3 Life Lessons From the Garden

One of the best things about having a backyard veggie patch and fruit trees is how much they teach me. When I'm back there, my toes in the grass and the sun on my face, there is no technology to distract me. No one pleads with me to do things they can perfectly well do for themselves. There's nothing in the way of listening to my own thoughts (you parents of young ones know what I'm talking about). It's just me and the plants, slowly and quietly changing and trying to improve every day. 

There's a lot to learn while watching the beans grow and the zucchini plants blossom. Here are three life lessons my garden has given me:

1. All Things Come in Their Own Time

You can't rush what grows in the garden. It requires patience and time to reach its potential. A careful eye and a little experience will tell you if carrots are ready to be yanked from the soil or if tomatoes need another couple days to ripen on the vine. On the flip side, you also can't deny something its readiness when it comes earlier than expected. For example, the warm, dry weather this year means I am picking apples in July. Granted we have an early ripening variety, but it's typically the first week of August before I'm canning my first batches of garlic rosemary apple jelly and cinnamon brown sugar applesauce, and filling the freezer with apple oat crumbles. The truth is the garden responds to the conditions in the air and in the soil, whatever they may be, just as we must learn to thrive as best we can with whatever life blows our way and plants at our feet.

2. Good Things Grow on Trees
You can't always get what you want and money doesn't grow on trees, but plenty of really great stuff in life does start out on a branch. Peaches, pears, apples, apricots, nectarines and plums arranged neatly at a roadside stand or growing in your own backyard are as beautiful as life itself, and sometimes the cherry on top of a good day is quite literally a cherry on top. All these beautiful things bring us together, whether we go fruit picking with friends, chat with the seller at a roadside stand or preserve jars of dill pickles with a neighbour. All of that makes life richer, feeding our bellies and our hearts at the same time. Trees also bring us nuts, olives, bananas, lemons, limes, oranges, coconuts, figs and so much more. Yup, if it starts on a tree it can improve your life.

3. If We Don't Change We Don't Grow
There's no denying that change can be difficult, especially big changes like the one I am working on. After nearly nine years at home with my kids, I am planning to return to work outside the home this fall once my youngest son starts school. It's a big change, and not one that comes without a little anxiety, but the garden reminds me that change isn't only natural, it's actually healthy and can bring new things that I didn't even see coming. Just as a bean seed changes into a sprout, then into a stalk, then it flowers and produces fruit, people too can blossom through change. And just as the roots of the bean plant when left behind can add important nutrients to the soil over winter, we too leave our lasting marks on the world behind us as we change and move forward. Change is always coming our way, but we get to choose how we want to handle it.

What life lessons has your garden taught you?

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam: A Canning Photo Story

Strawberry season has come early to my little kitchen garden here on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It is usually mid June before I'm picking in the strawberry patch, but a mild spring and plenty of sunshine have conspired to deliver a cheeky May bounty of ripe, juicy berries perfect for homemade jam. 

The rhubarb plants are still going strong as well, so my first jam of the growing season this year is a batch of homegrown strawberry rhubarb jam with just a touch of lime. Mmm! My littlest son especially will enjoy this smeared all over his face for the coming year.

Here are some jam-making snaps from the holiday Monday experience in my happy little kitchen. Canning is such a colourful, beautiful, delicious experience and I love sharing the photos with you here. Want the recipe? You can find all my canning recipes in my national bestselling cookbook The Canning Kitchen. Homemade jam for all!

Batch Cookbook Blog Hop & GIVEAWAY

This is the time of year I start dreaming up preserving plans for the sunny months ahead. What do I want to preserve? How many pounds of tomatoes, peaches and cucumbers do I want to can this year? What will I grow, and what will I buy? Preserving can be done year-round, and I do put up jars of this and that when the mood strikes, but I like starting the growing season with shelves that are starting to get bare. They are not empty shelves to me. They are space for a fresh start.

I sat with my bare feet in the grass this Mother's Day, the sun shining hotly on my head, and did some daydreaming. No need for a spreadsheet or a checklist. Nothing set so firmly that it can't be undreamed. Just ideas and intentions.

Just in time for planning summer preserving comes along a new cookbook from the folks at the Toronto-based food blog Well Preserved. Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison's beautiful book Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips & Techniques For a Well Preserved Kitchen from Appetite by Random House is in stores now. It has loads of ideas for canning fans, but you'll also find recipes for other types of preserving, such as dehydrating, fermenting, cellaring, salting, smoking and infusing. I have my eye on the mushrooms section and the instructions for making mushroom powder.

With a wide range of preserving options for an equally wide range of preservable foods, Batch is a thorough resource that is sure to please experienced preservers. But with its simple language and helpful illustrations, there is still plenty to love for the new preserver. 

Start with the quick recipes like Salt-Preserved Lemons and Limes (salting) and Strawberry Ginger Leather (dehydrating), then work your way up to recipes with more steps like Cherry Ginger Beer (fermenting) and making your own bacon (salt and smoke). If you love the way food and science combine to make magic in the kitchen, you'll have fun casting spells within the pages of Batch.

I'm joining forces with some other Canadian food bloggers this week in celebration of the launch of Batch and giving readers a chance to win a copy for their own kitchen. We've all made something different from the book, and I chose Quick Pickled Grapes (page 219). I love me some sweet and sour flavours, so these halved grapes and lemon slices tucked inside a jar and topped with a simple brine of wine vinegar and honey is a winner. So far we've enjoyed them with seared pork chops and in salads. Yum.

Scroll down and enter to WIN a copy of Batch, and visit the other bloggers involved in the Blog Hop to enter their giveaways too...

Batch by Joel MacCharles & Dana Harrison, published by Appetite by Penguin Random House Canada. Author image credit: Margaret Mulligan.

Here are the other Canadian food bloggers participating in the Batch blog hop this week:

Getty at GettyStewart.com
Mardi at eat. live. travel. write.

Jan at Family Bites
Kelly at KellyNeil.com 


Valeria at A Canadian Foodie
Isabelle at Crumb

RenĂ©e at sweetsugarbean
Food Bloggers of Canada

To enter, fill out the rafflecopter box below.
Canadian residents only.
Good luck!

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Chocolate Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini

Disclosure: I am being paid to develop this original recipe content using Green & Black's Organic chocolate. I know, twist my arm to write about chocolate.

I'll be in the garden this Mother's Day. 

It's a family tradition to plant our veggie garden and pot some flowers on Mother's Day each year. My mum usually comes over and we make a trip to our favourite garden centre to pick up some flowers, potting soil, veggie starts and seeds, and by the time we get home Mr. Feedbag has usually tilled the two long raised garden beds in our back yard. He's a sweetheart like that.

Working around the already huge rhubarb plants and flowering strawberry patch, I dig new homes for our summer tomatoes and zucchini plants. With long sweeps of the trowel, I make tiny trenches and drop in rows of carrot and lettuce seeds before covering them with soil and giving them their first sip of water. We put stakes in place and tie up new string lines for the peas to climb up under the summer sun. Beginnings.

Today I'm sharing another Mother's Day recipe made with Green & Black's Organic chocolate. This time I'm using 70% dark chocolate to make a savoury appetizer that's right at home on your Mother's Day menu. These chocolate strawberry goat cheese crostini are as pretty as they are completely tasty. I love strawberries with dark chocolate and I love strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Add in a fresh basil leaf and cool, creamy goat cheese on a crunchy slice of toasted baguette and you have a combination that feels fresh and fancy despite the fact they're actually super easy to make.

Watch my how-to video to make these simple appetizers, or scroll down to get my full recipe...

Chocolate Balsamic Strawberry Goat Cheese Crostini
Makes 24 appetizers

1 baguette, sliced into 24 pieces
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
150 grams goat cheese
24 fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup (175 mL) sliced strawberries
1 bar (100 grams) Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate with 70% Cocoa
2 tsp (10 mL) liquid honey
2 tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

On a baking sheet, drizzle baguette slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat, then spread out on a single layer. Bake until lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Spread each crostini with some goat cheese. Add a basil leaf to each one, then a slice of strawberry. Set aside.

Add 1 inch of water to a small saucepan. Finely chop the chocolate bar, transferring about two thirds to a heat-proof bowl, reserving the remaining chocolate. Set the bowl over the saucepan to create a double boiler. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is fully melted. Remove bowl from heat. Stir in reserved chocolate until fully melted.

Stir in the honey and balsamic vinegar into the chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a squeeze bottle (or use a spoon) and drizzle over crostini. Serve immediately.

NOTE: The baguette can be sliced and baked a day ahead and kept fresh in a sealed container. The chocolate balsamic glaze can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave, checking every 20 seconds, until melted. Assemble with other ingredients just before serving.

Are you a fan of dark chocolate? Do you use chocolate in savoury recipes? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

White Chocolate Sprinkle Truffles with Green & Black's

[Disclosure: I am being paid to develop and photograph this original content using Green & Black's Organic chocolate products. Also, chocolate!]

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. 

As a kid, when friends said they wanted to be veterinarians and fire fighters and rocket scientists when they grew up, I would say with my little girl conviction that I wanted to be a blood donor and a mom. Goals achieved, I guess you could say. Sure, there were other fun things along the way. I was a news anchor for a while, ran a half-marathon once, became an author, but in the end it is motherhood that makes me the happiest and feels like a home for my heart.

I know a lot of you can relate, and since Mother's Day is coming up fast I am sharing some chocolatey goodness this week in partnership with Green & Black's Organic. I have two new recipes to share, crafted in my own little kitchen, to make for or with the moms in your life. 

Today I'm sharing some dainty sweet treats that can be boxed up and wrapped with a bow. These white chocolate sprinkle truffles are made with Green & Black's Organic White Chocolate with Madagascan Vanilla (ya, it tastes as good as it sounds). These chocolate-coated truffles have a satisfyingly silky white chocolate ganache centre, and they are fun to make and oh-so-pretty. Use whatever colour sprinkles you have on hand or go with mom's favourite colour.

For all you mamas out there, a very happy almost Mother's Day to you. I'll have another chocolate recipe in a couple days, complete with a fun how-to video. For now, scroll down to get my recipe for white chocolate sprinkle truffles, and be good to your mutha...

White Chocolate Sprinkle Truffles
Makes 2 dozen truffles

4 bars (4 x 100 grams) Green & Black's Organic White Chocolate with Madagascan Vanilla
1/4 cup (60 mL) whipping cream
2 tsp (10 mL) sprinkles (any colour)

Finely chop 2 chocolate bars and transfer to a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour over chocolate. Allow to sit for 1 minute to begin melting, then gently stir until fully melted. Cover and refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours).

Using a small spoon or melon baller, scoop small amounts of the ganache and roll into 1 inch balls (this is easiest done with cool hands). Transfer balls to a wax paper-line sheet. Chill for 10 minutes.

Finely chop 2 more chocolate bars. Transfer about two-thirds of the chocolate to a medium heat-proof bowl. Add 1 inch of water to a small saucepan and set the bowl over it to create a double boiler. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted. Remove bowl from the heat. Stir in the remaining chocolate until fully melted.

Using a fork, dip the ganache balls into the melted chocolate to coat. Allow excess to drip off, then return to wax paper-lined sheet. Top each truffle with sprinkles as you work before the chocolate hardens.

Truffles can be stored in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

NOTE: If the ganache is left in the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours and is too firm to roll into balls, allow to sit at room temperature for half an hour to soften slightly.

How do you use white chocolate in your kitchen? Cookies? Muffins? Truffles? Leave a comment and let's talk white chocolate.