57 Days…

Friday, March 11th, 2011

The beauty of ice on the window.

The beauty of ice on the window.

…Until our last frost date. Am I going to make it, I wonder? Oh sure, physically I’ll probably get through – there is all that snow to shovel which keeps me mobile. It’s my mental state I’m concerned about. Word around town is that this is the coldest, snowiest, darkest winter we’ve had in 20 years…and I’m worried I’m starting to experience syptoms of the dire condition we in Canada know as being ‘shackwacked’, which, in my case, means drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much, turning on ALL the lights in the house in an effort to chase away the gloom (figuratively and literally) and, basically consuming too much and producing too little.

But as I watched a neighbor push another neighbor’s car out of an icy snow rut for the umpteenth time this season, I realized that I am not alone – all gardeners who can’t garden year-round are experiencing this aimlessness, this frustration, this desperation! So maybe, if I share what I am doing to keep my sanity intact until I can get my fingers in the soil again, I won’t feel so unproductive, and maybe you can share what keeps your sanity intact and together we’ll pull ourselves out of this icy snow rut.

Let’s start with yesterday…

I’m a huge fan of CBC Radio (I’m listening to Radio 2 right now as I write this post) and listen to it during the week on that ancient thing called a radio, and then catch up on programs I missed online. While I love TV and could, technically, be called an addict to it, let’s face it, it’s not a medium designed to make you think. CBC Radio, on the other hand, allows me glimpses into other countries, other cultures, other minds – it keeps me from feeling isolated and insulated from other people which is very important during a season when it’s all too easy to burrow inside the house (and under the covers).

Weekday mornings usually start with Radio 2 Morning with Bob Mackowycz, a music program that features a fair amount of Canadians, until it’s time for The Current on Radio 1, a current events show that delves into national and global issues. After that, I sometimes listen to Q, a pop culture program that can have me feeling my age and questioning why no one sees that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes (is anyone else familiar with old fairy tales not co-opted by Disney and Pixar?). (Oops, another symptom is irrational ranting!) The afternoons have me flipping back to Radio 2 and listening to Drive with Rich Terfry (aka Buck 65), another music show that plays tunes I can bop to while cooking dinner (dancing is another important technique I use to shake off the shackwhack but more on that another time).

The weekends start with Radio 2 Morning with Molly Johnson, a Canadian singer with the best laugh you’ve ever heard and excellent taste in music (at least, I think so). And then I catch up on all the shows I missed during the week, specifically…

The Age of Persuasion – Terry O’Reilly hosts a clever and witty show about how we are sold stuff…Ideas (and its lighter version, Ideas In the Afternoon) – but only when I’m feeling deeply introspective and highly intelligent…Spark – a show about technology that’s understandable for people who, like myself, are technologically-challenged…Tapestry – an exploration of faith and disbelief…White Coat, Black Art – an emergency room doctor hosts a show highlighting issues facing our healthcare system.

And when that’s all been covered, I go online to Radio 3 (head’s up – this link will automatically play music which can be startling if you’re not expecting it) where a bunch of Canadian artists have uploaded their music, and I tinker with my playlists.

I just re-read that list and realized it’s pretty overwhelming if you’re not familiar with any of those shows. So, to give you someplace to start, here’s my favorite from this week, Spark’s Nora Young interviews Guy Kawasaki on his new book, Enchantment. Prepare to be inspired!



Maybe Martha Is Just Bored

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Sometimes I get the urge to participate in some conspicuous consumption – funnily enough, this feeling always occurs when the bank account is at its lowest ebb and it tends to happen more in the winter than in the summer. Maybe it’s because I’m inside most often in the winter and I’m confronted with all the things that I feel are lacking in our interior environment – a proper entertainment unit instead of a cheap coffee table not large enough to accommodate our ancient sound system (we own a turntable that was my gift to my husband for our first anniversary), some modern wood dining chairs instead of the filthy upholstered Queen Anne-s, an amazing light-filled pendant instead of the puny $20 Home Depot special currently burning a hole into the dining table (and a dimmer switch so we can stop eating under interrogation lighting)…well, where do I stop? – So many things I’d love to change if so many other things about my life were different. But I have found a great solution for this insignificant-when-compared-to-having-real-problems crisis though – reorganize!

See, for me, while I may be a traditionalist, I’m not a habituist, and a large part of the craving to buy is to have something new to look at and interact with (part of the joy of buying Ikea furniture is putting it together). But, as I said, financial constraints and, in almost equal amounts, a desire to live within a lighter footprint, has had me trying to deal with my feelings of boredom in a less deleterious way – re-arranging, re-organizing, and re-purposing our things and our space can make me see them in a different way and, at the very least, I get some cleaning done (I’m absolutely shocked by the size dustballs can grow to!).

So today I’m going to tackle the seed starting table which I’d allowed to get in a chaotic mess once I’d finished starting all my plants last spring. I’d had big plans to grow herbs on it this winter and to start some micro-greens but the paraphernalia cluttering the shelves is preventing me from going forward with those grand plans (and when one is a procrastinator, any little obstacle can trip you up).

Shelving Winter 2011

Dealing with the leftover potting soil, pots, baskets, peppermint bunches needing to be stripped and stored, finding a place in the tiny kitchen for the new roasting pan, making a place in the pantry for the new batch of brew (in bottles on the floor), and tidying up all the other odds and ends is going to keep me occupied for the rest of today. Hopefully I’ll have something to show you tomorrow…

Winter Tonic

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

Wintertime is teatime in our household – or, if you want to get technical about it, herbal infusion time, since some people feel that you can only call it ‘tea’ if it comes from the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Whatever you call it, our evening ritual, after the sun has been set for about 3 hours, is to put on the kettle (yes, it whistles!) and ponder my dried herb collection. Will it be lavender and lemon balm? Or bergamot and anise hyssop? Sometimes just rosemary is all I want. But this year, peppermint and lemon verbena are the combination I’ve been reaching for over and over. The flavor and aroma of the sweet mint and floral lemon blended with a teaspoon of unpasteurized organic honey is comfort in a cup on a cold winter night.

Dried herbal teas make great gifts and friends, knowing my fondness for them, have given me many good blends over the years, and I also like to try the intriguing combinations that line the grocery store shelves. But nothing, for me, beats the flavor of herbs that I’ve dried myself and it’s so easy to do – all you need is a dark-ish location with good air circulation and a way of hanging bundles of herbs.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

I didn’t dry many herbs this year since I’m having trouble finding the herbs I want to grow at my local garden centers (this spring I’m, unfortunately, going to have to rely on online retailers to provide me with what I need) but I did have an abundance of peppermint and borage, which I harvested regularly throughout the season. I cut fairly long stems, about 30cm long, bundled them in bunches about a couple of centimeters around, and tied them with twine (some people use rubber bands but I didn’t have any on hand). I left long enough ends on the twine to tie the bunches to the shelves on my seed-starting table and, in about 3-4 weeks (the leaves should feel dry and strip relatively easily from the stems but not crumble into dust), I have dried herbs that can be used for anything, including teas.

To make a tisane, I use about a tablespoon of dried herbs to a cup of water and steep for about five minutes. Most teas I sweeten with a little honey and sometimes I’ll add a little lemon. I like to keep it simple and don’t usually blend more than two herbs but you’re only limited by your creativity and sometimes orange peel, a cinnamon stick, and/or a little ginger can make a tea extraordinary. And don’t forget about other parts of the plant such as hips, although be aware that they take a little longer to dry than leaves.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

It’s so easy to dry your own herbs and, on a cold winter night, when my hands are wrapped around a hot cup of aromatic tea, I’m reminded of summer and the good things I grew – it helps to get me through these dark, snowy times.