Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cookies for Breakfast!

Not so long ago, I used to believe I could eat anything. Physically demanding work and raising five children kept me very active and I honestly thought I had been blessed with an amazing metaboliosm. Back then my favourite go to food was cereal - I loved it....breakfast, lunch, supper it didn't matter and it was so easy. Though not exactly a creative, culinary choice, I naively thought I was fortifying myself with a healthy, crunchy, yummy food. Not so anymore.

After turning 40, my body started rebelling. Aches, pains, chronic inflamation, burning stomach aches, poor sleep. It was my wise beyond her years oldest daughter who suggested that I may be lactose intolerant. As it turned out eliminating dairy did help me feel much better but how I mourned the loss of some of my favourite foods. When she suggested I try the gluten free diet that she was following I was terrified. She sent me a copy of the book "Wheat Belly" and with a doubt filled heart I started on my gluten free journey - and that has dramatically changed my life.

One year later and I still feel amazingly better - no more chronic pain in my shoulder and thirty pounds lighter. I still have weakensses and I find myself craving cookie like textures and crunchy cereals. A gardening girl and a busy working Mom needs to start the day the right way and it is so nice to add a little variety. If it can be quick, easy, healthy and provide much needed energy so much the better!

I have so many food allergies that I resort to using coconut flour for all of my baking - which has resulted in some dry and disappointing results...and honestly, as my husband frequently reminds me, coconut can get a little boring. 

Yesterday, I was inspired by this cookie recipe from Steven and Chris on CBC. Not having all the ingredients on hand, I made some substitutions and was very, very happy with the moist, sweet cookies that came out of the oven. The quinoa packs in a lot of nutrition and adds a nice brownie-like heft to the mix while the eggs and bananas keep the cookie moist. Though there are 4 bananas in this recipe, they seem to balance nicely with coconut flour, and neither flavour is overly dominant. I use organic palm sugar (found in my neck of the woods at The Bulk Barn) as it is much lower on the glycemic index.

Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies


4 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 c coconut oil melted but not hot
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 c organic palm sugar
1 c organic coconut flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 c cooked quinoa
1/2 c dark chocolate chips (I splurged and used 1 full cup of Camino bittersweet chips this time, but a chopped dark chocolate bar 80-85% cocoa would be equally as fabulous)

Fun options:
You can get creative with this recipe and add in your own favourite healthy additions like shredded coconut, cocoa nibs, nuts, or sunflower seeds. The original recipe actually calls for 1 c. unsweetened coconut.


Quinoa is made the same way you prepare rice, twice as much water as quinoa. I like to make a big batch which will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. It makes a great breakfast topped with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of palm sugar or agava syrup, or a nutritious lunch topped with chicken and steamed veggies. Also very handy when you want to whip up a batch of cookies or muffins!
  1. Prepare the cooked quinoa: Bring to a boil 1/2c. quinoa in 1c. water, reduce heat and simmer for 15 min. Allow to cool before adding to recipe.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F
  3. Beat the eggs until light and frothy
  4. Mash the bananas and blend with the eggs
  5. Add coconut oil, vanilla and mix thoroughly
  6. Mix in the palm sugar
  7. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients until well blended
  8. Slowly add to the wet mixture incorporating well
  9. Stir in the quinoa and chocolate chips 
Drop by tablespoons onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet -  I can attest to the fact that coconut flour cookies will stick.

I roll the cookie dough into a ball then flatten with the back of a spatula - these will not spread like traditional cookie batter. 

Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes


...and yes I did have some for breakfast this morning - they were a little bit of cookie heaven both husband and kid approved! These will make awesome little snacks when gardening season kicks in and weeding becomes more important than cooking.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: The Making of a Shade Garden

I thought I would share the project that kicked off my gardening season last March. I had been working on design plans all winter for our own property, and redoing the side yard took priority as I knew I wanted to move some mature plants early in the spring. Our side yard is actually a good size, and you can see in one of my first posts about my lovely twisted sisters that it is also rather bare with a slope of approximately three feet. The previous homeowner had used this area for a daycare and had 12 yards of sand dumped in for the kids to play on. Not so good for lawn or garden, but with perseverance and a great deal of compost I have slowly been able to improve the growing conditions.

Even though the grass now grows, this portion of our property is hardly used as it is completely visible to the neighbour who frightens the kids and the dog. Perhaps I'll enlighten you more in another post, but I'll be be charitable today and spare everyone the ongoing saga of the fight for privacy from said scary neighbour.

I planned the new shade garden to consist of two tiers to address the slope. Each tier measure 8' wide by 24' long. As our property sits perched on fractured limestone, the first order of business was to search for the ever prevalent rock that plagues my gardening enjoyment. This first find proved to be a challenge. Barely sticking out of the soil, I had no idea what I was about to get myself into...a battle with a three foot triangle of limestone that did not want to go quietly.

There is nothing like a pair of steel-toed boots to make a girl feel like superwoman! Armed with a shovel and a pry bar, and a weak knowledge of basic physics, I started off feeling rather invincible. Two hours later, exhausted, and utterly annoyed I called in back-up. My son Jo was 13 in that photo, and had sprung up to 6'2" over the course of the winter. His new found strength came in handy though he enjoyed gloating a little too much that he was finally stronger than his mother. (In my defence I do believe the rock was still wet, and therefore heavy, from the spring thaw...I can normally do this on my own.)

Triumph! With Jo's help (he's still in his pajamas!) the rock was shimmied over to take the corner position of the first tier. To finish off, stone was unearthed from this garden area and other various locations, and after four days of digging, lugging, preparing base, and levelling I was ready to start prepping the soil...and have a very long nap.

Lots of compost went into the beds as well as five yards of Gro-Max which is a fantastic product I order from my local supplier. The garden filled in with a lovely mixture of textures and my favourite vibrant hues of green from emerald to chartreuse...perennials include hostas, ferns, brunnera 'Jack Frost', heucheras, polemonium (Jacob's Ladder), Alchemilla mollis, (Lady's Mantle)hydrangea 'Annabelle'. I added two clipped yews for vertical accent and two Japanese maples which my wonderful, thrifty husband had bought for me at an end-of-year blowout sale for only $8.00 each.

Here are some photos of the finished product as it started to fill out in May and June:

Upper tier

My elegant $8 japanese maple looking pretty in the morning sun

A hedge of Annabelle hydrangea back the lower tier

Though it looks like fall this photo was taken at the beginning of July - the effect of the drought can be seen with falling leaves littering the curved pathway between the garden and the house. Two large rain barrels sit to the right of this picture which helped keep everyone alive.

I am so looking forward to seeing this garden spring back to life over the next two months. Until next time I wish you sunshine, warm days, peace and joy!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Garden Stars of a Long Hot Summer

It is 3 am as I sit down to write this. An ungodly hour to be up, even for my early rising self. The stomach flu has swept through our house this past week, finally claiming me as a victim on Thursday. After sleeping for the better part of 24 hours, I feel remarkably restored and grateful that we all seem to be getting back to normal.

There is not a lot a girl can do at 3 am especially with a husband snoring softly away on the couch, himself in a state of recovery.  Tip-toing, I brewed some fresh coffee and made my way to the back deck. It is -3 C outside, but not too cold and the sky is brilliantly clear, a deep black cloak bejewelled with stars. The snow still lies a foot deep, the steam rises from the mug in to the clean country air. Somewhere to the southwest the coyotes are wailing in their eery sing song voices.

So much to be grateful for.

I am often guilty of planning so many projects for myself that I tend to feel overwhelmed even before I have started. These projects are then quite often interrupted by a sudden burst of inspiration that takes me off in a completely different direction. My problem really is that I am a problem fixer and I sometimes forget to appreciate all that is right.

So at 3 am this morning, surrounded by a dark and sleeping world, clarity crept in as I let my thoughts wander to the heroes of last summer's gardens...the plants that amazed me, that stood up to the drought with surprising fortitude. There were so many lessons and some pleasant surprises. I am grateful that as gardeners we have such a multitude of colours to paint with, that with a little research, creativity and a freshly sharpened spade we can create a truly personal masterpiece in any part of the world.

Here is a short list of a few plants that I could not live without, that offer beauty with a strong mix of tenacity and tolerance. As I wrote this, I realized they all have similar traits...drought tolerance, interesting texture and scented foliage.

 Nepeta Walker's Low (divisions from my own garden) creates a striking border for a butterfly garden at a school in Kingston. Looks completely natural planted with echinacea, rudbeckia and perovskia. This was an enormously gratifying project...You can read more about the garden here on our website.

Nepeta: I have two varieties, Walker's Low and a border of the more diminutive Blue Cloud. This is one of the first perennials to show life in early spring. At first a soft green mat appears that belies the size it will soon take. Walker's Low flowers in late spring to early summer after which it is cut back for a second show that carries through until the fall. This darling perennial has so many virtues. Very drought tolerant, requiring little extra water. The soft grey-green leaves have a wonderful mint like fragrance which deters insects, but the flower is a huge attractor of the good ones - bees and butterflies love it!

It is cloud of soft purple when in flower, making a casually elegant hedge or a beautiful specimen. I have found it is beneficial in deterring insects from neighbouring plants as well, helping to reduce maintenance in the beds.

Nepetas are what I like to call a "bang-for-your-buck" plant, reaching full size within 2-3 years and very easy to divide. From my original mother plant I have created dozens of offspring. The mature spread is approximately 3' with a flowering height of 18-24". They rarely look good potted up in the nursery, but don't let that deter you, once it has room to grow it will quickly fill out to its full glory.

Hardiness: Zone 3-8

The first flowers of the Nepeta are almost ready to bloom (bottom left)...the timing is perfect with lupine, peony, and iris. Geranium alba (front) provides a nice textural contrast, echoing the rising green spires of delphinium in the background. Picture taken 2009.
And here is a mature nepeta clump as it appeared early September 2012, you can see it survived the drought quite nicely. I can't say that about the rudbeckia which looks surprisingly stressed out. A column of Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' is backed with the remarkable hardy and self-seeded annual Nicotiana alata or night-scented nicotinia.

Caryopteris: Also know as Bluebeard, this hardy shrub provides late season interest, bursting into a cloud of blue in late summer and early fall. I have a small hedge of three beside the patio where I can run my fingers through the scented foliage that is an alluring minty sweetness. Likes the sun by I can report that mine have done nicely with some afternoon shade.

Beautiful grey green foliage adds a softness to the garden, mine is offset with the deep rich green of climbing hydrangea behind, and boxwood in the front. My favourite combination is with Gaura lindheimeri, the airy white whirling butterflies create the illusion that the bluebeard is in flower all summer, a happy planting accident that created a stunning effect. Once in bloom, the plant is alive with bees, who I think must be grateful for such an abundant food source so late in the season.

Hardiness: Zone 5-9. In my zone 5b garden, the plant is treated more like perennial and I cut back the foliage from 6-8" in early spring.

I have the hardest time trying to capture this shrub just right...but here it is, my lovely caryopteris beside the patio. just past its prime. If you look closely you can see the small white flower of the gaura mingling in the background.

And here is a picture from Longwood Gardens...what a stunning display the long borders of caryopteris make!

And for this post I will end with just one more....

Geranium macrorrhizum: I love, love, love this ground cover! This amazing perennial, also known as Big Root Geranium, stands up to extremely tough conditions, like drought, shallow soil, and dry shade. It will grow virtually anywhere in any soil conditions.

Though it spreads quickly, it is not one of those dreadful garden is very to control the size and direction you want the clump take. As the plant matures and spreads it performs as a wonderful weed suppressor - I have yet to pull one unwanted invader.

I find this geranium performs better with some shade as mine have displayed burnt leaves in full afternoon sun when the UV warnings have been high. Lovely magenta flowers in do not have to deadhead unless you so desire as the new growth covers the seed heads nicely.

The foliage is strongly scented (some would say pungent) be honest I cannot decide if I like it or not. I find the leaves to be somewhat spicy with a strong hit of lemon. This of course helps repel insects, and I have never had a problem - it also seems to help keep slugs away from the neighbouring hostas.  

Hardiness: Zone 3-8

Geranium macrorrhizum in the shade garden at Utilities KingstonWater Conservation Garden. I divided and potted up over 80 divisions to create the border in this part of the garden...very rewarding!
Another shot of the Utilities KingstonWater Conservation Garden.
After one season this pretty river of geranium is already filling in...
the roots of the large silver maples have not hampered its efforts in the least.

These are but a few of the plants I truly adore...I would love to hear what some of yours are!

Until then I wish you love, light and peace...and take a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for. As gardeners we tend to be too critical of our work, embrace the beauty you have created in your part of the world.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Ruby Treasures

A little touch of ruby red and seashell pink can be found in many of my shade gardens. The delicate fronds of heuchera are accompanied by two of my newer favourites, the geum rivale or Water Avens, and astrantia major or masterwort. These delicate flowers nod in the breeze, dancing amongst the stronger leaves of hosta and the upright plumes of astilbe. I find they offer a sweet contrast, slightly romantic and completely charming.

My Garden, 2012 | A pretty native, Geum rivale Water Avens
The bell shaped flowers of Geum rivale or Water Avens grow on long, arching stems held above basal rosettes. This perennial really prefers moist soil and is native to much of North America and parts of Europe found growing in bogs, near streams and in other wetland conditions. 

It is reported that Water Avens will flower throughout summer, from June to late July. Perhaps in the right conditions mine would do the same, but my lovely girl in the photos above and below flowers happily in late May, early June, then no more. I fully expect a lack of repeat bloom has to do with the lack of desired water. 

Despite that, mine has been established under the shade of a Miss Kim Lilac and for three years, happily flowering in early summer at the same time the lilac begins to bud out. I love the harmony of colour between the two plants. 

Growing Conditions: Hardy zone 3-7. Height 18-24" cm. Spread 12" cm. Divide in early spring, cut back for repeat bloom.

My Garden, 2012 | A pretty native, Geum rivale, Water Avens
under the shade of the Miss Kim Lilac with a blanket of creeping phlox

I have to admit that it took me a while to warm up to the astrantia. I would pass by it in the nursery, intrigued by the pincushion like blossoms, but standing alone, it does not exactly come across as a true garden beauty...and so I would leave it. 

Finally though, I could resist the temptation no longer, and several varieties of astrantia now call my garden home. It is in mingling with other shade plants that the astrantia truly shines and I have come to adore it. 

The soft ruby colour of the Hadspen's Blood variety and the pale bloom of Roma add contrast in the hydrangea border and echo the lush pink of peony blooming at the same time. Though astrantia prefer rich, moist, well drained soils, once established they can survive on less water.

Growing Conditions:: Hardy zone 3a-7. Height 18-24" cm. Spread 24" cm. Divide mature clumps in early spring.

My Garden 2012: Astrantia major "Hadspen Blood" and Roma, in the hydrangea border.

My Garden 2012: Astrantia major Roma

My Garden 2012: Pretty in pink: Astrantia major "Hadspen Blood", Masterwort

The flowers look gorgeous in mixed bouquets and can look fresh for up to a week in the vase. This perennial is also versatile as flower gives way give way to equally pretty seed heads that can be left to offer garden interest and the hope for new offspring.

Until next time - wishes for peace, love & joy!