Category Archives: For the love of it

Crocuses

Spring has sprung?


It’s with mixed emotions that I look up at the local mountains, usually covered with snow this time of year. It is barely past Valentine’s Day, and my daughter is playing soccer in shorts and it’s 13 degrees outside!
And despite my yearning to get a few more good days of skiing in this season, I’m taking the glass-half-full approach and allowing myself to relish in the fact that spring might actually be here…at least a month early .

Normally, February is fairly miserable in Vancouver, and I dread the “February Blues” that usually ensue with seemingly endless days of rain, cold and dreariness.
Not this year! I assumed it was because I was so busy with work that I’ve hardly noticed the weather. But discovering the first crocuses of the season made me realize it’s been so warm and dry that the weather just hasn’t negatively affected me at all this year.

I’m not going to be naïve and assume I can start planting my garden yet, but it has given me the groundhog feeling (pull your head out of your hole (hehe) and embrace the light!), and I’m excited to start planning. Bring on spring!

Stuff I’ve discovered in my yard that is UP and growing already:
Rhubarb, kale and carrots hanging around from last year – I LOVE veggies that re-grow!
Clematis
Hydrangeas
Lilacs
Crocuses
Daffodils

What’s UP in your yard, on your balcony or in your garden?

The Nostalgia of Food: An art exhibit review


  Studio 126 event

I quite enjoy art exhibits. And when a talented friend and colleague is exhibiting her work, I LOVE art exhibits! I’m like a new mom, so proud of and excited for the potential this may bring a deserving person. And when the theme is food….well!!!!

This was the case when I attended “The Nostalgia of Food” last week, an exhibit hosted by Studio 126 in Chinatown (the installation of which continues all month).

In addition to being in an amazing, inspiring but completely unassuming space, the exhibit promised to showcase what “the nostalgia of food” means to the fifteen different artists on display, from painters to photographers and more.

Helena McMurdo Photography

Photo: Helena McMurdo Photography

Presumably the theme “the nostalgia of food” would be about the memories and connections associated with food and its traditions from our families or our experiences. Let’s walk through one of the artists, Helena’s, take on it.

Helena McMurdo Photography

Helena McMurdo – “Weight and balance” – giclee

“This is the scale that used to sit in my grandparent’s bar in Spain. It stirs up very personal memories for me as I remember when their bar was a lively place with neighbours and customers coming and going to have a drink and to buy food. I think of the stories it could tell, and of the conversations between my grandmother and her customers, how the weight might have been ‘just over’ the requested amount. Contrast that with how we shop for food today, mostly alone, helping ourselves and with less interaction with the shopkeeper. The social and communicative nature of the trading of the past is changing. Now with her shop long gone, the scale sits as a sort of fruit bowl, not fulfilling its true potential, but as a beautiful reminder of a time and a way of consuming food.” 

Helena McMurdo Photography

Helena McMurdo – “Pickling”

It seems like pickles are essentially a nostalgic item. Mention pickles and everyone remembers their grandma’s pickles. Or do they? I never made pickles as kid and nor did anyone in my family but this is how I imagined it would be if I had. I’m interested by the cultural iconography of nostalgia as it relates to food. Does a home-made pickle made by a grandmother taste better than one made by a professional in a state-of-the art facility? Are we responding to the taste of the pickle or the experience or memory? How is that we can imagine these cues from experiences that may or may not have occurred. Are we being true to the real experience?  Or do we all attribute meaning to our memories that may not be there?

Helena McMurdo Photography

Helena McMurdo – “Rashers and eggs”

The simplicity of these ingredients recalls a simpler time, when these items were the product of the farmhouse, not the factory. How many of us have actual memories of eating this way? Or are we responding to a collective imagined experience?

I hadn’t thought much about the exhibit before getting there – heck, I barely got out of the house after a full day of work, picking up kids, throwing dinner at the family and slapping on a coat of lipstick! So I let the above and other artists’ impressions and inspirations guide me, and soon I was conjuring up my own images of what this theme means to me.

For example, I didn’t realize until I was an adult how much nostalgia I generated from my parents having a garden when I was a kid and how the values locked deeply in that eventually propelled me to start a garden once I had my own family.

Think about Christmas dinner! That’s fodder for another post, there’s so much nostalgia tied up in certain Christmas traditions carried on mostly by my hubby’s side of the family.

And even on a much less obvious note, food nostalgia in our family could be contained in a notion as simple as the fact that we always take tuna sandwiches “in the pack” for our lunch on the ski hill. In fact, my sister was heard saying the other day that, “Skiing wouldn’t be the same without tuna fish sandwiches”! I’m not sure anyone besides my dad even likes them, but it’s a constant in an event that we hold dear and have greatly enjoyed together since childhood.

What sparks food nostalgia in your life? 

ps, In addition to her food photography work, Helena is the author of the blog, My Endless Picnic, and co-author of the South Granville Inhabiter blog. You can also find her on the usual social media spots: Facebook: Helena McMurdo Photography, Twitter (@missilenth) & Instagram (@missilenth). Because the “H” in her name in silent. 🙂

Studio 126 is located at 126 E Pender Street in Vancouver BC.

Guest post: It’s about more than saving money


Most people laugh when I tell them I actually save money on food during the summer months because of my garden. I didn’t start gardening to save money initially, nor do I continue it solely for that reason, but it’s been a plausible by-product, so it’s become part of the fun!

If I only bought internationally sourced, non-organic produce, or spent a lot of money building fancy garden beds, I might be able to poke holes in this theory, but when comparing to farmers’ market prices (and quality!) for locally, sustainably grown produce, and my goal is to produce ALL my own produce for at least a month in the summer, it can add up to a significant savings, including the time and money it takes to shop.

A friend and like-minded gal inspired me with her recent post on Facebook indicating that January was a self-imposed “spending freeze” month, and furthermore, that through thrifty “thrifting” throughout the past year, her goal was to purchase ZERO clothing in 2015 for her family of four! So I decided to interview her about how she alters her behaviour throughout the year and what her motivations are.

Facebook post

Meet Sandra. Small business owner by trade, mom/cook/gardener/thrifter/DIY junkie by choice. Our husbands happen to be cousins and spend all their time together either hunting wild game, or hunting zombies on their Xboxes late at night through the ether.
We put in our butcher order together from the “hubby hunt”, share a cow from a local farm once a year, she renders her own lard from the fat, and taught me how to make my own stock from the bones. She’s taught me lots of other stuff too, but I need to get on with this interview, so I guess she’ll be a returning guest!

Me: What was your motivation to begin gardening? And what motivates you to continue with it today?

Sandra: Growing up, I spent my summers with my grandparents, and my grandfather had a garden. I didn’t realize it then, but probably 80% of the produce we ate came from the garden. We snacked on raspberries and peas and baby carrots. Digging potatoes for that night’s dinner was like digging for buried treasure. My husband’s parents and grandparents grew their own food, so it seemed logical to both of us that if you own your own land, you grow some food on it. My motivation is part nostalgia and part common sense  (My parents didn’t garden or do anything remotely traditional or homestead-y, so I guess it skipped a generation).
NB: My rhubarb came from your Grandpa’s garden!

Me: Do you think you actually save any money by gardening?

Sandra: On tomatoes, kale and rhubarb, absolutely.  On everything else, probably not.  We’ve probably spent more on building garden beds and enhancing the soil than we’ve saved on lettuce and green beans.  My garden is very small, so I can’t grow enough variety or volume or feed our family exclusively.

Me: In an age of lack of delayed gratification, “buy it now” buttons and over-consuming, what motivated you the most to implement a family “spending freeze”?

Sandra: Financial necessity. My income varies, so there are some lean months.  Sometimes the budget needs a little tweaking. Priorities need tweaking too.

Me: What’s the single thing you do regularly that gives you the most gratification from either saving money, the environment or just doing right by your family?

Sandra: Cooking at home, from scratch, with whole foods, and eating dinner as a family. It’s a good thing that I enjoy cooking, and my family likes my cooking (stewed rabbit and one overcooked beef roast notwithstanding). Groceries are one area of the budget where we are not overly frugal. Since we don’t get out much, it’s important that the food be high quality, satisfying, and a little bit indulgent.  Leftovers are turned into future dinners or lunches for my husband. Food waste annoys me. Restaurant meals destroy the budget. We simply can not afford to eat out as a family all the time and expect to stay out of debt. And to be honest, when you eat well at home, even expensive restaurant food is less appealing. The rare times that we do eat out, it’s at a specialty or ethnic restaurant, or for a special occasion, so the meal doubles as a social or cultural experience. Another benefit of cooking and eating at home is that my kids recognize and appreciate so many foods from farm to plate – what they look like and what they taste like – and will take that knowledge with them through life.

NB: Our children helped hunt that rabbit on their first trip with aforementioned hubbies, so we didn’t care what it tasted like, and the roast beef was fine!
Thanks Sandra!

 

Progress: A Mid Season Photo Gallery


Well! Here we are in July already! I figured now was a good time for a review of all that’s gone on in the garden so far this season – complete with “progress to date” photo gallery.

It seems so early to even be eating from my garden yet, as last year the abundance all happened in late August, but really, that’s only 6 weeks away and there’s lots of growing still to do. And while I’m still experimenting, I did do some more timing-type planning this year to try for a longer “eating” season, and so far, it’s (mostly) working.

I started planting on April 12th to be exact, a bit late really in most peoples’ books, but I like a later harvest in the hot days of late summer. Just spinach and some lettuce to start, peas and potatoes a week later, with kale and more lettuce the week after that. I only know this because, for the first time ever, I scribbled in my calendar with a sharpie whenever I planted this year. Whatever works!

In the gallery below, the “early on” photos were from about mid-May, around my second favourite stage of the season – the seedlings are such an adorable little burst of victory!
And you can likely guess what my favourite stage is, right? Eating!

We got to harvest the spinach first – it came so quickly, but low and behold, it was so hot in May that we only got through 2/3 of it before it bolted! We do get hot spells in May now and again, and then “June-uary” is usually rainy and colder. So next year, I’ll start the spinach earlier, really I will! In fact, I’ll start it again soon, so I can have spinach for my smoothies in fall and winter!

Next came the lettuce, and then the kale. I planted a fair bit, as we eat lettuce and kale almost every day in our salads and smoothies. I thinned a few out, and the rest I’ve just been harvesting the outer leaves, and as promised but always to my surprise, they are growing back!
I got a LITTLE more kale than I could handle, so I just steamed it up, pureed it with the hand blender, froze it in ice cube trays and put in a Ziploc bag in the freezer for later. This time, I actually measured and surprisingly, a whole cup of fresh spinach makes about 1 cube frozen! Just pop one cube in your blender and you’ll have the right amount of greens for your next green smoothie. I have LOTS of great things to say about Simple Green Smoothies, but it’s too much for this post, so I’ll just link to them here and leave it for another day!

The herbs have started to come, and my favourites are the ones I can put in cocktails, like mint for mojitos!

I don’t usually plant peas, and may not again, but my sister gave me some seeds from last year, so how could I turn her down?! They take up a lot of space for a small harvest, but they are so sweet, and the kids love shelling and eating them straight from the garden, so I sacrificed some space this year for this lovely treat. The peas are almost done now, so I’m hoping to plant something else there in its place in a week or two.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what HASN’T gone well in the garden so far. Humph.

I tried a bag of mushroom manure in one of the front boxes this year, and guess what mostly grew there? Right……mushrooms. Almost exclusively. Arggghh. So I re-fertilized, threw in some animal manure and replanted chard, spinach and a row of carrots around mid June. It might have been too late, and the soil may have been suspect, but my fingers are crossed. Not all of the seeds have come up, so something is definitely a little off in that box.

My cukes, squash and carrots have been in the ground for 5 weeks already, near each other, and they seem very small to me. Hmmm. I left lots of room for the patty pan squash, but I think I gapped out and planted the cukes and zukes way too close together.
Solution: get out a few pots and transplant them elsewhere so the strong seedlings don’t go to waste!

The beans are doing fine, and are mostly ornamental anyway, as I just grow them in pots or let them climb the fence and don’t allow too much space for them, and I’ve never grown potatoes before, but aside from the odd yellow leaf, I’m still hopeful they will produce!

And lastly, it’s the glorious tomatoes that I’m really holding out for, and like the rest of my garden, I planted them in succession so I could enjoy them longer. One in May, two in June. And to my delight, exactly 60 days since she went in the ground, I glimpsed the first ripe little gem this morning.

Time has gone so fast, I can’t believe it’s 12-1/2 weeks into the season already. I do wish a few things were further along, but I’m trying to let go and just trust they will provide.

What’s happening in your garden today?

Planning + Magic = Food


If you’ve ever grown anything yourself, you’ll understand the feeling you get when the seedlings poke their heads out of the seemingly barren ground (for a few days, they seriously look like chickens hatching, trying desperately to break through the earth). Year after year, I get the same sense of shock and excitement like, “Wow, it’s working! I might actually be growing some food here!”.

This is my front yard garden (Garden #2) around mid-season last summer, when the seedlings were established but there was no actual food being harvested yet (except for some baby beet tops and kale leaves).

Garden #2 mid season

Everything looks pretty under control, right? Everything neatly labeled in their respective rows?

Well, I can only take partial credit for the outcome, but here was my “yieldy” thinking (and the equally inherent spontaneity) behind what’s happening.

Beets – I planted the beets toward the middle because once they’re grown and pulled from the ground, then you can plant more in that space. I chose more cucumbers for the 2nd planting, because I wanted as much as I could get for salads in August and September! There was a row of carrots in there as well. They hadn’t come up yet, but same concept.

The squashes and friends – I learned from experience that these guys tend to take over and require a lot of space, but they also produce a lot, so I maximize the space by training the cucumbers to grow up instead of along the ground. All they need is some support (I have used everything from bamboo sticks to old rakes or anything tall and skinny I can find), for their little “tentacles” to wrap around and keep growing.

The patty pan (or simply, summer) squashes grow more like a bush than a rising vine. It needs about 2 square feet, but the one plant netted me at least 20 squashes (I lost count when I started giving them away to the neighbours). As I’d never grown this before, it was a complete fluke that I gave it the right amount of space and it didn’t take over my entire garden. But now I know. And now you know. 🙂

I’d never grown pumpkins before either, but I allowed for some “experiment” space on the edge of my garden, and considering the sprawl at our local pumpkins patches, I suspected these guys would need some space. There was nothing but grass beside them, so I just encouraged them to head right….and oh, they did.

Ok, ready? Don’t laugh, but this is what that same garden looked like after I came home from two weeks away in August.

Garden2EndSeason

As you can see, it was so tightly packed, you couldn’t fit another thing in there.
But the kale was still holding its own and not being shaded in the middle. The cucumbers and squash were producing like crazy, and the pumpkins were doing what they were supposed to – heading right…almost into the neighbour’s yard!

But I never worry about overproduction, as I’ve learned I can always do some thinning. But surprisingly I didn’t need to do any thinning. I just started picking. And eating.

And this is when I got seriously excited about the amount of food I could actually grow in a relatively small space. I felt happy and proud, and like I had a superpower that I never knew existed (like I was the one providing the sun and water, haha). That’s when I started documenting my “journey”. And here we are.

Have a gardening success story to share? Do leave a comment.

 

 

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! Spring!


Spring is hereSunday, March 9th – the clocks moved forward at 2am this morning, meaning an extra hour of sunlight each day. Wahoooo! Never mind that hour of lost sleep!

The timing is unbelievable. It’s mild and dry out and has stopped raining for what seemed like days on end. I realize I’ve had my head so far up my wintery ass (I’ll just keep my head down and focused, just make it end!), I literally did not notice that the crocuses had started to peek out. Or that buds were forming on the lilac trees, azaleas and rhodos in our yard.

Crocuses

Crocuses

Azaleas

Azaleas

Then I noticed the rhubarb had poked it’s tiny little head out (indicating it did NOT die over the winter and there will be abundance), and the chives and mint on the deck had started growing again. All in one week.

I had been so buried in winter, I literally forgot that things start happening again fairly early on, and I can start thinking about and planning for the next growing season already!

While it’ll be a few months before there’s any actual FOOD showing up, the delight in knowing it’s coming was enough to get me outside, breathing fresh air, and taking to the yard for some spring clean up! I cut the dead stuff off the perennials (plants that come back each year – don’t worry I can never remember which is “annual” or “perennial” either) that are otherwise so easy to maintain. I did a little raking to get the soil breathing again, and I plucked the few weeds that had managed to survive the winter or start up early.

Ahhhhhhh! I remember why I enjoy “working the land” so much. I couldn’t even find my gloves, so I just picked at the dirt and leaves with bare hands, not bothering about the mounds building up under my fingernails (generally I’m pretty finicky about wearing gloves as otherwise, my hands end up looking like they’re 80 years old!).

Amazing how one day can change your whole attitude on life going forward. And I guess it’s no accident that the word “Spring” has so many metaphors for just that. Well, it’s still 12 days till Spring is officially here, but the metamorphosis of renewal has begun….for me and my surroundings.

Free Food is Good!


Herbs, beans, patty pan squashSince I started gardening several years ago, my motto has been to create as much food for as little cash as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love to own a few of those beautiful pre-fab, raised garden boxes, but I’m all about gardening to save money, not spend it. You need to grow a LOT of cucumbers to get a return on your $300 box!

You can grow on balconies, in planters if you don’t have a yard. If you have the luxury of some land, many hardy types of veggies will grow just about anywhere. After experimenting for years, I’ve discovered some easy ways to get growing and eating faster, and hopefully with better results.

Let’s start with how you can grow and eat your own food without even having a garden. I call this your “freebie garden”. Here are three examples:

Growing rhubarb1. Borrow from other gardens:
My cousin let me dig up some rhubarb growing at their summer home (thanks Sandra!). Rhubarb is a bit like a weed, so I just dug it up, found an empty space alongside some other plants, planted it, and it took hold! I’ll wait till this year to harvest it to ensure it has established itself, but it was free after all! Sidenote, I said “borrow”, not “steal”. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, steal from someone else’s garden. You are just asking for bad garden karma. And most gardeners will give freely if you ask.

Scarlet Runner Beans2. Start small and build:
Beans are pretty hard to mess up. I plant scarlet runners in the grass along my fence line and not only do they look great (the scarlet part is for the great red flowers they produce), but I get enormous beans that aren’t taking up precious garden space.

And I haven’t had to purchase the seeds for 5 years, as every year, I save a few beans and harvest the seeds for next year (more on harvesting your own seeds later).

3. Try some herbs:
Throw some herbs in on your balcony. They do fine in smaller pots, they will be handy, close to your kitchen, you don’t have to run to the grocery for a bunch of $3 cilantro every time you need a pinch for a recipe, and you won’t waste any as you can just snip off the amount you need each time. I think I’ve become a better cook just having lovely fresh herbs on hand. And as per point #1 above, herbs like mint are screaming to be shared. They are practically weeds, and a cutting from someone else’s plant can yield you several seasons of mojito fixings! More on growing herbs in later posts.

My motto is go cheap and only add equipment once you have gained some success, almost as a reward for your diligence (I ran a successful photography business this way too and no one ever knew my studio lights were homemade ;-).

Chris Guillebeau (author of The $100 Startup), who I’m a big fan of, would vouch for this. He writes small business advice books and recommends just “getting that first sale” before spending any real money. The same principle applies here. Just plant something, and if it grows, eat it, and then re-evaluate for next season.

Have a look around your yard and suss out if you have any “freebie space”. Before you know it, you’ll be reaping the benefits of free, organic, local food you grew yourself!