Dolmas! (stuffed grape leaves)

IMAG1165[1]I am excited to share that I made dolmas over the weekend! My love brought me some grape leaves from his backyard. Two of my favorite things together! Fresh foraged food made into a handheld package for eating and Boris.

I perused many recipes over the weekend to see how other people have made them, then put together what I thought would be good. See my recipe for them here.

I will have to go pick some more as they are good blanched and frozen for up to 6 months, that way I will have some at Christmas time that I can stuff with dried cranberries and apples! MMM… so tasty.

You can buy grape leaves canned in a store or as I like to do, pick them fresh in the late spring early summer when they are still young and not too tough and chewy. I wanted them fresh so that I knew where they were coming from and know that they are not sprayed with all kinds of pesticides as any type of fruit bearing plants typically are.

I picked 24 beautifully shaped leaves, stems attached and no holes. I then blanched them, immediately plunged them into cold water and set them on a tea towel to dry. I left the stems on so that they were easier to work with and to keep them from tearing. The leaves are quite delicate, so some care is needed when handling them.

Shiney side down, lay them flat then carefully clip off the stem. Add your stuffing, (I made 12 vegetarian and 12 with meat) fold in the sides then carefully roll them up. Place on a steam rack and steam for 30-45 minutes. Tada! You’re done! You can serve them hot or cold. I like to serve them with a cucumber yogurt dip.

It seemed strange to me that the recipes I read all said to cook the rice until  it was only half done, but when you are steaming them the rice gets fully cooked and not mushy.

You could take the basic recipe and add cranberries instead of currants and walnuts instead of pine nuts and I think they would still be very good with all the spices.

Succession planting

succesion plantingSuccession planting is an important part of gardening if you want to utilize your space to get as much food as possible. You can avoid situations where the whole crop comes in at once and you will have an ongoing supply of veg throughout the season. It is nice to have a steady supply ready for harvest over a long period and this reduces the risk of crop failure by having another crop ready to  come in.

Here is a sample of some crops that I have successfully succession planted:

  • Cucumbers -every three weeks. I like this so i can have fresh cucumbers and have lots to make into pickles
  • Kale – every three weeks. Kale is prolific. As long as you are trimming it, it will continue to grow. It is nice however to have some fresh baby kale throughout the season.
  • Beets– every two weeks. Mmm beets and beet greens!
  • Green beans– every ten days.
  • Melons – every three weeks
  • Sweet corn- every ten days. There is nothing like fresh organic corn in the summer time!
  • Radish– every week.
  • Spinach – every week. When I have a surplus of spinach I like to blanch and freeze it for the winter months.
  • Carrots, Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli – twice a season. This way you can have a summer crop and some in the fall to store for winter.
  • Basil – every two weeks. A nice way to store extra herbs are in ice cube trays with olive oil… Freeze and re thaw when needed.
  • Tomatoes and peppers can be planted a couple of times as well if you have the space.

Replacing crops that have finished producing with a new crop in the same place is another way to succession plant. Just be sure that you are planting something that works well for the time of year you are planting. For example, plant peas in the spring then cucumber in the summer and Kale in the fall. This way you will get a wider variety of veg in the same amount of space and your vibrant garden will never be empty throughout the growing season. By varying the types of veg that you grow in each succession you will be preventing the depletion of some nutrients. Crop rotation is important so that you are nourishing the soil which will in turn give you higher yields. Also make sure to feed your soil in between planting to keep production high. I like to add a bit of compost to my soil in between and or sometimes watering it with some compost tea.

I use my google calendar to keep track of when I need to plant my next crop… any calendar or journal will work as well for you to keep track of yours. I like to keep a journal of where i am planting what as well, so that I can utilize succession planting from year to year to ensure good crop rotation.

 

Starting a garden

gardenThere are so many wonderful reasons to start your own garden. Sunshine, fresh air, free therapy and the freshest produce around to name a few!

If you are thinking of starting your own garden you will need to find some space that gets at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day. You will also need your garden to have good drainage. So if you have a backyard space then look for a spot in the yard where no puddles remain after a good rainfall. If you are planning to use container or vertical gardening you will need to ensure that there are drainage holes in your containers.

Once you have found the best spot then you get to ask yourself what you need from your garden. Do you want to make a lot of tomato sauce for the winter, then planting tomatoes will be on your list. Do you like having fresh fruit? Then melons or berries will be on your list.

My goals for this year is to grow, harvest and preserve as much food as I can for my family over the winter. Every year my garden gets a little bit bigger, more things added. This year I will add some vertical space to my garden so that I will get higher yields in the space I have and a fruit tree.

One of the easiest gardens to grow is a salad garden. It can be grown just about anywhere and is a great place to start if you have never tried gardening before. Containers and Vertical gardens are great for this type of garden. All kinds of greens, onions, cherry tomatoes, chilies and beans are some ideal veg for this garden.

And let’s not forget herbs. Herbs can very easily be grown in pots and vertically.

Once you have your location and you have an idea of what you would like to plant then you have to get your space ready. You will need to prepare your soil, whether it is tilling and adding compost or prepping your containers with good quality compost. High nutrient, non compact soil is what you are going to need.

Once you have that ready you can then decide moving forward what you need in terms of compost next year. I love composting as it is my give back to Mother Earth for helping me grow beautiful veg for me and my family. You can check out different kinds of composting here.

Next is choosing your veg. If you are new to gardening then I suggest starting with asking yourself, “what will i eat?”  This is a good guideline on what to plant and if you enjoy eating what you grow you will feel more motivated to keep your garden growing.

There is a wonderful community of gardeners out there that will be happy to share seeds, plants and knowledge with you if you shall seek.  In the community where i live there is a couple of seed exchange programs and plant exchanges that you can swap different plants or seed to get some new varieties in your garden.  This is a great place to exchange some seeds if you get too many in a package to use.

You can start your garden from seed or transplants whichever works best for you. I love starting my veg from seed as I save all my seeds from the year before and i love to watch them grow into fruition.

Let’s talk mulch. Mulch is a must if you want a more low maintenance garden. Mulch deters weeds, keeps in moisture and add vital nutrients as it decays. Mulch comes in the form of leaves, wood chips and old weeds that haven’t gone to seed.

Now for watering, fruits and vegetables need a light water every day or two. Once your plants are mature they will need a couple of inches of water per week, more in hotter regions or well drained soil. I have a rain barrel that I water my gardens with as I don’t want to add chlorinated water from the city to my garden.

You will need to harvest and weed your garden regularly. Some crops mature in as early as 20 days after planting, so check them regularly so that you get your harvest before the squirrels, raccoons, skunks or other critters get them. Weeds will shoot right up after an intense rainfall so be sure to get out there and pull them out. I just leave them on top of the soil as mulch. Most of all have fun starting a garden!

Get out of the Grocery store

farmers-market-local-produce-520What is with the grocery stores these days? It is the place we all go to shop for food, but I find that there is little actual food in these stores. Have you stopped to read the labels on some of the products in there? It’s frightening! For me my rule of thumb is, if I can’t read it, it isn’t food and I am not going to be eating it or feeding it to my family.

With all the marketing and clever disguises the food companies assault us with it is no wonder disease is on the rise. We are no longer eating food we are eating food like substances.

So what are our options?  Some people say that eating local and organic is expensive or that they don’t have time to make meals. Have you calculated the cost of being sick lately? A little prep time once a week goes a long way in terms of eating healthy and getting healthy meals out to your family in a timely manner.

Here are some other options for frugal and healthy shoppers, that want to vote with their dollars and get away from the grocery store nightmare.

  • Join a food co-op or CSA (community supported agriculture) -this is a great option a real tangible way to vote with your dollars.  You can signup and receive weekly fresh produce from the people in your community. With co ops, they will require a membership or volunteer time in lieu of payment. Definitely a great alternative to the traditional grocery store.
  • Grow food in your space plant in containers of all kinds, vertical gardening is a wonderful way to utilize space, find a sunny window sill to grow kitchen herbs or turn your backyard into an urban farm!  Not only is gardening cheaper than therapy but you get tomatoes and you know exactly where your food is coming from and what went into it.
  • In season produce– cheaper and nutritionally superior, this is the way to go for healthy and frugal shoppers alike and when it’s local you are helping your community. If you buy too much you can always blanch, freeze, dehydrate or can your extras for the winter months.
  • Buy local– change your shopping habits and buy from your local farmers. You get to know where your food is coming from and get to know and support the people in your community. Find a local farmer here http://croptouring.com/
  • Buy your staples in bulk– buying in bulk quantities reduces the prices to lower or equal to the prepackaged items found in a traditional grocery store.
  • Forage– this is one of my personal favorites as there is so much food/medicine out there that we overlook every day. Lots of greens, berries, fruits and something for every ailment. After all our mother earth is here to sustain us. Don’t forget tho if you are taking from her it is a good idea to give back. I like composting as my giveback to the earth.

With making these few changes we are voting with our dollars and saying no to harmful pesticides, chemicals, gmo’s and artificial processed ingredients. Say no to the traditional way of shopping and get involved with your community at the same time.

 

Do you have internal parasites?

The answer is most likely yes. Parasites and worms can enter our systems and sometimes even make us sick. So what natural products can we use to ensure we are vibrant from the inside out?

I have checked out a few, listed below. Some of these can even be grown in your backyard!

garlic2Garlic – a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients. Garlic has been used for years to flavour our food but also as a medicine. Garlic is a wonderful addition to any garden and very easy to grow and keep throughout the winter months.

blackwalnutfruit100_2556Black Walnut– a must have in your medicine cabinet, especially if you have pets. I have a big black walnut tree in the backyard and I make tincture every year. In the spring the dogs, cats and humans all get a 21 day dose of black walnut tincture to ensure we aren’t carrying or giving each other worms.

Cloves– one of the only known sources to kill parasite and worm eggs on the planet. Adding cloves to your black walnut tincture adds a clovesdouble punch to get rid of internal parasites. Now if you live in Canada like I do, you won’t be able to grow cloves in your backyard as this plant grows best in tropical conditions, like those regions surrounding the Indian Ocean. The clove tree is native to the Molucca Islands of Indonesia.

wormwoodWormwood– is a part of the daisy family. Other common names for wormwood include mugwort, artemisia, and sagebrush.

Wormwood is the key ingredient in the famous European beverage Absinthe, and while yes you can grow this in your backyard it is considered a weed to most and can easily be foraged if you know what you are looking for.You can usually smell the plant before you see it and it can cause skin irritation if you are handling it. Wormwood is a perennial plant and it flowers every year. It grows between 30 to 90 cm tall and has small, yellowish flower heads.

It has powerful effects on both mind and body, wormwood has been valued as a medicinal plant since at least 1600 B.C. It has been used throughout history as an antiseptic,  stimulant, tonic, and as a remedy for fevers and menstrual pains.  It has been used to exterminate tapeworm infestations while leaving the human host unharmed.

This herb has been found to cause nerve depression, dermatitis, convulsions, infertility and renal failure if used habitually. You will need to take caution when using this herb.

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