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Do you ever go to a market and see a piece of produce so lovely that you must buy it, just because of how it looks? At Urban Farm Market at Westminster Hwy. and No. 5 Road, where I shop almost daily, I found such a thing on Saturday. The most exquisite baby eggplants sat piled in shiny purple rows. Their skins were plump and firm. Their stems said they were newly off the vine. I chose two of them and imagined creating a beautiful meal around them.

On Sunday, I made my first eggplant parmesan and wondered how I’d gotten through life this far without this dish. It requires salting the eggplant slices and letting them sit for 30 minutes to remove any bitterness — standard procedure with eggplant. Then they are dredged in flour, dipped in egg and then in Panko crumbs. They are fried until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Panko-crusted eggplant slices

The next step is to make a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with basil. I use imported Italian crushed tomatoes (sorry about that, 100-mile diet!) and add it to gently sautéed garlic. Then I add bunches of basil and let it simmer to blend the flavours.

Basic tomato sauce with garlic and basil

The whole thing is then combined, kind of like lasagna with a layer of tomato sauce, a layer of eggplant, a layer of fresh mozzarella, repeating and then adding handfuls of parmesan on top of the final dish.

Eggplant parmesan

This day, I also tackled a dessert, something as rare as a hot day in June in Vancouver. Along with my beautiful eggplants, I found the very first local strawberries. There is something about strawberries grown in the Lower Mainland of BC that defies adequate description. They are sweet and intensely flavoured with rich, red coloration throughout. They begged to be displayed in a dessert, so I found a recipe called Crostada di Fragoli e ricotta. It is a simple, crisp sweet crust, topped with a lemony custard made with ricotta which is baked in the shell, then topped with sliced strawberries and dusted with icing sugar. Something so simple in taste, but so crazy good!

Crostada di fragoli e ricotta

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Image Source: dcJohn / License under Creative Commons 2.0

As this Community Garden blog morphs into one about gardens and nature, I feel my newest experience belongs here. I was out at the local casino this evening with my daughter and sister-in-law for dinner. It sits overlooking the Fraser River with a picturesque marina in the foreground. While sitting in the restaurant watching the river and the setting sun, I was marvelling at a great blue heron, standing stalk still and watching the river with rapt attention. Then my daughter spotted something moving in the water. She declared it to be a beaver.

I have to tell you that I have seen some wildlife in my time, but NEVER a beaver. Being Canadian, this almost seems treasonous. I was so excited, I probably made a fool of myself as I pressed my face against the glass to watch. I imagined beavers to be about the size of our small dog. No. This animal was as big as a golden retriever! He swam up and down towards us and away from us a couple of times, swishing his tail as he went. He was enormous and awe-inspiring.

It is stunning that in a relatively urban environment (Richmond does have a good blend of farms and fishing boats mixed in) that you can see something that I always assumed could only be found in Canada’s wildest places. What a treat and what a fantastic discovery.

News Flash! If you’re an organic food person, you need to know about the “Saturday Market” at UNFI in Richmond. It’s very ad hoc, but the prices are sometimes very good and it’s worth stocking up once in a while. My sisters and I are big fans and go often. You need to know your prices, though, as some things are much cheaper at Choices and things like agave syrup (yes, organic) are a bargoon at Costco. Just sayin’.

June 10, 2008


On May 28, I got a call from my baby sister, Libby. We had been coveting a community garden plot in the “Garden City” of Richmond, BC. There is a new community garden in King George Park which sits, rather largely, between our two homes. Somehow, we lucked out and had a plot bestowed upon us well ahead of our anticipated wait of many years. Now I should clarify that my gardening skill is limited to the hardier flowers and a respectful acquaintance with finicky basil plants. This is a new venture for both Libby and I. I hope, that by documenting our progress, that others will be able to learn from our successes and our mistakes. I believe in the concept of eating locally. To this end, we’re digging in.

So, the Sunday following Libby’s call, we arrived to check out our real estate. I pulled back black plastic tarps held down by rough 2X4s and assessed the 5′ X 22′ space, hosting well established colonies of horse tail, grass and I don’t know what else (left my botanical dictionary at home that day). Before Libby arrived to share in my observations, I rocked back onto one of the 2X4s and, right through my dirty black Crocs (Sorry, I wear them to garden. Build a bridge), shot a rusty nail into my abductor digiti minimi (the outside of the sole of my foot…I had brought Gray’s Anatomy, as it seemed like a good idea at the time). So, a quick call to Ray, my husband and finisher of sentences and I was bandaged, although still dirty as hell, and ready to continue loving our new garden for a bit.

Now, at this point, the colour of this adventure started to appear. On Libby’s heels, arrived Nicole. Nicole “has been there”. She is on the committee that made this garden happen and her plot is in its second year. She showed us the “ropes”: where the tools were and the combination to the lock, where to put weeds and what seems to do well in these gardens for her. Nicole helped us wrestle with the weeds for a while and then appeared with baby arugula that she’d thinned from her own garden (I had mentioned it was all about arugula for me). She asked if we wouldn’t like some oregano and tomatoes and then showed up with babies of these. And then, she brought over oak leaf lettuce which I’d never tasted, but it was fabulous, so we planted a row of those. I should mention that this community garden thing is about tasting stuff. You break off leaves (by invitation) and taste things. I love oak leaf lettuce. Who knew?

It’s all about the arugula for me

As the novelty of digging weeds had waned and I’d planted all of Nicole’s lovely gifts, Allen arrived. Apparently, Allen knows a thing or two as well. He had the sharpest and fanciest hoe I have ever seen and, in demonstrating it’s every advantage, somehow managed to finish “clearing our land”. Thank you, Allen!

On the following Saturday, I launched myself into planting mode. Libby found organic Walla Walla onions, green onions and leeks at Choices. I found cherry tomatoes, butternut squash, long English cucumbers and pumpkin at Art Knapp, Japanese eggplants at my local market at 5 Road and Westminster,  and Roma tomatoes at Westminster and 7 Road. I drove, with my elderly mom, to the garlic farm on 2 Road south of Steveston Hwy., and learned that you can’t plant garlic in the spring but that, if I come back in early August, they’ll set me up. 

Did I mention my obsession with Arugula? That took hold in Pisa, Italy, and it’s out of control. I had already planted arugula in anything that wasn’t moving in my back yard. I thinned that and threw the rejects into plastic bags to move to their new home. I also coaxed some chocolate mint, sage and Italian parsley from their pots and bagged them for the journey.

Later that day, I met…I don’t know. She was a lovely, enthusiastic bystander who spoke not word one of English. But damn, that woman could act! She used sign language to tell me about everything from over watering to giving a plant enough room. With her help and the help of my eight-year-old niece, we planted Libby’s Walla Wallas and leeks, my tomatoes, the pumpkins, the squash, the cucumbers, the eggplant, arugula and the herbs.

On Sunday, Libby and I went to the garden and cooed over it. Libby needed to “feel it” in the planting department, so I thought it wise to give her the green onions. Easy, she thought. Four little plants. “No”, I said, “those are all individual green onion plants there. Yes, the little hairy things. Uh, huh, I know there are dozens of them”. While Libby did the botanical equivalent of a hair transplant, I planted seeds for carrots, beets, beans and spinach. Libby said it was like trying to keep track of your hair when you’re dyeing it. The rows were wandering. I’d already planted the leeks. I left her to it.

On Monday, “Juneuary” continued here in the Greater Vancouver. We’d gotten a tiny bit of a break on the weekend, but this horrible weather — which seems to rival the second coming — returned on Monday. It was 8 degrees for a high. (That’s about 48 fahrenheit for my American friends). It was raining like it was time to build an ark. It got so dark I had to check for an eclipse. If I was my arugula, I would have packed it in. On my way home from work, I asked my sweet husband if he would humour me while I checked in on the veg. Miraculously, it all seemed to be thriving.

Today, after dinner, I managed another peek while dropping mom off. Libby and her kids were there, too, as intoxicated by the excitement as I was. And today, I met Amir. A bear of a guy from Ontario, Amir is, by profession, a butcher. But the man knows gardens. He was on me about manure. You need sheep manure (and urine!) mixed with goat and cattle manure and some garlic. You’ll never see a slug. Once again, for those outside these parts, you wouldn’t like slugs. They’re everything about a snail, but without the charm. They’re ugly, they eat things, they’re really big and slimy and, well…yuk!!! Amir had a basket full of rapini he’d just picked. I always wanted to know what this tasted like. I see it in the Indian vegetable stores. Amir insisted we try it. It’s great. Peppery and a bit like a pea shoot in taste — dark green, so you know it’s good for you. Amir stir fries it. Libby’s kids, Elly and Sam took a couple of leaves because they really liked it, fresh out of the garden, organic and lovely. Amir gave me the low down on some gardens and their “tenders”. He’ll be a terrific resource. He knows how to grow things and his garden bears it out. He’s relaxed and generous. I like Amir. I love this garden.

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