I grew up watching a cooking show called “The Urban Peasant,” hosted by James Barber.  I liked his show because he always talked about making tasty meals with whatever you have on hand, no need to shop for special ingredients.  His motto was “if you have it put it in; if you don’t have it, don’t put it in.”  This has become a big part of how I cook.  I tend to work off basoc templates rather than hardcore recipes.  

One such template is for sautéed greens, prepared as follows:

Wash and chop up leafy vegetables of various kinds.  Preferably, mix greens from different plant families.  For example:

  • brassicas (kale leaves/florettes, broccoli, kakina, komatsuna, cabbage, arugula…)
  • spinach family (spinach, swiss chard, beet greens…)
  • carrot family (parsely, lovage, italian parsely, cilantro, lovage…)
  • lettuce family (lettuce, shungiku…) 

Put some oil in the pan and turn on the heat.  (I like to use coconut oil or olive oil).  Add something aromatic and stir it around a bit.  This could be cumin seeds, minced garlic, curry paste, mustard seeds or something else.  

Add a handful of the chopped leafy greens and stir a bit.  Repeat until all the greens are in.  If you like, add some cooked beans.  Add salt or soy sauce or fish sauce or something else salty to taste.  Stir some more until the greens are as cooked as you like them (I err on the side of rather cooked); or put on the lid and lower or turn off the heat and let it sit until the greens are as cooked as you like them.  At the end you can add more oil if you prefer (I often add extra olive oil at the end rather than the beginning since high heat destroys some of olive oils benefits).  

My most recent rendition of this basic recipe was kale leaves, kale florettes, and lovage with cumin seeds and soy beans sautéed in olive oil.  I seasoned it with soy sauce and chinkiang vinegar, and ate it on rice.  

I’ve often wondered how to describe my style of cooking when people ask me for a recipe of some dish I’ve made.  This is one attempt to describe my non-recipe.  Please let me know what you think!

My recent effort to learn more about the mechanics of small farm machinery has often prompted thoughts about women taking traditionally male roles.  For example, I had the chance a couple weeks ago to sit on a panel discussion about farm equipment at the Farmer 2 Farmer conference.  Not surprisingly, I was the only woman on the panel, and not surprisingly, several people commented on that.  

After the conference I dropped by Slegg Lumber to ask about some plastic sheeting we’ve been searching for.  Talking to the guy at the service desk, my first instinct was to play tough, to assume he would think a woman wouldn’t know what she’s talking about, and to make sure to prove him wrong.  

The vibe of our conversation felt really weird until I decided to just relax, to be real about my knowledge and lack thereof, to respect him as a person, and to be myself (I’m not naturally the tough type).  

I’ve decided to take this approach from now on–whether it’s at Slegg Lumber, or Lordco, or Westshore Power Equipment.  If it’s sexist to assume a woman won’t know what to do with a socket wrench, it’s sexist to assume a man won’t admit what a woman is capable of.  If anything, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve heard more from other women than from men about mechanics being a man’s domain.   And most of what I’ve learned comes from men who are more than happy to teach anyone who’s willing to learn.  


The Women’s Land Army

A friend shared this link to pictures from Britain’s WWI Women’s Land Army, which was a bid to increase the agricultural labour force and pursue food self-sufficiency.  It’s sad that it takes a war to get us doing things like that.  

Spring has come.  Our daffodils are blooming, weeds are sprouting in the greenhouse, and the days are longer.  However much the wind may blow or the rain may fall, spring has come and any cold or wet the weather may throw at us is just spring being cranky.  

Now I’m glad to see spring, but at first I was more sad to see winter ending, because it meant the end of free time for winter projects.  Winter is a fabulous time for accomplishing all kinds of things we don’t have time for in the main part of the year: organizing remay, making plans and strategies, and learning new information for the year ahead.  

This winter’s big project was learning mechanical skills to help keep our tools and machinery running.  I took a short small engine class with Billy Metcalfe out in Fernwood, and was e-mail coached through cleaning up a starter motor by a very kind and mechanically savvy neighbor.

The garage is still full of mechanical projects not yet finished.  The machine with the starter motor still won’t start, and there’s a lawnmower I took apart that still needs alot of TLC before it will run again, if it ever does.  Many machines are on the TO DO list for the routine maintenance I haven’t previously been routinely performing. 

I hope to continue those jobs here and there (they’ll be needed!), but spring is here.  Time for planting seeds and pulling weeds and planning the crops we’ll grow throughout this year and into the winter to come.  

Sloths who grow their own food

Snails carry their house on their back.  Some sloths carry their farm on theirs.  

A conversation with a friend today led to some Wikipedia exploration of what makes certain foods hot, or pungent.  Basically, some kind of “hotness” can be found in certain members of just three of the plant groups we commonly eat crops from: the brassicas (mustard, wasabi, horseradish), the alliums (raw garlic, raw onion), and Capsicum (hot peppers), plus black pepper (of the genus Piper).  

These food plants don’t all have the same biochemical basis for hotness.  Organosulphur compounds give rise to the hot of raw alliums and the hot of certain brassicas–allicin for the alliums and allyl isothiocyanate for the brassicas.  (I notice that the hotness of raw onion or garlic disappears with cooking, while that of brassicas such as daikon may disappear or leave a taste that is bitter rather than hot.) The hot of black pepper and of hot peppers does not disappear with cooking, and arises from alkaloids, capsaicin and piperine respectively. 

Whatever the compound, all activate the same receptor, TRPV1.  The allium and brassica compounds also activates another chemosensory receptor, TRPA1.   If you enjoy scientific articles, you might take a look at one from 2009 showing that capsaicin and piperine both activate the same receptor, or one from 2005 showing that garlic activates both receptors I mentioned. 

Most of my links are from Wikipedia.  If you like Wikipedia, please consider donating $5 or so (after all, they’re keeping it ad-free).


A friend shared this link about working hours in pre-industrial Britain/Europe: http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/worktime/hours_workweek.html

We are now well into the Dark Quarter, which is what I call the period between the midpoint of autumn-equinox-to-winter-solstice and the midpoint of winter-solstice-to-spring-equinox, roughly November 5-February 5.  It is that period in which daylength is short and varies little.  We still have work to do, but for the most part we work more leisurely for fewer hours per day.

Normally I dread this time of year.  The dark and the cold all too predictably bring on bad cases of the winter blues.  So far it’s been so sunny that I can hardly feel that threat, and besides, I’ve been looking forward to the Dark Quarter for some time now.  It’s the time of year when we can really rest.  I often think about the need to deliberately and aggressively seek out rest while I can.  Last winter I read a short book by Dr W.C. Tan about agriculture in the Chinese classics.  These days, a bit from his translation/commentary on Sage Hou Ji frequently comes to mind:

Do not miss the farming timing and do not perform any farming activities at an inappropriate time.  It is absolutely critical to know the difference between the way that leads to prosperity and the way that leads to poverty. And that is, once farming season has started, work hard period [sic].  And once the farming season is over, rest from labour. …There are those who do not understand the principle of farming, who prior to the arrival of the farm-season have already started doing things.  These same people, after the farm-season is over still preoccupy themselves with farming.  And after they have missed the precious period, they begin to regret.  This is a clear case of not adhering to the proper timing. ~from The Tao of Traditional Chinese Agriculture by Dr. W.C. Tan

This is the precious period in which we can rest.  All too often I have missed the proper timing, and then been hampered by a need for rest during the growing season.  But resting is tricky.  There is still alot that I want to get done: reading up on various farming topics, dealing with statistics/paperwork for government and certifying bodies, various organization and repair jobs, and–importantly–catching up on socializing.  I look forward to all that (except perhaps the paperwork!), but rest needs to get high priority.  By the time March arrives, we’ll already be busy again.  But let’s not speak of that!  It’s still November, near the beginning of the Dark Quarter, and I’m already enjoying it.

I have nothing against Mondays.  Nevertheless, some recent Mondays have brought challenges.  First, we heard a few Mondays ago that Dayspring Tofu is moving to Cloverdale.  This would not be a problem except for the fact that we rely heavily on okara (the soybean pulp leftover from tofu production) as a fertilizer.  Of course, there are other options for organic soil nutrient management—but the all cost more time, more money or both.  I will likely have more to say about how we manage this challenge in future posts. 

Next, last week Monday we found the rat.  Or shall I say, the whole family of rats that was living in our storage area.  We’d previously found signs of rats nearby, which was a rare thing for us since our colourful cast of cat characters usually takes care of those sorts of problems.  But when my colleague heard noises in the storage area, and we looked more carefully inside, we found a mess that took at least four hours to clean up and costed us more than I care to think.  

All this notwithstanding, life is good.  The rains that fell in late September thoroughly soaked the soil and were followed by mild or sunny weather, excellent for crop growth.  Even inside the greenhouse where the rain can’t fall, it has seeped in under the ground, and the greens I’d previously been worried about are now growing luxuriously.  Even our outdoor kale, which still shows signs of damage from the hail that fell a few Mondays ago, is producing enough, and our eggplants are still producing even now, to our happy astonishment.

Monday or any day, it’s good to be alive.

Urban orchards in Vancouver…it warms my heart to read yet again just how much is happening in Vancouver to make urban farming a stronger reality there.


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