Monday, December 20, 2010

Pantry Raid!

“The guests are met, the feast is set.
May'st hear the merry din.”

~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The beeswax candles were lit and twinkling, casting shadows and warm, golden light in dark corners.

The veggies were roasting in the oven. Carrots, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes from the garden, local onions, burdock root and potatoes, all seasoned lightly with oil, dill, rosemary, salt and pepper.

The big enamel pot simmered on the back burner filled with spiced, organic apple cider.

On the table the pickled beets and sour dills flashed the colours of the season: red, green, red.

Out came the homemade quince paste, gleaned from a bush growing nearby. It went on the board with mostly local, artisnal cheese.

Into the ice box went the locally made hard cider and white wine. A bottle of red was opened up to breathe.

Two bowls of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds went out into the sitting area. The pumpkin pie roll ups would be set out later for dessert.

The last kernels of homegrown popcorn exploded in the pot and were quickly transferred into a bowl to be buttered and salted, as the first guests arrived.

Greetings and welcomes were exchanged, snow was stamped off and boots removed, coats were taken into the bedroom.

More dishes came with the guests. This was a potluck after all. But not just any potluck. It was a pantry raid to celebrate the season of short days and long nights, when the farmer's fields and backyard gardens lay empty and covered in snow. It was a gathering of people bent on turning modern conventions and accepted practices upside down. At a time of year when it gets harder and harder to eat locally and seasonally if you depend solely on your nearest bigbox, foodmart for sustenance, these guests bravely took up the challenge of bringing a dish with at least one local ingredient. They dug deep into their larders, pulled produce from the freezers, home canned bits of summer captured in jars came off the shelves and stores were plundered in search of the most local ingredients to be found. Soon the table was full to overflowing with the most delicious array of food and two pots of soup were warming up on the stove.

Adding to the snacks were tortilla chips and home canned peach salsa and salsa verde. More tortilla chips came, but these were special. They were homemade and almost all the ingredients were locally sourced. Beets and garden greens were used to add seasonal colour in, you guessed it, red and green. They were an impressive masterpiece and their simplicity belied the care that went into making them.

On the entree list there was a Martinique goat curry- the local, vegan version. It was delicious and enjoyed by all.

The roasted roots were served with a mushroom gravy. Bowls of squash and apple and squash and sweet potato soup made the rounds, served with fresh, crusty bread from a local bakery.

People inhaled the tasty dish of potatoes, leeks and eggs.

Oohs and aahs could be heard above the conversation as the homemade beet and squash ravioli came out served with a white sauce.

The fresh, green salad and chocolate mousse were enjoyed as a luxury and rarity.

People tucked into in the food in earnest, going back for seconds and thirds. This was a celebration of abundance and richness, a reward for hard work and a relishing of harvests. Plates were balanced on knees. Stories were told in between bites. The laughter was loud and long. The food kept coming.

Suddenly the desserts appeared. There was the green tomato cake that everyone fell in love with, an unbelievably good ice cream made with fresh cream from a cow share, flavoured with acorn squash and finally the dessert that made us all feel like kids again, apple cider toffee drizzled over snow.

Slowly people relaxed into full belly postures, sated on food, but not yet on conversation and good cheer. Old friends sat together companionably and new friends were made.

Eventually the first couple got up to leave. Food was packed up and portioned out, and one by one, two by two, coats were returned, feet slipped into boots and the guests were on their way with fare wells and good wishes.

The rest of the food was put away, dishes cleared up and a grateful and happy hostess closed her eyes on the couch while a very Awesome Dude Guy washed up most of the evidence. The flickering candles were gently blown out. The little apartment so recently the scene of such great feasting, was now left in peaceful silence, full yet with lovely memories and a quiet knowing that, more than just a festive gathering of the season, this celebration held a promise for a different way of coming together at the table and sharing food. A way that is rich, varied and abundant, yet gentle and restorative to the land, while nourishing people, and where nothing is wasted and no one goes hungry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coniferous Tipples

Hey! Check out Crunchy's post. We're totally surfing the same cosmic brain wave dude!

Plus, her post has lots of boozy recipes. Fun!

Oh and I love idea in the comments to make pine needle vinegar. Must. do. this. ASAP.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The South March Highlands

The South March Highlands from Gord Stephen on Vimeo.

I just sent the following letter to my mayor and city councillors. You can read more about the issue here. And here is another video.

This matter will be brought before council and voted on tomorrow.

If you feel so inclined please copy and send this letter along. Here are the email addresses you need:;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

Dear Mayor Watson,

As a resident of Ottawa, I want you to know that I view the preservation of the South March Highlands to be of the highest priority for this new city council.

I believe that your leadership as mayor and that of our new-elected council can play a critical role in ensuring that every avenue is pursued to protect this unique area.

The fact that the Beaver Pond Forest lands are under such imminent threat of being developed for housing reflects a major failure in planning on the part of this city.

However, it also presents a watershed opportunity for this new council, under your direction, to rally the forces needed to protect this remarkable natural area.

It is unquestionably Ottawa’s most significant natural area and, as such, a substantial but untapped asset to the city of Ottawa. Three times the size of Stanley Park, the South March Highlands is considered by experts to be among the most bio-diverse not just in Ontario but in Canada. And, considering that it lies within the boundaries of the City of Ottawa, the nation’s capital, might just make it unique in the world.

How can we possibly allow it to be lost when other cities across Canada, such as Montreal, are developing international reputations for protecting their biodiversity?

It is imperative that the city find a legitimate way to prevent the impending clearing of the land, and continue to examine every possibility, and explore every avenue to preserve this land, either as city land, or as land held in collaboration with other governmental and non-governmental agencies, for example, as part of an expanded National Capital Greenbelt and/or a land trust arrangement of some kind. Creativity also needs to be applied to raising the necessary funds for the acquisition so that it will not put additional and undue stress on Ottawa taxpayers. Ottawa is a city gifted with multi-talented, educated, and highly motivated residents who should be enlisted to help find a solution to this challenge. This is a unique opportunity to respond to community support to create a new model for Public-to-Public partnership with the community.

This is the eleventh hour for the South March Highlands and once it is gone, it is gone for good. This is this city’s opportunity to act decisively to save this precious, natural gem. Many thousands of residents from across Ottawa have already expressed their concern and desire to see this area saved from development. I now add my voice.

Preserving the South March Highlands might just be the most important natural legacy that you, as mayor, and this city council could leave for future generations of Ottawa residents.

We need your leadership. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

c.c. City Councillors

Monday, December 13, 2010

Drink Your Tree

Further to the below...

'Nother thing you can do with the balsam fir is strain any left over water that you've steeped the needles in, add some more water if you need, and a bit of white vinegar and you've got yourself one fine and lovely scented cleaner. I scrubbed my bathroom with just such a concoction and baking soda this weekend.

My favourite thing about using my own all-natural, homemade cleaners is that I never have to worry about inhaling toxic fumes into my lungs or getting harsh and corrosive chemicals on my skin. I'm not flushing them into our waterways and drinking systems either.

Christmas trees are often balsam firs, 'cause they smell so darn good. However I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be using the needles from those trees for tea or simmering for an air freshener, because most of them are grown with pesticides. If anyone has an organic Christmas tree though, there's no reason why you couldn't repurpose some of it for eating, drinking, air freshening and cleaning! It doesn't even have to be a balsam fir. Fir, spruce, pine and cedar species are all aromatic, medicinal, high in vitamin C and edible (in reasonable amounts- don't overdo it!).

Even if you don't have a real, organic Christmas tree, when you're out and about in the world, take a sniff and nibble of your nearest conifer. If you like the smell and it tastes good, carefully pick a handful of tips to bring home and try!

(Don't forget to practice good wildcrafting ethics.)

Image Source

Friday, December 10, 2010

"When simple advice about lifestyle would suffice."

Ah...relief. The headache that had been plaguing me since early afternoon is gone. Not one to take pharmaceuticals if it can be helped and thinking about the words of wisdom from yesterday's post I quietly slipped away from my desk and into an empty room of the clinic I work in. I found some space against the wall and went into a yoga posture I learned from Michael Stone at a weekend training a couple of years ago. Closing my eyes and turning my attention inward, I took a few long, deep, slow breaths, until I heard the phone ring and returned to my desk. The pain relief was immediate. I could literally feel the discomfort dissipating and the space between my eyebrows relax, my jaw loosen and the tension lift in my neck and shoulders. The difference I felt was so striking that it was accompanied by a feeling of mild euphoria and gratitude. I'm pretty sure Advil can't do that!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On How to Practice Medicine

I love this story Paul Bergner tells in an article in Plant Healer Magazine.

"In medieval Baghdad, the “license” to practice
medicine was given as permission to practice in the
marketplace. Examination was held, not written
examination, but interview, assessment, and direct
observation of practice. One of the rules was that an
individual would be disqualified from the practice
of medicine if they were observed to 'use a strong
herb when a mild herb would suffice, use an herb
when a food would suffice, or use a food when
simple advice about lifestyle would suffice.'"

Image Source


Ugh. Sorry for so much changy changy on the blog. I really wanted to have a winter nature themed background, but it turns out I just couldn't live with it. It was way too busy and difficult to read, so I'm switching to something simpler and cleaner. It's not wintry, but I like the birds up there in the corner. I like to pretend they are my crows. Yes, the ones that roost near me are now *my* crows.

Anyway, I'll stick with this design for a while I think, and change it again in the spring.

My apologies to your eyeballs.

Oh, and I'm also turning the comment moderation on for a bit, since I've been reciveing some spam lately.

If it is goes away, I'll turn the moderation off again.

That is all. Thank you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Abies balsamifera

Forget nasty, toxic air fresheners. At this time of year I pick a handful of tips from the balsam fir tree and place them in a pot with some water that goes over the element on the stove that vents the oven. The heat from whatever I'm roasting in the oven simmers the water and releases the heavenly aroma of the fir, and adds a little humidity to the dry winter air. (Careful. The resins tend to build up on whatever pot you're using and are hard to wash off.)

The needles also make a nice tea and have medicinal uses as well.

I think the balsam fir may be my favourite of all the conifers.

From the apothecary...

"Let thy kitchen be thy apothecary;
and, Let foods be your medicine.

"People ascribe the greatest healing power to drugs that have come from farthest away, drugs that cost the most. In my long experience I have come to believe that people go to the ends of the Earth to look for something they could find right on their doorstep. If only we could learn to trust Nature"
~French herbalist Maurice Mességué

Friday, December 3, 2010

She Speaks for the Trees

Some you may already know how much I heart Diana Beresford-Kroeger, so it's no surprise that I'm thrilled to hear about her upcoming talk this Sunday in Ottawa, for the Canadian Organic Growers.

Details here.

Image by Mark Ryden, for the book Speak for the Trees.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We can live well in its light

One last excerpt from Crow Planet before I bring it back to the library today.

"But here we are, intricate human animals capable of feeling despair over the state of the earth and, simultaneously, joy in its unfolding wildness, no matter how hampered. What are we to do with such a confounding vision? The choices appear to be few. We can deny it, ignore it, go insane with its weight, structure it into a stony ethos with which we beat our friends and ourselves to death- or we can live well in its light."

Image Source

Friday, November 19, 2010

Of Composts

"Of composts shall the Muse descend to sing,
Nor soil her heavenly plumes? The sacred Muse
Naught sordid deems, but what is base; naught fair
Unless true Virtue stamp it with her seal.
Then, planter, wouldst thou double thy estate
Never, ah, never, be asham'd to tread
Thy dung-heaps."

~James Grainger

The moon is up, the crows have passed and in the autumn gloaming I carry two buckets across the back yard. One bucket comes from the bathroom, the other from under the kitchen sink. Both get emptied into the compost bin. I reach for the pitch fork and give the mass a turn or two. There is just enough light left to make out a few cabbage leaves and a bit of pumpkin on the top of the pile. Steam rises. I hover my hand a few inches above the top and feel the heat there. I am satisfied. With the addition of extra nitrogen from my urine, I don't think the compost will freeze this winter as it has in years past. The buckets get a quick rinse and are returned to their place in the house.

There are a million things a person could do when they get home from work on a Friday night. I like to tread my dung-heaps.

Image Source

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming Home to Roost

After posting about losing my camera a while back, a friend got in touch with me letting me know that there was an extra camera in his household that wasn't being used, and I could have it if I wanted to. Yes I did! I was thrilled.

And I had the camera with me on my way home from work yesterday and managed to catch a few shots of the crows heading to their roost.

Keep in mind, that this is just a couple of sections of the sky and one portion of the flock. It usually takes about a half hour for all the crows to fly overhead at any given point. This flock is coming from the north west. I've also seen them flying in from the east and the north. So that should give you an idea of the numbers of birds we're talking about here. I'm guessing it's about an 1/8 of the human population of Ottawa.

These crows will probably hang out in a few 'staging areas' near the roost, before they make their way to the actual roost to settle in for the night.

If I can I'll try and snap some pics of the roost soon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Yes, another post about crows...

I don't quite know what it is about crows, but I'm becoming increasingly fascinated by them. From their twilight flights and massive roosts to their highly intelligent ways, the more I learn about crows the more I want to learn. I also find them very visually striking against the urban landscape, especially at this time of year when the tree branches are bare.

This video gives a really good idea of what the roost near my home is like at night.

And this one is really cool too.

And here are some examples of crow art that I'm enjoying very much.




Finally, after watching this TedTalk, there'll be no doubt in your mind just how smart crows are!

Incidentally, I'm not super impressed with Joshua Klein's take on 'developing mutually beneficial relationships' with crows. Using crows to pick up our garbage or to find our lost iPhones sounds a little demeaning to me and I also thinks he hugely misses the point between the connection of large crow populations and the health of our ecosystems. Still it's a pretty neat look at crow behaviour.

We Walk Around Like Poems

Another lovely excerpt from Crow Planet:

"We are incapable of isolation. Every time we sip wine, feed the cat, order pizza, watch Survivor, every time we do anything, anything at all, we are brushing, however surreptitiously, however beneath our awareness- however, even, against our will- a wilder, natural world. Such awareness is simultaneously daunting and beautiful. It means that everything we do matters, and matters more than we can even know. Yes, of course we must do all of the things we now know by rote: we must replace our incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, and recycle, and compost and ride our bikes, and buy organic, local, biointensive, fair-trade. All of it. And if we can manage these things with a joyful heart, then all the better. But this is not about checklists, is it? About the reduction our planetary relationships to a mean tally of resources used, saved and available? It is about a habit of being, a way of knowing, a way of dwelling. It is about attentive recognition of our constant, inevitable continuity with life on earth, and the gorgeous knowledge this entails. There is a crow's nest in the neighbor's yard, and there are feathers at our feet. We walk around like poems- our lives infused with meaning beyond themselves."

I think about this passage a lot as I observe the crows in my neighbourhood. There is a roost close to my home that I've taken to visiting. Every night at dusk the crows fly overhead and easily 100,000 or more of them roost in a small patch of woods, to fly away again at dawn. It is both an incredible and disturbing sight. Disturbing because there is a connection between crow populations and habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. As the environment becomes less hospitable to other species, crows become one of the few species resilient enough to survive. Growing crow populations are an indication of how much we have already lost. This is a sobering thought as I search for a way of being, knowing and dwelling in the world with a joyful heart. It's a tricky balance to achieve to be sure, but one that I am bound by my beliefs and values to strive for every way that I can, with every breath I take on this crow planet.

Image Source

Saturday, November 13, 2010

300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes

Here's an interesting and fast paced perspective of the issues, narrated by Richard Heinberg.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reading Crow

Just got this book out of the library yesterday. I'm only a few dozen pages in, but I'm loving it. The author had me at her first Wendell Berry quote.

And then I read this:
"...but it remains our daily lives, in the places we live, that make us ecosystemic creatures; these are the seat of our most meaningful interactions with, and impact upon, the wider, wilder earth. We are connected by the ways that we choose, consume, and share water, food, shelter, and air- just like all the other animals. We cherish the few, sweet days we manage to escape to places we consider true wilderness, but the most essential things we can do for the deeply wild earth have to do with how we eat, how we drive, where we walk, and how we choose every moment of our quotidian urban lives."

Amen sister. Amen.

Fellow nature lovers, get thee to your nearest library and check out this book! Oh and have a look at her blog too. It's delightful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Somewhere Between Earth and Sky

It's very mild today, overcast and foggy. I love fall days like this, when the ceiling of the world hangs low and close. It's so cozy yet mysterious. The bare tree branches etch secret runes in the mist. The scent of fallen leaves rises up off the damp earth, spicy and warm.

I finish work early on Tuesdays. I'll go home just long enough to change into garden clothes, slip on my boots, stick an apple in my pocket and then head to the garden on my bike, as the crow flies. Literally. The area of the city I live in is home to thousands of crows and the flight path they take to roost at night is very similar to the route I take to the garden. Through my quiet neighbourhood streets, across the busy road that ends at the river, down the alley that's dark and cool and green all summer, past the old farmhouse (one of the earliest homes in the history of Ottawa), along the hedge path with hawthorn, rowan and sumac, skirting the cricket field by the hospital, through the goldenrod field and I'm there.

I'm pain free today and my hands and wrists feel strong. I can grow and make and build and create this rich life I call my own. And today will be all about going deep. I'll reach into the ground to harvest more chicory, dandelion and sour dock root. It will be a good day for getting my hands dirty, and earth under my nails. And when dusk falls I'll head home, maybe as the crows pass me overhead, as the lights come on in the houses where I follow my path, somewhere between earth and sky.

Update: I can't find the primary source for the beautiful image above, but I found it on this site here. Dear artist, whoever you are, your image is awesome and I hope you don't mind me using it in my post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hedge Fund: Investing of a Different Sort

My love affair with hedgerows only began recently, but it runs deep, so I was thrilled to discover this article on sustainable living fences in the recent issue of Mother Earth News.

"A living fence is a permanent hedge tight enough and tough enough to serve almost any of the functions of a manufactured fence, but it offers agricultural and biological services a manufactured fence cannot. For instance, it provides “edge habitat” that supports ecological diversity. As more species (insects, spiders, toads, snakes, birds and mammals) find food and refuge in this habitat, natural balances emerge, yielding, for example, a reduction of rodents and crop-damaging insect populations.

Depending on the plant or tree species you choose, living fences can provide food and medicine, or fodder for your livestock. Your animals will also enjoy the shade of a dense hedge. The foliage of some hedge plants, such as elder and Chinese chestnut, contains more protein than the quintessential protein forage crop, alfalfa. Willow and honey locust also make good fodder. I’ve been experimenting with Siberian pea shrub recently, as the peas can be harvested to feed poultry.

Leguminous species included in the fence, such as black locust and pea shrub,fix nitrogen in the soil throughout the root zone, and you can harvest some of that nitrogen for garden mulches and compost in the form of leafy prunings. A living fence increases soil humus as its leaf litter and root hairs (which the plants shed to balance loss of top growth to pruning or browsing) break down...

Living fences can last far longer than manufactured ones — for as long as the natural life span of the species used, which may be hundreds of years. Many species can be “coppiced,” meaning they will send up abundant new shoots after the main trunk has been cut. A living fence of a coppiced species readily renews itself following selective cutting for wood fuel and other uses.

Finally, a living fence, unlike a static manufactured fence, brings an ever-changing beauty to your landscape: flowers in spring, colorful fruit in summer, brilliant colors in fall and a complex, geometric structure in winter."

This is the kind of investing for the future that I can really get into and while at the moment I'm landless, growing and caring for my own hedgerow is definitely on my list of things to do someday, somewhere! Hmmm...guerrilla hedge laying anyone?

Image source: Trish Steel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Heart Novella Carpenter

I got the book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter out of the library a couple of weeks ago and inhaled most of it during a 7 hour rideshare and bus trip to visit family and celebrate my grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary recently.

The book was an enjoyable and delightful read, not to mention very inspiring. As much as I tend to fantasize about retreating into the solitude and quiet of some small holding in the country, it's still pretty rocking to learn about what's possible in an urban environment. As long as I remain a city girl you can bet that I'll take my cues from the likes of Ms. Carpenter!

You can also read about her adventures in urban farming on her blog.

Incidentally, Novella is the sister of the author of These Days In French Life, who no longer blogs publicly, but maintains a gorgeous and equally inspiring Flickr photostream. I heart her too!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Image Source

"I never had any other desire so strong, and so like covetousness, as that.... I might be master at last of a small house and a large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life to the culture of them and the study of nature." ~Abraham Cowley

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean

"One can never forget the sadness and solemnity of that morning. Chief John Ross led in prayer and when the bugle sounded and the wagons started rolling many of the children rose to their feet and waved their little hands good-by to their mountain homes, knowing they were leaving them forever." ~John Burnett's Story of the Trail of Tears

In 1838 the Cherokee were driven out of their homelands in the state of Georgia by the US government to make room for more European settlers , a forced march known as the 'Trail of Tears'. This bean is one of their heirlooms they managed to keep with them and has been passed on from generation to generation ever since.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I heart Nikki McClure

I can't tear my eyes away from Nikki McClure's beautiful artwork.

I love the way she elevates the everyday into something sublime and celebratory. Like this, and and this, and oh my this.

So beautiful. I want them all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Solidago canadensis

Goldenrod: "The oil or liniment makes a fabulous and very effective topical treatment for any sort of hurt, strained or damaged muscles."

This is the oil and liniment together. Yep, it works a treat.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Populus balsamifera

"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?" ~Jeremiah 8:22

Two days in a row of heavy wind and intense thunder storms this week caused a bit of damage across the city including power outages, flooding and fallen trees. Luckily I only suffered minor flooding in my humble basement apartment and the trees in the park next to my house held up well. We did lose quite a few balsam poplar (also known as Balm of Gilead) branches.

Cutting through the park after work yesterday I noticed poplar buds all over the downed branches. The branches, buds and all came home with me and I spent a bit of time in the backyard this afternoon popping the buds off for tincturing.

At this time of year they're not nearly as deliciously sticky and aromatic as the buds I gathered in late winter and the medicine from them will be correspondingly milder. Still, they smell oh so heavenly and I can't wait to see how the tincture turns out!

The 6 to 8ft tall branches I was left with will eventually get used as plant supports in the garden.

Herbalist Ryan Drum has this great post on the harvesting, preparing and uses of poplar buds.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Pickle Crock

"Fermentation generally requires only a little preparation or work. Most of the time that elapses is spent waiting...Many ferments get better the longer you leave them. Use this time to observe and ponder the magical actions of invisible allies." ~Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz

Tending the pickle crock takes a calm and watchful eye, a sense for transformation, patience and a little faith.

Tending the pickle crock requires testing and experimentation, but this is not hard science, nor is it conducted in a sterile environment.

The pickle crock is a living breathing thing. To care for it is to enter into a relationship with microorganisms and become responsible for their well-being.

The tender of the pickle crock is an alchemist, nurturing the miracle of transubstantiation.

The pickle crock is as mundane and dull as skimming surface mold, yet sacred and eternal as primordial, salty brine.