Monday, July 06, 2015

Adventures in Foraging: Elderflower Cordial

A sweet, refreshing syrup with so many uses
    In years past, I've never given Elderflowers much thought.  Last fall, I tried searching for the berries, but was confused by the number of different dark blue/black berries that populate the urban landscape here in Ottawa.  There are occasions to be adventurous - eating something of which you are not sure - should never be one of them. 
     Thankfully, one of the groups I follow on Facebook, posted a picture of some Elderflowers, proclaiming them 'in bloom'.  So, out the door I went, bags in hand. 
     As luck would have it, there are some gorgeous bushes within walking distance.  Last week would appear to have been the perfect time for a little harvesting.  The pathways on which I found many Elder bushes dotting the road were thick with lovely, creamy, white blossoms and the smell was heavenly.

     I gathered a couple of handfuls from a few different shrubs as I walked.  When harvesting, always keep in mind to leave enough blossoms behind to turn into berries for later harvest, plus enough for the birds.  You never want to strip a plant clean.  Step away and if it looks like nothing's missing, great! 
     Luckily, the recipe I found for Elderflower Cordial ( Cordial always makes me think of Anne of Green Gables! ) called for only twenty heads, leaving me some to put into a jar to enjoy.  Why these are not used for early summer weddings, I'll never understand.  The blossoms and greenery make an instant bouquet and the wee flowers themselves are the perfect looking confetti!  Did I mention the heavenly aroma? 
  The recipe is pretty straightforward, the only strange ingredient being Citric Acid ( not really that strange, just not found in the baking isle! ) which I found in bulk at Kardish with the help of the wonderful Kayla!  ( She works at the Blossom Park location and is so knowledgeable! )

Lemon slices, Rind and Elderflowers steeping in sugar syrup
     The concoction steeps over night and then gets filtered.  Don't forget to give the flowers a rinse first to remove any dirt or critters that might have come along for the ride!  Once you have it bottled, you can freeze some for later or start enjoying it right away.  The BBC site with the recipe offered some great ideas for its use.  I made a fruit salad and used a spoonful to sweeten the fruit.  Also I tried a Elderflower Wine Spritzer.  Two parts Dry White Wine, Two parts Sparking Water or Soda and one part Cordial with ice.  It made a lovely drink that way and really -  as even IKEA knows - it can be made without alcohol for a refreshing drink for kids!

     I look forward to watching the trees over the summer and seeing the berries emerge.  I shall have my canning equipment ready to make jam when the berries are ripe!  or perhaps another cordial type syrup - Elderberries are very high in Vitamin C and also reputed to be good for upset stomachs and nasal congestion.  Happy Foraging!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Adventures in Gardening - Free cuttings and divisions Welcome!

The last five years we have lived in this condo, I have missed my little garden in Dartmouth terribly.  It had only just begun to take shape when we were moved to Ottawa in 2010.  Every summer, I do quite a bit of growing in containers on our deck, but it's not the same is it? 
So last fall, I took the plunge and with the blessing of the Board of Directors (of which I am Secretary) I began a one woman gardening club.  I planted 25 tulip bulbs.  With the squirrels we have, I wasn't holding on to hope, but wouldn't you know it - they all came up!

With this success, I tackled the main flower bed.  It had been left to it's own devices for many years and been taken over by an invasive groundcover.  Mostly I weeded.

The dense yellow in the top right corner used to completely choke this flower bed.  Over the course of a month, I have been pulling it all out to make room for some traditional perennials and in the process a few of the original plants are beginning to recover.  We had some beautiful Siberian Iris with multiple blooms for the first time in 5 years!
On the May long weekend I planted a few perennials: Lavender, Lupin, Poppies, Shasta daisy and a blue Delphinium of sorts.

The plants I am sure won't flower this year, except the above ambitious one, but they look to have taken and seem healthy.  We shall see next year!  Today, I added some Rudbeckia and Echinacea.  One of the Echinacea is called PowWow Wild Berry.  I am really excited to see it bloom.  For now it looks like this!

The plant I am most excited for is a Hydrangea division I received from my friend Anne.  I planted it against a chain link fence that could definitely use some prettying up.  I have already put in a Peony there and hope the Hydrangea fills in nicely.  I always remember the amazing drifts of blue hydrangea on the lawns in Maine as we drove through.  I guess this means we are committed to staying here at this condo, as I have to see these plants mature and flower!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Birds and Animals

Last Sunday's class was depicting fur or feathers when painting birds and animals in watercolour.  Tricky stuff.  Especially if the creature is white!  I tried painting a squirrel (or chipmunk) and a cardinal.  I have always loved cardinals and my years spent out East where they don't live has made me a little more obsessed.  I will not post him because he is awful.  Husband said it looked like he had a trucker beard!
Here is the squirrel and a couple of other birds I have been practicing at home.

The halo of white light around him should be varied. 

Chickadee - quick study

I didn't tape down this study and so it is warped, causing the shadow on
the right hand side.  Oh well!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Watercolour Classes Again

A few weeks ago I started a new watercolour class at the Ottawa School of Art.   They are so different than the last class, less structured, more shoot from the hip and I have noticed that already my colours are a bit richer and more vibrant.  The first class I went to, we did poppies - which I am still not really happy with and then white flowers which are really hard!

finished class study - no reference


We painted daisies in class then moved onto apple blossoms which I muddied up quite a bit.  So I did another at home.  This Sunday we are working on birds and animals.  I can't wait to see what I end up with!

Daisies done in class

Apple Blossom done at home from friends reference photo.


Thursday, March 26, 2015


Recently we drove to Barrie to see my Mum and decided the best way to make the journey less stressful, was to stop halfway, staying the night in Peterborough.  We could head out first thing, with only a two hour drive which would leave lots of time to visit.  This was also a fantastic opportunity to introduce The Mister to the Peterborough Farmers Market, where my cousin took me in autumn and I had the best bagels!  They have a great winter market that reminds me of the Halifax Farmers Market, which I miss tremendously.
We grabbed coffee - the Bagel guy was not there - just as well, we got The Best Apple Fritters Ever and we stopped briefly to try some lamb broth.  The gentleman with the broth also had an array of jarred fermented items.  Fermentation is one of those (to me) scary words.  When done right, fermented food is so good for you - think yogurt or miso.  But just thinking about 'bacteria' and food is enough to lose the appetite.  It just goes to show how much we have lost our way with cooking from scratch and knowing our food.  I picked up a jar of dilled vegetables and am now incorporating them into tasty dishes that might tempt The Mister.
No list of ingredients - just going on faith with this one!
Seemed easiest to start with a salad.  My approach to salad making is very loose, no real recipe to speak of and rarely do I bother to make a formal 'dressing'.   Often this results in a rather large salad, but I feel as long as the calorie dense additions are kept to a minimum, a large salad is fine to consume at one sitting!  This style of salad lends itself to whatever you have on hand.

big handful torn, washed Romaine
1shredded carrot
small amount thinly sliced cabbage
half a dozen kalamata olives
tablespoon chopped walnuts
big spoonful of fermented veg, chopped
heaping tablespoon light feta
splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar
grinding of salt and pepper
Toss together and top with some sliced chicken or other protein for a meal in a bowl.  Here I used some chicken cooked with Emeril's Essence  that we made last night and is super delicious!

Hard to even see the fermented bits, but it contributed great flavour!
I hope that you will consider some different ingredients the next time you are making a salad and if you see someone making these fermented products at your local Farmers Market, buy some!  It's not only a great way to get some healthy probiotics into your diet, but a way to eat local veggies when locally nothing is growing in the snow! 
Next?  maybe a pilaf with lemon or an orzo salad to showcase the great dill flavour.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Yellow is not my favourite colour.

It must seem it some days as most of my photos from the Experimental Farm here in Ottawa are of this one yellow barn!

You can see the Canada Post buildings way, way in the background.  The corn is high and dry as this was taken in the fall.  It was actually a blustery day, with storm clouds rolling over, threatening to rain and then gone.  It will be interesting to go back in the spring and see the same angles.  Right now, of course it would just be white everywhere and covered with snow.

In progress.  The painting just needs some details and a stormier sky.

Yellow Barn6 12"x12" acrylic

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cajun Chicken Mushroom Soup

Damp, dreary days like today need a good creamy soup.  I had something like this in a restaurant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia about 6 or so years ago.   I remembered it yesterday and decided to try and recreate it for tonight.
I like that blended mushrooms give the soup a velvety feel without the need for any cheese.  I think that a thick version of this would be great for a baked chicken dish as well.

Try this for a spicy, earthy, and filling soup.

Cajun Chicken Mushroom Soup - serves 2

1 litre of chicken stock, warm
6 ounces mushroom, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tomato, diced
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded.
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup flour
1/4 milk or cream
1 tbsp. Cajun seasoning*
salt and pepper

Melt butter an olive oil together in a medium saucepan.  Saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent.  Add flour and cook two minutes, but do not brown.  Slowly add stock while whisking to prevent lumps - if you like your soup thicker, you may not need all the stock.  Add carrot, mushrooms and Cajun seasoning.  Simmer, covered on low until carrot is tender, 10 minutes.  Puree half or all the soup until smooth.  Pour back in to saucepan add chicken, tomato, milk/cream and cook over medium low heat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with cilantro or green onions.

* different blends are spicier than others - go easy on the seasoning if you are not sure how hot it will be.  You can always add a bit more if you want to turn up the heat.  I made a blend that I found on Allrecipes, but you could use any commercial blend you prefer.

finished with a drizzle of flavoured olive oil