Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa

The 3rd Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa is going on right now, thru Thursday, Sept. 12. If you get a chance, you should check it out. It is a bit overwhelming, but in a good way. Like going to the Louvre and being inundated with artwork for 5 hours. Not only is it inspirational to see all these like-minded people together, it is empowering to think there are that may people out there caring to keep food real, pure, and good. So many seed venders, so little space in the garden!

My favorite part was all the pumpkins. Over one thousand varieties were on display. Varieties from all over the world.

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Soft light green ones, pale orange ones, bright little orange pumpkins of the kabocha variety. I actually got to try some roasted in an outdoor adobe oven, delicious!

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French varieties, and Japanese varieties, I mean, it blew my mind. Heirloom varieties are so rich in diversity. For those of you who like your pumpkins big, well, they had the big boys there too. Somehow, they don’t look real. The largest one weighed in at 1035 lbs. How many pumpkin pies would that make?

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And now, for the piece de resistance- The Pumpkin Mountain. Holy cow! How many squash do we have here? And how any varieties? This pumpkin display is cool, you can walk around it and check it out from all sides. Truly inspiring.

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Here is a close up. How many of these can you name? Have you grown any of these varieties?

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Meanwhile, back in my garden…I have exactly one pumpkin growing. A nice howden pumpkin for Halloween. Why only one there? Did it eat the other pumpkins?

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Well, I am definitely inspired now to plant some more exotic varieties next year. Perhaps some kabochas and some Musquee de Provence. You never know what you can grow until you try it! Happy Fall everyone.

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Transition time in the Garden and Saving Seeds

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September is always a busy time in the garden. On the one hand, we have the summer bumper crops of tomatoes, squash, and eggplant rolling in. Half of my brain is thinking about recipes and preparation. The other half of my brain is looking and thinking ahead, to fall and winter. I want to plant kale, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, and spinach like, now. Planning where to put it all can be stressful, when you are also dealing with an onslaught of fresh produce. AND my apple tree is over-flowing with tiny green apples. Have to deal with that too. Ok, deep breath.

One of the best things about having your own home garden is seed saving. Right now, as the summer season is winding down is an excellent time to rummage around the garden and see what seeds are available for next year. Saving seeds can save you money and time. And you get to keep what your really like to eat and produce well.  So far, I have found five plants that are giving up a good number of free seeds for next year.

The cilantro plant was very lush and beautiful this year. I had it on a drip system, and it really enjoyed that treatment. Here is a photo of the plant, dry as a bone. But look at all those seeds! I will save some to plant more cilantro next year. And I will use some of the seeds in the kitchen, ground up as coriander.

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When saving seeds two things to remember: they have to be clean and dry. If you store wet or damp seeds, you will end up with a moldy mess. I picked this plant, and let it dry in the sun for two weeks before I picked all the seeds off. Find a shady spot in the garden, and have a seat. It takes a little bit of time, but it is worth it. Saving seeds will save money and allows me to keep my favorites around for a while.

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I like to use tea tins to store seeds. They are stronger than plastic, and won’t crack over time. Plus they look cool. I like to use Mason jars too.

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After about an hour, my tin was half-full. The chickens couldn’t figure out what I was doing, and why I wasn’t giving them any seeds. These are mine, all mine.

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More investigation in the garden lead to more seed collecting, mostly flower seeds. I grew some gorgeous zinnias this year. The petals looked like parrot feathers. They love hot weather and are a summer flower I love to grow.

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When they dry completely, they look well, dead. But if you cut the heads off, and carefully pull the petals out, or just use your thumb and start to take the head apart, the little seeds emerge. They look like black spearheads. Very fragile and small.

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This is how full the tin of zinnia seeds is! I will have a lot next year, which is great. Flowers help to attract bees and birds to your garden, bees help pollinate and the birds eat bugs. It’s a win-win.

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Hollyhock grows very well here, and there are plenty of seeds to go around. The birds like to eat them too.

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Nasturtium are another favorite. My Mom always had them growing in her garden. They are edible and beautiful.

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Do you see those funny little white round things? Those are the seeds! They usually start to appear as the plant is dying, but this year, because of the heat, they started early.

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This is what the seeds look like dry, on the ground. I like to gather them, and take them inside. You could just plant them, and they will come back in the springtime.

Finally, I have harvested the leek seeds this year. They are planted in November, and grow over winter. We harvest them in the spring time. This is what they look like when we plant them.

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This is what they look like when we harvest them. If you have not tried growing or cooking with leeks, I encourage you to give them a try. Milder than an onion, they are delicious in soups and egg dishes. Potato and leek soup is heavenly (Vichyssoise). Leeks are very easy to grow and do very well in cold weather. You only eat the white and light green parts.

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And this is what they look like if you let them go to flower. The bees love them, by the way. Aren’t they lovely? I just love the pom-pom look of these flowers. We left about twenty in the ground.

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You must wait till they are dead, dry, and brown. Cut the tops off, and then let them sit in a shaded place out of the sun for a few weeks. Next, you need a table, and a big bowl.

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By gently shaking the flower head, tiny black seeds start to fall off. They look like fleas, so very small. If the flower head is not dry, the seeds will not come out. Needless to say, we have hundreds of leek seeds. I think these are King Richard or American Flag (terrible I can’t remember what I bought last year). I buy my leeks and a lot of my seeds from The Natural Gardening Company, in Petaluma. They are certified organic. You can check out their online catalog at Natural Gardening Company.com

Ok, now what am I going to do with all the eggplants? Wait, didn’t I say that last week? I have to start researching recipes…

Homegrown Tomato Bliss

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Tomato time. Oh yea. One of the greatest joys of having an edible garden is having fresh, sun ripe, off-the-vine tomatoes. There is nothing like it in your grocery store. The aroma coming off the fruit pulled me by the nose this morning, the warm sun intensifying their flavor.  Welcome to my happy place. Entering the garden always makes me feel good.

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We have two varieties growing (make that three, the sun gold cherry tomatoes I planted last year reseeded themselves).  The Plum or Roma variety is my favorite. My husband and I make lots of bruschetta  and salsa all summer long. Roma tomatoes have fewer seeds and a firmer skin, compared to a beefsteak tomato. We also have some Greek tomatoes, which are slightly bigger and great on burgers and sandwiches. The trick this time of year is keeping up with the plants.

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I didn’t leave much behind. The plants are so lush in the summer heat, they have grown over the bird bath. At leased the garden cherub can see out…

Better grab some basil while I’m out here. This is Italian Genovese basil, the best for pesto and Italian cooking in general. I have also used it in Thai food.

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No girls, I am NOT sharing these tomatoes and basil with you, sorry. Better lunch on the lettuce over there, it’s good too. These chickens are spoiled.

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Tonight I made two of our favorites, bruschetta and orzo pasta with tomato, spinach, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Yum. The recipe for bruschetta is so easy.

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You will need:

1-1 1/2 lbs of fresh tomatoes, chopped (seeds, skins, juice, and all)

2-4 garlic cloves, pressed or finely chopped

1 handful basil, finely chopped, julienned

1 teaspoon or more of salt (this helps to release the liquid from the tomato)

1 Tablespoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. It is best to let this sit and marinate for a few hours at room temperature, covered with a dishtowel. As it sits, it creates this delicious ambrosia liquid that tastes like sunshine.

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Next, you will need some tasty bread. My favorite bakery in Sonoma County is in Healdsburg. It happens to be a French bakery, Costeaux. They make the best ciabatta. And this is an Italian appetizer, so I am sticking with an Italian rustic style bread.

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Slice the bread about half and inch thick and toast or grill. The Italians like to rub garlic on the toast while still hot. You can if you like. Spoon tomato mixture over toast.

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What you have here is summer on a plate. This.is.great.

Next, orzo pasta with spinach, tomatoes, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. I am going Greek here, the feta and olives are both from Greece, not my garden or Sonoma, sorry.

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For this dish you will need:

1/2 pound uncooked orzo pasta (use Barilla orzo pasta, it is the best)

Cook following the package instructions. Turn off the stove, and put in

1 bag of store bought baby spinach. You are just wilting the spinach for a minute or so.

Drain in a colander, and put pasta and spinach in a pasta bowl. Add some olive oil, so it won’t stick. Next, put in

4 oz. crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

1-2 cups of tomato, basil, and garlic bruschetta topping (if you didn’t eat it all already)

Hope you enjoy this as much as we do. With summer fading away, I will miss these fresh, sun drenched beauties the most. Sorry Buffy, maybe next time I will share.

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Now, what to do with all the eggplant?

tangerines and marmalade

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I know what you’re thinking. Marmalade is traditionally made with oranges. The only problem is, no oranges in our garden, only these delicious and cute Satsuma tangerines. Tart and sweet, this Japanese variety is very cold tolerant and does very well here in Northern Cal., where we’ve had quite a few night temperatures below freezing this month. So, I decided to make some marmalade to brighten up my winter. And you know what? It turned out great. I will definitely make some more before long.

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Lucy wasn’t sure what to make of the orange egg-looking things. I wonder what is goes on in that chicken brain…

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My little friend Cody helps me in the garden. He decided to stop and smell the paperwhites. So cute. Well, he might look cute, but don’t let that fool you. He’s a stinker.

So, making marmalade is simple. I decided to also use some Meyer lemons my friend Kate gave me. And I decided to make this batch with Thai spices. I have been drinking this great Thai Rooibos tea made by Yogi. Why not incorporate those flavors into the marmalade? And I used some special Hawaiian sugar with vanilla also.

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Here is the recipe:

2 Meyer lemon peels, chopped into thin strips

10 Satsuma tangerine flesh and peels, chopped into thin strips

5 cups vanilla sugar

5 cups water

3-4 star anise seed pods

1 Thai Chai tea bag (by Yogi)

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Peel skins off lemons. Chop into thin strips. Chop whole tangerines into thin strips, but remove seeds (seeds will make this bitter). I used the flesh and the peel. Add water and sugar, star anise, and Thai tea bag. Bring to a boil, stirring often. You are really just dissolving the sugar here. Cover and take off the heat. Remove tea bag, and let the mixture stand overnight. (You can skip this step if you are in a hurry, however the flavors will not be as intense.)

Return to stove the following day, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 min. to an hour. You will need to keep an eye on this, and stir it every now and again. Don’t let the mixture cook to the bottom of the pan or burn. After an hour, turn the heat up again, until the mix starts to foam. This step helps to thicken the marmalade. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F with a candy thermometer.

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Let the mixture cool down a bit, and spoon into warmed Mason jars. Without actually doing a hot water bath canning process, this marmalade will last in the fridge for a month or so. Believe me, it didn’t last that long at our house. We ate it up in no time. Super yummy on English muffins…

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Equally delicious in a savory dish. Try brushing a pork tenderloin with Dijon mustard, garlic powder, olive oil and salt. Next, scoop on a couple tablespoons of the marmalade, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Bon Apetit, and enjoy the fruits of winter!

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Grow-Eat-Love

Early winter veg

Well, it is definitely winter time around here. Dropped down to 33 degrees last night. And while all the tomatoes, squash, eggplant and cucumbers are gone, the garden now has some lovely, vibrant cold-tolerant veggies growing up just fine. Who says you can’t grow food year-round? Here are some of the things growing.

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I planted small seedlings at the beginning of September, and the broccoli looks ready to eat. It always amazes me how these plants manage to grow so well in the cooler weather and with less sunlight.  The cauliflower plants are doing great. They are just starting to curl up in the center to form heads. Stay tuned, I will post photos once I have an impressive specimen.

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The leeks don’t look like much now, but like the garlic, they continue to grow. In a few months we can start to harvest some, and in four months, they will be ready for soup. (Potato and leek soup is so good.) They will do great just waiting in the ground, until we decide to eat them.

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My favorite new vegetable is the Savoy cabbage. I adore this variety. It has the best taste and beautiful ruffly leaves. It is great as a side or in soup, or stuffed with ground meat and rice. They have just started to curl up in the middle, so it might be a while yet for a head of cabbage. That’s ok, I am patient in the winter.

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Our artichokes died back over the hot months of summer, only to emerge again as the weather cooled down. We planted Green Globe and Italian Violetta more that 7 years ago. These plants are amazing. By spring, each plant will be covered with little flower buds that we will gratefully cut off and boil. I truly love artichokes, one of my favorites. Stay tuned, more photos in the spring.

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Another new addition to our winter garden is this Tuscan Nero kale.  Now, I love chard and spinach, but kale, not so much. Not a big fan. However, it is a super food, full of all kinds of good-for-you stuff, like vitamin A, B6, C, and K. It is also a good source of minerals like iron, potassium, and manganese. I have decided to give it a try. And you know what? It tastes great in soup. I can’t wait to try more recipes. I love the dark blue-green color of the leaves.

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I made a Portuguese potato and kale soup, called Caldo Verde. Super easy, super yummy. Here are the ingredients.

4 cups chopped kale

4 small to medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 onion chopped

2 garlic cloves minced

1 can Northern white beans

2 spicy sausage, fully cooked

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Get a big Dutch oven on the stove, over medium heat. Cut up sausages and brown. Set aside. Add some olive oil to pot, and cook onions and garlic until tender, 5-8 minutes. Add 6 cups of water or chicken stock to the pot. Add potatoes. Turn up to high, simmer, then cover and lower heat. Let simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

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Add can of rinsed Northern white beans, kale, and sausages. Cook together another 15 minutes. Ladle into soup bowls, and serve with crusty french bread. My favorite bakery in Sonoma county is Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg.

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So the moral of the story in gardening is: Don’t be afraid to try new things. Some things will surprise you.
Some things are easier to grow than you think. And easy to prepare into a wonderful meal.

Planting Garlic, eating Onions

We harvested the two pumpkins and five butternut squash that made it this summer, just in time for Halloween.  I just love this time of year. The summer garden is just about over. I harvested some tomatoes and probably the last of the zucchini today. All the sunflowers are gone. But in there place, we are planting lots of winter goodies. Chard, kale, cabbage, spinach. And my personal favorite, garlic.

We have been growing garlic for years, and I must say, it is super easy to grow. The winter rains do all the work. You plant it now, and in June, dig it up. It has to air dry for a week or two in the garage, then you can cut the roots off, cut the tops off, and you have garlic for the year.

This year we are planting two types of garlic: Chesnok Red and Music Stiffneck. The Chesnok Red has purple stripes on the skin and is a little hotter or spicier than the Music. The Music is my favorite because the cloves are so big. Very nice flavor, when baked it is to die for, spread on a toasted baguette.

The first thing you have to do is peel the outer skin off, and break up the head into individual cloves. Then, get your bed or pot ready by amending the soil with some good compost or potting soil. Garlic likes good drainage. I space then about a foot or more apart. Dig a hole about 2 inches down. Put a tablespoon of bone meal at the bottom of the hole. Put the clove in so the pointy end is up, root side down. Cover with a handful of dirt. Water, and wait. You will get greens in about two weeks. Now forget about it until late spring.

We harvested all the onions a month or two ago. I have a bunch of the red onions, so I decided to make French onion soup. You can make the soup from either yellow or red onions, however the red ones are sweeter. This is such an easy and elegant meal ( or start to a meal).

I consulted no less than 7 cookbooks to find what I thought would be the best recipe. Leave it to Julia Child, she won. I did change it up a bit, I added garlic, and a bay leaf. Also, put a small amount of balsamic vinegar in with the onions as they caramelize, it only enhances them. So here is my recipe based on Julia’s:

5-6 medium Red onions

3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar  (Julia uses sugar)

8 cups beef broth

a bay leaf (my addition)

2 cloves of garlic, minced (my addition)

1/2 cup white wine

salt and pepper

Worcestershire sauce ( my addition)

( I have omitted flour and cognac that are in the original recipe)

1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese and a baguette.

First, peel the onions and chop the onions in thin slices. Heat the butter and oil over medium heat in a big covered saucepan. Cook the onions, covered, for about 15 minutes.

When they soften, add some salt and the balsamic vinegar. Stirring often and keeping your eye on them, you are now softening and sweating the onions. You can walk away, but not for long. After about 20-30 minutes, uncovered, they should be done. They will be a nice, rich brown color.

Add the stock, the bay leaf, the garlic, the wine, and a few good dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Bring up to a simmer. Partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, you can cut a few slices of the baguette and toast. Grate the cheese.

Once the soup has cooked, taste and adjust the seasoning. On a sheet pan, have oven safe bowls ready. Ladle soup into bowls, then float a toast on top. Cover with a handful of the grated cheese.

Put in oven under broiler just a few minutes, to melt cheese. Enjoy!

crooknecks as still life

Vegetables are inherently beautiful. The colors and textures created by nature need very little embellishment, they simply are gorgeous. The smell and taste of homegrown food is so much better than anything bought in a big supermarket. Connecting us to the earth and the changing seasons, our home gardens inspire us. If I were a painter, I would paint this still life.

Usually I harvest the small ones, as they taste the best and do not have a lot of seeds. Every once in a while, one hides from me. Usually it is growing on the backside of the plant, under a leaf. Like this giant, whoa big fella! Almost looks reptilian now. Not so good to eat, but very good to harvest seed from, for next years crop.

I have a special place in my heart for these squash, they are one of my favorites. Growing up, my Mom would plant a summer garden every year. Usually she would plant the same things, like corn, green beans, chard, zucchini, patty pans and crooknecks. Nothing tastes better to me, or more like my childhood than these summer vegetables. Mom would make a great casserole out of the crooknecks and patty pans. I asked her about this recipe recently, and she never wrote it down. It’s pretty simple, so I was able to recreate it. Comfort food 101. Crookneck squash and mushroom casserole:

3 cups yellow crookneck squash, chopped

2 cups green patty pan squash, chopped

1 can Campbell’s mushroom soup

1 can milk

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Open can of Campbell’s mushroom soup and heat in a pot on the stove. Add a can of milk to soup, cook over low heat until incorporated and warm. Chop all the vegetables into bite sized pieces. Grab a casserole dish and butter. Put vegetables in dish, then pour soup over. Add cheeses on top. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes. At this point, take foil off, and cook for another 10 min, until vegetables are soft but not mushy.

In other news, I attended the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa yesterday. What a great event to have in our own backyard. It was amazing. A pure food fair, with seed vendors, compost experts, and local food movement. I stayed for the lecture by Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement. His lecture sort of blew my mind. I want to blog about it, but I need to organize my thoughts. Stay tuned…