Thursday, September 11, 2014

The National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa

I still remember the first time I saw a Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog. My aunt had given it to me along with a gift certificate for a birthday gift when I was in my mid-20s. After all these years, Baker Creek is still my favorite seed company. Every winter I  love to curl up with their colorful catalog and dream of my spring garden.

Last year, I desperately wanted to attend the National Heirloom Expo that Baker Creek sponsors every year in Santa Rosa (about 2 hours from my home), but with a colicky 3-month-old baby, it just wasn't feasible.

This year, we finally made it to the Expo, and it was so much more than I expected. Imagine the State Fair meets Farmer's Market with a dash of Woodstock, plus a series of speakers on various food and gardening issues. It was Kid's Day when we went yesterday, so we got in free for bringing our daughter with us- hooray!

Let's begin at the entrance of the expo. There was a large presence of those supporting food industry transparency and promoting the labeling of GMOs...

Amongst other political ideas (obligatory "legalize pot" dude not pictured)...  I thought this game was pretty funny.


Petaluma Pete tinkled the ivory near the entrance, and...

 ... this guy was carving a massive pumpkin right next to him. I'm not sure what that sign means, but whatever!

  It took us forever to choose what to eat for lunch because there were so many excellent local  food vendors present selling their wares. (We did NOT end up splurging on the $14 burger below. It just felt wrong, especially with no side dishes.)

  My daughter loved looking at the long-haired sheep and goats on display-

  - while I was fascinated by this woman using traditional methods to make yarn from the wool.

  There were so many amazing vendors featuring fun gardening themed products! Just a few samples:


 Have you ever been given free Strauss Family Creamery vanilla bean ice cream? After this, I can say that I have! Best free ice cream I have ever eaten!

  I mentioned there was a dash of Woodstock at the Expo, meaning there were hippies and live music. Instead of rock bands, the stage was dominated by bluegrass bands, and some pretty good ones at that. I love me some bluegrass, and my daughter loved playing with the display squashes and dancing to the music.

  There was one area devoted to a display of biodynamic gardening, including composting, rain barrels, and compost tea-making. I especially appreciated the sheet mulching demo, as we are preparing to convert our ugly half-dead lawn to something more drought-tolerant and (hopefully) attractive:

Finally, the main exhibit area boasted the tallest mountain of squash I have ever seen...

 Watermelon carving and an heirloom watermelon taste testing:

Prize-winning pumpkins weighing over a thousand pounds!


 And just hundreds of varieties of heirloom melons, squashes, tomatoes, and more. There were also rare fruits, school garden and composting displays, and more. I found a lot of information that I hope will be useful as I participate in starting our local school garden in the coming year- even better!


My only regret was not getting to attend more of the gardening lectures. I would love to have heard more, but my one-year-old can only be patient for so long.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how many freebies I walked away with when we left the Expo. Besides many samples of free food (all good EXCEPT the beet kvass- not my thing!), I also got a dial seed scatterer, a bottled supplement called Strange Brew, a bag of free compost, a free herbal tea mix, and a bag full of free seeds for kids. The vendors were interesting and unique- selling everything from butterfly water dishes to pickling devices to locally harvested seaweed and locally made tempeh.

I would love to go to the National Heirloom Expo yearly. It was a gardener's dream come true.

Friday, August 29, 2014

August Wasn't Too Shabby

"Let me 'splain... No. There is too much. Let me sum up."
-Inigo Montoya, "The Princess Bride" 

In August, I:

- Learned to sprout, not only alfalfa seeds as pictured, but nuts, grains and legumes. Also learned how to make sprouted wheat flour/bread and taught a class on it. Very fun and educational!


- Ate and cooked with loads of Santa Rosa plums from my parents' tree. Here is the second plum cake I made after the Upside-Down one I posted on the blog. This one was based on this recipe from Bon Appetit The bake time was about 5 minutes too long, but the slightly citrus-y flavor was great!


- Went to Lake Tahoe and learned to paddleboard.


- Hiked to Eagle Falls and got his view of Eagle Lake:


All in all, not a shabby way to wrap up the summer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Plum Upside-Down cake

Yesterday, my one-year-old threw two meals on the floor and her shoe in the toilet. The highlight of my day was the company of friends and this Plum Upside-Down cake.

I copied the recipe from Alice Waters' lovely book The Art of Simple Food ages ago and finally got around to making it yesterday, at great expense to my sanity. As I beat the egg whites (my pet peeve), I told myself that this cake had better be worth it.

Well, it was. The cake was impossibly moist and tender, and while not exactly "easy", the cake is indeed "simple" as she says, and my favorite use so far for fresh plums. I used Santa Rosa plums from my parents' tree and Elephant Hearts from the Farmer's Market. I also used almond milk in place of whole milk as it was on hand, with great success.

Upside-Down Plum Cake
Adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
3 Santa Rosa plums and 3 Elephant Heart Plums, pitted and cut into eighths, lengthwise
2 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 c. whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350.

Melt the brown sugar and 1 stick butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Let bubble for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Arrange the plums, in a ring around the outer edge. Working inward, make concentric circles with the plums until you fill up the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the remaining 1 sick of butter to lighten. Add granulated sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.

When well mixed, add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, starting and ending with one-third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.

Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter and then gently fold in the rest. Pour the batter over the plums and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. (Mine cooked for 45 and came out perfectly).  Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Peter Rabbit First Birthday Party

Just wanted to share some shots from the First Birthday Party. Thank you, Pinterest, for a million great ideas!

I took a picture of my daughter each month and made a banner display charting her growth, with twine and seed packets to go with the Peter Rabbit/Garden theme. The pictures on the bottom are her newborn picture on the left and one of her "gardening" at almost a year on the right.
Peter's jacket on display. Herbs from my garden and potted plants from my house made great decorations.
"Mr. McGregor's Garden Veggies" and "carrot" silverware.

Three kinds of tea sandwiches- chicken salad/croissant, raisin bread/cheese/apple, and cucumber/cream cheese.
Dessert: Carrot cake cupcakes and "Dirt Pudding" (pudding topped with crushed Oreo cookies and a gummy worm) in terra cotta pots.
"The Berry Patch" and "Carrots" (strawberries dipped in white-chocolate that my mom dyed orange) 

After lunch, we had a surprise visit from Peter Rabbit himself (some friends brought their beautiful bunnies over for a visit). The kids loved petting the bunnies. I do have the picture of the kids and family on my camera, and it should only take me about another 6 months to download those to my computer. :-)

Huge thanks to those of my family and friends who helped with the decorations and food! It was a great theme and a fun day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

2014 Garden So Far...

It has been a bit of a crazy year with the baby, and since she just took her first steps this week, I expect my life is about to get that much crazier! Besides working from home and caring for an almost-one-year-old, I have also been busy with turning an abandoned area of a local elementary school into a school garden. More on that later! But first, here's my own garden this week, looking a bit wild as tomatoes are wont to do in a Sacramento mid-summer!

The biggest breakthrough I had this year was learning to mulch my raised beds with hay instead of straw. See how much stronger and taller the plants on the right are than the others? That's the power of hay, folks! Just keep it thick so it doesn't sprout and you're golden!

Striata di Italia, an heirloom zucchini.

Red Marconi peppers are doing great in pots!

 Trying my hand at Charentais melon in the raised beds this year. So far, no fruit, but many blossoms! 

Same for the butternut squash!

I made zucchini pickles using this recipe from the Zuni Cafe. 

The tomato harvest begins, along with many wondrous tomato dishes...


Caprese salad, with basil from the garden too.

I'm grateful for this year's early planting when I read my garden journal from a few years ago and see that this week back then, I still didn't have any ripe tomatoes! I have already dehydrated two bags of sun-dried tomatoes and frozen several bags of diced tomatoes to be used in place of canned tomatoes all year. Bring it on, garden!