30 May 2011

Ice-cream weather (finally!)

A neighbour gave me some spearmint for the garden, just after we moved here (nearly four years ago, now - doesn't seem possible!). It's been fairly well behaved until now, but this year it has lived up to its invasive reputation. I spent some time today pulling a fair proportion of it up. But it seemed a shame to throw it on the compost heap, and the summer weather has arrived at last, so I thought I'd use it to make mint choc chip ice cream.

I found a recipe online from the ever-reliable David Lebovitz (well, in ice-cream matters, anyway, I can't speak for his personal life). It called for 80 grams of mint leaves, which is pretty much exactly what I had pulled from the garden. You steep the mint with hot cream, milk and sugar for an hour, after which time it looks like this:

You can see how the milk is turning a pale greenish colour. After an hour of steeping you squeeze the mint leaves dry, extacting every possible drop of colour and flavour. What's left of the leaves makes a very compact ball!

The infused milk is then used to make a custard with eggs, in the usual way. Because our chickens' egg yolks are so orange, the resulting colour of the custard is more yellowy-green than you'd think of for mint ice cream. Chartreuse, even:

The mixture is then frozen in an ice-cream maker and melted dark chocolate stirred into it. By the time it's been churned, the green tinge has pretty much gone and it could be just vanilla. It hasn't lost the mintiness, though. Oh, no.

Now I've never really liked mint choc chip ice-cream. But this one, I feel differently about. It's really fresh: a perfect way to welcome summer.

Tree news

We obtained a dozen very small white pine seedlings from Quinte Conservation in early May at the sidewalk sale in Deseronto. Mike and I planted them on the 8th of the month in an area of young ash and cedar trees on the east side of the hayfield. The soil was very wet at the time and we've left them alone since, although I have been vaguely worrying about whether they'd drowned in all the rain we've been having. Today I checked on them and was pleased to see that most of them are still alive and the majority are showing signs of new growth:

We've planted a few trees since we've been here, and have had varying degrees of success. We've lost about five of the 20 orchard trees we planted in 2008 and two out of the three sugar maples which we put in last year. I hope these will have better luck!

22 May 2011

Plot progress

The potato bed was at last dry enough for me to risk sowing the seeds, yesterday. There was room in the bed for most of my tomato plants, too:

This area was previously two separate beds, but we combined them into one last year, to save Mike some of the effort of keeping the grass strimmed in the summer. We added the autumn-made chicken manure to this bed at the end of the season last year, so the potatoes and tomatoes should find plenty of richness in this soil.

I also sowed carrots, peas and greens in one of the other beds in this area. I don't expect the peas to work - they nearly always get eaten by rodents before they germinate, but hope has triumphed over experience again. One of our neighbours has given us a load of tomato cages, which I hope will work as pea supports. They're too small, in my opinion, to function well as supports for tomatoes - I prefer to stake those, as you can see in the photo.

In the orchard, the fruit trees are flowering at a more sensible time of year than they did in 2010 - two weeks earlier than this.

And up in the woods, the ash trees' leaves are bursting into growth. Everything is looking super-lush as a result of all the rain we've had this Spring.

18 May 2011

Postcard from Cambridge, MA

I'm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a meeting. I haven't had a lot of time to explore, but I did take a few pictures as I walked around the city last night and on my way to the meeting this morning.

Some interesting old buildings:

A truly hideous lamp for sale (if you can see it past the reflection):

And, perhaps most worrying of all, a risk of zombie chickens:

15 May 2011


It warmed up a bit last week and there was sunshine. I didn't always need a coat on when I went outside and I started planting out onions, corn and my brassica plants.

This weekend has been mainly wet.

The lower vegetable garden still has its winter pond in the centre. We've done a good job of lifting the beds out of the water, but they're still too cold and wet to sow anything in. The big bed on the right is supposed to be for potatoes. Luckily, it's been cold in Alberta, too, so the seed potatoes weren't shipped as early as they usually would be. They haven't got here yet, although Canada Post informs me that they have now reached Ontario, so they should be here this week.

On the far left are the brassica plants I put in on Thursday evening. The soil was really too wet, but they were getting too big in their greenhouse nursery bed, so I took a chance and put them in the ground. I should have left them where they were.

Even the dandelions have closed their flowers in purse-lipped disgust:

About the only living things that look to be appreciating all the rain are the toadstools it's brought forth:

14 May 2011

Could do better

I don't want to be ungrateful. I mean, she clearly put some work into it. But you'd have to have quite a tiny appetite to be satisfied with that egg for breakfast.

10 May 2011

Nettles for lunch

I thought I'd test out this recipe when the children weren't home, as I can just imagine their faces if I suggested a dish featuring nettles. Well, actually I don't have to imagine it, as the expression on their father's when I told him what was for lunch today was probably a fair representation.

But I persevered, anyway, adapting a recipe from the Fat of the Land blog for stinging nettle ravioli and sage butter. I simplified the filling, using just some soft goat cheese rather than ricotta, egg and parmesan. The trick with nettles is to blanch them for a minute, to neutralise the sting. After that, you squeeze out the water and can cut them up as you would spinach and mash them with the cheese and seasoning.

I used some lasagne strips that I made with the pasta machine the other night. They're very narrow for lasagne, but seemed to be a good size for ravioli. The machine came with four little ravioli cutters, so it was just a case of piling the filling in small heaps on one strip of pasta, then wetting its matching strip, lining it up and pressing out the ravioli shapes with the cutter.

The resulting ravioli are a bit rustic-looking, but that doesn't bother me. They only take a minute or two to cook, and the simple sage butter sauce takes hardly any time. The nettles didn't have a strong flavour at all: the goat cheese was the main taste. I'm still not sure that the children would eat them, but I may have made a convert of their dad!

08 May 2011

Making pasta (the lazy way)

Had our annual outing to the Deseronto Sidewalk Sale yesterday, where Child#2 and I sold a fair quantity of tomato and pepper plants. For once, the weather was decent (the last two occasions were wet and cold, making for few customers) and our stall outside the library did well. I'm glad I sowed the seeds earlier than usual - the spring has been so cold that they needed the extra two weeks to reach a reasonable size.

The stall next to ours was the Friends of the Library's one. In amongst the usual yard sale fare was an electric pasta machine. I don't usually buy anything from yard sales - figuring that I've got enough objects in my life and don't need to add to the number by buying other people's cast-offs. But I've always hankered after a pasta maker and, in the end, couldn't resist the purchase. I met the original owners later in the day, who admitted that they'd only used the machine once. So I'm hoping there's quite a bit of life left in it, even though it must be around 20 years old!

Making pasta is something I've been interested in doing for a while, but the traditional manual method of rolling pasta by hand always seemed too hard. I could buy a pasta attachment for my food mixer, but $180 seems a lot to shell* out for such a thing. I didn't even know that you could buy a dedicated pasta machine that would do the mixing and extrusion processes.

The original owners had lost the instructions, but that wonderful Internet thing provided both the manual and the original instructional video, so I was able to swot up on how it worked. The video was surprisingly entertaining, for its genre.

The video suggests extruding the pasta immediately after mixing the flour, eggs and water. But the more traditional methods stipulate that the dough be allowed to rest, so I left it in the machine for half an hour before starting the extrusion process. We all stood around watching in fascination as the first strands of linguine began to emerge:

Yeah, this is what passes for entertainment round here...

And here's the finished pasta. Which I think looks pretty fantastic for a first attempt. I am definitely going to be using this machine more than once!

The first asparagus spears were ready for picking, so I served the linguine (well, half of it - there's a bit too much for one meal there) with asparagus and Parmesan for lunch.


06 May 2011

Difficult subjects

I noticed a cocoon of spider eggs in the corner of one of the greenhouse raised beds the other day. This morning the spiders had hatched and were building out from their original web.

As they are so tiny and the web has some depth to it, it's quite hard to take a photo of them that's in focus!