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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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This is how I staked the beans.

This is how I staked the beans.

One of my three sisters, Paula (who lives in Kelowna these days), visited this week. She brought 4 large, organic, free-range happy chickens and a bag of worm castings for me. These gifts were accompanied by various natural concoctions guaranteed to heal everything from tick bites to ebola virus for my husband and anyone else who was static enough that she could make them swallow it. All of this was a bribe because Paula no sooner got here than she went out to buy countless flats of fresh strawberries — at Emma Lea Farms on Westham Island in Delta. She then processed them all into freezer jam in my kitchen…a marathon of strawberry juice and plastic containers. So, about worm castings…I’ve always wondered about that odd place, along Glenmore Road in Kelowna, called World of Worms. I thought perhaps it was a miniature worm circus or demonstration dirt farm. Turns out, it’s a great source for worm castings which, as far as I can discern, are worm poop. It’s fine and dry, like coffee grounds and Paula’s had great luck with it in her garden. Which, once again, brings me to the garden!  I loaded up my terrific little plastic tub on wheels with the worm castings around noon today (mad dogs and Englishmen…it was 24 degrees outside). I did wear my wide brimmed hat and wore sunscreen! I walked to the garden pulling my little tub behind me and got to work. I weeded. Damn that horse tail! It’s not too bad if you stay on it, but it’s so aggressive and hard to get rid of. There were little sprouts of something we didn’t plant all around the green onions and a few other places. They weren’t especially hard to pull out except for the fact that they were tiny and had cleverly lodged themselves in between the delicate baby green onions.  Having gotten most of the bad guys out of the garden, I spread the worm castings around and worked them in a bit with my three-pronged hand rake and watered it in. Now, I had plans to stake the beans on that trip, but sadly left the stakes at home, so I planned another trip after supper when I took my mom out to meet friends. This time, I was wearing a full length sun dress and my Jackie-O sunglasses. Not really looking the part, but if I had to do a wardrobe change every time I went to the garden, I’d go less frequently that I already do.   

Young Roma Tomatoes

Young Roma Tomatoes

Both Amir and Nicole were there and they were over in a shot to offer advice and help out. Amir helped me position the poles in the right spots around the beans. I had thought that I would have to move the beans to sync up with the poles, but Amir showed me how to do it so that the happy bean plants wouldn’t be disturbed. I had wanted to take photos of everything to put here, but my daughter had pocketed the camera to record her day at the Steveston Salmon Festival so I was out of luck…until Nicole pulled her camera out of her bag and let me take the shots I wanted. They’ll be up as soon as Nicole has a chance to send them to me. The garden is getting so LUSH! Amir put some fertilizer on it a few days ago and it has greened up considerably. I also put fish fertilizer on it last weekend and, of course, the worm castings today. The warm weather is welcome and has made SUCH a difference! Amir encouraged me to harvest a row of arugla, which I did. He then told me I should move three tomato plants over and he gave me a bunch of arugula babies to put in. They filled up about a half a row, as he told me something really important…

Arugula. There are so many different types (and leaf shapes)!

Arugula. There are so many different types (and leaf shapes)!

Plant arugula seedlings close together, i.e. 1 inch. That seemed really close given the size of the seedlings, but Amir argues that they hold each other up and the closeness forces the plants up instead of out, so they get fuller and produce more of their delicious leaves. There you have it. My first tangible lesson.

Amir is definitely a food guy. He likes food and wine like I do, so we have lots to talk about. Too much, in fact. My garden visits can be a bit long given my schedule, but they are certainly therapeutic. I’ll go on Thursday to harvest another row of arugula and Amir has asked me to take some of his spinach, so Thursday will be a big salad night. I made my daughter a big salad with the lettuce and arugula I harvested tonight. It’s turning into a bountiful summer!

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