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A Photographic Journey through Nature on Vancouver Island

 

Nature is the ultimate healer. Connect with nature through my photographic journey around Central Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Contemplate the beauty of Winter and the coming of Spring. Enjoy the improvisational music of piano and cello.

Please see my full photo gallery here.

I love all things sustainable, local and organic. I am a nature enthusiast, gardener, photographer, writer and hiker. My passion lies in connecting and reconnecting people with the power of nature and planet earth.

It is my belief that those who are connected with nature are good stewards of the earth. Photographing the beauty that lies so blatantly around us is one way to encourage and empower others to go out into nature – to explore and to restore their body and mind.

~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Inspirational Tuesday ~ Cultivating A Community Garden

Cultivating a Community Garden

I’m always looking for ways to get creative in the garden. Yesterday, we dug up the center island on our street – kids with shovels, me with shovels of compost (created naturally from the fallen leaves of the various bushes and shrubs in our front yard) and seeds everywhere – it was a sight to behold. Especially since the area looked like a mole’s dream or a mammoth’s worst nightmare.

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Before

The children enjoyed digging up the very sandy and firmly packed soil from years of snow and sand being packed on it. Once the soil was a bit looser, it was time to add some much needed compost.

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Betwixt

Here is the finished product for now. We planted some primroses as well as sunflower, lupin, nasturtium and hollyhock seeds. As always, the rain began to fall at just the right time. The plan is to add a watering station for bees in the next phase of development.

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After

Once the weather gets a bit warmer, my plan is to start growing culinary and medicinal herbs for the neighbourhood to share. How nice would it be to run out of the house, snip a few stems of fresh oregano or thyme for soup?

~Grow~Share~Thrive~

All photographs by Jane Grueber Copyright 2016 & 2017

Please see my Photo Gallery here.

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Inspirational Tuesday ~ A Little Cookbook for Plant-Based Satisfaction

Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine by Tal Ronnen published in 2015

I have been waiting for this book to arrive at the library since requesting it a month ago. It is madly in demand. Now that I have it in hand, I am perusing it with fervor.

Tal Ronnen is the chef mastermind behind the Mediterranean plant-based restaurant Crossroads in LA and he’s got an infectious attitude and overall philosophy on food and life. His joy and creativity shine through on the pages of this book.

As I am planting seeds in our garden, spinach and radishes when the crocuses bloom,  I am planning all the wonderful meals to be made and the recipes to be tried using all those fresh vegetables.

Cookbooks are a source of inspiration and recipes are general ‘guidelines’ for me. In our kitchen there is a lot of cooking by eye and by taste. I love this book because it is written for the home cook and yet I feel like a chef churning out these delicious plant-based dishes that are deeply flavorful, interesting (not the same old blah) and possess satisfying textures.

For other plant-based cookbooks see my resource list here.

Tal turned to plant-based eating overnight in high school and never regretted it. He experienced challenges with dinning out at a time when vegan menus were non-existent. He studied classic French cooking techniques (often centered around animal protein) all so that he could use those skills to create superior plant-based dishes.

“As a lover of food, I realized it wasn’t the animal products I actually longed for, but the texture, the flavor, the heartiness, and the satisfaction I’d feel when I indulge in a favorite food….The challenge of vegan cooking lies in not cheapening the food by making it feel like it’s a knockoff of itself or a shadow of the original, but rather in making vegetables shine in their own right while still satisfying those cravings.”

He goes on to write about the perceived restrictiveness of eating vegan and is on a mission to open our minds and palates to whole new world of vegan cuisine as well as techniques to ensure that vegan meals appeal to the general population. He wants us to get excited about cooking meat-, dairy-, and egg-free.

Crossroads takes “vegan” out of the equation and invites you to use it like every other cookbook on your shelf.” 

According to the writer of the Foreword, who happens to be a meat-eating and meat-cooking chef/restaurateur from down the street, “Tal Ronnen is the only chef who cooks for meat-eaters”.

I smiled at this insight because that is exactly how I feel in my home…I am cooking vegetables for meat-eaters and the food has to be that damn good for them to eat it.

Crossroads includes many great hints and tricks that are ever so helpful for a vegan in transition like me. With this book, I feel like I am in the know – not starring from the outside in.

He uses nutritional yeast flakes which you can buy in bulk at any health food store near you in North America. Those who use it know the wonderful kick it gives to any dish including soups, sauces or dips. For those who have not tried it, it gives dishes a nice cheesy, nutty, savory quality that takes your dish to another level.

Harissa is a spice mixture, used in Moroccan cuisine, that adds a lovely punch and complements other ingredients. It is a mixture of hot chilies, paprika, garlic, cumin, and coriander. You can easily find this as a dry spice mix or in a paste format at your local grocery store or you can make your own.

I have to say that EVERY recipe in this book is top notch…my jaw is still on the floor. I make the recipes and the food tastes like you would want it to.

This book is a must have for your Vegan cookbook arsenal. If you are transitioning to plant-based eating, this is an excellent cookbook to begin your journey.

Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine

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All photography by Jane & Greg Grueber

See Jane Grueber’s Photo Gallery here.

 

 

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Growing Urban ~ Here We Grow

All photographs by Jane Grueber Copyright 2017

Here we go. Finally the time has come to get our food garden plans underway on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It is so wonderful to see people sharing their joy of growing food on social media. Their joy and enthusiasm are highly contagious and fill me with inspiration for 2017. I am inspired by the principles of Permaculture (being fully aware that it is so much more than ‘gardening’) and appreciate Geoff Lawton’s inclusive invitation to his Permaculture Circle to those who are just starting out or perma-curious as well as those for whom it’s old hat.

Last year, we started growing our own food in our back and side yard for fun. It was a way to show our three kids where food comes from and how to grow it. After seeing and tasting the results of what benign neglect in a garden can produce, I was eager to grow more of our own. Our front lawn has a usable area of about 360 square feet (9 feet by 40 feet). We have planted fruit shrubs among the existing decorative bushes and trees and it is now time to turn the grass into a vegetable garden.

Read more about our Front Yard Urban Garden Project here.

This year, we have decided to conduct an experiment in our very sunny front yard which has thus far been a haven for weeds, dandelions and moss. The plan is to set up garden beds using  compost, yard ‘waste’ and mulch to grow vegetables, herbs and companion plants in semi-accordance with Permaculture principles that I have managed to glean from various sources.

On a side note, our fenced backyard is well on its way to becoming a self-sustaining fruit forest (tall native fruit trees, native fruit shrubs underneath, perennial herbs and flowers, etc.) where the deer and bears can’t get at them while still affording some room for three young kids to roam.

Read more about inspiring examples of Urban Agriculture here.

At the end of this experiment, I want to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much produce can a roughly 360 square foot garden yield?
  • Can a front yard garden feed a family of 5 for an entire 22 week growing season and beyond?
  • Can we grow enough food to share with others?
  • Can growing our own save us money overall?
  • Can we set up a viable (and deer proof) garden with minimal investment of time and money?
  • Is the effort to grow our own food worth it? (or is it just easier to go to a store and buy)
  • Can we help other busy families and neighbours set up and grow their own food with minimal cost through sharing of resources, seeds, and skills?

Read more about Creating Food Security in your small circle here.

With six 8 foot by 4 foot garden beds to fill (to be built), we decided to start a few plants in the house now. We will start more in about 3 weeks in order to stretch the yield over a longer period of time. Last year, I put everything in at once and felt the consequences of feast and famine later.

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My hope is that once the weather gets warmer in April, these seedling will be ready to go.

We also have plenty of seeds saved from last year which will go directly into the ground.

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This is what we planted so far:

18 tomato plants

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  1. Money Maker Tomato – heavy producer
  2. Bush Beef Steak Tomato – great slicing tomato; sweet flavour
  3. Cherry Tomato Sweetie – plants produce sweet (1 oz) cherry red fruit throughout the summer
  4. Jubilee Tomato – in intermediate beefsteak variety that produces golden-orange fruit 1/2 lbs in weight

12 Zucchini/Squash

  1. Waltham Butternut Squash – a very heavy producer of bulbous shaped, creamy yellow smooth skinned fruit
  2. Golden Zucchini (C. Pepo)
  3. Yokohama Squash (C. Moschata)
  4. Dark Green Zucchini – easy to grow, plants mature quickly, heavy yield
  5. Spaghetti Squash – winter or storage squash
  6. Ronde De Nice Zucchini (C. Pepo)

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12 Cucumbers

  1. Beit Alpha Cucumber

3 Watermelon

  1. Sugar Baby Watermelon – a dependable, easy-to-grow variety that produces round, sweet, crisp melons.

3 Giant Atlantic Dill Pumpkins – produces pumpkins over 3 feet across weighing over 100 lbs

15 Nasturtium

  1. Single Tall Climbing nasturtium
  2. Alaska Mix – dwarf nasturtium with marbled foliage
  3. Empress of India
  4. Whirlybird
  5. Phoenix

6 Peas

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  1. Oregon Sugar Pod – Mild, sweet flavour, heavy yield
  2. Lincoln Homesteader Peas – good early crop, heavy yield

6 Beans/Legumes

  1. Tendergreen Bush Beans – great flavour and large yield
  2. Bush Beans – early starters

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~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Turbo the Dog sniffing Bush Beans

 

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Inspirational Tuesday ~ Children & Nature: The Ultimate Outdoor Playground

Cool crisp air, salty water, shells, seaweed, rocks, drift wood, waves, tides, tree roots, jelly fish, and bald eagles swooping to catch their morning meal are just some of mother nature’s offerings in her classroom.

This quiet empty beach creates space for reflection, gratitude and boundless invention. Imagination roams amidst the shallow pools left behind by the tide.
Crabs, barnacles and jelly fish linger. Shells of all sizes, some kissed by the indigo light of the deep ocean, some by the pink rays of dawn, dwell here and serve as excavators.
The freedom and joy found here transcends words. Creating future stewards of the earth requires them to experience the boundless power of nature and all its riches.
There is much joy to experience in the simple things offered freely by the earth. Silence, freedom to be, to experience, to feel, to absorb.

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~Follow Your Joy~

All photographs by Jane Grueber 

Photographed on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

See more of my Photo Gallery at JaneGrueber.com

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The Blue Winter Sky

All pictures by Jane Grueber Copyright 2017

View my Photo Gallery here

I believe it is possible to sit by the water, write, ponder and observe the winter sky over Vancouver Island infinitely. There is something about the blue and the depths beyond that intrigues.

It often rains here during the winter. It is a wondrous delight when the grey skies are swapped for the sunniest blues. Blue brings promise of spring and sun. A renewal of the spirit.

The rain has its beauty also. Waking up to a misty morning sets a contemplative mood. Walking in the winter mist by the calm ocean has a way of soothing the busy mind.

If we could all be more like the sky. Free to take any shape and form without judgment. Free to feel dark at times, and sunny at others. Free to take our time. Free to view things from a higher perspective.

                        ~Grow~Share~Thrive~

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Brew Tea with Benefits

The calming aroma of this tea boiling up on the stove is enough to induce a Zen-like state. Drinking it is meditative. The glow from within that follows creates a reflective sense of relaxation that is lasting and unforgettable.

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Tea cup and saucer were acquired from a local thrift store.

I look forward to my ‘tea’ ritual and its soothing benefits on a daily basis. The ingredients are always at the top of my mind and I am perpetually on the lookout for organic ginger and turmeric. Luckily, mint and thyme continue to grow in our garden no matter how much snow falls.

Read more about our Front Yard Urban Garden Project here.

This delightful tea came together from experimentation in our kitchen. Ginger root tea is something that was brewed in my home when I was growing up as a way to help recover from viruses and to combat some of the associated symptoms such as a sore throat or congestion. The ingredients are typically lingering in our refrigerator and are included in the creation of all kinds of delicious beverages and dishes as a matter of course.

I am largely a coffee addict; however, I do harbor a predilection for ‘tea’ with benefits. Having just gone through a family bout of gastroenteritis (all kids and husband got it), I have been diving deep into this bug-be-gone concoction.  This tea pulls double duty. Not only is it relaxation inducing, it is also a ‘home rescue remedy’ for those times when I feel something coming on.

Does it really work to stave off the winter snuffles or gastroenteritis?  I can’t be sure but it may just be worth a try. Besides, creating a cup of natural, deliciously aromatic and healing tea is an act of self-love and self-care that I, or anyone that I know, rarely do.

The ingredients: ginger root, turmeric root, thyme or fresh mint, garlic cloves (optional), cinnamon bark, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and honey.

The ginger and cayenne are said to improve circulation, the garlic and lemon help to boost the immune system (you can always leave the garlic out…it depends on how desperate you feel the intervention needs to be) and mint or thyme soothe a sore throat. The honey helps it all go down more smoothly.

Don’t let the ingredients put you off. This tea is mild, gentle, aromatic, soothing and sweet. You can sip it all day long. Adjust the lemon, honey and cayenne to your taste.

This recipe makes approximately 4 tea cups.

Ingredients

 4 cups of water

1/2 cup organic ginger & turmeric root (approx. 2 small roots), washed and sliced

4-5 sprigs of thyme or mint (I often use both straight out of the garden)

2 cinnamon sticks

2 garlic cloves (optional)

For each cup

lemon juice from 1 lemon, or to taste

1 tablespoon of honey, or to taste

small pinch of cayenne pepper (start with a very small pinch)

How To

  1. Place all tea ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring to boil and gently simmer for 20 minutes.

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2. Pour lemon juice, honey and add pinch of cayenne pepper in a cup for each serving.

3. Strain tea into the cup and stir until all honey is dissolved.

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4.  Drink hot and keep the remaining liquid for later.

 

~Brew~Share~Thrive~

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Inspirational Tuesday ~ Growing A Sensory Garden

A Sensory Garden

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The benefits of ‘sensory gardens’ are well documented and widely written about. They can be a calming sanctuary for those suffering from traumatic brain injury, mental health challenges, developmental difficulties, or neurodegenerative diseases to name a few. For the young and young at heart, they provide a welcoming environment for exploration, learning and communion with nature right in the yard.

In addition to growing food for our family and neighbours, I want to make a ‘sensory garden’ in our front yard where we can enjoy the power of nature – take in the smells, sights and textures, the sounds of chimes and birds as well as to provide food and water for our neighbourhood pollinators.

Read more about our Front Yard Urban Garden Project

Listen to my Radio Appearance Talking about My Personal Experience with Food Security and Safety

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We intentionally chose flowers that will support the local ecosystem. Not only are these flowers beautiful to behold, they also make great companions to the vegetables in the garden.

The plan is to wind the  ‘sensory garden’ throughout the front yard garden. Companion planting is placing two or more plant species close together so that they may benefit each other by attracting or dettering pests, keeping the soil healthy, and improving the flavor of crops.

Read more about My Favorite Gardener’s Cookbooks for cooking up wonderful foods and jams

Polyculture and biodiversity are the way people have been growing food over millennia, by observing natural interrelationships between plants, the soil and the environment.

Here are some flowers slated for our sensory garden (as shown in the picture grid above from left to right):

  1. Ladybird Poppy
  2. Saphyr blue flax
  3. Coleus
  4. Kong sunflower
  5. Hollyhocks
  6. Celosia
  7. Foxgloves
  8. Indigo Blue Forget-Me-Not
  9. Chinese Lantern
  10. Gaillardia
  11. Nasturtium
  12. Sweat peas
  13. Morning Glory (not shown)
  14. Pandora Poppy (not shown)

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~Grow, Share, Thrive~

 

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Delicious Gluten and Dairy Free Banana Bread Recipe

We have been making this simple banana bread recipe for what seems like years now. When I worked with young children, they were happy to mash bananas as well as measure and mix the ingredients (after tasting them, of course).

After I eliminated gluten and dairy from my diet, I knew that there had to be a way to make the same banana bread using gluten free flour(s). It took me about 3 years to get the right flour mixture down so my creations came out the way I envisioned in my mind. After several banana bread experiments, I found this combination (see recipe below) worked out much to my delight and my family’s approval.

The Right GF Flour Mix

There are many ways to combine different gluten-free flours to achieve the right mix. Nicole at GlutenFreeonaShoeString.com breaks down the need-to-know basics of creating the optimal gluten-free flour mix in her post “Gluten Free Flour: What You Need to Know“. She also gives product reviews and breaks down what is not so optimal about commercially available gluten-free flour mixtures. Due to high demand, she is offering a self-study course on how to get this gluten free flour mix right so that our recipes turn out amazing.

I use commercially available gluten-free flour mixes such as Bob’s Red Mill Buttermilk Biscuit Mix, Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour or Pam’s Pancake & Waffle Mix quite frequently to make this recipe and it turns out the same every time: Delicious.  Gluten-free flour blends that contain coconut flour are not suitable for this recipe.

I am one of those people that likes to do things ‘by eye’, which is handy when in a hurry, but not so when making a recipe. If you are a ‘by eye’ kind of baker,  you can try (be warned that it may not work for you) what I often do to make my own 1 ¾ cups of gluten-free flour mix in a pinch by combining equal parts of tapioca starch, amaranth flour, fine brown rice flour, white rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, and a tablespoon of Xantham gum.

Watch the Video

We created a video to demonstrate the Banana Bread Recipe. The kids loved being involved and I hope you enjoy it…Stay tuned for the Bloopers at the end.

I want to thank our friend and fierce editor Lynn Nightingale for her amazing eye for detail and her hard work.

 

 

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.

Ingredients

4 ripe organic bananas, medium

1 ¾ cups of gluten free flour (if using prepackaged, it may already contain xantham gum, read the ingredient list. If not or if you are using your own gluten-free flour mix, add a tablespoon of xantham gum)

½ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of gluten-free baking powder

1 pinch of sea salt

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

2 eggs, large

2 tablespoons of organic coconut oil

½ cup organic coconut milk (can)

1 cup dark no dairy chocolate chunks (available in health food stores)

How To

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Coat an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with coconut oil.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine gluten-free flour (which already contains Xantham gum), baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, coconut oil and coconut milk.
  5. Mash bananas with fork, and stir into egg mixture.
  6. Stir in flour.
  7. Fold in chocolate chunks.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan.
  9. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  10. Remove from over. Cool 10 minutes in the pan on the rack. Remove from the pan and cool completely.

Makes 1 loaf (about 10 slices)

***You noticed that there is no sweetener in this recipe. The bananas and chocolate chips add quite a bit of sweetness but if you really need some sugar, you can add 1/4 cup of coconut sugar.