Sunday, February 19, 2017

On Becoming Useful

It's been over a year since I changed jobs and work schedules. I had ambitious plans to use my new "free time" for all kinds of good:

  • to volunteer
  • to take courses
  • to socialize more
  • to explore
  • to somehow be 'more'

I'm not there yet. There've been some small accomplishments, but I haven't moved the earth. 

In the first months of the new schedule, deep in an Edmonton winter, I organized and deep cleaned many of our cupboards. 

In late winter and early spring I set up indoor grow lights and started a bunch of veg seeds. I spent the spring, summer and fall caring for resulting plants and figuring out what to do with their produce. 

We hosted a few 'Sunday Fundays' in our back yard, social events with a few friends, some good eats and great company.

We've managed to go out, with others, to live music more than a handful of times over the last year. 

I made a photo book for #1 son, a couple years later than I'd planned, to celebrate his first 25 years.

I finally got around to volunteering before Christmas, but just for a couple of hours one week. Not quite the impact I was hoping to make. 

And I managed to sign up for a one day Ladies Learning Code workshop in January. Also not quite the influx of new knowledge I'd envisioned. 

On days like today, where I have a whole day and nothing planned, I feel useless. Restless. Bored. And yet, I could fill the day with laundry, errands, cooking. Or I could turn on my scanner and actually tackle the huge, daunting task of scanning the rest of the paper prints piled high on my credenza. 

I think I'm not there yet because I haven't found the right thing. The thing that I can get all crazy passionate about. That I'd be willing to spend as much time with as I do with photography, gardening and finding new recipes for the Instant Pot. What's THE THING? How will I find it? Where is it hiding?

Is it growing food for the family, as environmentally friendly as I can, going to move the earth? 
Is reducing the amount of stuff we buy, the amount of trash we produce, the amount of food we waste, going to move the earth? 

Is finding a volunteer opportunity helping someone new to Edmonton or Canada feel at home here going to move the earth? Or teaching others to grow their own food? Or teaching kids about the wonder of species in their own backyards? 

Do I need to move the earth, or do I only need to move myself, a little bit forward, a little step each day?

Friday, October 14, 2016

And it's a wrap. Garden season 2016 is done. "Not" enough tomatoes.

It's snowing, and not for the first time this fall. The 2016 garden season is definitely over, and it's time to make notes on what worked and what didn't, so I don't make the same mistakes next spring.

I started my tomato plants from seed for the first time ever this year. Way back in February (February???) when we bought the full spectrum LED lights and hung the shelves to start seeds, I had no intention of starting tomatoes, thinking they were far too fussy and difficult for my newbie skill set. And then I happened upon some heirloom varieties by West Coast Seeds at Earth's General store, and decided to risk the $10 or $12 for four bags of seed.

I haphazardly planted my first rounds of seed sometime in March using the seed packets that I had in various drawers from past years, just to see what would germinate. I relied on being able to distinguish species on leaf shape. I learned my lesson, and planted the second round more carefully, keeping meticulous records of which seed went into which row of the tray. 

The four varieties were:

Black Krim
Old German
Purple Bumblebee
Golden Nugget

I started seeds on March 16 and again on April 7, six of each variety each time. As the seeds germinated and the seedlings grew taller, I'd carefully transplant them into taller containers, so that only the top two leaves were out of the dirt. I'd read that was the right way to promote strong roots, and it seemed to do the trick. 

According to my meticulous record keeping - phone camera photos and a spreadsheet - the Purple Bumblebee did not germinate at all. The Golden Nugget were very successful, with a high germination rate and robust seedlings. I was sure we'd have a bumper crop of glorious yellow tomatoes for yellow tomato ketchup. I was also sure I'd have a lot of transplants to give to friends and family. I ended up with only 13/32 plants in the ground here and gave one Old German away. 

I transplanted Basil into each of the pots as well. My herb seedling transplants were almost all failures though that's a topic for a subsequent post.

More meticulous record keeping:

At the end of June, the plants were doing nicely and a few had some blossoms forming. 
And then it hailed. First week of July. Hail stones only about the size of peas. But they beat the crap out of my plants. 

It was like starting over for many of them. But, none of the plants died, and ten produced at least one tomato (and most of them produced many). By mid August they were all around three feet tall.

It turns out that Golden Nugget are more cherry tomato size than the described 1 inch tomatoes. I had three plants in large black pots, and they produced very prolifically. We were eating ripe tomatoes by August 6.
They're so pretty, and I wished I could figure out a way to preserve them as is. Ultimately, I roasted them whole (without removing seeds), which was as close as I could get to maintaining their color and shape. Ready to roast - fresh garden herbs and olive oil.

And I had a nice surprise in that one of the 13 plants was a Purple Bumblebee. Also a cherry tomato. And also really pretty.

Some of these vine ripened too. As did a few of the Black Krim. I learned that those needed to be picked as soon as they started turning as they ripened super quickly. 

Black Krim are a very, very dark tomato with green streaks that turn to black over time. The other variety, Old German, was the least productive, which is super unfortunate because it was definitely another great looking tomato - and big and yellow. 
Old German on the left, a small Black Krim on the right. 
A different Old German:

Inside Black Krim

I picked all of the unripe larger tomatoes with the first frost warning, pretty early in September. We hauled the potted herbs and the cherry tomatoes in and out of the garage for a few weeks, but they've come in too, along with the peppers and squash that I dutifully covered in hopes they might mature if we had a few more sunny, warm days.

The herbs are transplanted into colorful pots in the hope they'll keep growing over the winter. Yesterday I roasted the last of the ripened tomatoes, the squash and a few of the jalapenos. Roasting ended up being the primary preservation method for the tomatoes this year, since there were never large enough quantities ripe at the same time to do anything else. Also, that makes for really delicious tomato sauce for pasta or pizza.

The final harvest:

And so, not only did I start tomatoes from seed and keep them alive all summer, I've also now collected their seeds so I can do this all over again next spring. I started out with the goal of just enough produce to eat as it ripened, and ended up disappointed that I didn't have huge bumper crops to preserve and share. Next spring I'll be more generous with the number of plants I start. 

Overall I think the methodology for the tomatoes was pretty good, and I'm perfectly fine blaming the July hail and all the rain for the under production of some of the plants. I used 'organic' fertilizer very sparingly too, and perhaps that's something else worth modifying.

On further reflection, it was not 'Not Enough Tomatoes'. It was just right. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Fine Line Between Reduce, Re-use and Recycle, and Hoarding

I come by it quite honestly. Legend has it that my maternal grandmother had repurposed gallon glass pickle jars full of saved bread clips, because you just never know when you might need to secure a bag or two. Grandma was born in 1916, farmed, lived in a small town, and lived through the depression and the wars. She had every reason to stockpile things that could be re-used.

My dad has spent many, many hours over the last few years reorganizing his garage. Everything is now in it's place and properly labeled. This includes bins full of every size imaginable plumbing connection (he's a pipe fitter by trade and understands that a plumbing emergency might require a specific size elbow), electrical marettes, golf balls (yes) - anything that may have a valid future use. Organized for re-use. Not reduced.

Reusing is good. Keeping things out of the landfill is good. Not having to buy a new one when this old one will do is good. But, when does that good intent cross the line? When is it a problem?

This is the question I'm asking myself now, as I sterilize years worth of bedding plant containers and other pots that I've 'saved' along the way. I can't be sure how many summers they represent but judging from the price tags still on them, they represent quite a nice chunk of change.

I'm finally going to reuse them, as temporary homes for all the lovely little seedlings I've started. But once those seedlings are planted in their forever homes in my garden, what will become of these pots? I expect that they will be saved again, for another 'future' use.

The seedlings are doing alright, though I believe I've been over watering them. The earliest germinators - sunflowers and pumpkin - aren't thriving. Luckily there is plenty of time to start more. We are technically still 6 to 7 weeks away from frost free nights.

The morning glory are thriving, and I still haven't killed the cucumbers. 

I'm slowly able to tell the herbs from one another. Cilantro and Sage both germinated well. The thyme and oregano seem to be lagged. 

I need to figure out the best practices for transplanting the peppers and tomatoes. I'm thinking they should go into larger, deeper pots now so they can establish good strong roots. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A sudden urge to write

I'd been writing educational content as my day job for the last couple of years, and found it almost impossible to do any writing for myself. Changed jobs last fall, and haven't written anything in months. This morning I have a sudden urge to put some words on paper, so to speak.

I think a lot about actions that I can take to reduce my own, and my family's, carbon footprint. I know that my activities are but a teeny drop into a global bucket, but truly believe that if we each made a little more effort to change our own behaviour, and spent less time criticizing others on the globe, we'd all be better off.

And so, one of the actions I've chosen is to try to grow my own vegetables this year. I try every year, of course, because I really love gardening. But this year I'm going further. We installed some grow lights: fluorescent tubes (LED at 6500K weren't available) with the right color profile, 8 ft. of shelves to hold 4 seed trays, and an ever growing collection of seeds to try.

I started the first two trays about 10 days ago, with some freshly purchased seeds (cucumbers, sunflowers, morning glory) and decided to try germinating the packs of seeds I'd found around the house on my organizing spree in January. Much to my surprise almost all of them have germinated, even seeds that I've had for at least 5 years.

Trouble is, I didn't record what I planted where. I can tell that the cucumbers have germinated, but I don't know which are the English and which are the pickling. And, frankly, I think some of them are actually buttercup squash. I know that the sunflowers have germinated, and expect I'll soon be able to tell the dwarf from the giant, but not the red from the gold. I suspect I won't be able to tell the peppers from the tomatoes for a while.

As the seedlings have outgrown the small seed pods, I've moved them over into 2 inch pots, and replanted in the smaller cells. I've now got some spots with slower germinating seeds from round one growing with the seeds planted in round two.

And my collection of seeds has grown. Each trip to the hardware store brings a new batch. This week, as I was leaving from having my hair cut, I noticed the store next to the salon sold seeds from West Coast Seed. I now have another dozen kinds of (organic and open pollinated) seed varieties to try.

If each cucumber seedling grows up to produce even one cucumber, I'll be ahead of the game financially. And if they happen to be more productive than that, then you all may be hearing from me. Need zucchini?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Up next on our YEG Restaurant Tour: Rge Rd

Last night we set out on the second of our quest to try each of the restaurants on Avenue Magazines list of Best Overall. Immediately after our great experience at Tavern 1903, we booked a table at Rge Rd, holder of the #1 spot on the list.

I've seen a lot of great reviews of Rge Rd from bone fide restaurant reviewers and regular folks posting kudos on twitter and yelp. It sits in the #1 spot on Avenue's list. It is very highly regarded, and so I think that sets expectations very, very, very high.

Rge Rd surprised me a couple of ways before we started our meal. The first is it's location. It's tucked away in a tiny, unassuming little strip mall in Glenora, northwest of downtown proper. The second surprise was how  tiny it is, with a total of 44 seats. The room is cozy and intimate. This may sound odd, but I was a bit distracted by the decor. There were too many different textures in the room. Cedar clad beams, wood look tables in a different shade, laminate flooring in yet another wood like finish, white subway tiles behind the bar, a glimpse of exposed brick in the kitchen. On the other hand, the light fixtures were fabulous.

Rge Rd endeavours to serve local ingredients, and that includes an extensive list of Canadian wine and beer. Something I really respect. (In a former career I took French clients to a local restaurant, where their request for a recommendation for a Canadian wine caught me and the server off guard.) It's lovely to find somewhere that celebrates our own producers.

Serving local produce here in YEG must present challenges, especially in the deads of winter. But it is also a sentiment that I have great respect for. My personal bent is that local food matters more than organic food - after all, how "good" can organic bananas picked green, ripened with gases en route and requiring tankers of diesel to transport be?

Our server, Darren (we think - we aren't completely sure, so if we're wrong, apologies) was great. Very confident and humorous, and of course appropriately attentive.

Now on to the food.
Our table of four shared the Kitchen Board and the Roasted Beet and Baby Greens Salad to start.

I love beets, and salads that include them. This salad was nice, but it didn't knock my socks off. The beets themself were a little soft for my liking and a little mellow flavorwise. The best element of the salad was the little cucumber cube filled with Anise flavored creme fresh. That was delightful.

The Kitchen Board changes daily, and last night included a Rabbit Tourine, local brine-cured ham, cheese, and scotch eggs. I didn't taste everything on the board but I think the four of us were in agreement that the scotch eggs and aioli were remarkable. They had us discussing just how one would go about making scotch eggs.

I ordered the Bison entree. It is served with roasted carrots and hazelnut spatzle. The bison was beautifully cooked and very tender - which is a feat in itself with bison. The spatzle was underwhelming - quite bland and non descript. The flavor that stood out the most on that plate were the roast carrots. So much so that should I return to Rge Rd I'd likely order the roast vegetable entre.

Sheri had the duck breast, and the guys both ordered the daily beef. The mashed potatoes that accompanied the steak were very good. Sadly, the beef itself not so much.

We all had dessert too: Sheri and Daryl had Apple Galette and both enjoyed it. It's served with a scoop of amazing, smoked ice cream. Richard had the cheese and fruit tray, and I had the poached pear with lavender creme brulee. I wish that the pear were either warm, or chilled. At room temperature it did not have that great, sweet pear taste.

Beside the beef steaks being less tender than they should have been, there was nothing to dislike about our meal. The preparation and presentation were perfect. The service was great. Prices and portion sizes were in line. However, I cannot write this without adding a BUT. I've chatted with both Daryl and Sheri about this so far and we are all in agreement: this meal was very good but it was not exceptional. Small tidbits stood out: the creme fresh and cucumber, the aioli for the scotch egg, the roasted carrots, the smoked ice cream, the wine. But the rest, and the "stars" of the plates, were under seasoned and unremarkable.

On my personal list of top 5, Tavern 1903 sits atop of Rge Rd. While I do think I will return to Rge Rd, I think Tavern 1903 is destined to be a place we go to often. And, there are still three places on this list to try - three more opportunities to knock 1903 from the pedestal I've placed them on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's the meaning of this dream?

Number one son left on an adventure last Saturday: a two week vacation in Thailand with some buddies. His travel experience to date has included:

  • family vacations in tropical locals 
  • trips with his soccer team. 
  • four months on his own, more or less, in Germany with a soccer club. 
So while he has traveled to many more places than I had at his age, he's always had a big safety net and quite possibly not really taken in the full experience of a traveller. So I'm hoping he has a great, and eye opening, experience. 

Now what does this have to do with a dream? Only that the dream's primary characters were son #1 and me, and that I had this dream about 36 hours after he departed. 

It started with he and I and a collection of his friends loading a cube van with stuff that they needed to start out on some kind of 'enterprise' - I don't recall the specifics of said enterprise but for some reason I was integral to getting it started. Once the van was loaded, we piled in and headed out on the road. I was in the passenger seat and #1 was driving. First corner taken far too quickly and I fall out of the van, dangling by my seatbelt, as sunshine continues driving down the highway despite my peril. I'm finally able to escape the danger at a stop light, at which point I undo seatbelt and insist on being taken home. I add in the threat that if he does not return me to the safety of my home, I'll walk there and he can expect to find all of his worldly possessions at the curb when he does come back. 

So what does this dream mean? I have my own thoughts, but just for fun I'd like to see yours. Add your thoughts as a comment. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dinner Out, in Suburbia

There's a new joint on the block out here in suburbia; Hart's Table & Bar - a Century Hospitality Group property - in the old Ric's Grill location on 23 Avenue. And it's a much needed addition, as anyone that has tried to go for dinner after 5 p.m. in Terwillegar knows all too well. The supply of seats does not meet the demand.
We decided to give them a try last night when we hatched a plan to grab a burger with our good friends Chris and Kathy - a fairly spur of the moment casual night out in the burbs to catch up with friends. Hart has only been open a week and does not take reservations. We arrived at 6:45 to quite a significant wait, but after learning that there was a similar wait over at Delux Burger Bar, we opted to give the new place a try. And I'm really glad we did. 
I hadn't been to Ric's Grill for several years before it closed, but if my memory is correct most of the layout of Hart is the same as it was as Ric's. One huge improvement is that the windows are no longer covered by stuffy black curtains. The lounge area is inviting with large sofa's and big raised tables. I think my favorite bit of decor was the wall paper in the washroom though! 
The menu's (available on line) are a little more upscale and diverse than the competition (Delux and Original Joes) in the neighborhood, a welcome addition to the local choices. The food was very good. I had the 'Tomahawk' Pork Chop and it was tasty and juicy. I nibbled on the DHs Century Kaleslaw that came with his Fish and Chips and it was delicious, as were his fries. 
The other BIG thing that Hart has going for it is it's beer selection. Fat Tire in bottles. Delirium Tremens on tap! Just a couple favorites from among the extensive list. I can imagine Hart becoming a favorite based on beer list alone.

I look forward to warm summer evenings out on their patio sampling that grand list. Welcome to the neighborhood, Hart, and (though I'm quite sure you will be) I wish you much success.