The forecast is calling for the year’s first snowfall today followed by a wet and rainy weekend. In order to beat the weather I spent two hours before dark yesterday hustling to get the remaining bulbs and transplants into the ground.
There’s so much that I experience on a weekly basis while at home or travelling that is related to plants and food that doesn’t seem to have a place here… but should. As a result of this oversight, I’ve decided to start a regular feature called, Heck Yeah! that’s devoted to the simple, yet wonderful things that are worth a mention.
The inaugural Heck Yeah! comes from an impromptu dinner I enjoyed last Friday here in Toronto at a Persian restaurant called The Pomegranate. The atmosphere and food was inspiring, most especially the use of herbs. I came away from our meal full of enthusiasm for Persian food and some new ways to use up the herbs I grow in abundance in my garden. Luck was on our side and we arrived hoping for a table just after someone had cancelled. If you’d like to experience the food for yourself, I’d suggest making a reservation. Tables fill up fast.
I thought I’d tried every yoghurt-based beverage out there, and then I found doogh. More savoury than sweet, doogh is a refreshing combination of yoghurt and carbonated water, flavoured with dried herbs and spices. I believe mine was topped with dried and ground mint and rose petals, but I have since researched out recipes that include cumin and cardamon. I’m sure there are other secret ingredients and variations as well.
Persian Mint Tea
My friend Jen enjoyed a classic Persian mint tea, which is a simple drink (fresh mint leaves brewed in hot water) made special by this beautiful presentation. We both agreed that when it comes to food and drink, the rituals are as important as the food itself.
Rose Water and Pistachio Ice Cream with Pomegranate
After a large and satisfying meal, I didn’t think I had the room left for dessert, yet I could not walk away without trying the house rose water ice cream. The portion was generous — enough for 4 people — but we managed to devour it all between two of us, and on full stomachs no less.
Roses are an under-used flavour in Western cooking. One of my goals for my forthcoming herbs and edible flowers book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces” was to encourage more people to make culinary use of the roses that they grow. A scoop of rose petal ice cream at a night market in Oaxaca, Mexico back in April 2000 was my introduction to this fragrant ingredient and the way I would suggest first trying the flavour if you’re unsure about eating it for the first time.
Last Wednesday I spent the afternoon with a roomful of poultry at the Royal Winter Fair where I was treated to an exhibition of fascinating chicken, turkey, and duck breeds.
There were so many beautiful breeds on display. It was truly eye-opening and great research for the day I am finally able to keep my first small flock (Backyard chickens are still illegal in Toronto.) I was jumpy clapping on the inside all day long.
Rhode Island Red is a classic that most people have heard of.
Plymouth Rock Barred is known as a good layer and is particularly suited to cold weather.
Buff Brahma Bantam is another good layer that is recommended for cold climates.
Antwerp Belgian Bantam
My friends and I all agreed that the most stunning and surprising breed of the event were the Silver Sebright bantams. Unfortunately, some quick research reveals that they lay very small eggs and are primarily kept for their beauty rather than egg productivity.
Kangaroo apple (Solanum laciniatum) is one in a long line of marginally edible foods that I have been experimenting with in the garden. The fruits are considered poisonous when green and unripe, and edible when they turn orange.
That hasn’t stopped the squirrels. As I waited patiently for the fruit to ripen so I could have my first taste, the squirrels got there ahead of me and stole their fill while the fruit was still green, rock hard, and supposedly poisonous. Not only did it not kill them or give them so much as a tummy ache, they probably liked this plant more than any other treat in the garden. Proving once again that the squirrels are superior beings that will be roaming the earth harassing and poaching from some other more evolved humanoid-type creature in the distant future once the aliens have come in the name of interplanetary peace but then accidentally reveal their true intention to farm us for food, which leads to a terrible and epic battle for the lives of all humankind.
Spoiler: We do not win. Squirrels survive on the planet for another 50 million years.
Probably my favourite part about giving presentations and running workshops is the one-on-one chatting that happens with fellow gardeners and aspiring gardeners afterward. I love those moments connecting directly with other people who share the same excitement and passion. I love hearing about what they’re doing and the look of satisfaction on their faces is contagious.
I’ve compiled a few of my favourite tips below:
- Herbs That Dry Easily: Lemon verbena, ‘Dark Opal’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil. We dry and use oregano, marjoram, and thyme year-round in cooking. Lemon balm, mint, anise-hyssop & lemongrass for tea. Also: lavender, calendula petals, rosemary, sage, winter savory, dill seed, citrus peels….
- Lavender Syrup (you can do this with just about any herb): 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, handful of lavender flowers. Bring to boil until thick. Let cool. Strain. Refrigerate
- In response to the high cost of canning jars: Remember that they are reused over and over so your investment will pay off over time.
- Herbal Vinegar: To a clean jar add: Sprigs of fresh tarragon and a few strips of lemon peel. Top with warm (not boiling) vinegar)
There are several more tips in the transcript including: preserving tomatoes, drying beans, drying herbs, uses for various herbs, favourite tomato varieties, harvesting seed, lots of good canning resource suggestions, thrifting for jars, addressing the fear around canning for the first time, making fermented drinks…