Ottawa Style Loves My Parents’ Garden

My parents’ garden is more famous than I will ever be.  But I’m okay with that.  Now you can see what I have to live up to in terms of DIY.

My parents' garden, as photographed by Ottawa Style Magazine

Unfortunately that’s the largest image I have, so I’ve transcribed it below:

Why:
All the exuberance of spring. Peonies, irises, lupins, and poppies.
Best Time to Visit: Mid-June
What: When Janet and John Bell moved to their grey clapboard house 12 years ago, there was no garden.  But they brought the backbone of a garden with them in plastic bins from their house near the Rockliffe airbase.  Hostas and peonies, irises and lupins, 13 varieties of thyme, clematis, lavender, honeysuckle, and pink poppies now thrive in this garden that wraps around two sides of the house.  “We started from the house and worked outwards toward the road,” says Janet, an artist who works in fine detail in pen and ink.

The garden is a history of their marriage.  The peonies, a colour card of pinks from deep to pale, were all given to the couple by the minister who married them 34 years ago.  There’s also a hosta that came from John’s father and is over 20 years old.  These plants have travelled all over Canada with them as they have moved from coast to coast for John’s work.  Irises are a particular favourite of the couple — there’s a spectacular example of the pink bearded variety ‘Beverly Sills’ — and they have grown several unusual varieties from seed.  In high gardening season, they spend about three days a week keeping up with the exuberant growth, and in fall they fertilize their sandy soil with sheep manure and peat moss.  The secret to this splendour is simple: “If it doesn’t thrive, get rid of it,” says Janet.

The Shining: This garden is a riot of colour in early summer, with peonies, poppies, irises, clematis, and all manner of perennials.  Irises (show to full advantage at right) are a particular favourite of the couple, who, over the years, have dug up and taken their favourite plants with them whenever they moved.

Bran Muffins

The Pie LOVES bran muffins.  I have never truly understood this addiction but nonetheless he persists.

Get all your ingredients out before you start.

This is a modified recipe from the Joy of Cooking (1996 edition).

Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 400°F.  Grease 2 standard 12-muffin pans or line with paper baking cups.  I prefer to use baking cups when it comes to bran muffins because they’re extra sticky due to the honey, molasses, and sugar they contain.  It just makes cleanup easier.

Leave the bran to soak for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl (I used the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, which I adore), combine 1 2/3 cups wheat bran with 1 cup boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes.

In another bowl (or a measuring cup, which I find is easier because it has a handle), whisk together 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Into the bran mixture, whisk 3/4 cup honey, 1/3 cup light molasses (I used dark, because I prefer the taste), 6 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and then 1/4 cup of plain Balkan style yogurt instead), 1/4 cup packed brown sugar (again, I prefer the darker stuff), and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (which I didn’t have, so it’s not in these muffins).  I also added in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract because I generally add vanilla to everything.

I mixed all the wet ingredients together first.

Whisk in (well if you’re using a mixer, then mix in) 2 large eggs, then stir in 1 1/3 cups raisins (I would up this next time to 2 full cups).

Stir in the raisins. Use lots.

Fold in the flour mixture until just moistened.  The batter should be lumpy but still soupy.  Spoon the batter into the muffin pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes.

I'm not very good at being tidy with muffins.

Let cool for 2-3 minutes then use a fork to gently pry the muffins out of the pan.  Serve hot or cool on a rack for eating the next day.

Mmmmuffins . . .

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are rather expensive here in Newfoundland, so I’m rather loath to let them go bad if I’m not going to use them right away.

This trick I got from my mother, who, I think, got it from Martha Stewart.

Make sure your herbs are still unwashed, or very well dried.
It takes some THYME to de-stem these leaves!

Take your unwashed herbs to be frozen and remove the leaves from the stems.

Remove the leaves from the stems

Place the leaves in a resealable plastic bag and suck out all the air.

Chuck them in the freezer.  Now you will have fresh herbs on hand when you want them.  Simply grab a handful of frozen herbs and crumple them in your hand.  No need to chop!

Chopping Herbs

Instead of blindly stabbing your chopping knife into a pile of herbs, ending up with bits of leaf everywhere and uneven pieces, try this trick next time.

Put the herbs you need to finely chop in a close pile.  Scoop them over themselves so that you make a folded mass.

Fold the herbs over themselves and hold on tight.

Hold the leaves tightly with your hand and hold a sharp knife with the tip touching the cutting board with the other.

Using the tip as a fulcrum, start your chopping, making sure to always hold the leaves tightly but not, of course, to cut your fingers off.

Carefully chop the herbs while still holding on tight.

You’ll find this way is a lot quicker and you can mince the herbs more easily from this stage, if needed.

Tabouleh tabouleh tabouleh

I really like the word tabouleh.  I remember eating it often as a kid.  It’s a good quick salad and it works well in a pita sandwich.

We made this recipe with couscous, but you can substitute it for quinoa or bulgur or other grains.

Stir the couscous and oil into the water and allow to expand for 2 minutes.

To prepare the couscous, bring a cup of salted water to a boil in a small pot.  Remove from the heat and pour in a cup of couscous.  Add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir, and allow the pasta to expand for two minutes.

Return the couscous to a low heat on the stove.  Drop in 2 to 3 teaspoons of butter and stir until well-blended.  Allow to cool.

Add butter to couscous and stir on low heat until melted.

We got this tabouleh recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) by Rombauer & Becker, and we replaced the bulgur with couscous, of course, and  we weren’t all that good at measuring, either, so we fiddled with the amounts.

Finely chop 2 to 3 tomatoes, 2 cups of fresh parsley, 1 cup of fresh mint, and 1 bunch of scallions or green onions. See my tips and tricks entry on how to finely chop herbs.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, emulsify 1/3 cup olive oil with 1/3 cup lemon juice.  To do this, I took a very small whisk and rubbed it between my palms until the liquid was creamy and custard coloured.

Use a small whisk to emulsify the ingredients.
Rub the whisk briskly between your palms until the liquid is custardy.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous, tomatoes, onions, and herbs together thoroughly.  Toss with the olive oil/lemon juice emulsion and serve.

Serve as a salad or in a sandwich.

We spooned the tabouleh into open pita pockets lined with baby spinach and home-made hummus and ate them with Garbage Soup.

Pita pockets with hummus, tabouleh, and baby spinach.

Garbage Soup with Squash, Spinach, Beans and Barley

Don’t let the name of this soup turn you off: it’s just a moniker my mother applied to any soup she made out of what was left in our refrigerator.

This week I had leftover spaghetti squash from my earlier experiment, as well as leftover cavatappi pasta from our spaghetti night.  What to do . . . ?

The nice thing about soups is they’re dead easy.  I filled a large pot with water and set it to boil.  I added a few heaping spoonfuls of Knorr Vegetable Stock (I use the powder instead of the liquid because I usually can’t use a whole carton before it goes bad and I don’t like to waste it).

Let the soup simmer for a couple of hours on medium-low.

I peeled and chopped a large parsnip and a small turnip (actually a rootabega but who’s checking?) and chucked them in the pot, together with a handful of pearl barley and about a cup of dried white beans.  I also added about a cup’s worth of frozen spinach to the mix, as well as the leftover squash and pasta.  There was already a significant amount of basil in the pesto that was on the squash (as well as the hazelnuts and parmesan cheese), so I didn’t add any other herbs to the mix.  When we eat it we usually add salt and pepper to suit our individual tastes.

Once I got the soup boiling, stirring often, I turned it down to a simmer, medium low, for about two hours, until the beans were cooked and the rootabega was tender.

We ate it hot with tabouleh sandwiches, and it was great.

My dad got me these bowls for Christmas. I am Big Al.

I let the rest of it cool and ladled it into yogurt containers for storage.  I find the yogurt container is a good standard measure for freezing, as it contains about two full servings.

Yogurt containers are a good size for two servings.

Salt and Pepper Dish

I like tobasco sauce, but Pie prefers pepper flakes.

We only have one set of salt and pepper grinders in the house, and they’re in use pretty much all the time.  We like to have them on hand when we’re cooking, and as well when we’re eating, so they travel all over the kitchen, to the dining room, and also the living room.

I got tired of making trips between rooms with all the little items under my arms, and I also got tired of cleaning up the little piles of ground salt and pepper left on the counters and table after putting down the grinders for the umpteenth time.

I think I got this idea from Martha Stewart, but regardless of where it came from, it’s a keeper.

Find a small dish you like and keep all your table items on it.  It makes transportation between rooms and counters a one-trip job, and it keeps the powdered spices off your tables and counters.  It’s pretty genius.