I do remember the fall.

Well. Time flies when you work your buns off.

This is me (yellow jacket) on a typical fall work day... I'm not complaining, OK? Although I don't usually enjoy making faces at the camera. I'll complain about that.

I gave myself a break today, and stayed home. One of my goals was to write, but here it is 4:56 pm, the arrival of the family is imminent, and I’ve just managed to get a cup of tea brewed and cued up some nice music. Floor washed, dinner made, pear butter bubbling… wait.

Pear butter?

We’re at pear butter already? Again?

What about all the garden posts I was so excited to do? Zucchini recipes, kale recipes, beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, beets?

2 of the 11 carrots that didn't get stolen by ants

Well the thing is – the garden’s over. There are some tenacious beans taking shelter under some plastic, and a couple of pumpkins that keep getting bigger but won’t turn orange, and of course, good ol’ kale that’ll just keep going till I rip it out of the ground by its stalk, but apart from that… well, see, it’s fall. Again. My thoughts are turning to cozy, belly-filling pots of beans and fiery curries and chilis.  The light zucchini sautés of August are being pushed aside for…the stuff I wrote about last year.

The end of the summer was a little fast-paced. I went back to work and immediately started and finished 4 of the 5 courses that I have in my workload this semester. I was on the water 4 to 7 days a week. In there somewhere was Frida’s birthday party which required quick thinking on the cake (which almost got axed from the program due to time constraints but I thought that would make for a pretty shitty birthday party)

Girls discover beans

What a birthday party would be without swings and a garden, I have yet to discover.

To hang on to the last vestiges of summer, we booked a little chalet in Coin du Banc and hung out on the beach far away from our kitchen, laundry room, lawnmower and yes, garden.

And by the time I got done with all that, well, it was October 2nd, and I found myself cooking down 8 pounds of pears and hankerin’ for beans.

All of a sudden, it was fall.

I did manage to squeak out some pickled beans but I have to wait for 3 weeks before I can tell you if they are any good. The bean production was out of control. I’m really happy about the late planting of Ice Haricot beans I got from Les Jardins de L’Écoumène  – these beans feature “Small cloves lime green to the exquisite flavor are sought in the gourmet kitchen. The plants that reach 40 cm high should be visited regularly if you want to get an extended harvest. This bean is perfect for short seasons seasons”  (I love translations). But really – I got a shitload of beans, and I think I planted them in August. They are halfway between green and yellow and have a really delicate flavour. The kids went nuts over them.

Golden and Chioggia beets from the gah-den

And I’m pulling up my last beets now, and would like to share with you my all-time favourite way to cook beets and their greens together. This recipe comes from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen which was the first book I bought when I decided to learn how to cook for real. It’s a great resource despite the sometimes snobby and lengthy ingredient lists. While his instructions verge at times on the ridiculous (e.g., one should stir in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere because that’s the natural way that things, like your risotto, like to go around), it’s clear he loves food and feeding people, and his emphasis on seasonal eating works so well with a garden-sourced menu or for those of you with access to farmers’ markets or CSAs.  The recipes are always delicious and there are tons of instructions for making stuff like biga, sourdough, and seitan, and even just for how to chop vegetables. It leans heavily toward the vegan rather than the meat-eating-lapsed-vegetarian, but nonetheless,  my copy is dog-eared and sauce-splattered and this is one page that gets used a lot (possibly due to its short, accessible ingredient list). The result is tender, sweet beets that melt in your mouth and invariably cause people to stop and look at what they’re eating and say, “these are BEETS? Are there more?”.

(On a side note, Berley has since come out with another book that seems to have been written just for me: The Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone In Between. This one’s going on my christmas list. Oh, and remind me to tell you about the Osso Bucco that was my downfall.)

Balsamic Glazed n Braised Beets and Greens

Adapted from Peter Berley’s recipe, from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

1 medium red onion, cut into wedges or crescents

4-5 fresh beets (more if you’re using smaller beets, enough to cover the bottom of your pan in a snug layer) with tops*, roots trimmed, and cut into wedges,

Beet greens,  chopped*.

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

*if you can’t get beets with the tops still on (PIPPA: DON”T USE CANNED BEETS), you could probably substitute other greens such as collards, chard, mustard greens, or, OK, twist my arm: kale – but I wouldn’t use spinach, I don’t think it’s tough enough for this job.

1. In a heavy pan that has a cover, arrange the beet slices and onion so that they fit snugly on the bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar, oil, thyme, and 1/2 tsp salt. Toss and then pour enough water over top to just cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so, until the beets are nearly tender, but not quite.

2. Raise the heat and boil, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to a syrup and the beets are fork-tender.

3. Add the beet greens, reduce the heat again, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Uncover and turn the greens over so they mix with the beets. Add pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes more and serve.

Yum.

You can tell by the wind
By fresh cut wood
All stacked to dry
That autumn’s here
And it makes you sad
About the crummy
Summer we had

With pine trees creaking
And ravens screeching
Just like the story my grandma tells
About when a bird
Hits your window
And someone you know
Is about to die

Autumn’s here
It’s ok if you want to cry

Find a sweater
And you’ll be better
Until the kindling is tinder dry
We can be quiet
As we walk down
To see the graveyard
Where they are now
I wonder how
They brought their piano
To haldane hill
From old berlin
Be hard to keep it
Well in tune
With winters like the one
That’s coming soon
Auntumn’s here
It’s time to cry now

I think that ghosts like
The cooler weather
When leaves turn colour
They get together
And walk along
These old back roads
Where no one lives
And no one goes
With all their hopes set
On the railway
That never came
So no one stayed
I guess that autumn
Gets you remembering
And the smallest things
Just make you cry.

Autumn’s here.

  –Hawksley Workman, Autumn’s Here

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Kale Massage Therapy

The other day I got a facebook message from my San Francisco-based, uber-hip, very happening friend Nadine, extolling the virtues of kale (to which I think I can take credit for introducing her) and asking if “massaging kale is as big in Gaspe as it is in Berkeley?”

Good question, Nadine. In fact, in Gaspe, I have yet to meet someone who has heard of kale. I have been growing it for the past 3 years but I have to explain it every time, sort of like this: “It’s kale. Well, there’s no translation really. Curly cabbage… but that’s not really it. It’s kale. Like a cross between cabbage, and broccoli, and spinach…Yeah, no, the seed packet [from Quebec] just said, ‘kale’. Try it! ”

Lacinato, or Toscano, or Dino, or Black kale. Many other kinds exist, and they all look different. They all work for most every kale application.

And as I live in a  spacious yet well-insulated bell-jar, of course I had never heard of the trend – and it is very trendy – of kale massage. This is not rubbing people with kale, as I found out through a hasty internet search. This is massaging the kale leaves themselves. Although, considering the extreme nutritional value of kale, I wouldn’t be surprised if rubbing it on people would be beneficial.

Anyway, you’d think that I wouldn’t have time for all this foodista crap, what with working full-time all of a sudden, and having all those other things to do as well, that I barely managed to do while I wasn’t working at all, but everyone raved about it so much that I had to give it a go. And the kale in my garden was just calling out to me, day after day: “Holly! Poor us! we’re growing so dutifully, fending off hordes of slugs and sacrificing our lower leaves to them every night, and here we are, in all our leafy splendor, and you ignore us! Pick me! Forget the beans! Pick me!”

So, OK, I picked it! Piles of it, cause the massage (like cooking) makes it shrink. It’s kinda like making a salad and leaving it for a few hours after putting on the dressing. It gets a little fatigué – but with kale, that just makes it…edible.

The short of it is, you cut up the kale (remove the tough stem), put it in a big bowl,

drizzle a bit of olive oil on it,

squeeze a bit of lemon juice on it

sprinkle a bit of salt on it

and put on some instrumental music with water sounds….

and get yer mitts in there and squish it all up for 2 or 3 minutes.

Then, just like after a person massage, you let it rest for about 15 minutes (you can even put a fluffy, warm, white towel over it, but this is not absolutely necessary), while you prepare all the nibblies that are going to go in your amazing salad: Toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds, apples or peaches or mango, dried cranberries, grapes…

…and while you whisk up a little lemon juice with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

and when all this toasting, chopping, and whisking is done, your kale should be well-rested after its massage and ready to get dressed.

So there you go. If you’ve caught yourself staring at that big bunch of leaves in the store and wondering what the heck you’d do with all that kale, wonder no more. Cause if massaging it doesn’t turn you on, you can find fifty million other things to do with it on line. I am a bit obsessed with kale these days, but not as much as this lady, who can really help you find things to do with your kale. Seriously. Try googling “massaged kale“. Or “kale chips” (Gotcha, Frida!). Right there, you’ve got 2 ways of ingesting ridiculous amounts of vitamins, iron, and calcium.

And the only downside is that you have to check your teeth before you interact with colleagues.

garlic fingers

The last couple of days here in Gaspe have been absolutely beautiful. The summer weather we’ve been waiting for since last October is finally here! It’s been hot, but not too hot. Not much wind. Beautiful evening beach weather – the kind where when you get to the beach, you still feel like swimming – with the seals who are spying on you, and the whales who are popping up a couple hundred metres off shore. Aaaah, the first days of summer – August 18 and 19!

THIS kind of weather.

And who’s back in her stinky, sweaty, cinderblock office?

Yeah. Me. 14 months of maternity leave – POOF! over.

I’ll try not to complain too much, cause other than the office part I do have the best job on the planet, and before you know it I’ll be chillin’ (literally) with students on the amazing rivers around here, but it is kinda a bummer that I find myself making photocopies in the bread-oven-they-call-a-sports-pavillion and staring at the World’s Slowest Computer for hours on end while summer has a party outside my window.

Today, however, I opted to enjoy the incredible morning that was dropped on my doorstep, over rushing off to an 8 o’clock teachers’ breakfast and subsequent lecture on Generation C (Yeah, I thought we were in GenY, too – apparently it’s the same thing… just a different letter, cause we’re in Quebec).

Frida, Manny and I strolled down to the beach and checked out the local heron gang on the sandspit, ate a few raspberries and collected rocks and rusty nails.

And then, before going to work/daycare, we tiptoed barefoot through the too-long grass to the garden and pulled up our first-ever garlic harvest. It’s been raining so much that I was prepared for a mushy, rotten, garlicky disaster but they pulled up beautifully. Big, smelly bulbs are now curing in our hammock chair under the birch tree while I cross my fingers that it won’t rain before I can get a roof over their stinky heads.

Frida took a “baby” bulb and its stalk to daycare today and gave it to the cook to use in the day’s meals. We both went to school with dirty fingers that smelled like garlic. Perfect for picking those leftover chocolatines off the tray at the breakfast.

I DID make it to the conference on GenC/Y (which was surprisingly very interesting), ran around like crazy all day, then picked up Frida, her buddy Fay, a couple pints of  Pit Caribou Blanche and a bag o’ chips and headed out to the beach for a dip and a picnic with a good friend who I haven’t seen in a while.

The drive home under the stars had me feeling like as crazy as things might be when you have a full-time job and two kids and a dog and a house and a garden, there are still a lot of magic moments to be had in a day, as long as you don’t mind feeding your kid chips for dinner.

*ok, PS,  Generation C is not the same as Gen Y, for those of you who didn’t take the time to follow the link. It’s kinda cool actually: you can DECIDE to be Gen C if you want, even if you are an “aged” gen X’er like me!  But the lecturer today, he really did say that they were the same, except that in Quebec we say “Generation C”. With a french accent.

PPS the roof has appeared over the stinky heads of the garlic and also the 40-or-so pounds of potatoes we dug up today. Here’s to being a pack rat : I never threw out that old tent even though I only have the fly and the groundsheet. I KNEW it would come in handy some day!frida n taters__