Wednesday, May 27, 2009

o for a bit of earth...

Tonight I stole J.'s camera and shot some photos on my way to the last choir rehearsal of the summer. I'm so proud of my little seedlings that I couldn't wait to show them to y'all! I wish I had pictures of the garden-before-it-was-a-garden, i.e. a weedpatch. But alas. I was too excited to dig things out to take photos that day. 

How did our little garden come to be? We asked the dudes-in-charge if we could plant a garden in the weedpatch that bordered the parking lot on the west side of our church's property. Word got out, and a friend D. asked to plant a few things, too. So, we broke sod together, tearing out all the weeds, double digging the beds, and prepping the soil. It's quite sandy soil... perhaps because it's so close to the preschool's playground? :) D. brought in bags and bags of good ol' Vancouver Island Sea Soil, but I just added Gaia Organic Fertilizer to the soil. He already had seedlings started, but I had yet to order all my seeds. I bought them through Bob at The Natural Gardener, and he has become my most valued resource! Most of them came from West Coast Seeds, and I basically went through their catalogue page by page, making a list of everything I wanted to grow.  

Now, all the seedlings are coming up, including the yellow bell peppers, patty pan squash, and bush beans I planted in the last two weeks, and I will have to be creative about spacing and making room for all the plants I have going. I gave a cucumber plant to E. and M. tonight after choir... E. used to work in Africa as an agriculturalist, so I figured he would give the yellow-blossomed plant a good home. 

There were also some berry canes were in the weedpatch before we started. We decided to keep them in, to see what would grow. When I met a a few neighborhood friends (little two-year old W. and his nanny A.) I found out that they actually "harvested" the raspberries last summer! I pruned and fertilized them, and now they're showing beautiful buds and flowers. I'll have to bake a little tart for W. and A. when August rolls around. 

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the garden: 

Little bull's blood beetlings! I need to thin them out so they'll grow properly. I'm not going to have enough room for all my veggies... it's a serious problem. I've been so blessed to get permission to plant a garden in this space at all, but I have a problem with moderation. Meaning, I don't do anything half-way. So, I planted ALL of my seeds, not realizing that 2 summer squash plants feed a family of FOUR! Plus, they sprawl. I also planted ALL of my pepper, tomato, cuke, beet, carrot, and pea seeds. Oops. 

Arugula seedlings! My friend E. said they look like little hearts. Sweet little hearts I want to put in my mouth. 

We trellised our Alderman tall telephone peas on these metal trellises from Ikea. They come in boxes of 9 and you can screw them together to make any shape or height you need. We will definitely be adding to these. I'm sure J. was glad to be doing some "construction" work this last weekend putting these trellises together after digging and screening the last of our four beds last weekend! At the end of that day he said, "I feel like I've been digging holes and filling them back in all day!" Yup. Thank you, my dear husband. 

Our mixed greens (and reds) are growing! Okay, so maybe lettuce isn't sexy to everyone. But I think it's beautiful. Because this is my first year gardening, I'm just ecstatic that anything is growing at all! 

I've been noticing plants, flowers, and veggies everywhere. I've been especially impressed by the rising number of places where Vancouverites are planting veggie beds! It's incredible! 

I happened upon this one just the other day. 

It has been growing right under my nose for years. I walk past this backyard nearly every day on my way from home to my church. Maybe the gardener just put it in... or maybe I'm just growing a new pair of eyes. 

This garden is particularly interesting to me. First, the tall poles all lined up in a row there are deliciously exciting. What is the gardener growing? There were some berry bushes behind the poles, and I noticed at least one fruit tree. There are some things growing in pots, and good Vancouverite that this gardener is, the compost bin is in the front right. 

When I notice these little gardens springing up all over the city, what should I do? Try to take a photo surreptitiously... without seeming creepy? Introduce myself to the gardener in person or by a note left in the mailbox? I'm not shy about chatting with someone who's out in the yard working. After all, since I've started my little garden at church, I've met SO many people from the neighborhood! It's a lovely feeling to see little gardens coming to life in my neighborhood, and I want to make friends with the kind of people who would tear up the sod in their whole backyard to plant a veggie garden. At the very least, I have yard-lust. So, I will garden vicariously through my neighbor-gardeners, savoring my own small bit of earth. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Honey Hazelnut Cake

This morning I went to visit my friend M. for tea. And I always want something sweet and baked to go with my tea. My ideal cake is one that is light, moist, fragrant, filled with subtle flavors, with an interesting texture. Especially if that texture is slightly caramelized and crunchy on top. Going through the cake recipes on Chocolate and Zucchini (Clotilde's recipes never fail!), the Honey Hazelnut Cake filled all these requirements in my baker's imagination. 

Of course, I made my own adjustments. I find most recipes have too much sugar. This one definitely did, since it called for twice as much (yes, you read that correctly) sugar as it did flour. I changed that ratio around, and because of the addition of melted honey to the batter, I didn't miss the sugar one bit. In fact, next time I might try reducing it even more. I also took Clotilde's advice on doubling the recipe and toasting the hazelnuts. 

You could probably make some substitutions to this cake - trying other nuts instead of hazelnuts, for example - but who wants to mess with a good thing? (Apparently I do, blatantly thumbing my nose at even Clotilde!) The combination of toasted hazelnuts and fragrant honey is ethereal and earthy. (You ask me if this is possible, and I say "yes!") The crust is slightly crunchy, and the inside is a moist and cakey. And what a combo... honey and hazelnuts completely infuse the cake, making it absolutely irresistible. 

I would eat this anytime of the day. Breakfast, tea, dessert, midnight snack... you doubt my gluttony? This is what's left of the cake and it's only 5 o'clock! 

I'm pretty sure J. and I will polish the rest off for breakfast tomorrow. I am also pretty sure I will be making this at least two more times this week. 

Honey Hazelnut Cake 
(adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)

1/2 cup sugar (or 1/3, if you want a little less sugar, like I might)
1 cup flour (of your choice, unbleached all purpose is just fine)
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
2/3 cups whole raw hazelnuts
10 Tablespoons butter (1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp)
6 tablespoons honey

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Have a rack set in the middle of the oven. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is somewhat incorporated before adding the next one. 

Then, toast the hazelnuts. Rub them in a teatowel to remove the brown skins, which can get bitter. Chop them roughly (I pulsed them a few times in my food processor), and let them cool before folding them into the batter. 

Meanwhile, melt the butter and honey in a small saucepan, and let it cool just a bit before adding it to the batter. Fold in until just incorporated. 

Pour batter into a greased and floured cake pan or tart pan (I did mine in my tart pan, as you can see in the photo above), and make sure the top is level. 

Bake at 350 F for 25 - 30 minutes, until the middle of the cake is set and the top is golden brown. Serve with a little bit of whipped cream, or just as it is, slightly warm. 

I could also see this cake modified a little bit to make a stunning informal layered cake. Reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup, and make a double batch. Bake the batter in two separate cake pans, and layer the cakes when cool with whipped cream flavored with honey, and perhaps a little buttered rum? Go nuts.