Friday, August 29, 2008


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.


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


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.


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.