Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Two Favorite Things About This Christmas

Merry Christmas to us!

1) After years of waiting, we finally got a dog for Christmas. A friend gave us a 4-year-old female chihuahua, very sweet and mild mannered. She is just starting to come out of her crate and follow us around the house, tail wagging. Her favorite thing is to curl up in a ball, nuzzle her face into a blanket, and fall asleep. What a great Christmas present!

2) I found a recipe for Praline Sweet Potato Casserole in the Sacramento Bee and made it to accompany my family’s traditional Christmas dinner of prime rib. Even the avowed sweet potato haters at the table allowed that it "wasn’t bad"; the sweet potato lovers gobbled it up. This dish tastes like pumpkin pie meet pecan pie - more dessert than vegetable or side dish. Not that that’s a bad thing! You might not even need dessert after this one.

Notes: I baked the sweet potatoes the night before and stored them in an air tight container until I needed them. I reduced some of the sugar and butter in the sweet potato layer, but you’ll want to kept the proportions accurate in the praline topping to achieve the proper consistency.

Praline Sweet Potato Casserole
Serves 8 - 10


6 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

Praline topping
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce each potato and place in a baking pan or dish. Bake until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

In a sauce pan, heat the milk and butter until the butter has melted and the mixture is hot but not boiling. Cut (or to taste) potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes.

Stir in the milk-and-butter mixture. Whisk in the eggs, and continue whisking until blended well. Add the brown sugar and stir until thoroughly blended. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or pan, and spread the sweet potato mixture evenly in it. Set aside while making the topping.

Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Making the praline topping

Melt the butter in a 2-quart sauce pan over low heat. Stir in the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cream and pecans. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thick, about five minutes. Do not let the mixture come to a boil. Maintain a steady simmer until thick.

Remove the mixture from the heat in stir in the vanilla. Pour the topping evenly over the sweet potatoes and spread it with a rubber spatula.

Bake the casserole until the topping is slightly crusty and set, approximately 30 minutes. Serve while hot.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I've Learned About Kale (and Beets)

Italian Lacinto Kale, aka Tuscan Kale, aka delicious kale I'm growing now

I may not have planted much by way of fall garden, but I was eager to try my hand at a few crops. Here is what I learned:

1. Baby beets tast way, WAY better than the ones from the grocery store. I plucked mine when they were about the size of golf balls and I was blown away by the silky smooth texture and sweet flavor of them.

2. The beet greens really do taste just like Swiss chard when cooked. Eat them!

3. Not all kale is created equal. I had a major kale fail earlier in the year when I tried using some almost-bad curly kale from the grocery store in a raw kale salad. It was pretty bad. But freshly picked Tuscan kale from my garden is a whole different animal. Love it! (P.S. Caldo verde is a wonderful homey soup that also uses kale!)

4. Kale tastes good on pizza, particularly this one, adapted from The Kitchn. To top our typical tomato sauce/mozzarella pizza, we cooked up some bacon instead of sausage, drained off the grease, then sauteed our kale in the same pan with a dash of red pepper flakes. Sprinkled on some fresh garlic, baked, and voila - that's one tasty way to eat leafy greens!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Planning Next Year's Garden

My mind is spinning with plans for growing two gardens next year - one at home and one at my parent's property again, for the larger, rambling viney plants like squashes and pumpkins.

My goal for 2012 is to start all of my plants from seeds, which adds quite a bit more complexity than I have previously dealt with when growing a garden. Now I must take into account frost, germination rates, soil temperature, and making sure the seedlings get enough light and heat so they don't become "leggy" and weak.

So far, I am planning on growing nearly 40 different varieties of plants next year. Some I will order online from various companies, and later this month I will pay a visit to Baker's Seed Company in Petaluma, CA.

One of the seeds I am most excited to grow is the Yellow Taxi Tomato. When we went to the Ferry Pier Farmer's Market in San Francisco this summer, I couldn't resist this array of heirloom tomatoes:

I bought a sampling of several types of tomatoes, and when I got home, laid them out for a taste test. My favorite, hands down, was a yellow tomato called Taxi (second tomato up from the bottom left in the picture). It's not one that is commonly carried by seed companies, so I had to do a bit of hunting on the internet, but today I ordered my seeds from Reimer Seeds. This vibrant yellow tomato is sweet and almost acid-free, and produces tomatoes early, after just 65 days! I can almost taste them now.

Here are the other tomatoes I've got a hankering to try my hand at:

Seeds I Saved From 2011:

Black Krim Tomato: My absolute favorite tomato I have grown this year, this was the first to start producing and gave me wonderful rich, slightly salty fruit all summer long. This one is prone to cracking at first, but it was such a good producer that I didn’t care.

San Marzano tomato: This Italian heirloom paste tomato is supposed to be the best for making tomato sauces, and also great to dice and use in a salad or salsa. Yields were good last year, so I saved some seeds for this year.

Seeds I Got for Free:

Riesentraube tomato: I got this cherry type from Baker’s Seeds for free with my last order. Description: “The sweet red 1-oz fruit grow in large clusters and the name means "Giant Bunch of Grapes" in German. It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today's cherry types. Large plants produce massive yields.” Massive yields are good, free is even better!

Seeds to Buy from Baker’s:

Green Zebra Tomato: I sampled this one at Farmer Dan’s table at the West Sac Farmer’s Market and it was sublime; I knew I had to try growing it at home. “Beautiful chartreuse
with deep lime-green stripes, very attractive. Flesh is bright green and very rich tasting, sweet with a sharp bite to it (just too good to describe!). A favorite tomato of many high class chefs, specialty markets, and home gardeners. Yield is excellent. The most striking tomato in our catalog, a real beauty.”

Cour di Bue Tomato: Of course, gotta have your standard red slicing tomato, and I chose this heart-shaped beauty. “This Oxheart type Italian heirloom has been a favorite in Italy for many years. Beautiful 12-oz. fruit have a delicious sweet taste; similar to the shape of a heart; great for fresh eating or cooking. Large vigorous vines. Hard to find.”

Black Krim and San Marzano Tomatoes from 2011 garden

Monday, December 12, 2011

Signs of Life

To my amazement, even in the middle of winter there are signs of life in my yard. Not many, but just enough to keep my spirits up. Observe:

Alpine Strawberries. They actually fruit in cooler weather. So tiny, so sweet!

Lemon balm (right- it loves the cold!) and Cuban Oregano (left-a real trooper, this guy is hardy and neither cold nor heat seem to phase it).

Elephant Garlic - I bought this at the Sacramento Food Co-Op with dreams of plucking large, mild cloves of garlic from the ground next year. For a while it just lay in the ground, no signs of life. Now that the cold hit, it finally sprouted; I am amazed!

I know these don't look like much, but I had to share that I finally got my shipment of Blueberry bushes. I have one Misty and one O’Neal variety, both southern types that enjoy heat more than the kind that grow in places like, say, Alaska. They're just twigs now as they are in their dormant stage, but I hope in a few years they will be enjoying our climate and give me all sorts of berries. (The soil in Sacramento is too alkaline to grow them in the ground, so I have them in boxes filled with a special potting mix suitable for acid-loving plants.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vegetable Korma

I follow the Meatless Monday campaign on Facebook, and this week they posted a question that got me thinking. "What's your favorite meatless comfort food?" My first thought was homemade macaroni and cheese... and then I couldn't think of another one!

Later, it struck me that a good Indian vegetable curry is right up there for me. The whole experience is pleasurable, from the sizzling onion/ginger/garlic triumvirate at the start, then roasting the spices until they reach the peak of their fragrance, and at last sitting down to a steaming bowl of creamy, spicy sauced vegetables over basmati rice.

I altered this great recipe for Vegetable Korma (originally from allrecipes.com) by adding chickpeas, substituting half-and-half for the cream, and omitting the ground cashews. (Where am I going to get ground cashews? I don't have a spice grinder or food processor, so I can't really grind them myself. ) Also, I'm a big fan of blooming the spices before adding the liquid ingredients; I think it really brings out those flavors.

So here it is, my meatless comfort food for these cold nights we're having. Who says food can't be comforting and good for you at the same time?

Vegetable Korma
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
minced2 potatoes, cut into small cubes
4 carrots, cubed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 T. curry powder
1 c. frozen green peas
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 red AND green bell pepper, cubed
1 c. half-and-half
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook until tender. Add the ginger, garlic, curry powder and salt, and cook about 1 minute. Now add your potatoes, carrots, red pepper flakes and tomato sauce. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
Stir in your frozen peas, chickpeas, bell peppers, half and half, and a handful of chopped cilantro. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10-20 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender. Garnish with more cilantro and serve over brown basmati rice. Makes 6-8 servings.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

SacMoFo: The Mini Burger Truck

The last time Sacramento held a mobile food festival, I completely underestimated the popularity and demand of the people. I wasn't the only one to walk away empty-handed after hours of standing in line, but I determined not to let it happen again when the trucks converged today for another "SacMoFo".

My husband and I arrived early having already studied the list of vendors and decided that darn it, we were going for the mini-burgers again! We weren't the only ones.
While my husband waited in line, I snagged us some "hors d'ouevres" - BBQ sliders from Big John's truck, with pulled pork and tri tip. They were really tasty and at $5, didn't break the bank.

The whole experience at SacMoFo was fun and boisterous. The festival was held under the freeway. Now, I must mention that this is a very poor place to find yourself if you have any paranoid tendencies. Personally, I had to keep my eyes from looking up to avoid envisioning the freeway collapsing on oblivious festival goers. But lively music and holiday donation tables kept spirits up during long waits, and more than a few people were dancing while they waited.

When at last our order came up, we split 3 mini-burgers and an order of sweet potato tots. The sweet potato tots were out of this world, served with perfectly complimentary a honey ancho sauce. We couldn't even finish them all, so there weren't even any Napoleon Dynamite moments. ("Gimme some of your tots!" "No, get your own!")

We each enjoyed the Cowbell burgers (of which we ordered 2). They came with provolone, bacon, onion strings, and house BBQ sauce. We like a saucier burger and wish there had been more BBQ sauce, but this was a fine burger.

Our favorite, however, was surely the Ninja, a burger with supernatural flavors that blew our minds. This burger consisted of Korean short ribs, topped with pea shoots, sriracha aioli, and "Asian slaw". This flavor combination melded like magic in our mouths - this is one must-try for all Sacramento folk! If you like Korean tacos, try this Korean burger for a real treat.

When we left, the lines were starting to wind around to eternity, especially for the trucks that came up from San Francisco, like Bacon Bacon and Chairman Bao. I'm not sure if those folks at the end ever got the food they wanted, but I hope this isn't our last chance to have a festival like this. All of the trucks looked great and I hope to try them all eventually. And yes, I will be early every time from now on! It worked like a charm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Perfect Pie Crust

My mom and I have a tradition that every Thanksgiving Eve, we bake pies together for the next day. How fortunate that just last month, I found a recipe for perfect pie crust while making a chicken pot pie. This dough was beautiful: pliant, easy to work with, and with all the best qualities of both butter (rich flavor) and shortening (flakiness and holding its shape). This makes 2 pie crusts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Perfect Pie Crust

1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1/2 c. cold unsalted butter
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. ice water

Mix the shortening, butter and salt into the flour with a pastry blender until very crumbly. Add water until the dough comes together into a ball. Cover dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or as long as 24 hours.

When ready to make pie, roll the dough out on a floured surface until it fits your pie pan. Fold in half, then in half again, and transfer to the pie pan. Now unfold it. Do the same with the top crust, tucking the extra dough under and crimping the edges. Bake as indicated in your pie recipe.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bodega Bay

This is how we began: cerulean sky and an expanse of water, right outside our window.

The next morning was more like:

Every day I spent there, I wrote. Not literally as I must when at work, but as a poet might. I tried to see everything as an artist. I'd nearly forgotten I had it in me.

But I found plenty to inspire...

Crab sandwich and clam chowder? Check. Salty wind and view of the Bay? Check. Random bluesy Elvis crooner? Check.

When the clouds blew past us, we were left to enjoy a silver-tinged landscape.

So we did.

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Being Cozy

Cozy is the name of the game this week

Things I love about this week:

- Soup is on the menu 3 times! Lentil, Split Pea, and Tomato, oh my!

- After an eternity of procrastination, I finally knit a perfect square. One perfect square. That means I am on my way to a scarf ... soon!

- Looking forward to a weekend in Bodega Bay, Sebastopol, Freestone, and the ocean. It’s been months since I’ve seen the sea. Plus, the last time we went there it was simply awesome.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Food Lover's Seattle

When people ask me what we did in Seattle, I never really know what to say except that we ate. Some people learn a new place by sight-seeing, but it seems that we do so by eating.

We couldn't have asked for a better start to our trip than a sunny corner of Volunteer Park Cafe with a hot cup of hot chocolate and a slice of wonderful slice of blueberry coffee cake. (A copy of Bon Appetit and a rustic wooden table didn't hurt either; I felt right at home instantly.)
From there, Seattle's food continued to wow us at every turn. I got to eat the best sandwich of my life, a cuban roast pork sandwich from Paseo. Believe the hype, the flavors were outstanding.

We had breakfast at The Crumpet Shop before hitting Pike's Place. Here's my lemon curd-ricotta crumpet.

I have to say that one of the highlights of the trip was visiting Delancey, the restaurant owned by famed blogger/author Orangette and her husband.

There was just something about experiencing physically what I'd only read about and imagined - actually tasting the wood-fired pizza, roasted raddichio salad and the bittersweet chocolate cookie sprinkled with salt. We opted for a pizza with homemade sausage and roasted padrone peppers:

I think the best thing I ate on the whole trip was likely the maple walnut trifle we had for dessert. It was the kind of dish that you take one bite of and tell yourself, "I have to figure out how to make this at home." I'll work on that one.

We ate Chicken-Spinach Manicotti made by Mario Batali's father at Salumi:

And bacon-wrapped Mehjool dates at Tango, a tapas restaurant:

On a cold Saturday morning, we made a trip to a great Farmer's Market, where I bought salted caramels, allium flower bulbs and fresh pasta and stuffed it into my suitcase to take home with me. Then, our noses frozen, we curled up in a cozy spot appropriately named Nook...

...where everything on the menu is based on biscuits:

And then it was time to head home. But of course we couldn't leave without one last tribute to this wonderful city:

Cheers, Seattle! Thanks for a lovely trip.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Foraging Walnuts

This weekend we enjoyed wonderful warm fall weather and took advantage of it by taking a trip to up Apple Hill. We drove away with fresh cider, a dried lavender bouquet, Pink Lady and Rome Beauty apples, and a bag full of walnuts we had foraged from a streetside tree. Then, a friend offered to let us gather walnuts from her tree as well.

The good news:

The bad news:

We still have a long ways to go, but just think - bags and bags of free walnuts to last a year! (That's how long they keep in the freezer.) I'm a big fan of adding nuts to all sorts of baked goods; cakes, cookies, and crisps are all better with some toasted nuts. Here's to free food!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pumpkin Lasagna

The garden yielded us a total of 13 pumpkins. I'm pretty sure the packet of seeds we planted said New England pie pumpkins, but these guys are way bigger than we expected them to be! We are going to have plenty of pumpkin for Thanksgiving next month and more than enough to share with friends.

Now I'm on the hunt for pumpkin recipes, especially those that take pumpkin beyond pie status to the dinner plate. I have read that any recipe calling for butternut squash can use pumpkin instead, so I have lots of room to experiment with that hypothesis. Here is my version of a recipe that I tried this week for Pumpkin Lasagna.

I was a little trepidatious when I first envisions a pumpkin lasagna, thinking of cutting into a square and finding a thick layer of pumpkin filling, but it wasn't how I imagined it - it was much prettier and tastier. The pumpkin puree is blended with soft ricotta and other cheeses for a creamy golden layer that sits besides your traditional layers of pasta sauce, noodles, meat and vegetables. I love the versatility of lasagna as a season dish that you can throw zucchini and eggplant into in summer, then pumpkin in the fall. This is definitely a recipe I would make again.

Pumpkin Lasagna

1 medium onion, chopped
4 to 6 garlic chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef or Italian sausage, casings removed
4 handfuls baby spinach
2 jars of prepared pasta sauce
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and spices, to taste
1 pound low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese + extra for topping
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles

In a large heavy skillet, over medium heat, saute onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add meat and cook until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add spinach and cook for 5 more minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl mixing together the ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Add eggs, pumpkin puree and salt and pepper, to taste. Mix very well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Build your lasagna in a large (9 by 12-inch) starting with a layer of sauce, a layer of pasta, a layer of half the sausage and a layer of half the filling. Add another layer of pasta, sauce, the remaining sausage and the filling. Finish with a layer of pasta and a layer of sauce. Sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top and bake for 25 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Health Food at the Dollar Store?

A while back, I went to the Dollar Store in search of "real" food. I generally think of the food sold there as horrible both in quality and nutrition - you know, Banquet pot pies and generic soda pop. Then my co-worker told me he sometimes finds actual healthy food there, randomly. Their selection isn't consistent, but will sometimes offer unexpected pleasant surprises. He advised me to go with an open mind and see what I could find.

I took his advice and the next time I went to the Dollar Store, I wandered the food aisles. I was pleased to find a bag of whole fax seeds, an fantastic source of Omega 3 fatty acids. But what to do with them? I added some to a fruit smoothie once, but today I may have found the best use ever: multi-seed bread.

This bread had an excellent flavor and texture. I loved the subtle little crunchy bits of seeds
tucked inside the slightly sweet, freshly baked bread. I have a feeling that my whole flax seeds are going to find their way into many more loaves of bread. And the best part is, they only set me back a dollar.

Seed Bread

2 cups of warm water
¼ c. honey
2 ¼ tsp (1 package) active dry yeast
¼ c. olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 ½ c. whole wheat flour
2 ½ c. bread flour
½ c. sunflower seeds
½ c. flax seeds

Dissolve honey in warm water in a large bowl, then sprinkle 2 1/4 tsp of yeast over the top and let proof for 10 minutes. Then add oil and salt. Next, stir in all flours and seeds with a wooden spoon until flour is dissolved. Turn onto a clean surface and knead until the dough is smooth. Place dough in an oiled bowl and let rise for 1 hour. Divide dough into 2 loaves and place in 2 oiled bread pans, then let rise again for 45 min. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jam Filled Oatmeal Bars

I am never without extra jam on hand. My pantry is currently stocked with strawberry raspberry, strawberry rhubarb, fig strawberry, apricot vanilla, and sugar plum jam, not to mention way too much orange marmalade that I really need to start using up... But that's an idea for another day's blog post.

Tonight I brought these utterly simple bars to a church activity and they were a big hit. With whole wheat flour and rolled oats, they aren't overly sweet, but pleasantly satisfying, chewy and moist. One could almost justify these bars as an acceptable breakfast food on the go. And they are an excellent way to use that extra jam you might have in the fridge or pantry. Enjoy!

Jam-Filled Oatmeal Bars

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/3 cup brown sugar firmly packed

1/4 t baking powder

1/8 t salt

3/4 cup jam (I used strawberry rhubarb)

Preheat oven 375 degrees, and in a large bowl mix everything together but the jam.

Measure two cups of the mixture and press into the bottom of an 8 inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Using a large spoon, distribute jam evenly over the mixture in the dish.

Take remaining mixture and sprinkle on top of the jam and press down lightly.

Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in dish for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pan-Fried Butternut Squash, Fried Sage and Pine Nuts

There's a slight chill in the morning air. Autumn has finally arrived in Northern California, bringing high temperatures of 70's to 80's. Suddenly I find myself craving kale and butternut squash, soups and stews.

I bought a butternut squash at a farmer's market this week, because it simply seemed like the thing to do. As I contemplated the possibilities, I decided I wanted something heartier than butternut squash soup, although I also have a good recipe for that classic autumn dish as well.
I thought of one of my favorite dishes at a certain Italian restaurant, a tender ravioli filled with butternut squash in a creamy sauce with fried sage.

Not being ambitious enough to hand roll my own pasta, I settled upon a recipe that used farfalle but the same classic flavors of squash and sage, along with pine nuts for a crunch. We used sage from our yard, which is happily thriving now that it can sink its roots into actual earth, and two small Walla Walla onions still hanging in there from the garden.

The final product was addictive - sweet, salty, herbaceous, it had all of my favorite elements from the more complicated ravioli dish, but with a fraction of the effort. I declare it the perfect hearty supper for a cool fall night.

Pasta Pan-Fried with Butternut Squash, Fried Sage, and Pine Nuts

From The Kitchn

1 medium butternut squash
1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1 pound farfalle pasta
3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces high quality Parmesan, shredded or shaved (about a cup total)

Heat the oven to 375°. Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the strings and seeds the middle cavity. Flip the squash halves upside down and peel them. (Note: The raw squash rind can irritate your hands. If they start to itch or tingle, wear gloves.) Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes. Toss with the onion, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Mince about half of the fresh sage leaves and also toss with the squash.

Spread the squash mixture in a thin layer on a large baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes or until the squash is soft.

Heat salted pasta water to boiling and cook the farfalle until al dente. Drain and set aside. As the squash finishes roasting, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided sauté pan. The oil is ready when it pops and sputters. (Don't let it start smoking.) Drop in the rest of the sage leaves and fry for about a minute, or until they begin to just shrivel up.

Remove with a slotted spoon and salt lightly. Crush with the back of a spoon. Add half the pasta to the pan, along with half the roasted squash mixture. Crumble in half the sage. Cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes or until the pasta is heated through and getting crispy on some of the edges. Add the pine nuts and cook for another minute. Stir in half the cheese and serve. Serves 4 generously.

(Repeat the last step with the rest of the ingredients. We split it into two because none of our pans are big enough to accommodate the entire recipe. It's very important that you not crowd the pan too much - you want the pasta to really pan-fry, not just steam up.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Raised Bed Gardening Class

This Saturday I had the pleasure of taking a class on raised bed gardening from the Sacramento Co-op. It was held at Soil Born Farm, where the co-op offers several of their more hands-on classes.
The farm is a striking place to be, with rich dark soil, flowers and vegetables everywhere you look.
Some of the fertility no doubt comes from the excellent compost they produce on site from chickens and garden scraps and add to their beds.
Some of the raised beds are simply raised mounds of dirt, formed by scooping up the topsoil to create a row to plant in; the lower ground becomes a path to walk along. Then, there is also the option of a more traditional raised bed, which may look something like this:

Note the drip line system, which is the method our instructor Antonio recommended for watering raised beds, for 30-45 minutes every other day. He also gave us a lot of information on:

- Different common weeds and the best way to eradicate them (digging/pulling them up - surprise!)
- Helpful gardening tools (including some neat Japanese ones like the hori hori)
- The right kind of dirt to add to a raised bed (topsoil, then dust the top with compost; kelp meal to add minerals)
- Where to put your raised bed (a place with receives 6-8 hours of sunlight a day; western or southern exposure are best. If you put it on grass, at least turn the sod over before you place the raised bed on top of it.)
- Best fall crops to plant locally: garlic, kale, radishes, chard, and broccoli
- Basics of how to build a raised bed (cedar or hardwood last longest; salvaged wood is cheapest. Use screws, not nails. Or use paving stones or nothing at all like I mentioned above!)

Antonio taught us that when you're gardening the right way, the earth will improve over time as you incorporate organic matter and continue to remove the weeds. Patience is certainly a virtue to be learned by growing your own food.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Last Summer Meal from the Garden

This picture is a harvest from 2 weeks ago - tons of squash, tomatoes (not all pictured), even small bell peppers! This Saturday it will officially be October and I will admit that I'm officially tired of zucchini and squash. Thank goodness, they - along with almost all of the other plants in the garden - appear to be winding down for the season.
With the last of the tomatoes, we enjoyed a fresh salsa for dinner tonight, along with a tiny baby melon:

The melons may be tiny because they went in very late compared with the rest of the things we planted this year, in our attempt to grow as much of our own food as possible. Now, the freezer is full of bags of frozen tomatoes. Once the pumpkins finish turning orange (soon, I hope!), the garden we planted over at my parents' property will be ready to put to rest for the winter.

Now that the experiment is coming to an end, I am full of reflections on what grew well and what didn't.

Delikatesse cucumber
Buttercrunch lettuce (but matured just as the weather got hot so it nearly all bolted)
Tom Thumb lettuce (same)
New England Pie pumpkins (took over the garden)
Danver’s Half Long carrots (but tasted like dirt - how do you grow sweet carrots?)
Sugar Ann snap peas (Some grew even when it got hot)
Dill - so easy to grow
Ruby Red swiss chard (But aphids and cucumber beetles have made it inedible since summer hit - how sad!)

Not so great:
Black Valentine Bush Beans
Mache (corn salad)
America spinach

Major fail (to germinate):
Mountain Sweet Yellow watermelon
Yarrow, Hyssop

Challenges this year included weeds, insect pests, and bad weather back in April. I have an enormous appreciation for farmers, especially those who find methods to do it organically. As for me, I have all sorts of ideas for next year, including starting my own seeds at home, doing raised beds at our new place and space-consuming crops at my parent's plot, and using companion plants to attract good insects and detract bad ones.