Tag Archives: gardening

One woman’s weeds, another woman’s pleasure.


Hunched over in my garden, diligently pulling out leafy things, binding things, yellowing things and unwanted life, I have spent many hours tending and weeding and will do for many more to come this season. For weeks now, the amaranth and strangling-vines have been the superstars of my humble plot. But the most prolific, is the tender, juicy, and edible of the bunch: purslane. Purslane is a delicious succulent, mildly tasting of lemon and full of Omega-3 fatty acids. I discovered purslane working on a farm in Cambridge, ON in 2006, when my coworker, Jaime, explained to me the brilliance of this yummy and totally freewheeling “weed”.  One day I thought it would be a nice touch to deliver some of it to see what the reaction would be of Chef Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall, and find out if it would be something he might like to use in the kitchens there. He loved it, and I allowed the unrelenting plant to grow between rows in order to keep him in constant supply. Since then, I haven’t really paid much attention to those waxy looking emerald-green leaves and robust, pink-ish stems between the cracks in the sidewalks of Toronto’s downtown, until this summer when it is basically taking over my veggie patch.

So, I have embraced the little buggers and have come up with a much more glamorous plan for them. With the adventurous spirit of my friends at Union 72 on Ossington, they have been a garnish there for several weeks now when Chef Dan DeMatteis is at the helm in the kitchen. Most Thursdays I take over a bag full of them, and hope that they will be put to use. Not exactly sure how many of them have been, or if customers are willing to eat the squiggly things on their plate, but at least all of my hard work weeding has a second life in an excellent restaurant. Needless to say I haven’t really used them for my own consumption except for a few smoothies, and a few leaves thrown on a salad, most of it just goes happily to the restaurant.

Last night, however, I was spontaneously over for dinner at my friend’s house, and as he had been away all weekend for work, had very little in his fridge save a ripe mango, a jar of roasted red peppers, and some expired condiments. I climbed up onto his garage roof, where last summer, there was an abundance of yummy greens to choose from in an elaborate container garden. Last year’s roommate had quite the green thumb. This year, my trek up the ladder was less than satisfactory, but I noticed there was quite a good amount of purslane valiantly growing where nothing else had been planted. Success! I climbed back down with no idea what I would do with it, but a grin from ear to ear.

The salad was a surprisingly delicious accompaniment to the spicy fennel and garlic sausages from Provenance Regional Cuisine which I just happened to be carrying with me on my way home from work. It is truly amazing what one can come up with challenged with little planning, few ingredients, and a sense of adventure. Eat weeds and life is more fun! Guaranteed, and free! This morning, I enthusiastically harvested all of the plants for their weekly appearance in fine dining, and then cautiously asked my neighbour if I could come over the fence to harvest some of hers. She couldn’t understand why, and was pleased to allow me to weed her garden for her. I can’t wait to try all sorts of new recipes with purslane. If you have any, please share.

Summer Fresh Purslane-Mango Salad

Serves 2

2 Cups Purslane, not packed down, well washed and roots trimmed off

1 Mango, ripe

1 Large Roasted Red Pepper (the kind you get in a jar)


2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Tbsp Roasted Red Pepper Juices/brine

1/2 tsp Cumin

1/2-3/4 tsp (or to taste) Chili Powder

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the mango into cubes, break apart the purslane into small bite-sized pieces, leaves and stems included. Slice the red pepper and combine in a bowl. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a separate bowl and then toss in with salad. Enjoy!


The garden is all tucked in…

BC Beauty and Bounty

I have just finished a fabulous course at Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island on Growing for Market. Having been inspired by the magnificently beautiful surroundings, enthusiastic and passionate participants, and the expertise that Michael Ableman, Jeanne Marie Herman, and Josh Volk possess, I am quite certain that growing food is something I just have to do at some point.

Foxglove Farm, Growing for Market

Foxglove Farm, Growing for Market

I have had the pleasure of touring around Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island to meet farmers, chefs, family, and make new friends who just seem to get “it”. There are definitely many obstacles to a smoothly operating local food system that could support the demand in the area, but it seems as though there are also many projects that are really progressive and making serious and positive change happen.

Haliburton Farm is one such example. A handful of growers in a residential community in Saanich have come together to create a community friendly space to grow food and show people what is possible in urban settings. The individual growers come together to co-market their products at the on-site farm stand, and take their stunning products to the Moss Street Market in Victoria on Saturdays. This co-operative relationship between small growers is making it possible and sustainable for the people involved to remain and thrive in agriculture.

Food Roots is offering Pocket Markets in many different forms in neighbourhoods around Victoria making sure that small local farms are prioritized as suppliers and helping to distribute their beautiful food. Food Roots has also just started a wholesale produce outlet for food service and retail operations in the city to access truly local and sustainable food. Lee Fuge was very generous with her time to show me the projects and to discuss the similarities and differences between FoodShare Toronto’s Good Food Markets and the Pocket Markets of Victoria

Lee and Ramona showing me Rayn or Shine Community Garden in Vic West

Lee and Ramona showing me Rayn or Shine Community Garden in Vic West

The Land Conservancy, although just having gone through major changes on the Board of Directors and some staff changes, strives to protect land in British Columbia for agriculture, recreation, culture, and nature.

Providence Farm is a beautiful example of a multi-faceted organization that nurtures people in a therapeutic environment filled with plants and good food. This year Providence farm hosted the Feast of Fields event pairing chefs and local producers cooking up a storm as a fundraiser for local sustainable food systems.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ramona Scott who is now working with Local Food Plus to roll out the certification program in BC. Whether or not it will take hold is yet to be seen, but thus far there is interest from six or seven producers and strategy in place to get some retail stores to promote LFP certified products. Ms. Scott thinks that having a definition of what is local and what is sustainable will really help to reduce the ambiguity that exists for the consumer trying to make better choices.

And then there are the producers, of course, who make it all happen. On Salt Spring Island I was very happy to visit Moonstruck Organic Cheese, using Jersey milk; Salt Spring Island Cheese, using goat and sheep milk; Foxglove Farm’s uber-high quality vegetables; Deerholme Farm salad greens; Fol Epi making breads and pastry with freshly ground red fife wheat; Frog Song Farm supplying the Duncan Farmers’ Market; AppleLuscious with countless varieties of apples and host of the Salt Spring Island apple festival; and the Archers raising water buffalo at Fairburn Farm alongside Mara Jernigan’s culinary retreat paradise.

It was all very exciting to see how the food community works in a new place and to acknowledge the challenges that they all face. Again, it comes down to big companies having a big share of the market, distribution for those companies becoming more and more centralized and inaccessible for smaller producers, and market price becoming too low with which to compete. The local grocery chain Thrifty’s is now owned by Sobeys and it is one example of how local control is being lost on Vancouver Island and all over BC.

So why doesn’t everyone in Canada move to BC? I’m not sure, it seems like paradise there and I may just take everyone’s advice and move on out to Vancouver Island where the growing season lasts all year. Not to mention, the mushrooming is fantastic!chicken of the woods