Krampus is a Comin’

by MK Martin

Have you been good? Hide all your birch switches, and say something kind to everyone you see today. In many parts of Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated December 6th. On the night before, the horned devil Krampus roams the streets, seeking out the homes of naughty children. Mostly, he just swats at them, but some stories suggest very naughty children will be eaten! With that in mind, here are two sweet Icelandic recipes to try. Maybe if you leave him a little shortcake, he’ll walk on by.

Coconut Wreaths
(makes about 2 dozen)
These are pretty, and they smell great.wreath.jpg

The recipe calls for a cookie press, which is a tube gun you attach a metal thing to at the end. If you don’t want to use one, you can roll little balls and flatten on the cookie sheet, or try to loosely shape the wreaths yourself, but the dough gets a bit hard to handle! I found a free form photo above ^^

Ingredients:

200 g flour
200 g dessicated coconut
150 g sugar
200 g butter, softened
1 egg

Mix the flour, coconut and sugar. A whisk works well here.

Fold in the egg and butter, and mix until it just comes together. I know, it’s counter intuitive to most cookie directions, but it will come together.

Run the dough through the cookie press, fitted with a simple attachment, and run it through in lengths of about 6 cm, which you then shape into a wreath right on the baking sheet.

Bake at 350, for 8 minutes (but you know my rule, check after 7), until light and golden.

Icelandic Spice Cake

Here is a cake full of the flavor of the holidays, without the weight and prep time of a fruit cake. The warming spices are anti inflammatory, and anti bacterial, even if they’re being mixed with sugar. A little dark cocoa ups the ‘health’ factor.This is also a cake you mix by hand, but you might be able to get away with a stand mixer on lowest setting. (makes enough cake for two layers, but is often cut into 4. You can do a sheet pan as well.)

Ingredients

500 g flour
350 g sugar
250 g butter
2 eggs
3 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbs dark cocoa
milk, as needed

*What does ‘as needed’ mean? For many European cake recipes, a kneaded dough is used, rather than a batter. This is batter style, but the recipe still calls for a ‘medium thick’ batter, such as a muffin might have. I pour out a 1/2 cup of milk and use that, usually all of it. *

Cream together sugar and butter. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.

Sift, or whisk, your dry ingredients together. Add to the butter mixture a few TBSP at a time, mix, then a splash of milk. This is why this part is better done by hand, as it will go faster than it sounds and not be overmixed.

Pour into greased 8 in cake tins, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes, give or take, depending on your oven. My bake time always varies, thanks to spotty heat.

Serve frosted with layers of buttercream, or our favorite: for breakfast with a little fresh whipped cream.

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Sugar Cookies for Every Day

by MK Martin

The only STEM subject I enjoyed in school was Chemistry. It’s pretty easy to make the jump from chemistry to ‘alchemy’ in the mind, and making fantasy a part of my reality was a form of anxiety quelling mechanism that, whether for better or worse has been my constant companion. The Food Network happened to be in its relative infancy while I was finishing high school, and a hibernating interest awakened.
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A lot of noted worriers love baking. It’s a mid brain exercise, calling up some of your more complicated cognitive equations to partner with the ritual zen movements of creating something to eat. Cooking is the first ritual, one we all need and one we all infuse with love whether we realize it or not. Is there anything more loving than giving someone a big tin full of cookies? Sure, we know sugar is evil now, but in between the Omegas and the kale massages, our primitive honey seeking hunter gatherer brain is asking ‘but where is the honey?’

Kids tantalized by the glory of the season can get overwhelmed, and be full of Ferrero Rochers before anyone’s the wiser. Not that I’d know. Having a little tin of cookies you can have with tea after school in festive shapes means not being asked for Ice Cream in the dead of mid winter. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing.24313163_10155299697563737_6792725580191210636_o.jpg

These cookies are not vegan, but the substitutes for vegan fat options like coconut oil are one to one, and you may use all manner of things as an alternative binder. 3 TBSP of chia seeds, soaked, or 1/2 cup of that ‘new’ aquafaba, for example. Which is literally the bean juice from a can. I recommend chick pea, for minimal odor.

I am, however, using all Canadian non GMO milled wheat, and butter made over in Alliston about 40 minutes from here. Using what’s made nearby usually means your ingredients can last a little longer, and they’ve supported someone in your community.

I don’t ice cookies anymore, preferring instead to make a million little cookie sandwiches, filled with successful or failed ganache, lemon curd, freezer jam, ice cream, etc. Maybe you have a new idea for me?

For the Cookies

3 cups leveled flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or more
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 large egg

In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

Beat egg and vanilla together. Using a mechanical mixture, or your own bare arms and forceful intentions, cream together the butter and sugar.

If you have a stand mixture, you can fit your machine with the dough hook and slowly add the flour one cup a time, while set to low. Otherwise, add and mix by hand, do not overmix. It will begin to clump together.

This dough can be tacky, so I turn it out into a floured glass pie plate to form into two discs. Wrap individually with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. At this time, you can also freeze your dough for later.

If you have a marble rolling counter, you’re winning. Otherwise, you can use a piece of wax paper to roll your cookies out to desired thickness. Thinner cookies will take less time to bake. We usually aim for 1/2 inch thick.

Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet, or silpat, or bare if you’re feeling lucky. Bake for 7-11 minutes at 350 degrees, again, depending on thickness. To err on the side of caution, just set your time for seven minutes and check the edges have set. Allow to cool on a wire rack before icing. If you are using sprinkles, you can press a few in that have shapes ahead of baking, but jimmies tend to melt.

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.

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Cut it Down

By MK Martin

Life. For humans, it’s full of lessons. In every life, a little rain must fall. The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. To grow, you must be cut down to size. You would think, with lessons like these, all humans would resonate with the plant life around us. Our folk words are their commandments. The truest, most barbaric and most necessary, is that of the cutting.

If you want bunchy blackcurrants, the wafting, floral scent of sun warmed raspberries in summer and fall, blackberry stained fingers and faces and shirts, gruesome with nutrition, you’ve got to cut those plants down to the quick. This counts too, for roses, if you like to line your shelves with ruby kissed shotglasses of vitamin C and sugar.

So, you’ve put in a few raspberry canes, and they shocked you with fruit on your first try. If they are summer bearing, your only job is to mow them down to the quick. Doing so will allow light and air to move through the plant, stimulating its growth. To minimize your raspberries taking over the world, as they ought, bury some wood planks under the dirt, in the space you’d like them to occupy.

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Blackberry bushes require a little more attention to achieve robust growth, but the steps are easy to remember after the first year: prune once, to encourage growth, and then again in fall. In spring, once the snow has melted at least once and exposed slumbering dandelions to sun, cut your canes to 24 inches. If smaller than that, just cut the first inch or so of each cane. Remove any diseased or dead canes. After fruiting, blackberry canes are spent. Cut any canes down to the ground that have fruited, and it will encourage the plant to send up more canes next year.

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We inherited a dog rose with our house, and it produces tart little blushing globes easily, ever year. I pruned it for the first time last year, being previously unaware that gardening requires a little savagery. With this rose bush, you can cut the whole thing down in spring, after enjoying its thorny stalks and a few left behind hips, in winter. There’s an old saying, ‘prune your roses when the forsythia bloom’. Forsythia is a flowering shrub, that flowers before pretty much anything else. You can loosely translate the adage to whatever first true signs of spring come your way. This could be when the robins return, when the redbuds bud, when the snowdrops slowly uncurl. Either way, do it before it gets too warm.

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To decapitate your fruit-bearing friends, you’ll want to invest in a strong pair of gardening gloves. I’ve tried a number of branded gardening gloves over the years, but the best I’ve found for most tasks is a small, streamlined work glove. They can be found at hardware stores in a variety of styles and are far more durable than traditional gloves.

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Once you’ve got your gloves on, you can wield your shears. Choose a pair of hand held ‘secateurs’, which will have an extremely sharp, curved edge and matching top shear. Make sure you can close the ones you choose easily.
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“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”

– The Little Prince, Antoine de St.-Exupery

spring, spring flowers, spring flower, spring gardening, zone 5a, Ontario gardening, spring garden canada, bee, pollinators

Spring.

By MK Martin

I have yet to perfect Hygge. For those of you who didn’t see the ubiquitous feed post concerning this ‘art’, it is all about enjoying winter. Enjoying the books by cozy fires, the spiced drinks, the rich food, the cheer and the togetherness. I love books, but reading by the fire makes me overheat. Hot drinks for me are coffee or Earl Grey. Do not offer me other things, I am not interested in a spice cabinet-filled wine cup. Rich food is lovely, for the feast days, the days after the harvest and in the middle of lining up food for winter. Cheer is something that wanes after a day or so, and togetherness becomes cloying once all the baubles of holiday have been packed away. I will take some turns tromping through the deepening snow, to capture rare moments of crystalline rainbow refraction through the ice, to feel the far away sun on my face and to clean my lungs with deep, hidden breaths.

Pink-flower

After a few turns, though, give me spring. Give me melting snow and ephemeral ice on the trails, turning into puddly poo ponds: the stuff that will give us trout lily, ramps, and morels in what seems like the blink of an eye. Give me blustery, moorish mornings with ruffled robin feathers and lost umbrellas. Give me birdsong. The cacophonous cackle of the grackle, the invisible staccato of the chickadee, the crooning cry or startled whinny of the mourning dove all blending together into beauty, even though the songs themselves are territorial. Give me rain. Fat bullet drops hurtling toward the earth and spitting in my eye, or fine, hazy mist, covering the awakening green with eye catching droplets, curling my hair and surrounding my skin with negative ions. Paint me in dirt and line my pockets with seeds.

Ants

For me, getting through winter isn’t about enjoying it for what it is. It’s all about The Dream. Every year at Imbolc (St. Brigid’s, February 1st), for the past 8 years, I begin The Dream for the gardening season. This year’s dream is the most photogenic yet, with lovingly put together brown paper Jardiniere journals (no lines!) and handmade ceramic receptacles filled with pens, pre-season clay pot sales and piles of heirloom seed catalogues.

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Arranged, just so, I feel that Martha glow. If you didn’t know, Martha has her garden planning calendar available for all to see, where we can discover there is no time off when it comes to gardening. As soon as your dirt is frozen and slumbering, you should be scouring your resources, planning your rotation, and penciling in your sow by dates.

Lily-of-the-valley

We began in zone 4b eight years ago and had three, charmed, food-filled years, free of pesticides and glorious weather. And then, things began to change. We are now considered zone 5a, and the weather has been confused for awhile. We are still trying to clean our groundwater from the two years neighbours poured roundup onto their ancient chestnut tree, so, this year will see pots of salad and steaming greens, herbs and carrots, while I work toward making our main beds home to flowers. The initial journey was about food security, but over the years, one’s eye begins to focus closer upon the intricacies and smallness of garden workings.

Hummingbird

As the collective mind shifts, and access to quality CSA produce increases, the food security that becomes most important right now is that of the bee, the bird, the bat, insects of all kinds and the worm. We’ve even attracted a fox this far up, to set after the bunchy bunnies that have moved in. Our ‘sleepy’ town has begun to burst at the seams in the name of progress, destroying long standing habitats, flushing creatures out. The community complains a fox can be see in plain sight during the day, rather than all stopping together, to admire it and send it on its way. These are creatures for whom time has no
meaning, as life is the clearest meaning of all, and they never question their purpose. Freedom is in their function.

Frog

My hope is to create a symbiotic space, more than just feeding out of hand. To be a haven for plants long slandered as weeds, brush the native seeds of wildflower-lined trails from my clothes into the grass, and see what else we can invite.

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