Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Winner of the Black Walnut Cutting Board

Congratulations to the winner of the Black Walnut Cutting Board from Living Wood Design!

Thanks to all of you who participated in the cutting board giveaway. I enjoyed reading all the comments about the items that you liked the most from our Etsy shops!

 We'll do another giveaway in the future so we can give someone else a chance to win something, but for now, congratulations to the person who left comment #15. I used a random number generator with to pick the winner.

 The winner's Blogger handle is Justlovehumble, and their comment was:

"hey there - i'm new to your blog and am enjoying it so much. as for my favourites - I love the mosaic. you can tell the energy that went into it. flows and is just beautiful. my other fav is the flour sifter :)"

 Justlove humble, please contact me at anna (at) so we can arrange to ship you the cutting board!

I'm off to a long weekend of putting in our vegetable gardens...hope all of you are doing something you love as well. Happy Victoria Day weekend, fellow seems like summer is finally here!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Amazing online garden planner!

Well, last week it seemed that all was lost, as we had just found out that we had to leave the farm where we were living, as well as our's amazing how quickly things can change!

Things have turned out pretty much perfect in the last few days; we have been given the chance to rent an even better, bigger farm by wonderful friends, the forecast calls for warm weather in the mid 20s for the next couple of weeks, with all danger of frost past, so we can put in all the vegetables, and the rest of my seeds arrived in the mail today!

All of this couldn't have come together at a better time; it's a three day weekend and the perfect time to dig the whole garden and plant the entire thing.

I've recently found the most amazing on line garden planner-you should all try this-it's marvellous!
 Have a look at this planner, free for 30 days here.

This planner allows you to plug in your location and gives you info on your last frost date, plants for your region, and then allows you to build your garden according to the dimensions you enter. It's super easy to use, and makes planning your garden so much more fun!
It also has specific layouts for square foot gardens, which helps with getting the dimensions perfect. we're going with more traditional rows, and I loved when I dropped the various vegetables into their rows how the program gives me the exact spacing needed for each variety, and thus tells me how many plants I'll have for each type. There is also a drop-down menu and info on each plant type.

Once you have your garden designed, you can save your work and receive a link that you can send electronically to friends. You'll receive a map of your location with your garden plan, followed by a list of your plants and the number you'll have of each, and you're also given a chart with the ideal planting and harvesting times for each type of plant.
Here's the plan that I put together last night; I'm sure I'll be re-arranging it lots!

 This garden is going to happen & we can't wait to get digging! I'm so excited that the rest of my seeds arrived in the mail today from Urban Harvest-there are such amazing varieties-the names alone have me salivating!
I can't believe how fast my order arrived-I just placed my order on Tuesday and they arrived at the Post office yesterday. I would definitely recommend buying all your organic, heritage seeds from Urban Harvest-they have an amazing selection, great prices, wonderful customer service, and you can order everything on line and the delivery is fast! Of course, the most important factor...their seeds produce delicious vegetables and herbs...we've used them for three years now.

Look at how interesting these varieties are-I can't wait to see what everything looks like when they come up.

Our tomato seedlings have been hardening off and are almost ready to put in the garden...everything's coming together! Adelante!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Wide, deep, raised beds

Our family feels like we just rode a roller coaster of emotion-first finding out that we'd have to leave our farm, feeling stress at not being able to find anything else, and finally the joy of having friends offer their amazing 100 acre farm for us to rent! Although we have to re-dig and re-plant everything we've put in our garden this year, we have the joy of starting fresh in a garden that has just been tilled and has great soil to work with!

First things first- creating the optimum garden beds will create the best growing environment for your vegetables. We like to use raised, deep, wide beds in our garden, creating a larger expanse of aerated soil for the root systems of growing plants. This means that about 3/4 of the garden space is used to grow plants and only about a quarter is used for walkways. We'll mulch the pathways with newspaper (with just regular newsprint, not glossy, as the plain newsprint is just soy-based ink) and straw to keep the weeds at bay.

We're making these rows about 3-4 feet wide and about 16-18 " high. This guarantees that our seeds are growing in soil that has been loosened through the process of digging these raised beds, and the roots will have much more room than in traditional beds to grow wider and longer. Healthier, deeper root systems will produce more vigorous and healthier plants.

You can read all about this system of gardening in this great resource from the Grow Biointensive website.

The Grow Biointensive method explains deep soil in this way:

'Ideal soil structure has both pore space for air and water to move freely and soil particles that hold together nicely. Air supports plant roots and soil organisms that give life to the soil and enhance nutrient availability for the plants. Aerated soil holds water better than compacted soil, requiring less watering. It also facilitates root penetration, supporting healthy plants and minimizing erosion.'

Loose, aerated soil structure also allows for easy movement for earth worms; creating the best environment for earth worms will greatly improve your garden.
Worms expel castings which make the soil more granular, helping to create soil capillaries that improve soil structure while allowing air and moisture to flow freely. Worms also create tunnels, allowing easy access for water and air, facilitating deeper root growth in plants. Soil that has been well-worked by worms can take in water four times faster than more compacted, wormless soil!

We've also found that creating raised beds with walkways in between has an added bonus for gardening with children; the kids know exactly where they're allowed to walk, and we don't stress about them accidentally walking on the plants. This also means that it's easier for the kids to help us in the garden.

The boys love to get right into the garden with us-Lily is content with picking dandelions for now!

A new farm...and great friends!

All is right with the world! We have another farm to move to and we can start putting in a garden right away!

We had just found out last week we had to leave the farm we were living on; such is the plight of the landless peasantry. Having spent four years in Honduras working in development, we haven't been able to quite save enough to buy our own land now that we're back in Canada, so we've been renting a house on a farm. Unfortunately, although our landlord knew we had begun putting in a garden in March, he waited until mid-May, last week, to tell us that he was selling the property and we would have to leave by the end of July.

Suffice it to say, we were royally bummed, after having put in many hours to prepare our garden this year, and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to find another place in time to start another garden this year. Having a big garden and learning to live off the land is the main reason we left the city, and it was frustrating to think that we just might be robbed of our garden this year.

Because we just found out about this last week, when it was already late in the spring, we felt the need to find another place soon or risk being too late in the season to start a garden. We weren't having any luck finding a place until some wonderful friends, Katie & Mike, saved the day!

This amazing, very kind-hearted couple offered to let us rent their place, with the idea that they would move to another house owned by Katie's parents. They told us that we could start planting our new garden in their yard right away, even though we wouldn't be moving until August. Because their house is just down the road, it would actually work out fine to manage the garden, as I could easily go over with the kids every day to weed and water.

We had been thinking of moving into another house owned by Katie's family, but because there is farm machinery and trucks going in and out every day, we were worried that it wouldn't be a safe environment for our boys. Katie's entire family is so thoughtful, as without us even mentioning our worries about the daily traffic at the house, it turned out that her family was also discussing the dangers in this situation.
Katie called me on Monday morning and floored me with her suggestion that we move into their current house and her and Mike take the other one, meaning that they would leave the house that they had just moved into two years ago and spent many hours painting and improving.
At first I told her that I couldn't think of taking her house, and having them go to all the trouble of moving, but she convinced me that it would be better for them to be closer to the horses at the other house and to their office, so I gratefully accepted!

Katie and Mike are so authentic in the way they live their lives-they are both Naturopathic Doctors, and have a wonderful business, Optimum Integrative Health Centre in Fergus, the town closest to us. They not only practise naturopathic medicine, healing others in a holistic way, but have brought emotional support and practical help to our family through their generosity. The health and well-being of our family is completely intertwined with our garden and working outdoors together; this is truly integrative health in action! I hope that we can, in turn, extend kindness to others through our life in this community.
This is definitely one of those times in life where the goodness of others is overwhelming, so thank you Katie and Mike for your kindness to our family. We had been praying that we could find another country house with land for a garden, but didn't imagine that we would be this blessed. God works in amazing ways! This house is more beautiful and in better shape than the one we're in now, and it's on 100 acres of land where we're free to grow an enormous garden. Katie's father very generously just plowed a whole garden bed for us; what an amazing family!

This property is lovely, with sprawling fields, a large hardwood forest, and lots of apple trees!

As soon as we had this news, Andy started digging the garden beds right away, trying to make up for lost time! Another bonus: this soil is much healthier and better to work than the soil where we are now!

So onwards and upwards...adelante as we'd say in Spanish. We have so much work to do and we're going to be so happy doing it!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Mothers take many forms!

We're taking some time today to enjoy a beautiful spring day and celebrate the mothers in our life.

Happy Mother's Day to all you who have bravely brought forth life into this crazy world!

We're madly searching for another farm to move to...these ducks need a home in the country! Who can say no to a face like this little guy's?

If anyone out there knows of a farm to rent anywhere in the Wellington County area in Ontario, please let us know! Just leave a comment below or email me at annamariesmith (at)

Our youngest batch of ducklings are marvellous-because we had them from the time they were just a few days old, it seems that the imprinting experience that we hoped for took hold, and when we let them out they have no fear of us and follow us everywhere.
We think they see Daniel and Elijah as their 'mothers', as they're the ones who feed and give them water all day long. These sweet ducklings just climb all over them and follow them around. It's also hilarious to see them with our dog Tucker-they just cuddle up to him with no reservations.

What a good illustration that mothers can take all sorts of shapes and sizes! Even if you haven't technically birthed a child, happy Mother's Day to all of you out there who care and nurture for children, those of you who are caregivers, teachers, aunts and uncles, godparents, and others who take delight in loving children whom you hold dear in your lives. We who bore the children couldn't manage without you!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Mother's Day Brunch: Roasted Pumpkin and Dandelion Greens Frittata Recipe

In celebration of Mother's Day this weekend, and in the spirit of spring and my dandelion recipe kick, I've created a little something I'm calling:

Roasted Pumpkin and Dandelion Greens Frittata

This is a really fast and easy frittata, so you can quickly whip it up and then enjoy some time with your family this Sunday! 

I'm excited about this recipe because I managed to use three ingredients from here on the farm. I used dandelion greens from our yard, duck eggs supplied by our new ducks and pumpkin that was frozen from one of the pumpkins we grew last summer. Beat that locavores! You can't get much more local than that.

If you saw my post a couple of days ago lauding the virtues of dandelions and their health benefits, you'll understand why I used dandelions as greens instead of something more conventional. If you know me and you're reading this you're probably thinking " Who does Anna think she's kidding? She can't just invent recipes and expect me to eat them! She's no chef! "
Well, you would be correct. I'm not inventing recipes, just re-inventing them. This recipe is one I use a lot with greens like kale and spinach, and comes from a food blog I follow called The Muffin Myth.
If you don't want to use dandelion greens, then substitute another green like kale, but I'm all about using dandelions right now as they're healthy, free greens that are ALL over my yard!

A word about the eggs-aren't they lovely? I'm so proud of our new ducks and the one egg we get a day! We were all excited the first morning we found a single white egg in the duck pen, a couple of days after we got our ducks. The problem is, we have two adult females, but are only getting one egg a day...what is up with the non-laying duck...and which one is it? I actually saved four eggs to make this frittata so it would be duck eggs only-I'm a purist. If, for some reason you don't have a flock of ducks...not sure why you wouldn't...then you can use chicken eggs- or any eggs, for that matter...quail, goose, emu...I'm not going to judge.

Lastly, I used pumpkin from the monster pumpkin we grew last summer, as I want to incorporate it into our meals until it's used up. This amazing pumpkin kept perfectly in it's shell in our kitchen all winter and we finally cut it open in March. We cut it into chunks and stored it in the freezer, and have been using it since then. This is the last batch from the freezer, so we have to enjoy it! Now, the original recipe also called for pumpkin,  but I don't expect you have any pumpkin handy this time of year. You could use canned pumpkin, and I'm sure it would taste wonderful if you substituted sweet potato or squash instead.

Roasted Pumpkin and Dandelion Greens Frittata Recipe:

This recipe is for a small, four egg frittata, which is perfect for two adults and two boys who won't sit still and eat more than 10 bites. If you’re making this for a group of people, simply multiply the ingredients accordingly. A bigger frittata will take a little longer to cook, so plan accordingly.

4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
large bunch of dandelion greens, about 5 cups when chopped up
1 cup roasted pumpkin pieces
1/2  red onion , sliced
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese ( a sharp cheddar, or Gruyère)

Turn on the broiler in your oven to pre-heat. Heat a small skillet (or larger, depending on the size of your frittata) over medium high heat. Place  the greens in the pan with a small amount of water, cover with a lid, and let steam for a couple of minutes. Remove greens from the pan and set aside. Heat a tsp of olive oil in your skillet, and add the onion slices. Cook until brown, but not burnt. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk the eggs together with the milk. Once your onions are brown, add the pumpkin and steamed greens into the pan (squeeze excess water out of the greens first), and toss around with a little salt and pepper to taste. Pour the egg custard over top. When the egg looks like it is about half set up, turn off the heat, sprinkle the cheese over the top, and put the skillet in the oven under the broiler. The frittata is done when the egg has set, and the top is brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 min before serving.
Now tell you mama how much you love her and enjoy some fritatta together!

Mamasita the duck-is she the mystery egg layer?

Picking our monster pumpkin out of the garden last fall, and the boys helping to cut the biggest one open this March!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Dandelemon Lasagna-a spring recipe!

It's spring, and the bright yellow heads of dandelions dot the landscape all around. Some people find themselves on bended knee, trying to wrest every last dandelion from their lawns. All I have to say about that is...STOP THE INSANITY!!!

Dandelions are super healthy food! Not to mention a fabulous flower that brightens up all our boring green lawns. How amazing that they're so plentiful; perhaps that's why they're so under-valued. If they were rarer, I'm sure we would see them as more than a weed!

Dandelion greens are delicious, and to prove it I cooked up a new lasagna recipe using the greens from the plant. Check it out below. But first, some info on how healthy dandelion really is.

' The health benefits of dandelion include relief from liver disorder, diabetes, urinary disorders, acne, jaundice, cancer and anemia. It also helps in maintaining bone health, skin care and weight loss. Dandelion is rich in vitamin A, C, iron, calcium and detoxifiers.' (see more at Organic Facts).

The CBC just released a story about Candian researchers who have found great cancer-fighting properties in simple dandelion root extract, which can be ingested as a tea.
' Siyaram Pandey, a biochemist at the University of Windsor, has been studying the anti-cancer potential of dandelion root extract for almost two years.
His team’s first phase of research showed that dandelion root extract forced a very aggressive and drug-resistant type of blood cancer cell, known as chronic monocytic myeloid leukemia, to essentially commit suicide.
Researchers then discovered that repeated treatment with low dose dandelion root extract was effective in killing most of the cancerous cells.' (see more at CBC news)

So while we slave away in the garden in spring, dreaming of all the bounty it'll produce, we already have a healthy & delicious green that's ready to eat before anything else has started growing...and there's no work involved. You can just walk outside and pick those darn leaves, and actually eat them instead of cursing them!

By the way, this is the perfect chance to get your kids used to picking greens-there's no way they can screw up picking dandelion greens! It's sort of like the garden pre-season training. If you can teach your kids to pick these greens that cost you no money and are so plentiful, then they'll be pros at picking your prized arugula when it sprouts. One less job for mama, I say.

But how to eat dandelion greens? We could just sit and munch on them, standing in the middle of a field like my son Elijah, or we could tweak some recipes and come up with some great meal ideas.

I have a Martha Stewart lasagna recipe that calls for chopped swiss chard, so I decided to trade the swiss chard for dandelions and see how it turned out.
Thus was born ' Dandelemon Lasagna'.
It passed the taste test in our house -Daniel and Elijah ate theirs all up and Elijah declared "This 'licious!" Andy ate three helpings. Not bad for a recipe using a 'weed'!

So try out the recipe (it's in full down below) and send me some recipes of your own dandelion goodness.


To start, just walk out of your house in April or May, and bend down and pick you some dandelion greens. Then wash them. Thankfully, in Ontario we have laws that prohibit the use of chemical weed killers now, so there are lots more dandelions everywhere. Now that people can't spray, they should, in theory, be pretty organic, without pesticides to rinse off.  Maybe just don't pick them in the dog walking part of your local park, you know?

Wash and chop up those dandelion greens.

Melt butter in a saucepan over high heat. Stir in flour; cook for 2 minutes. The original recipe called for all-purpose flour, but I don't eat gluten, so I just substituted rice flour instead. You can use either one. Whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Whisk in 3/4 cup parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir in the dandelion greens.

Preheat oven to 350 C. I used organic ground turkey, but the original recipe called for Italian sausage, and you could just as easily use ground beef, or just go meat-free. I'm sure this would also be good as a vegetarian lasagna.
Cook turkey in a skillet over high heat until no longer pink.

Cover lemon slices with cold water by 3 inches in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate using a slotted spoon.

Spread 1/4 sauce in an 8-inch non- reactive baking dish. I used gluten-free rice pasta noodles, but you can use regular noodles if you like your gluten. Top with 2 noodles, half the sausage, and 1 cup sauce. Repeat. Top with a layer of lemons, 2 noodles, then remaining sauce and lemons. Bake, covered with parchment-lined foil, for 27 minutes.

Remove from oven. Heat broiler. Uncover lasagna; top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Broil until bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes.

Enjoy! It might be all the more enjoyable to eat this fabulous lasagna by a window where you can watch your neighbor grunt and groan while trying to wrestle every last dandelion out of their lawn.

Dandelion, Turkey and Lemon Lasagna

Amended from Martha Stewart recipes
Serves four

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (rice flour for gluten-free)
3 cups whole milk
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
5 cups coarsely chopped dandelion greens
1 lb. organic ground turkey
1 lemon, very thinly sliced
6 no-boil lasagna noodles (rice lasagna noodles for gluten-free)

1. Melt butter in a saucepan over high heat. Stir in flour; cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Whisk in 3/4 cup parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir in dandelion greens.
2. Preheat oven to 350 C. Cook turkey in a skillet over high heat until no longer pink.
3. Cover lemon slices with cold water by 3 inches in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate using a slotted spoon.
4. Spread 1/4 sauce in an 8-inch non- reactive baking dish. Top with 2 noodles, half the sausage, and 1 cup sauce. Repeat. Top with a layer of lemons, 2 noodles, then remaining sauce and lemons. Bake, covered with parchment-lined foil, for 27 minutes.
5. Remove from oven. Heat broiler. Uncover lasagna; top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Broil until bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes.