Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Minute Pickles

Ute and I are on vacation, but before we left I thought I needed to use up the produce in the fridge so I made some pickles.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Brand. New. Car.

This is my first new car...ever. I know I seem more of the biodiesel, veggie oil, smell like a french fry type. And I am in my heart, but my vehicle needs right now center around reliability.

Some of you may have met Mr. Jankie, my previous ride. Despite his decrepit appearance, the exterior looking as if it were recovering from one mean sunburn and the interior sporting an "I've been in a monkey knife fight" look with its ripped ceiling, Mr. J got me where I needed to go for several years. But as time wore on, I felt less and less safe rumbling around on these four wheels, especially since every time I hit a bump things seemed a little loose in the undercarriage. Long drives were preempted with intense trepidation to the point where I would no longer take them. He wasn't too bad as far as gas mileage, but he never passed smog inspection. So it wasn't really working out between me and J dog.

What kind of replacement to get then? I thought long and hard about a diesel car that I could convert to run on veggie oil, but two things detracted me. Number one I didn't like my vehicle choices. Anything that was in my price range was either too small or would require too much fixing up, which was exactly what I was running from. Secondly, and most importantly, I heard that storing the veggie oil attracts a particular vermin that I already have more than my fair share of problems with. Rats!

This left me with only one other eco-friendly choice in the matter. Hybrid bound I was, but what to do with the prohibitive cost? Not being a commercial television viewer, I had no idea about what kind of incentives were out there and then I stumbled on an online ad: $2000 down and $199 per month lease for a 2010 Toyota Prius. For reals? The purchase deals were pretty awesome too with 0% financing for three years.

To buy or not to buy? This was the real question. In the end we determined that money wise leasing was going to be the better option for us. First off, who knows where we will be with cars in the next three years? Technology is changing faster than manufacturing and we don't want to be tied to any one version of transport. We can also use the car as a business expense if we use it for our contracting business. And fuck ownership! With the financial crisis and housing market in the toilet, I don't want to be the owner of anything except my house, which of course isn't worth what we paid for it, but at least we can have our farm and not be renting from a crazy person, an all too common occurrence in San Francisco. Let somebody else take the financial gamble. I certainly can't afford to these days.

So here is our new set of wheels, a.k.a. Michael Jackson (don't ask).

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Today's Harvest

Looks like we are having kale chips tonight.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kitchen Madness

It's that time of year when the oven is running full steam ahead and the sink is piled with a mound of dishes that no matter how much washing goes on, never seems to decrease in size. Yes, canning season is upon us and a lot of the things that are in season will only last a few weeks at best. With pots and jars ready at the front, the food marathon is on in our counter space challenged kitchen.

Fruity Goodness

Those precious peaches, nectarines, apricots, and cherries don't have a very long season around here, so we've been stocking up from our favorite farmers market fruit stand (cheapest organic fruit at the market) and making all kinds of jams, cobblers, pies, and ice cream with our hand cranked Donvier that we snagged at the thrift store for eight bucks. Whatever cherries didn't go into this gorgeous pie, the lattice topping compliments of my six year old (didn't she do a great job?),

or into the several pints of cherry, chocolate, pistachio ice cream that we've been non-stop churning out

2 cups cherries blended
2 eggs well beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla
* mix together and then add
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup chocolate shavings
1 cup cherry chunks
* prepare according to ice cream maker instructions

I froze. They'll come in handy later when in season fruit is scarce.

I'm so bummed that I didn't get my flat of apricots that I ordered from my CSA this year. Their apricots really do make the best butter. But I did save enough from my weekly boxes that I was able to squeeze out four jars. Needless to say, I won't be sharing. Sorry.

This year I tried something a little different: peach jam with honey, which wasn't strictly peach or any one variety for that matter - I included both white and yellow peaches and nectarines. The cheap fruit is great, but it all tends to ripen at the same time, needing to be used up because it is attracting fruit flies, thus the mixed up jam. The flavor is fantastic and a bit more complex than my usual fare. I'll definitely make it again this way. Goes great on muffins made from a recipe that I got from one of my kitchen bibles, The Country Mothers Cookbook by Jane Watson Hopping, a.k.a. The Pioneer Lady. If you have a penchant for old, old school home cooking, this lady's recipes are for you. I haven't made any dish from her books that I didn't love.


Berries have a longer season in our area than the stone fruits, so it wasn't crucial that I move into high gear on this one. But as I was on a roll, I figured "what the hey," let's just get it done while the iron's hot, as they say. The blueberry jam came out perfect, but I think I burned the sugar on the ollalieberry (a similar berry to blackberries, but bigger). I doubled the recipe without using pectin and had to cook it for too long to get it to sheet. Oh well. Live and learn. I still have strawberry jam from last year - it's not our favorite - so I won't need to make any this season. We are needing to replenish the frozen strawberries and strawberry syrup though. I use the syrup to flavor yogurt, since it's one of those foods that always seems to have unecessary ingredients added to it..

I would love to say that all this fruit comes from our backyard, but since our fruit trees are in their first year, the ollalieberry vines didn't make it, and the blueberry bushes are looking mighty sad, we buy our berries in bulk from either the farmers market or Swanton Berry Farm's u-pick.

Only Ute and I went to the u-pick this year and let me tell you, she was a real trooper. It took us about 3 hours to get all of our strawberries and ollalieberries that will see us through the year, a challenge for any young tyke. But Ute took it in stride, and when she got bored with berries, she made altars for the fairies and ran up and down the rows of tangled vines.

Living in a city, Ute just doesn't get enough running around outside time with limited supervision. At her age, I was roaming my small town neighborhood with barely a hint of the adult gaze upon me. I am saddened that she will never experience that kind of freedom, but trips to the farm give her the occasional taste.

Luscious Lemons

Last week I was at my friend Christine's house in Alameda when out of her second story bedroom window I spotted the most exquisite Meyer lemons. Their plump, juicy yellowness at the zenith of ripeness beckoned to me and as if in a dream, I floated towards the glass. The next thing I knew, I was hanging out the window, plucking the sweet scented spheres and chucking them onto the bed. I wrasseled that tree in full Crocodile Hunter style, with a ferocity that only a true champion of the Meyer lemon could exhibit. My friend found me draped over a tree limb with only my knees planted firmly against the edge of the sill to prevent a 15 plus foot fall. With slack-jawed bemusement, Christine admitted that she had been trying to figure out how to get those lemons for years. I felt like MacGyver.

The lemons were pretty darn ripe and needed to have something done with them and fast. I went with the Moroccan salt preservation method. They'll be great in a late summer tagineperfumey foods, though Ute and I thought it was delicious.


Speaking of flowers, I've been making syrups with the backyard lavender and roses. The lavender syrup is definitely a touch too heady, but I think it might work over a pound cake.

The neighbor's had a whole mess of roses that were getting eaten up by earwigs so I harvested the petals and made rose syrup. Tastes great in hot tea. With the way I consume the Queen's drink, however, I doubt that the jar will last two weeks!


I've been preparing a lot of poultry lately and as most of you know, I'm not one to waste any bit of the bird. At a recent dinner party, I believe I actually screeched at my guests to not throw away the bones. Clearly I won't be winning any "hostess of the year" awards in the near future. In my book, nothing compares to the rich broth that comes from simmering the bones of a well spiced, roasted bird. The flavor of the broth reflects the way the the meat was prepared and the types of seasonings used, creating a stock that is always unique. At this point, I can't even bear to use canned stock, its flavor so inferior as to be nearly inedible. If you've never made your own broth, just try it. It's easier than you might think. I just throw the carcass or bones into a roasting pan, fill up with water, and simmer in a 350 oven for several hours, checking, of course, that the water doesn't completely evaporate.

At same said dinner party, while attempting to dazzle my companions with my special Moroccan chicken, I forgot to pull a roast duck out of the oven that was taking longer to cook than I had expected. Well I cooked the crap out of that duck, consequently feeling an utter failure with my first attempt to prepare this kind of bird. In the midst of me wailing on and on about the damn duck, one of my lovely guests turned to me and with a tone of seriousness that I can only liken to a military command said "I'll tell you how you are going to fix that duck." I snapped out of my little pity party. "How?" "You're going to make a confit by shredding the meat and marinating it in the fat from the pan." "Are you sure that will work? Won't it still be tough?" I queried. "No way," says my pragmatic friend, "It's going to be soooo succulent with all that duck fat." And then she did this lip smacking thing that was kind of gross. But she was right. It was scrumptious enough to make slightly disgusting gestures and sound effects with one's face.

Fermenting Fools

Did you hear that stores are pulling Kombucha from the shelves because they're worried about the alcohol content? Apparently, it might be more boozy than once thought. I'm thinking the whole thing is a bit overblown. I've had my fair share of experiences with alcohol and am no stranger to its effects, even if I no longer partake. Though I have felt a little "high" after drinking Kombucha, I certainly have never felt remotely drunk, even being the light weight that I am.

Frankly, I'm stunned that folks will lay down three plus bucks for a small bottle of the stuff from Whole Foods when you can make gallons of it for pennies. And the making is really not complicated. When I started my SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), I had my panties all in a stir, worried that I was going to mess it up and poison myself with some unwanted mold, but it's really as simple as making a pot of tea. A POT OF TEA! Really. I'm totally not exaggerating.

Ute and I really like the stuff, so we've got two cultures going at the same time. Esteban says he'll just stick with his beer that he's been home brewing (details to come). Fine, more for us I say.

What have you all got going on in the kitchen right now?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bunny Love

We were so meant for each other. He doesn't even care that I'm having a bad hair day.

Photos courtesy of Naomi Fiss.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Container Gardening Experiment

Last year I believe I mentioned here that it is impossible for me to grow any heat loving, wind sensitive plants in my backyard. Thus I rely solely on my front patio to grow things like tomatoes. While last summer I used standard pots, with great success, to grow my toms, my harvest was pretty small because of the size of the containers - I didn't use anything larger than five gallons - and I got really sick of watering all of those thirsty buggers every day at the right time - water too late at night and you attract pests or water in the middle of the day, the water evaporates and you have a greater chance of burning the plants, which leaves the early morning and that's just out of the question for a sleepyhead like me. So this season I decided to try something a little different: self-watering containers. These puppies are supposed to keep the bottom of the pot consistently moist, encouraging the plant to put down deep roots, which is universally accepted as good growing technique.

Not being one to trust every newfangled fad, I thought I would experiment with a variety of types of self-watering containers: a homemade contraption similar to the EarthBox, a plastic bottle with teeny tiny holes buried in the pot, and an upside down plastic bottle with the bottom cut off and the top buried at the root of the plant so that water can be poured into the open bottom and delivered directly to the roots. At the end of the season I will assess which containers held water best and how well each plant grew and produced in it's environment. The latter will be more of a subjective analysis as there are too many variables that can affect production and growth.

With so much buzz these days about container gardening, I had been pretty excited to test out the EarthBox style. I basically used these designs that create a reservoir at the bottom of the container and use a wick system to pull the water up to the roots. This was by far the most labor intensive in terms of construction, requiring far too much sawing and drilling of PVC and plastics for my liking. I've heard that these guys will only last a couple of seasons, which better not be the case since it took me at least an hour to put together each one. Fortunately, I had a bunch of PVC pipe laying around so the containers weren't as costly to build as they could have been.

Another criticism of the homemade EarthBox type of container is that since they are recommended to be made with  Rubbermaid's Roughneck storage containers, they are rather unattractive, exuding more meth lab aura than Better Homes and Gardens magazine cover luster. Some folks like that look. I, however, am not a big fan, having grown up in the Midwest where there are as many meth labs are there are farms.

While aesthetics are an important consideration for me - these containers do sit in the entrance way to my home -, cost is also a concern. I wanted at least 13 pots and with the EarthBox's $30 price tag, they may look nice but my tomatoes this season would have cost me a pretty penny had I chosen that route. So I went with elbow grease and creative substituting of materials and came up with these:

I love the look, but quickly understood why the Roughnecks were recommended as the bottom of the purple container cracked under the weight of the soil rendering the water reservoir useless. The blue and green containers are holding up well, though.

I'm testing a few different types of reservoirs to see if any work better than others. With the help of my mini farmhand,

I put together three 5 gallon and four 20 gallon containers with this method. Here are a couple of the inserts that create the water reservoirs

I should have used a couple more of the four inch PVC pipe supports on these and will most definitely add them next year since one container has already imploded, leaving me with half a reservoir.

The other two types of self-watering containers are pretty self explanatory so I'll just show you pictures.

I also expanded beyond tomatoes this year with peppers, cucumbers, melons, and companion plantings of herbs and flowers. And I used straight compost rather than the pricey bags of potting soil that I went with last year. I'll report back at the end of the season with the results. If you have any questions about the construction process, drop me a line.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Plum Happy

Ethel says "Happy 4th of July." She and her friends are in plum heaven, as you can see, courtesy of our favorite fruit stand at the farmers market. Looks like she's been in an accident, eh?