Beautiful Morning

Beautiful Morning.

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Beautiful Morning

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Springtime is so lovely in Sonoma County. This morning the birds woke me with a symphony of sounds and song. It’s a happy sound to wake up to, much better than the alarm clock. The days have been warm, and the nights cool. The garden is alive and abloom.

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The blood oranges are ready. The cool morning air is full of their beautiful fragrance, similar to jasmine. Sweet and delicate, the bees seem to go crazy for the flowers.
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I plan to make some marmalade with these, or maybe popsicles.

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The hoop house is filled with a jungle of greens. Ruby Swiss chard, spinach, cilantro, and lettuce are all going crazy in here. Time to start eating this stuff! I plan to make a spinach-chard-goat cheese tart soon.
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Let’s peek in on the artichokes and see how they are doing. Ah, almost ready!
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These are violetto artichokes, a wonderful purple color until you cook them, and then they turn green. Sharp stickers on these babies demand careful picking.
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The girls watch me with renewed interest. Are you gonna feed us? You bet. These chicks eat lots of greens, and their egg yolks are rich and golden-yellow. It’s going to be unusually hot today, so I brought them a treat, some watermelon. They love to eat the seeds, and then the flesh of the fruit. It keeps them hydrated. Keep cool chicks.
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Have you started your spring garden? What are you planting this year? It’s always fun to plant some thing. The dirt is like a blank canvas, just waiting for some creative embellishment.
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Don’t be afraid to try and grow your own food. It’s easier than you think.

Spring in Sonoma

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

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With a break in the rain, I dashed out to the garden to take some photos. I want to share what’s going on in our edible garden this spring. With all the much needed rain, the plants are all just bursting with life.

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These beautiful iris side track me. So vivid against the green in the front yard.

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Vincent Van Gogh would be inspired. These bulbs were planted long ago, and still come up every year, like clock work. It is amazing to me they know just when to open and bloom.

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The kitchen garden is doing very well with all the rain. The spinach and chard I planted in this box back in January have been going strong. The spinach is cold tolerant, and does just fine out in the open.

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If you ask me, you can never have too much spinach or chard. It cooks down a lot, so you always need more than you think. Tonight, I will throw some on mushroom ravioli, and serve with pesto sauce. Spinach is easy to grow, and is so good. I buy my spinach and chard seeds from The Natural Gardening Company. They are in Petaluma, Ca and are the oldest certified organic nursery in the United States.

I have never grown lettuce in the winter/spring, so this year we decided to try it in our hoop house. My husband gave this to me for Christmas. What a stellar gift, one that keeps on giving!

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I planted two types of lettuce and some more spinach at the end of January. It took about a month for the lettuce to start producing tender heads. We have been eating fresh lettuce and spinach for over a month now. All I can say is, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”

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The seeds were bought online from Seeds of Change. Great company. The two varieties here are Waldmann’s Dark Green and Emerald Oak Leaf. Super easy to grow and delicious to eat.

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it is sort of luscious, like a hot house in here. The plants really like it. There is a sunflower coming up, as well as some tomatillos.

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The artichoke plants have sprung back to life. They amaze me. By summer’s end, the plants are completely dried up and gone. Then, as the rains start after Christmas, like a phoenix, the plants rise from the dead trunk and become vibrant again. And if you peek inside one, look!

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A baby artichoke. In a few more weeks, we will harvest these little babies. They come in strong until June. I can’t wait.

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Garlic bed looks good. The plants are a little small this year, because of the drought, but maybe with all this late rain, they will catch up by harvesting time in June.

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The strawberries are covered with flowers. Good things are coming. We usually just eat these all here, in the garden. Very few make it inside the house…

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The blueberries are almost ready too. Same thing here, they get eaten on site. Not many make it to the kitchen.

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I planted some snow peas a week or two ago. I save these seeds, but bought a new variety this year from the folks at Kitazawa Seed Co. I have been using their seeds for years now. All delicious and reliable. The snow peas or sugar snap peas are a great choice if you want to grow only one thing that will do well. They are prolific. All you need is some dirt, and a trellis of some sort.

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I planted mine in a bed, with a bamboo trellis. You can find the trellis at a nursery or make your own. Totally.Worth.It. The peas are another item in the garden that get eaten on site. But quite a few do make it to the kitchen. They are good to eat raw or cooked. And the seeds are super easy to save.

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I hope everyone is out in the garden, enjoying nature. Life is reborn in the spring, and it’s never too late to start your own garden.

The beautiful spring came, and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also. ~Harriet Ann Jacobs

 

Dreaming of Spring

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This time of year during winter’s short, gray days, I dream of spring. And summer. Seed catalogs arrive daily to inspire. Like a kid in a candy store, I begin to circle my favorites. New plants, new flowers, new herbs. New ideas and new beginnings.

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After going crazy with the sharpie, I do a quick inventory of seeds I already have. Some from last year that never got planted, and the seeds I save every year, from the plants I grow. Each year, this last category grows, which is great. Theoretically I should be buying fewer seeds… However, I seem to have a problem. Some women collect shoes, or handbags. I collect seeds. Can’t help it. It is always fun to try one or two new plants.

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We love to eat sweet and hot peppers. And this Poblano chile is calling my name. He says, ” Chile rellenos for dinner this summer” and I say, “Si, como no!” Chilies, peppers, beans, and squash are great for seed saving on your own. Buy once, and you are set.

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The garden is quiet now. The citrus trees and the savoy cabbage are the only producers right now. The frost sort of burned the blood oranges. I hope the fruit is still sweet. I plan to pick these, and the tangerines soon to make marmalade.

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Oh, and our chickens! They are producers too. We have really depended on our chickens for fresh eggs this winter. Considering the short days, three out of five are laying eggs daily. Not too bad. Thanks girls!

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We eat a frittata at least once a week. Last night I made one with sauteed bell peppers, potato, and feta cheese. Yum. You can eat this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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The chickens were also helping me today, in the garden. They were helping me to prepare the soil for an early spring garden.

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Not only by their digging and helping to get the soil broken up after I did some digging. By using their composted chicken manure, the chickens are helping to replenish and restore the soil. If you don’t compost, you should. It is like gold for the soil. And by cultivating healthy soil, you can grow healthy plants. My husband built this compost bin a few years ago. It has three bins. We put leaves from the yard, vegetable scraps from the kitchen, and chicken poop in the bins. After a few months, it all breaks down. You have to turn it once or twice, to move things along. Well worth it if you have the space.

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I plan to plant romanesco broccoli, napa cabbage, savoy cabbage, leeks, onions, and lettuce in our new hoop house. I have never used a hoop house to extend the harvest. My husband made it for me for Christmas.

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It may be too early to attempt this, but I am dying to plant something today. Might start the seeds indoors, on a heat mat. It helps them to germinate.  Set up in the laundry room, they get natural sun light in the morning as well. Hopefully, the plants can be transplanted outside under the hoop house once they are big enough. I have never started spring plants so early. We shall see how this works out. Hopefully we will get a jump on the growing season. I am excited to try lettuce too.

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Goals for 2014

Like many people, the new year is a time to reflect on what is important, and what you hope to accomplish in the coming months. I have three goals, all related to this blog.

1.  Grow more food– Not only do I hope to increase production in my garden this year, but I hope also to extend the harvest, and grow more throughout the year. This poster should say grow MORE food in your organic garden.

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2. Make more things from scratch– There is a long list of things I want to learn to make from scratch. Not just learn, but become proficient at. Top on the list, cheese. And bread. And I want to learn to preserve more of the harvest, canning, freezing, and possible sun drying tomatoes and packing them in oil. Lost arts! A few generations ago, people knew this stuff. I want to educate myself and become more self sufficient in the process. And I was given a cheese kit for Christmas from my Uncle Dan. He must have read my mind. Goals for cheese making include ricotta, chevre, and feta.

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3. Buy local produce and meat- Without a fresh supply of home-grown organic veggies this winter, we have relied heavily on our local farmer’s markets. I find myself really wanting to show off what Sonoma County has to offer. Olives are in season now, and there is stellar olive oil locally made. I bought a quarter pig last year from a local farm in Petaluma, Green Goose Farms. It was delicious! I can’t tell you how great it was. I hope to highlight some of the local farms on this blog this year. Our local farms have such a great variety of food. Can’t wait to share the bounty of my garden and Sonoma County with the blogging community!

Happy New Year!

 

Lemons in October

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It is unusual to have Meyer lemons ripe in the garden this time of year. Usually, December thru May they are plentiful and welcome. In winter’s darkest and coldest days, citrus is like a glimmer of sunshine. This spring, summer, and fall have been unusually warm in Sonoma county. For this reason, I am guessing we have these luscious lemons now. Thank you Mother Nature, for round two.

One of my favorite things to make with Meyer lemons is Madeline cookies. They are really petite sponge cakes, of French origin. Moist and fluffy, these little cakes are baked in a special shell-shaped pan. The underside will have lovely ridges, like a scallop shell. You can make them with or with out lemons, but when life gives you lemons in the fall, why not put them to good use?

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The recipe I use is from the Canadian chef Laura Calder. She has a cooking show on the Cooking Chanel, and has several cookbooks out. Her cookbook French Taste is one of my favorites. I believe she is living in Paris now, testing and gathering recipes.

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You will need a Madeline pan (you can find them at specialty cooking stores, like Sur la Table).

ingredients:

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1 and 1/2 stick of butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup plus two Tablespoons sugar

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 Tablespoon honey

Zest from one lemon

4 eggs

* I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla

Grease Madeline tins and set in the freezer. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Sift together flour and baking powder. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, and stir in the sugar, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Whisk into the flour mixture, careful not to over mix.

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Pour about 1/2 tablespoon into each mold and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cakes are puffed up and golden around the edges. Be careful not to over-fill the molds, otherwise you will end up with muffin tops, as these cakes puff up quite a bit. Let cool at least 5 minutes, then gently, using a knife or small spatula, ease them onto a cake rack to cool.

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This is what they look like straight out of the oven.

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This is what they look like when you turn them over. Almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

 

Other things going on in the garden….

When Bad Things happen to Good Veg Plants. Complete annihilation of all plants in the ground.

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The fall garden is not off to a good start. In fact, it may be over before it really got a chance to start. About four weeks ago, I planted several fall crops, Snowball cauliflower, Nero kale, and Savoy cabbage. Out of thirty plants, only nine remain unscathed, simply because they were planted up in half-wine barrels.

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It seems there was a stealth attack on the plants between the hours of 1-4pm today. Three hours of gorging, digging, and ripping. The perpetrators? All five of them? Oh yes, here they are now.

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Lucy, also known as Lou. She is at the top of the pecking order. She might be small, but she uses this to her advantage, to sneak under chicken wire and thru small spaces between boards. No doubt the others followed her lead.

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Matilda, aka Angry Bird. She is a grouch. Second in command in the pecking order. Watch out for this one, she WILL peck you. Her sister Paula Dean looks just like her, but is sweet. She is MIA. probably laying an egg.

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And the two young accomplices, aiding in the criminal activity. Abigale, aka Baby Hughie. Big and sort of dumb. She usually squawks really loud when she eats something good, I am surprised she didn’t blow their cover. And Buffy, in the foreground. She is usually a really good chick. It must have been peer pressure. These two are not even one yet, and already a life of crime.

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What should I do? Rip the plants all out and start over? Or see if the plants will recover and continue to grow? I need to calm down. These are just plants, after all. I can buy more. Maybe I should have fried chicken for dinner…

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Or maybe I will curl up in my favorite leather chair, and knit. It always seems to calm me down. Not sure what I am knitting here, it is just therapy at this point. There is nothing a cup of tea and a Madeline can’t cure.

 

May summer’s sun stay with you, like a dream.

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Dressing up Zucchini

There comes a time in late summer, early fall, when harvesting the zucchini slows down. Maybe it is because we have eaten lots of squash all summer, in frittatas, casseroles, and grilled with pasta. Sometimes I forget to check on the zucchini for three or four days. Then this happens…

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It is no better with the patty pan, they can double in size in a matter of days too. Just look at this…

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We usually just chop these giant veggies up and give them to the chickens. They are very happy to eat the seeds, and nibble on the tough flesh.

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Thanks girls. Ok, back to having rather large zucchini, and what to do with them. I tried a new recipe the other night, and it was very tasty. It took zucchini to a new level.

First, I picked two medium zucchini, and washed them.

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Next, I cut them into thumb-sized pieces. You can cut the zucchini in thirds, then quarter. The seedy middle part I cut off. Next, put in a bowl, and sprinkle with one Tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of black pepper and garlic powder. Then for the star ingredient:

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Very carefully, wrap each zucchini thumb with a piece of prosciutto. This part is tricky, because the pieces are so thin. Just work slowly. After you have rolled them all up, heat a pan on the stove over medium heat. Saute the zucchini thumbs until each side is crisp and golden, about 3-5 min. on each side.

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Take that you big nasty squash! Look at you now, all dressed up. I served this with roasted tomato basil soup ( will share recipe when I remember what is in this. It was delicious).

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One of the best things to do with surplus produce is to barter or trade with your friends. My friend Kay has too many figs and lemons, and I have too many eggs and squash. So we trade, and everyone is happy. I also end up giving a lot of squash away. Not because I don’t love them, it’s just that we produce a lot from only a few plants. It’s fun to share our produce with family and friends. And it is fun to get fresh produce that we don’t grow ourselves.

My favorite dessert to make with figs is a rustic crostata. Here is the recipe:

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1/2 pound fresh ripe mission figs, washed and quartered

1 cup ricotta cheese

2 Tablespoons milk

2 Tablespoons sugar

dash of cinnamon

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup ruby Port+ 1/4 cup

1 Tablespoon apricot jam

zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon

1 frozen ready-made pie crust, thawed and at room temperature

1 egg, for brushing the pie crust

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the stems off figs, and quarter. Put in a bowl with 1/2 cup of Port. The longer the figs can macerate in the Port, the better. I would say several hours at least. The fruit soaks up the Port, and becomes wonderful.

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Meanwhile, combine ricotta cheese, sugar and milk in a bowl. Mix to combine. Put aside. On the stove, over medium heat, combine honey, apricot jam, 1/4 cup Port, lemon zest + juice, and cinnamon in a small pot. Heat until everything is melted together and thicken up a bit. Remove from heat.

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Grab sheet pan with a silicon baking mat. Roll out pie crust carefully. Spoon ricotta mixture into the center of pie crust, leaving a two inch boarder around the outside. Next, arrange the fig slices on top of the ricotta mixture. Next, pour the honey Port mixture over the figs. Then crimp up the edges around the crostata, to make a circle. Brush the edges of the crust with an egg wash. This will help the crust to get a nice golden brown. You could also use milk or butter.

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Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. The kitchen will smell amazing! Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Very carefully, using a spatula, go around the edges and loosen the crostata from the mat. Make sure it is loose, then slide it on to a plate. Enjoy.

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Is it wrong to eat fig crostata for lunch? It is just too good to resist. The smell is driving me crazy.

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Enjoy life, and let nature rejuvenate your soul.

Eggplant Love

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I love eggplant. I love to grow them and eat them. And look, my eggplants love me back. I picked this today, and am inspired to make something tasty for lunch. There are two varieties in my garden, Japanese and Italian. The Japanese variety are long and slender, have a thinner skin, fewer seeds, and are more delicate than the Italian variety.

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I like to pick the Italian traviata when they are small. The traviatas hold up better to cooking, they can be roasted or sauteed longer while holding their shape. Today, I will only use the little round Italians. Why? Because I am going to make a classic Sicilian condiment called caponata. It is yummy. And, it might be sacrilegious to use anything but Italian eggplant. You can serve caponata on bread, fish, or on pasta. It is one of those things that tastes better the longer it sits around. I have kept it in the refrigerator for weeks. With just a few eggplants, some celery, tomatoes, and a few pantry items, you can make this tasty snack.

You will need the following:

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2 lbs. eggplant (three medium), peeled and diced

2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 large onion (or three small ones), chopped and diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup green olives, chopped

3 Tablespoons capers, rinsed

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, or wine vinegar

2 Table spoons sugar

teaspoon hot pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

salt and pepper to taste

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First, peel and chop the eggplant. Dice into small cubes. Cut the celery and onion into small pieces the same size as the eggplant.

Saute the vegetables with the olive oil, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until all the vegetables are soft, about 10- 15 min. Add chopped tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, sugar, vinegar, and hot pepper flakes. Cook for another 10 min. Add chopped basil, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Serve warm or at room temperature. I love this on a toasted baguette. With a side salad, and a glass of wine, you have a meal. This dish has just the right amount of saltiness from capers and olives, sweetness from sugar, and tang from the vinegar. There are big layers of flavors going on here. The Sicilians enjoy this over fish, and with pasta.

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Hope you enjoy. Buon Appetito. And remember, take the time to enjoy life. Godita la vita!

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