New soil to till.

I was tossing sizzling olives, garlic, and chilies in a hot pan at the stove when the phone rang last night. Nick handed it to me, and I jabbered on for a few minutes, squealing intermittently and so excitedly that Nick and his brother-in-law, Nathan, were certain something amazing must have happened.

“Did they offer you that job?” Nathan asked, as I had an interview recently that I thought went not too badly.

“Did we get into that co-op?” Nick asked, as we were told we’d have an interview for a place in Chinatown that’d cost half what we’re currently paying for rent each month.

“No,” I said, “and no. We DID get a community garden plot, though, over on sixth – aren’t you so excited?!”

And I was very excited, and while they both claimed to be very happy for me, I think they underestimated how riled up I can get, especially about little things like a plot of dirt beside an abandoned train track. They ought to know by now I’d be downright screechy about the job or the co-op – the subtle difference between sound-effects is very important.

Anyway. Last summer, the lady who gave us a spot in her yard let us know she’d be moving, and so we’d be losing our plot. I never got to see my butternut squash mature, as she moved away before the last harvest of the fall. I had gotten us on a waiting list for a few community gardens, but was told there would likely be no spaces in 2012 and so had fallen into a bit of a sulk, as one does.

And then, just like that, someone gave up his space, and this morning I signed a contract and promised not to be negligent and abandon my plot to the weeds. So we have a garden – and it is beautiful in the way I imagined The Secret Garden was when I read the book as a child – and there will be picnics there. There are communal lettuces, berries, rhubarb, and flowers, and birdhouses containing chickadees and bushtits (which made me laugh through my nose because I am, like, nine). Our plot is in need of some work, but all the tools are there for us and it’s already been given its allotment of fresh compost.

Now we just have to figure out what we’ll grow. Of course we will have radishes, and as many as possible. But what else? What seeds would you suggest to a pair of would-be gardeners on the west coast who want a high probability of success and do not desire a challenge?

Giving away The Homemade Pantry

When I grow up, I want to live high on a cliff in a little house with a red door, with the city close enough to bike to, with green and beach everywhere. There will be maple trees that turn bright orange and red in fall, and baby goats on my house’s grass roof. Nick will hunt in the forest and fish the water, and I will pick clams out of the sand and plant radishes in the garden and write stories from my breakfast nook. We will have kittens and teacup pigs and golden retrievers. There will be dinner parties every Saturday and long picnic lunches with pink wine that last until dusk every Sunday. When you come to visit we will drink hot tea and cold cider, and eat the bread I made fresh that morning with homemade ricotta and jam made from the blackberries that grow on the path down the hill to the shore.

I am a long way away from this, but it’s nice to fantasize and I often let my mind wander. Especially on days like today, where I misjudge the weather and wear sparkly ballet flats and capri pants when galoshes and a raincoat would have been a wiser choice and I come home with wet feet and make-up that’s traveled to all the wrong parts of my face. (When I grow up, I will know to buy waterproof mascara.) Especially this week, when it seems like I could do anything, because suddenly I am unemployed and don’t have any place to be.

There is a blog I like to visit, and it’s written by a charming woman from the type of verdant place I’d like to someday live. I’ve followed it for years now, since she first said hello to me. She writes about grand adventures and everyday ephemera, and the way she writes makes me feel like I am there with her in her kitchen, sitting at her table, nibbling warm pastries filled with homemade jam. And while I am always trying to write a book, she has actually gone and done it. Alana is who I want to be when I grow up.

The Homemade Pantry is a wonderful book, eloquent and beautiful, and it’s filled with recipes for things you can absolutely make but always just buy. Why not fill your freezer with homemade toaster pastries and wholesome chicken nuggets, and why not make your own mustard, butter, tea, vanilla extract, or crackers? These are all things any of us can make with things we already have in our kitchens and just a quiet weekend afternoon or weekday morning.

I want to give you this book. Well, one of you. I would give it to everyone but even in my grown-up fantasy I don’t have a lot of money. (This is something I should amend for future daydreams, maybe.)

Leave me a comment below and tell me a little story about the best thing you’ve ever eaten, made, or grown. On the evening of May 2, I’ll put the names in a hat and pick a winner at random. I’ll mail it anywhere, so it doesn’t matter where you’re from.

I’m really looking forward to sharing The Homemade Pantry with you!


I usually don’t do this, but Ethel the Dean is a good friend and when she suggests something, I go along with it. Also it’s my birthday so I’m feeling indulgent, so indulge me, won’t you? Even though I have to wonder who would want to know seven things about me – are there even that many that are interesting? My list of phobias is longer than that and I’ll bet no one wants to know the details about my self-destructive lavatory-specific neuroses. Suffice it to say I am very uncomfortable with camping. So instead, let’s talk dishes.

Seven dishes that I have enjoyed and hope you will enjoy too.

1. Momofuku Bo Ssam

I’ll admit to having what started as a culinary crush on David Chang … let’s just say that it has evolved with each Momofuku recipe I’ve made. This pork cooks so long and so low that when it comes out of the oven, it has the structural integrity of room-temperature butter. And that is such a good thing.

2. Pok Pok’s fish sauce chicken wings

You like honey garlic wings? Never make them again. Make these instead.

3. Martin Picard’s duck fat pancakes

There is really no excuse for these except that I sometimes have duck fat left over from roasting a bird and tend to feel extremely decadent on those Sundays we don’t go to my or Nick’s parents’. If you have leftover pork (see Bo Ssam, above), layer it between these pancakes and drizzle too much Canadian maple syrup over top. You will probably feel the heaviness of each beat of your heart for two to three days after, but it will be worth it, and you will feel alive, even if your lifespan is now three years shorter.

4. Vanilla roasted berries

I make these over and over again all winter long. Have you ever tried that coconut milk ice cream? It’s vegan and probably better for you than most of the things on this list; roast strawberries, and put them on that. Luscious.

5. Francis Lam’s ratatouille

This is probably the best ratatouille I have ever made. I make huge batches in September and early October and freeze it, and it reheats beautifully. It takes forever, but it is absolutely worth it. In the dark days of February, this dish thawed and reheated and served over cheesy polenta with crusty bread is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

6. Pork meatball bahn mi

Nick prefers sandwiches to just about every other category of food. His favourite are pork bahn mi, which we get from Ba Le on Fraser and Kingsway, where they cost $3.75 and come served on fresh-made baguettes. At home, this is his favourite version of a Vietnamese sandwich. We eat these while watching No Reservations and imagining a life of leisure on the shore of some Southeast Asian country we can’t afford to fly to.

7. Scallion pancakes

I just really like pancakes, you guys. These are good.

Unrelated self-promotion.

For an ongoing list of stuff I want to make or eat or buy, you can follow my ish on Pinterest. Also I have a Facebook page now too. You know. In case you’re over there and want to hang out or whatever. And as always, there is Twitter, which is where I forget myself and Tweet whatever pops into my head regardless of how embarrassing it is.

Twenty-nine. Weird.