February 27, 2014

~ SPRING IS TEASING ~

Last spring's starts

The weather this week has been in the fifties, with a few perfect, sunny days. The smell of warming earth is heady and hopeful. My garlic is already up three inches in the starter pots in the greenhouse and five inches out in the garden. I like Rocambole (hard neck) types of garlic and have chosen German Red and Duganski varieties to grow this year. The radishes have already sprouted in my containers in the greenhouse, with spinach, arugula and cilantro close behind.
Ever since January, the seed catalogs have been filling up the mailbox like crazy, much to my delight. The x's and circles proliferate until I just know I have to cut down and get real! It's so hard to choose! I also save seeds from previous seasons so I have my own stock to grow on. 
I run a sustainable living group on Meetup called Urban Farmers and for the last two years, we've had seed exchanges in late winter. The beauty of it is that you can share your extras with others and get seeds in return, for more variety than you could have in buying everything yourself. I mean, not many of us are going to plant 25 pumpkin hills, right? After the seed swap, I am all set! Some unusual varieties to try this year, including some Dutch brown beans called Kapuciner beans. They're a small, brown, wrinkly bean used as a dried type. I've seen them for sale in Europe, but never here. The man who brought them is from Holland and these seeds are sixth generation. He included a recipe with each packet! He also brought seeds for "feldsalat" also known as mache or corn salad. Another thing that one has to grow in the U.S. if you want to eat it. It's a common leaf green in Europe and I eat a lot of it when I'm there, but it isn't yet available much for purchase here. 
This year, our raised beds will be built and the field will get partially plowed so, in addition to the greenhouse, I'll have good growing areas outdoors. With the drought in California seriously threatening general produce supply, it's more important than ever to try to be as self-sufficient as possible. Besides, it's hard to beat the satisfaction of seed - to plant - to harvest when you do it yourself. And the taste ... well, no contest! 
Okay, spring...I'm ready! What will you be growing this year? 

June 21, 2013

Feasting by Foraging

Yellow-cracked bolete, Porcini, Gem-Studded Puffballs, Lion's Mane Mushroom

I'm happy that foraging is coming back around to being acceptable. For a long time in this country, foraged foods were equated with poverty and want. People who ate "weeds" were thought to be a bit nuts, put in a category of crazy naturalists. I never understood this stigma. Having grown up in a household with a European background, and a healthy dose of science thrown in, foraging was a natural and smart thing to do. If there is food growing outside your door, why not use it? 

In many cultures, foraging is considered a fun, healthy and sometimes competitive pursuit. In some places, foraging is a necessary part of survival. Nature provides, we partake. None of this is crazy, it's just common sense. 

Huckleberries

Razor Clams, after blanching

Rosehips in Syrup

When I travel to Europe to visit various friends, I always make note of the season and what might be ripe for foraging. My friends and I plan hikes and trips around what we can find. In Germany in spring, we look for bärlauch, a wild leek akin to our ramps; mushrooms like morcheln (morels) and puffballs; cattail tubers; and dandelions - dente di leone in Italian, Löwenzahn in German and dent-de-lion in French. Many cafe menu boards advertise dandelion salad in the spring. And it isn't cheap! All these things can be found here, too. Summertime brings marshmallow plant (malva); wild fennel and wood sorrel; nettles; sea beans (salicornia); and salmon berries, blackberries and wild tayberries. Autumn's haul is full of mushrooms of many varieties; rose hips; seaweeds and shellfish. Every season, in every climate, there are wild foods to be found and eaten.

Fresh Seaweed for soup

Free food you've found yourself always tastes better, somehow.


Garlic Scapes ~ In Season Now



It's time for fun, curly garlic scapes ~ the long, leafless flowering stem rising directly from the garlic's bulb. Garlic scapes must be removed soon after they appear, to allow the garlic bulb to fully form. Once the flower heads become enlarged or open, the scapes become tough, the garlic bulb will be depleted and not size up the way we expect. Snip them early and you'll have an additional crop from your garlic plants. 

Garlic scapes can be used in a stir fry - they pair with asparagus very well - or made into a pesto, pureed and added to potato soup or as I used them today ... in a compound butter, Maître d'Hôtel style. A variation on the classic flavored butters, this is wonderful served on steamed vegetables, fish, chicken or steak.I like it spread on a baguette or used for garlic bread. For another recipe, please see: http://passionate-psyche.blogspot.com/2011/07/whirly-curly-garlic-scapes_03.html






GARLIC SCAPE BUTTER

1 cube (1/2 c.) salted butter, cut into pieces
3 T. fresh parsley leaves
Juice of 1/4 of a small lemon
2/3 c. garlic scapes, chopped

Place butter pieces, parsley leaves and lemon juice into a food processor. Snap garlic scapes below the blossom end, discarding the ends. Chop stems into 1/2 inch pieces and add to bowl of processor. Pulse until butter and herbs are fine and well mixed. Scoop butter into a serving dish or form into a log with plastic wrap, to be sliced into pats. Excellent on grilled meats, vegetables and on crusty bread. 
Store for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
♦  ♦  ♦

June 20, 2013

POMPANO ~ A fish plump & rich



Have you tried pompano fish? I've seen these plump, substantial fish in the markets - mostly Asian ones - thinking that they looked like they'd be tasty. It took me long enough, but when I finally bought a fresh one, I found that tasty was exactly right! Cute little guy, isn't he?

The fresh pompano fish that we get here in the U.S. are usually from the Gulf, hence known as Florida pompano. Part of the jack family (like mackerel), they're between 2 and 3 pounds, prefer warm waters (70-90º F), have a lifespan of 3-4 years and reach full size quickly, which makes them a good choice for sustainable seafood. They are fast swimmers, found in large schools and are strong fighters on the fishing line. Their skin looks like shimmering silver lamé, with yellow highlights and has such fine scales that it need not be scaled before cooking. 

The taste ~ it is its own flavor, rather like salmon has its own flavor and would never be confused with another fish, pompano is like that, too. It's oily (lots of Omega oils), rich, fishy (that's what I like about it), firm-fleshed and easy to eat off the bone. It's nice to cook it in a way that shows off its beautiful skin - barbecuing, broiling or baking it. One of the most famous ways to cook it is New Orleans style - en papillote (in parchment). I chose to grill it, slashing the skin and giving it a simple dressing with lemon, butter and chives stuffed in the cavity. I didn't want to overwhelm the true flavor of the fish. 

Give it a try ~ you may find you have a new favorite.





May 10, 2013

Making Chive Blossom Vinegar



The sunny days woke up the chives and suddenly the clump was full of pink blossoms. Since I needed to cut them out anyway to keep the chives producing, I figured I may as well do something with them. A few flowers went into our salad and the rest went to making chive blossom vinegar. It's super easy and quick and makes a beautifully-colored vinegar that's flavored subtly of onion. It's great in a vinaigrette and in marinades, especially for chicken or fish. If you have some chives in bloom, give this a try! I used my friend Theresa's honey for this and it made it that much more special. It's pretty cool having a beekeeper as a friend!



~ CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR ~

12 oz. rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 1/2 c. chive blossoms
1 T. honey
& a pint-sized canning jar

Snip the chive blossoms from the stems. Rinse them only if necessary. Put them into a clean, pint-sized Mason jar. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar until barely simmering. Stir in the honey until dissolved. Remove from heat and pour the hot vinegar over the chive blooms. Screw on the lid and turn the jar upside down on the counter and leave for 30 minutes. Turn the jar over every 30 minutes for a total of four times. You'll see the color changing soon. After 72 hours or so, you can strain out the chive blossoms, as they have imparted all their flavor by then, but I usually leave a few floating in the vinegar just because they're pretty and remind me of where the vinegar started :-)






May 9, 2013

~ Sangria on a Warm Evening and ... What's Old is New Again ~


Our New Old House

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from my food blog while buying and renovating a 1935 farmhouse these past months. But, now that things have moved into springtime, with all it entails on the farm and in the garden, I'm back and feeling so excited about all that's ahead. 


The new kitchen is gorgeous (still can't believe it's mine!) and the Verona Italian stove is an absolute dream. I've been putting it through its paces and still have several settings to try out. Don't worry, there are recipes, photos and stories to come! Last week I spent a full day of cooking with a friend, making big pots full of hot sauces and bbq sauce. We tinkered and tasted, wrote notes and came out with some amazing, unique flavors.  





One-half of the kitchen

When I'm not in the kitchen, I'm in the greenhouse - a new, 10 x 12 - and it's already filling up! Though I've had a greenhouse in the past for seed starting and overwintering plants, I've never experimented with growing food in it from seed to harvest. We've already had a batch of spinach, some napa cabbage and one ripe strawberry!  









The fuchsias do not impress him

The May weather has been unseasonably warm - in the 80's! - so I decided I needed a refresher one evening. I got out the libations, fruit and some lemon verbena ... oh, what a marvelous scent ... and muddled and poured my way to some sipping bliss. Serve it well chilled and don't drink it too fast or you may wake up in the flowerbed. 





Sangria Sipper - careful, it sneaks up on you!

~ Sangria Sipper ~

1/2 ripe ruby red grapefruit, juiced
1 ripe orange
1 lemon
1 lime
2 oz. Lemoncello liqueur, chilled
2 oz. dry Vermouth, chilled
12 lemon verbena leaves (or 6 bergamot leaves), plus some for garnish
1 bottle dry Riesling, chilled
16 oz. club soda, chilled

Pour fresh grapefruit juice into a pitcher. Slice orange, lemon and lime in half. Juice half of each one, adding the juices to the pitcher. Slice the other citrus halves. Add Lemoncello and dry Vermouth to pitcher, one slice each of orange, lemon and lime and the lemon verbena leaves. Using a muddler or the end of a thick wooden spoon, muddle the ingredients in the pitcher by bluntly bashing down on the fruit and herb leaves just to release oils and fragrance - about ten times. Pour Riesling and club soda into the pitcher and stir gently to mix. Put fruit slices into or on glasses, along with an herb leaf or two and crushed ice, if desired. Pour Sangria, cool and relax :-)

Serves 4



September 27, 2012

THE GARDEN IS GETTING SLEEPY

The last rose

The spider webs of the orb weavers, purple asters, ripening grapes, a perfect, cyan blue sky. Autumn's breath has whispered into the world, bringing me that particular energy for which I wait all year. That frisson of expectation ~ for preserving and canning, reading heavy books, getting back to my art projects as the rain falls, the rich flowers that bloom in early fall, mushrooms to forage ... lots of things.


I harvested the last of the borlotti beans today - more than I realized were out there - they'll be part of the vegetable salad tonight. Grilled fennel, roasted beets, steamed beans and zucchini, all bathed in a creamy lemon chive dressing on arugula. Tastes of the season.


I sat outside this afternoon, writing in my journal and playing around with some poetry. The sounds of clucking chickens and splashing ducks were the soundtrack. It cracks me up to see the chickens lying on their sides, wings spread, sunning themselves. Must feel good. Well, actually, it did. As I often do, I was out there topless, soaking in that same delicious heat.

A languid, beautiful day. Here are some more photos of it ...


Streusel Cake of Fresh Fruits

Sleepy Garden

Hänsel, watching for field mice







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