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I went for an early morning walk one day last month and noticed a plum tree around the corner. Then I saw an apple tree across the road. I remembered my neighbour’s crabapple tree. So I decided to make it a walk in search of front garden foods. Here’s what I found in various front yards within a block of my house:

neighbourhood edibles: apples

apples

neighbourhood edibles: tomatoes

tomatoes

neighbourhood edibles: strawberries

strawberries (these are ours!)

neighbourhood edibles: plums

plums

neighbourhood edibles: mulberries

mulberries

neighbourhood edibles: mint

mint

neighbourhood edibles: herb garden

our herb garden!

neighbourhood edibles: grapes

grapes

neighbourhood edibles: echinacea

echinacea

neighbourhood edibles: cranberries

cranberries

neighbourhood edibles: unripe blackberries

(unripe) blackberries

… And crabapples (the photo didn’t turn out). It’s an amazing edible neighbourhood we have around us, and I never noticed it! Thanks to Not Far From The Tree for helping open my eyes to it!

So the strawberries were so good that we went back a week later and got another 8 litres. I made freezer jam (“spread”) since I’m not sure it had enough sweetness (I just used apple juice) for canning.

My eldest and I have also been on 2 more Not Far From The Tree (NFFTT) picks. They were both sour cherry picks: one in the pouring rain (which makes tree climbing difficult) and they were so good that we signed up for another one yesterday (mostly because it was around the corner from our house).

Sour Cherries - picked with Not Far From The Tree

Sour Cherries – picked with Not Far From The Tree

We did a little foraging in the city last week as well. We dropped by the nearby civic centre and gathered a bunch of serviceberries (also known as Saskatoon berries, among other things), which were yummy.

serviceberries at the civic centre

Serviceberries at the civic centre

My own garden is coming along. We have gooseberries this year! And I know now that they are ripe because we had to come and get a ladder for the NFFTT pick around the corner and Dan, the very knowledgeable guy helping me carry the ladder, was telling me about gooseberries so I had him try one and he said they were ripe! And there are some raspberries coming along as well. The squirrels aren’t interested in the gooseberries (hurrah!) and hopefully we will get to the raspberries before they do. We have also had a few strawberries from our Alpine Strawberry plant which are unique and delicious.

gooseberries in the backyard

Ripe gooseberries in the backyard

raspberries in the backyard

Not yet ripe raspberries in the backyard

We’ve had a lot of rain this year so everything is growing well, and if it goes a few days without rain, the rain barrel (with water from the eaves troughs) is always full so I can water them with recycled water. I also read that tomatoes like acid and a good way to use up whey (we drain our homemade yogurt and make it Greek style) is to dilute it with some water and water your tomatoes with it. My cherry tomato plants seem to like it.

On Saturday we went out for a family walk out at the Scarborough Bluffs and saw lots of birds, some people fishing for large mouth bass, turtles, but the big sighting was an otter! It was too quick for me to get a good shot, but I did catch it:

otter in Lake Ontario at Bluffers Park

Otter spotting in Lake Ontario at Bluffers Park!

We also stopped by the beach and took a quick look at the American Toad tadpoles which still have their tails but most now have legs! (If you recall, we saw the toads mating nearly 2 months ago).

nearly 2 month old American Toad tadpoles

Nearly 2 month old American Toad tadpoles at Bluffers beach

Today we went for a walk at Highland Creek and saw several mulberry trees, which I never would have recognized if we hadn’t gone on that mulberry pick with NFFTT. Yet another reason to love our experiences with that great organization. Later in the walk we saw people on the side collecting leaves from vines. Bags full of leaves. Since they were vines, and since I went on a NFFTT pick last year that was grapes, I guessed that they were grapes, and confirmed it by asking them when we passed them on the way back. It was good to see other foragers out in the green spaces of the city. Somebody’s having dolmades soon!

grape leaves wild in the city

grape leaves wild in the city

And, last but certainly not least, we have gotten rid of our old gas guzzler. We used it about once a week, and it turns out that’s actually not great because stuff gets caked underneath and sits there. It was rusting out from the bottom. So although it only had 150,000 km/93,200 miles on it, that 16 year old car was barely keeping together. Things were falling off the bottom.

We weren’t sure what to do with it, but my husband (how awesome is he?) found an organization that takes your car and either auctions it off or sells off the parts and gives the money to the charity of your choice. We have chosen Rethink Breast Cancer, who have been a great help during my treatment and recovery from breast cancer. The organization is charitycar.ca (they are also in the US). It was picked up on Saturday:

car donated via charitycar.ca

I love June! We’ve already had one rhubarb harvest from our back yard patch, which we made into a rhubarb and apple crumble. I may post that recipe on the food blog at some point, but I forgot to take a photo.

Yesterday we drove up to Markham with friends and picked strawberries at Organics Family Farm.  It was the perfect sunny morning for it, and we got about 8 litres (2 large baskets) of strawberries (my 8 year old picked one large basket himself!). They were delicious.

Afterwards we went to a friend’s place  nearby and had a picnic on their front lawn and said hello to the lambs, chickens, and the rabbit. We were alerted to the fact that there was a wild strawberry patch in the corner of the lawn, and even with the huge cultivated strawberries in the car we couldn’t resist the call of the wild ones. They are teeny tiny but they are so much more complex and flavourful. Wow.

When we got home later I made a batch of preserves  (1 kg of strawberries/5 cups), flash froze another kilo, and couldn’t resist dipping a few in chocolate as well. This morning it was a delicious strawberry nut shake for me and later pancakes and strawberry sauce for brunch. I have one more batch (1 kg) of preserves to make, but it was a busy day so I didn’t get to it today.

chocolate covered strawberriesIn my inbox when I got home yesterday was an email from Not Far From The Tree (NFFTT) about a mulberry pick this afternoon. (Note: for more on NFFTT, read the other posts I’ve written on them.) And I managed to get in on the pick! Of course I replied before I looked into the weather, which I was later informed by the coordinator was calling for rain, but I figured I’d get out there and go for it anyone, dragging along one of my children.

This afternoon came and sure enough, the sky was dark as the time drew near. I would usually ride or take transit, but I bailed and drove (did I tell you we replaced the gas guzzler with a super efficient and much smaller car?) with my eldest to the pick. We were there 10 minutes early and just as I was pulling into the parking space it started absolutely pouring. But it let up a bit in the 10 minutes. It was still raining but everyone showed up (that’s rare) and we decided to go for it despite the rain.

first NFFTT pick of the year: mulberriesSo it turns out that mulberry picking is done easiest by spreading a tarp out and shaking the tree. How fun is that?! We picked nearly 13 pounds of mulberries and barely made a dent as there are a ton of berries on there that are not yet ripe. They also have a cherry tree so they figure NFFTT will be back in a week or so to do the cherries and the rest of the mulberries.

I’ve never eaten mulberries. They are interesting, and look and even taste a bit like a blackberry. Or maybe blackcurrant. Because every time I ate one I thought of cassis.

They are delicate and don’t last long, so I made them into a crumble this evening (vaguely based on this recipe), but not in time to eat tonight (besides, we had the delicious chocolate covered strawberries to eat!). It will be delicious for tomorrow, I’m sure.

Have I mentioned this year how much I love NFFTT? What a great little community organization. The supreme gleaner (leading the pick) was a mulberry enthusiast, and there was at least one newbie there who I’m sure will be back on more picks (even the rainy ones), as well as another mom and child, and the home owners came out and joined us with their children. They actually use the fruit, but it is too much for them so they also get help from NFFTT, which is also giving to the community because 1/3 (actually 1/2, because the homeowners didn’t take their 1/3 today) of the pickings go to a community organization like food banks, shelters, and community kitchens. And we get to learn about fruit that grows abundantly in this climate, and have new experiences picking at eating new things. Brilliant. Oh, and I learned later that today was the first pick of the season. How fun!

This Saturday is LEAF’s Leslieville Tree Festival, which is always good fun.

Leslieville Tree Festival

Leslieville Tree Festival (click for source link)

So I was checking out LEAF’s (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) website and saw that they sell garden kits, including a couple of Edible Garden Kits, which I would totally buy for myself and to support them, except our little postage stamp just doesn’t get enough sun. They also have a Native Garden Kits, which I may get for our backyard, as there is a shade option (there’s shade, butterfly, beautiful border, and songbird options). How cool is that?

Speaking of gardening, I was out last weekend and cleaned up my new front yard herb garden and put a border on it, in an attempt to get my boys to stop trampling it. I also labelled them. Mostly so I can send the boys out for various herbs when I’m cooking. I’m totally excited about it. Eventually I hope to remove the shrubs in front of the porch and replace them with raspberry bushes. Big job, but I’ll get there…

I’d post a photo, but I have yet to take a half decent shot.

I wanted to pass on an article I read in the New York Times on Breeding the Nutrition out of our Food. It’s a little discouraging, but it’s something we should all know… So give it a read.

For a little teaser, have a look at their infographic below (click on it for the source URL of the graphic, the article is here).

On an up note, our CSA (community supported agriculture) Plan B Organic Farms grows some of the old breeds, like purple carrots and purple potatoes, and often include arugula and other dark green leafies, which is encouraging.

Image from NYTimes “Nutritional Weaklings in the Supermarket” May 25, 2013

Day 18 I woke up bright and early all ready to go for my walk/run and do yoga, but I had forgotten that I’d made a plan with a fellow homeschooling mom to meet early at the library and wait for Museum + Art Passes. (If you don’t know about these, do click on the link as it’s worth knowing!) So I got a text at 6:45am and got myself up there about half an hour later. My friend brought chairs, and I had blankets. I wore sandals, but to keep my hands busy, I brought knitting and luckily it was nearly-finished socks so I got them done and put them on my cold feet! It was a chilly morning, but we kept each other company and had some good discussions during our wee hours of outdoor child-free time.

Later I got out for an hour or two to put laundry on the line and to plant those herbs I’d bought on Tuesday. Now the trick will be keeping the boys from trampling them. The good news is that I’ve already used some of said herbs in tonight’s dinner! Today my neighbour walked by and thanked me for planting the herbs out front, joking that she knew where she’d come and do her shopping. Which is funny, but to be honest, every since I saw the TED talk on Todmorden’s Incredible Edible “dedicated to growing food locally by planting on unused land throughout the community” I’ve been wondering if that’s something we could do here. If you haven’t seen the TED talk by Pam Warhurst, it is so inspiring and very funny. I’ve put it at the bottom of this post for you. Who knows? Maybe my front yard herb garden can help get the conversation started.
(Apologies for the bad photo. It just wasn’t happening with the light yesterday.)

#30x30Challenge Day 18 herbs

This morning (Day 19) I was back on track with the early morning walk/run. Everything seems to smell great this week, especially the lilacs, which are just bursting, but also these (see below). I have no idea what they are, but if you see a large shrub or small tree with these on it, do stop to smell the flowers. They’re lovely! (And if anyone can identify them for me, please do so in the comments. Thanks!)

#30x30Challenge Day 19 smell these

I also noticed that the irises are out! Gorgeous.

#30x30Challenge Day 19 irises

And at home a bit later as I did a bit more gardening I saw that the our rhubarb (love the rhubarb. It came with the house and it dutifully comes back each year in spite of my neglect. We can usually get 2 crops from it!) is ready for harvesting!

#30x30Challenge Day 19 rhubarb

This afternoon I took the boys down via streetcar to the free Circus Festival down at Harbourfront. En route we noticed that there is a lighthouse downtown, nowhere near any water. On the way home I noticed the Nova Scotia advertising in the nearby subway station. Having just been there last year, I highly recommend a trip to the Canadian maritimes! #30x30Challenge Day 19 lighthouse

The Circus Festival was great outdoor urban fun! And it couldn’t have been a nicer day. Sunny but not too hot yet. My eldest loved the juggling math that Andrew (below) did during his performance, not to mention the performance. Good times!

#30x30Challenge Day 19 Andrew Giordano riding a 5 foot high unicycle juggling 3 flaming batons

 

I have to mention that 2/3 of the way through, and I am fully noticing when I do NOT get outside for a least a couple of hours per day. And I never would have stuck to the every-other-day early morning fitness regimen without the 30×30 Nature Challenge. So, thanks to the David Suzuki Foundation for this. It’s been great. And the blogging has encouraged me to take photos, which makes me happy. All in all, this challenge has been a great experience, and I encourage everyone to try it, even for a week. 30 minutes (or, you know, 6 hours, whatever) outside. Every day.

TED talk by Pam Warhurst: How we can eat our landscapes. Give it a watch. It is fun and truly inspiring.