Thursday, May 27

Dandylion Pride

We have dandylions! Why, you might wonder, am I proud to proclaim this fact? It's because dandylions and other spontaneous flowers show that we choose chemical-free gardening.

Our lawns—and all the wonderful things that grown in and around them—are safe for people, birds, dogs and other animals to enjoy.

Some of the vegetation is for people to eat (asparagus, rhubarb, berries, herbs, pansies); the rest is for birds, butterflies, bunnies and other wildlife to eat or nest in. Pesticide-free lawns are also great spots to catch a nap in the shade, to sunbathe, or to challenge your travel mates to a game of bocce ball or croquet.

Plus, flowers in the grass are pretty! Right now we have waves of tiny purple flowers, cheery yellow buttercups, and white strawberry blossoms which may even develop into berries! Later we'll get fiery orange-and-red flowers (my neighbour calls them devil's paintbrush, but I don't know their proper name) and ornamental jewelweed in every shade of magenta.

The naturalized lawns are also much more drought resistant. They're made up of different grasses and other green groundcover, such as clover. When freshly mowed, it makes for a smooth sea of green, and who cares if it's not all from uniform blades of grass.

Then the lawn flowers (I don't like the term weeds!) grow back and, at least until the next mowing, we're treated to delightful splashes of colour again. Now that's something to roar about!

Thursday, May 20

Bitten by the Jelly Bug

Fern Glen Inn •

Guests often ask me if the jams we serve with some of our breakfasts are homemade, probably because so much of what we offer is made-from-scratch and freshly prepared. And I'd always have to answer 'no'. I never tried my hand at jams and jellies, citing the amount of time involved and the fact that we are always deep in our busy season when local fruits and berries are ripe and ready for canning.

But we have an abundance of rhubarb now during our gently-paced quiet season; and the strawberries at the grocery store, while not local, are sweet and flavourful. So I decided it was time to make a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam. Searching online, I found a common recipe shared on a number of sites and blogs, and it's nearly the same as the one on the Certo Pectin box, and I ended up using a compilation for my fruit preparation. 

When it came to the important steps of sterilizing the jars and processing the jam, I found the best directions on the Bernardin website. If you're new to jam-making, I highly recommend you read their step-by-step guide to home canning.

Our first batch of jam was a success! Now I've been bitten by the jelly bug—I want to make more! Even though I'm very new to jam-making, I couldn't resist tweaking recipes and flavours and putting my own twist on things. The resulting Roasted Rhubarb-Ginger jam is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

If you've been thinking about making your own homemade jam—go for it! It's a great feeling to see those lovely jars lined up in the panty, and even better to slather your very own jam on a piece of warm toast. 

Classic Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Makes 6 or 7 250ml jar

  • 1 1/4 lbs (approx) rhubarb (to make 1 3/4 cups prepared)
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1 3/4 lbs (approx) ripe strawberries (to make 2 1/2 cups prepared)
  • 6 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 1 pouch (85 ml) Certo Liquid Pectin 
Prepare the Jars
Place 7 clean 250 ml mason jars on a rack in a canner (deep pot with a rack on the bottom). Cover with water and bring to a gentle boil. Set screw bands aside. Heat SNAP LID sealing discs in hot, not boiling, water. Keep jars and discs hot until ready to use.

Prepare the Fruit

Wash rhubarb but do not peel. Chop into 3/4" pieces and place in a medium sauce pot. Add 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 - 4 minutes. Transfer 1 3/4 cups of the mixture to a large sauce pot (discard the rest or save for another use).
Wash and hull strawberries. If large, remove and discard the white pithy core from the centre. Cut strawberries into quarters or halves. Crush with a potato masher or your hands. Measure out 2 1/4 cups and add to the rhubarb in the pot.

Make the Jam

Add sugar to fruit mixture in sauce pot and stir to combine. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in pectin. Return to full rolling boil and boil 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat and continue to stir for 3 minutes. Use a metal spoon to skim off and discard any foam.

Pack, Process and Store

Remove jars from canner. Ladle hot jam mixture into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, wet cloth. Place hot sealing discs on jar rims. Screw bands to fingertip-tight. Place jars upright on the rack in the canner and add water if necessary to cover jars by at least 1" of water.
Place a lid on the canner and bring to a full boil. Once boiling, start timing. Boil for 5 minutes.
When processing time is complete, turn off heat and remove lid. Let sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars and stand them on a rack or dishtowel, with at least 1" of space between jars. Let stand undisturbed for 24 hours.
After jars cool, check seals. Sealed discs curve downward and do not move when pressed. Store jars in a cool dark place for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.

Roasted Rhubarb-Ginger Jam

Makes 6 or 7 250ml jar
  • 2 lbs (approx) rhubarb (to make 3 cups prepared)
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 5 1/2 cups sugar, divided 
  • 1/4 cup, packed, finely diced crystallized ginger 
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger root (I use a rasp grater) 
  • 1 pouch (85 ml) Certo Liquid Pectin 
Follow the directions for the Classic Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, but use the following method to prepare the fruit:

Prepare the Fruit

Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash rhubarb but do not peel. Chop into 1" pieces and place in an ungreased 7"x11" glass or ceramic baking dish. Add the white wine and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir to combine. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes; stir gently then continue roasting until soft and starting to caramelize, about another 15 minutes. Transfer 3 cups of the mixture to a large sauce pot (eat any extras!).
Continue with the directions above to Make the Jam, adding the remaining 5 cups sugar, the crystallized ginger and the fresh ginger root to the rhubarb mixture before bringing it to a boil. See Pack, Process and Store to finish.


Saturday, May 8

Sheekey Sheep and Lamb Sausage Stew

Fern Glen Inn •

I've mentioned our nearby neighbours, the Sheekey's, before. Val knits vitamin scarves, and Ray's cat, Titou, spends his winters entertaining our guests. And, coincidentally, I worked with their son back in my "big city" days.

We also get our lamb from the Sheekey's. Every summer, Val and Ray raise two or three sheep in a lovely little pasture at their home alongside the Magnetawan River. The sheep are well cared for and naturally raised. In fact, they are sometimes more free-range than intended, escaping their pen to explore the world!

In the fall, the sheep are loaded into the family car and taken to the local abattoir/butcher, soon to be returned to the Sheekey's in neatly wrapped brown paper packages that go straight into the freezer. The sheep from last summer are the lamb chops, sausage, and rib roasts we enjoy for dinner this year. It felt uncomfortable at first to meet my food while it was still an animal, but I know this is the way consumption used to be, the way it should be still.

Val and Ray sell the various cuts of lamb—as well as eggs from their free-ranging chickens, veggies from their garden, and homemade jams, jellies and pickles—to friends and neighbours. If you'd like to take some home for yourself after your next visit to the inn, we'll send you on over to meet the Sheekeys.

You can also savour lamb sausages during a dinner here at the inn. Just let us know in advance and we'll work it into the menu. I've served them with chili, with balsamic vegetables , and with a fresh corn and zucchini saute garnished with Val's amazing mint jelly.

The lamb recipe here is for a casual one-pot meal I like to make for Jim and myself when we want something filling without a lot of fuss. I keep it simple with ingredients I usually have on hand in my pantry and freezer.  

Lamb Sausage Stew with Chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound lamb sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a 900ml can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 3/4 cup israeli couscous or orzo pasta
  • 1 cup chicken broth, more if needed
  • 1 700ml can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 of a 300 gram bag of spinach leaves, washed (or frozen spinach, thawed)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, mint, or basil (or a pinch of dried herbs such as thyme, oregano or herbs de provence)
  • crumbled feta cheese and crusty bread for serving
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven. Add the sausage, crumbled, and cook until nicely browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add more olive oil to the pot if it's dry, or remove excess oil if there's more than just a thin film of it. Add the onion, celery and carrot. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until softened. Add the garlic and stir for another minute.

Add the tomatoes, israeli couscous (or pasta) and chicken broth. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes. Add the reserved sausage, chickpeas and the spinach. Cook, stirring often, until the israeli couscous or pasta is tender, the sausage is heated through and the spinach is wilted, about another 5 minutes. Add more chicken stock or water if the mixture is too dry and sticks to the bottom of the pot. Stir in the herbs.

Ladel the stew into shallow bowls. Top with crumbled feta cheese and serve with crusty bread.