My West Coast Patio Square Foot Garden

If you follow my blog you will know that I'm a big fan of square foot gardening.  This is a terrific method of getting as many vegetables as possible from a small place - and nowhere is this more important than when you are gardening on a balcony or patio.

I've recently moved to the West Coast where the weather is thankfully much milder than in the East, and where gardening can start much earlier.  Even though I live in a condo now instead of the large house I had for several decades, I am looking forward to the challenge of seeing how much I can grow.

As you can see above, even though my old Ontario village is just getting rid of the last of the winter snow, I've already made a good start on my garden.

And, as usual, I am always looking for things that will make my life a little bit easier.

While checking out local seed companies looking for small varieties that would be suitable for container growing, I found a great option for anyone wanting to grow a square foot garden in any size spot.  These new (or at least new to me) products look like the perfect apartment or condo dwellers answer to growing a garden in a very limited amount of room.

As you can see the idea is pretty ingenious.  You don't have to worry about heavy pots.  These are sturdy canvas-type bags which, when filled, give you exactly one square foot of planting area, allowing you to have whatever size garden you have room for.  They are easy to manoeuvre and, if need be, can always be emptied and folded away when the growing season is over.

As well, to allow for proper drainage, there are special mats that you can buy to put under these containers.  These will elevated them of your deck (or bench in my case) and allow water to drain so your plants don't become water logged.  They also protect your deck or bench from rot caused by standing water. 

I have four of these square containers for my salad garden.  One contains spinach and radishes, one mixed salad greens, one baby Tom Thumb butter lettuce, and one kale.  And as you can see they are already growing well.

In fact I just harvested my first crop today - rosy juicy radishes for my lunch salad!

You can get something very similar here. Smart Pots 5-Gallon Smart Pot Soft-Sided Container, Black  As you can see these are great for growing any kind of vegetable, not just salad.

I also have a large tall pot Tusco Products CTU32ES Cosmopolitan Tall Square Garden Planter, 32-Inch, Espresso that can be used both for larger plants or as a garden pot.  I use it for my lemon tree which I will be bringing in for the winter as well, but it would also be suitable for any vegetable and would really look nice especially on a balcony.

To round out my garden I also have two pots of tomatoes - one beefsteak and one cherry- and I already have a few flowers starting to form.

And of course I've planted a big pot of basil - for what good are tomatoes without basil and pesto?!?

 The second innovation I found for my patio garden are these great herb pots. Algreen 15305 Self Watering Modena Windowsill Planter and Herb Garden, Gloss Black They are not cheap, but they will allow me to grown herbs outside in the summer and inside on my sunny window in the winter so I can have them year round. 

They consist of three parts.  An inner container for planting, and outer shell for holding water, and a guage that tells you when your plants have dried out and need more water.  I can see this being especially helpful in the winter when the indoor heating makes it easy for plants to dry out if you don't watch them carefully. 

Of course as far as I'm concerned a garden isn't complete unless there are also flowers - to attract bees and also to cut for the home - which is why I consider myself very lucky to have found this lovely spot where there are already many flowering plants and bushes.

My contribution has been to plant three pots of roses that I've placed on my steps where they get lots of sun and are thriving in this west coast English-style weather.

Finally, I want to tell you about another product that I wouldn't want to be without.  This plastic watering can made in England Bosmere N570 Plastic Outdoor Watering Can, 2.6-Gallon, Blue is light weight but holds a lot of water - perfect when you need to cart water outside to water plants.  The watering head is removable and stores on the special hook so you can either have the sprinkler head or just pour out of the spout.

I have it in the usual green, but it also comes in light blue and - if you want a real splash of colour - red. 

Even though I no longer have the large vegetable garden I used to have, I am looking forward to still doing a bit of gardening.  I will post an update once a month or so because I want you all to see what can be done even if you are working with a very limited space.

 “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw


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Seasonal Eating : Fiddleheads

photo by

If you're keen to start eating with the seasons, there is nowhere better to start than in the Spring with Fiddleheads.  

These beautiful little plants are so called because they resemble the head of a fiddle as they unfold.  But they are not only beautiful to look at, they are also a nutritional powerhouse as you can see from this chart published by the USDA.

Briefly, here are some of the main nutritional advantages of eating fiddleheads :
  • They have only 34 calories per 100g, so have a very high nutrition calorie ratio.
  • Very high in vitamin A.  A serving contains 120% of the suggested daily requirement. This vitamin is essential for healthy skin and protects your eye sight.
  • They also contain 44% of the daily requirement of vitamin C, protecting you from colds, inflammation and some cancers.
  • A very good source of minerals and electrolytes, especially potassium, iron, manganese and copper, helping to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Fiddleheads also contain small to moderate amounts of some B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin and thiamin.

photo by Amy

Fiddleheads grow so quickly that they must be picked the day after they sprout otherwise they will quickly grow into ferns.  They grow wildly in North America, most abundantly along the East coast.  In early spring, especially after a light rain, you will often find that they have popped up overnight.  

The best place to look for them is in a shady wooded area, but if you've never picked them before it's best to take a foraging course or to go with someone who has had a bit of experience.

If foraging seems too much like hard work, these are also commonly available in grocery stores. 

Look for bright green plants that are tightly packed and have no brown spots.  They will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge.

If you are keen to try them pick them up as soon as you see them.  The season is so short that they fly off the supermarket shelves as soon as they appear, and if you don't grab them right away you will probably miss out. 

photo by Paul Hancock

Fiddleheads need to be well cleaned before you use them, but this is easy to do. Just dump them into a pot of boiling water and cook them for a minute or two.  Then strain and rinse with cold water.  Any dirt and scales will go down the drain, and you will be left with clean ready-to-eat fiddleheads that you can either cook right away or freeze for later.

These tender little plants taste very similar to asparagus and can be used in many of the same recipes.  They make a nice change in creamy soups, quiche, or even just quickly stir-fried as a side dish for your favourite seafood, poultry or meat dish.  

photo by John Herschell

The easiest method of preparing fiddleheads is to stir-fry them.  Put them into a pan with a knob of butter and a little garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook over high heat for just 2 or 3 minutes until tender but still crunchy.   Once cooked you can also refrigerate them and add them to your salads during the week.

However you choose to eat them, fiddleheads will not only add variety to your menus, but give you a nutritional boost as well, and you can feel good about eating locally and in season. 

 “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw


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Paleo Starbucks Orange Cake - plus an extra benefit

Decades ago a friend of mine came back from Barbados with a delectable recipe for a tangerine cake which involved boiling the tangerines.  It was a great cake and I enjoyed making it many times, but over the years I somehow managed to misplace the recipe.

I was thrilled to see that Elana from Elana's pantry makes a similar cake, and since it's grain free it's actually Paleo friendly as well.  She uses oranges instead of tangerines, but the idea is basically the same.

It was also news to me that Starbuck's carried a similar cake.  Since I've been going there for years I don't know how I missed it, but since it likely was not grain or sugar free it's probably a good thing.

My version is both grain and sugar free.  Elana uses agave nectar or honey in her cake.  I prefer to use Xylitol which is my sweetener of choice these days. I'm sure it would also work well with coconut sugar.

There are only 6 ingredients in this cake, and other than the boiling, it will only take a few minutes for you to whip it up in your food processor. It makes 6 to 8 servings - depending on how much you want to indulge!

This is a very easy cake to make, however there is one very important rule - you can ONLY use ORGANIC oranges !!!

Organic oranges are grown without any chemicals and the skin is fine to eat.  Non organic oranges however are a completely different thing.  They are sprayed with lots of different chemicals - a veritable chemical soup in fact. A lot of these chemicals stay in the skin, which is why you are relatively safe to eat the fruit once you've removed it, but in this recipe you are using the skin as well as the fruit so the oranges HAVE to be organically grown.

Ingredients :

2 organic oranges
4 large eggs
3/4 cup Xylitol, coconut sugar, or your sweetener of choice
2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions :
  • Wash the oranges very well with soap and water, rinse well, then place them into a saucepan with water to cover.
  • Boil them, covered, (peel and all) on a low boil for 1 1/2 hours, or until they are very soft.
  • Preheat your oven to 375'F.
  • Prepare a 9" cake pan by greasing it, placing a parchment paper disc on the bottom, and then greasing this as well. (This will help you get the cake out very easily.)
  • Once the oranges are soft, take them out of the water.  Don't throw this water away, just set it aside. (More on this later.)
  • Place the whole boiled oranges (again, peel and all) into your food processor.  You will probably find you will need to cut them in half to fit.
  • Now blend until you have a smooth puree.  There should be no bits of peel visible.
  • Add the eggs and sugar and process until blended.
  • Add the almond flour, salt and baking soda and again process until well blended.
  • Immediately pour the batter into your prepared cake tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the top springs back when you lightly touch it with your finger.
  • I don't mind the brown top on the cake, but if you would prefer it to be more golden, just cover the cake pan with foil for the last 15 minutes of baking time.
  • Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.
  • This is a lovely, light but rich tasting cake, and doesn't require any icing, but if you want to serve something with it, a scoop of ice cream or a spoon full of whipped cream makes a nice accompaniment. 

So now here is the extra benefit....

You know the water from the orange pan that I asked you to set aside?  

Don't waste it. Pour this into a glass bottle or jar and set it in your fridge to cool.  This is a lovely clear water, heavily scented with orange peel, and perfect for use as a flavouring or scent for many things.

If you love the scent of oranges as much as I do you will find many uses for it.  I use it as a linen spray and spray it on my pillow cases before I dry them in the dryer.  In the winter, when the air in my home is very dry from the constant heating, I put it into my steamer and use it to perfume the air .... and dream of sunny orange groves !

I also sometimes add a cup to my hot epsum salt and baking soda bath that I take each evening.  This not only soothes my muscles but also soothes my mind and makes it easier to fall asleep. By the way, this bath is also a great aid for weight loss and detoxing, allowing you to more easily get rid of impurities through your skin. 

But my favourite use for this orange water is as a water flavouring.  We all know we need to drink more water, but sometimes it just doesn't taste all that great.  You can add all kinds of things to it like fruit and cucumber slices, but then you have to deal with the mushy mess afterwards.  

When you add this water you don't have to deal with any of that.  I just pour about a half inch into my glass then fill with either filtered or sparkling water and enjoy.  It not only tastes great but smells good too. 

If you drink this I'd keep it in the fridge, but for other uses it's okay to just keep it in a cupboard.

So that's my money saving dessert recipe for today. Oh, and did I mention?  Your home will smell amazing while you're making this. All in all, I think it's a great way to get lots of value from just two oranges!

 “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw


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Quick & Easy Dinner for One - Asparagus & Ham

We all know we should take the time to cook a healthy dinner every night.  Protein and a couple of vegetables.  But for many of us that doesn't happen.  

Especially when you live alone, after a full day, the last thing you feel like doing many days is cooking.  There have been many nights when a couple of slices of almond bread with cheese and a glass of wine have been dinner.  Not that bad for you every once in a while, but not something you want to be having every day.

That's why I've been looking for quick and easy meals I can put together without too much trouble in just a few minutes.  Things that don't require much more work than heating up a frozen diet dinner - but much better for me.

Here is last night's dinner.  Quick, Easy ..... and delicious.

Ingredients :

8 asparagus stalks
4 medium thick slices nitrate-free ham
8 cherry tomatoes
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons table cream
1 tablespoon Boursin herb & garlic cream cheese (or your favourite flavour)

Directions :
  • Heat your toaster oven to 400'F.
  • Wash and dry the asparagus and snap off the ends.
  • Wrap 2 spears in each slice of ham as shown above and place on a small oven tray.
  • Wash and dry the cherry tomatoes and add these to the tray.
  • Sprinkle liberally with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile place the cream and the cheese in a small dish (I use an egg cup) and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir.
  • When the 15 minutes are up, place the ham wrapped asparagus on a plate and drizzle with the cheese sauce.  Add the cherry tomatoes and enjoy.
This makes a great light supper, especially if you add a glass of red wine and a couple of squares of dark chocolate for dessert.  You can always add a small side salad as well.

This amazingly simple meal looks nice enough for company.  If you serve this at your next dinner party I'm sure nobody will complain, and they will certainly never know just how quickly and easily you put this together.

 “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw


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Easy Mexican Breakfast Casserole

At this time of year when it's still cold in most places, a hot breakfast really hits the spot, but most of us don't have the time to cook in the morning.  Here is my solution - the easy Mexican Breakfast Casserole.  This is ready in 5 minutes - not much longer than it takes you to brew your coffee - and will keep you full and satisfied until lunch.

Ingredients :

3 slices chopped, pre-cooked bacon (bought or cooked ahead on the weekend and refrigerated.  Read my post here for how to easily cook ahead bacon in the oven.)
1/2 small onion, chopped (you can buy chopped onion in your produce section to make this even faster)
2 large eggs
1/2 an avocado, chopped
2 tablespoons salsa (mild, medium or hot - however you like it !)

Directions :

  • Put the chopped bacon and the chopped onion into a small non-stick frying pan over hight heat and cook for one minute stirring often with a wooden spoon until the onion has softened and is beginning to brown.  
  • Break the eggs over the bacon onion mixture and turn the heat down to low.  Now you can go make your coffee while the eggs cook.  This will take 2 to 4 minutes depending on how runny you like them.
  • Once the eggs are cooked, slide the whole mixture into a bowl, add the salsa and avocado, and enjoy!

The key to having your eggs cook all the way through is to make sure you cook them over slow heat.  Otherwise you might find that you have raw egg white mixed in with your bacon and onion and this isn't very tasty.  Another thing you can do to speed the cooking of your eggs is to put a top over the pan.  Just watch this carefully because it does cook a lot faster.


I find that what really makes this dish is really good quality salsa. After trying many different brands over the years, my favourite by far is Green Mountain Gringo.  It's not the cheapest salsa out there, but the flavour is so fresh tasting, and since it's all natural with no preservatives, for me it's definitely worth the money.  A jar will last a long time - unless of course you're a salsa fanatic!

                  “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw


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