Waste-Less Wednesday: Sustainable Cider from AppleGarden Farm

November 18, 2015 § 2 Comments

When I’m looking for a peaceful getaway beyond the 650, I head north to West Marin county. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and turning onto Highway 1 brings a sigh of relief as you’re forced to slow down and enjoy the scenery — from the rugged coastal areas as you wind your way down to Stinson Beach, to the glassy beauty of Tomales Bay as you head north to Marshall, and finally to the peaceful, pastoral lands as you make your way east toward Petaluma.

Point Reyes Beach

Looking at Point Reyes Beach on the way to the lighthouse

If the natural beauty isn’t enough to entice you, West Marin is rife with history and a rich heritage when it comes to food production. Dairy and cattle ranches have populated Marin county since the 1860’s. Most of these are family-run farms (not “big ag” operations) that have passed from one generation to the next, or between families, as they keep Marin County’s agrarian heritage growing. Traditional, organic, and sustainable have become a way of life among West Marin’s food producers.

From grower to producer to chef, the local food system is thriving. Marin’s farmers provide the organic, sustainable, raw ingredients — dairy, produce, meat — that today’s artisan food crafters and chefs rely on to make their products.

next-door-cows-grazing

Cows graze near AppleGarden Farm in Tomales

The past two decades have seen the rise of award-winning cheese producers, with Cowgirl Creamery leading the way. (See also Tomales Farmstead Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery, among others.) Farming isn’t limited to the land; shellfish is also a top local “crop.” Tomales Bay produces some of the finest west coast oysters you’ll ever try — not to mention mussels and clams. Restaurants like Stinson Beach’s Parkside Cafe and Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station rely on local ingredients to create satisfying, delicious dishes.

Unique among West Marin’s artisan producers are Jan Lee and her husband Lou, owners and farmers of AppleGarden Farm orchard in Tomales and makers of handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider. A two-person operation, they have spent the past eight years planting, growing, and harvesting 40 varieties of apples on their 20-acre property in order to create Marin county’s only organic farmstead hard cider. Jan calls it their “retirement project.” (And if that weren’t enough, there’s also the AppleGarden Cottage bed and breakfast, which Jan started up while waiting for the apple trees to mature enough for the first bottling of cider.)

jan-in-the-orchard

Jan Lee in the orchard of AppleGarden Farm during harvest time

Hard cider, which seems to be on trend lately, isn’t new. In fact, hard cider was the colonists’ original tipple. Cider apples — which are more tart and tannic than the apples we see in the market today —  were cultivated by English settlers, and the drink enjoyed popularity until Prohibition. The Volstead Act not only outlawed alcoholic cider, but it also limited the production of cider apple orchards and even sweet cider, also known as apple juice. As a result of Prohibition, orchards of cider apple trees were replaced with trees producing the sweeter eating apples we know now. But Jan Lee is doing something about that.

After leaving behind stress-filled careers managing commercial construction projects up and down the West Coast, Jan and Lou purchased their property in Tomales in fall 2007. Their plan: grow their own apples and make a flavorful, traditional English-style cider using a natural fermentation process that required only fresh juice and yeast. Together they built a barn, which they lived in until their residence on the property was complete, and planted the first apple trees. The first harvest produced enough apples for Jan to make “lots of applesauce.” Harvesting for making cider started in 2010, with the first bottling in 2011.

Eight years on, Jan and Lou have a two-acre orchard of over 300 apple trees that provide the apples for their hard cider. In addition, the farm is home to approximately 30 pastured chickens (who Jan calls “the girls”).

girls-closeup

Two of “the girls” taking a stroll in the apple orchard

In previous years, when the drought wasn’t as severe, Lou has also indulged his passion for “growing things,” including Cinderella pumpkins, summer squashes, and strawberries. Aside from the apples for cider, whatever Jan and Lou don’t eat or put into cold storage goes to feed the chickens and livestock on neighboring properties.

next-door-cows1

Fruit from AppleGarden Farm: it’s what’s for dinner!

Biodiversity and sustainability were built into the plan for AppleGarden Farm. With a variety of 40 apples, some types, such as the crabapples, attract pollinators and add a tannic (dry) component to the cider blend. (In fact, Jan and Lou keep bee boxes on their property, although a beekeeper manages the bees.) Cider apples contribute tannins and tartness, while the sweeter apples, such as Elstar, Stayman Winesap, and Freedom allow Jan to play with the sweetness and flavor profile when blending the cider. The diversity of apples means a ripening season from late August through early November. Lou harvests the apples by hand when they’re ready, and nothing goes to waste or is left lingering on the tree. Fruit that falls from the tree on its own is left on the ground to become food for the chickens, who in turn, provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer (manure) throughout the orchard.girls-strolling2

Jan and Lou specifically chose trees that would thrive in their coastal region, accounting for foggy mornings and less-sunny summers than inland locations in Sonoma county, for example. Young trees, which take several years to produce apples, receive a small amount of drip irrigation as needed during the summer. Mature trees are dry farmed. Jan and Lou also use large amounts of local organic mulch to keep the soil moist following winter rains.

mulch-new-trees

Heavy mulch around less-mature trees at AppleGarden Farm

Apples are allowed to rest in picking boxes until Jan and Lou are ready to start pressing.

apples-picking-boxes

Freshly picked apples, waiting for the press

Using a new press that Lou built this year, they’re able to extract the maximum amount of juice from the apples. Leftover apple “smoosh” from the pressings becomes feed for neighbors’ livestock. Juice is combined with yeast and left to ferment in large barrels at room temperature for several weeks.

Jan uses commercial yeast for consistent results, but nothing else is added to the cider — no sugar, no flavorings, and no additional carbonation. She tests the cider for percentage of alcohol (maximum 7%) and sugar, acidity, and flavor. Adjustments are made by adding juice — more juice to reduce the percentage of alcohol, tannic juice to balance sweetness and so on. This is the art of blending, and Jan is very good at it.

ferment-collage

The cider as it goes through the first stage of the fermentation process

Two more stages of fermentation, which take the better part of a year in cold storage, happen before the cider can be bottled. Jan and Lou do the bottling on site themselves, using bottling equipment that Lou built. Labels are applied by hand, and Jan delivers the orders herself, driving up and down Marin county to deliver orders to wholesale accounts, of which there are now a dozen.

AppleGarden Farm’s Hard Cider has a moderate amount of alcohol, balance of tannins and sweetness, slight effervescence and sweet-tart apple flavor. Jan calls it a “casual drink, a picnic cider.”

jan-pouring

Jan Lee pouring a glass of her handcrafted farmstead cider

The flavor profile makes it a perfect pairing with Marin county-produced foods — especially full-flavored cheeses such as Cowgirl Creamery’s Mount Tam. Goat cheeses are also a good pairing, and I’m looking forward to trying the cider with Pescadero’s own Harley Goat Farms cheeses.

cheese-board

A selection of Marin county cheeses, charcuterie, marcona almonds, and olives to pair with AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider

Another excellent cider pairing? Tomales Bay oysters! In fact, it’s my new go-to choice of beverage to enjoy with our regional oysters, emphasizing the creaminess and balancing the briny notes.

oysters

Barbequed oysters with chorizo butter and AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider at The Marshall Store

Unfortunately AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider is not yet available in the 650. If you want to try this handmade, sustainable cider for yourself, you’ll have to head to points north and get some from these restaurants and specialty stores:

  • San Francisco: Upcider
  • Larkspur: Left Bank Brasserie
  • Fairfax: Taste Kitchen
  • Olema: Sir & Star Restaurant
  • Petaluma: Marin French Cheese Company
  • Point Reyes Station: Osteria Stellina, Tomales Bay Foods/Cowgirl Creamery
  • Inverness Park: Perry’s Deli
  • Inverness: Saltwater Oyster Depot
  • Marshall: Marshall Store and Oyster Bar, Nick’s Cove
  • Valley Ford: Rocker Oysterfeller’s

Better yet, plan a trip to West Marin when the farm is open and purchase some directly from Jan. Check the farm’s Facebook page for open days and times.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Down on the Farm

October 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

The issue of food waste has gone mainstream. Back in July, John Oliver covered the topic during an episode of “Last Week Tonight.” And last month, the USDA and EPA got in on the act, issuing a national Food Waste Challenge. The goal? To reduce food waste in the US by 50% by 2030. Already the challenge has received buy-in from major food retailers, as well as food industry and charitable organizations (although no formal program is in place yet).

Much of what’s reported and discussed in the media targets food waste at the consumer level: the food we buy and never eat, the science-experiment leftovers in our refrigerators, and the edible bits we toss out, like carrot greens and cauliflower leaves. But the consumer end is just one aspect of the food system in which food waste occurs. Food waste happens at all points in the system, literally from farm to table. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) report, “Wasted,” the total loss for fruits and vegetables at the production level is about 20%, (“production losses are greatest for fresh produce”) and from post-harvest to retail amounts to about 14%.

The type of waste that occurs on large, commercial farms often involves leaving behind fields of edible product to serve supermarket requirements for size and beauty. The amount of fresh food wasted in this way is staggering.

Just Eat It – Field Waste – Cauliflower (Deleted Scene) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

But what about local farms in the 650, many of which are family owned and already focused on sustainability? How can a small farm — reliant on farmers’ markets, restaurants, and CSA subscribers for sales — manage and reduce food waste, while growing a business? I had a chance to ask John Vars, who is a partner-farmer of Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero (along with co-partners Mike Irving and Teresa Kurtak) during FCF’s CSA Open House farm tour in August.

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm's three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm’s three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour during the CSA Open House in August

You don’t see the kind of prettying-up waste that has happened on large, commercial farms. In terms of what Fifth Crow takes to market or provides to CSA subscribers, it’s the whole product harvested from the tree or bush or out of the ground. You’ll see the occasionally blemished or odd-sized fruit, extra-large heads of cauliflower, root vegetables with their greens still attached, and even roots-on basil.

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Farmers’ markets are one of the less-predictable retail outlets for local farms. Market sales can be affected by weather, time of year, and customer tastes, just to name a few of the variables. Estimating market demand and producing “the right amount” is an on-going challenge for any growing food business.  You don’t want to disappoint customers by running out too quickly, but you also don’t want to end up with too much unsold product that you might have to take home with you.

One step in reducing food waste from farm to market then, is getting good at estimating your customers’ demands. Fifth Crow Farm currently participates in six Bay Area markets weekly, in addition to providing farm products to restaurants and CSA subscribers. With six years (now closing in on seven) of growing seasons behind them, the Fifth Crow folks have enough data and experience to better predict and plan what they take to farmers’ markets.

While they’ve gotten better at estimating what to take to market, inevitably there are items that don’t sell. In line with their sustainable, community-based approach to business, Fifth Crow handles leftover market products by:

  • Donating to community organizations that are able to pick up product directly from the market
  • Returning unsold produce to the farm and offering it to the employees, at no charge
  • Using it as food for the farm’s pasture-raised chickens (which produce some of the best eggs I’ve had recently)
No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm's pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm’s pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

John mentioned that the partners especially like being able to offer the unsold products to their employees. In addition to paying a fair wage, it’s another way they support the employees’ hard work throughout the season.

So that’s how one local farm is doing it right: taking a multi-pronged approach that benefits the land, the community, and the farm as a business. Have you asked your local food producers and retailers how they’re reducing food waste? What did you learn? Share your experience in the comments below.

Weekend Recipe: Seasonal Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Goat Cheese

October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s a fine line between the end of summer and beginning of fall here in the 650. Our warm, sunny days might continue right up until Thanksgiving, making you wonder how the holidays came up so quickly. The clues are there: leaves turning from bright green to brown and vibrant red (but slowly, not all at once), shorter days, and a change in the way the sunlight comes in my kitchen window… more golden in color, but not as bright or strong as during the summer.

You see it in the markets, too, of course. Summer produce is mostly finished by October 1, although in good years you’ll still see strawberries lingering for a few more weeks. Stone fruit is long gone, as are blueberries and the second flush of figs. Apples, pears, and persimmons have made their way into the market. Even the concord grapes have come and gone.

I’m now doing the happy dance for the efforts I made to preserve food during those crazy hot days of summer: the jars of jam that have taken over most of a large kitchen cabinet, not to mention the roasted tomatoes, beets, and peppers that have filled my freezer. I’m a little wistful to see summer go; it’s definitely my favorite food season.

Back in early June, after visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, I put together what I thought of as the quintessential 650 summer salad: mixed baby greens with edible flowers from Fifth Crow Farm, topped with strawberries (also from Fifth Crow Farm), Blenheim apricots from my backyard, and Harley Farm’s Honey Lavender Chèvre.

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chèvre

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy Chèvre

By the time I made the second visit to Harley Farms in late August to pick up more Honey Lavender Chèvre, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make that same salad again until next year. My backyard apricot tree was bare, as the harvest ended at the beginning of July, and Fifth Crow Farm’s tender baby greens with edible flowers weren’t showing up in my CSA box. Instead, they’d been placed by spinach and baby kale. (Not that I’m complaining, by any means. That’s the beauty of eating seasonally, new things just keep coming!) *sigh* It was a nice little dish, that salad, and I look forward to making it again next June, when those Blenheims are ripe and sweet. In the meantime, there were other salad variations with which to enjoy that luscious goat cheese from Harley Farms.

What follows is the original Pescadero-inspired salad from early summer. If you can still get good strawberries now, go ahead and make it, substituting sweet-tart apples or even fuyu persimmons for the apricots. Otherwise, you can squirrel it away for next year, when strawberries and apricots hit the market in early summer. If we’re well into fall by the time you read this, then scroll on down to the bottom of the page for a seasonal variation.

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Summer)
2 Servings
I believe in improvising when making salads — use whatever you’ve got and assemble the ingredients according to your taste. There’s no measuring, and you can’t really go wrong, as long as you’re using fresh ingredients that you enjoy. I’ve approximated the measurements for two servings, but feel free to adjust to your taste and appetite.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic baby greens salad mix with edible flowers
3 – 4 medium organic Blenheim apricots, rinsed and sliced into eighths (Early fall version: substitute thinly sliced sweet-tart apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl)
8 – 10 medium organic strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, hulled, and sliced into quarters
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

How to:

  1. Split the ingredients between two bowls or dinner plates. Place the greens on the dish first, then top with slices of fruit, arranging the pieces evenly.
  2. Drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over each salad.
  3. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Top with crumbled goat cheese.
    Wine pairing suggestion: French-style rosé
    plate-top-view

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Fall)
The roasted carrots in this autumn version of the salad add a sweet-savory-earthy component that works surprisingly well with the honey lavender goat cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, toss in some roasted fennel, which plays well with both the apple and the carrot.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic mixed lettuces, spinach, or a combination, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium sweet-tart apple, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl, cut into thin slices
2 – 3 medium roasted carrots, cut into chunks
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Chopped toasted pecan pieces to finish the salad

How to:

  1. Follow instructions for the summer salad version for assembly.
  2. Wine-pairing suggestion: California chardonnay

#TBT: Visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero

October 1, 2015 § 4 Comments

The tiny town of Pescadero (pop. 643, as of 2010) in southern San Mateo county is probably best known for Duarte’s Tavern, a long-standing institution established in 1894 and lauded in Sunset Magazine for its now-famous artichoke soup. But there’s so much more to experience in Pescadero, as I learned this past summer.

Historically important in San Mateo county’s development, Pescadero was part of the original stage-coach road system, taking travelers south from San Francisco to the coast.

Map from the San Mateo County Museum's exhibit on The First Roads

Map from the San Mateo County Museum’s exhibit on The First Roads

Equally important for the 650 is that Pescadero has been a fertile area for farming and ranching in San Mateo county since the 1860’s. Today we’re lucky to have sustainably raised food from Fifth Crow Farm, Root Down Farm, Pie Ranch, and Harley Farms Goat Dairy, to name a few. Some of these farms are supplying San Mateo county’s best restaurants, while also selling their products directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSA programs.

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chevre

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chevre

When the Bay Area’s first round of super-hot weather descended in early June, I took that as a sign to head down the coast. A trip down Highway 1 is often a crapshoot. Microclimates being what they are here, a 30-minute drive across Highway 92 and over to the coast can take you from a siesta-inducing, 95 degrees on the mid-peninsula to a better-bundle-up, foggy 63 degrees on the coast. You just don’t know for sure until you get there (and it’s all part of the adventure, so bring extra clothes)! Fortunately, the day I headed south for a Food Day in Pescadero (the first of two), I lucked out with comfortable 70-something-degree temperatures that were enough to burn off the fog and expose the rugged beauty of the San Mateo county coast. My destination? Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero.

Harley Farms Goat Dairy is a restored 1910 property located just about a mile west (inland) from Downtown Pescadero, right before the intersection of North Street and Pescadero Creek Road. The scenic route takes you through Downtown Pescadero, a cute don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town with a surprising array of places to indulge in food and beverages. Stop and explore, if you have time. If you decide to bypass downtown and keep going west on Pescadero Creek Road, just know that the only entrance to the farm is on North Road (you’ll be able to see the back of the property), so you’ll have to take a sharp left there and backtrack a bit.

Keep an eye out for the cream-colored buildings and goat sign hanging outside the shop.

Harley Goat Farm Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Park along the road, near the shop, or look for the Parking sign just past the metal tanks (near the large eucalyptus tree).

The scenic nine-acre farm is primarily a working dairy that houses 200 alpine goats for milk and cheese production. The property also includes a barn, orchard, colorful garden, and shop where visitors can taste and purchase the farm’s products. The enchanting hayloft above the shop is the site of farm dinners and parties and offers a stunning view of the property and surrounding hills.

View of the gardens from the hayloft at Harley Farms

View of the gardens from the hayloft at Harley Farms

The farm is open year-round for private and public tours, retreats, and events. Guided tours, which must be booked in advance, take visitors around the property to view the farm in action, visit with the goats, and learn about the cheese-making process. The farm offers public tours on weekends, and you can easily book through the website. There are options for family tours (with kids) or adults-only tours (no kids). A word of advice: book early because tours and events book up quickly, especially May-October. Harley Farms will also work with you to create your own private tour or event. Corporate retreat? Birthday dinner in the hayloft? A farm tour with your extended family? Contact the farm directly for more information and availability.

Even if you roll up without a tour booking (as I did on a random weekday), you can still enjoy the public spaces, view the gardens, watch the goats in their pens, and taste the farm’s award-winning products in the Cheese Shop.

Harley Farms Shop in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Shop in Pescadero, CA

The farm produces feta, ricotta, fromage blanc, and of course, chèvre. The fromage blanc, which has the texture of a soft, light cream cheese, is available plain or with flavor accents such as garlic and herb or tomato and basil. Pro tip: the tomato-basil fromage blanc pairs perfectly with the freshly baked artichoke bread from Arcangeli’s Market in town.

Harley Farms chèvre is a classic goat cheese with a firm, but creamy consistency. It crumbles when chilled and spreads like cream cheese at room temperature. The Cheese Shop offers several sizes of chèvre, from cute “buttons,” perfect for tasting, to must-share rounds and logs. Flavor-wise, you can choose plain chèvre or dressed-up options topped with chopped apricots and pistachios; cranberries and walnuts; or pretty, edible flowers from Harley Farms gardens (aka, the award-winning Monet Cheese).

I tried them all, but my hands-down favorite, however, is the Honey Lavender Chèvre. The sweet-herbal combination is well-balanced and complements the earthy goat cheese flavor. While it’s delish on a cracker, I found that the complex flavor combo is a perfect addition to a pretty summer salad of fruits, greens, and edible flowers. It was so good, I had to make a second trip to Harley Farms later in the summer for more Honey Lavender Chèvre.

Harley Farms Honey Lavender Chevre

Harley Farms Honey Lavender Chèvre

The shop also sells assorted sweet treats (handmade truffles and goat-cheese cheesecakes), bath and body products, and gifts.

A small and vibrant part of the San Mateo farming community, Harley Farms is a worth a visit. Book yourself a tour, bring along some picnic supplies (or stop into Arcangeli’s Market for that artichoke bread), and make a day of it.

Have you visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy? Or a goat dairy in your local food system? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Details
What: Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Where: 205 North Street, Pescadero, CA 94060
Phone: 650-879-0480
Farm & Shop Hours:
January-February: Mon-Thu 11am-3pm; Fri-Sun 10am-4pm
March-December: 10am-5pm, every day
Closed Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
Parking: Street or lot

 

Waste-Less Wednesday: Smashed Cauliflower on Toast with Rocket and Radish

May 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

What’s up with our weather? The recent stretch of cloudy, cool days feels like more spring in Seattle, than spring in the Bay Area. We should be well into our second heat wave by now! (I joke.) Maybe it’s this pre-summer limbo or the grey days, but I’ve been craving comfort food. Nothing as solid as the roasted vegetables or heavy soups of fall and winter, but something warm-ish, fresh, and easy to make. Something on toast, perhaps.

I know, I know, toast is all the rage now. $4 toast. Avocado on toast. Soft egg on toast. (Really, I don’t think I can see one more “genius” toast recipe.) For me, lunch or dinner on toast is old school. I grew up in a household of “things on toast” — pretty typical for my transplanted Australian family. I’m not talking about a toasted sandwich or toast-n-jam. Nope, I mean a small, filling meal with toast as the foundation, topped with something savory and substantial.

Smashed cauliflower on toast with argula and radish matchsticks

Something like this, perhaps: An upgrade to the toast-based meals I grew up eating

Spaghetti on toast is an Australian classic and a typical mom-doesn’t-want-to-cook meal in my house when I was a kid. Often it was a Sunday dinner kind of thing. Saturday dinners were classic roasted beast with veg, but Sunday dinners were simple and casual. Occasionally spaghetti on toast was a mid-week meal: a quick way to use up the previous night’s leftovers of that iconic Australian dish, Spaghetti Bolognese. (Yes, believe it or not, Spaghetti Bolognese is an iconic Australian dish, thanks to a post-WWII influx of Italian immigrants.) If you didn’t have any “spag Bol” on hand, spaghetti-o’s were a quick-and-easy stand-in — and actually preferred by the kids for the sweet sauce and the fun o’s.

Sick-in-bed days meant scrambled or poached eggs on toast. As soon as I could reach the toaster, Vegemite and cheese on toast was a go-to, good for a solid breakfast or fast lunch. And then of course, there’s my father’s favorite: asparagus on toast. Did you just get an image of bright green, fresh (maybe grilled) stalks, drizzled with olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Yeah, no. Dad’s favorite on-toast meal calls for canned asparagus. Why? Because you can smoosh and spread it on toast with a fork. Of course. He still gets a little boyish when he makes it. “I’m having asparagus on toast,” he’ll announce to anyone within earshot of the kitchen. You go Dad.

Recently I found myself with a few leftover cauliflower florets and not nearly enough arugula (aka, rocket lettuce) to make a salad or even a small pasta dish. But hey, if I steamed the cauliflower past the al dente stage, couldn’t I smoosh it like mashed potatoes (or Dad’s canned asparagus), mix in some olive oil, mound it onto some toast and top it with the peppery arugula leaves? Yes, I could. Plus, I’ve been crushing hard on this nutty, dense spelt bread lately, so it would be the perfect delivery device for the smashed cauliflower.

How about that: from leftover bits of produce to a fast, healthy, vegetable-based meal that’s ready in 15-20 minutes. Warm, flavorful, and with enough textures and flavors to keep your mouth interested. Genius? Nah, just good ol’ Aussie-inspired comfort food.

What’s your favorite toast-based dish? Share in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Recipe: Smashed Caulilflower on Toast with Rocket and Radish
Yield: 1 serving (or 2 small servings, if you’re willing to share)

This quick meal is a comforting, yet flavorful way to enjoy fresh-from-the-market produce or to use up any bits of older vegetables that are lingering in your refrigerator. Mixing the smashed cauliflower with salt and olive oil gives it a creamy texture and buttery flavor. The nutty taste and denseness of the toast adds substance, while the earthiness of the arugula and peppery flavor of the crunchy radishes balances the softness of the cauliflower. You can make this recipe vegan or non-dairy by 86-ing the cheese.

What you need:

Saucepan with lid and steamer insert (2-3 quart capacity)
Small bowl
Fork and/or spoon
Toaster or toaster oven

Ingredients:

6 ounces cauliflower (about 1½ heaping cups), cut into 1-1½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on the toast
1 teaspoon chopped or snipped chives (no larger than ¼-inch pieces)
2 pieces of sturdy, nutty bread, such as spelt or sprouted grain
¼ cup chopped arugula (rocket lettuce)
1 small radish, sliced into matchstick-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese (I used paper-thin slices of aged raw milk cheddar; you’ll need a sharp knife to cut thin slices)

A showcase of organic produce: Cauliflower, freshly ground black pepper, arugula, radishes, sea salt, olive oil, and spelt bread

A showcase of local, organic produce paired with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, complemented by a nutty, dense spelt bread

How to:

  1. Fill the saucepan with 1-2 inches of water (depending on where your steamer insert sits in the pan), place the steamer insert in the saucepan, cover with a lid, and bring the water to a boil.
  2. As soon as the water reaches a boil, turn the heat to medium-high to keep the water simmering, but not at a high boil. Place the cauliflower in the steamer insert and cover with the saucepan lid. Steam the cauliflower for 10 minutes.
    When the pieces are fully cooked, you should be able to easily smash them with a fork or spoon.
  3. Transfer the cauliflower pieces to a small bowl and smash them with a fork or the back of a spoon. Meanwhile, make the toast.
    When you start smashing the cauliflower, you’ll get something that looks like rice.

    At first you'll get cauliflower "rice," but keep smashing

    At first you’ll get cauliflower “rice,” but keep smashing


    Keep smashing the cauliflower until the mixture resembles lumpy mashed potatoes.

    That's more like it: smashed cauliflower

    That’s more like it: smashed cauliflower

  4. Add the olive oil, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine thoroughly.
  5. Drizzle each piece of toast with just enough olive oil to coat the top, but not soak through the bread.
  6. Optional: Add some umami by covering each piece of toast with a thin slice of cheese.
    Think of the cheese as a condiment here. The cauliflower is the star, so keep the cheese slices thin. Keeping things vegan or dairy-free? Skip this step.
  7. Divide the cauliflower mixture, mounding half on each piece of toast, then spreading it out to the edges of the bread. Top with radish matchsticks and chopped arugula.
  8. Finish with a small drizzle of olive oil and a twist of freshly ground black pepper.composite1_edited-1

Eat Local: Comfort Me

November 20, 2014 § 4 Comments

FINALLY we’ve been getting some much-needed rain here in the 650. (Damn, wish I’d remembered to cover the patio furniture before that started!) Unfortunately, for those of us prone to sinus-related misery — colds, infections, allergies, and the like — the season’s first round of feeling-under-the-weather ick has blown in with the rain. Ugh.

Yes, I’ve been a frequent flier with this sort of thing, so I have refills of the appropriate pharmaceuticals on speed dial, but I usually go there as a last resort. I’d rather fight the bugs with extra sleep, homemade nourishing food, and lots of filtered water. The problem is that when you’re feeling all draggy-ass and foggy-brained, you don’t really want to be in the kitchen cooking anything. And yet, this is the time when you want — maybe even crave — comfort food: something warming, flavorful, and easy to eat. (Somehow crunchy and raw food just don’t cut it when you’re feeling under-the-weather.)

But what to do when you feel rung out, sniffly, and just want to curl up in a blanket fort? Unless you have a staff of minions anticipating your every need, figuring out what to eat — let alone cook — seems like too much trouble. Here’s where a little advance planning can go a long way. No, I don’t mean stocking up on canned soup and frozen meals. While those might be quick and easy choices, the added salt, fat, and sugar aren’t doing your body any favors. And well, there’s something about homemade that just hits the spot when you’re feeling all yucky. Keeping vegetable stock and some prepared (washed and chopped) vegetables on hand can go a long way toward easy-to-make, comforting dishes that can help you feel better.

Soup
I know I’ve been hit with a bug when I start craving soup — a bowl of steamy, flavorful broth brimming with a colorful assortment of bite-sized pieces of perfectly cooked carrots, potatoes, and leeks.

Comforting, nourishing vegetable soup made with homemade vegetable broth

Comforting, nourishing organic vegetable soup made with homemade vegetable broth

Here’s where having a batch of Spring Vegetable Broth (I should have called it “Any Season Broth” because it really is) on hand in your refrigerator or freezer is a lifesaver. So, on those days when you need soup — oh snap! — you’re all prepared. Heat up the broth and add whatever you’ve got handy — prepared or leftover vegetables, pasta, rice, tofu, last night’s grilled chicken — simmer on the stove top for about 20 minutes, et voilà: comfort food.

Tip: Need a pointer to a foolproof vegetable soup recipe? Try Chow’s Basic Vegetable Soup. The recipe is really versatile, so you can use whatever you’ve got in the refrigerator or pantry.

Roasted Vegetables
Roasted vegetables are always on in my house. Carrots and sweet potatoes are at the top of my list, and I usually make enough for leftovers (and oh, how those leftovers come in handy when I don’t feel like cooking!). Their bright orange color and roasted, sweet flavor complement so many dishes. Plus they’ve got that whole Vitamin A, good-for-you thing going on.

Roasted carrots (fried sage leaves optional)

Roasted carrots (fried sage leaves optional)

As far as comfort food goes, you can’t beat roasted vegetables for a satisfying flavor-texture combination. Best right from the oven, they’re earthy, slightly caramelized, a little crispy around the edges, with a texture that falls between soft and al dente when you bite into them.

Prep is minimal: cut the vegetables into evenly sized pieces (after washing/peeling as you like), toss them in olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven for 20-40 minutes. Sweet potatoes are on the low end of that range, carrots on the higher end. Other root vegetables will fall somewhere in between.

Sweet potatoes ready for roasting

Sweet potatoes ready for roasting: season them your way! Add savory seasoning with salt and pepper, garlic, crushed red pepper. Or, go sweet with a little cinnamon and sprinkling of brown sugar.

Tip: You can make small batches of roasted sweet potatoes in your toaster oven. Preheat the oven to 400℉. Line the baking tray with two layers of foil, then spread the prepared sweet potato pieces onto the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes, flipping the sweet potato pieces halfway through cooking so that the bottoms don’t get too crispy or dark.

Sautéed Greens
Kale, spinach, beet greens, chard greens, and even radish greens can all be sautéed for a healthy, flavorful dish. Need a place to start? Try this Savory Kale Saute recipe, substituting other greens if you like. Aside from being a good source of vitamins and protein, sautéed greens are quick-cooking, filling, and can be paired with pasta, scrambled eggs, soup, or roasted vegetables (see what I did there?).

Quick, savory kale saute with garlic and roasted red pepper

Quick, savory kale saute with garlic and roasted red pepper

Tip: Give yourself a break and split up the prep and cooking times. Wash, dry, then chop or chiffonade your greens and store them in an closed bag or container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to sauté.

Added Bonus: Garlic, Ginger, and Crushed Red Pepper
The power trio of garlic, fresh ginger, and crushed red pepper (yes, together!) are tasty and healthful additions to soups, roasted vegetables, and sautéed greens. All three have therapeutic properties that can help you fight off bugs:

Sure, that’s all good, but flavor is the big draw here. The combo of spicy, earthy, and slightly sweet really amp up the flavor of a dish, making it more interesting and complex. (Helpful if your senses of taste and smell have taken a hit from the winter nasties.)

That’s how I’m trying to handle the latest round of the sniffles. What’s your feeling-under-the-weather comfort food?

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.

Eat Local: Tin Pot Creamery

August 19, 2014 § 2 Comments

It’s mid-afternoon, and I’m craving ice cream. Not just any ice cream, mind you, but from-an-actual-ice-cream-shop ice cream. My first thought: head to Palo Alto. Why Palo Alto? Because this mid-peninsula city has more ice cream shops than any other city in the 650 (seriously, PA has about twice as many ice cream shops as other cities on the peninsula).

Peach Jamble and Toasted Almond from Tin Pot Creamery in the 650

Peach Jamble and Toasted Almond from Tin Pot Creamery in the 650

Whatever your style — chain or independent, old-school or trendy-and-new — Palo Alto has a place to feed your ice-cream craving. In addition to the usual chain shops (Baskin-Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery), Palo Alto is home to some locally owned, independent shops that make their own ice cream right here in the 650!

Tin Pot Creamery, which opened last summer, is one of the newer independent ice creameries. As a local craft food producer, they’re doing a lot of things right. They make all of their ice creams — as well as sauces, toppings, and baked goods — on site, in small batches. Tin Pot is also supporting the local/regional food system by using local and organic ingredients, which makes them unique among Palo Alto’s ice cream shops. Straus dairy products, TCHO chocolate, and Four Barrel Coffee are just a few of the locally produced ingredients that Tin Pot uses.

You won’t find a huge assortment of flavors here; the current flavor list has about 18 choices, some classic (Vanilla, natch) and some unique (vegan ChocoCoco, made with coconut milk). What you will find are fresh flavors, natural ingredients, and no artificial colors. Sorry kids, but there are no neon-blue “bubble gum” ice creams here. Another thing that makes Tin Pot unique? An active awareness of food allergies and plant-based diets. Flavor labels note whether an ice cream is vegan, gluten-free, or contains nuts. Need more info? The counter staff is very knowledgeable about the ice creams’ ingredients.

So, what to get? If you’re not sure, ask for a taste. You can taste up to three flavors before making a decision. According to the staff, Four Barrel Coffee with Cocoa Nib Toffee and Salted Butterscotch are “customer favorites.” You can get your scoops in a cup or housemade waffle cone. I opted for side-by-side scoops of the Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards and Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl.

Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards and Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl

Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards and Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl

As you might guess, I’m a bit picky about my chocolate ice cream (or um, chocolate anything) — I want it to taste like CHOCOLATE, not like chocolate powder. Tin Pot’s Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards delivered! The flavor was as advertised: rich, dark chocolate, with the added bonus of crisp, dark chocolate pieces. The Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl was a nice counterpoint: lighter in flavor, not too sweet, with a caramel-like swirl.

Want to try something a bit different? Taste the Earl Grey Tea or Lavender with Blueberry Swirl. Like all of the other ice creams I tried at Tin Pot (no, I won’t say how many), they’re flavor-rich with a texture that’s smooth and creamy.

Earl Grey Tea and Lavender with Blueberry Swirl

Earl Grey Tea and Lavender with Blueberry Swirl

Pairing Earl Grey with the Lavender/Blueberry was an interesting choice, but lavender is such a dominant flavor that it overwhelmed the Earl Grey. Next time I might try pairing either of these flavors with something else (chocolate!), although they’re totally luscious on their own. Of course, there are still another dozen flavors I want to try (hellooo, Malted Milk with Milk Chocolate Pieces!).

If you want to dress up your scoops, Tin Pot offers an assortment of housemade toppings and sauces so that you can create your own sundae. How about adding salted caramel sauce and shortbread crumbles? Or hot fudge sauce, almond toffee, and brownie crumbles? Overwhelmed by the possibilities? Choose one of the four “pre-designed” sundaes from the menu board.

If you’re in the mood to share or want to take something home for the family, Tin Pot has pre-packed ice cream pints, as well as ice cream cakes and pies in their freezer. Custom-order cakes and pies are available withseveral days’ notice. (Call the shop for details.)

So, let’s recap: small-batch ice creams, made with local and organic ingredients, not to mention an intriguing flavor list AND a luscious, creamy texture? Yeah, you gotta get some.

Have you been to Tin Pot Creamery yet? Which flavors did you try?Peach_ToastedAlmond_close

Details
What: Tin Pot Creamery
Where: Town & Country Palo Alto
855 El Camino Real, #121, Palo Alto, California 94301
Phone: 650-327-1715
Hours: Mon–Wed 11:00am–9:30pm; Thu 11:00am–10pm; Fri 11:00am–10:30pm; Sat 11:00am-11:00pm; Sun Thu 11:00am–10pm
Price: $$
Parking: Lot

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

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.

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