To Market, To Market

May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

Weather-wise, things have been just a bit too Seattlesque for my taste this spring. Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen an end to the seemingly endless rainy, grey days, it’s time to get outside and enjoy our fine Bay Area weather.

May is one of my favorite months in the 650, not only because our usually fine weather settles in and days are longer and sunnier — but also because all of our neighborhood farmers’ markets are back in full swing. While we don’t lack for year-round markets in the 650, some neighborhood markets, such as Los Altos, Palo Alto Downtown, and Half Moon Bay close during fall and winter. For those of you who might have been missing your local market, the wait is over!

Here’s the list of markets re-opening in May.

Market Opening Date Market Day
Half Moon Bay May 6, 2017 Saturdays
Los Altos, Downtown May 4, 2017 Thursdays
Palo Alto, Downtown May 13, 2017 Saturdays
Pacifica, Rockaway Beach May 3, 2017 Wednesdays
San Mateo, W. 25th Avenue May 2, 2017 Tuesdays
South San Francisco May 6, 2017 Saturdays

April and May are a transitional time at the market as we’re seeing the last of “winter” produce, such as root vegetables and citrus, and the arrival of beans, peas, and stone fruit.

market-collage

What’s in the market now: Palo Alto California Avenue market, Spring 2017

If grocery shopping isn’t on your agenda, farmers’ markets are a fun place to grab a meal and enjoy the sunshine while people watching. Just a few examples from my recent visit to the Palo Alto Sunday market on California Avenue: dim sum, grilled meat sandwiches, bahn mi, sushi, and homestyle Mexican dishes with handmade tortillas. There’s something interesting to taste whatever your food preferences.

dim-sum-notcenter

Dim Sum on a sunny Sunday

P1100197

Because: meat

masa

Fresh masa for handmade tortillas

Need to know which market is when? Following is handy-dandy list of all farmers’ markets in the 650, with 2017 opening dates. Click the market link for more info, such as location, parking, and vendors.

City/Market Market Day(s) Open
Belmont Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Daly City, Serramonte Ctr. Thursday & Sunday,
9am – 1pm
Year-Round
Half Moon Bay, Shoreline Station Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 6 – Dec 21
Los Altos, Downtown Thursday, 4 – 8pm May 4 – Sep 30
Menlo Park Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Millbrae Saturday, 8am – 1pm Year-Round
Mountain View Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Pacifica, Rockaway Beach Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 6 – Dec 21
Palo Alto, California Ave. Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Palo Alto, Downtown Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 13 –
Palo Alto, VA Wednesday, 10am – 2pm Apr 12 – Oct 25
Redwood City, Kaiser Wednesday, 10am – 2pm Apr 5 – Nov 22
Redwood City, Downtown Saturday, 8am – 12pm April 15 – Nov
San Carlos, Laurel Street Sunday, 10am – 2pm Year-Round
San Mateo, College of SM Saturday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
San Mateo, W. 25th Ave. Tuesday, 4 – 7:30pm May 2 – Oct 10

Now get out and support your local food system; meet the people who grow your food and nourish our communities!

Tell me: what is/are your favorite farmers’ market(s) in the 650?support-small-farms

Field Trip: Another County Heard From

October 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

This past weekend I left the 650 behind and took a little road trip north, heading across the Big Red Bridge to Marin County. With unseasonably hot weather and clear blue skies, you would have thought it was mid-summer, not two weeks away from Halloween; nonetheless, it was perfect road-trip weather. Even the usual 19th Avenue crawl to the bridge had an upside: a sighting of the Blue Angels flying by. Lucky sighting it was, too, as the bridge itself was completely covered in fog. (The Blue Angels made another fly by while I was crossing the bridge, but the fog was so thick that I could only hear the planes.)

First stop and main event of the weekend was Bounty of Marin Organic, a food-and-beverage event/fundraiser at Marin County Mart. Despite the 19th Avenue traffic, I arrived at Marin County Mart half an hour before the event started, giving me time to stop by the event area and say hello to Jan Lee of AppleGarden Farm, who had generously invited me to be her guest at the event.*

Jan Lee, producer of organic, handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard cider at Bounty of Marin Organic

The lovely Jan Lee, producer of organic, handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard cider
ready for tasters at Bounty of Marin Organic

Not only do Jan and her husband, Lou, own and operate AppleGarden Farm and AppleGarden Cottage bed and breakfast, but they also produce hand-crafted AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider from organic heritage apples on their property. Phew! Talk about a creative and energetic couple! Welcome hugs and hellos said, I left Jan to prepare for cider tastings, while I headed over to Miette Bakery to inhale indulge in a macaron or three.

Bounty of Marin Organic kicked off at 5pm with a tasting event that featured about a dozen of Marin County’s finest organic food producers, including Star Route Farms, Gospel Flat Farm, Mindful Meats, and Straus Family Creamery. Tastes included fresh raw oysters from Hog Island and small indulgences of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, and Tomales Farmstead Creamery. There were also a variety of prepared foods by chefs from local restaurants, such as Saltwater Oyster Bar, Parkside Cafe, and Left Bank Brasserie, who used seasonal products from Marin’s organic farms to create some savory tastes. (The tasting event was followed by a family-style, farm-to-table dinner, created by the food producers and chefs who had participated in the tasting. I didn’t attend the dinner, opting for a light meal at nearby FarmShop instead.)

As the tasting portion of the event kicked off, I started my Marin food “tour” with a glass of Jan’s AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider while we chatted a bit about her business and customers. The cider itself is flavorful, crisp, hardly sweet, and a touch effervescent — what a pleasant surprise! I think the first thing I said to Jan was “It’s not sweet, or too bubbly!” She smiled knowingly and then mentioned that it paired well with oysters (Hog Island was at the table to our left) and cheese (to our right). The fat Hog Island Oysters were calling me, so off I went.

For two hours, I happily tasted some of the best local, organic, and handcrafted food from the northern 415 and western 707 (aka, West Marin), sipping Jan’s cider in between tastes of North Coast biodynamic wines. Here are some the highlights from my Bounty of Marin Organic tasting experience.

Hog Island Sweetwater Oysters
What could be better than freshly shucked local oysters?! Apparently freshly shucked local oysters with a glass of Jan’s cider. Seriously. I’ve been challenged to find a good beverage pairing with oysters, but this could be it for me.

HogIsland-1

Yes, please! A mound of fresh Hog Island Oysters, just waiting to be shucked

Mindful Meats Brisket
Mindful Meats is a wholesaler that works with organic dairy farmers in Marin and Sonoma counties to source and provide pastured, organic, non-GMO meats. They partnered with Left Bank Larkspur, providing the beef for a Gaucho-Style Braised Beef Brisket with Chimichurri Sauce. The meat was so tender and flavorful, while the sauce added some spice and contrast to the rich meat.

Mindful Meats Beef meets Left Bank Larkspur's creativity

Mindful Meats Beef meets Left Bank Larkspur’s creativity

Savory Vegetable Pastry
There were some happy vegetarians in the crowd when they found this crispy, savory treat. Stinson Beach’s Parkside Cafe created a rich, crave-able savory pastry that featured Gospel Flat Farm’s 5-Bean Salad in a croissant-like pastry with crispy exterior. Mmm… crispy, soft, buttery, earthy goodness. To further enhance the deliciousness, you could top the pastry with a spoonful of McEvoy Ranch Olive Tapenade and a sprinkling of sea salt. (Oh yes, I did. And then I went back for seconds.)

Parkside savory vegetable pastry made with Gospel Flat Farm produce

Parkside savory vegetable pastry made with Gospel Flat Farm produce

Alongside the pastries (which were snapped up almost as soon as they arrived on the table), was a display of Gospel Flat Farm produce used to make the pastries. Need I say it? A great example of farm-to-table creativity.

A display of Gospel Flat produce used for the pastries, alongside the finished product made by Parkside Cafe

A display of Gospel Flat produce used for the pastries, alongside the finished product made by Parkside Cafe

Pumpkin Goodness
The table shared by San Francisco-based Boxing Room and local (as in: in the same shopping center as the event) FarmShop Restaurant was pumpkin central. These two restaurants showed just how versatile and tasty pumpkin can be. FarmShop’s contribution was a Pumpkin Hummus with spiced pepitas and pomegranate molasses, served on a house-made lavash. (And, by the way, this can’t-stop-eating-it snack pairs nicely with hard cider. The dryer cider balances and complements the sweetness of the pumpkin and molasses.)

FarmShop Restaurant's Pumpkin Hummus on Housemade Lavash

FarmShop Restaurant’s Pumpkin Hummus on Housemade Lavash

The Boxing Room’s pumpkin soup, on the other hand, was rich with a hint of spice. It’s the kind of soup I’d crave while curled up in bed on a cold, rainy night, but that could be fancy enough for a dinner party. There was already plenty of buzz about “the soup” before I got to try one of the last few samples, and yes, it was worth it.

Pumpkin Soup from Boxing Room: buzzworthy

Pumpkin Soup from Boxing Room: buzzworthy

This event was a fun (and filling!) opportunity to enjoy some of the best food that Marin County has to offer. I love the fact that an organization like Marin Organic exists to support and promote the local, organic and handcrafted products of the area. I’ll be back Marin, I’ll be back!

Have you experienced the bounty of Marin? What did you eat? Local oysters? Organic cheeses? An amazing restaurant meal? Share your Marin food experience!

*Full disclosure: I attended Bounty of Marin Organic as the guest of Jan Lee. My opinions are my own and not provided in exchange for attendance at the event, nor at the request of Marin Organic, Jan Lee, AppleGarden Farm, or any other participants in Bounty of Marin Organic.

Grow Local: Pick a Pepper

September 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

Oof — last week was full of, well, for lack of a better way to summarize: fixin’ stuff. The warranties on the car, household items, and yes, yours truly, are wearing thin. Mechanics, plumbers, and physical therapists are my new BFFs. That’s why, when the weekend finally arrived, I was looking forward to doing whatever was low-key and relaxing.

And yet, the plethora of peppers from my garden were calling me.

Passel of peppers: ancho chiles, jalapenos, and sweet red bells

Ancho chiles, sweet red bells, and two kinds of jalapeños

They’ve been in cold-storage limbo for the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been trying to find some time to preserve those beauties so that I can enjoy them for a few more months. Finally, with a little free time on my hands this past weekend, I got to it. What better way to get a big sense of accomplishment with small effort than to fire up the grill and roast an assortment of Anchos, sweet reds, and jalapeños!

Roasting the peppers really brings out their flavor and sweetness, and it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. As with slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers complement a wide variety of savory dishes. Some of the ways in which I use roasted peppers:

  • Add chopped, roasted sweet red peppers to salads (delish on a Niçoise!)
  • Make a quick pasta with strips of roasted anchos, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, feta cheese, and olive oil
  • Spice up scrambled eggs with roasted jalapeños
  • Stuff roasted, peeled Anchos (or poblanos) to make chiles rellenos

Once you’ve roasted and peeled the peppers, you can store them in the refrigerator for about five days, or in the freezer for up to a year.

So, if you’ve got a passel of peppers, and you’ve been wondering how to preserve them, get ready to fire up the grill.

Technique: Roasted Peppers

Below I describe how to roast peppers on an outdoor grill, however, you can also get the same results by roasting peppers over an indoor gas cooktop. (Be sure to place a metal rack over the burner to prevent the peppers from falling into the flame.) Be forewarned: if you decide to roast your peppers indoors, you must have a powerful range hood/fan to suck up the roasty smell and any smoke. Also, peppers can give off sparks or catch fire if you get them too close to the flame, so be careful! If you’re roasting more than a couple of peppers, an outdoor grill is a better solution — faster, safer, and less cleanup.

Tools:

Outdoor grill
Long-handled tongs
Brown paper bags (I used lunch bags, aka brown sandwich bags)
Large colander or medium sheet pan

Ingredients:

Ripe peppers

How To:

  1. Heat your grill to about 450 – 500ºF.
  2. Arrange peppers on the grill and turn the heat down a bit.
    Place smaller peppers, such as jalapeños, across the grill’s grating so that they don’t fall through (they’ll soften as they start to cook).

    Fresh and shiny peppers on the grill

    Fresh and shiny peppers on the grill

    The heat from the grill will roast the pepper, charring and blistering the skin. Timing will vary depending on how well your grill holds heat, outdoor temperature, and the type of pepper. Anchos and jalapeños don’t take as long to roast as the thicker red bells.

  3. Every five minutes or so, use the tongs to pick up your peppers and check their undersides for blistering and charing.
    Once the side touching the grill has blistered and charred, turn the pepper. You’ll need to keep roasting and turning the peppers every five minutes or so.

    These guys are just getting started!

    These guys are just getting started!

    Repeat until each pepper’s skin is blistered and charred all the way around. You don’t want to burn the peppers, but you want to cook them enough to give them a roasty flavor and easily remove their skins later, when they’re cool.

  4. Once the peppers are roasted all the way around, they’ll start to deflate or flatten out. Using the tongs, remove them from the heat, and put them in a paper bag, then close the top of the bag.
    It's in the bag: roasted ancho chile going in for a steam.

    It’s in the bag: roasted ancho chile going in for a steam.

    I put two large peppers and several jalapenos in each bag. The heat and moisture of the peppers creates a steam-room effect, making it easier to remove the skins from the peppers once they’re cool.

  5. Place the bags of peppers in a colander or on a sheet pan and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature in your kitchen.
  6. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove them from the paper bag and peel away their skins.
    The easiest way to start peeling is to find a split or blistered spot on the pepper and slowly pull the skin away from the pepper (it’s kind of like pulling the film off the screen of a mobile phone).
    As always, I strongly recommend wearing gloves while handling spicy peppers, such as jalapeños. Afterwards, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, cutting board, any utensils you used when peeling spicy peppers. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or other, er, sensitive parts immediately after handling — wash your hands first! Better safe than sorry.

    Peeled peppers, ready for storage. Front to back: Anchos, jalapenos, "purple" jalapenos (red when mature), and sweet bells on the right.

    Peeled peppers, ready for storage. Front to back: Anchos, jalapeños, “purple” jalapeños on the left (red when mature), and sweet bells on the right.

  7. Stored peeled peppers in container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
    You can layer peppers in a single container, placing parchment in between the layers.
  8. To freeze, place a single layer of peppers in a plastic freezer bag, squeeze out all of the air and place either in a freezer-safe container or directly in the freezer.
    Be sure to label your bag or container with the contents and date.

There are other ways to preserve peppers, including drying and smoking. I haven’t attempted smoking yet, but it’s next on my list for the jalapeños! Aside from roasting my Ancho peppers, I’ve also dried a few to use this winter. Simple sun drying on my kitchen window sill takes about three weeks, and then I store the peppers in a plastic bag.

Ancho chiles: fresh, mature and drying, completely dried, roasted and peeled

Ancho chiles from L to R: fresh, mature and drying, completely dried, roasted and peeled

How are you preserving peppers? Have you tried roasting your own yet?

Field Trip: Webb Ranch Blackberry Fields

July 23, 2014 § 4 Comments

One of the items on my Summer Bucket List this year is “blackberry picking at a local farm.” Blackberry season here in the Bay Area is rather short, usually running from the end of June until the end of July. If you want to get the best berries (or any berries at all, for that matter), you have to make a point to plan your visit to a u-pick farm. Sure, you can purchase local, organic blackberries at most farmers’ markets — no muss, no fuss — but where’s the fun in that?! If you’re a DIY kinda person, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty (or fingers stained or arms scratched up), then u-pick is a great way to get your hands on the freshest berries around.

Blackberry syrup over yogurt

From farm to table: Webb Ranch blackberry syrup and Greek yogurt

Knowing that I was running out of time, and with all kinds of plans for what I might make with the pounds of plump, sweet dark-purple berries I’d pick myself, I decided that last Saturday was The Day. We were having perfect berry-picking weather here in the 650: sunny with a few clouds and temps in the low 70’s. I thought about making the 45-minute drive to Coastaways Ranch in Pescadero, especially as they were about to close their blackberry u-pick for the season, but opted to head over to Webb Ranch in Portola Valley instead. Getting to Webb Ranch would take less time, and they were advertising more varieties of berries. Win-win.

Webb Ranch is family-friendly and well set up for u-pick. Signs point the way to the u-pick parking lot and to the fields’ entrance (look for the white tent where you’ll enter and exit the fields). When I checked in with the ladies at the u-pick entrance before heading out to the fields, they let me know that pickins were slim (sad face). However, there were berries to be had for those pickers willing to search (hint, hint). Undeterred, I grabbed several boxes and headed out.

I saw lots of unripe, red berries on the vines, but the dusky berries I was expecting were few and far between. Anything at eye level was definitely picked over, but there were some berries at ground level. It took some scraped arms and pricked fingers from moving vines to get at those hidden treasures, but I can get a little obsessive when it comes to berry picking. After a while I got into a groove, searching vines in sections, and really just enjoying walking through the fields. I lost track of time, moving from one row to the next, squatting, moving vines (ouch), slipping my hands under leaves (ouch), and occasionally finding a cache of ripe berries, missed by the early-morning pickers.

Lost in my hunt and enjoying the fresh air and warm weather, I started to get this weird feeling. You know that point when you realize that things have gotten really quiet and there’s no one else around? When I finally put my head up and checked the time, yikes! It was past closing time for u-pick and yes, I was actually alone out in the fields. Well, that’s a first. I’ve closed bars and restaurants, but never a berry field. I looked down at my haul. Barely two containers full. Oof.

Fortunately, farmer Deano Lovecchio and his wife, who were (ahem) waiting for me so that they could close up, were nice enough to chat for a few minutes about my picking experience and what’s going on at Webb Ranch. I got the low-down from Deano on what they’ve planted and why, and what’s up with the lack of berries. Basically, it comes down to what Deano called “our weird weather” — cool, foggy mornings in the Portola Valley hills has slowed down the ripening process — along with a lot more of “you folks,” meaning more u-pickers. And this isn’t a bad thing for the farm — more of “us folks” picking means higher demand for their berries and a growth opportunity for the farm. In fact, Deano was telling me about all the additional crops he’s planted for the coming year to support the farm’s growth. (More about that in a future post!)

During my drive home I had a little internal debate as to what I might do with the berries I’d picked. Quantity-wise, things hadn’t worked out as I’d anticipated; I probably ended up with about a pound. But quality-wise: jackpot! These very ripe berries were at their best right now (ok, so I’d taste-tested few while picking…); they were very sweet, flavorful, even a bit jammy tasting, with just a hint of tartness. They wouldn’t be better tomorrow or the next day. That’s the thing about u-pick: you need to be thinking ahead as to what you’ll do with the fruit. How much you can eat or cook now and whether the fruit is sturdy enough for storing for future use. It was pretty clear from the juice leaking into the box holding the berries that these super-ripe babies needed to be enjoyed or cooked right away. I decided to split the difference: eat my fill now and cook the rest into a blackberry syrup that I could enjoy for the next week or two.

Not to be a big tease after all that talk of sweet, ripe berries, but if you’re thinking about getting your blackberries from Webb Ranch, better hurry up! This Saturday, 9am–2pm, is the last chance for blackberry u-pick for the season! Check out their website or Facebook page for the latest updates. And if you do get your hands on some sweet, ripe berries, make up a batch of this versatile syrup!

Recipe: Blackberry Syrup
This syrup is delicious on waffles, homemade vanilla ice cream, or a scoop of Greek yogurt (hint: you don’t need to buy yogurt with fruit added — make your own fruit sauces and syrups). It’s also a great way to use up very ripe, soft, or ugly berries. Note that blackberries, depending on the type, can vary in size from about 1/2-inch to 1-inch, so I recommend weight over volume measurements for consistent results.

Yield: 8 – 9 ounces syrup

What you need:

Kitchen scale
1-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
Small container or bowl to hold the strainer
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

12 ounces ripe, fresh blackberries, boysenberries, olallieberries (or a combination of any of these)
3 – 4 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 ounce of water

How to:

  1. Taste your berries.
    Seriously, before you go any further, taste several berries to get a good idea of how sweet and/or tart they are. If they’re very sweet with a hint of tartness, start with the minimum amount of sugar (3 ounces) and lemon juice (2 teaspoons). If the berries are more tart than sweet, they’re likely not ripe enough, and you’ll need to add more sugar — up to 3 ounces more.
  2. Place the berries in the saucepan and add the sugar, lemon juice, and water.
    Combine blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan

    Combine blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan

    Per your taste test in Step 1, add more sugar and/or lemon juice as necessary. Just to give you an idea of what I did: the berries I used were super-ripe and very sweet, AND I prefer a less-sweet syrup, so I used only 3 ounces of sugar. Next time, I might add another half ounce to see if that brings out the berry flavor a bit more without making the syrup too sweet. If your berries are tasting more tart than sweet, consider adding more sugar.

  3. Bring the berries, sugar, lemon juice, and water to a boil and reduce the heat.
  4. Cook for 15-20 minutes over low-medium to medium heat until the mixture has thickened and reduced to about three-quarters of the original amount.
    Make sure you’re stirring the mixture regularly and using the rubber spatula to break up the berries in the pot. I press the spatula against the berries until they pop.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down with the spatula to extract as much liquid as possible.
    Straining the syrup

    Straining the syrup

    I haven’t yet figured out a good use for what I call the “smoosh” — the leftover skins and seeds from making the syrup. Got any ideas??

    Leftover "smoosh" from the blackberries

    Leftover “smoosh” from the blackberries

  6. Taste the syrup and make any final adjustments for sweetness or acidity by adding sugar or lemon juice in small increments.
  7. Allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.in-the-jar

Cooking from the Garden: Get Stuffed

July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments

Recently, while I was sitting in my home office putting together a post for this blog, I heard my elderly neighbor — the one with the tomatoes — yelling my name as he came across my driveway to the back door. He’d come over to give me a “zucchini” from his garden. Now that both of our gardens are blooming, we’ve started trading. (I’d just traded his daughter a bunch of sage and an over-sized jalapeño pepper for a handful of fresh tomatoes. Talk about “shop local!”)

This zucchini was like none I’d seen before: it was the size of a cantaloupe and about two pounds in weight. Thanks to my cucurbit education at CUESA’s Summer Celebration, I figured out that what he’d given me was a Ronde de Nice, or globe squash (still… it’s a big, round zucchini). I don’t eat much summer squash, so what to do with it was an immediate headscratcher.  I thanked him, turned it over a few times feeling the weight, and then put it in my refrigerator until I could figure it out.

Inside view of refrigerator

See that green pumpkin-looking thing on the top shelf? That’s my Ronde de Nice!

When his daughter stopped by a few days later, she was excitedly curious about “the zucchini” — had I cooked it yet?! I had to admit — reluctantly — that I hadn’t, and that I was a little stymied as to how to prepare it. Truthfully, I still had no idea what to do with this thing, so I was, well, avoiding it. Stuffing and baking it seemed like the obvious choice (and she agreed), but the ground beef and cheese version she’d recently made for dinner with her father just didn’t fit my more plant-based diet, which meant that I’d have to come up with a recipe. Cue the interweb searches.

So, the big, round zucchini sat in my refrigerator — at eye level — for almost two weeks. I moved it from the top shelf to the middle, and then back again as I cooked my way through the rest of the produce. (Ugh. I know!) It was a thoughtful gift, and I was running the risk of letting it go the way of so many lost zucchini before it. Sad but true: every once in a while I forget about my hit-or-miss relationship with zucchini, buy some, and then struggle to use it all before it goes slimy. (Yep, eww.)

Finally, as I was contemplating dinner this past weekend, I decided it was time to deal with the big, round zucchini. What was the right way to stuff and cook this thing? I’d have to experiment. Then it hit me: what a great opportunity to use up some leftovers! I had roasted vegetables, brown rice, half an heirloom tomato, some feta — I could come up with something tasty and do it without much prep work. Suddenly this thing I’d been fretting over became a fun dinner project! Cue the aperitif.

I cut the top from the Ronde de Nice and scooped out the interior flesh and seeds. Eek. This thing could feed a family of four. Hmm, the filling I’d planned wouldn’t be quite enough for this cavernous cucurbit. Crap. I’d have to come up with more ingredients for the filling, so I started scavenging the refrigerator.

Ronde de nice squash scraped clean... and not quite enough filling

Ronde de Nice squash scraped clean… and not quite enough filling

Fortunately, I’d had a new CSA box delivery two days beforehand, not to mention a few lingering items from the previous CSA box. (Still working on reducing food waste at home!) The beet greens from the previous CSA box were still good, as was the last of the green garlic. Problem solved: sautéed beet greens with garlic and spicy red pepper would round out the filling. I could also finely chop the Ronde de Nice’s cap and add some squash to my er, squash.

Beet greens chopped into ribbons (chiffonade) and minced green garlic ready to go into the sautee pan

Beet greens chopped into ribbons (chiffonade) and minced green garlic ready to go into the sautee pan

For additional texture I threw in some pepitas, and for a bit of creaminess and flavor, I added some olive oil and locally made feta. In the end, I needed about three cups of filling to pack out this baby! When all was said and done, most of the work was chopping and mixing. The only “cooking” I did was sautéing the greens with garlic and red pepper, and that took about seven minutes. The whole thing couldn’t have been easier. Yeah, who knew?

650 Ronde de nice: Stuffed and oven-ready!

650 Ronde de Nice: Stuffed and oven-ready!

Here’s my version of Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash — a nod to Bastille Day and #MeatlessMonday. Feel free to substitute your own leftover grains, vegetables, and cheeses.

Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
Yield: Serves 2 as a main course; serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:

Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash (below)
2-pound Ronde de Nice squash (or two 1-pound squashes)

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF and lightly oil a deep baking dish or roasting pan.
  2. Cut the top from the squash.
  3. Using a dessert spoon, scrape the flesh and seeds from inside the squash, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick “shell.”
    Discard the seeds and reserve any remaining flesh for future use.
  4. Cut some of the cap into 1/4″ pieces for the filling (about 1/3 cup total).
  5. Make the filling (recipe below).
  6. Use a towel or paper towel to blot any moisture from inside the squash.
  7. Stuff squash with filling, slightly mounding the filling at the opening.
    If using two smaller squashes, divide filling evenly between the two.
    Save any leftover filling for other uses (side dish, salad, topping for vegetarian nachos).
  8. Place stuffed squash in the prepared baking dish and cover with foil.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking about 15 minutes longer until squash is al dente or slightly soft, depending on your preference.

Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
If using a 2-pound squash, you’ll need about 3 cups of filling. Feel free to increase or decrease amounts or substitute ingredients, depending on your taste.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup chopped roasted carrots and onions (¼” pieces)
1/2 cup chopped tomato (¼” pieces)
3/4 cup cooked corn
1/3 cup chopped squash from the cap or flesh
1/2 bunch greens (kale, beet, radish), sautéed with garlic and crushed red pepper
1½ tablespoons toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped or snipped into ¼” pieces
½ – 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

How to:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
  2. Add to prepared squash as described above.

 

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow? — Part Deux

July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

Time for the monthly progress report on my little edible garden! (Actually this post should have appeared last week, but the 4th of July holiday delayed things a bit.) We’re about 9 weeks along at this point, for those of you playing the home game. Lots of sunshine and more than a few hot days in June really got the tomatoes and peppers going, but put an end the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix lettuces. Herbs — both sweet and savory — are thriving, which means it’s time for harvest! Read on for more details and photos.

First up, the peppers and tomato plant are definitely rockin’ — check out this photo:

Pepper and tomato plants

L to R: Purple jalapeño peppers, Indigo Apple tomatoes, green jalapeño peppers, and ancho chili peppers

Remember, these babies were about 4 inches tall when they went into the planting boxes. Today, they range from 30-48″ tall, with no signs of slowing down.

Purple Jalapeño Peppers
Honestly,  I bought this plant for the novelty, figuring if it grew, “fine.” If not, oh well. What a wonderful surprise it’s turned out to be! Healthy and hearty since planting, it’s now about 30 inches tall. The delicate purple flowers are so lovely, and the resulting black-purple fruit is really striking against the green foliage.

Flower on purple jalapeno plant

Flowers on my purple jalapeño plant

Purple jalapeño plant with unripe peppers

Purple jalapeños and a few that have turned red

A few of the older peppers have matured during the past week, transitioning through a range of intense colors from black-purple to purple-red to magenta, and finally to a deep scarlet. (The fruit actually starts out green with purple shading when small, and then turns completely dark purple as it grows.) I’m thinking about using them for an infused tequila or syrup for cocktails. Gotta plan ahead: National Tequila Day is coming up on July 24!

Purple jalapeños, red at maturity

Mature red jalapeno in the foreground; deep-purple peppers will be ready in a few weeks

Green Jalapeños
Unfortunately, the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well. The plant is growing and spreading — it’s now about 36″ tall — but during the first and second flowerings, most of the blossoms died off. There are a couple of 3-inch peppers near the base of the plant from the first flowering, which are probably ready for harvest. Otherwise, I’ve seen some new baby-thumb-sized green nubbins appearing in the past couple of weeks, but there’s not much to photograph. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.

Ancho Chili Peppers
Like the purple jalapeños, the anchos are going gangbusters! This baby really blossoms in heat — literally. After the first round of hot days in early June, the plant was full of creamy white blossoms, and most of those have turned into peppers! I lost one pepper to a bit of mold/rot, but the rest are a luscious, shiny green. The peppers on the lower part of the plant are from the first flowering, and should be ready for harvest later this month. I’m looking forward to an August filled with chiles rellenos!

Ancho pepper plant with half a dozen or so peppers

Ancho peppers

Sweet Red Peppers
This plant has been slow to start, and like the ancho, really thrives in the hotter temperatures. Oddly enough, the plant itself hasn’t grown much; it’s only about 18 inches tall. Right now it’s filled to capacity with peppers that have just blown up in the past two weeks. With a long maturity time (90 days), I don’t expect to see any red peppers until late August.

Nope, those aren't green bell peppers -- they're unripe red, sweet peppers. Just another 30 days to go (more or less)

Nope, those aren’t green bell peppers — they’re unripe red, sweet peppers. Just another 30 days to go (more or less)

Tomatoes
Tomato plants can be touchy — my neighbor has already lost a couple this year, despite all of his experience and attention. Fortunately, my friend Jill had some helpful advice that I took to heart for my Indigo Apple plant: lots of water and remember to fertilize. The tallest and widest of my nightshades, that little 4-inch start is now about 4 feet tall!

Indigo Apple tomato plant

Indigo Apple tomato plant

Like the purple jalapeño, the Indigo Apple tomato starts out green, turns purple (more violet than indigo so far), then red at maturity. Maturity is about 75 days, so the fruit from the first flowering should be ready in August — maybe the end of July, if we have another round of hot days.

Closeup of unripe Indigo Apple tomatoes

Unripe Indigo Apple tomatoes

Lettuces
Oh, my poor lettuces! Unfortunately, I let the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix stay in the ground too long, and they bolted during the 90-degree days. What’s “bolting”? It’s when the lettuce throws up center stalk, preparing to go to seed. It’s the lettuce’s way of saying: I’m done, outtie, see ya. The leaves become bitter, and all you can do is pull the head and replant.

It was a newbie mistake not to harvest entire heads sooner, but the great thing about lettuce is that the maturity is only about 28 days, so there’s plenty of time for a do-over. I planted three new varieties a couple of weeks ago.

New baby lettuces

New baby lettuces: Black Seeded Simpson, Lettuce Manoa, and Wildfire Mix

I’m planning to try an early harvest this time around, taking more baby leaves than I did with the Little Gems.

Closeup of new baby lettuces

Closeup of Lettuce Manoa (left) and  Wildfire Mix

Herbs
The herbs are doing really well, but admittedly, they’re low maintenance. Water, sunshine, the occasional cutting, and they’re good. The spearmint and lemon verbena are flowering, which means that it’s time to cut some back so that I can get another harvest or two this season. It’s also time to start planning for preserving them for use in the fall and winter.

Spearmint

Spearmint, starting to flower

The flowers are pretty, but it’s time for harvest. (Hello, mojitos. How you doin’?)

Peppermint

Peppermint, overflowing the container

Hmmm, might be time to make mint-chocolate ganache…

Sage

Sage

The sage has reached critical mass; time to harvest and preserve

Chives

Chives

Chives: my go-to herb. They’re going into every savory dish I make.

Lavender

Flowering lavender

Flowering lavender: so pretty, and it’s bringing pollinators to my yard!

Lemon Verbena

Flowering lemon verbena

Flowering lemon verbena

So, that’s the latest here in the 650! How is your garden growing? Are you preserving yet, or just enjoying the experience of eating garden-to-table?

Want to see how my garden has grown up? Flash back to the post in which I commit to creating my own edible garden and get all the nitty-gritty details of how I did it. Follow the progress of the first month and find out how my 4-inch plant starts fared — plant porn included, of course.

Grow Local: Got Stone Fruit?

June 19, 2014 § 5 Comments

The recent hot, hot days have kicked off the ripening process for stone fruit trees here in the 650. The 75-year-old apricot tree in my backyard is heavy with pale-orange, blush-kissed fruit. Every morning for the past week, I’ve stood under that tree, looking up and pondering which small treasures to pick for the day. Which will be fragrant and ripe, and which should stay put for a few more days?

Apricots on the tree

Which beauty to pick now?

And if that weren’t happiness enough, my neighbor’s front-yard plum tree is dropping warm, juicy red-purple fruit right onto the sidewalk. Other neighbors stop by late in the day to pick up a few with their kids or while taking the evening constitutional with their dogs. The calendar might say that it’s still spring, but it feels like midsummer already.

Santa Rosa plums, ripe on the tree

Santa Rosa plums in the 650

Why do a couple of old fruit trees give me such a thrill? Maybe it’s the history — the fact that these trees have been part of the neighborhood since, well, since the houses were built 75 years ago. It’s nice to see a little of the peninsula’s past still in place here and there. I’m not exactly the tree-hugging type, but I can’t help but be impressed by the hardiness of these trees, whose branches are laden with fruit every year! They thrive without much more help from us than an annual pruning and some water. (Or in my case, almost no water, as the drip system in my yard is on the fritz.) Local and organic? Oh yeah.

I think, more than anything, it’s the sensory experience of summer fruit that I love. The colors are so beautiful and vibrant! Apricots range from yellow with pale green (unripe) to orange-pink, some with a freckling or blush of red (ripe).

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Plums are deep red when less ripe, becoming red-purple with a bloom of blue when ripe.

Santa Rosa Plums

Plums: reds aren’t quite ripe, while the purples are just about ready

Then there’s the scent of ripe fruit, which is like perfume: honeyed, floral, complex. (Smelling the stem end of an apricot or plum with get your mouth watering, if the fruit is ripe.) And the flavor is equally complex — sweet and slightly tart at the same time.

Apricots and plums have a short season, which is another reason that they’re so special. Unlike berries, which we’re seeing almost year-round, apricots and plums are best in summer when they’re sun-ripened and ready for harvest. If you have the good fortune to have an apricot or plum tree in your yard, then you know that these fruits are best when harvested fresh from the tree and eaten, canned, or frozen within a couple of days. Unripe fruit can be kept at room temperature and will soften, but won’t get sweeter (it needs heat and sun for that). I don’t recommend storing apricots or plums in the refrigerator, as they tend to get “mealy.” My best advice for tree-ripened apricots and plums: use ’em or lose ’em.

Need some ideas?

  • Slice apricots or plums into salads: Fresh greens, local goat cheese, and toasted almonds for a tasty lunch; add grilled chicken or tofu if you need a protein
  • Add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup infused with lemon verbena to one cup of diced apricots for a quick dessert or snack
  • Mix two teaspoons of simple syrup with 1 cup of sliced plums, and serve with vanilla ice cream or almond-milk sherbet for a simple, elegant dessert

One of my favorite summer desserts is fruit crisp; it’s a homey and not-fancy-at-all dish that I can eat for days. (What’s a fruit crisp? It’s a dessert of baked fruit with a crispy topping made from flour, butter, and sugar. Topping variations can include oatmeal and/or nuts.) It’s also oh-so-simple to make! About a dozen years ago, Fine Cooking magazine published their “formula” for fruit crisps. I’ve hung on to that issue (#51); it’s provided me with inspiration for creative summer-fruit crisps, year after year.

I don’t typically make crisps with fall fruit; fruit crisps are mostly a summer dessert in my house. The first crisp of the summer is kind of a thing around here — it’s the kick off to summer dessert making. My first crisp of the summer this year is an Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping. (Yep, plums would have been fabulous in this crisp, but pluots arrived in my CSA box last week, and, well, I needed to use ’em or … you know.)

The fruit filling for the crisp is a combination of:

  • 2 pounds of sliced fruit
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • The seeds of 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch combined with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to thicken the fruit juices as the crisp bakes
Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp

Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp: Fruit, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and vanilla bean seeds

The crisp topping is the “marzipan” from Apricot and Marzipan Tart in Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz. The topping mixture combines almond paste, flour, brown sugar, and sliced almonds.

Almond crisp topping

Almond crisp topping added to fruit. This baby is ready for the oven!

Per Fine Cooking‘s tip for keeping the crisp, er, crispy, I sprinkle half of the crisp topping over the fruit and bake for 20 minutes, then add the remaining half and bake for another 15-20 minutes — et voila!

Apricot-Pluot Almond Crisp just out of the oven

Freshly baked fruit crisp, just out of the oven

Crisps are great for dinner parties, barbeques, even brunches. Serve the crisp warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or non-dairy frozen dessert flavored with almond or vanilla (think: sherbet or sorbet made with a plant-based milk). Should you happen to have leftover crisp, stash some for breakfast. Trust me on this one; you can thank me later. Eat it cold with a dollop of greek yogurt — although it’s really tasty just plain, too. Want to reheat your crisp? Do it in a 325ºF oven for about 10 minutes. Reheating in the microwave makes the topping soggy — you don’t want that.

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It's what for breakfast

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It’s what for breakfast

My favorite way to eat fresh fruit crisp? With a spoon, right out of the baking dish, of course! Have you made fruit crisps? What’s your go-to summer fruit dessert?

All I need is a spoon...

All I need is a spoon…

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

As we’re heading into the last weekend of May, it’s time for the first update on my attempt to grow food. After just about a month, my little garden is flourishing! To date everything I planted is thriving, and much to my surprise, the lettuce is overflowing the planting boxes.

Burgundy mix and little gem lettuces

Lettuce explosion: burgundy mix in the front, little gems behind

As a comparison, here’s what they looked like when I planted them four weeks ago. Amazing what good organic soil, sunshine, water, and a little TLC can do!

Left to right: Little Gem lettuce, Burgundy Red Mix lettuce, purple jalapeno

Awww, they were just babies then…

Just this week I’ve started harvesting the outer leaves for small salads, pulling only what I need from the garden. I hope I can keep this going through the summer — continuing to harvest leaves as I need them, without having to harvest entire heads of lettuce that might go to waste.

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

I’ve also (cautiously) started snipping the tops of the chives, for the occasional garnish. If they continue to thrive, I might get a bit more aggressive and really give them a haircut. The sage is popping, too, so it might be time to pull some leaves and fry them up. (No, it doesn’t matter what you put them on — fried sage leaves are delicious! Ideas? Try them with sausage and pasta or grilled swordfish with olive oil or roasted veggies with brown rice…)

Herb box: Sage and chives

Sage and chives, little gems to the right

The peppers and tomato plants are taking their own sweet time, but they do have a longer growth time (75-90 days) compared to the lettuces and herbs (30-60 days). The anchos are the frontrunners right now, with three peppers, while the purple jalapenos are a close second.

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

If you’re thinking about starting a garden, it’s not too late! Lettuces are much easier to grow than I ever imagined, and they give an abundant return for your time and effort. Peppers are sturdy and do well in containers — but you need some patience because they do take up to three months to really produce. Tomatoes do amazingly well in the 650 — my plant start was four inches tall with no flowers a month ago, and now it’s almost 24″ tall with lots of flowers (which means, if all goes well, fruit will follow!).

Tomato plant

Tomato plant

You can check out how I put my little garden together here. The post also includes resources for more gardening info.

So what’s this all leading to? Hopefully a summer of creative, simple meals made of local ingredients. Just to give you an idea of how you can “eat local,” at home, here’s a simple meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients:

Eat local: West coast halibut with Nut 'n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots and Marin feta.

Eat local: West-coast halibut with Nut ‘n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese and chives from my garden. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots, and feta.

The run-on, menu-style description: Baked west-coast halibut, topped with Nut ‘n Bean Jalapeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese “sauce,” and chives, served with late-spring rainbow salad. The salad brings together lettuces from my garden, carrots and beets from my CSA delivery, a sprinkling of feta from Marin, and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice (yes, from local lemons). With the exception of the fish and the olive oil, every ingredient on this plate comes from within 85 miles of where I live. How cool is that?!

Of course, you can vary the protein based on your budget and diet (chicken or tofu could work, too), and the salad fixin’s based on what’s available in your garden or market. The point here is that it’s so easy it is to create a good, fresh dish from local ingredients. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to cook something like that.” Au contraire! Halibut takes 13-14 minutes to bake; other fish or proteins might time a little more or less time. During that time, you can wash, chop, and assemble the salad ingredients. Overall, figure about 30 minutes to prep and assemble a meal like this.

The best way to enjoy a meal like this in the 650? Grab a chilled bottle of wine (or some homemade sangria), your favorite people, and head to the back yard for some nice al fresco dining. What more could you ask for this weekend?

 

 

 

Shop Local: Palo Alto Farmers’ Market

May 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Downtown Farmers’ Market in Palo Alto is one of my favorite weekend markets in the 650. It’s a small market, but with an abundant selection of local produce and hand-crafted foods. For many years it was my go-to market on Saturday mornings from spring through late fall. During the Gâteau et Ganache years, my first stop was always Full Belly Farm for organic lemon verbena and peppermint for Gâteau et Ganache’s spring/summer collection bonbons, and then Green Oaks Creek Farm for sweet, juicy strawberries. If there was time, I’d run by Blue Heron for baby lettuces and broccoli, just to be sure that I had some fresh dinner food for the week.

Checking out what's fresh at the PA Saturday Farmers' Market

Checking out what’s fresh at the PA Saturday Farmers’ Market

Now that I’m getting a regular CSA delivery, and my little garden is starting to flourish, fresh food is basically on my doorstep. I don’t need to get out to farmers’ markets as often, and yet, that’s still where I want to be on a weekend morning. There’s something about a sunny spring or summer weekend morning that just about requires spending some time at a farmers’ market — admiring beautiful, fresh produce, chatting with food producers, and fantasizing about new dishes to make at home. Maybe farmers’ markets are for cooks what music stores are to musicians: a place full of possibilities.

This past Saturday I was up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-holiday-weekend, but with good reason: I was waiting for the delivery of my new dishwasher. (Yay, no more resetting the breaker to make the machine go! No more re-washing dishes that didn’t get clean the first time!) Fortunately, the delivery guys arrived on time and completed the installation by mid-morning. Perfect timing to head to Palo Alto to get my market fix. With no shopping list and no schedule, I was able to just wander the market, enjoying the experience. Here are some of the highlights.

Eat the Rainbow
Color was everywhere — fruits, vegetables, flowers — and it felt like summer already! Full Belly had a pretty display of lettuces, rainbow chard, and kale. Gorgeous? Sure — and good for you, too. If you need any incentive to eat more veggies, here ya go:

Colorful organic greens from Full Belly Farms

Colorful organic greens from Full Belly Farm

Herbalicious
Fresh herbs can make the difference between an ok dish and something really flavorful and special. Lemon verbena (one of my favorites!), rosemary, oregano, and chives — just for starters — are plentiful right now. Full Belly and Coke Farm had good assortments of fresh, organic herbs.

Fresh herbs from Full Belly Farms

Fresh herbs from Full Belly Farm: Lemon verbena front and center

There’s a Mulberry Guy
The Mulberry Guy has taken over the spot where Green Oaks Creek used to be. *sigh* I really miss those strawberries, but hey… mulberries? That’s new and intriguing. Unfortunately, I arrived after the mulberries had already sold out (turns out they’re really popular and had sold out within the first hour or so of the market opening), but stayed to chat with business owner Kevin Lynch. I love the story of this business: the mulberries are grown locally — within a mile of the market location — and like most small food businesses, it’s a labor of love. Talk about Grow Local — Buy Local — Eat local! If you’re a fan of mulberries or just want to know more, clicky on over to themulberryguy.com.

The Mulberry Guy: locally grown mulberries (as in: a mile from the market)

The Mulberry Guy: Palo Alto-grown mulberries, jam, and honey

Hail Her Coconess
One of the cool things (for me) about spending time at the Palo Alto Farmer’s Market is getting to visit with other artisan food producers. I met Shelly Seward, creator-owner of Her Coconess Confections, several years ago at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, when we were both exhibiting at the show. Shelly hand-produces award-winning, classic treats such as Rocky Road and Salted Caramels in a facility in Belmont and sells them throughout the Bay Area. (Yep, that’s right — Her Coconess is home-grown in the 650!)  In case you’re wondering: yes, there are samples. Be sure to try ’em. Want to know more about Her Coconess? Check out the website.

Shelly Seward: Owner/confectioner/creator of Her Coconess, award-winning confections

Shelly Seward: Owner/confectioner/creator of Her Coconess, award-winning confections

Aw, Nuts!
After some sweet samples and catching up with Shelly, I stepped “next-door” to visit Nut ‘n Bean to try something more savory. Nut ‘n Bean is a young Hayward-based business making nut butters, dips, and spreads. While chatting with co-owner Katie Griffin, I tried the Blueberry Almond and Orange Honey Cashew nut butters. Both were delish, with a nice balance between the toasted nut and fresh fruit flavors, without being too sweet (Katie says the nut butters have very little added sugar). Knowing that I still had a few nut other butters in the fridge at home, I moved on to  try the Chipotle Lime Almond Dip and the Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese. Oh. My. Yes, please!

Katie of Nut n' Bean nut butters, dips, and spreads

Katie Griffin of Nut ‘n Bean with the goods: nut butters, dips, and spreads

The Chipotle Lime Almond Dip has the consistency of a whipped cream cheese, with a nice nutty, smoked-pepper flavor that’s got just the right amount of spice. It’s perfect with rice crackers and sweet potato corn chips (or, erm, a spoon, right out of the container). The Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese has a softer, more sauce-like consistency, and while it works as a dip, is fabulous as a sauce on grilled wild salmon (or seared tofu or baked chicken or…). Nut ‘n Bean has a serious product line, and something for every taste and diet. Vegan? Paleo? Gluten-free? You’ll love Nut ‘n Bean. Check ’em out at the market or online.

Nut n'Bean: Cashew Jalepeno-Cilantro Dip and Almond Chipotle-Lime spread

Nut ‘n Bean: Cashew Jalepeno-Cilantro Dip and Almond Chipotle-Lime spread

Overall, a fun trip to the market. And yes, I came home with enough food to make plenty of dirty dishes and try out my new dishwasher — booyah!

Details
What: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market
Where: Gilman Street & Hamilton Avenue
Directions: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market website
Saturdays, mid-May through mid-December: 8am-12pm
Parking: Street and nearby lots

Grow Local: In Which I Walk the Talk

May 6, 2014 § 3 Comments

650Food is six months old today! If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been writing about food — eating, cooking, buying, and growing — in the 650, aka San Francisco’s peninsula neighborhoods. A few weeks ago I wrote, admittedly with a smidge of garden envy, about neighborhood gardens. Well, today my garden envy is gone…over…pfffffttt! While I’ve been encouraging people to “grow local” here (and on Twitter, if you follow me there), I want to tell you that I’m walking the talk. For the first time in many years, I’ve planted a small, edible garden. Hell yeah, I’m excited — I’m growing food! Well, right now they’re just baby plants, but by mid-summer, if all goes well, I’ll have food.Left to right: Little Gem lettuce, Burgundy Red Mix lettuce, purple jalapeno

There’s a lot to be said for growing your own food — reconnecting with the outdoors, teaching kids about where food comes from, eating simple, fresh meals — just to name a few reasons. You don’t have to plant an entire farm’s worth of produce, but you can easily get a small kitchen garden going to supplement what you buy weekly at the market. Wondering where to start? Think about the herbs, fruits, and vegetables that you love to eat or can’t find on a regular basis. For me, it started with peppermint and lemon verbena.

While this is not my first edible garden, I’m also not a gardening expert by any means. I definitely did some researching and organizing before I got started. First, I had to figure out where the “full sun” areas are in my yard — those spots that get 6-8 hours of direct sun. Most edibles love full sun — and it’s definitely necessary for fruit, which needs that light and heat to fully develop its sugars. Turns out I don’t have many full-sun spots in my yard, so that limited the garden size and location, right off the bat. (Good thing, too. Because once I got to the nursery to start buying plants, I wanted everything.)

Next I had to decide what I really wanted to grow. Sweet herbs — lavender, lemon verbena, and mint — were at the top of my list. After that I started thinking savory — sage (mmmm, fried sage leaves!) — and spicy, which meant peppers! I love summer salad greens, so if there was room, maybe I would give those a go. And finally, if I could squeeze out one more spot, I wanted just one tomato plant. My neighbor with the tomatoes was already making deals as soon as I mentioned my plans: he’d happily trade his tomatoes and basil for my peppers and mint.

Having picked my spot, I decided that a combination of pots and raised beds would take less time to set up and give me some flexibility in placing what I want to grow. I’m not exactly what you’d call “handy,” so getting pre-made raised beds sounded like a lot more fun than making beds. Fortunately Home Depot had these cedar boxes that just slide together (no tools involved, yay!).

Raised garden boxes

Cedar boxes 16″ x 16″ x 4″

I’d already decided that I wanted my garden to include as many organic components as possible, so here’s where the research really kicked in. I’d waited too long to start plants from seed, so that meant finding a reliable source of quality organic plant starts (baby plants). While the big-box home improvement stores stock a small selection of certified organic plants, you’ll do better to go to a local, independently owned nursery. Typically you’ll find better quality plants and better customer service. (Not to dis the big stores, but sometimes the folks working the garden section don’t know much about gardening. Or they usually work in lumber, or electrical, or plumbing. You get the idea.) A nursery can provide advice on planting, fertilizing, and managing your garden. Two mid-peninsula nurseries that stock organic plants: Wegman’s Nursery in Redwood City and Common Ground in Palo Alto.

Pots and plants at Wegmans Nursery

The first load of pots and plants

Finally, I had to source the soil and fertilizer. This was a tough one, and probably where I spent most of my research time and energy. The large home-improvement stores and small nurseries carry “organic” soil, but you have to read the labels to see what’s really in it. The challenge was finding a brand of organic soil that didn’t contain chicken manure, blood meal, or GMO’s. Unfortunately, most of the companies that use these components can’t or won’t disclose their source, so you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. For example, is the chicken poop in your soil happy, free-range chicken poop, or over-crowded, full-of-antibiotics, just-ate-the-dead-guy-next-to-me chicken poop? I mean, if I’m growing food in it, I want to know.

I ended up choosing Dr. Earth brand, which you can get from Orchard Supply. Dr. Earth is all about no GMO’s, chicken manure, or sewage sludge (who knew that was even an option in soil mixes??). Keeping it in the family, I also went with the Dr. Earth fertilizers.

Dr. Earth Pot o'Gold soil and fertilizers

Dr. Earth Pot o’Gold soil and fertilizers

So, I had my raised beds, pots, plants, soil, and fertilizer. All I had to do was wait for a not-too-hot, not-too-cold, not-too-windy day, and I could put it all together. Fortunately Mother Nature cooperated this past weekend, and I was finally able to plant everything (well, almost). Ta-dah! The big reveal…

Full view of containers and raised beds

From bottom to top: Peppermint, spearmint, sage, Little Gem lettuce, Burgundy Red Mix lettuce, purple jalapeno, Indigo Apple tomato, jalapeno, Ancho chili

And a few closeups…

Left to right: Peppermint, spearmint, sage, Little Gem lettuce

Left to right: Peppermint, spearmint, sage, Little Gem lettuce

Little Gem and Red Burgundy Mix lettuces

Little Gem and Red Burgundy Mix lettuces

Purple jalapeno

Purple jalapeno — just because, well, it’s a purple jalapeno!

Lavender and lemon verbena ended up in pots on the other side of the yard, where they’ll also benefit from full sun.

Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena

Finally, yes, with the lime shortage in mind, I picked up a 5-gallon lime bush (no idea how I’m going to plant this thing). It will go in the sunniest corner of the yard, near the lemon tree.

Baby lime bush next to the lemon tree

Baby lime bush next to the lemon tree

There you have it: my attempt at a kitchen garden! I’ll try to post updates throughout the season, assuming the squirrels and raccoons behave themselves and stay the f— out. In the meantime, I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of what I might harvest later this summer!

Need help figuring out how to plant an edible garden? Check out this article from Houzz on growing edibles in 16 square feet. My go-to source for figuring out what plants will and won’t thrive in my area is the Sunset Western Garden Guide. (I received my first copy as a gift 20 years ago, and just finally bought the updated version this year.) For more garden and landscaping ideas and growing info specific to the Bay Area, Sunset.com is a helpful resource.

Have you planted a garden? What are you growing this year?

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