Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lists

I haven't posted in a while, so I'll have to work on that more in 2009 (along with taking better care of my house, my garden, and myself). I'll post soon about mosaics. I've done a LOT of work lately, tonight I hope to grout mosaics #2, 3, and 4. Crazy.

In the meantime, I did this little meme which taught me a bit about myself. It's a list of 100 - the things I've done are bolded, and I got to pick 5 things I want to do to put in italics.

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band- Marching bands, concert bands, and jazz bands – no rock bands, though
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world – both!
8. Climbed a mountain- lots of them!!
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped- nope, and I have zero desire to do this
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort - California girl, here
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon - I have done lots of triathlons, though
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing – many times! Love it!
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person – only from the outside, though
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business- sort of, I've done some legal work for people
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car- yeah, and I love it. It has held up so much better than any used car I’ve ever bought
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit- sort of, I've gotten those mail-in settlements for things
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turkey stock/soup

Despite the fact that I have been (was?) a vegetarian for about 10 years, I would rather eat meat than see it go to waste. I hate wasting food. I volunteered to cook the turkey for this year's Thanksgiving (I used this recipe to brine it, and it turned out fantastically), and my sister picked it up for me. We made sure to get local and organic, and I actually got a slightly smaller bird than recommended, because I figured with all the side dishes and desserts, people didn't need a huge amount of turkey.

That worked out pretty well - we ate all the turkey that was easily accessible when carved, and just now I managed to save about another heaping plate full that was more difficult to pick off the bones. Last year, I saved the carcass to make soup. I made a really thick, concentrated broth which Loris loved just the way it was, so that's what we ate. Unfortunately, I don't know where I got the recipe from.

This year, I'm using this recipe (with a slight variation), and the soup is cooking away on the stove right now. Here's what I did:

1. I stripped as much meat from the turkey as I could, then put the bones, neck, and giblets into a large pot.

2. I covered everything with cold water and turned the heat to high.

3. I added 3carrots (chopped into 2-inch pieces), 3 ribs of celery (likewise), and 2 onions (cut into quarters or sixths, with the skin).

4. Then I added several hands-full of fresh parsley, some bay leaves, a tablespoon of peppercorns, and some dried thyme.

Now I'm going to let it boil down for a while. When it's about an hour from being done (or so), I might add some potatoes and turnips (fresh from the garden). When the stock is done, I'll strain it. We'll save the veggies for eating, throw away the carcass, and have the stock as a soup.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Local dinner

Local dinner

Last night my sweet husband cooked dinner while I was at my mosaic class. He made a sort of fall vegetable ratatouille, which he presented to me saying “The only thing that’s not from the garden are the carrots!”

I thought about that for a second. “Um, and the potatoes? Oh, and the onions.”

“Oh, right” he admitted. Oh well. Actually we usually have carrots from the garden, and next year we’ll certainly have onions. I’m hoping we’ll have potatoes too.

The rest of the dish consisted of (from what I can tell) turnips, bell peppers, the few green beans still hanging out in the fridge, chard, and eggplant. (And garlic?)

We also had some homemade bread (from the freezer), and salad with lettuce from the garden, and tomatoes from the farmer’s market. We’re really sorry to see the tomato season end.

I’m having leftover ratatouille for lunch. Sadly, I’m having it without the leftover bread because I only remembered the bread after I was several minutes from home on my bike. And as they say (or as they should say) trains wait for no one!

P.S. Read the (uncorrected) Italian version of this post here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Um ... where is fall?

It's still warm! I can tell it's getting closer to winter because the days are getting darker, but still. This is ridiculous.

I have barely been to the garden lately, and barely done much of anything else, either. There just isn't time. I did plant my shallots, finally, on Saturday (or was it Sunday?). I can't even remember how many I planted. Twelve? Something like that.

Thanksgiving is next Thursday. I can barely believe it. I'm going to write, really soon (I hope) about my hopes for a local Thanksgiving, what it represents, why it's not going to happen, and what I think about that. Hopefully I'll have time to write it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall/winter garden overload

I spent a crazy amount of hours in the garden today. I planted two rows of carrots, three rows of beets, two rows of fava beans (about 34 seeds), and 33 garlic cloves (I need to plant 3 more for 36 total.

I also planted 70 assorted onions (walla wallas, red torpedo, sonoma (sonora?) white, red burger (burgundy?), and an early yellow variety). I put them around the edges of the new seeds, the lettuce, and in front of the fava beans.

I did a bit of chores as well - took out the basil (and got a huge bag to make pesto to freeze) and the eggplants (one more little guy!), and did a bit of weeding.

In general, everything looks great!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Craftiness

I'm in the middle of a ton of craft projects right now, which is really cutting into my gardening and cooking time.

My mosaic is going fantastically, I'm going to post some pictures soon. I'm also working on a bunch of stuff for Christmas presents which I can't reveal here. Just in case. But there are so many projects that I don't know when I'm going to have time to buy all the supplies and then finish all of them.

Things are going swimmingly otherwise. The garden is really great right now, but too wet to do any work. I did transition pretty well to a fall/winter garden, but I didn't get all the seeds planted that I would have liked. I'm hoping to try still, if it dries out at all. I have tons of chard, lettuce, fennel, carrots, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, and radishes (but they're not all producing yet). I still need to plant garlic, shallots, onions, and beets. In late winter/early spring, I'll plant peas and potatoes. We are also still getting peppers and eggplant, but that's almost done, probably.

The rain we've had recently has been great! Except for biking to the train and back. Murphy's law always provided a heavy downpour moments after I'd leave.

I'm easing up on my heavy overtime at work. While the future vacation is definitely worthwhile, my current stress levels have been too high. Between the garden, the craft projects, groceries, laundry, cleaning, and trying to squeeze in a bit of exercise time, I've been exhausted, getting up early and often staying up late. Now that the holidays are approaching, I'm trying to find a little bit of me time.

That's it for today! Thank goodness it's almost the weekend!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Swear This Isn't A Political Blog

This shouldn't be the norm in the future, but I just want to say "YAY!" for the presidential election yesterday.

And I also want to express my utmost disappointment in my fellow Californians who chose to continue the discrimination and hatred that still exist in our state today.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Rainy day weather

Now it really feels like fall. It started raining yesterday, right before I had to bike to the train station, and kept right on going until after I biked home. I don't actually mind when it rains on my way home - I love stripping out of the wet clothes, putting on my fleece and slippers, and being cozy and warm while listening to the rain fall outside.

This will be great for the garden, both the veggies and the weeds. I have a huge list of things to do before winter arrives, but I still have time. The most pressing things are to get the basil and lima beans out, and plant more seeds (beets and carrots). It would have been great to get those seeds in the ground before the rain started, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

My plan this weekend is to hold up and do a ton of chores and fun stuff around the house. I’ll be working on my mosaic, making bread and soup, cleaning, crafting, crocheting, and hanging out with my sister while she does a bunch of the same things. Check back for an authentic, easy Eastern European soup recipe this weekend, along with some background info on the one connection I have to my cultural roots.

Tomorrow, I will make a run out through the rain to the farmer’s market to get fish – we haven’t had any in a few weeks, and I’m craving it. And I’ll probably have to stop at the Davis Food Co-op to pick up some essentials (we’re almost out of olive oil! Oh no!). But in general, I’m looking forward to hanging around the house in my pjs, drinking tea, eating soup, and just enjoying a slightly more relaxing weekend. Except the part where I take Cricket to the clinic for her shots. I don’t think anyone will enjoy that.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Leek and roasted pepper risotto

Here's the recipe for leek and roasted pepper risotto that I made up the other night:

Olive oil
8 bell peppers (yellow, red, and/or orange - more if you want a stronger pepper flavor)
2.25 cups arborio rice
One large or several small leeks
1-1.5 cups wine
6 cups broth
Parmesan cheese


Prep work:

1. Roast the peppers - I do this by cutting them in half, cleaning out the seeds and ribs, and laying them in rows in roasting trays. I then broil them until the skin starts to burn (but not too long). Put them in a bowl and cover it with a plastic bag until they're cool enough to handle, then peel, saving the juice. Puree the peppers and juice in a blender or food processor. Set aside.

2. Finely chop the white and light green part of the leeks - you should have at least a cup.

3. Heat the broth on the stove and keep it warm.


Making the risotto

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sautee for at least 5 minutes, until they get soft and translucent.

2. Add the rice, and stir to coat with oil, adding more oil if necessary. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the wine, and stir until it is absorbed evenly by the rice.

4. Add about a quarter-cup of broth and a spoonful of pepper puree, continuing the stir the rice evenly. Don't stir too forcefully or quickly, just enough to keep it from sticking to the pot.

5. When the trail left by the spoon doesn't fill in immediately, add more broth and pepper puree. Continue for about 10-15 minutes, then test for doneness. Continue adding broth and cooking until the rice tastes done. Turn the heat to low or remove from heat completely and let rice sit to firm up for a few minutes.

Serve, passing parmesan at the table.

Weekend of local eating

Yesterday was a fantastic day from the food point of view.

For lunch, we made sandwiches with homemade bread, homegrown roasted peppers, homegrown lettuce, homemade ketchup, local balsamic vinegar, and some stuff that wasn't homemade or homegrown (or even local, bah): mayo, mustard, and tuna. They were so delicious.

Dinner was Leek and roasted pepper risotto (leek and peppers from the garden), and a lettuce and pepper salad with homemade bread. Yum yum yum.

I went to the garden, but didn't have time to do much work. I picked eggplant, lettuce, peppers, basil, and parsley. We had something like 12 eggplants (small ones), so I made eggplant parmesan for later in the week, and Loris is supposed to make a caponata/eggplant stew-type dish one night as well.

I also made up a new whole wheat bread recipe, which looked wonderful when I baked it yesterday, but I haven't tried it yet. I'll post a recipe after I've done a taste-test.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I just got back from a crazy weekend of sight-seeing with friends and family from Italy. Being thorougly exhausted, I decided to use my half-day of remaining vacation time to ... work in the garden! Of course!

Actually, it was a great, if tiring afternoon. Here's what I accomplished:

1. Weeded around turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, and fennel.
2. Transplanted fennel that was growing too close together (hopefully it survives).
3. Picked eggplants, peppers, radishes, lettuce, and chard.
4. Removed 30 tomato plants and stakes/cages, and carted it all away to the weed/compost pile.
5. Put up some stakes and string to incentivize people from not going into my garden. It's not much of a physical barrier, but I'm hoping it will be a psychological one.

The turnips are getting huge! I forgot how quickly they grow, and now they're blocking the light from the beets. I'll have to replant some beets elsewhere.

Still to do in the garden before winter?

1. Remove basil and make pesto.
2. Remove peppers and eggplants when they're finished producing.
3. Add compost to the areas where I still have to plant.
4. Plant fava beans, carrots, beets, garlic, shallots, and onions.
5. Remove lima beans.
6. Extend the watering system - this can probably wait until spring, if it starts raining anytime soon.

It's going to be a lot of work before I'm done, but I always love how the garden looks when the seasons change, when new sprouts come up and before the real weeding begins.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hodgepodge

I'm busy working lots and lots of overtime these days, so not much time for blogging. Which is ok, because I’m not doing much worth blogging about, unless anyone wants to hear about bicycling to the train station every morning and freezing my hands now that the weather is getting cooler.

The garden’s doing well. I just picked some lettuce, peppers, eggplants, and radishes the other day. I don’t have time for weeding or planting more seeds, or harvesting the lima beans (that are so not worth it).

We’re having houseguests – Loris’ Uncle Sergio, friends (and pseudo-cousins) Stefano and Edoardo, and friend Lollo are coming from Italy to stay with us for a few days. We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning, some of it experimenting with green cleaning methods, such as using vinegar. That’s a whole other post. I also switched to a non-clay, flushable kitty litter, Swheat Scoop, which I’m liking so far (and more importantly, so is Cricket). More about that later, too, I hope.

We’ve bought seafood and veggies from our farmer’s market, tried to declutter our house, baked bread from scratch, and just in general have been trying really hard to get things together before our guests arrive.

Speaking of decluttering, this is probably the segment of my life which I find the absolute hardest. Right now, our apartment looks great (except the carpet), but a lot of that was accomplished by putting things in closets. Even my mosaic class has somehow created a huge amount of random crap, which is just was I was hoping to avoid.

I’m hoping to talk about more things in this blog, like the title implies. I’d like to talk about everyday life, my cat, my family, my garden, my apartment, and all the things I do to simplify, even when it seems like I’m actually complicating matters. I know that getting rid of stuff, decluttering, is the basis of simplification for me, despite being my huge Achilles heel. So that will hopefully be a prominent feature as well. I may even come up with a challenge for myself, and anyone else who wants to join in.

Even my writing is cluttered! See?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bread

I spent the weekend baking bread. I promised pictures, but I was way too busy to take any. I made two loaves of Royal Crown Tortano from Maggie Gleazer's Aritsan Baking book, and six loaves of my own daily bread recipe. It took all day, and the really tricky part is remembering the timing for all those different batches.

The Royal Crown Tortano is a fantastic bread, a huge, round, donut-shaped loaf with a dark golden crust that's not too crunchy, and a soft, well-structured crumb full of big holes. (I know, I need to take pictures). It calls for potato, honey, and a starter you make the night before. While it takes a LOT of time (you pretty much have to be home all day), it actually requires very little hands-on work. And while the dough is wet compared to your standard sandwich loaf, for an artisanal loaf it's relatively easy to work with, and forgiving of mistakes. And it's delicious, and lasts for a few days before drying out. I highly recommend this bread, it's one of my favorites.

Although this makes a really large loaf, I had no trouble mixing up a double recipe in my Kitchenaid stand mixer (note - I have a professional size - don't try it in one of the standard sized ones). I then had to stagger the rising and baking times because I can only bake one at a time. In the meantime, I did two large batches of basic bread for a total of 6 loaves.

The reason I made so many is that I'm freezing them, now that we have our fantastic freezer. This is working out great - I dobule-wrap them in plastic and stick them in the freezer after they cool off from the oven. Then when we need some bread, we turn on the oven, put in a frozen loaf, cover it with an aluminum roasting pan, and voila. Fresh-tasting bread, with a crispy crust.

So far I've only done it with my daily bread, but I've just tried it with the tortano, so we'll see how that turns out.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fall lettuce salads

We're in lettuce season again. How do I know that? Besides the fact that we had our first lettuce salad from the garden last week, right now I am looking out my window and it looks like it's going to rain. The weather website says it's going to rain, too.

If you're not familiar with our Sacramento Valley climate, that basically means it's not summer anymore, since we have hot dry summers with scarcely a cloud in the sky let alone a drop of rain.

Loris and I are ecstatic about having lettuce for salads again. It's been a while since we've had it fresh from our garden. I planted six heads of curly green lettuce and six red sails, probably about only three weeks ago, and already we have more than enough for salads for two. A salad makes a light, crisp, tasty addition to our evening meal.

We often don't even throw on any toppings. But when we do, they tend to include tomatoes, beets, olives, peppers, onions, or shallots - usually only one to three toppings, to keep things simple. A simple salad is a great accompaniment for a nice crusty loaf of homemade bread.

Speaking of homemade bread, I'll likely be home working all day on Sunday, which gives me a great opportunity to make some fantastic bread that I don't often get the chance to make. Check back in to see how it goes.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Craftiness

I haven’t talked much about crafts on this blog, despite including it in my header, but I actually really love crafts and artisan-ship (is that a word?). I often look through the courses offered at the UC Davis craft center and Davis Adult School, and I can’t decide which one I want to take, because I want to take too many of them.

I’ve been crocheting for about twelve years, and in that time I’ve made tons of stuff – mostly blankets, but also hats and other little things. I can also do some really basic knitting, but I never really picked it up and so I’m slow and incapable of being creative or fixing mistakes.

When I tore a ligament in my knee almost two years ago, I took glass fusing. Now THAT was a great class, although I didn’t make anything super useful. I made a beautiful set of sushi dishes, gray with red and green maple leaves. I made my sister a really cool dish with a purple dragonfly. For my mother-in-law, I made a dish with a mosaic-style sun on it, and for my friend’s wedding, I made a small trivet (or tile) with a Native American turtle design.

The problem with glass fusing, though, is that glass is EXPENSIVE. And I never got any good at cutting out circles. Those things are hard.

So now I’m signed up for a mosaic class, and after just two lessons, I don’t like it. I love the idea of mosaic, but I think one of the reasons is that it can be useful. Or rather, it can be a way of decorating useful things to make them unique and beautiful. I don’t really like doing art for art’s sake, partly because I’m just not very artistic. Crafty, yes; artistic, no.

But also, I'm trying to declutter my life, and having beautiful, useful things seems like a better idea than having beautiful, useless things. And we only have so much wall space.

This class requires making a decorative mosaic to hang on a wall. I'm struggling for ideas, but I think I have one now. It's going to be a "Tree of life" theme, really simple. I don't have time to make something complicated, and I want to use my new mosaic skills to make some really cool gifts for Christmas, too. I'll post some pictures if I ever manage to get started.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eggplant parmesan



I'm making eggplant parmesan for dinner tonight, so I thought I'd post the recipe. (Incidentally, I'm also making some basic white bread, and honey whole wheat). Eggplant parmesan is actually quite simple, but there are a lot of steps. I'll start by listing the ingredients:

Eggplant (at least two-medium to large eggplants, or more smaller ones)
Salt
Eggs (probably 2 - I often mix one egg with egg whites I have left over from something else)
Bread crumbs - preferably plain
Olive oil
Plain tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes - at least one 28-ounce can, more if you like a lot of sauce
Onion(s) - one or two
Basil - a handful
Parmesan cheese

Start by peeling the eggplant and slicing it about 1/4 inch thick



Place a layer in a collander in the sink, or on a drying rack over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and cover with a paper towel. Put another layer on top, sprinkle with salt, and cover again. Continue until you have salted all the eggplant, and it's all covered with paper towels. Let it sit for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, you can start making the tomato sauce. Chop up at least one onion into small pieces - if you like a lot of onion in your sauce, use more. Heat some olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and saute for at least a few minutes, until it starts to turn translucent. Add your tomato sauce and cook until heated through and bubbly. Add the basil (chopping is optional, but I usually do). Turn off the heat.

Beat the egg in a bowl with a small sprinkle of salt, and prepare a plate with bread crumbs. Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg, then dredge in the bread crumbs and set aside. Do this with all the eggplant.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices on each side until golden, then remove from the oil. Drain on paper towels if desired. In a lasagne or other baking dish, place a layer of eggplant, and top it with some of the tomato sauce. Grate some parmesan cheese over it. Repeat these layers, until you run out of ingredients.



Cover the baking dish and bake at least until the eggplant is heated through, minimum 20 minutes. Uncover for the last few minutes to brown the top, if desired.

Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Simple basil pesto

I haven't posted too many recipes lately, so I thought I'd put up a quick, easy recipe I'm doing a lot this time of year - pesto. Technically, pesto is any herb that is suspended in oil, but most people associate pesto with basil. Basil grows really well in Davis, so well that I always have way too much of it and end up frantically giving it away. The main problem is that there just aren't that many ways to use it. My primary ways to use basil are in pesto, liquor, or just added a bit of it to dishes such as salads, soups, risottos, etc. The only time basil is ever really the star is in pesto or liquor. (BTW, if anyone wants the exact basil liquor recipe, just request it in the comments and I'll do a post on it).

Pesto has really only a few basic ingredients - basil, salt, olive oil, and garilc are the only ingredients I use to make the basic paste. Traditional pesto, from Genoa, also calls for pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

I don't use pine nuts because they're expensive and because I use my in-laws recipe, which doesn't call for pine nuts, probably because my in-laws are not from Genoa. I've heard that you can also use walnuts.

I do use parmesan cheese, but I don't add it until I serve the pesto. I don't know why, that's just the way my husband likes it. I think I also read that it freezes better without the cheese.

OK, so the recipe - I already gave you the ingredients, and I don't measure, as you'll see. Here they are again:

Basil, garlic, olive oil, salt

You need at least a handful of basil, more is better. Put this in a blender, or chop it up very finely with a knife or mezzaluna, or crush it with a mortar and pestle. I recommend the blender, unless you want a less creamy consistency. Add some garlic - for only a handful of basil, add half a clove or less. You can always add more if you want it more pungent later. Then add some olive oil, and turn the blender on. (This would also be the time to add the pine nuts or walnuts, if you're using them.) You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if you need more oil. Keep adding it bit by bit until you get a creamy paste. Sprinkle in just a bit of salt, then taste it. Adjust the salt and garlic if you like - this is a matter of personal taste.

If you're going to freeze it, I recommend adding only the amount of oil necessary to make a paste - when you thaw it, you can add more oil to get the consistency you want. I freeze mine by packing it into ice cube trays and sticking them in the freezer. When they're frozen, I pop them out and put them in a freezer bag. And voila!

A final note on freezing basil - Last year, I blanched my basil (dunked it for about 10 seconds in boiling water), squeezed out the excess water (try using a salad spinner if you have one), and packed it into freezer bags in as flat a layer as possible. Now when I need some for soup or something, I just break off a piece, chop it up, and toss it in. It defrosts really quickly, and is very handy for cooking. But it does have a little bit of extra water content from blanching that fresh basil wouldn't have, so adjust your recipes accordingly.

Changing seasons - fall and winter

Fall is in the air. While it’s still too warm for mittens and heavy sweaters, it’s cool enough for a morning mug of tea, sipped while the sun is still rising and the slanted early light gives the world a surreal look. My morning ride to the train station is becoming colder and darker. The quality of the late afternoon light is changing from bright and blue and sunny to warm golden and amber

Some people may see fall as a harbinger of cold, barren winter, a time for isolation and dreariness. I prefer to think of it as a time for gathering in houses, celebrating the harvest, enjoying the crisp clean air, reveling in the colors, bundling up and taking long walks and stepping on the fallen leaves just to hear the satisfying crunch under my feet. The bright colorful blossoms of spring and the green of summer (or brown of summer in the Sacramento Valley) give way to the rich, subdued hues of autumn – earthy oranges and reds and golden browns.

In my life as a gardener, I suppose could think of the end of summer as a sad time, as my garden is dying and I’m finishing up the last of my canning and freezing. The plants that still remain from my summer garden are making their last efforts and drying up. But, like, most gardeners I suspect, I’m already thinking ahead. I’ve already started planting seeds and seedlings for the fall and the winter, and in my head I’m mapping out the spring and summer gardens for next year.

And like most things in life, the change is gradual as summer eases into fall. Even though the green beans and zucchini are fading fast, the eggplant and peppers, the vegetables of late summer, are holding their own while I dig up the garden around them. I’ve recently planted turnips and carrots and beets, sturdy, reliable root vegetables that will go into soups and stews to warm the quiet fall evenings.

Throughout the fall and winter, we’ll have lettuce and spinach, cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli and squash. We’ll open jars of tomato sauce or thaw out pesto for our hearty pasta dinners. We’ll spread some strawberry or peach jam on some homemade bread for breakfast along with our morning tea. In the evenings, we’ll enjoy mulled wine with apple or pumpkin pie, snuggled on the couch with the cat.

When I’m too busy, life often passes me by without a second thought. I don’t take time to notice my surroundings, much less appreciate them. But in the fall, life at home slows down just like life in the garden, giving me a little more time to think about my blessings, and meditate on the amazing change of seasons that never lets me get bored.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Settling into fall

Fall is definitely arriving. While the weather has warmed up again, it's definitely more of an Indian summer, and it's getting dark earlier and earlier in the evenings. We're still eating outside because the weather is so nice, but we need to turn on the lights even when we eat a bit early.

The garden is looking good, although the bermuda grass is already coming back. I can tell it's going to be a huge problem this year. The fennel, leeks, turnips, and radishes have sprouted, and in no time I'll be back to weeding. We should be eating our own lettuce by next week, with luck.

We're about to have the last of the eggplant, and tomatoes as well. The peppers are still there, but they're clearly at the end of their season as well.

Does anyone know what to do with lima beans? They're about ready, and I have to confess that I don't know if I've ever eaten lima beans, let alone grown them. I am completely clueless. It'll just be another experiment, which I'll write about after the fact.

Even though the zucchini is gone from the garden, the fridge is still full of it, so we'll be eating that for a while. Too bad, Loris.

It's late (for me, I'm old) so I have to get to bed. There's laundry to be put away and straightening up to do, but it will have to wait for another day. Maybe another week.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is something that is incredibly easy to make and is delicious when it is homemade. It really doesn't even compare to the store-bought variety at all. The biggest drawback is that it doesn't keep very long. Homemade mayonnaise is a great base for other things as well - rouille, aioli, and so on. I sometimes add other flavorings as well - I'll add lemon if we'll be eating it with seafood, for example.

The only real ingredients you need are olive oil and one or more eggs, depending on how much you want to make. One egg makes quite a bit of mayonnaise - about a cup or so - so if you don't know how much you are going to want, start slow and then make more if you need it.

The one piece of equipment you need if you want to make mayonnaise easily is a blender with a lid that you can remove while it is running. It's even better if you can remove only a small part of the lid (such as a cap in the center) to avoid making a big mess. This is not totally necessary - mayonnaise is traditionally made by hand with a whisk, in which case you need to add the oil very, very slowly - I don't have much luck with this method, as I usually don't have the time or the patience.

Break the egg into the blender. Turn the blender to the lowest setting. Add the olive oil in a slow stream, until the mixture emulsifies. This will take a surprising amount of olive oil. I use good, expensive olive oil, because I want a good, quality mayonnaise. Keep in mind that the mayonnaise will take on the flavor of whatever oil you are using. You will hear a difference in the blender as the mixture emulsifies. Continue to add oil and blend if you would like a thicker mayonnaise, otherwise, stop when you're happy with the consistency. Refrigerating it also thickens it up a bit. Add a tiny bit of salt, to taste, but this is optional.

To make aioli, add some garlic with the egg in the beginning. Go easy on the garlic. Probably less than one clove per egg. If you're using more than one egg, try making just one batch first, so you can taste the pungency of the mayo and adjust for the second batch.

Rouille is a type of spicy French mayonnaise, which I use for soupe de poisson. While there are many recipes on the internet, and if you ask people from Southern France, you will undoubtedly get numerous different recipes. I found it easiest to make an aioli base, then stir in some powdered cayenne pepper, and saffron (optional). I serve it on croutons or crostini, dunked in the soupe, with gruyere or other swiss cheese.

Final note: Sometimes the mayo will "break", meaning it either doesn't emulsify, or it starts to emulsify and then separates again. If you are struggling with this, it could be that you are adding oil too quickly. Remove the entire mixture from the blender, but don't throw it away! Start again with another egg, then add your broken mixture as if it were just oil, very slowly. You'll end up with a double batch, but I'm sure you can think of recipes for which to use it!

Enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Garden update


After a week of digging, adding compost, weeding, and planting, here is what the garden actually looks like.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lovely dinner

I didn't take a picture, but we just finished a really delicious dinner of handmade pasta with a sauce of butter, leeks, cream, and scallops, a salad of heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and some cheese. So yummy.

Pasta - homemade
Butter - eh
Leeks - from the garden
Cream - local
Scallops - farmer's market
Tomatoes - farmer's market
Peppers - from the garden
Cheese - we brought it back from Italy

I made the pasta sauce by thinly slicing the leeks and sauteeing them in butter. After about five minutes, I added the chopped scallops and cooked for another 2 or 3 minutes. Added a bit of salt and pepper, mixed it with the pasta, then added some cream.

Beginning of fall garden diagram


This isn't quite accurate - I haven't planted the fava beans yet. But otherwise, it's a plan-in-progress for what's happening in the garden right now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

First fall plantings

Now that we're finally having some cooler days, I can think about planting my fall and winter garden. It's still in the low 90's in the afternoons, but the nights are cool, and the days are bearable. It's a good idea to give the plants a start before it gets too cold for them. Plus, this way we may have some vegetables for Thanksgiving!

On Saturday, I cleared out a lot of the garden, dug in some compost, and planted lettuce and chard seedlings, and fennel seeds.

Today, I dug in some more compost and planted two rows of carrots, two rows of turnips, one row of radishes and one row of beets. I would have planted more beets, but I ran out of seeds. Whoops! It's the same package I started in the spring.

So we'll have the lettuce and radishes for salad by mid-October, and turnips, beets and carrots by late fall, hopefully. It will be my first time growing fennel so I'll have to do an update on how it goes.

Three cheers for the new seasons. If you have garden-attention-deficit-disorder, like me, you'll find that the seasons are just the right length to always keep you interested and excited by what comes next.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An argument for affluence

Affluence - as uncomfortable as I am with that term, I cannot deny that I am affluent. I cannot escape the fact that I am affluent because I am American and therefore I have more than others. When I say that, I mean it in two different ways. Relatively speaking, by definition, Americans are affluent because we have more wealth than the majority of other people in this world. Far more.

Based on a complex global economy, which in itself is based on treaties, embargoes, international policies, greed, protectionism, and exploitation, we are affluent because we depend on the rest of the world to provide us with what we want, essentially at their own expense. If all the poor of the world had even their basic needs met, we could not live at the standards that we now do. So I also mean that we are affluent because of this cause-and-effect mechanism.

Affluence as a term is very similar to wealth. One definition of wealth is “an abundance of items of economic value.” (from wikipedia). Economic value, at least in the western world, is typically determined by the “free market” (although considering the recent government bailouts of major corporations, the term “free market” as applied to western-style capitalism is really a joke). By this definition, wealth equals quantity. In a larger sense, wealth is a greater quantity of material things that have economic value in a global market, and the ability to trade these things fairly. America is a country that values material things, and uses them as a measure of wealth.

Often, when we talk about friends, family members, or even strangers who are in financial difficulties, we find ourselves becoming disgusted with their purchases, deciding unilaterally that what they’ve bought isn’t something they really needed. The responsible way to handle money, we tell ourselves (and sometimes others), especially when money is tight, is to buy only what we need, and not something we merely want. But we’re still talking about quantity, of course, and we’re talking about it in terms of economic measures, of physical things on which we can place a market value.

In a physical sense, as animals, all we need to survive is oxygen, food, water, shelter. Then we have non-physical goals that we would typically describe as “wants”. We want such things as love, acceptance, community, freedom from worry, the tolerance of others, a meaningful way to spend our time, recognition of our good qualities and forgiveness of our mistakes. To do more than just survive on a physical level, to really thrive, I would argue that these things are psychological or social needs. And interestingly, none of these things can be bought, directly, with money. In fact, in many ways, these things are either completely independent of monetary value, or they have an inverse relationship to money. They can’t be quantified.

Compared to typical Americans, the lifestyle my husband and I live might not be considered affluent (although by global standards we are incredibly rich). We share a car, and we either coordinate our schedules, or we take alternate transportation – bus (me), train (me), or bike (both of us). We grow a lot of our own food (well, that’s mostly me, too). I bake my own bread, shop at the local food cooperative and a variety of farmer’s markets, and preserve a lot of food for the winter. I enjoy making things by hand. I meet with like-minded friends for discussion and to read thought-provoking books. My husband and I both love getting out into nature, hiking, meditating, experiencing the beauty of the natural world. None of these things are valued in the “free market”. They have no economic value, and bring our family little or no wealth, despite the fact that they fulfill our psychological needs. By our own standards, we feel very lucky, and very wealthy.

Based on this, I would propose a new definition of the word affluent. “Wealth” derives from the old English word "weal", which means "well-being". Despite current usage, the term was originally an adjective to describe the possession of great qualities. Can you imagine a society in which people who have a sense of wonder, compassion, justice, forgiveness, quiet intelligence, humility, charity – these are the people who are considered wealthy? A society in which those who take only what they need and give everything else they have to those in need, they are the ones who are considered affluent?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last big canning day of the year, I hope

Yesterday was a crazy day again. Loris and I went for a 29-mile bike ride, which was absolutely beautiful despite the fact that it was already starting to get pretty hot. We drove a few miles out of Davis and parked because I wanted to stop by a produce stand on the way back.

I don’t think it was local produce, considering they had everything from iceberg lettuce to broccoli to peppers and eggplant. But no heirloom tomatoes =(

We bought two 20-pound boxes of roma tomatoes to make up for the sorry supply in our garden, and I spent the afternoon making tomato sauce (and trying to make juice). By the end of the afternoon, I think I got my method down pretty well. I sliced the tomatoes at least in half (the bigger ones were cut into thirds or quarters), and cooked them on the stove for about 30-40 minutes. Then I used a ladle to scoop out the solids and strain them in my mesh strainer (NOT a fine-mesh strainer), then passed the solids through my juice/sauce machine. This made for a nice thick sauce, to which I added some salt and chopped basil. I strained the remaining liquid into a couple of pots, and I’m hoping to cook it down today to make some tomato juice. I think I’ll get a quite a few quarts of juice.

Loris used one jar of sauce with a jar of olives we bought at the market to make some fantastic pasta for dinner. We’re so spoiled.

Tonight I’m hoping to make eggplant parmesan for dinner and an extra one or two to freeze.

So the tally for the weekend:

6 jars of peach jam (4 small ones, 2 pints)
3 quarts of canned peaches
19 pints of tomato sauce (13 canned, one for dinner, 5 frozen)
Tomato juice (not finished yet)
3 loaves of French bread
Chocolate gelato (yum yum)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Just had a really long day followed by a fantastic homemade dinner. This is my big, final weekend of food preservation (I hope). I made and canned peach jam and several jars of quartered peaches in syrup. I also baked some bread and made dark chocolate gelato.

For dinner tonight, I made scallops from the farmer's market stuffed with a basil and garlic paste (pictures coming!). Loris made bruschetta with my homemade honey-whole-wheat bread, lardo from Italy, honey from the farmer's market, and grilled shallots from our garden. He also made a salad of potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and basil.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lists

I went to the garden after work yesterday.

I picked:

- A couple dozen tomatoes
- 3-4 eggplants
- 6-10 peppers
- Several LARGE zucchini/yellow squash
- A few handfuls of green beans
- One large bag of basil
- One large bag of parsley
- 3-4 leeks

I noticed:

- I killed the butternut squash plant when I accidentally pulled it up while weeding last week
- The last melon isn’t going to make it
- The lima beans have tons of flat pods, but no actual beans inside yet
- The green beans are really drying out and not producing much more
- The zucchini is probably almost done for the season
- Only one heirloom tomato plant is even trying anymore

I wondered:

- When I would have time to get my fall seeds in the ground
- What I would do with all that basil
- What I should have done differently with the tomato plants

Tonight I plan to:

- Make vegetable soup to freeze (still need to chop green beans and carrots)
- Make a summer vegetable risotto for dinner (and to freeze)
- Make bread for dinner and breakfast (and extra to freeze)
- Make pesto (to freeze?)
- Chop zucchini to freeze for later soup-making

By mid-September I plan to:

- Finish making and canning tomato sauce
- Finish making all the liquors I have going right now
- Plant my fall vegetable garden
- Get started on some craft projects that I’ve been putting off forever

Friday, August 29, 2008

Freezing

I'm not actually freezing, considering that it's been over 100 degrees these last few days and sleeping is even difficult because it's so hot. I walked to the Amtrak station before 10am to pick up my pass for September, and it was already hot - really nice for a summer afternoon, not such a great thing when there are still many hours to go before the hottest part of the day. Last night around 6:45, in the car with the windows down on the freeway, sweat was trickling down my legs as we drove to Woodland to get our new ... freezer!

We begged the guy at Sears to give it to us even though we arrived 5 minutes after they closed, loaded the hulky thing into our car, and made a stop at Home Depot for a board to put under it since it will be sitting on carpet. We got home, started to unpack it, and discovered ... a wooden stake jammed into the vent on the side of the freezer. I was so disappointed. A call to customer service revealed that we could of course return it to the store where we purchased it, but they would not come pick it up nor deliver a replacement. We'd have to order it again and wait for it to arrive again and make another trip to Woodland.

After a few hours of me grumping about the situation, Loris discovered that the stake probably hadn't caused any damage besides the obvious bent metal of the vent - we could see into the back of the engine unit and it looked like it had missed damaging anything inside. We're not supposed to turn it on until 24 horus after we set it upright inside, so we'll find out tonight or tomorrow if it's ok.

And then ... ice cream, frozen peppers (chopped and roasted), grass-fed meat, loaves of bread, soup, zucchini, green beans ... it's going to be crazy few weeks while I can and freeze stuff.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Crazy days of summer

Last night was busy again. I baked bread, made simple syrup and started filtering the basil liquor, made two crostate (with my "new" tart pan - 50 cents from the thrift store), and chopped up peppers to freeze. And walked to the store to get milk for the crostata.

Loris and I ordered a small (I hope) chest freezer, and it's available for pick-up today. I'm really excited, in a nerdy sort of way. My fridge is full of eggplant, zucchini, carrots, and green beans. I'll probably make some eggplant parmesan to freeze, and chop up a few more bags of vegetables for soup. I also plan to occasional freeze a loaf of bread, so we won't go without so often. I'll be freezing some soft bread for my morning toast. Maybe some ice cream to have on hand. And some soup. Maybe I'll also chop up and freeze some butternut squash, so I have it on hand when I need it.

The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tomato lessons

This year was not a good tomato year for me, and I don't expect much from the rest of the season. I hope when I look back, I can say that I learned a lot from this year. I grew enough other vegetables that we didn't really feel the lack of tomatoes, but I have to say that I did miss the overabundance, the beauty of the glowing yellow varieties, the colorful stripes, the deep, dark scarlet color that indicated perfect ripeness.

Out of all the varieties I planted this year, the watermelon beefsteak was a stellar performer, producing 10-15 huge, beautiful heirlooms within a couple weeks. The costoluto genovese also produced beautiful lobed red tomatoes, more gradually over the course of the summer. We got a few tomatoes here and there from our purple/black varieties, and no yellow ones whatsoever. It was a disappointment.

My system for growing the 24 roma tomato plants consisted of staking each plant with its own stake, pinching off side shoots and letting two main shoots grow up the stake. That would have worked well for the tall, vine-like heirloom tomatoes, which I couldn't keep contained in their cages, but it didn't work so well for the short, bushy romas.

This year I had 30 tomato plants - 24 romas for sauce, and 6 heirlooms for salads. Next year, I'll grow 12-18 romas for sauce, and 12-18 heirlooms for sauce and slicing, still for a total of 30. Having heirlooms fill both requirements will also give me flexibility - if I don't need more sauce, I will have delicious, juicy heirlooms for other things. If I do need more sauce, I'll have some hefty toamtoes to bulk up my supplies - the romas are heavy producers, but the fruits are pretty small.

The romas I'll grow like last year - one stake every three plants, held up by twine strung horizontally from stake to stake, trying to limit the number of side shoots, but not being religious about it. Heirlooms I'll stake individually, limiting the main vines to two per plant.

I'll also be growing them in a different spot in the garden, which may work well, as it's a bit wider. I think the tomatoes can use the extra space.

One of the nicest things about the end of a season is thinking ahead to next year. While I'm picking the last of the tomatoes, waiting for the weather to (finally) cool off and the leaves to change, I'll be dreaming of next year's crop - always thinking about how much better it will be. A gardener is forever an optimist.

Busy, busy days

Yesterday I spent 2 HOURS weeding the garden. It's crazy, but I'm learning lessons. Like, no matter how much I love sunflowers, I should never let volunteers grow anywhere they want to in my garden. They turn into minitature trees that are a huge pain to remove. And I really need to weed around the zucchini when it's small. And the green beans, too, because it's so hard to weed when they get bigger.

So yesterday, I almost completely cleaned one section of my garden - the only things left are the melon, butternut squash (which I planted too late, I guess), a few carrots, and a wall of basil. I'm going to start planting winter veggies there as soon as I can get to the store to buy some seedlings and compost. Here it is, the end of August, and we are suffering 103 degree heat. It's hard to think about planting fall and winter vegetables.

The early and mid summer vegetables are tapering off. We certainly didn't have much luck with tomatoes in general this year, and especially the heirlooms. One plant, the watermelon beefsteak, did especially well, and the costoluto genovese did, too. The others all pretty much sucked. The zucchini and yellow squash are definitely slowing down, and so are the green beans. The peppers, on the other hand, are still going strong, along with the eggplant, and the lima beans are full of pods, just waiting to fatten up.

Pretty soon I'll be planting carrot and turnip seeds, and maybe some leeks, and some cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. In a few months, it will be time for the garlic and shallots, which we are immensely enjoying from last year's crop. Fall is just around the corner - and I have to get ready, even if it is sweltering outside.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomato sauce

I didn't realize that I have never really described how to make tomato sauce. Here's are some basic instructions, although no pictures (sorry). Keep in mind, this is a very plain tomato sauce - the idea is that you add whatever else you want (i.e. onions, mushrooms, etc.) when you actually use the sauce.

Ingredients:

10 kg tomatoes
A few handfuls of basil
Some salt
Lemon juice optional

1. Chop up the tomatoes and toss them in a big pot (or two if necessary). Put this on the stove. My husband's family recommends squeezing them to get some of the excess liquid out (to have a saucier sauce). I use roma tomatoes only, so far, which don't really have excess liquid at this stage, so I never do this.

2. Add some salt (a small handful or so), turn the heat to medium, and cook for 30-40 minutes. Do not cover - you want some of the liquid to boil off.

3. Straing the sauce to lose some of the water. I use a T-shirt in a colander and strain in batches. Don't use a T-shirt that you plan on wearing ever again. I used to do a double-layer, now I just use one layer of T-shirt. I also try to pour off any really watery stuff that doesn't strain out.

4. Pass the tomatoes through a tomato press or sauce machine, such as this one, to remove the skin and seeds. At this ponit, if your sauce is really watery still, you can cook it down some more if you want. I never do (maybe I should, though).

5. Chop up the basil and stir it in. You can do this earlier, but I find that I lose a lot of it in the the sauce machine.

6. Process in a water-bath canner. Add lemon juice if you want - the USDA is now saying that lemon juice should be added to tomato sauce before canning ina hot-water-bath canner (google it for more info and for precise amounts to add).

NOTE: Don't try canning without researching about it first. While you can cut corners here and there, and botulism poisoning is extremely rare, it's still better to be safe than sorry. If you don't want to take the risk, you can probably freeze the sauce.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Heirlooms


Watermelon beefsteak

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Local dinner

First course: Roasted butternut squash and garlic soup

- Homegrown butternut squash
- Homegrown garlic
- Onions from the farmer's market in Sacramento
- Local olive oil (from Sacramento)
- Knorr vegetable broth from?

Second course: Roasted pepper and roasted beet salad

- Homegrown bell peppers
- Homegrown beets
- Homegrown shallots
- Local olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar (not local)
- Salt (in bulk from the Davis co-op)

Bread from the Village Bakery
Butter made from local cream (Strauss family creamery)


NOTE: I should start making my own veggie broth; and the same company that makes the olive oil also makes balsamic vinegar. So I do have room to improve.

multi-tasking

Right now I'm blending some roasted butternut squash and garlic soup, making vanilla ice cream, about to make some butter, and after that I'll peel some roasted beets. And this is an easy night. I think my life has gotten a little bit too complicated.

There still laundry hanging on the line from two days ago that i haven't had time to take down.

In fact, while I type, I'm also trying to whisk the egg yolks for the ice cream.

And I only have time to do all this because I skipped going to the garden today.

Speaking of the garden, I'm hoping to chat about what's going on, and about more of my plans for next year while I'm at it. Next post, I hope. But just to give an idea, I have to preserve some green beans, peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes pretty soon. And I have eggplant to prepare too.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Returning from Italy

Coming back to my garden after two weeks away is a bit of a nightmare. Some of our friends in Davis were extremely thoughtful to water our garden for the time we were gone, and my sister stopped by in the middle to water the tomatoes, pick green beans, and generally set things in order as much as possible in an hour or two. Going to the garden at least every other day really hid from me the amazing changes that go on every day, but which are so small that I don't even notice them.

Primarily, despite my warnings to my friends to not touch my tomatoes, apparently they didn't know they also weren't supposed to water them. So for two weeks, they got way more water than I ever intended, and the resulting growth is incredible. I have vines falling all over the place, and have already spent a lot of time trying to get them back under control. I don't have all that many tomatoes yet, for this time of year. We've had a few heirlooms, and I have a basket of romas, and that's about it so far. Hopefully in another week or two I'll be able to start canning. Since we have so many jars of sauce from last year still, I'll probably make more tomato juice and ketchup this year instead. Yum!

We have had three beautiful melons - two were extremely ripe when we returned from Italy, and one isn't ready yet. We've already eaten one and a half of them, they're super-sweet and delicious. I don't know if I'll plant them again, though. For the amount of space they take up, I don't know if it's worth it.

We had tons of green beans. Unfortunately, the plants seem to be drying out quite a bit. We'll see what happens. I'm having a hard time with the weeds, they inter-grow with the bean plants and it's really hard to pull them. The beans are also getting huge and falling over - I may try staking them to keep them off the paths.

We also have lots of carrots and beets. The latest batch of carrots look great, much better than the older ones. It's about time to start planting new ones for fall. We're just about out of beets, I'm not sure if I'll try to grow them in the fall or wait again until early next spring.

Another thing that is doing great are the shallots. I've essentially stopped watering them, but some of them are still in the ground. I'll probably pull them all out today and store them with the garlic in our carport. They're delicious, and I think well worth growing.

The peppers are also doing amazingly well, but are suffering a lot from the weeds as well. I plan to do some major weeding after work today, and if I don't finish, I'll have to get to it on Sunday. We eaten a few peppers raw and in salads - none to roast yet. The yellow ones are so light green that it's hard to tell if/when they're ripening.

Basil and parsley is all doing well, really getting big. Both zucchini plants are huge and producing well, and the lima beans grew amazingly fast. It's hard to believe they're the same plants I left 2.5 weeks ago. The cucumber, sadly, isn't looking so great, but it's not a big loss if we lose it. And the eggplants are starting to produce - woohoo!

And that's my not-so-quick update! I'm starting to keep a written garden journal, so that I can post more stories, meals, and essays here instead, and not write out updates and lists and pretend to be interesting.

Friday, July 18, 2008

First five days in Italy

I've been in Italy for almost a week - we arrived Sunday afternoon, and it's now Friday afternoon. Time really flies.

We've eaten some really fantastic meals. I've already mentioned the porcini mushrooms, which we're really lucky to have a chance to eat fresh. It seems that they practically don't exist in the US. At least in Davis, we don't have the climate for them.

We had some of Loris' grandmother Agostina's vegetable soup last night. It was delicious, with onions, carrots, potatoes, green beans, zucchini, and I'm not sure what else. Before I left for Italy, I chopped up some zucchini, green beans, and carrots from the garden and put them in bags in the freezer, to make soup when we get back. I can't wait to get a dedicated freezer to store some of this stuff. We also had fresh mozzarella and stracchino, and a slice or two of pizza.

Speaking of pizza, that's what we're having tonight, at the Nebbius, the bar/hotel/pizzeria at the bottom of the square. We had a seafood lunch at the house in Aisone yesterday - pasta with clam sauce, grilled trout caught by Teresio, salad from the garden, and gelato.

And speaking of cheese, we had some fantastic cheese at Centro Fondo with our pasta and porcini sauce on Monday, and Teresio brought some on our hike today. I hope we remember to get some to take back to the US with us. And oh, the hike ... we climbed the Ischiator, the third highest mountain in the region. We went up in around 3 hours and 15 minutes. Here are some pictures.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tomatoes



Here are just a few pics of my tomatoes, which I took the morning that we left for Italy, July 12.

Compare this picture with the tomatoes just after I planted them

Mushrooms

Mushroom hunting yesterday was pretty fun. I mostly just followed Loris' dad around through the woods and felt useless. Kind of like when he took me fishing. The only really sucky part was when I slipped and put my hand down on a spiky chestnut and got all the little splinters in my hand. I didn't have tweezers b/c I decided to leave my pocket knife in Davis. We did manage to get most of the splinters out of my hand in random ways, though. The amount of mushrooms we didn't take would have cost a thousand dollars in the US it seemed. His dad was super picky and would only take perfect porcinis, even though there were lots of less perfect ones and other beautiful edible mushrooms, too.

Here's a photo of the one "good" porcini mushroom:


And these are some porcini mushrooms I found at the
farmer's market in Davis a few weeks ago:


Loris sauteed them with garlic, mint, and parsley:

And then added tomato sauce:

Friday, July 11, 2008

leaving for Italy

Loris and I are leaving for Italy tomorrow. I'm sad that we're leaving the garden right when things are really starting to produce. We ate a few tomatoes last night, and I know when I get back I'll have to start making sauce right away.

I don't have much to say, except that I've been too busy to do much lately. I've been just keeping the zucchini and green beans picked, and that's about it. No bread-making, no weeding, no planting, nothing. What in the world have I been doing with my time? I'm not really sure.

I'll write some food-related posts from Italy, and maybe some outdoorsy posts, too.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Zucchini


As usual, we are starting to have more zucchini than we can handle. Here, Loris is sauteeing some zucchini with onion before he adds the eggs to make a frittata.

Monday night

I stopped by the garden today on my way home from work. It's looking great. I accidentally picked our first tomato, which isn't quite ripe yet, but will be shortly. I also picked another zucchini, a few handfuls of green beans, basil, and parsley.

The lima beans are already up, they started poking out of the ground and uncurling their first sets of leaves on Friday. More are still coming, as I can see from where the dirt is cracking open. The two melons are getting bigger almost daily, but I still don't think we'll be eating them before we leave for Europe.

Tonight for dinner we had green beans cooked with onions, tomato sauce, and parsley, and store-bought gnocchi with freshly made pesto. And homemade bread, which is getting a bit old. And the last bits of cheese from our rafting trip yesterday. We just took a walk to our "neighborhood store" (Rite Aid) to buy milk to eat with our leftover chocolate chip cookies. It's going to be a good evening =)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Canned dill zucchini

Dilled Zucchini Sticks

Ingredients

(4 servings)

4 1/2 lb Zucchini
3 tb Pickling salt
2 1/2 c White vinegar
1 1/4 c Sugar
1 ts Celery seed
1 ts Dill seed
1 md Cooking onion, thinly sliced
4 Cloves garlic
4 Sprigs dill weed

Instructions

Wash zucchini, retaining peel and removing ends; quarter lengthwise; cut quarters in half. Layer zucchini and salt in a large glass, stainless steel or enamel bowl; let stand 1 hour.
Fill boiling water canner with water. Place 4 clean pint mason jars in canner over high heat.
Place snap lids in boiling water; boil 5 min to soften sealing compound.
In stainless steel or enamel saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, celery and dill seeds; bring to a boil.
Rinse zucchini in cold water; drain thoroughly, pat dry. Add zucchini and onion to pickling liquid; bring to a boil; boil 5 min.
Place 1 clove garlic and 1 large sprig of dill weed in a hot jar; pack zucchini and onion slices snugly in jar to within 3/4 inch of top rim. Add boiling pickling liquid to cover vegetables to within 1/2 inch of top rim. Remove air bubbles by sliding rubber spatula between glass and food; readjust head space to 1/2 inch. Wipe jar rim removing any stickiness. Center Snap Lid on jar; apply screw band just until fingertip tight. Place jar in canner. Repeat for remaining vegetable and pickling liquid.
Cover canner; return water to a boil; process 10 min for pint jars at altitudes up to 1000 ft. Remove jars. Cool 24 hours. Check jar seals. (Sealed lids curve downward.) Remove screw bands. Wipe jars, label and store in a cool, dark place.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Garlic braid

I harvested the garlic a couple of weeks ago. I had accidentally planted two cloves together in a lot of cases, and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. It turns out that they grew two bulbs right on top of each other, and often one was much bigger and the other much smaller. I think I had around 42 bulbs total, and we almost finished up the bulbs from last year before they went bad completely, so it seems that I'm planting the right amount. If I want to give any more as gifts, I'll have to plant more in the future.

I really wanted to braid them, first because a garlic braid is beautiful, and second because I was hoping they'd take up much less storage space that way. And I think I'm right. I still don't know where to store the braids, though. I made two braids of 13 bulbs each, and the rest are just tied in a bunch for gifts and everyday use.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Garden update - end of June

It's the last week of June, and things are looking pretty good. Here’s a rundown on the garden:

1. Cucumber – really great, we’ve had 4 cukes so far and they’re all delicious. These are pickling cukes, so I could pickle some, but I have to check and see how many jars we still have from last year. We don’t eat a whole lot of pickles normally.

2. Melon – doing fantastic for now! We have two melons about the size of a baseball. Unfortunately, they’re starting to climb the leeks that I haven’t gotten out of the ground yet. I’ll have to take care of that this weekend.

3. Basil – growing quickly. We still have frozen pesto from last year, so I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with it yet (except make liquor!).

4. Sauce tomatoes – the roma tomatoes are doing very well, we have a lot of green tomatoes so far and they’re growing nicely. I’m doing my best to keep them trained to the stakes, and it’s going decently well. I think these varieties are a bushier variety and training them to stakes may not be the way to go. Some of them are climbing the stakes pretty well, but others aren’t. I can’t help wondering if I’m accidentally limiting the harvest by pruning them or not. I have to learn more about it.

5. Heirloom tomatoes – 5 plants now have little green tomatoes! Woohoo! The last one doesn’t – it’s a beefsteak, which I’ve read don’t do that well in Sacramento because it’s slightly too hot here. We’re having a spate of slightly cooler days now, so I’m hoping it will set fruit. I’m so excited about slicing into our first heirloom tomatoes.

6. Peppers – I can’t remember if I posted that I planted 6 MORE pepper plants. I believe I now have 36 plants (plus one spicy pepper for Loris). A bunch of them have pretty good-sized peppers on them now – I’m quite happy with how it’s going.

7. Zucchini – We’ve had 5-6 good-sized zucchini so far and they keep coming. Yum!

8. Shallots – I dug up one bunch and they were delicious. It seemed like they’re still dividing. I don’t know how/if I should store them, so the others are still in the ground.

9. Beets – doing well – see previous post(s)

10. Lima beans – Just planted, June 22. Total experiment – let’s see how it goes!

11. Green beans – are doing extremely well. Most of them have grown big and bushy, and we’ve had enough to make a big green bean and potato salad, with another big batch in the fridge.

12. Yellow summer squash – this seemed to suffer after I planted it, but now it’s picked up and doing pretty well. I expect it to start producing any day now.

13. Carrots – Doing well, but they’re also sort of “unwrapping” the outside layer from the core. They’re still edible, but they look awfully funny. I didn’t do the best job of thinning them, so I’m not sure if that’s part of it or not. They do seem to be too close together.

14. Eggplant – The four original ones I planted are getting big and starting to flower. I think we’ll have some eggplant when we get back from Italy, if not before. The last one, which I just planted within the last month, had a hard time after transplanting, but seems to finally be perking up. Whew.

15. Parsley – Growing quickly into bushes. Hopefully I didn’t plant too much! We’ll be making a lot of bagnet this year, I hope.

16. Leeks – are flowering. Not good. They’re forming a woody center stalk, which makes them difficult if not impossible to eat. I have to get them out of the ground to salvage what I can. They do have beautiful flowers at least. They never got big like the ones you buy at the store. Loris says it’s because they’re too close together. Honestly, I’m not sure they’re worth the trouble. I can see lining the border of a bed with them, but dedicating a whole space to them is probably not the way to go. We just don’t need that many.

Very quick note on lima beans

I planted two varieties of lima beans this past weekend (Sunday June 22, to be exact). One was a standard variety, the other a baby lima bean. I've never grown lima beans before, but I expect they're not too different from peas, and those did quite well. These are both bush varieties, since I really don't have a system set up for a vining type yet. I'm doing my best to keep them moist by watering them every day. I'll post more about growing them when they actually do something - I believe days to germination is supposed to be 6-10.

Very quick note on beets


As I mentioned in the previous post, I pulled 5 beautiful beets out of the garden the other day. I just checked other past entries in this blog, and apparently I planted them not too long before May 14. So apparently they grow pretty fast in the spring. Good to know. It seems like all the winter veggies that I planted last fall took all winter to grow, but the ones I planted in the spring grew amazingly fast. They're actually pretty easy to grow, and cheap when you consider you just need to buy a packet of seeds. I highly recommend growing them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Harvest day

Just a quick note about the garden today. I picked several handfuls of green beans, two cukes, two zucchini, five beets, and a small bunch of carrots (to add to the carrots already in the fridge). And the only thing in the harvest we ate for dinner was a cucumber. I guess we better get busy.

On a side note, the current spate of wildfires (over 800 at last count!) is putting a crimp in my biking to work plans. Luckily I still have the parking pass until Monday.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The new commute

My commute plans are shaping up, despite some current set-backs – I’m so sore from climbing Mt. Shasta that I can’t possibly ride my bike, I have a flat tire waiting to be repaired, and one of the main roads I prefer to use is closed for construction. I can’t complain though – they’re constructing decent bike lanes.

However – the experience is going well so far. I’m getting up around 6:15 and trying to leave the house by bike around 6:30. It takes me about 1 hour and 10-15 minutes to get to work. If I leave on time, I’m here by 7:45. Usually it’s closer to 8. The weather is great right now – I’m a little cold when I leave, but as soon as I warm up, it’s perfect biking temperature. My route is a bit altered b/c of the aforementioned construction, but it doesn’t really add any time to my ride.

Coming home is nice, too. I pedal about two blocks to the Amtrak station, hook my bike up to the on-board bike racks, and settle in to read for the 15 minute ride to Davis. Then I bike about 10 minutes through the university to get home, or I go 5 minutes in the other direction to the garden.

And every once in a while ... I just take the bus.

Zucchini!

The zucchini season has started, and it has started with a bang. Last week, Loris cooked up a delicious zucchini frittata with our first small zucchini from the garden. Before I knew it, we had another one, which I picked before it grew too big to really be good anymore. It’s still sitting in the fridge.

After a weekend spent climbing Mt. Shasta for our first anniversary, we returned home to find two BIG zucchini and a few little ones. I need some recipe ideas! We’re still eating soup and risotto made with frozen zucchini from last year, and we have several jars of pickled zucchini. I unfroze the last mini-loaf of zucchini bread for our backpacking trip, so it's probably time to start replenishing that, as well. Last year I even tried zucchini-chocolate-chip cookies, which worked out ok. I wonder what else I can sneak it into this year?

Luckily, the other summer squash in the garden was planted later, and hasn't started producing yet. My friends and co-workers are going to start getting little edible gifts pretty soon.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Basic bread tutorial

While I have been following bread recipes for many, many years, I have also been through several periods of making up my own. The best bread is usually made from just flour, water, salt, and yeast, and once you have a good technique, you don't really need a recipe any more. Good bread is really much more dependent on technique.

The amounts given will be for two loaves, with the amounts for three loaves in parentheses, and six loaves in brackets. Keep in mind that these amounts are not exact - it's not important to be perfectly precise. Start with 1.5 (2.25) [4.5] cups warm, wrist-temperature water. Add about .75 - 1 tsp (1.25 tsp) [2.5 tsp] active dry yeast, and wait until the yeast activates, about 5-10 minutes. Add just enough flour to absorb into all the yeast, to make a sort of batter or very wet dough. Set aside for about 20 minutes, to allow the flour to hydrate, and the yeast to start its work before adding salt, which acts as a retardant for yeast. After 20 minutes, add about 1.5 tsp (2 tsp) [4 tsp] salt and mix in. Add more flour as necessary until you get a very wet dough. You want it to hold together, and to stick to your fingers, but not so wet that you can't handle it at all. It takes some practice to learn the right amount of hydration. Mix or knead the dough for a good 10-15 minutes.

Let the dough rise in a large bowl, covered, for several hours. For the first two or three hours, you will want to fold the dough every 30-45 minutes, for a total of 2-4 times. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured counter-top. Flatten it, then fold it as follows: fold the top part down to the middle, fold the right side into the middle, then the bottom part up, and the left part over. Fold the dough in half again if necessary, then form into a ball and place back into the large bowl and cover. When you're done with the folding, allow the dough to rise undisturbed.

If you want to let it rise overnight or even up to 24 hours, place it in the fridge AFTER you're done folding, then remove it about 30 minutes to an hour before you are ready to proceed.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured surface. Shape it into a ball by stretching it and pulling the edges down to the bottom, then tucking them under the ball. The idea is to create surface tension, which will prevent the wet dough from just flattening out. Here's what it should look like. If you're making a baguette or torpedo-shaped loaf, you should then elongate the ball (I didn't take a picture). Cover it with a towel and let it rest about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to at least 425.


Turn the ball of dough over so the smooth side is down, and flatten it into a rectangle, like so:


Fold the bottom third of the rectangle up, like you're folding a business letter:


Fold the top third down (again - like a business letter):


Use the side of your hand to press the dough along the center to seal it, and to form an indentation along the length of the loaf.


Fold the dough in half along in the indentation, and use your hand to seal it together into a long, skinny loaf. This isn't a very good picture, but you can get the idea:


Make sure the loaf is well sealed. Tuck the ends under, if necessary, to get a nice, smooth, round end. Space the loaves evenly on a sheet of parchment paper, cover them with a towel, and let rise for 30-60 minutes.


After the bread has risen, slash it with a VERY sharp knife or a razor. Make three slashes at an extreme diagonal - don't just go horizontally across the loaf. The slashes will expand in the oven and let your bread rise when it is exposed to the extreme heat. It will rise quickly, and the length of the slashes will allow the crumb to become light and holey.


Slip the bread into the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes, rotating half-way through if it is not baking evenly. If you tap the bread, it will sound hollow when it is done. Because my oven does not do a great job of creating a crispy crust, I have tried various tricks to achieve it. This last time, I turned on the broiler for the last couple minutes to really brown the crust. Let the bread cool on a rack.


Enjoy! Especially with homemade butter!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

All about tomatoes

NOTE TO SELF - GET PICTURES!!!!!

I LOVE growing tomatoes. I love the way the plants smell, and the way my hands smell after handling the plants. I love the amazing variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. I love the taste! And the versatility of using them. They're delicious fresh in salad, or any number of appetizers. They're delicious on pizza. They make fantastic sauce for pasta or eggplant parmesan. Tomatoes juice is yummy and nutritious. And ketchup! Yummmmmmmmmm.

In my garden, I have six heirlooms (which I believe I wrote about in a previous post), and 24 roma tomato plants. The heirlooms are in cages, and I did try to limit the number of vines they have, although I haven't been too successful. A few of them aren't looking all that great, but a couple already have some nice-sized tomatoes. They're planted down at the end of the rows of romas.

The romas are planted about 18 inches apart in two rows, which are about two feet apart. There's just enough space for me to walk between the rows. I'm keeping myself busy, especially now with the warm weather, because the plants are growing quickly. I'm busy picking off the side shoots, to try to keep the plants to one main stem. The problem is that I'm not sure whether these romas are determinate or indeterminate. If they're determinate, I'm not sure that picking off the side shoots is the best idea. But it's what I was told to do, so I'm doing it. I'll have to look into it more next year.

The plants are anywhere from 1 to 2 feet high right now, and I've just begun tying them to their stakes. I think perhaps I put the stakes a little too far from the plants. They're about 4-6 inches away. I'll update later on how things turn out later in the season.

At this point, I've gradually decreased watering from twice a week to once every 5-6 days. I try to let the water run for at least an hour, more if possible. Today I probably let it run for almost 2 hours. This is really what tomatoes need.

We certainly have our first green tomatoes. When we have our first red, orange, yellow, or purples tomatoes - I'll certainly post a picture!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer garden shaping up

The weather is officially warming up, and the garden is slowly transforming from spring into summer. It's amazing how quickly everything takes off as soon as the warm weather arrives.

Here's a brief diagram of what things look like right now:

The tomatoes are growing like crazy, and I can't always catch the suckers before they get too big. Luckily, I've still got things mostly under control, and I've starting tying up the vines to their stakes. I'll write more about the tomatoes soon. Suffice to say we've got quite a few green ones.

The zucchini is also growing amazingly quickly. We have one small green one, which will probably be ready today or tomorrow. Now THAT was fast!

The green beans already have tiny, little fruits, I'm really looking forward to eating my first green beans of the season. I have at least two or three varieties planted. Green beans seem to go through a shock when they're transplanted. They always seem to wither a bit and take a few days to recover. The most recent transplants are still suffering, but the older plants are quickly turning into bushes.

The carrots are coming up just beautifully. (Reminder to self - post a picture!) Despite my thinning, they are still to close together, but I'm trying to pick the bigger ones in each group and leave some space for the smaller ones to grow some more.

The eggplants aren't doing much. I'm hoping they wake up soon, and realize that summer is almost here!

I may have planted the beets a little late, I was just trying to get something into the ground in a small patch I have available. I'm actually having weed issues in that corner of the garden. The peas are drying out, and almost not producing at all anymore, so they're coming out soon, possibly this weekend. After I harvest the beets (and carrots), I may do a serious weeding session and try to conquer them. The real issue is my garden neighbor, who lets his lot go pretty badly in the winter. The weeds just keep spreading over to my side from there.

The garlic and shallots are drying out! I turned off their sprinklers a couple weeks ago, and they're starting to turn brown. Good timing, since our garlic from last year is going bad pretty quickly. Lukcily we only have a couple heads left. I'm really looking forward to braiding the garlic this year, and also to trying our first home-grown shallots!

Everything else is doing really well. The basil plants are quickly becoming bushes, the cucumber is starting to climb it's cage, the ambrosia melon is spreading in all directions, and the leeks are ... still there. They don't seem to be getting much bigger, but they're just as delicious at the size they are now.

And that's everything! I guess my updates aren't ever really that quick!