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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Edible Landscaping and Me

Barren, neglected flower beds

Flower bed now planted with strawberries and perennials like sage, lavender and sedum

Since moving into a new house, there has been lots to learn and do, especially relating to landscaping and yard care. I have had my battles with poor drainage, an over-zealous sprinkler system, common knotweed and stinging nettle, slugs/snails, and I have learned a lot already.

I've been eagerly researching information on edible landscaping, raised bed gardening, and which plants grow well in my climate and neighborhood. (US Zone 9, Sunset zone 14, and what appears to be silty soil on top of clay - not ideal but pure clay would be worse). My goal: Low-maintenance perennials that will attract pollinators, and as many edible trees/plants/shrubs as I can squeeze onto our property.

I have already written about the unproductive orange tree which came with the property. I decided that I'll give it a year and if it doesn't shape up under proper care, I'll replace it with something that does produce fruit. Since moving in, I have planted the following edibles in our yard: Lemon balm, Lemon verbena, sage, strawberries, rhubarb, chives, leeks, lemongrass and dwarf Meyer Lemon and Kaffir Lime trees (in pots).

Since we haven't constructed our raised beds yet, I also still have many herbs and my fall crops planted in containers as well: Watermelon Radishes, kale, beets, winter greens, more leeks, and parsnips.

Later this fall, I am going to plant a Persimmon and Black Jack fig tree, more rhubarb, Baba red raspberries (in a raised bed), and container blueberries. By next spring, we should have our raised beds ready for spring planting. I'm going to attempt to start everything I plant from seeds next year. Ultimately, I hope to phase out most of the lawn and replace it with productive, beautiful edibles.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Apple Fennel Slaw

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwich

Autumn is (almost) here! The occasional chill in the air, the shorter days - something about it all makes me crave pork and apples, a classic combination. Then last Saturday was a crazy day and I was on the move constantly. It was so nice to come home and find dinner nearly ready. My husband had starting this pork in the slow cooker that morning, and when I got home that night, it was ready to shred.

Most slow cooker versions of pulled pork involve dousing the meat in prepared BBQ sauce which can be a little bit cloyingly sweet for me. This recipe, from Fine Cooking magazine, was just about right, a great template that you could also tweak to suit your preferences. It uses jarred salsa and a few spices, with great results.

To go with the sandwiches, I whipped up a quick Apple-Fennel Slaw with apples from our tree, and loved the slight sweetness, and the fact that this recipe involves neither cabbage nor mayonnaise. It was a meal so good I just had to share.
Apple-Fennel Slaw

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3 tart apples

2 small heads fennel, cut into matchsticks

1 small red onion, cut in half and very thinly sliced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the lemon juice in a large bowl. Cut one of the apples in half, core it, and julienne it. Put the cut apple in the bowl and toss it with the lemon juice to keep it from browning. Repeat with the other apples. Toss in all of the remaining ingredients. Let stand for at least 20 minutes at room temperature. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced

3/4 cup jarred tomato salsa (medium heat)

1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs. cider vinegar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 Tbs. ground cumin

1 Tbs. chili powder

Kosher salt

One 4- to 4-1/2-lb. bone-in pork shoulder, trimmed

3 Tbs. tomato paste

Toasted hamburger buns, for serving

In a 4-quart slow cooker, combine the onion, salsa, 1/3 cup of the vinegar, the brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the pork shoulder and turn to coat. Cover the slow cooker and cook until the pork is fork-tender, 5 to 6 hours on high or 7 to 8 hours on low.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Using two forks, shred the pork. Discard the bone and fat. Put 1 cup of the juices and onions in a large bowl. Whisk in the tomato paste, the remaining 2 Tbs. vinegar, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the pulled pork and stir to combine. If the pork seems dry, add more juices as needed. Mound the pork on the toasted hamburger buns.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Which Decade Had the Best Food Trends?

Cupcakes - Popular food trend of the 2000's

While reading M.F.K. Fisher's book How to Eat a Wolf earlier this year, I learned why many recipes from the 1940's used bacon grease instead of oil and butter and canned vegetables and fruit instead of fresh. Everything was influenced by historical forces, especially WWII and government rations on food. This week, I stumbled upon this interesting list of iconic foods for each decade. Some were classics, some we might rather forget, but here is what America's been eating in the past 50 years:

Tunnel of Fudge bundt cake
Iceberg lettuce
Swedish meatballs
Salad Bars (This explains why elderly people looooove Sizzler)
Surf and Turf
Tang ("space age" drink)

Hummingbird cake (with pineapple, pecans and bananas)
Pasta Primavera
Wacky Cake (no milk or eggs - a favorite of grandmas everywhere)
Watergate Salad (also known as pistachio fluff)

Blackened fish (thanks to Chef Prudhomme)
Monkey bread (I will love it forever!)
Chinese Chicken Salad
Mud Pie and Dirt Cake

They didn't have a list of dishes here, but new products included:
Boca Burger
Campbell's Cream of Broccoli Soup
Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza
Snackwell's Cookies
Potato Chips with Olean

Artisan breads
Purple ketchup
Sustainable fish
Sushi bars
Raw foods
Deep fried Twinkies
Traveling vendors
Farmers markets

So what do you think? Is America improving or getting worse with time? And what will the next decade bring us?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple Pie Filling

Was it all the late-spring rain we got in Nor Cal this year? Was it the compost and mulch I added to the fruit tree area? Whatever the reason, we got a bumper crop of all our fruits this year. I never did find out what type of apple we are growing, but I did learn a lesson in how to tell when fruit is ripe.

The green apples above were decidedly under-ripe, which I discovered when I tried to bake with them. The only thing they were good for was thickening jam. After this early basket picked in August, I waited until September to pick the rest of the apples, when the fruit began to drop naturally from the tree and the apples had acquired a yellow blush.

Another thing I have learned this year is to plan in summer for what you want to be eating in winter. With so many apples, it seemed like a great plan to make some apple pie filling for our holiday pies. When that time comes around, it will be easy (as pie) to take one out of the freezer, defrost it, and plop it in a homemade pie crust for a delicious contribution to the dessert table.

I divided the following recipe by a third, but I wish I had made more. As we licked the spoon and pan clean, we concluded that it tastes exactly like the McDonald's apple pie filling, that nostalgic childhood taste of cinnamon and nutmeg that you can't help but love. It was so good, I can't wait for November!

Apple Pie Filling

18 cups thinly sliced apples

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 1/2 cups white sugar

1 cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

10 cups water

In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and set aside. Pour water into a Dutch oven over medium heat. Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add to water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add apples and return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until apples are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Ladle into 5 freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Cool at room temperature no longer than 1 1/2 hours.

Seal and freeze. Can be stored for up to 12 months

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Foraging for Figs

This week, my sister-in-law called me and asked, "Do you still want figs?" She was referring to a Facebook post in which I asked if anyone I knew had a fig tree and extra figs to share. (No one did.) I can never get enough figs, mostly because figs cost $5 a basket, and I eagerly asked what she might have in mind.

Her idea was to glean figs from a huge fig tree that she passes daily on the walk to her son's school. She had already stopped at the house numerous times to ask permission to pick some fruit, but never to found anyone home. Further, the fruit was hanging over the fence onto a public sidewalk and even falling onto the ground and rotting. In cases like this, I consider it a public service to pick the fruit that would otherwise rot and attract pests. Of course, the fact that figs are amongst my favorite fruits only sweetens the deal.

This was my first time foraging fruit from someone's tree besides family or friends. In truth, it felt a little sneaky at first, but my sister-in-law told us she would persist in visiting the house until she can talk to the owner about the figs and offer to pick the bulk of the fruit still on the tree.

We only got a few pounds of figs, but were still excited about the possibilities. Fresh figs don't last long once picked, so I decided on an impromptu fig-strawberry preserve using green apple (which contains natural pectin) to thicken it up. It turned out pretty good, and pairs excellently with cheese. When we have friends over this weekend, I intend to spread it on brie, tuck it into puff pastry and turn it into this:

Other fig ideas for when we glean again include Fig Upside Down Cake and Ginger Fig Preserves:

Are you a fig person? What is your favorite way to eat them?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Lunch at Fat Face (aka Bows and Arrows)

Remember that time I encouraged you to indulge your inner hipster and eat at Fat Face? I had only tried one of their popsicles back then, but when I got a half-day off this week, I took my own advice.

Fat Face is now housed in a so-called "hipster haven" thrift shop/art gallery called Bows and Arrows. The cafe in the back specializes in interesting, tasteful food, most especially pork sandwiches and popsicles, along with unique drinks and appetizers.

The sandwiches on the menu were split between 2 vegetarian (poached fig and eggplant "meatball") and 3 forms of pig flesh. The BLPT (with peaches) sounded tempting, but my husband and I ended up splitting two kinds of pork sandwiches:

Mesquite Pork in a tangy housemade BBQ sauce with housemade coleslaw on Acme bread. Pictured with mixed greens and vinaigrette.

Mexican Coca Cola-braised pork, topped with cotija cheese, romaine, and tomato salsa.
Pictured with kettle chips.

And we couldn't resist the chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven! (Or a strawberry rhubarb popsicle - not pictured, because it was devoured too hastily. We couldn't let it melt, right?!)

The patio was also gorgeous, filled with blooming flowers and inviting tables. It looked like the perfect place to savor an afternoon or evening meal.

Since Bows and Arrows is right across the street from my brother-in-law's workplace, we invited him to meet up with us for lunch. As we ate, he confided his first reaction to our request: Why are we eating lunch in a thrift store? But the great crostini he ordered won him over in the end. With food this good and style to boot, something tells me that this will not be the last time we dine in this thrift store.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What to Do in Ashland, Oregon

If you ever find yourself in Ashland, Oregon, do be sure to:

-See a play, especially at the stunning Elizabethan Theater. It's the next best thing to a trip to England! Ashland is famous for having a wonderful Shakespeare Festival, and we loved the modern, top-notch acting we witnessed there.

- Take a stroll through gorgeous Lithia Park. Think nature hike in the middle of bohemian downtown and you have Lithia Park. Ashland Creek runs through the forrested park and between the wading pools, park benches, duck ponds and towering trees, you'll be feeling zen in no time.

- Last but not least, eat breakfast. Every day. If there's one thing Ashland excels at, it's eating a solid breakfast.

Pecan Waffle and Apple Spice Butter with Marionberry Jam at Breadboard

Coconut French Toast at Dragonfly

Lemon Poppyseed Waffle with Lemon Butter and Fresh berries, at Morning Glory.

Speaking of Morning Glory, it is a local staple, a restaurant known for having excellent breakfasts and a beautiful garden.

I loved the quote that was painted on the wall of the restaurant:

Maybe we could all use a little reminder to gaze a little more at the morning glories!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

We're Off to Ashland Oregon!

I love Oregon in the fall

After an exhausting but wonderful move last week, we are now, shockingly, mostly unpacked. We are at least at the stage where we can cook and do dishes and laundry (at any hour- hoorah!) and bathe and perform all of the basic functions of everyday living. We even have internet as of yesterday evening.

This weekend we will not be staying at home to complete all of our projects, but instead escaping to Southern Oregon. Nearly 9 months ago, before we could foresee this whole moving business, we bought tickets to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival. While part of me feels bad about ditching all the work we still have to do and running off to play and explore, I am mostly thrilled. This is an event I have been trying to attend since high school, and we will be spending our Labor Day weekend soaking up "Measure for Measure", "Love’s Labor Lost", and even a musical with "Pirates of Penzance". It feels good to check an item off the bucket list, doesn’t it?

We will naturally chronicle our adventures and the best food we can scout out along the way. Until next week!