Monday, June 30, 2008


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


(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


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.


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


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!