The Not-So Normal Birthday Carrot Cake

My Dad had a big day a couple weeks ago.  He turned 65, retired and moved all in one day. Somehow, my sister, mother and I had failed to foresee this day coming and we had nothing planned in terms of celebration besides knowing that we’d go out for dinner.  So, I took the Friday afternoon off (from what you may ask? hah. I keep busy) and made a cake.  My sister requested “no funny business” and “just do something normal for once Kim”.  And so I truthfully set out to do just that, to make a normal, white flour and white sugar Birthday cake.  I don’t know what happened along the way, or how it ended up being sugar free…..and whole wheat…..with raw cashew icing.  My eco/health conscience is so strong I think I lose friends because of it sometimes…..tough go for my family, they can’t unfriend me.  hah.

I merged 2 recipes into one for this one and I’m quite proud of the esthetics of it all.  I don’t know where I got the idea for using dried mango to cut little carrot triangles out of, but it must have been a brilliant post somewhere.  I came across the little green christmas tree candies at the Bulk Barn and voila! Carrots.  The Bulk Barn apparently only sells candy corn (those awful candies that look like carrots) around Halloween, and I’m glad that’s the case because it forced me to get creative.  Why carrot cake?  I don’t really know.  I just know that we have killed my dad with Chocolate over the years, he doesn’t like things too sweet and I think he likes muffins. Solution: carrot cake, naturally.

I set out to find a winning carrot cake recipe, but in that search came across a winning recipe that happened to be sugar free and whole wheat.

It uses a lot of agave nectar and I even threw in a handful of raisins, so I figured it would be sweet.  The yogurt glaze from the recipe wasn’t quite enough for me to decorate with, so I put it in the middle layer of the cake and then iced the top with a thick layer of raw cashew icing.

Check it out, home-grown carrots for this special man’s birthday cake! That odd shaped orange thing on the bottom left of the cutting board is a carrot that got super stumped by the clay-pack at the bottom of our raised beds so it grew a lil’ round.

And you mix it all together….. (I had a hard time believing that this would turn out to be a cake…it was very carrotty)

But, after 30 min in the oven: amazing, cake!  Icing with the cashew icing was awesome and easy.  It is the perfect consistency to stick around and be thick and yummy.

And tadaa!  Not bad for an amateur if you ask me!  The “Definitely past half way” is an inside joke, but look at those dried mango carrots! They were my favourite thing about the cake.

And even though they knew it was healthy, they all loved it.  To be honest, getting my father to eat some pure food and giving my diabetic-in-denial mother a treat without the sugar high is more important to me than buying their love with refined sugar and white flour.  And they ate it all!  Mission complete.

5 Favourite Things About Growing my Own Veggies This Year

What was once a sea of red and green tomatoes, has now returned to being our counter.

The 4 last green tomatoes stand alone on the counter next to jars of pasta sauce, salsa and home-made ketchup.  We’ve begun making soups and I just finished eating the last of our watermelons (!).

Noses are beginning to run and the only stuff left in the garden are the carrots, some greens and one little head of cabbage that was decimated by cabbage fly shortly after planting but is now determined to provide for us.

It’s hard to believe that we did what the books say – just get one season under your belt.

Not only that, but it was so successful that we’ve got a boot-room (a post on my dreams of a root cellar is to come) full of squash, potatoes, garlic, apples and I taught myself to can! (ok, fine, Google and YouTube taught me to can. Kind of sad actually when you think it should have been my mother or grandmother, but alas, my mother only ever did jams and I didn’t know my grandmothers). I realize that I’m still in the honeymoon phase of growing my own food, I’m sure in 20 years, it may just be another chore, however I do love the creative freedom that I have, the luxury of having local, organic food in my backyard and especially the relief from having to hunt for local, organic food elsewhere.

Here are my top 5 favourite things about growing vegetables:

1) Harvesting potatoes!

2) The funny things the cats do outside


3) The fun conversations I share with fellow gardeners and the things that I learn from them.

4) The abundance to share with neighbours, friends and passersby

5) The creepy critters that turn up that you get to show to kids

Do you have any favourite moments from this season?

Rubber boots and Mittens

I went for a hike today,

A dead hike mom would say.

“Everything is brown,

The colours all down

Not a time for hiking

And too late for biking

You should have done this a month ago.”

As you can guess,

I left mom for a rest,

And to my surprise,

The place was alive.

First I was spooked,

By a nesting goose,

As I followed a path

That circles her bath

Then further I crept

And a whitetaileddeer lept,

From her exposed graze

To a pine tree maze

I next took the track

To the maple syrup shack

Followed “frostbite ridge” trail

To a flock of wild quail

and stood still to listen

to the morning dew glisten.

I stooped low to investigate

What a bear or fox ate

And took a wrong path

When did that maple collapse?

It began to snow

The wet stuff, you know.

When I found the track back,

I was met by the cat

He hopped on 3 feet

To the house where we sleep

So we completed the loop

Lured by scents of soup

To find Mom in the snow

Waiting with hot cocoa.

My First Canning Project – Ketchup!

Like many first-year gardeners, I have way too many tomatoes.  And not only that, but I even bought some more tomatoes from my friend John! Ridiculous, I know.  I must have had about 50-75lbs of tomatoes in the kitchen sorted into baskets and buckets and bowls according to their level of ripeness.  After 3 rounds of pasta sauce, 2 rounds of raw pasta sauce and many tomato sandwiches, I decided to tackle a real tomato project – KETCHUP!  I rarely eat the stuff, but when I roast potatoes or we have scrambled eggs, that sugar and sodium laced condiment just screams to land on my plate.  So now, I am happy to say that I have an all natural, mostly organic (save for the red wine vinegar, pepper and ginger) ketchup.  Thanks to Fig and Lime Cordial for the recipe! It was the best and easiest one I could find on the internet.  I love the roasted tomato flavour.

I made a few changes because I made A LOT more than this recipe.  To be exact, I made 5x the recipe.  Rather than weighing the tomatoes at the start, I just used as many as I could stand to work through and then measured the passata based on the size of my pot when I had pushed all the roasted tomatoes through the sieve.  I substituted a combination of red wine vinegar, balsamic and apple cider vinegar for the white wine vinegar just for a little fun and I read in another recipe that this make the flavour very robust.  Fancy schmancy.  Besides that, the only difference for me is that it took probably about 3 hours to boil it down to a thickness that I was satisfied with, it probably could have gone for another hour or 2.   I actually stuck the whole pot in the fridge once it was cooled because I wasn’t ready to can it until the next day when I had the jars and another big pot to process in.  Which I think is ok because I heated it up again to a boil before canning it.

Voila! And without even asking for victims to taste test, I came home from teaching a lovely yoga class to Dylan’s expression that my ketchup is amazing!  yay!

A Pensive Walk in Grey County

I think this is the first time that I’m really feeling the season change.  It may be just coincidence that I’m in deep-thought mode while summer is turning to fall, but with the cooler crisp air and the leaves beginning to change I am taking a step back to see what I’m up to.  It’s also pretty interesting that I’ve been up high more than usual lately and the birds eye view of my surroundings is triggering some big thinking.

Dylan and I were treated to a sunset flight over Georgian Bay in a tiny 4-seater plane owned by one of Dylan’s friends.  Despite my rather embarrassing (sustainability-wise) history of frequent flying, this flight was different because I got a chance to fly over my own neighborhood, rather than the usual Toronto airport scenery, without disappearing into the clouds.  The contrast between seeing an expanse of land surrounding Georgian Bay, and knowing that what I was seeing is not even a pin prick on our globe, made me notice my heartbeat and a sent chill down my spine.  It’s a reoccurring feeling I get of being overwhelmed by the size of our planet and yet inspired to be a part of something bigger.

And it happened again while I was on a long, cloudy and cold walk yesterday.  I walked up out of the Beaver Valley to get first a view of the Beaver Valley, and then as I traveled further north I got a view of Geogian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment.  Pausing to breathe in the view, it was as though the breeze that puffed my hair off of my neck came from far away and whispered to me to come and do something bigger; be something greater.

Living back in my home country, and my home province at that, I’ve been feeling mediocre.  My work has slowed down this week (well, paid work that is….running a non-profit seems to have potential endless work, however the pay cheques are few and far between), and I’ve now been living in the Beaver Valley for 3 years.  I live with the love of my life and I have begun to build a network and some jobs here that are not easily walked away from.  While I don’t work the 9-5 lifestyle, there is still a sense of “normalcy” to my life that lacks excitement, big conversations and crazy dreams.  When I lived in Sweden with 65 people from around the world, we talked big.  We dreamed big.  And many of those people are still out there, circumnavigating the globe, drafting international policies, wearing organic cotton suits and owning homes.  And then there’s little me, helping people grow peas and taking them up and down the Beaver River in canoes.  It seems we are just living the simple life, eating veggies out of the garden, chatting with the neighbours, doing dishes and going to bed.  I intuitively don’t overwork myself, I actually don’t work very hard.  In university, I worked ridiculously hard to get my A’s, run marathons and make money, but when I caught on to what life’s truly about (not money or A’s), I seem to have entirely let go of my desire to overachieve.  Dylan told me the other night that I have a “lazy soul”.  He said “I am an Old Soul, and you are a Lazy Soul”.  I don’t quite know what to make of that just yet.

The big debate that takes place in my soul, likely seasonally, is “Am I meant I stay-put, in a culture that is home and make small changes that are hopefully effectively contributing to a larger difference, or should I put my gears in high, rubber to the road and work my brains out to be something, make some money and maybe get some award or something?” It’s probably obvious that I don’t know what I’m meant to do just yet, or what my path looks like.  I envy those people who have known their paths their whole lives: blacksmiths, artists, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, dancers etc.  Those people who’s parents said “Yes Betty, we’ll drive you to your sewing club because you are going to be a fabulous seamstress”, even though they desperately wanted Betty to be a heart surgeon.  At 28, I just feel like I’ve missed my prime to really excel in one field.  There’s no chance I’ll ever get to be on So You Think You Can Dance or to be Prime Minister.  I have taken one sad hip hop dance lesson and I barely understand what I’m voting for on October 6th.  Yes, I do know how to grow veggies, how to teach yoga and I am working against the grain to live sustainably (not working for the man for 40% of my life just to own a house, a car, a kid and a whole lot of stuff I don’t need but want because they temporarily fill a void in my life that runs much deeper than the power cord for my outdoor living room).  It’s a tough battle as my parents and others coast through life, indifferent to many things as they go to and from work, buy food from the grocery store, clothing from the mall and watch TV to mute the little voice inside that’s tsk-tsking as they “throw out” their bags of garbage, drive to pick up a dollar coffee with sugar and milk, buy plastic products made in china that will end up as tiny bits in the ocean, never to disintegrate, and as they push paper for 8 hours of their waking day in a meaningless game of buy and sell that operates on fear and false desires.

So, that’s where it ends every time, inconclusive, unclear and frustrating as a rubix cube for Dylan.

But the photo at the start of this post is what I gathered on my walk.  A very red maple leaf and some delicious “wild” apples and pears.  So I made applesauce in the crockpot.

Rice, we’re over. Cavena Nuda Je t’aime.

I confess – we eat rice.

Rice straight from the Bulk Barn.  Not straight from the rice fields, but from the truck that travels thousands of miles from the port in the US where it met the tanker that had crossed the ocean after it met more trucks in the harbour where it came from.  Straight from unsustainably managed rice fields somewhere out there where a farmer is just trying to feed his family.  Even worse, we love white rice.  Sticky white basmati rice.  While I keep a supply of what is touted as a healthier choice, brown basmati, on hand also, neither are remotely local and if I want organic, I’m bound to buying some form of plastic packaging.

With (purchasing) power comes great responsibility.

For the most part, I’ve played the ignorant card when buying rice, justifying it because well, everyone else eats it and if I have things on hand that Dylan enjoys, such as rice, he’s less likely to say “Pita Pit?” when brainstorming dinner ideas.  But rice, you’ve been replaced (it may be more of a gradual phasing out, and I make no claim to perfection).  Welcome Cavena Nuda. Je t’aime.  I first found you in the bulk barn flyer, labelled “New! Rice of the Prairies” and the possibility of a rice from Canada made me have to try you!   A “hull-less” oat that cooks just like brown rice, cavena nuda is a nutty grain that cooks al dente and is amazing in many dishes because it holds up very well.  I may be late for the cavena nuda train because apparently it was on Dragon’s Den, but I bet there are many people out there who have yet to hear about it.  I can’t remember all the ways that I’ve used it, but the other night I added some garlic scape pesto, basil, steamed beans (all from the garden), and some canned Ontario tomatoes and wow!

Here’s another fresh spring meal that we had, pretty much simple rice (eek) pasta with a simple home-made sauce of garlic, onions and canned tomatoes, made so fresh with herbs from the garden!

And here are our watermelon radishes that have been great additions to potato salads, beet salads and sandwiches…

Having vegetables right in our backyard has been the highlight of my summer!  No more ethical dilemmas at the grocery store, no more debates at farmer’s markets and lots more fresh, local, organic veggies!

Top 10 Kitten Toys – No purchase necessary

Our house has begun to remind us of the book Where the Wild Things Are.  We have 2 monsters who collide, jump from far distances, run at top speed from end to end and scale walls.  Dylan wanted to name then after the monsters in the book, but their names are among the likes of Emil, Aaron and Bernard – not the best kitten names.  When we first got the kittens I was almost lured into buying them those cute cat nip mice at the pet store (they even had “all natural” eco friendly ones), but boy am I glad I didn’t fall for that.  Here are Mister and Miss’ top 10 list of things to play with:

10) Dry leaves

9) Anything and everything that dangles – including my hair

8) Laundry piles

7) House flies

6) Dust bunnies

5) Crumpled up paper

4) Backpacks on the floor – so many buckles that make noise!

3) Socks

2) Tin foil balls  (Upgrade by tying it to the end of a string)

1) Another kitten

And, as a side note, in an effort to maintain our sustainable living goals, we’ve opted out of the “temptations treats” and instead, we shake a jar of their usual all natural kibble to get them to come inside and give them a treat of sardines! (A sustainable seafood choice). I can’t believe I just added a category to my blog titled “cats”….my apologies for the dog lovers out there but I can promise I’ll keep these cat posts to a  minimum. Chances are it’s just cat lovers still reading anyhow, and in that case, here’s one more picture of my latest love affair 🙂

Garlic Scape Pesto

Desperate to cook with something from our garden, I decided I would make use of our only crop of a decent size at the moment – garlic scapes.  Since I just learned what scapes were last year, I can imagine there are some people out there who also don’t know (ahem *city folk* cough cough).  Well, they are the first shoot that comes from garlic that had been planted the previous fall.  Yes, you must plant garlic 3 whole seasons ahead of time before you can harvest the bulbs in the summer.  So, at least we get garlic scapes in June – that taste just like garlic and can be used kind of like green onions – otherwise I’m sure some of us would get anxious and pull up our garlic too early (I’m dying to know how big those bulbs are under the soil). It is also essential to cut the scapes before the flower blossoms, to keep the plant’s energy going into making your garlic bulb nice and plump.  I got the idea for pesto from Stacie at the Kimberley General Store (who is always full of great local food ideas).  One of our first garden recipes!

I started out processing just olive oil and scapes, a la pesto style, until I lifted the lid of the food processor and got hit by a wall of garlic.  In a desperate attempt to cut the overpowering and overstimulating effect of garlic, I added some parsley, basil, ginger, parmesan and honey.  I don’t know if you could taste any of these other flavours, but it didn’t matter because it was delish, and also because now all I can taste is garlic still.  I bet some lemon would be a great addition also.  Even though Dylan says he will taste it for days, it was sooo good while we were eating it.

(I couldn’t get this first photo to flip properly, so please turn your head to the right to view the beautiful garlic scapes).

All in the food processor…

Mixed up with some brown rice pasta (or pasta of your choice), some salt and pepper and voila!

I’m Not Supposed To Have Responsibilities….I’m a Hipsie.

We may have rooted ourselves.  It’s terrifying. 

We were debating chickens for a while but it’s pretty obvious we couldn’t commit.  We eased ourselves into it with a garden and some houseplants (just 2 houseplants).  But we still want to be mobile, we love it.  And then we even went and emptied Dylan’s storage unit and moved some more stuff into our house, as though we are going to live here for a long time.  Another year even.  It makes me want to run.  And now!  Now we’ve gone and got not one, but 2 cats!  We can’t even house-sit anymore unless we can bring it (we’re only planning on keeping one….for the mice of course), or unless we can find cat-sitters too.  This is getting ridiculous.  I feel like I should just pack up the car for practice to make sure I can still get outta here in one load.  One light in the dark tunnel towards “status quo life” is that we got a sweet FREE barbeque at the end of someone’s lane the other day!  Can’t believe they gave away a Weber that was barely used, came with all the accessories (even charcoal and mequite chips) AND it matches our cookware!

But then…..look at these faces…….I’m melting….

My First Vegetable Garden

We did…..well…I did, what every body,

book, blog, article and website tells you not to do.

We went big.  A smart, caring and busy individual would be wise to start with a 4X10 plot, no bigger.  We doubled that, probably tripled it, and I’m sure we’ll pay the price.  Luckily, we are still in the honeymoon phase of vegetable gardening, where most things are growing, nothing has been attacked, the weeds are at bay and we’re dreaming of delicious, easy and fresh vegetables in the near future.  We are not dreaming of all the weeding that will need to take place, the bug patrolling, the rabbit visits, or the heartbreak.  I’m so naive it’s 9am on a Sunday morning and I haven’t even looked at the garden this weekend yet.  It could have been totally wiped out yesterday or today, but in my happy naive bubble, that just won’t happen to us.  It happens to everyone else in the books, blogs, website, and articles, but not us.  Like car accidents, deaths in the family and natural disasters.  You never think it will happen to you and you only partially prepare for it, if at all.  Luckily, we’re just talking about peas and bean here. 

Nonetheless, we have a 20X20 row garden and a 10X4 square foot garden and they are not all for us.  They are to test out some organic growing methods for our non profit Free Spirit Gardens and the produce will be shared with Free Spirit Tours staff, family and friends.  We are also growing all heirloom, organic varieties, so I think the yield per plant is going to be significantly lower than conventional hybrid plants, thus we’ve planted 12 tomato plants rather than 4.  hah.  With a shitty kitchen, a small fridge/freezer, no pantry or root cellar, this is going to be food overload.  Perfect, it’s what I’m hoping for.  Because, in all reality, there’s a chance that it will be slim pickings.  The season is late, and I was speaking to a very well seasoned farmer at the Flesherton Farmer’s Market yesterday who consoled me by saying that this season is a hard season for even experienced growers, nevermind beginners.  So if I get more food than I can handle, my self-proclaimed vegetable growing expertise will be validated.