Planting Muskmelon & Chipping Blueberries

This week we’re up to a whole lot out in the fields, and we wanted to fill you in on the progress of two of your favourite fruits: muskmelon (aka cantaloupe!) and blueberries.

First up, melons! The melons have been growing away in the greenhouse for approximately six weeks now. You may remember back at the end of March, when we shared photos of the tiny seedlings in greenhouse. Now, they are all grown up and ready to be transplanted outside! The planting process is like what we described a few weeks back: we make the beds in the fields, lay plastic, poke holes in the plastic, insert the plants in the holes, and then cover the rows with tunnels to create a mini in-field greenhouse which will keep the plants toasty warm, and help speed up their growth.

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The plastic we’re using for the melon tunnels is light green in colour, versus the clear plastic we’ve used for some other crops. This colour variation is intentional, as it helps control the heat: clear plastic heats things up much more than green does. We don’t want to “cook” the melons, so we’re using green plastic to encourage more moderate temperatures. The tunnels will remain in place until the melon plants start to flower. At this point, we remove the plastic so that our favourite little flying friends can pay a visit – honeybees! The bees visit the melon blossoms, gathering pollen as they go, transferring it from plant to plant. This cross-pollination is required to produce fruit (melons!). And the most wonderful side effect of pollination is the creation of our sweet and golden melon blossom honey.

On the other side of our farm, our field crew is hard at work manning the wood-chipping machine! Over the winter we gather up wood from all over the farm; fallen trees, branches, and also a few Christmas trees! We make a pile and save them up for chipping. Once May rolls around, we chip it all up and add it to the base of the blueberry plants. As the wood chips slowly break down over the season, they add a healthy dose of organic plant matter. Blueberries have very shallow root systems, so this is a big help! The wood chips also help control moisture and weeds. We typically only have enough wood chips to do half to a third of the field at a time, so this season we’re picking up where we left off last year.

Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD


Quick & Easy Asparagus Benny

Sunday morning brunch is one of my favourite meals of the week. I typically have more time to prepare it than I do for a weeknight dinner, which makes for a more relaxed cooking experience. I also love to cook with a coffee in hand, music in the background, and morning sunshine streaming in through the windows. And this weekend, eggs benedict is on the menu! Except… not really. I’m making a sneaky, super quick & easy version. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Hollandaise sauce, but it’s not something I make on the regular. It’s pretty labour intensive, and very rich. In my quick & easy version, I swapped out the Hollandaise for a simple white sauce + Swiss Cheese. And I’m giving you options for the eggs — you can poach ‘em if you feel up to it, but a simple sunny-side-up will work just fine!

Most importantly, though, this eggs benedict features the spring veggie we’ve all been waiting for: asparagus! It pairs deliciously well with eggs, and the cheese sauce ties it all together perfectly. Choose whole wheat English muffins for an extra dose of fibre, and you’ve got yourself a tasty and balanced brunch. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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Serves 6

Ingredients

6 whole wheat English muffins

12 eggs

2 bunches Thames River Melons Asparagus, washed & trimmed

2 tablespoons butter (plus more for buttering)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 ½ cups Swiss cheese, shredded

6 slices deli ham, sliced in half (optional)

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Fresh parsley, minced, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash & trim the asparagus, then set aside.

  2. Begin to make your swiss cheese sauce: melt the butter over medium heat and cook until sizzling. Sprinkle the flour over top and mix together to form a thick paste. I like to use a rubber spatula for this step, to ensure I get into all the corners of the pot.

  3. Cook the butter-flour mixture for 1 – 2 minutes, until fully thickened. At this point I typically switch to a whisk. Next slowly add some of the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Add a little milk at a time, whisking until combined. Once all of the milk has been added, continue to whisk constantly.

  4. Continue to cook for 5 – 6 minutes. Watch the pan closely and monitor the heat. You want the sauce to heat at a slow and steady pace – too fast, and it will boil, which could cause the mixture to separate! You want a silky smooth sauce for this delicious breakfast.

  5. While the sauce cooks, prepare the asparagus. You can steam, sauté, or roast – any method will work! Cook until the asparagus is tender, but still holds its shape. Regardless of cooking method, this typically takes between 4 and 6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalk.

  6. The sauce should begin to thicken by now. Once it has, sprinkle in the shredded cheese, salt, and pepper, and whisk to combine. Once the cheese has melted, the sauce should be thickened and ready to eat! Reduce the heat to low and whisk occasionally as you continue to prepare the remaining ingredients.

  7. Toast the English muffins and cook the eggs. Again, how you cook the eggs is up to you! A traditional eggs benedict calls for poached eggs, but for this quick and easy recipe I would recommend a simple sunny side up. Alternatively, check out this handy guide to oven-poached eggs.

  8. Now, you are officially ready to assemble!

  9. Lightly butter each side of the English muffins, then top them with the ham (if using) and several stalks of the prepared asparagus. Next, add an egg to each half, and finish it off with a generous drizzle of the Swiss cheese sauce.

  10. Sprinkle with a pinch of fresh parsley, and you’re ready to eat! Enjoy.

Rhubarb Custard Bars

What a strange time of year — spring is clearly here, and we’ve had some gloriously warm & sunny days! But we’ve also had some very chilly, windy, and rainy ones. It seems to go back and forth, teasing us with warmth, then sending us running back inside with the cold.

This mix of temperatures allows for time with the oven on, though! And turning on the oven inevitably leads to baking for me. This week I whipped up some rhubarb custard bars: a delicious combination of creamy, tangy, and sweet flavours. If you can, try to snag a corner bar, as they get extra caramelization, and are even more delicious.

I found this recipe on a popular baking blog, and made a few tweaks: added some oats to the crust for extra texture and a bump of fibre, halved the sugar in the filling, and added vanilla for an increased depth in flavour. Although these adjustments do make these bars a little more healthy, they’re definitely still a dessert. And that’s okay! There’s more than enough room for desserts in our diets. It’s all about balance: maybe don’t eat the whole tray, but enjoy one or two without guilt, just enjoyment!

They don’t take long at all to whip up, but you do have to have some patience to allow them to fully cool and set. It’s worth the wait, though! Give them a try and let me know what you think.

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Ingredients

For the crust

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup oats

3/4 cup cold butter, cubed

1/4 cup sugar

For the filling

3 large eggs, beaten

¾ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

4 cups rhubarb, diced

2 tablespoons icing sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, and sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

  2. Pat the crumbs into a well greased 9 x 13 in baking pan. Bake the crust at 350 F for 10-12 min or until lightly browned.

  3. While the crust is in the oven, mix together eggs, sugar, vanilla, flour and salt.

  4. Gently stir in the diced rhubarb. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the hot crust. Return bars to the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and no longer jiggly

  5. Cool for 30 mins on the counter and then refrigerate until chilled before cutting into bars.

  6. Before serving, sprinkle with icing sugar for an extra hint of sweetness and a pretty final touch.

Recipe modified from http://chocolatewithgrace.com/rhubarb-bars/ by Alex Chesney, RD

Planting Strawberries

This week we’re planting our day-neutral strawberries! Thinking about those deliciously juicy and fragrant berries is such a treat on a dreary day like today, and we’re leaning hard into the memory of that taste to help us through the rest of this month!

Day-neutral strawberries, also sometimes called everbearing strawberries, are a variety of berries that are just that – day neutral. Conventional strawberries (the ones typically available for just the month of June, commonly called “June berries”) respond to the length of daylight. We’re planting these berries next week, and we’ll fill you in on that process then! Once the days get too long, and the sun gets too hot, the conventional strawberry plants stop producing fruit. On the other hand, day-neutral berries have no such response, and will continuously produce berries from July through to the first fall frost, which is usually not until October, if we’re lucky!

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Our day-neutral strawberry plants come to us all the way from California. There is a special growing and breeding program there that focuses on these day-neutral varieties. The variety we plant is called Albion. There are other options too, but we’ve had good luck with Albion and customers seem to like it! We receive the plants when they are just 2 inches tall. We plant the day-neutral strawberries as early as possible in the spring, once the risk of spring frost has passed. To plant them, holes are poked in a staggered pattern, to allow for adequate plant growth, in our bedded & plastic-covered fields (remember the bedding we talked about last week?). From there, a field worker walks along the rows and gently drops a plant in front of each hole. Another field worker follows, and places the plant into the hole, using a spade to guide it in, cover it with soil, and ensure it’s secure.

Right after planting, we irrigate the plants. This may seem funny, given the rain we’ve gotten recently, but research has shown that a burst of irrigation immediately following planting directly relates to improved production. It helps the plant “set”, or helps the dirt settle in around the roots.

After planting, the plants hang out in the field until July, when they will begin to produce berries. We will continue to harvest from these plants until that fall frost that I mentioned earlier, and we’ll get another small harvest next spring.

Strawberries are perennial plants, which means that they can survive through the winter and produce fruit again once the soil warms in the spring and the plants revitalize. To help them make it through the cold months, we’ll cover them up with a big old berry blanket. This blanket, along with the snow that falls on top of it, will provide a protective layer of insulation.

After that, we repeat the process all over again, with new plants, more planting, and another harvest. Some farmers do things slightly differently: some plant in the fall, some only keep the plants for one season, and some try to extend it further (this can lead to production issues such as bushy plants and disease, though!)

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Overall, growing strawberries a labour-intensive process, and takes a lot of planning, time, and energy. But we have to say, it’s so worth it. We can’t wait for the first taste of fresh-from-the-field strawberries!

Speaking of taste, there are a few key differences between June berries and day-neutral berries. Personally? I prefer the day-neutrals. This raises quite the controversy when I’m chatting with farmers’ market customers, but honestly it’s true! Day-neutral berries are more firm, so they last longer in the fridge and don’t squish as easily. This feature can also come in handy for jam-making, as it gives you jam that sets better, and is less runny. I also absolutely love the flavour of the day-neutrals. It’s hard to explain, so you’ll just have to try them yourself!

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Well, that’s it for now! Check in with us next week to learn about the life cycle of conventional berries!

Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD

Strawberry photo credit to 2018 Marketeer Brie

Making our Beds

One of the most satisfying feelings is a freshly made bed, don’t you think? Starting the day by making the bed is an instant accomplishment. And we’re not just talking about the beds that we sleep in. Around here, making our bed has a whole other meaning!

Beds are what we plant into: raised, formed, rows of soil that are created using a special tractor attachment. After forming the beds, we have to cover them up with the field equivalent of sheets – plastic. This plastic plays three important roles:

  1. It traps heat in the soil, allowing for faster root development and plant growth.

  2. It helps keep weeds at bay, by limiting available soil space.

  3. It limits evaporation of moisture from the soil and traps the extra water around the plant.

The plastic is applied to the rows using another tractor attachment. The rolls of plastic are loaded onto this attachment, and one field worker sits behind the roll, to guide it. Another field hand drives the tractor. To start, the driver lines the tractor up at the end of the row. Once aligned, the seated field hand tucks the plastic under a pile of soil to secure it. The tractor starts to slowly drive, and the plastic is slowly unraveled and pulled tight. Two disks, one on either side of the bed, pile dirt on top of the plastic to hold it in place. This process is repeated for each individual bed.

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Next, holes are punched into the plastic, and a seed is dropped into the hole. After planting, metal wires are inserted over top of the rows, evenly spaced apart every 10 feet.

From here, a different attachment is used to apply a tunnel layer over top of the metal hoops. Because these hoops are taller, the attachment needs additional clearance. This time around the plastic has a series of ventilation holes (we talked about this in a blog post a few weeks ago!), and it is applied over top of the hoops, forming the tunnel layer. These tunnels are mini greenhouses, and they cover the newly planted seeds or transplants and provide them with an extra bit of heat so they can establish and grow quickly.

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After we finished making our beds last week, we got straight to work planting corn! We plant our sweet corn using two different planters. The first is called a poly-planter – this one is used for planting into the rows covered in plastic that we described above. It’s smaller, and works by punching a hole in the plastic, then dropping a seed in that hole. We also have a larger planter that we use for planting directly into a freshly tilled field. We use both methods because it allows us to have sweet corn throughout the summer, on a continuous schedule. Between the corn stalks planted on plastic and directly into the field, any guesses which will produce ears of corn first?

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Poly Planter

…you got it! The ones on plastic. Thanks to that extra heat provided by the plastic, the corn planted there will produce first, with the plants growing up from soil coming along a bit later.

After planting, sweet corn takes approximately 90 days to ripen, so we’re looking at around mid-July for our first taste. Keep your eyes peeled for updates here & on our social media outlets!

Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD





First Asparagus of the Season!

This past fall we constructed three new plastic covered greenhouses in the corner of our asparagus field. Plastic greenhouses are faster and more affordable to build than glass ones and work just as well! While they don’t have the longevity of glass, they are a nice happy medium.

Rather than plow under and dig up the old asparagus plants, we left them alone. And now here we are in the spring season, and wouldn’t you know it, we have some asparagus! The greenhouses helped raise the temperature of the soil enough to coax the asparagus up a full week earlier than last year. We are so excited! We’re not harvesting enough to sell yet, but it won’t be long now — we’re crossing our fingers for late next week!

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As discussed on a Facebook post recently, an asparagus crop takes a huge investment of time and patience to come to fruition. We plant asparagus from crowns, which are basically baby asparagus roots. Asparagus can also be grown from seed to transplant, but it’s a much longer process. For the first 2 years after planting the crowns, we don’t harvest at all. In year 3 we harvest for just 2 weeks, and by year 4 we can begin to harvest at full capacity. From there we continue to harvest for 10-15 years! Some newer varieties are able to be picked for even longer, close to 20 years.

And so, because of the long-term investment we’ve made into our asparagus crop, we were hesitant to dig up the field under the new greenhouses. And now we’re glad we didn’t, because it’s given us an early taste of our favourite spring veggie! We’re not harvesting enough to sell yet, but it won’t be long now — we’re crossing our fingers for late next week!

Are you familiar with the asparagus harvesting process? Most people are surprised to learn that asparagus is harvested entirely by hand. Our field crew walks up and down the rows with a small knife in one hand, and a collection basket in the other. To harvest a stalk of asparagus, the knife is inserted into the ground on an angle, and a quick, smooth cutting motion is used to cut off the stalk at its base. Each crown (that root system underground) produces approximately 10-12 stalks. And when harvesting, we have to be careful not to damage any of those surrounding stalks. If one was to be accidentally nicked or cut into, that stalk of asparagus would begin to grow crookedly.

As you may have noticed from the video on social media, asparagus harvesting requires a lot of physical labour. To harvest each stalk by end, our field crew must not only walk up and down the rows, but also bend down & stand up repeatedly. It’s not easy on the back! Next time you pick up a bunch of asparagus for dinner – keep that in mind. A whole lot of hard work went into producing it!

Once we start to harvest our asparagus crop on a larger scale, we’ll check back in and fill you in on how we grade, package, and store our asparagus post-harvest. Stay tuned!

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Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD

Special thanks to Luke Chesney for his additional photography and the video editing skills!




Bud the Spud

This week was off to a blustery start, with chilly temperatures and flurries in the air – not quite what we were hoping for, but we’re making it work! Our to-do list for the week is already growing, but there are two items in particular that we thought you’d be interested in.

First up is our rhubarb – one of our earliest crops! Rhubarb typically springs into season during the first week in May, alongside its skinny green counterpart asparagus. This year, though, we’re doing a little experiment. In hopes of getting our hands on some rhubarb even earlier, we’ve tunneled 5 rows of rhubarb. Tunnels are a technique used for several of our other crops, including our famous melons. A tunnel is basically a mini in-field greenhouse. They’re constructed by placing small metal hoops in the ground, evenly spaced apart. These hoops are then covered with sheets of clear plastic dotted with holes: the plastic helps trap heat in the soil, speeding up the growing process and the holes in the plastic allow for temperature moderation and air circulation.  

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Rhubarb is a spring crop, as most of you know. And that’s not just because we love to eat rhubarb crisp during the month of May (although this is a true statement!). It’s also because rhubarb plants don’t like heat. Once the temperature consistently climbs above 30⁰C, the plants begin to complain and we stop harvesting. That being said, we’ll need to carefully monitor these tunnels, and be careful that they don’t work too effectively, and raise the temperature too high. Overall, our goal with these tunnels is to end up with rhubarb in our hands approximately 5 – 10 days earlier than past years. Fingers crossed!

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The next item on our to-do list reminds us of a favourite childhood song… “It’s Bud the Spud from the bright red mud, goin’ down the highway smiling…” You guessed it; we’re talking about potatoes! This week we hope to plant our 2019 crop of potatoes. And did you know that potatoes aren’t actually planted from seed? Rather, they’re planted from other potatoes, called seeding potatoes. At least, if you want to get the same variety of potato, that’s how its done. Potatoes do produce seeds, but if you plant those, you’ll end up with a whole new variety. To ensure consistency, and get the same potato from year to year, you plant another potato!

Our seeding potatoes just arrived, all the way from the East Coast, and we’re getting ready to pop them in the ground. To do so, we typically cut the potatoes in half, ensuring that at least one ‘eye’ remains intact. It’s from these eyes that the rest of the plant will grow. Have you ever forgotten about a bag of potatoes and opened it up to find little alien-like sprouts climbing up towards you? It may be startling at first, but this is actually just what you want if you’re growing your own.

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Want to learn a little bit more about potatoes? We’ve got a few more fun facts for you, so keep on reading!

Okay, so potatoes grow under the ground, which makes them a root vegetable, right? …not quite! Potatoes are actually a tuber, which means that rather than sucking up nutrients from the soil and delivering them to the rest of the plant, they store up the nutrients. That’s what makes potatoes so fat and starchy.

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Another question we often get is “What about green potatoes?! Aren’t they poisonous?” When planting potatoes, we have to make sure they’re deep enough that they aren’t exposed to light. Sunlight causes a chemical called solanine to build up and turn the potatoes green. Solanine is technically poisonous, but you’d have to eat a whole bunch of green potatoes for it to actually make you sick! So, next time you see a green potato, just slice off the green part and keep on cooking.

After planting the potatoes, we’ll need to hunker down and wait until early June until we can start to harvest. By then, tender and sweet baby potatoes should be ready for digging! We won’t dig up our whole crop then, though. We’ll stagger our harvesting, allowing the potatoes to slowly grow larger throughout the season. By fall, the potatoes will be big enough and sturdy enough for storing through the winter. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though – we’re still waiting for spring!

Well, that’s it for this week! Stay tuned for updates on our rhubarb & potato crops. Thanks for reading!

Blog post written & photographed by Alex Chesney, RD

Frank & the Bulletin Board

Each year the bulletin board in our farm’s office slowly fills up with memories of the season. Things are tacked up as they arise, first in an orderly fashion and then slowly becoming more jumbled as the days get longer and the fields get fuller. Business cards from other local entrepreneurs, funny signs from our creative farmers’ market staff, quotes, and more all crowd together to help us remember what an adventure-filled summer we had.

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As we get ready for the 2019 season, we will take down many of last year’s papers and photos to make room for this year’s. Recently, as we were standing around looking at last year’s board, we were laughing and reminiscing. One memory in particular stood out: an email from Kathy, the daughter of one of our most loyal customers at the East York Farmers’ Market.

Frank has been a customer of ours for years . Last summer he attended the market every single week, bringing a flat of berries home with him without fail. That’s pretty impressive in and of itself, but what makes it even more so is that Frank was 96 years old at the time! We received Kathy’s email last fall, once the market concluded for the season:

“A huge thank you to all your staff for being so incredibly welcoming and attentive to my Dad again this season. His favourite day is Tuesday at the East York market for his flats of strawberries and the smiling faces at your booth! At 96 years old he didn’t miss a single Tuesday this summer. Hopefully he’ll see you all next summer!! 😘😘. P.S. he says your berries are the sweetest!!”

Without committed customers like Frank, our farmers’ markets would not be nearly as successful as they are. And they wouldn’t be as enjoyable, either! We looked forward to seeing Frank’s familiar and smiling face each week, and it meant so much to us that our strawberries were so special to him.

We have been emailing back and forth with Kathy over the winter, and were promised some photos from Frank’s 97th birthday party earlier this month. We just received them today and wanted to share with all of you! Take a look at Frank celebrating with his large extended family. His warm smile, sense of humour, and love for his family are clear.

Sadly, just 10 days after turning 97, Frank passed away surrounded by his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends. We were incredibly sad to hear of his passing, and asked Kathy if we could honour Frank and thank him for his commitment to our farm. We hope he knew how much his weekly market visits meant to us. He will be missed.

Spring Cleaning

It’s officially spring! The sun is shining more often, the temperatures are rising, and colour is slowly starting to return to the landscape. And with these changes in weather come changes in our routine. The winter months are mostly spent indoors, thanks to the cold, wind, and snow, but we’ve been able to spend more and more time outdoors in the past week or so.

First on our spring-cleaning list is the greenhouse, where our famous melons start their lives each season. Melon seeds (both muskmelon and watermelon) are planted into trays and grown inside the greenhouse for about 5 weeks. Once the plants are approximately 6 inches tall, strong enough to successfully survive outside, and once the risk of frost has passed us by (we hope!) they are transplanted into the fields. But before this greenhouse growing can take place, there’s a lot of work that must be done!

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To start, the greenhouse glass is carefully examined for any cracks or damage from the snow-filled winter months. Sometimes the weight of snow sitting on the glass can cause damage, and we need to ensure we address this before moving forward. If any damage is discovered, the glass is cleaned up and new panes are inserted.

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Next, the greenhouse is carefully arranged into rows of racks. These racks are supported by cinder blocks, and are the perfect size to hold the trays that the melon seeds will be planted into. Before planting, the both the racks and the trays must be thoroughly washed and rinsed, to remove debris from last season. This rinsing and debris removal prevents the risk of contamination from disease from last year’s plants.

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So there you have it! A peek into the beginning stages of prepping for the 2019 season. Are there any other areas of the farm that you’re curious about? Ask away! We’ll do our best to answer and provide some fun photos as well.

Blog Post Written & Photographed by Alex Chesney, RD

Soft Pretzel Twists & Garlic Scape Mustard Dipping Sauce

Superbowl Sunday is fast approaching, and that calls for just one thing - snacks! I’ve always enjoyed the Superbowl, but not really for the football. Instead, my priority has always been the food, and this year will be no different. I’ll be whipping up a batch of these delicious soft pretzels for guests to dunk into our delicious Garlic Scape Mustards. Check out the recipe below and try it for yourself! Serve alongside some fresh veggie sticks to balance it out. Have a great weekend!

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Prep Time: 20 minutes

Baking Time: 8 minutes

Makes: 8 soft pretzels

Ingredients:

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 standard packet)

1 cup warm water

1 tbs unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

3 cups all-purpose flour + up to 3/4 cup more if needed

2 cups water

4 tbs baking soda

1 tbs coarse salt, for sprinkling on top

3 tbs salted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 475⁰D and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, then set aside.

  2. Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Let sit for approximately 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes "frothy". Stir in the salt and 1 tbs of melted butter.

  3. Next, add flour 1 cup at a time until a dough forms and is no longer sticky. If you press your finger into the dough and it bounces back, it's ready to knead. Knead dough for 5 more minutes until smooth and pliable. Form the dough into a ball and place it back into the bowl to rest for 15 minutes. During this time, prepare baking soda bath.

  4. In a small pot, combine 2 cups of water with 4 tbs of baking soda and bring to a boil. Once the baking soda is mostly dissolved, take mixture off heat and allow it to come down to a lukewarm temperature. Pour into a 9x9 baking dish once cooled down.

  5. By now, the 15 minutes of dough resting time should be up. Take dough out of the bowl and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Cut dough into 8 sections (like a pizza). Roll each triangle into a long rope, about 19-20 inches long.

  6. Shape dough as desired; into a traditional pretzel shape, twists, pretzel sticks, or pretzel bites. Place prepared pretzel shapes in the baking soda bath for 2 minutes. If the whole pretzel isn't covered by the water, spoon it on top of the areas is doesn't reach. Once the 2 minutes is up, carefully pick pretzel up either by your hand or with the help of a fork and place on prepared baking sheet. You may have to re-shape slightly. Sprinkle the pretzel with coarse salt while still wet (optional). Repeat these steps until all 8 pretzels are prepared and on the baking sheet(s).

  7. Bake pretzels for 8-9 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately brush the remaining melted butter.

  8. These homemade soft pretzels are best served hot and fresh out of the oven but will keep for about 2 days stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Pop them in the microwave and they're good as new!

Recipe adapted from sprinklesomesugar.com by Alex Chesney, RD

Oatmeal-Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

Chilly winter days were made for baking, don’t you think? There’s nothing I love more than hunkering down in my kitchen with some music playing in the background while I mix up some dough and roll it out. It’s soothing and comforting, and the end result is so delicious. This week I wanted to bake something that featured one of our jams, and thumbprint cookies immediately came to mind. They’re quick and easy, and super cute. Although these fall firmly into the treat category, this recipe features oats and whole wheat flour for a bump of fibre. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Bake Time: 10 minutes:

Makes: 3 dozen bite-sized cookies

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups old-fashioned oats, divided

¾ cups whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup white sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

¼ cup Thames River Melons raspberry jam

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Prepare a large baking sheet (or two smaller ones) by lining with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

  2. Grind ½ of the oats into a finely ground flour using a food processor, high-speed blender, or spice grinder. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl.

  3. Add the flour, remaining oats, ground ginger, and salt to the oat flour and whisk to combine.

  4. Next, beat together the butter and sugars using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer. Use medium speed, and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 1 minute).

  5. Add the egg and beat thoroughly. Then, beat in the vanilla.

  6. Next, slowly add the flour mixture on low speed and beat until just incorporated.

  7. Finally, gently fold in the walnuts (if using).

  8. Using a spoon or small cookie scoop, measure about 1 tablespoon of dough from the bowl. Roll the dough between the palms of your hand to form a ball and place on the prepared cookie sheet(s).

  9. Continue to scoop and roll, placing the balls of dough approximately 2 inches apart.

  10. Use your thumb to press down on the middle of the dough ball. Fill each with a dab of raspberry jam.

  11. Place the prepared cookie sheets into the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes. Then, rotate the baking sheet from front to back (and between racks if using two pans!) and continue baking for another 3 to 4 minutes, until cookies are set but still soft.

  12. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool for 1 to 2 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack to fully cool.

  13. Store in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days. Enjoy!

Recipe modified from The Kitchn by Alex Chesney, RD

Thai Coconut Curry Soup

Today’s freezing temperatures and blustery wind have me craving more soup. Do you feel it too? This recipe is sure to warm you through and through thanks to the flavours of ginger and Thai curry paired with comforting butternut squash and coconut milk. As a bonus, you’ll get a generous dose of vitamins A and C thanks to the squash, and a hit of protein and iron offered up by the red lentils.

The iron found in plant-based proteins is called non-heme iron and is a bit harder for our bodies to absorb than heme iron (found in meat). However, pairing non-heme iron with Vitamin C increases absorption. See where I’m going? The Vitamin C from the squash will work in tandem with the iron in the lentils to fuel you more efficiently. Another bonus of red lentils are their quick-cooking nature and their tendency to start to disintegrate when cooked. This makes them essentially impossible to detect; a great way to power up the picky people in your lives!

Give it a try today and let me know what you think.

Thai Coconut Squash Soup.jpg

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 bell pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

1 –2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (depending on your spice preference; I used 2!)

1 can coconut milk

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 carrot, diced

½ cup red lentils

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a medium pot, over medium heat. Place 1 piece of diced onion in the pot to test the temperature of the oil. Once the onion starts to sizzle, add the remaining onion.

  2. Sauté the onion for 1-2 minutes, until it begins to soften. Then, add the diced bell pepper and continue to sauté for another 1-2 minutes.

  3. Once the vegetables have softened, and onion has started to become translucent, add the ginger powder, salt, pepper, and Thai curry paste. Mix to combine.

  4. Next, add the coconut milk. Stir to combine, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, gathering up all of those flavourful bits that may have started to stick!

  5. Add the vegetable broth, again stirring to combine.

  6. Finally, add the butternut squash, carrot, and red lentils. Stir to combine, then place the lid on the pot and bring to a boil.

  7. Once the pot reaches a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.

  8. At this point, the butternut squash should be soft, and the lentils should have started to disintegrate.

  9. Blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth and glossy.

  10. Top with your favourite roasted winter veggie and serve with a slice of whole wheat bread for a filling and nutritious meal. Enjoy!

Recipe created by Alex Chesney, RD

Leek and Potato Soup

The weather has been unpredictable lately — snowy and cold one day then slushy and warm the next. Regardless of the temperature, one thing has remained constant, and that’s my desire for soup. The winter months have always made me crave this warm and comforting meal, and that hasn’t changed this year! Their ease and versatility are also a great selling point. I de!ided to start off 2019 with a classic: leek and potato!

Both leeks and potatoes are crops that keep well long after harvest. The farm has settled into a quiet rhythm for these next few months, but we do still have a few veggies kicking around the barn. I rescued a bundle of leeks and a handful of potatoes to pair with leftover veggies from my fridge and then hit the kitchen!

When preparing the potatoes, I washed them thoroughly then removed any eyes and marks, otherwise leaving the skin intact. As with many fruits and vegetables, the skin houses the majority of the nutrients, particularly the fibre! When it comes to leeks, many consumers are not aware of their nutrition content. Are you? Just in case, I’ll fill you in! Leeks contain an incredibly high amount of Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps our bodies heal wounds, and maintain the health of blood vessels and bones. Because it’s fat-soluble, it’s best absorbed when paired with fat. In this recipe, both the butter and the milk/cream contribute fat. Pretty neat, hey?

Overall, this soup is flavourful, creamy, and satisfying. It makes the perfect lunch for a chilly weekend, or a quick and easy dinner for those busy weeknights. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Leek and Potato Soup.jpg

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Makes: 4 – 6 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon cooking oil or butter

3 large leeks*, white parts sliced into coins

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bell pepper, diced

1 large carrot, diced (or 1 cup frozen diced carrots)

2 stalks celery, diced

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

4 medium potatoes, cubed

½ cup milk or cream

Directions

  1. Heat oil or butter in a medium stock pot over medium heat. Add one small piece of leek and wait for it to start to sizzle.

  2. Once sizzling, add the rest of the sliced leeks. Cook for 3 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until leeks are softened.

  3. Add minced garlic and other diced vegetables. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, again stirring frequently.

  4. Next, add herbs and spices, mixing until all vegetables are evenly coated. Cook for another 1-2 minutes.

  5. Add the vegetable stock and the potatoes and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low (maintaining a gentle simmer) and cook for approximately 20 minutes.

  6. Once potatoes are softened, remove soup from heat. Blend the soup using an immersion blender or upright blender until a creamy consistency is achieved. Add the milk or cream and stir to combine.

*Be sure to wash the leeks very thoroughly, as although they are pre-washed before being sold, dirt has a way of working its way inside of this tasty veggie!

Recipe created by Alex Chesney, RD

Late Summer Chowder

Cooler weather is approaching, the official start of autumn is around the corner, and soup season has arrived! I’m looking forward to being able to comfortably use the stove and oven again and put them to work cooking up the tasty fall recipes I have in mind. To start us off we’ve got a hearty, delicious, and easy chowder. Flavour is built by cooking the vegetables in stages, and coating them with a lovely combination of spices. A low-sodium vegetable broth and just a dash of salt at the end will ensure a hearty-healthy final bowl, and all the wonderful vegetables featured make for a soup that is satisfying and filling. Take advantage of these still-in-season vegetables combined with comfortable cooking temperatures and try this recipe today. Let me know what you think!

Soup to Share.jpg

Ingredients

1 tablespoon oil

1 red onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small jalapeno, diced (more or less, depending on spice tolerance!)

2 bell peppers, diced

2 cobs sweetcorn, cooked & removed from the cob

1 zucchini, diced

5 small red potatoes, cubed

1 teaspoon paprika, oregano, and parsley (each)

½ teaspoon thyme

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup milk

Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat until hot. A handy trick to test the readiness of the pan is to toss in a small piece of diced onion along with the oil. When it starts to sizzle you know you’ve reached the right temperature!

  2. Once hot, add all the onion to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until translucent and softened.

  3. Add the garlic and peppers and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

  4. Add the corn, zucchini, spices, and flour. Mix until vegetables are evenly coated with the spices & flour.

  5. Next, slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly.

  6. Once all the broth has been mixed in, add the potatoes. Lower the heat slightly and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are softened.

  7. Add the milk and stir until hot.

  8. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

  9. Enjoy!

Recipe created by Alex Chesney, RD