Close Enough

My hope is green, eternally, like my tomatoes.

The first year I grew tomatoes, it was a year of perfect weather. The last of its kind. A unicorn summer of bursting, fleshy sweetness and easy breezes. For the seven years hence, it’s been one Farmer’s Worst Case Scenario after another. Aphids. Surprise frosts. Early blight, late blight, middle blight and Elevensies blight. Locusts. Okay, not that last one, but instead, we’re having a summer with no sun.

And yet, despite no sun, too much wind and barely 20 degree days, I have somehow grown tomatoes. They are glossy, and green, and they come in many different sizes, though their shape is mostly the same: roundish and mottled with water filled veins. They are affixed to their waning stems, who are giving up on summer, like me. They spend the remainder of their energy on the fruit hanging below, sending what energy they can glean from an eternally cloudy sky to their product.

Like the tomatoes I’ve grown in impossible conditions, in spite of all the things that are ‘wrong’ with their spot in the yard, the dirt where their roots spread out, or the timing of their growth, my hope has grown too. So today, I am bringing them inside to ripen in our sunniest windowsill.  To reach their full potential, they must be removed from their crumbling foundation and brought in, where it’s warm.

I am counting these as one of my successes.



FTW Kitchen: Dandelion Pistou

I know what you’re thinking. ‘If I have to look at another weed eating recipe, I’ll scream. Or turn off my computer!’ But, wait! If there wasn’t something to this whole eat the weeds business, us world farmers wouldn’t keep harping on it. Yesterday, dandelion greens were on sale at a huge chain supermarket for $5 a lb! If you’re going to try something, try it the free and easy way: lying on your face in your yard, wondering if the neighbours can see you.

Foraging for wild food is as much a brain exercise, as it is physical. The nourishment you receive is the reward, for your patience. After the long night of winter, when your cupboards are pretty bare, and you’ve had the last stewed thing you can take, the earth hears your weary stomach and offers up a few fresh spears, filled with vitamins you can’t get from flown in bagged lettuce.

Because wild greens are incredibly nutrient dense, there is no need to experiment more than once if it’s your first time foraging. You’ll have no trouble finding dandelions in your lawn. In fact, I’m sure you’ve tried to kill them more than once. Trim the greens down to the grass, fill a bowl with about two cups and clean them in cold, salted water. I use salt to kill any little bugs, but a touch of natural soap works too. You just have to work harder to rinse them.

Chop up your greens with any herbs you fancy. I snipped sweet woodruff, parsley and garlic chives from my yard. If your yard is bare, choose a tender herb like classic basil, flat leaf parsley, or cilantro. A traditional pesto includes Parmesan cheese. Since I’m currently unable to eat cheeses, I used almonds for half my nuts, along with sunflower seeds. Toasted, they add the umami element the cheese brings.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can make this in a blender. Just add the leaves and oil first, and smaller things like garlic last. Barring that, a mortar and pestle works just fine. Roll up your sleeves and grind it!

2-3 cups washed dandelion greens, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (look for cold pressed)

juice and zest of one lemon

1/4 cup toasted and cooled almonds*

1/4 cup toasted and cooled sunflower seeds*

2 tsp fresh maple syrup

1 tsp sea salt

cracked black pepper to taste

Yield: Approximately 1.5 cups. Keep in a tightly covered glass jar for up to a week, or use some and freeze the rest into cubes.

If you’re using a food processor, just put your ingredients in and pulse until blended, scraping the sides in between. If using a blender, put the greens in with some olive oil and pulse to get them going, add nuts and garlic gradually, and keep pulsing, digging up the pureed bits at the bottom. It takes longer, but that’s how I did it! With a mortar and pestle, you’ll have to chop all your ingredients up pretty finely with a big knife to make grinding easy.

Now, what do you do with it? Pestos are mainly for pasta, but you can dress salads with it, put it on crostini, quiche, omelettes or use it as a dip for grilled meats and fish.

*You can use any type of nut you like, or chia and flax if you have nut allergies.Walnuts have more oil in them, and traditional pine nuts are always delicious. Bonus if you find them yourself.
*Feel free to add Parmesan! You will need 1/3 cup for this recipe.


FTW Kitchen: Rainbow Carrot Salad

In your garden reading, you may have seen mention of the mythical ‘over wintered carrot’. This impossible creature really does exist, and it is delicious. To achieve this yourself, all you have to do is forget to pull your carrots up.

Winter means roasting, glazing and caramelizing roots, maximizing the depth of their flavor and sweetness, to warm the belly and still the mind. Over wintered carrots are awake with crisp water and extra sugar. A simple preparation will showcase the colour and vibrancy of your ingredients and your palette will thank you for a little crunch and variety.

Rainbow Carrot Salad

Serves 4

3-4 large heirloom carrots (red, yellow, dragon, purple, etc.), grated

1-2 spring onions, chopped

large handful tender herbs like cilantro, basil, roughly torn or chopped

1-2 cups baby greens, roughly chopped

1/4 cup cold pressed olive oil

1 TBSP balsamic vinegar, or ACV

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt and black pepper to taste

Protein: I used chick peas for my salad. Saute garlic on medium low heat in a little olive oil and add 1 can drained chick peas. Raise heat to medium high and fry, stirring once in awhile until chick peas begin to get some colour. Add to the salad while still warm, to help dressing ingredients meld.

*Any protein will do here: toasted nuts, eggs any style, marinated flank steak, grilled chicken or fish.18121952_10154675548623737_4354957876085798745_o.jpg

Mix all ingredients by hand in a large salad bowl. Let sit in the fridge for about an hour to bring flavours together. Keeps, covered, for a few days in the fridge. Serve with a heap of something, like quinoa, yogurt or this avocado smash:

Herby Avocado Smash

1-2 large or 3-4 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced (check youtube for videos on the easiest way to do this)

juice of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lime

1 large clove garlic, pressed

1 handful cilantro, chives, celery leaves and parsley, roughly chopped (or whatever you’ve got)

1 tsp sea salt

lots of black pepper

2 TBSP cold pressed oil (olive, sunflower, walnut)

Smash all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Feel free to add chilies or jalapenos! Keeps, covered, for up to a week in the fridge – but is usually gone in 10 minutes.

grow your own, sprout, seedling, seed sprouting, grow your own food

Brave New World

By MK Martin

Do you remember the first time you felt The Fear? When you’re a kid, the world is enormous, and there are often dimensions to it your grown up counterparts cannot even see, let alone protect you against. You are afraid, but you do not have The Fear. You are small, but there hasn’t been enough time for you to really doubt yourself. Come what may, you’ll put your hands up, jump with your scraped knees and shout until the walls come down.

I’m asking, because I see you.

I see you, thinking you can’t grow things. Your thumbs are parched from sticking them out in the sun, trying to catch a break. You have so many things to do, any plant in your periphery is doomed to wither and die because your kids have to eat before you do. And actually, you don’t like nature that much. Bugs are lethal these days, aren’t they?

So start small. Go back to the smallness of what a person was expected to do, when your face was a bare peek above the table top. Head to your local nursery, and stand in the greenhouse, enveloped by sweaty oxygen and feel small. Stand next to a plant that looks bright, and green, produces something (in theory) that you might eat. Say hello. Do it in your head, if it makes you feel less silly. Feel less silly, anyway, when the person standing next to you is also talking to seedlings.


Take your bundle of leaves home with you, see that it is small. Find it a biggish home, for the summer, where it will try its hardest to grow for you, if you are willing. Set it in the sun, so it can feel warm, and water its roots every few days, so it can stretch its legs. Grow, inside, as you watch your plant multiply, and marvel at the shrinking Fear inside you. Even if it does not fruit this year, even if aphids take it down after weeks of fighting against them valiantly, you have succeeded.

This is the marvel of the plant world. A physical representation of the magic of energy, and how it is never wasted, only reimagined.

You can do it.

rain barrel, rainbarrel, DIY rain barrel, rainwater collection

DIY Rain Barrel Project

By MK Martin

A steady, driving rain has been pummelling our newly patched roof since yesterday. Unlike the despondent scowls usually illustrated on human faces when faced with a deluge, mine radiates and looks around for ways to get outside.

More than the chemicals released, creating that pleasing petrichor of recent, nature type memes; more than the softening of an icy Canadian earth, so worms and things can awaken and get to it; more than just moisture, spring rain is akin to the rising of the sun in the morning: something your bones can rely on, something that brings a big heaving sigh of relief to your cells, where you didn’t realize you were holding your breath.

Sure, the aftermath of too-wet soil, flooded basements, and continuously damp wardrobe can be listed as major downsides; peeling mud off of everything can be tedious. But there is a purification in the first, flooding rains. It drives away your troubles, but also the salt, sand and skunk attacks of late winter, which tend to hang around the house. It washes away your stagnant snow molds, refreshes your lawn, and invites new wildlife out to investigate the territory.

rain barrel, DIY rain barrel, rainwater collection

This time can be crucial in water conservation. Getting your rain barrel up now, in monsoon season, means “free” water for any possible early hot days, or sudden drought. If your garden is in a community lot, or you aren’t near an eaves trough, you can make your own rain barrel from a plain, plastic garbage can with a domed lid.

Items you will need:

  • 20-Gallon plastic garbage bin, with domed lid
  • Small hole saw bit for your drill (approach your local hardware store to ask about these, sometimes you can rent equipment) *this will give you a clean drainage hole, but feel free to improvise and let us know what you discover!
  • Valve spigot with bulkhead fitting
  • Teflon tape, to affix the spigot

Drill 5, large drainage holes in the centre of the lid, plus an overflow hole about two inches down on the main receptacle. Use waterproof duct tape to affix a piece of mosquito netting over the holes on the convex side: cut this into a square about one inch larger than the drilled holes so you have plenty of spare netting to secure. This cuts down on debris, but also mosquitoes!

rain barrel, rainwater, rainwater collection, DIY rain barrel

Drill another hole at the base of the can, for the spigot. Place the inside part the bulkhead on the inside, outside on the outside, and use a wrench to tightly thread it into place. Use teflon tape on the spigot grooves to make sure it’s water tight, and wrench into place.

Place the lid upside-down onto the barrel so that rainwater will collect inside it and drain downwards. Use waterproof duct tape to seal the lid, or drill small holes in the lid and can and secure the two together with electrical wire.

rain barrel, rainbarrel, DIY rain barrel, rainwater collection


Your rain barrel has to be at least one foot off the ground. You can build a stand from pallet wood, or purchased beams, or use milk crates secured together, or even paint an old chair in a garden theme, and fasten a barrel onto it with strong cord. It all depends on your time, and budget.

Images by Dan Bruell, Adam Rice, and J Bolles via Flickr Creative Commons. 


cooking from scratch, food prep, food preparation, organic food, cooking, vegetables, vegetarian cooking, ingredients

Why Bother Cooking from Scratch?

by Catherine WInter

In North America, the average college student doesn’t know how to boil an egg or prepare any kind of food other than instant, frozen, or canned (and often muck those up as well). Unless they learn those skills, they’ll end up as adults (possibly parents) whose breakfast, lunch, and dinner will consist of pre-packaged foods that have been infused with an insane amount of chemicals in order to keep them “fresh” on shelves for long periods of time. How can this possibly be healthy for anyone?

Over the past several decades—mostly since the second World War—food production companies and marketing gurus have shifted people’s view of food away from that which nourishes us to that which curbs hunger conveniently and deliciously. The 1950s saw a massive rise in instant foods, which were easy and quick to prepare, thus allowing people more time to shop and watch television, and our collective health has been on the steady decline ever since. Additives that humans were never meant to consume are added to processed foods on a constant basis, and many people consume those things blindly without considering the long-term effects of their choices.

smoothie, red smoothie, berry smoothie, strawberry smoothie, strawberry banana smoothie

Even foods and drinks that we might assume to be healthy can have all kinds of crap in them. Do you like smoothies? The average store-bought, bottled strawberry-banana smoothie contains corn or tapioca starch (thickening agents), and carmine. The latter is another word for cochineal, which is a type of beetle. Yes, that smoothie you just sipped was made extra red thanks to crushed insect shells. Compare that to a smoothie you make yourself by tossing strawberries, bananas, and a liquid of your choice into a blender.

Let’s take a look at canned soups, shall we? Those are healthy, right? Well, in addition to being packed with sodium, many canned soups will also contain the following:

  • Calcium chloride: a thickening agent.
  • Tartrazine (yellow #5): a chemical colouring agent used to add a bright yellow hue to foods and drinks.
  • Caramel colour: this additive, which adds a brownish hue to foods, contains a type of phosphorous that leaches calcium from teeth and bones. Delicious.
  • Soy: sure, it’s a legume protein, but conventionally grown soy is genetically modified and befouled with carcinogen-containing pesticides. It’s also inflammatory, especially to people with autoimmune conditions.

When you prepare your own food, you know exactly what has gone into it. There are no additives or preservatives to make it shelf-stable for long periods of time, no weird chemical surprises. Just the nutrients naturally present in all the ingredients you added to your meal, and it’s those nutrients that your body will absorb and use to fuel you, repair your cells, and keep you healthy. If there is one concept that we should be focusing on when it comes to overall health and wellbeing, it’s nutrient density: the maximum number of nutrients possible in the simplest of foods. No filler.

soup, ramen soup, Vietnamese soup, pho, noodle soup, Asian soup, homemade soup

Most people avoid cooking for one of two reasons: either they never learned how to cook, or they feel that cooking takes too long and it’s quicker and easier to just heat up something in the microwave and eat that. It’s the latter mindset that really needs to shift: for food to be approached with reverence and appreciation, rather than being just “filler”. If we don’t eat in a way that truly nourishes us on a cellular level, but rather just quells hunger, then we might as well just eat handfuls of couch stuffing: that would stop stomachs from rumbling too, wouldn’t it?

It would be wonderful if we could really appreciate food as being an integral, sacred part of our lives instead of an afterthought that we pound into our faces to stop us from feeling hungry. One approach that I find really lovely is to treat our bodies as though they were our precious children: would we want to feed our kids wood chip insulation? Or food that’ll help them grow healthy and strong?

berry tart, blueberry tart, blackberry tart, mascarpone tart, baked tart, dessert, berry dessert

There’s another great aspect to cooking one’s own food, and that’s because one gains a lot more respect and appreciation for food when real effort is put into preparing it. Not only is cooking a hell of a lot of fun, but chopping and slicing is meditative, and connects us with the items that will feed us in a very intimate way: we put such care into preparing this food that we don’t want to waste any of it. Since there has been an emotional investment put into the food’s creation, nothing gets mindlessly sloughed into the rubbish bin. Waste is reduced, scraps are composted to create new soil, and the life cycle begins anew. ❤