Monday, December 26, 2011

T'is the Season for Meyer Lemon Marmalade



My simplified 5 step version of this Meyer Lemon marmalade recipe is less work than the original recipe and was easy to make on the first try. If you love lemons you'll enjoy this lemony-sweet marmalade, and besides spreading it on toast it can be used in baking to flavor muffins or bread, or as a topping for pancakes.

Citrus Season: an Abundance of Meyer Lemons
Late fall and winter are prime citrus fruit season in California, and we are happily enjoying an embarrassment of riches thanks to our large, mature Meyer Lemon tree. We inherited the tree when we bought our house here in Silicon Valley, and this tree seems to be loaded with fruit in almost any season. It produces new fruit twice during the year, but these tender lemons are best kept on the tree where they ripen slowly and can be used in cooking in their different stages of maturity. The fruit turns from green to bright yellow, then becomes orange-yellow if left unpicked. As soon as they are slightly yellow we begin to pick!

Ripe Meyer Lemons are a beautiful golden-yellow

Cooking with Meyer Lemons
We use lemon juice almost every day in our meals: on salads, fish, vegetables,  or fresh fruit.  The zest is especially delicious in a number of baked goodies or to add to savory dishes. How is the Meyer different from other lemons? It is less acidic, has a thin skin with almost no white pith (the bitter part on inside of the skin). The Meyer is  slightly sweet, very fragrant, and the skin is wonderful grated for its zest or as a candied peel.

Container Gardening with Meyer Lemons
If you don’t have a yard to plant a tree, the Improved Meyer Lemon is a dwarf that can be grown in containers indoors. This variety was developed in California after the original Meyer Lemon established in the USA from China was found to be spreading a virus that threatened the citrus industry. Although the Improved Meyer Lemon can grow to 10 feet high, it will stay smaller in a container and can be managed by pruning.

Making Meyer Lemon Marmalade in 5 Steps
Here is a marmalade recipe I tried last week with good results. My version is less work than the original recipe and was  straightforward to make. This is the first marmalade I’ve ever made. It set very well and is lemony-sweet with a hint of bitter to make it interesting. I’ve tried it on my toasted olive oil bread, and even mixed a spoonful with some crème fraiche (or sour cream) to put on top of pancakes with maple syrup- very yummy!

This recipe calls for the juice and skins of 12 lemons,
12 Meyer lemons, juiced
3 cups of sugar
Water for blanching and rising the lemon strips
Makes 5-7 half pint jars

Step 1
Rinse the lemons, dry them, cut them in half and juice them. Set the juice aside until ready to use.

Step 2
Slice the juiced lemon halves into thin strips, the thinner the better. Note: In Emily’s version you scoop out the lemon halves so that only the skin remains. It took me approximately three seconds to realize I was not up for that amount of work, so in my version you cut the halves into strips without scooping them out.

Slice the lemon rinds into thin strips
 Step 3
Put the lemon strips in a pot of cold water so the water just covers them. Bring to a boil. Let boil for one minute, pour the strips into a colander to drain them and run cold water over the strips to rinse them. Repeat two more times. The third time don’t rinse the strips, just drain them.

Step 4
Return the drained strips to the pot and add the reserved juice and stir in 3 cups of sugar over moderate heat to dissolve. Let the mixture simmer, stir occasionally to make sure it is not sticking. It will begin to thicken and should set in about 30 minutes of cooking (test by dripping a bit onto a cold plate- it should gel nicely).

Pour or spoon the marmalade into half pint canning jars
Step 5
Put the marmalade into half pint jelly jars (it will be very hot, so don’t use regular glass jars- they might crack)) and put on the lids. Let the jars cool and store them refrigerated, or follow instructions for canning to store them at room temperature for up to a year.
See more recipes for Meyer Lemons and an entertaining podcast at Kitchen Window here.

With thanks to Emily Kaiser for her recipe.

This post was also published @ Eat Drink Better
Photos: Urban Artichoke



Monday, December 19, 2011

Sweet Olive Oil Bread: A Holiday Tradition



From Provence to California: An Adopted Traditional Holiday Bread
This version of a traditional holiday bread from the Provence region of France is incredibly versatile and simple to make. It has a rich satisfying texture, yet has no dairy products. The key to its signature flavor is extra virgin olive oil - a lot of it. Although it's a Christmastime tradition in Provence where it is known as pompe à l'huile, I've been making this bread in different seasons throughout the year since 2007 when I discovered the recipe in Saveur magazine. The traditional way to make it is with orange flower water, but I make it as a savory bread to serve with special dinners. In this recipe I added fresh herbs from my garden: rosemary, thyme, and lemon thyme. The fresh herbs gently perfume the bread and pair well with the flavors of the holidays. You can experiment with whichever herbs you have available.

Basic Tips for Making Olive Oil Bread
The recipe uses a semi-liquid starter called a poolish, which is a mixture of water, flour, some sugar and yeast, that is allowed to ferment to give the bread a unique flavor. The following recipe makes one 12 inch round disk-shaped loaf that bakes in 15 to 20 minutes. My instructions may appear to be long but they're not complicated. I've included my tips so you'll get off to a good start and be able come up with your own variations.


Ingredients for Olive Oil Bread
  • 3 3/4 cups flour (unbleached all purpose type; you can use a combination of whole wheat and white flour. )
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 (7-gram) package active dry yeast (or 2 1/2 tsp)
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (this can be reduced to 1/2 cup with good results)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs (leaves picked and finely chopped) rosemary, thyme, or lemon thyme
  • A sheet of parchment paper for baking (can be found in most grocery stores near the waxed paper) 

Step 1: Make the Poolish

Make the poolish: put 1 1/2 cups of the flour, plus the sugar, yeast and 1 cup warm water into a large bowl. Beat well with a wooden spoon until smooth and silky. Let sit in a warm place until bubbly and foamy, at least 30 minutes. The poolish can sit for a few hours if desired. It gets surprisingly puffy, so make sure your bowl is large enough.

Step 2: Make the Dough and Let it Rise

Add the remaining flour, 3/4 cup oil, and salt to the poolish gradually, alternating the flour with the oil while you stir until a dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. It will  feel very moist and oily, but avoid adding too much additional flour. The finished dough should be oily but not stick to your hands. This is when you add the fresh herbs, if using. Sprinkle the chopped herbs onto the surface of the dough and knead them in until the herbs have been incorporated into the dough evenly.

Grease a large bowl with a bit of olive oil, place the dough inside and cover with the towel. Place in a warm spot until approximately double in bulk. The magazine's recipe allows 2 to 3 hours rising time, but I found that’s not necessary.  I often make an accelerated version that I let rise  for only 1 hour- this works had has a nice texture. The key is to make sure the poolish has risen well before making the dough.


Step 3: Shape and Bake

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  After the dough has been allowed to rise and has doubled, gently turn it out onto parchment paper that you have placed on a baking sheet. Gently stretch and shape the dough with your fingers to form a disk about 12 inches in diameter. Using a small knife, cut out four to five slits about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide radiating out from the center of the loaf, like a sand dollar design.  Bake the scraps as a little chef’s bonus or decorate your loaf by shaping the scraps into leaves and attaching to your loaf. You can also add walnuts or pecans by pushing them into the surface of the loaf.

Cover with the towel until the oven is at temperature, then remove the towel and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful to watch the time- it bakes quickly and will puff up and start to turn a beautiful toasty brown.


Step 4: Enjoy!

Remove from the oven and immediately brush the top and sides with some hot water to steam the crust for a nice texture. Place on a wire rack to cool a bit. Serve warm if possible, or store well wrapped in plastic and heat it before serving. And by the way, it's a tradition to tear off pieces at the table rather than slicing the loaf. (But we discovered that it makes a decadent treat for breakfast when it is sliced and toasted then served with butter and jam.)

This recipe is very forgiving and adapts well if you want to reduce the amount of sugar or oil, vary the types of flour, or the rising times for the poolish or the dough. I routinely make a double batch to get 2 loaves, or I make smaller loaves to share. Other variations I've tried are adding fresh basil in the summer, and even lavender flowers.

If you try it I please let me know your comments: did you enjoy it? would you try it again? what variations have you tried?

Photos: Patricia Larenas, UrbanArtichoke


Monday, December 5, 2011

Jerusalem Artichoke Sautée with Mushrooms


Sunchoke and mushroom sautée is simple and delicious
You can find Jerusalem Artichokes, or Sunchokes, at farmer's markets and grocery stores, but if you want a ready supply throughout the fall and winter try growing them yourself. If you like the mild nutty taste, they are great addition to your edible landscape as they are easy to grow. They don't require a large space and make pretty clusters of showy sunflowers. Just a few plants produce lots of tubers to harvest in the fall.

The tubers are crispy when eaten raw in salads and have a texture similar to water chestnuts. They can also be cooked like potatoes: pureed into a soup, mashed, roasted, or sautéed. Here is a simple recipe for a sautée with mushrooms:

Sunchoke and Mushroom Sautée: Simple and Delicious

Try them sautéed in olive oil with mushrooms and chopped garlic for a quick and simple dish. We loved the creamy texture and earthy flavor; the addition of brown mushrooms makes for a savory combination that will go well on its own or as a side dish.

You will need:
4-5 Sunchokes, cleaned and sliced thinly
4-5 brown or white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Makes enough for 2 people as an accompaniment to baked squash or other side dish.

Clean the Sunchokes with a vegetable brush and slice thinly
To Prepare Sunchokes for Cooking:
Scrub any remaining soil off of the tubers with a vegetable brush under running water. If you have trouble cleaning between the bumby parts just break them up. You can peel some of the thin skin off but don't worry about getting it all. Slice the tubers about 1/4 inch thick.

To Sautée the Sunchokes:
Warm up some olive oil in a skillet. Add the Sunchoke slices and cook on medium to low heat so that they don't burn- stir occasionally and cook for about 10- 15 minutes. Add chopped garlic and sliced brown or white button mushrooms as the Sunchokes begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper. As the mushrooms become cooked thoroughly, test a piece of Sunchoke to see if it is done- it should be soft. You can cook them a bit longer if you like them creamier, or serve them while they are still bit firm.

To Serve:
Serve warm with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley. This dish is a great accompaniment to other winter vegetables such as baked squash.

This recipe was also published at Eat Drink Better

Photos: Urban Artichoke

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ripe for Change - The Story of California’s Local Food Movement


The film Ripe for Change is a beautiful and engaging tribute to the origins of California’s local food movement. It describes how California became a key mover and shaker in the movement for local organic food production and went on to have enormous influence on the rest of the nation. This journey is captured through vignettes via interviews of the passionate, committed people that believed in saner and healthier approach to food as a core value. Healthier for all concerned: consumers, soil and Earth.

Making a Difference Through Passion and Vision

The near hour-long film features the rock stars of California ‘s organic food and local produce movement, notably Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and David Mas Masumoto, author of Epitaph for a Peach, as well as other lesser known key players (including Dru Rivers of Fully Belly Farm). Alice Waters became famous as the champion of cooking with fresh, local and seasonal produce that became known as California Cuisine. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, opened in1971 in Berkeley and became the epicenter for her experimentation in sourcing supplies locally to offer the freshest ingredients possible. She even used backyard growers for some of her fresh produce in a trade for meals at the restaurant. Waters wisely urges consumers to think carefully about who and what they are supporting when they buy fast-food versus buying from a farmer’s market. She asks us to consider if we really want to support industrial agriculture that is destroying our soil, or small farmers striving to bring sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables our tables.

Risking it All For a Peach

David Mas Masumoto has used his eloquent writing style to bring visibility to the plight and struggles of the small organic farmer. It’s a touching moment to hear him tell how after the Los Angeles Times ran his story about Sun Crest peaches, he received passionate letters urging him not to destroy his trees in favor of planting commercially popular peach varieties that shipped well, had appealing color, but alas, no flavor. It was the encouragement he needed to take a huge risk and leap of faith that his flavorful peach, although not favored commercially, had a place in the world. It was with tremendous courage that he kept his Sun Crest orchard. Sun Crest peaches are now listed in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.

Giving Thanks for Local Food Producers

After watching the film I’m grateful once again for these visionaries and their hard work, and I’m reminded that wherever we live, if we want our local producers to thrive they need our consistent support.

Ripe for a Change is a film by director Emiko Omori. You can view it for free courtesy of Snag Films here.

This post also published on Eat, Drink Better 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is Locally Grown Food a Booming Business?



The Buzz on Local Food Sales
A new report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is creating quite a buzz after reporting that in 2008, the sale of local foods was a whopping $48 billion. As stated on the United States Agriculture and Food Law and Policy  blog: 

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of "local foods," whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That's a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.”

The USDA report sends an encouraging message for those who care about local food production as a solution in part, to our broken food production systems. The billions of dollars in sales of mainly fruits and vegetables is an impressive number but is only a small percentage of total food sales in the United States. Still, if you take a closer look, the impact regionally is impressive. For example, farms on the West Coast (California, Oregon and Washington) produce 56% of the fruit, vegetables and nuts nationally and account for 31% of local food sales, due to a long history of farmer's markets and farm-to-grocer networks (since the 1970s) in that region.


Urban Agriculture: Coming to a City Near You?
The report also contains some interesting data about the makeup of the farms that supply local foods and the regions in which they are clustered: the West Coast and Northeastern United States.  Not surprisingly, small farms (farm size is based on sales) use direct-to-consumer sales as their primary market venue. Medium farms are more likely to use a combination of direct sales to consumers and intermediary sales (to grocers or restaurants).

Large farms exclusively used intermediary channels for their produce and tend to be located away from urban areas, whereas small and medium farms are found closer to the urban areas they serve. Large farms make up only 5% of farms with local food sales. Although the large farms had higher sales in total dollars overall, the small and medium farms had less costs for transportation since they are located closer to their consumers. Small farms appeared most likely to reach profitability sooner than medium or larger farms, even though their dollar value in sales is less.
The report concludes that:

"Findings suggest that local food sales have the potential for community economic development in certain areas of the country, particularly those close to urban areas."

This movement has been quietly growing for some time through the dedication of committed individuals. Organizations such as Slow Money, the Fair Food Network, Local Harvest, and scores of others that are devoted to expanding urban agriculture and local food networks already know that the economic benefit is real and viable.
You can download the 38 page PDF report at here.

Reference:
S.A. Low and S. Vogel, Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States, November 2011; Economic Research Report Number 128, USDA.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Heirloom Bean Project Wrap Up



Growing Heirloom Beans
Last summer I grew several bean varieties for my self-designed heirloom bean trial; my goal was to see which grew best and to choose a few to expand in the next season. I want to grow enough to have dry beans for cooking over the winter. Why the excitement? I think it's fantastic to be able to grow a tasty and healthy protein source in my own suburban back and front yards. Besides that, I love the versatility of cooking with beans, and the varieties are endless if you venture beyond the grocery store.

Home grown: Good Mother Stallard, Cranberry, and Italian Butter beans (left to right)

Bean Trial Results

Now that it’s fall the results are in: a total yield of almost four pounds of beautiful dry beans of several types. That's more than I expected since I didn't grow very many of any one type for my trial. In all I tested seven runner beans and five varieties of common beans.

Runner bean varieties: Scarlet Runner, Ayocote Morado, Ayocote Negro, Alubia Criollo, Cannelini Runner, and Gigandes.

Common beans: Cranberry, Hutterite Soup, Good Mother Stallard, Tiger's Eye, and Hidatsa Shield Figure. 

The seeds came from three sources, Rancho Gordo, Iacopi Farms, or Seed Savers Exchange.

Another motivation for growing some of these is that they are not widely commercially available. You won’t find most of these, if any, in your supermarket. It’s extremely satisfying to be able to propagate them on a small amount of land, my suburban garden for example. I highly value being part of the grassroots movement to grow lesser known food plants to keep them from extinction.

A trellis of  Italian Butter beans attracted many types of pollinators

Favorite Beans to Grow

It's going to be hard to choose only a few types to grow in quantity next summer, but I do have some favorites. We loved the Italian Butter Bean from Iacopi Farms in Half Moon Bay, near the SF Bay Area. Iacopi Farms sell at our farmer’s market every Sunday, and they are the only vendor with dried beans for sale. I grew about 18 plants around two trellises in our front yard, which attracted a lot of bees. It turns out that the vines are beautiful, vigorous, and produce an abundance of long lasting cascading white flowers. I enjoyed telling admiring passersby that these lovely vines were actually bean plants! I harvested almost a pound of dry beans.

Italian Butter beans sauteed in olive oil with fresh corn and garden basil
The cooked beans are creamy and luscious when sauteed in olive oil with freshly cut sweet corn off the cob and fresh garden basil or tarragon. Other favorites are the Hidatsa Shield Figure and Tiger's Eye. These beautiful rare beans have intriguing histories. The Hidatsa Shield Figure bean was grown by the Hidatsa tribe in the Great Plains region, and Tiger's Eye is a new world bean that originated in Argentina or Chile. It's worth expanding the small amount of seeds I got into a bigger crop next year.
But for now, I look forward to enjoying my dry beans well into the winter with tasty satisfying dishes.
Photos by Urban Artichoke
This post published @: EAT, DRINK, BETTER
 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Be Your Own Seed Bank: How to Save Seeds

My saved seeds from the lovely Hidatsa Shield Figure bean
As we celebrate World Food Day on October 24th, I’m especially thankful for one of life’s most precious gifts: seeds. Seeds are magical and mysterious in that our future rests in them. Without the thousands of varieties of useful plants we cultivate for their products, human civilization would simply cease. We could no longer feed ourselves nor our animals.

Preventing the extinction of a wide variety of food plants is not just romantic and historically interesting, it’s a matter of ensuring a healthy future for humanity. As industrial agriculture becomes increasingly focused on growing fewer and fewer varieties of food plants, home gardeners play an unexpected important role in propagating and saving old varieties of vegetables, fruit, and herbs by continuing to grow them, sharing the seeds and providing the seeds to organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange.

Label your saved seeds carefully; you'll be thankful when its planting time!
Seed Saving Basics
If you have never had the pleasure of saving seeds and planting them the next season you are missing one of life’s simple and deeply gratifying pleasures. Fall signals the prime time for saving seeds and it is not difficult for many popular garden plants; all you need to know are a few basics. Try starting with easy seeds such as beans, nasturtiums, and basil, for example.

First, remember that the plant you intend to save seeds from must be an open pollinated type and not a hybrid. If it is an heirloom type it is open pollinated.

Follow these key steps:

1) Make sure you let the seeds stay on the plant until they reach full maturity. For example: if you pick bean pods while they are still green you may as well eat them, because the seeds won’t germinate!

2) Let mature seed pods or flower heads dry on the plant as much as possible. The timing is tricky in some cases because you need to collect the pod or flower head before it begins to release its seeds. In general, wild plants disperse seeds very efficiently with clever spring-loaded pods (poppies) or flower heads that fall apart readily to be transported by animals or blown away (dandelions). Domesticated agricultural plants were bred and selected for seed collection and for food harvesting, so the pods stay intact.

3) After collection and harvesting the seed pods or flower heads must dried completely. This is very important to prevent mold and spoilage. I like to keep my harvested collection in an open container in the house for a couple of weeks to make sure they dry out before extracting the actual seeds. Choose a cool dry spot out of direct sunlight.

4) Next, remove the seeds being careful not to damage them, and discard any debris. At this point I leave them to dry some more (a week or two) then store in a labeled airtight container. If I have a small number of seeds of different types I put them into labeled envelopes then put these into a jar with a lid.

Calendula flower seeds from a dried seed head.
It's a good practice to get in the habit of labeling your seeds with basic information that will be very helpful later such as: the exact name of the variety, where you got the parent plant or original seeds, and the year of collection. You'll be amazed at how fast your collection will grow, and you'll enjoy sharing them.

There are good reasons for saving the seeds of your favorite food plants besides just the fun of it: perhaps you have a special heirloom variety that is in limited supply, or one given to you by a neighbor. Saving the seeds allows you to expand the number of plants for next year’s planting season, or to share them with others for years to come.

You might even create a new variety or cultivar from natural crossbreeding in your garden!

But most importantly, you will be a a part of a growing movement to save our agricultural biodiversity, all from your own home garden.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jerusalem Artichokes: An American Native

Jerusalem Artichokes, (Helianthus tuberosus) a.k.a. Sunchokes, are actually in the sunflower family and native to North America. They aren't related to artichokes and didn't originate in Jerusalem, but their edible tubers do have a wonderful artichoke-like flavor.

Sunchoke tubers with globe artichokes: they aren't related!

They are very easy to grow and are crispy when raw in salads, and tasty cooked and pureed into a soup, mashed, or sauteed. If you like the taste, they are a great addition to your edible landscape. And as a bonus, Jerusalem Artichokes have pretty clusters of sunflowers and make lots of tubers to harvest in the fall.

 Sauteed Sunchokes: Simple and Delicious
We  recently dug up a couple of the tubers and tried them sauteed in olive oil with chopped garlic and loved the creamy texture and earthy flavor:

Scrub the soil off of the tubers, if you have trouble cleaning between the bumpy parts just break them up. You can peel some of the thin skin off but don't worry about getting it all. Slice the tubers about 1/4 inch thick. Warm up some olive oil in a skillet. Add the Sunchoke slices and cook on medium heat so that they don't burn- stir occasionally; it will take 5-10 minutes. Some chopped garlic is nice; add it at the same time as the Sunchokes and cook together. If the garlic begins to get too brown, remove it and add it back when the Sunchokes are done, or discard (the garlic will still add flavor to the oil).

Serve warm with some chopped parsley and a sprinkle of kosher salt, if you have some. This makes a great accompaniment to other cooked vegetables, and I can imagine adding it to pasta with sauteed mushrooms. Now we're exited about trying out more recipes this fall and winter.

Plant the tubers in full sun in the Spring for August flowers and fall harvest

Growing Sunchokes
We planted a couple of the tubers last Spring on the side of our house where we had sheet composted to build up the soil over the winter. Sunchokes are a fall season vegetable so we had bought some at a local Whole Foods Market (check your farmer's market too) and kept them in a pot with potting soil over the winter. When Spring came I began watering the pot until the plants emerged, then planted them into the ground about an inch deep in a sunny spot.

A few tubers will divide into lots of edible tubers in one season
Ours grew a surprising 12 feet high and flowered in August.  They are very prolific so be careful where you plant them, although they're easy to dig up, and you'll enjoy having a good supply to eat!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Taking a Walk for Global Hunger Relief on 9/11

Dear Readers,
Urban Artichoke will be joining the SF Bay Area community of Buddhists on a walk to raise money to feed the hungry on Sunday, the anniversary of 9/11.

This charity event is organized by Buddhist Global Relief, an organization founded by Bhikkhu Bodhi. I first became inspired by Bhikkhu Bodhi, after listening to an  audio recording of a talk he gave at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City on  living with chronic illness and pain. His personal path with suffering led him into action to work to relieve the suffering of others.

To sponsor me on the walk please use the "firstgiving" icon on the left of this page; my personal goal is $1000; I've donated the first $100...


Here is an excerpt from the Buddhist Global Relief web site:

"In 2007 the American Buddhist scholar-monk, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, was invited to write an editorial essay for the Buddhist magazine Buddhadharma. In his essay, he called attention to the narrowly inward focus of American Buddhism, which has been pursued to the neglect of the active dimension of Buddhist compassion expressed through programs of social engagement. Several of Ven. Bodhi’s students who read the essay felt a desire to follow up on his suggestions. After a few rounds of discussions, they resolved to form a Buddhist relief organization dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poor and disadvantaged in the developing world..."read more

Thank you for reading Urban Artichoke and supporting efforts to relieve the suffering of the hungry and those in need.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Using a Soil Blocker: Start Your Fall Garden

A Soil Blocker is a great gadget for setting up your seedlings in flats
When August arrives it's time to get our cool season veggies started for fall. This year I'm getting a head start on planting seeds by using a soil blocker. The soil blocker is an easy to use and eco-friendly way to set up seedlings for your garden projects, any time of year.

August typically sneaks up too soon while I'm still distracted watching my tomatoes and peppers ripen, but this year I'm determined to give my fall garden crops a head start before the first frost hits. I was jolted into action after reading Becky Striepe's blog Eat Drink Better, on starting her seeds for fall planting.

Newspaper is a gardener' best friend!
 Luckily, I'm prepared to be a seed-sowing-machine thanks to my niece and awesome food blogger, Janina Larenas. She gave me a soil blocker, a clever device that will extrude blocks of moist potting soil ready for planting seeds; make as many as you need, when you need them. My soil blocker forms four blocks at a time, with small dimples on the top for placing the seed.

There is no need for plastic six-packs or other individual containers. I used some old flats I got free from my local nursery to set up the soil blocks and used damp newspaper to line the flats and help keep the soil moist.

Read the full post..

Friday, August 12, 2011

Heirloom Bean Project: August Update


Clockwise from left: Hidatsa Shield Figure, Good Mother Stallard, Hutterite Soup, Tiger's Eye
 It's early August and the heirloom beans I planted in May and June have been flowering and forming pods. A few of the pods are starting to mature and dry so that I can have a peek at the bean seeds. Some of the beans are really beautiful colors, and it's been exciting to see how the seeds transform from tender green beans that look very much the same, into spectacularly colorful seeds.  But more on seeds next month when it's harvest time.

Sheet, or "sandwich composting" was a great way to prepare the soil for my bean trial
 The side of our house was a perfect place to plant several types as a test to see how they do in our region (see sandwich composting post, "Soil Magic..."). I plan to choose a few to do a larger planting next summer, perhaps with the more rare bean types (such as Tiger's Eye and the Hidatsa Shield Figure).

Italian Butter Beans have abundant white flowers
The Italian Butter Bean is a runner bean, as I discovered, and has large, showy white flowers. They were beautiful on a trellis in my front yard garden, and attracted a lot of admiration on our Edible Landscaping Tour. As you can see, the carpenter bees love them too!

Italian Butter Beans pods are large and fibrous
I bought the dry Italian Butter Beans at our farmer's market from Iacopi Farms. They produce typical runner bean pods: large and fibrous.  I can't wait to see the dry seeds- they should be a soft white, similar to the Cannelini Runner that I bought from Rancho Gordo.

Good Mother Stallard grew well and have plentiful pods that will be beginning to dry soon. I hope to have enough to save seeds and have some for cooking! The dry beans are very pretty: maroon with white swirls (see photo at top).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Edible Landscaping in Silicon Valley: Reviving the Valley of Heart's Delight

Technology companies, sprawl and suburbia may have replaced the fields of prune, apricot, cherry and walnut tree orchards that once graced what is now my neighborhood, but local food production is beginning to slowly return to our region. 


Silicon Valley may again one day be referred to as the "Valley of Heart’s Delight”, its former nickname from back when the area's local landscape was dominated by rich, diverse food production and stunning natural beauty.

(To learn more about gardening with edibles see my Gardening Index page, and my Recipe Index page)

 
Edible Landscaping by Example
Last weekend Common Ground's 5th Annual Edible Landscaping Tour featured 10 beautiful and creative home gardens from Menlo Park to Mountain View on the SF Peninsula, all with an emphasis on organically grown vegetables and fruit. 


This popular event continues to attract a growing number of eager attendees ready to learn how to transform their suburban gardens and grow their own food.

Chez TJ's Chef Joey Elenterio and Louise Christy, Master Gardener

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Useful Tips for Avoiding Jail Time while Vegetable Gardening in Your Front Yard

Grow flowers among your veggies
One of the Important Media blogs, Eat Drink Better, just wrote about a Michigan family who is being threatened with financial penalties and jail time for simply growing vegetables in their own front yard.

I am very much in favor of working to change such local laws that are misguided and often outdated; but in the meantime, the following tips may help keep you out of handcuffs.

So before you get caught picking cucumbers in your front yard, are slapped with a fine, and charged with a misdemeanor, here are some strategies you can try to disguise your subversive gardening acts. You can always resort to planting edible flowers and herbs among the veggies in your front yard, and Big Brother will be none the wiser.

Grow Edibles that Double as Ornamental Plants

I have Scarlet Runner Beans growing up an attractive trellis in my front yard. The showy scarlet flowers with lush green foliage attract attention and people are shocked to learn that,  yes,  they are also an edible heirloom bean.

Edible flowers: Calendula and Borage with salad greens

Plant Edible Flowers and Herbs

I love flowers so I plant them among my vegetables. There are many attractive edible flowers, including several that are grown strictly as ornamental plants: calendula, the violet family (including Johnny jump-ups, violas and pansies), roses, chrysanthemums, and nasturtiums, to name a few. Edible flowers make colorful additions to salads and desserts, and rose petals have many uses. For starters, you can make rosewater, sugared rose petals, and rose petal jam...

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lima Beans- Not Your Ordinary Phaseolus vulgaris

The beautiful and unusual Christmas Lima

Which would you rather eat, a dish made with lima beans or butter beans? Most people would agree that “butter bean” has a delicious ring to it, and that lima beans are notoriously yucky. In fact for many people lima beans conjure up an image of pasty, horrible beans that were part of a frozen vegetable medley served in school cafeterias, or worse yet came from a can.

And you may have guessed what I’m going to tell you next: butter beans are lima beans. Unless you are from the southern USA, this may surprise you. And in case you think beans are all alike and interchangeable, lima beans, or P lunatus, are a separate species from the common bean, P. vulgaris, and were named after the capital of Peru, Lima. They have their origins in the New World as common beans do, but they were domesticated far earlier. Similar to common beans, limas were also cultivated by Native Americans before the colonists arrived and were eventually introduced into Europe...