When I was growing up, gardening was a family activity. My dad’s childhood was spent on a potato farm in Prince Edward Island and my mom is just one of those people for whom the phrase ‘green thumb’ is completely insufficient. We always had abundant flower gardens wherever we lived, not to mention, a giant vegetable patch that everyone was expected to help plant, weed, and harvest. Today, at 87 years young, my parents still maintain a large property. They remain enormously grateful for the beautiful flowers that grace their table from spring through fall, and the healthy, delicious produce which they enjoy both freshly-picked as well as preserved and frozen to last through the winter. I know I will forever cherish the memories of many summertime visits in which my kids and I have gardened side-by-side with my parents.
Some of what I learned growing up has definitely stuck with me. I enjoy my substantial perennial gardens and plant whatever vegetables I can peacefully share with the urban wildlife that seems to treat our yard as their own personal all-you-can-eat buffet. Our children learned from an early age why making a bee-friendly yard was important. Gardening together also helped them to understand that food doesn’t originate in grocery store packages – there has been a lot of work on behalf of bees and farmers before it gets to our homes.
One of the things I made sure to teach our kids was to respect bees, rather than to fear them. This was important because bees are not only crucial helpers to gardeners, they’re a sign of a healthy eco-system. I found the easiest way to move from fear to fascination was to share some amazing bee facts with them. For example, did you know that:
I found that once they learned these cool things about bees, the kids were happier to help me in the garden and didn’t panic when curious, pollen-gathering bees came buzzing by. They also came to understand why I was so insistent about never harming bees. We actually owe them our gratitude for one out of every three bites of food we eat! Without bees to pollinate, flowering plants would not be able to produce fruit and seeds, and we would not have very much fruit, vegetables, nuts or even coffee (gasp!!!!) to enjoy because billions of dollars worth of crops could not be grown. Now, my kids are fascinated to watch the bees visiting the flowers in our garden, all summer long.
My experience with helping my kids appreciate bees made me super excited about the recent Bring Back the Bees campaign by Honey Nut Cheerios. Its original goal was to distribute 35 million wildflower seeds (representing one for every Canadian) to people across the country to plant as a simple, but effective way, to help ensure we can reverse the trend and return to sustainable, healthy bee populations. In the end, the campaign was so successful that Honey Nut Cheerios ended up giving away 115 million seeds! Honey Nut Cheerios also recently took another step towards increasing the amount of bee-appealing natural habitats by planting a pollinator-friendly space designed by gardening guru Mark Cullen at Ontario’s Black Creek Pioneer Village. I'm looking forward to visiting with my family.
I know we’re not the only family concerned about the environment, so it’s gratifying to see a large company jump on board with a great program to inspire a new appreciation for bees. As a life-long gardener and eco-conscious mom, I want my kids (and future grandkids) to grow up in a world that has figured out how to address environmental issues, including food insecurity. Planting wildflowers to encourage bee population growth is my kind of solution. Simple, grassroots, multi-generational and FUN! I adored picking bouquets, berries, and vegetables as a kid and want others to know that joy.
Planting flowers is a great first step but I’m hopeful that the conversation started by the #BringBacktheBees campaign will help shine a spotlight on the dangers of habitat loss and degradation. Whenever I see a semi-rural parcel of land being transformed into a subdivision, I can’t help but wonder about all the critters and insects who are adversely affected.
I planted the wildflower seeds I received from Honey Nut Cheerios amongst my beloved herbs and soon, that section of my garden will be a thriving, ‘bee-utiful’ paradise that will be both abloom and abuzz.
I know it might be hard to believe, but there are such things as cocktail emergencies…like when your BFF texts using all the rage emoticons, when you have a great day and want to have a spontaneous celebration or when the in-laws show up unannounced and you’re still in your PJs in the afternoon. This cocktail solves the problem of an unanticipated happy hour, and it does so with finesse. You can substitute ginger beer, dealcoholized beer or even sparkling water for the beer if you’d like a mocktail option. This one’s kind of magical because while the first sip is cool and refreshing, it gets even tastier as the lemonade cubes melt into the beer. Best of all? You can whip up this drink by the pitcherful as needed. I know I’m going to be sure to have lemonade ice cubes in my freezer all summer long so I can enjoy this refreshing drink anytime.
Make lemonade ice cubes – but only add 3/4 of the water called for so the cubes will be more flavourful – and freeze. If you want to get all fancy, add a few frozen raspberries or blueberries to your lemonade before freezing.
To make the shandies, simply put three or four lemonade ice cubes in a glass. Fill with beer and enjoy! If you’re a fast sipper, you may need to add more beer so the lemonade goodness doesn’t go to waste.
I don’t know about your family, but mine is getting a little fatigued with quinoa. I love the stuff but admit to serving it perhaps a little more often than they would like. That’s why I’m shaking up my summer menus with a new-to-me superfood: freekeh, also known as cracked green wheat. It’s an ancient grain that is high in fibre and has a low glycemic index. It’s as easy to work with and as versatile as bulgur, its close cousin; the only difference is that bulgur is prepared from fully ripened wheat. Bulgur is typically used to prepare tabouli (or tabbouleh), which was the inspiration for this new dish. This salad is so simple to prepare and is as delicious as it is nutritious. My husband tasted it and said it has “all the best flavours of Lebanese food” and I think that’s a pretty great description. We'll be fighting over the leftovers at lunch tomorrow for sure.
* you could also use quinoa, rice or barley in this recipe
Put cracked wheat in a medium saucepan along with 2 cups of water and the 1/2 tsp salt. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat then immediately reduce heat to low.
Simmer 15 – 20 minutes until all the water has been absorbed. Turn off heat and let stand 5 minutes. Put cooked freekeh or bulgur in a large bowl and let cool 10 minutes. At this point, you can refrigerate the cooked cracked wheat for up to four days until you are ready to prepare the salad.
While freekeh or bulgur is cooking, combine olive oil and minced garlic in a small microwave safe dish. Cook over medium-high power for 1 minute (this takes the harshness out of the garlic), then set aside and let cool.
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake together lemon juice, crushed coriander, garlic olive oil (see above), salt and pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if desired.
Drizzle dressing over salad and toss gently once more.
When ready to assemble salad, combine cooked freekeh or bulgur, chopped herbs, celery and chickpeas in a large bowl and gently toss to combine. Drizzle with dressing and toss again. Serve within the hour or refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
While you can certainly serve the salad 'as is', considering taking a moment to plate it on beds of lettuce leaves - it makes it look so much fancier and people will think you really knocked yourself out to prepare it for them.
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top when serving really makes the salad’s bright, fresh flavour pop.