I’m not sure why it’s always been there, but I have a soft, quiet spot in my heart for gardeners. And lately, for this gardener in particular.
We’re friends. But, surprisingly, Niki Jabbour and I have never met. Niki and I both wrote for The Halifax Daily News in the 1990s, where I was a staffer and she was a freelancer. We also have several friends in common, in that nice way that Halifax is so small town. But we only really connected through social media when I saw her name popping up here and there, discussing matters that are near and dear to me.
You see, Niki Jabbour understands. She really understands. The very act of getting your hands dirty blesses one with a deeper connection to the planet. While all gardeners know that feeling on some level, some become more thoughtful, and consider this fragile world, and our place in it. They truly understand that we are walking across a precipice, that our negligence is affecting the planet on a global scale, and making it much harder to feed the world’s hungry.
We need solutions, and The Year-Round Vegetable Gardner offers real brilliance. I’m a firm believer in the locavore movement, but I also want my food to taste good. Living in a northern country is wonderful — I delight in celebrating each and every season — but it gets tedious during the weeks leading to spring, when our Taproot CSA box is (literally) heavy with carrots, squash, turnips and potatoes. Even in our household, where two people can cook (one capably and one with rare skill), inspiration can be in short supply.
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardner offers an ideal solution that will see you through until the first fiddleheads greens grace your table in April and May. But it’s not just about hearty winter greens like tatsoi and kale. Niki will also help you explore and refine techniques that will supply you with vegetables in every season, including a primer on heirloom vegetables that will make your dinners sing in spring, summer, fall and winter.
We need to learn these lessons, especially as global warming turns fertile soil to desert and dramatically cuts yields in countries once blessed with abundance. Everyone will soon need to grow at least some of the food they consume unless we want tragedies like Darfur to become annual events. This sad truth is closer than you think.
So Niki’s book is important, but it’s also a fun book. Growing your own food is a wonderful form of self-expression, especially as you pick and choose from heirloom varieties that push flavor and variety over blandness and uniformity. Anyone who has ever tasted corn just hours from cutting, or layered a salad with crystal lemon cucumber or drizzled extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over fresh-picked green zebra or black plum tomatoes will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Like so many gardeners, Niki is genuine and kind. As my family and I struggle with illness, she’s been compassionate and supportive in a way that touches me profoundly. She’s quickly become one of my favorite people.
So I am delighted to introduce Niki Jabbour as she answers 25 Questions.
About Author Niki Jabbour
Niki Jabbour is the author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (Storey Publishing, 2012) and the host of The Weekend Gardener on News 95.7 FM. Her work is also found in Canadian Gardening, Gardens East and Garden Making magazines. She can be found blogging rather irregularly at Niki Jabbour.
The book is currently available online at Amazon (Canada, US and UK), Chapters and various other online stores. Brick and mortar stores locally include Chapters, Coles, Bookmark, Halifax Seed, Otis & Clementine’s and P’lovers.
25 Questions with Niki Jabbour
1) What was your favorite book as a child? What is your favorite children’s book?
Truth be told, I started off as a comic book lover as a kid and rarely went anywhere without a stack of comics! (Swiss Chalet, long car drives, short car drives, the dinner table) I loved books too, but comics helped hone my reading and later, writing skills. I loved all of the traditional children’s books, as well as non-fiction books on ancient history. I devoured the whole Anne of Green Gables series in junior high and spent most of my university classes with a novel (typically smut) hidden behind my textbooks.
2) What is your most marked characteristic? Does it help or hinder you?
Curiosity. It helps me a great deal, but it also hinders me when I have work that I need to get done because I’ll become easily distracted by something that pops into my head – ‘How old are the pyramids?’, ‘What is the deepest cave in the world?’ ‘How do I make the perfect cappuccino?’ Sometimes the internet is not my friend.
3) Which quality do you most like in a man?
Humour, intelligence, curiosity
4) Which quality do you most like in a woman?
Humour, intelligence, curiosity
5) What is your favorite memory?
Family, weddings, babies, kids, boats, beaches, gardens, sunshine.
6) Describe the best meal you’ve ever had.
I have to say that gardening has certainly improved my culinary abilities! It has also introduced me to some spectacular veggies that I certainly never ate growing up – tatsoi, mache, mizuna, and even kale. I’m always experimenting with recipes using the food from our garden. But if we want a great meal (and I mean really great), we go to Nicki’s Inn in Chester.
7) What’s the best book you’ve read in the last two years? The best movie you’ve seen?
The past two years have been light reading years for me because whenever I have leisure time (if such a thing even exists anymore!), I am still reading work-related books — for radio show guests, book reviews for the blog/website, research, etc. I did read Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis this past November (2 books, but one long story) about living in the Blitz during WWII and I was able to immerse myself in the characters and the story. It was especially poignant because we had recently been to France and Belgium and toured many of the battle sites and visited the Canadian graveyards scattered throughout those countries.
In terms of movies, I don’t get to see a lot anymore.. Unless we’re counting every cartoon that has come out in the past few years?? No? Well then, I guess I would have to say Midnight in Paris or The King’s Speech. (But I really LOVED Despicable Me.) EDITOR’S Note: Despicable Me made me — a tough-as-nails black belt — cry).
8) What characteristic about yourself would you most like to change?
My impatience. Next question!
9) What always make you happy?
Being outside. Being near the ocean. Playing in the garden – planting, seeding, watering, harvesting.
10) What always angers you?
11) At this moment, where would you most like to be?
One of my favourite places in the world is Mont Saint-Michel in northern France. Simply amazing.
12) Tell me about a boneheaded mistake you make in writing The Year Round Vegetable Gardener.
I make boneheaded mistakes in the garden all the time!! That is how I learn — trial and massive, catastrophic errors. I could write a book on ‘Garden Blunders’, but luckily, the book went quite smoothly once I figured out what I wanted to say. Since it was my first book, I really had no idea how to organize all the info flying around in my head when I started to write. That took time and I had several missteps before I finally figured out what I needed to say and how to do it. Once that was established, it was all about finding the time to write without neglecting the children.
13) What has blogging brought to your life?
Blogging has been a way to connect directly with my readers and radio show listeners. Years ago, I enjoyed the writing — for newspapers/magazines — but it was hard to say if anyone was reading my work. Now, I get immediate feedback, suggestions for other topics/radio guests, praise and criticism. Plus, I have connected with hundreds of other writers, garden media folks and those in the book/magazine business. It has brought me work and friendships that I never expected.
14) Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why? And fictional hero?
I love Edmond Dantes from the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.. And d’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers. I re-read these classics every few years.. There was a point where I read all the works of Dumas that I could find, but these two really captured my imagination. Plus, I do adore Harry Potter. The scope of those books is incredible and I really enjoyed the ride.
For heroine, it would be Anne Shirley because of her passion for life, her rampant imagination and her willingness to hold a grudge!
15) Who are your three favorite composers?
Mozart, Beethoven and Tom Petty (I can hear the song in my head, ‘one of these things is not like the other…’)
16) Who is your favorite painter?
José Antonio Valverde-Alcalde, a Spanish artist that divides his time between Chester, Nova Scotia and Spain.
17) Which talent would you most like to have?
A toss up between the ability to paint and draw well or being able to pick up any instrument and play it.
18) How would you like to be remembered?
Assuming I will be, as someone who was generous with their time, attention and affection. And as someone who truly enjoyed the simple act of living.
19) What has been the most exciting part of being published?
Being published. No, I think the most exciting part was actually getting ‘the call’ that the book was accepted from the publisher.. And then receiving the initial photocopied version of the manuscript from the publisher. It arrived just as we were leaving for a two week trip to Europe. Literally, just as we walked out the door to go to the airport. And the manuscript was this huge 11 x 18-inch awkward pile of paper, but I stuffed it in my over-packed suitcase so that I could read it on the trip. I turned each page nervously, so excited to finally see my words laid out with the photos as they would appear in the published book.
20) What is your greatest regret?
That my father isn’t here for the release of the book. My parents have always been our biggest cheerleaders and a huge part of this needs to be attributed to him and his never-ending encouragement and pride in his daughters.
21) Aside from your novel, of what accomplishment are you most proud?
The fact that I don’t think I’ve screwed up the kids too much (knock on wood!)
22) What is in heavy rotation on your iPod?
Mumford and Sons, Tom Petty, Norah Jones, Joel Plaskett (grew up with him in Clayton Park), Strawberry Shortcake and whatever other crazy music the kids like to listen to!
23) When was the last time you wept?
My daughter had a friend over for a play-date recently and this little girl decided to tell me how her mom has to help wax her dad’s back so he’s not too hairy. The tears of laughter were pouring down my cheeks. Suffice it to say, I didn’t mention this to her father when he picked her up. It was hard not to crack up again though.
24) What is your guilty pleasure?
A double cappuccino from Java Blend in Halifax. There simply is no substitute.
25) In what way do you hope your life will change this year?
This will be a busy year with book events, many deadlines and a 2nd book to finish by September. I just hope that I can still squeeze in enough time for family fun and to enjoy the garden. The more I write/talk about gardening, the less time I actually have to garden.