon, which is purple skinned, but has orange flesh, so I was over-the-moon when I started peeling the purple carrots and discovered this – purple flesh!:
Purple Carrot
If anyone can give me a heads-up about what variety this might be and where to find the seeds, that’d be fantastic!!!

Chop, chop, chop. Aren’t these beautiful?
Chopped Carrots

These pickles use the cold-pack method, so the jars needed to be prepped immediately. I tend to be a bit lazy and prep my jars as the food I’m canning is cooking, but for a pickle like this, you’ve gotta get those jars clean and warmed up right away.
Warming the Jars

The spices here are simple. Garlic, dill (I used seeds because that’s all that was available to me, but in the summer I would use fresh dill flower heads), and hot pepper flakes:
The Spices

I only added hot peppers to half the batch. This was for two reasons – first, I wanted some that weren’t hot, and second, my sister is allergic to nuts and my hot pepper flakes have a nut warning on them. I would love to give her a jar of these, so I made half of them sister-safe!
Carrots, Dill, & Garlic

Add the liquid:
Add the Pickling Liquid

While the non-spicy batch processed in the water bath, I prepped the spicy jars:
Spicy!

For these ones, I must admit that I cheated.
Cheating...
I had a bag and a half (about 3lbs) of baby carrots in my fridge, so I used those. This was the half-bag. The full bag was organic, so maybe that makes up for my laziness, at least a little bit?

Then came the magical moment when I pulled the first batch of (non-spicy) jars out of the water bath. Check out the gorgeousness!
Purple Pickles
As you can probably see, I only put the purple carrots in 4 of the 5 jars, and the purple in the carrots bled out into the pickling liquid. I’m very happy I did that. I love the colour difference between the jars!

I can’t wait to try these pickles, but they’re going to have to sit for a few weeks so the flavours can blend. If they’re even half as good as the dilled beans, I bet they won’t last long!

See you all next month!

Dilled Heirloom Carrots
From Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving
Yield: 7 pint jars (I ended up with 10)
Level: Beginner (an easy one, as far as pickles go!)

6 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 cup pickling or canning salt
4 cloves garlic, halved
14 heads of dill (or 1/2 tsp dill seeds per jar, if fresh isn’t available)
3 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
5 lbs carrots (25-30 medium), ends removed, peeled and cut into sticks (1 inch/2.5 cm long and 3/4 inch/2 cm wide) – or you can cheat like I did and go with 5 lbs of baby carrots!

1. Prepare canner, jars and lids.

2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water and salt. Stir well and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt.

3. Place 1/2 clove garlic, 1 head of dill (or 1/2 tsp seeds) and 1/2 tsp of hot pepper flakes, if using, in each hot jar. Pack carrot sticks into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch (1 cm) of top of jar. Top with second head of dill. ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover carrots, leaving 1/2 inch (1 cm) headspace. [I had to make more canning liquid to manage all my carrots – if you have to do that, make sure your vinegar/water/salt ratio is the same as the original batch!] Remove air bubbls and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Centre lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to finger-tight.

4. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store. [Don’t know how to do this step? Check out the Tigress’ great Canning 101 post for a great primer.]

Rainbow Pickles

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Tigress’ Can Jam January Featured Produce: Citrus!

I was so eager to get this show on the road that I had all of my tangerines and lemons juiced before I remembered that I need pictures for this! Fortunately, I had one of each left over:
DSCF4209

4 cups of juice, with lots of leftover rinds and seeds for the compost. Don’t worry – those seeds come out later.
DSCF4206DSCF4204

This was a very normal jelly recipe (read: easy easy!) Boil, simmer, strain, add pectin, boil.
Add sugar and boil some more:
DSCF4220

All the gear, ready to go:
DSCF4218

Go! Canning the jelly:
DSCF4224

Mmmm… ain’t it purdy?
DSCF4229

This jelly turned out really well. I chose to do a jelly rather than a marmalade because this month is busy and I wasn’t sure I could handle the time commitment of a marmalade. I made a beautiful blood orange marmalade last winter that took hours, and I just wasn’t sure I was up for that this month! This would be an excellent recipe choice for someone just getting started into canning, as it’s very straightforward.

The taste of the jelly is very sweet (as jellies usually are), but the lemon gives it a lovely tartness that balances it out nicely. Both fruits shine through, with the sweetness of the tangerine and the tart of the lemon complimenting each other very well. The colour is spectacular – much prettier than it appears in my photos! This jelly would be great with cheese, or on very buttery biscuits. In fact, I have some tea biscuits in my freezer, so I think I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow!

Tangerine Lemon Jelly
From The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (also available from Amazon)
Yield: 5 1/2 cups
Level: Beginner

3 lemons
9-10 tangerines
1 box dry fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1. Squeeze lemons and tangerines to give 4 cups (1L) juice. Bring juice to a boil over high heat in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
[If you haven’t already done so, prepare your jars, lids, hot-water bath, and other canning supplies while the juice is simmering. As with all standard jellies, things move pretty quickly from here on out.]

2. Strain juice through a jelly bag. Return strained liquid to saucepan and stir in pectin. Bring to a full boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently for 1 minutes, stirring constantly. Add sugar, return to a full boil and boil hard for 1 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

3. Ladle into hot jars and process for 10 minutes according to standard water-bath preserving technique. [Don’t know how to do this step? Check out the Tigress’ great Canning 101 post for a great primer.]

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I saw a dead fox on the side of the highway this morning.

It is rare to see a fox in the wild in this part of Ontario. It’s even more rare to see them within the city, although a friend told me today she’s seen them in High Park in Toronto.

This fox was stunning. His bright orange coat constrasted with the white fur of his chest, which was glowing in the early morning light. He stood out against the bland background of asphault and concrete on the QEW. I caught just the briefest of glimpses as I sailed past at highway speed – just long enough to know I’d identified his spieces correctly, but thankfully not long enough to see the extent of his injuries.

He has been with me all day.

I have been struggling with a decision I made. The decision to take down the trees at the back of my new yard. This decision has put two parts of me at odds with each other: first, my desire to grow vegetables in order to feed my family and second, my belief that we shouldn’t remove habitat useful to wild animals if it’s not absolutely necessary. The birds love those trees – it’s rare that I see the branches empty!

What does this have to do with the fox? You see, I hate that I drive to work. I was going to say, “That I have to drive to work”, but that would be a lie. I don’t have to drive to work. I choose to drive to work. I took transit for my first week (TTC bus-subway-subway, GO Transit train, Missisauga Transit bus) and it was nearly 2 hours each way – in perfect weather and without any of the usual GO Transit delays. So I bought a car. I made an effort to buy a car that would have a smaller impact on the environment than others, but still, it’s a car. And I drive alone 35km each way from my house to work and back again. I carpooled for a while, but there’s no one in my neighbourhood that works at my company.

And I feel. so. guilty.

Seeing that fox this morning, I had a sudden vivid visual reminder of the impact of the decision I made when I gave up my transit passes and bought my car. My car that I love so much I’ve given him a name (“Oswald”, if you must know). Although I didn’t hit him myself, I have been consumed by self-loathing all day for that choice that I made – that many other people make every day – that led to the death of that rare and beautiful creature. That choice that flies in the face of some of my strongest values. I have no guilt for buying my car – but I feel guilt for driving it every day. For putting 55 litres of diesel fuel into the air every two weeks. Even when it’s biodiesel, it’s still so wasteful.

That fox – and the guilty concience he’s become for me today – have made me think again about other decisions I’ve made. Like those trees. Those beautiful, healthy cedar trees that make up wonderful habitat for the neighbourhood birds. Those trees that I am cutting down on Saturday, to make room for my garden – my hobby.

Yes, gardening is more than a hobby. I believe strongly in gardening as a political act, an act of care for my family, possibly even a revolutionary act. But without touching those trees, I could still plant tomatoes. I could still grow my peppers. I could cover my giant deck with containers and grow food there. I do not have to take those trees down. But I want a bigger garden, so the trees are being cleared out.

This decision has been made and I’m not going to go back on it. I’ve even made myself feel better by planning a large patch of berries, which should drive those birds even more wild than the cedars do. I can take down those trees and I can live with the decision.

But I will think of that fox and the awareness that he brought that my choices have consequences. And that sometimes my choices have more to do with my convenience than my values.

I do my best to make my choices after long and careful thought.

But still, I am haunted.

Not the blog… just me!

My husband and I have bought a house in the Beaches in Toronto.  We’ll be moving in 12 days.  Which means I’ll be establishing a new garden.  Again.

My New Back Yard
This is my new backyard. Those cedar trees at the back will come out and my garden will be along the back fence, with containers at the back of the deck.

I’m very excited about the idea of establishing a garden that is finally fully MINE and that I will be able to keep for more than a season or two. This will be the first time in my gardening-without-mom experience that’s happened!

I’ve also started posting at the You Grow Girl forums again.
Just this morning I shared a list of the things I’m planning so far for the new garden. This is an excerpt of what I said:

As for what I’m planting, right now my garden plan reads as, “tomatoes go here. peppers go here. Get raspberries from Sorellina”… and that’s about it! I haven’t had a moment to go through my seeds and figure out what specific varieties to grow.
I do know a few things I can share right now though:

1. I’ll be putting in about 12-16 tomatoes, and about half of them will be pastes, with half of those being yellow paste (I’ve discovered a love of yellow pasta sauce!). My brother will also be planting about a dozen tomatoes and we’ll be sharing the harvest, so I’ll probably be starting those for him too. For sure one of the featured plants will be Sorellina’s Uncle Charlie’s tomato. It’s one of my all-time favourites.

2. For peppers, I’ll be putting in about 5 hot and 5 sweet. The 5 hot will be determined by my husband – he picks them, I grow them, he eats them (match made in heaven!). For sweet, I’m trying out the mini-sweet varieties from Seed Savers.

3. ONLY TWO ZUCCHINI. This will likely morph into 4 plants by the time I’m actually planting them, but two plants will give me more than enough for two people.

4. I’m trying cabbage and broccoli for the first time this year. Red cabbage and Romanesco broccoli.

5. I’m avoiding onions and potatoes. I just find they’re so cheap at the grocery store that I’m better off buying them there and saving the garden space for things like tomatoes that are more expensive to buy from the store.

6. Now that I’m going to be in my own house, I’ll be trying out some new things that take time to get established: strawberries (I’ve grown them before, but now I can actually establish a proper crop), blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb, horseradish.

7. Soup beans. I grew some neat varieties last year, but I didn’t have enough room to get a sizable crop. I’ll be trying again this year with Calypso, Red Cranberry, and Hutterite Soup Bean.

So that’s what I’ve got so far.
I will post garden plans, photos, planting lists, etc as I get a better idea of what the garden will look like.

There are some very definite reasons why I’m having difficulty with writing on this blog.  Call it fear of success AND failure (strange combo, I know), call it procrastination, call it laziness… I think it’s best summed up by this fantastic video post from illdoctrine:

http://www.illdoctrine.com/2007/12/beating_the_little_hater.html
(can’t get the thing to embed, so you’ve gotta deal with it like this for now.)

I have an idea for what to do with this space that may help me with this.  Because I. Have. So. Much. In. My. Head.  Gotta get it out.

Stay tuned.