Beans, Wine, and the Real Vivi

“Mom, do we have to clean today?”

“Nope, no cleaning. I mean, no extra cleaning. We just have to tidy up after ourselves–like if we eat, we’ll clean those dishes,” I explain nonchalantly. It’s a bit of a lie, and by now all of us know it. Because somehow this cleaning up after ourselves seems to take most of the day. The summer is more than half over and I’m still mystified by how much work the four of us create. No sooner do we clear the couch of one load of laundry than the next fills the cracks between the cushions. Lunch dishes crowd out breakfast dishes that are nesting in last night’s supper pots. This kitchen was perfectly clean at five o’clock yesterday I’ve been known to say, hoping everyone else will realize the gravity of the situation and acknowledge the mess we make. But I don’t expect them to understand it because I certainly don’t. I’ve been looking after myself for at least 20 years now (running a household with children for the last eleven) and still don’t understand the math of household maintenance.

I do know green beans are part of the equation. Each time I pick them I feel incredibly grateful to be growing our own food. I also feel incredibly sweaty and itchy. The mosquitoes ascend like plumes of smoke, attacking my neck, wrists, and ankles as I swish through the plants. Swatting and blowing them out of my face I remind myself that this, too, is one of the benefits of gardening. It’s called appreciation. The next time I open up a plastic bag of store-bought beans and dump them into my pot I will be thankful. Instead of balking when the cashier tells me the total for my groceries I will wonder how such a great amount of energy can come so cheap.

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I love purple beans

It’s not just the beans. The ruby-red siren song of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes are factors in the formula we never seem to balance. For the last six weeks I’ve kept a stack of empty buckets at the back door so we can fill them at a moment’s notice. Which, of course, leads to other urgent jobs, like stomping cherries for wine. Another reason our days at home get hijacked by nagging and the tiresome task of looking after ourselves is because it’s hard to keep up while we’re at the beach. Which means I have no right to complain about anything.

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All three girls treading Shelly’s cherries with very clean feet. I promise.

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Garlic harvest!!!! The girls garlic did better than mine. I planted mine in a heavily composted bed; theirs was in poorer soil. Not sure if that was the reason?

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Belén skiing for the first time at the Whyte’s cabin

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Susanna after her ski. Thanks to Duane!

***

When babies reach their first birthday it’s cause to celebrate. According to me, all the hoopla should be for the parents; the ones who give up so much to ensure those helpless, seven-pound, naked creatures survive. In Vivian’s case, it wasn’t just her parent’s lives that were turned around. Her sisters’ world changed too. Which is why her birthday party was more about them than Vivian. They planned the games, bought prizes, and helped with the cake. It wasn’t baby-friendly either. No healthy rice cakes here to mark the occasion. No siree! We served New York style cheesecake with cherries—because that’s what we like. I didn’t get the obligatory picture of Vivi blowing out the candles, and I don’t even know if she tasted it. Did I mention this was more about us?

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The girls had games for both the moms and the dads. Here Stan is asking his Dad to answer one of the questions on the beach ball: “What is my favourite toy?”

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The moms’ game: be the first to find your crying child while blindfolded. Even the 40-year-old children had to cry so their moms could find them with the candy soother. (I’m looking for Susie in this picture.)

I’m not sure what I would’ve done without Belén and Susanna this past year. Susanna seems to have extra patience when mine runs out. Like her dad waiting for fish to bite, Susanna sits quietly by Vivi’s crib humming lullabies while Vivi tosses and turns, making sure she’s asleep before she tip-toes out of the room. Belén is the one who hates for her to cry, who hears Vivian screaming while I’m giving her a bath and appears at my side with graham crackers. While the tap water pours off Vivi’s head and body, Belén plies her with crackers and soothing words, anxious to stop her tears. And though it’s probably not best-practise to stuff your baby with treats while bathing, I don’t tell Belén to stop. It’s hard to argue when the baby is happy.

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The walker Stan rigged for Vivi works well. Maybe too well. She hasn’t really struck off on her own yet.

But, despite all this care, something has happened to Vivian lately. I think it has to do with becoming human–like she’s got a brain of her own or something. Imagine! Never mind that she can’t talk yet, she’s got opinions alright. She probably has political preferences too, we just don’t know them yet. We noticed all of this because of the way she throws her head back and cries now. It’s not a hungry baby cry, but more of a I-need-my-way wail. It’s the way her limbs turn to wet toilet paper when we want her to stand and the way she stiffens them like iron when we want her to sit. All of this makes me think she really is her own person. At first this was disheartening, realizing she won’t be perfect or even what we projected onto her infant-self, but I’m coming to terms with having another complex human around here. So much for sweet baby Vivi without personality. Here’s to the real Vivian. Happy birthday!

Tricia

PS. The math of household maintenance got a whole lot simpler with Stan’s parents around for the week. There are good reasons why three-generation households are common in many cultures.

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doughnuts

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We played a little game that landed us up at the ice cream shop. Can you tell who lost?

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Chia Seed Berry Jam

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If you’re looking for a sugar-free fruit spread made with chia seed, check out these links.  If you’re looking for something considerably more “jammy” (sweeter and less health-conscious) keep on reading. My version is still simple and healthy; I use three ingredients and way less sugar than my favourite freezer jam recipe. Also, did I mention it will take you longer to read this post and do an internet search on chia than make the jam?

For those of you like me, who are now wondering why anyone would mess with something as good as regular ol’ jam, consider the following:

  1. It’s less work. This one is worth a lot in my books–I thought regular freezer jam was easy but chia freezer jam tops anything else I’ve tried.
  2. It’s packed with nutrients. The chia seeds, used to thicken the jam, are loaded with calcium, dietary fibre and fatty acids. Also, this is a raw jam so all the goodness in the berries doesn’t get processed to death.
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I blended everything in my food processer but you could use something as simple as a potato masher.

Raspberry Chia Jam

1 cup berries

1 tbsp chia seed (I used whole seed but milled might work even better)

2 or 3 tbsp sugar (I started at one tbsp. but added more when I was finished. There is nothing exact about this method–you can add a touch of lemon juice if it needs more kick.)

Blend ingredients and pour into jars. Let mixture sit for about 6 hours before freezing or refrigerating.

*Most chia jam recipes call for honey/maple syrup instead of sugar. I didn’t want a “healthy” tasting product so I stayed with refined sugar.

**The chia seeds are tasteless but have a bit of a texture. Raspberry jam already tastes seedy so I didn’t notice it too much. I tried the same recipe with strawberry jam to pinpoint the effect–the chia seeds aren’t crunchy, or as noticeable as raspberry seeds, but you’ might still detect them.

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Fresh raspberry jam with chia seed.

*****

Summers are an easy way to mark time, aren’t they? You probably remember the summer you learned how to drive, the summer you left home, or the summer of your first romance… Once you become a parent, summertime serves as a measuring stick for your children’s growth; one year they’re waking throughout the night to nurse, the next, they’re pooping out sand, then you’re kicking them out of bed at 11am, and soon after, you’re summers are spent attending graduations and weddings.

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Belén’s tree; her name is “Whisper”.

Life with kids can seem so slow it’s hard to imagine being anywhere else than the stage you’re in, but looking at your family with “summer vision” is like putting your life on speed–it’s scary and thrilling at the same time. Yesterday, for example, I realized I can drive a full hour, with both daughters in the back seat, and hear nothing but their page-turning. In just a couple years, I’ve gone from telling them “mommy’s mouth needs a break”, to long stretches of silence while I tease out conversation.

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Belén dressing one of Whisper’s wounds with an ointment of grass clippings.

Fortunately, all of these changes make my life easier and I’m happy to embrace them; we’re more mobile, I have helpers who actually help, and my daughters are becoming good companions. Of course we all know life leaps onward, and that change is inevitable and healthy.  All the same, knowing how much these summers count and that each one is different from the last, is enough to quicken the pace of my momma heart.

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still playing with stuffies…

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As the previous photo shows, we’re all getting along a little better than when I posted this. Although we’re not always quite this jovial, it’s amazing what a little bribery incentive can do to make things easier–just don’t hire me on the police force.

*****

The weeds in my garden also quicken my pace. They’re exploding, but so is everything else. When I consider dusting off my hoe after seeing the giant thistles, it takes me 3 seconds to get distracted by picking beans, or pinching off basil or calendula, that I forget I even own a hoe.

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parsnips, baby’s breath, roma tomatoes, corn flower,and nasturtiums

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sunflowers, tomatoes, green beans, sage, and jalapeno peppers

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calendula (edible and medicinal) and purple teepee beans

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Does anyone else throw their beans into the freezer without blanching? I did it last year and they turned out just as crisp, if not better than the other beans I froze. This year, I’m freezing all my beans with much less fuss.

You won’t see my measly strawberries, timid blueberries, or stunted potato plants on the pictures above. They are a few of my garden failures. Oh, and let’s not forget about my woody, tasteless carrots that just barely germinated… but they wouldn’t make very pretty pictures, now, would they?

What’s exploding, or failing in your gardens these days?

Enjoy the rest of your week,

Tricia

PS. I’d love to hear about your chia jam experiences…

A top finalist from the 2012 garden: Arikara Yellow bush bean

Even though we had a lovely, warm day yesterday, we did have snow last week, and I’m afraid my garden-ish posts will soon come to an end.  So today, I am featuring the hardy…  the versatile… the nutritious… the tasty… ARIKARA YELLOW BUSH BEAN!

My friend, Shanon, gave me a handful of these heirloom seeds in the spring of 2011.  (One seed magazine claims they are relatively hard to find.)  I planted them, and harvested enough seed from those plants to fill a few beds in my garden this season.  In May, when I was wondering how much room I wanted to allocate to this plant, I googled “arikara yellow bush bean” and was smitten as soon as I saw the word “hardy”.  Beans tend to be so finicky when it comes to seeding and soil temperature.  I think I re-planted my other bean beds two or three times; the seeds kept on rotting in the wet, cold ground before germinating.  But not the Arikara.  They sprouted, grew…

and produced a bountiful harvest of fresh snap beans.

While they taste quite nice as a snap bean, I think they are mostly cultivated for use as a dry soup bean.

As I dashed into the garage for something yesterday, I saw our plastic kiddy pool filled with dried bean plants balancing precariously on the table saw, and was reminded that I really must do something about them.  Luckily, threshing them wasn’t as arduous a task as it could have been.  After we stomped on the plants for a few minutes, all the pods cracked open and spit out their seeds.

For a moment I almost felt like we were in Tuscany, stomping grapes.  Then I looked at the peeling, blue kiddy pool and remembered that we weren’t making wine at all but salvaging a few dried beans.  The image was nice while it lasted.

Winnowing the beans from the chaff and dirt.

Now, at this point you may be thinking, “Don’t these guys have anything better to do?”

I admit, it’s not like we’re saving ourselves a lot of money or achieving self-sufficiency by producing one jarful of beans.  It hardly seems worthwhile.  Yet, there is something so pleasing about pawing into a bowlful of dry beans, harvested a few steps from our back door.

Arikara Yellow bean, ready for soup or next year’s garden.

Which plant, or variety, from your garden swept you off your feet this season?  I would love to know, especially if it is hardy enough for our short prairie growing season!

Last call for Red Clover!

I was stumbling around in a patch of red clover not so long ago, lunging excitedly in every direction trying to harvest as many blossoms as possible.  Today, when I biked by the same patch I noticed it was mostly brown, but there are still a few luscious pink flowers left.  So, if you live in zone 2, you can relax!  It’s not too late to try foraging these little beauties.  I think they might just be my favourite “wild” plant to harvest, (as of right this minute… it’ll probably change by next week).  They look  almost as edible as strawberries to me, and the bees certainly seem to agree.  And, the great thing is how they taste.  The tea is very mild, unlike many other concoctions I’ve choked down this summer, willing myself to like them because of their medicinal qualities.

I dry my flowers in old window screens

red clover, chamomile, bachelor button, and lemon balm – the last 3 are from my garden

When you think your house is a mess, consider adding trays full of drying flowers and small insects. You’ll feel so much better about your current situation. (Forthcoming visitors: I’m now leaving my screens in the garage.)

So, what am I going to do with the red clover you ask?

Dry it, infuse it (in oil for creams and salves) and boil it (for tea, of course).  I think the dried blossoms will make a great addition to a wild flower tea.

The next logical question is… Why?

Red Clover, or Trifolium pratense,  acts as a mild sedative and is a pleasant before-bed tonic.  It is useful for treating coughs, sore throats, and skin conditions like acne, rashes, and exzema.  Herbalists consider it a “woman’s herb” to help with menstrual problems and menopause.  It is also full of vitamins and minerals.*

Last year I saved only 3 jars of dried chamomile. This year I have more, and next year’s list is already started with the plants I missed this season.

***

Lastly, here’s a tip from my very unpredictable and inconsistent kitchen: try adding a little miso to your steamed/sautéed green beans.  I tried it this week for variation and thought the fermented soy complemented the fresh beans nicely.  Although I was disappointed by parts of my garden this year, the beans pulled through, as they always do.  We have been eating them frequently, (well, every day for lunch and supper to be honest); hence the miso experiment.

A generous pat of butter never hurts the flavour either.

Happy Monday!

*Sources:

The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North by Beverly Gray

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada, published by Lone Pine