Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb. For me it's a major contender for the title "Best of the intensities of spring." The competition includes ramps, lilacs, lilies of the valley, the sweet aroma of cottonwoods in new leaf, the fabulous sharp light...
I'm staying this Victoria Day weekend with a friend at her new place north of Toronto, near a village called Dunedin. Her house is built into the side of a hill, with air and wind and light in all directions. The breezes mean that there are no flies or mosquitoes, and being up on a hill gives a full panoramic view of a ridge of the Niagara Escarpment to the south and east. At night there's the vast starry sky.
Yesterday I went exploring early, before the heat (has the May long weekend ever been this hot?). There's a branch of the Bruce trail nearby, starting with a wooden stile at the roadside just down the hill. What a treat to be out in new-to-me country, with a trail to follow and birds and other morning sounds to keep me company. There was some elegant easy boardwalk over a long swampy stretch, then a climb, a bridge across a creek, grassy fields, airy hardwood forest, sweeps of dark ploughed earth, expanses of grassy pasture...and layers of greening landscape overlapping off into the distance.
In one forested stretch clumps of ramps showed green and healthy, and out in the grass there were patches of strawberries in white bloom, flagging the spot to go back and seek them out in a few weeks. This morning I took my friend and the other two who are staying up this weekend out on a walk on the trail. We breathed in the air, listened to the forest, breathed it all in and felt grateful, and renewed.
My friend wants to have a garden. But there's a problem: there are deer in these hills, tall white-tailed deer. Three of them were grazing on a slope in front of the house a couple of days ago. They caught sight of me as I came round the corner of the house and went leaping off, with huge bounds, but not running fast, their tails like white banners. Herbs will be fine, but with deer around any garden greens, lettuces, etc are doomed. We'll see if they like basil. Does anyone know? But at least on this sunny slope she'll be able to have lavender and the perennial herbs like thyme and tarragon and mint. And she wants masses of lilacs... Spring will be a heady perfumed time up here next year if all goes well.
Along the trail we came upon some ramps (wild leeks) growing in clumps, and some intensely fresh mint growing near a stream. We gathered dandelion greens and a few ramp; they'll all go into soup for lunch today, along with dried mushrooms. And then we'll have mint tea to refresh ourselves before we head back into the city.
And rhubarb? Well I brought some up from the city, grown locally, and cooked it up as part of supper on Saturday night. We were four, eating local pork that had been spice-rubbed, grilled, then sliced, along with quinoa, and stir-fried amarmanth greens. Wonderful. Then some people dropped by yesterday and brought more rhubarb, which became dessert last night (sweetened with a mix of maple syrup and honey).
But of all the food in this rather rambling (blame it on a relaxing weekend ) post, the one I want to tell you about is not local: almonds. My friend loves nuts. She makes sure to wash them thoroughly, to avoid mould, then she dries them in a cool oven (at about 100 fahrenheit) overnight. That's fine for walnuts etc. But with almonds she goes one further: She washes them, then soaks them for three days, changing the water each day, to get them to start sprouting. Then it's easy to slip them out of their peel/skin. She freezes the peeled almonds in batches.
The final goal is almond milk: almonds blended with warm water in a strong blender or osterizer make almond milk. You can then add other fruits to them to make a smoothie. But even more delicious was the breakfast she made for us yesterday: Heat the freshly made almond milk in a pot, add oatmeal and cook it in the almond milk. Then, and this will give you pause, whisk together a couple of eggs and stir them into the hot mass of oatmeal and milk. When they're just cooked, serve in bowls, and add honey to sweetened a little, or fruit, if you want.
It sounds and reads and looks like a wild combo. It's delicious, satisfying, a new horizon for me.
(One thing I loved about the oatmeal was that there was no milkiness to it. I don't like fresh milk, and it doesn't like me much either! To be eating oatmeal, which I like a lot, without having any queasy feeling, no milky bubble in my throat, was a revelation, a whole new oatmeal experience.)
Now to find organic almonds and start the soaking/sprouting process.
Sprouting...another springing-to-life idea. How wonderful.