garden boxing

I take a few months off blogging and, woops! There goes all the news and activities piling up.

I upended my vegetable garden.

Well, not literally, I guess.

When we moved into the house I was resolute on the idea of devoting a chunk of the yard to a vegetable garden. It was a family thing. My parents had a huge garden. Both sets of my grandparents were avid gardeners. My in-laws have a huge garden. My wife’s grandparents lived in their garden and even maintained a second one on their old farmstead after they moved into town. It seemed like gardening was almost hereditary.

So we devoted a full third of our backyard to a plot of black soil and for a solid decade tended, cared, enhanced, refined and evolved it into a pretty respectable garden plot.

I don’t know why it slipped, but it eventually did.

It’s been five years since we’ve had a respectable harvest from our respectable garden plot.

Invasive weeds. Mice eat all the carrot tops. Wasps took over our lettuce patch last year. The potatoes seem to have given up completely as fewer come out of the ground than go in as seeds.

I didn’t want to call it quits, but I decided last fall that I needed a rethink.

The rethink came in the form of a raised garden box.

I built a square box (atop where the old box-bed had sat, which I demolished) out of 4×6 by eight foot treated posts stacked three tall. I lined it with mesh and recycled cardboard. I filled it with a blend of salvaged soil (from lowering the grade slightly around the box), peat, and free compost from the City’s green-waste composting program. Around the box I’ll grow in the grass as a lawn, but all good things in time. As for the box itself:

I mixed and raked it.

I irrigated it.

I hung up some stuff to startle the magpies.

And I planted a few tomatoes, a couple peppers, a squash, a bunch of carrots, beets, lettuce and a scattering of radishes.

It’s May long weekend, the weekend in Canada when all good gardeners are fully planted for the season. I’m fully planted. Does that make me a good gardener again?

Moka Express

In my quest to find a great replacement for my afternoon cup of coffee, having ditched the pod machines and spent a solid year tuning and enjoying my pour over game, Santa was kind enough to bring me a moka pot for Christmas this year.

And I’ve been having a great, well-caffeinated time learning to use it.

As I understand it, the moka pot is a bit old fashioned. Originating in Italy, it was a popular home brewing gadget after the Second World War but prior to the proliferation of the drip machine.

A three part contraption, the funnel-filter in the middle is filled with ground coffee and as the water boils in the bottom chamber it pressure-rises through and up, percolating and filling the upper chamber with espresso-like coffee.

The result is not a true espresso, though it’s close. An yet it’s much stronger than drip coffee.

I’ve been mixing hot-to-boiling water into mine at a ratio of roughly 1 part moka brew to 2 parts water, and the result is an almost-Americano-like drink that is full of flavour and body in a way that even my best drip coffee pour overs have trouble achieving.

About a scoop and a half of ground coffee fills the filter and less than ten minutes on my simmer burner has a steaming cup of better-than-average-joe in my mug and ready to fuel the afternoon office push of video meetings and budget plotting and government paperwork.

None of this is push button, but between my pour overs (which are cheap, fast, and simple) and my moka pot americanos (which are slower, use a bit more raw ingredients, but overall tastier) I think I’m narrowing in on some old fashioned solutions to a modern problem: single serve simple afternoon coffee for the work-from-home desk jockey.

At the end of the day, my whole scheme here is one of reducing the number of plastic, disposable pods I formerly used to create mediocre (and relatively expensive) afternoon cups. Pour overs and moka pots are about exploring something quick and easy in the coffee brewing effort.

And overall I’m rating this adventure quite high.

Also… the Coffee Singularity Has Arrived

I asked ChatGTP how to make coffee with a moka pot. Here’s it’s answer:

A Moka pot, also known as a stovetop espresso maker, is a simple and traditional way of making coffee. Here’s the basic process for using a Moka pot to make coffee:

  1. Fill the bottom chamber of the Moka pot with cold water, up to the level of the pressure valve.
  2. Add ground coffee to the metal filter basket in the middle chamber, tamping it down lightly.
  3. Assemble the Moka pot by placing the middle chamber with the coffee and filter basket on top of the bottom chamber with the water. Make sure the gasket and filter plate are properly in place.
  4. Place the Moka pot on the stovetop over medium heat. Do not use high heat or let the water boil.
  5. As the water in the bottom chamber heats up, it will begin to create pressure, forcing the water through the coffee and into the top chamber. Once the coffee has started to fill the top chamber, you can hear a gurgling noise, at this point you can remove it from the heat to prevent the coffee from getting burned.
  6. Once all the water has passed through the coffee, the pot will make a distinctive “hissing” sound, indicating that the coffee is ready. Carefully pour the coffee into cups, being careful not to burn yourself on the steam or hot metal.

Note that, Moka pot often extract a strong coffee with a bold, rich flavor and a thick crema on top. Also remember, to clean the pot after each use, to ensure that you’ll always get the best flavor out of your coffee.

Scratch Soup

Regular readers may recall that following a hearty New Years Eve dinner with friends, I upcycled the leftover beef bones and made a big pot of new years stock.

Beef stock.


…which, of course, can be used for all sorts of amazing things, and in particular homemade soup.

I make soup quite frequently, but claiming that I follow any sort of recipe is quite far from reality.

I tend to make scratch soup.

Soup. From scratch. From whatever.

For example, the scratch soup I made recently from my (also recently) made beef stock looked a little something like the photo below:

Scratch soup has a little of this. And a little of that. And a little of this other thing, cooked together into a lovely, luscious meal in a bowl.

For example, this bowl of scratch soup looked a little something like this:

a (kinda) recipe

2 cups beef stock
2 cups of water
1 tablespoon of flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
handful leftover roast beef chunks
the leftover peas and carrots from dinner
a bit of leftover chopped onion
the remains of that bag of dried pasta
salt, pepper, and a squirt of hot sauce

Using up leftovers, scrounging bits of vegetables from the refrigerator, gauging spices, and adding bits that make texture and flavours and spicyness to what you and your culinary audience likes… this is what makes a good scratch soup.

Tomorrow’s soup might look a lot different. For example, I know we’ve got a half can of black beans, a partial bag of gnocchi and a leftover sausage in the fridge. Sounds good to me, but the day after that those same ingredients will be gone and I’ll be working with a new collection.

Scratch soup is whatever you make it.

Maybe you use leftovers.

Maybe you keep a few key ingredients handy or frozen nearby.

Maybe you go simple.

Maybe you love complexity.

Ultimately it’s your scratch, to itch with whatever you think would make a great soup.

taking stock, making stock

New Years Day and it’s officially 2023.

We host a party every new years with our camping friends. We don’t camp on new years eve, but instead we cook a big meal in our warm house and then wander over to the park to skate or sled or (if they’re not cancelled like last night) watch the fireworks.

We play games. We talk. We drink and we cook a big meal.

We splurged last night and spent inflation-grade prices for a huge piece of beef prime rib that we cooked and carved and served.

Left over was a small stack of beef bones that I carefully shaved the best bits of meat off of and then promptly hid in a baggie at the back of the fridge. Gnawing on a big old bone would not be unheard of with our crowd, but I was saving these for my New Years Stock.


beef bones and leftover trimmings
bay leaves

In a big ol’stock pot, bring it all to a boil then let it simmer for as long as you can. Four hours, for hours, for ever. Ideally about five to ten hours of cooking renders all the beef tissues and pulls all the aromatics from the vegetables and turns leftovers into a golden-hued liquid that is amazing for all your upcoming cooking needs.

New Years is a time for taking stock.

We make resolutions to be better or do better or feel better.

I made stock, which was a kind of literal taking stock of some things about using up leftovers and cooking even more at home and thinking about flavours and ingredients and other foodie-type thoughts.

Not a bad way to end the old year, and an even better way to start the new one.

Happy New Year.