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!

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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

Tuesday was wet, but that didn’t stop us from getting out. We headed out for a walk with friends up at the top of the Scarborough bluffs. One of the children picked up snails that were in the path (it was good as it made us look for them instead of crunching all over them) and let them go at the end off the path. I think they liked her:

#30x30Challenge Day 28 snailsThe walk was rather lovely, as all of the recent rain has made everything so spectacularly green, and it’s  a nice path:

#30x30Challenge Day 28 pathWednesday I was out for the bare minimum of 30 minutes, I think, spending a little time after my yoga class with my neighbour showing and telling about our gardens. I have to say that I am so glad this year to have the time to tend to some plants. I’ve always had a few plants but they are usually sorely neglected. No illness, no big trip (we took off last year for 3.5 weeks at the beginning of the summer to camp the maritimes, which was amazing), and kids at a more independent age means I have more time to focus on the garden, which makes me very happy.

And today, the last of the 30×30 Nature Challenge, we were out of the house and heading to Bluffers Beach before 10am to check on the progress of the tadpoles and meet with friends. It was just starting to heat up as we got there, which meant a fog had rolled in. It wasn’t actually a fog, it was the water from the soaked sand evaporating, so it actually hung around (although not as thick, as the sand dried) all day:

#30x30Challenge Day 30 misty beach

And the tadpoles (which were conceived on day 3 of the challenge, and we saw on day 7 and then again on day 16) are doing great – and they are huge!

#30x30Challenge Day 30 tadpoles

A great day was had by all, with much sand play, frisbee tossing, volleyball, climbing, kite flying, splashing, and chilling in the shade. We got home around 4pm.

So, on the last day of the challenge, I guess it is time to reflect. What did I learn? I learned that when I don’t get outside, I get cranky. But I actually already knew that. I didn’t realize just how acute it was, however. I learned to do the things that bring me out, whether it’s just a walk to the grocery store or library, mowing the lawn, hanging the laundry, or weeding or watering the garden. And whenever possible, get out for an early morning walk (or walk/run/yoga), as it puts a really great start to the day.

I found myself looking around more and noticing what was going on around me in nature. The tadpoles are a great example. I have learned a few more birdsongs and learned to recognize a few more birds as well. I am recognizing more plants than ever (and found a secret stash of raspberries I’ll be back to in a month or two) before (okay, that’s not saying that much, but it’s a step in the right direction). And I am feeling great.

So, many thanks to the David Suzuki Foundation for the fantastic month. As I said at the beginning, 30 minutes isn’t such a stretch for me, but it was a great push out the door on days when I may not have gone out, and the beginning of a great new early morning habit.

#30x30Challenge Day 20 - seagulls at Harbourfront - Toronto International Circus Festival

Day 20: The Toronto International Circus Festival down at Harbourfront was such a blast that we went back again the next day and caught the big finale show. My husband joined us this time and he managed to get a great shot of two of the women on the ring. It was stunning. And outdoors! On the lake! And did I mention it was free? (Yes, I was inspired to drop a few bucks into the Harbourfront donation box so that we can keep seeing fantastic free programming like this.) The photo above was taken down there. The seagulls were clearly enjoying the day down at Harbourfront as well.

After the big show we walked around the area a bit, and the boys had fun on the Simcoe Wave Deck down there, which is great fun for kids, and just lovely to look at:

#30x30Challenge Day 20 - Simcoe Wave Deck

Before we went downtown I managed to clean up the yard and mow the lawn. And eat a meal or two outdoors. So… pretty much the whole day was outside. And I felt great for it.

Day 21: A lovely morning walk/run and yoga to start the day. Later that morning my eldest and I went up to the Farmers’ Market, then a quick trip to the nearby library there with friends, and afterwards the kids played outdoors for an hour or so before the rain came.

Day 22: Another early morning walk. It was misty and quite lovely, and the lilacs are fully in bloom now. I love this spot (below) in a nearby park that is lined with 6 different shades (white, light purple, mid purple, light pink, mid pink, dark pink) of lilacs. Turns out they smell slightly different, too. Mid pink is the strongest.

#30x30Challenge Day 22 - misty lilacs

I noticed that someone has planted some delicious looking lettuce in their front yard, making me think I’m not so crazy to plant edibles out front.

#30x30Challenge Day 22 - lettuce front garden

I had to get downtown for some thyroid tests so I took the streetcar. I had the chance to check on the progress of the Saskatoon berries down by the hospital. Hopefully they’ll be ripe for my follow-up appointments in a week.

Later that day I drove out of town with the kids to visit family and had a walk in the woods by the river, which is always a treat.

#30x30Challenge Day 23 - walk in the woods

Day 23: The only outside time I managed that day was walking to do errands after driving home, so probably I only had the required 30 (or maybe 45) minutes.

Day 24:  Another day where the only thing that got me out was walking to errands in the neighbourhood, so I was limited to about 30 minutes outside. After 2 days of this, I was feeling pretty low, to be honest.

Day 25: I made sure to get up early and go for a good walk. I felt like I had to make up for lost time since I was so grumpy after a few days of not enough outside time and I sought out all of the little hidden green spaces in the neighbourhood (there are many within 3 or 4 blocks). Not official parks, but little woodsy areas that grow wild like this one:

#30x30Challenge Day 25 hidden woodsy spot in the city

In the afternoon I rallied the troops and we hopped on the streetcar to Riverdale Farm, because it’s  nettle season. I had my thick canvas bag and some thick rubber work gloves for picking, and my pruning shears. I remembered to avoid the stinging nettles that have gone to seed, and brought home a good amount of nettles for soup. Delicious!

#30x30Challenge Day 25 stinging nettles for soup at Riverdale Farm

We also walked around the farm taking lots of photographs. Hubby got a good one of a sheep shown here on his photo blog. I think I had the most fun watching the painted turtles sunning. There were the 3 adults to start, and eventually the 2 smaller ones joined them as well.

#30x30Challenge Day 25 painted turtles sunning at Riverdale Farm

It was a wonderful day. I was feeling good again and fully made up for those lost 2 days.

Day 26: Another great early morning walk/run and yoga. It was also the first day of our local farmers’ market! I took my youngest to see who was selling what and meet a friend and her daughter for a little outside time. Later it was time (again, after lots of rain this week) to mow the grass again and putter around filling the watering can from the overflowing rain bucket to water the new and old plants, which include onions, chives, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, coral bells, sage, spearmint, “mojito” mint (that’s what the label said!), tarragon, cherry tomatoes, flat leaf parsley, cilantro/coriander (I’ve finally learned that the trick to keeping these going is keeping them well trimmed – i.e. make sure I use some every week and they’ll just keep sprouting and not go to seed), curly parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, English lavender, and Provencal lavender. All still alive despite the crazy weather we’ve had in the past week. Another perfect day to make up for those two indoorsy and down days.

Day 27: Today it was time to deal with the winter woolies and do my hand washing. Which brought me outside for the drying.

#30x30Challenge Day 27 hand knit laundry

I also took the boys outside to do their studies in the afternoon, which was a real treat. The weather was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, and no bugs yet.

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.

Day 16 was just, wow. Spectacular.

I started with the nearly 3km run/walk around the hood (I take a slightly different route every day. There are lots of options to choose from in my neighbourhood) where I noticed the birds. It’s nesting time, and I noticed some house sparrows landing and magically disappearing into the wire cover above my head. I looked more carefully and (although you can’t see it in the photo) noticed dried grass sticking out of the slit in the cover… clearly they’ve built a cosy nest in there. The male is keeping guard:

#30x30Challenge Day 16 - Nesting SparrowsYoga on the deck was great, as usual. Then it was breakfast outside as well!

Late in the morning the kids and I headed back to Bluffers Beach to see the development of the tadpoles, which our friends had moved to a better spot further away from the lake and with greens to eat, where there were a ton of other tadpoles. Here’s a small sample (no, really, I mean it – this may have been 1/10 of the tadpoles I saw in this particular area):

#30x30Challenge Day 16 - American Toad tadpolesAnd they are sooooo cool! Here’s a close-up:

#30x30Challenge Day 16 - American Toad tadpoles up closeWe weren’t the only ones enjoying the spectacular day at the beach:

#30x30Challenge Day 16 - beach painter

We met up with 4 other families and had a picnic and the kids enjoyed a few hours of climbing on the rocks and playing in the sand and on water. It was a wonderful day!

Today (Day 17) wasn’t as good. Mostly because I had a bit of insomnia so I woke up late and had busy day and couldn’t get outside. My plans to go for a walk in the afternoon were foiled so I made a plan to get dinner on the table early so we could all go for a walk afterwards. Because, you know, not being outdoors was really starting to get me irritable.

All was fixed after dinner. We started out with the plan to drop some books at the library an no plan other than that. We ended up walking up the road past some lovely gardens. And I noticed that the lilacs are out!

#30x30Challenge Day 17 - lilacsWe went to the nearby railway tracks as there’s a path that goes next to the tracks that we’ve never explored. It was tree-lined and fenced on the side of the tracks, so this happened along the length of it:

#30x30Challenge Day 17 - fence treeAmazing how nature will just find a way, isn’t it?

We walked along the path to the community gardens, which I’m sure will be planted this weekend. I managed to remember my telephoto lens and get a photo of a robin… I’ve been trying for weeks but I can never get close enough!

#30x30Challenge Day 17 - robinWe walked around a nearby park and the kids played in the playground, and on the way home saw a bunch of fun and bright, colourful things on the way home:

#30x30Challenge Day 17 - butterfly mural #30x30Challenge Day 17 - colourful flowery fence #30x30Challenge Day 17 - colourful post boxAnd I felt much better after some time outside.