Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turnips are pretty much a perfect vegetable, delicious, easy to grow, and you can eat both the bottoms and the tops. I harvested the last of this year's crop yesterday after work and we had the greens for dinner, along with pasta with Joe's wonderful red sauce (and Italian sausage that for some reason had no fennel in it - it tasted good but not properly Italian). We'll have the turnip bulbs themselves in a few days.
      Some of the pak choi is about to go to seed, the broccoli rabe is over (but we loved it while it lasted), the kale is nearly ready for another cutting, as are the cut-and-come-again mesclun and arugula. The rainbow chard will go on for quite some time until it gets too hot, probably in June. I love greens. Everyone in the family loves greens except my daughter's seven-year-old, who's picked up some of his dad's unfortunate food preferences, but hopefully he'll outgrow them.

       It's a good year for root vegetables in general, except for the radishes, which were inexpicably disappointing, though I'm going to plant some more - there's still time before it gets too warm. I love the winter garden here in the desert southwest. The carrots and beets are good and the parsnips are nearly ready to begin harvesting them - it's the first time I've grown parsnips. I planted them in a wine barrel so they'd have good, soft, deep dirt. But right now I'm excited about rutabagas, another first for our garden!
Here are our first two rutabagas, with a kohlrabi in the middle - it's about the size of a softball! The first planting of kohlrabi didn't germinate very well so when I thinned the rutabagas I replanted the ones I thinned out into the kohlrabi row - we now have lots of rutabagas! And that's just fine.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lemons are Lovely and so are Nasturtiums

Lemons Are Lovely (and so are nasturtiums)

Last year we got two lemons off the little Meyer lemon tree that grows in a half wine barrel just outside the back door, and those were attacked by some little creature that makes a hole in the skin and burrows in. Yuck.  This year we had 16 to 18, all nice and healthy though they varied in size from average supermarket lemon size to "that would be a big orange if it was an orange" size. I sprayed them periodically with insecticidal soap and it kept the beasties at bay. So, recently (especially now that this years blossoms are starting to pop out), I've been reminded that it's time to stop admiring them and start using them. Yesterday I made a batch of lemon curd, from the recipe in Clearly Delicious by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. Here are the assembled ingredients:
Very simple, yes? The recipe called for 6 - 8 lemons but with these big guys 5 were enough. The recipe itself is also simple, but I guess I don't quite have a fix on what "coating the back of the spoon" looks like, so mine may have cooked a bit too long, as it set up stiffer than I expected (don't worry - it will get eaten). Anyway, here's the recipe:

Lemon Curd - makes about 3 cups
6-8 lemons
2 1/2 cups superfine sugar
5 eggs
2 sticks butter (1 cup)

Grate the zest of the lemons, using the finest side of the box grater. [If you're using Meyer lemons, be careful because the skin is quite thin and tender.] Squeeze the juice and strain it into a large measuring cup. You will need 1 1/4 cups lemon juice.

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a glass bowl [I used the stainless steel bowl that makes a double boiler], along with the zest, lemon juice, and sugar. Set over a pan of gently simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water, nor should the water boil rapidly. Stir the mixture until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved.

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl but do not whisk them. [That didn't make any sense to me so I did whisk them till the whites and yolks were well-blended.] Strain the eggs into the lemon mixture. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens slightly. This will take 20-25 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil or it will curdle.

As soon as the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, remove the bowl from the pan of water. Pour into warmed sterilized jars. Place a waxed paper round, wax-side down, on top. Smooth over to remove any air pockets. Leave to cool. Cover, label, and store in the refrigerator for up to one month [if it lasts that long].

And on to the nasturtiums. I mentioned in my last post that I'd planted seeds I got at the Heirloom Seed Bank in Petaluma, California last month. But we've also got volunteers that reseeded themselves from last year, that are much farther along (as in 5 to 10-foot long vines trailing around the raised beds where they are beautiful but not especially convenient - I wouldn't have put them there, but they seem to have made their own decision). Here are a few in the pitcher from a tiny porcelain tea set that belonged to my grandmother.
 And here are some more, embellishing the salad I had for lunch yesterday. Looks like spring, doesn't it?

Long Time Gone

Oh my, it's been longer than I thought since I posted anything here. The winter break was a much-needed relief and Christmas was very nice. In early January we spent a week in northern California, first a couple of days in Sonoma and then on to visit kids and grandkids in Mendocino. Our friend who lives in Sonoma took us to Petaluma for an afternoon - I hadn't been there in decades, literally, so the beautiful old town was new to me, and I don't think Joe had ever been there before. My earlier visit had been part of a move-back-to-the-land-and-raise-poultry-organically fantasy that never materialized; Petaluma was (and maybe still is) noted for that. Visiting factory farms with huge buildings full of miserable, traumatized battery hens in tiny cages was a horror I still remember, though I loved finding this old sign on an even older wall.
 There's also a delightful yarn store in the old downtown, filled with wonderful goods and a friendly, helpful staff. And just up the street a bit is Copperfield's Books, an equally wonderful place!
 At what seems to be the main intersection in downtown (at least as we came in, from the east) is the Seed Bank, a required stop for any gardener. Note the word "heirloom" in the window. The building was originally a bank and now it's a treasure trove of seeds, things I usually have to mail-order since they're not likely to be found at Home Depot or Lowe's, or even smaller local nurseries. This time I got a couple of the heirloom European winter squashes we love, Marina di Chioggia and Muscat de Provence. And the nasturtiums I planted from seed I bought there are coming up nicely to fill in some bare spots around the cannas and in the part-herb, part-flower bed at the back of the west side of the back yard.
 This is what it's like inside, a gardener's delight.
 Finally, I just had to take this picture of what I think is a resale clothing shop. Oddly enough, I didn't go in, perhaps because we'd just had fish and chips with some pretty high-octane microbrew at Maguire's pub, a place I highly recommend, along with Pliny the Younger, a delicious double IPA from the Russian River Brewing Company with an astounding 10.50% alcohol level - I only had one, but it sneaks up on you.
The weather was gorgeous everywhere, blue skies and sunshine. We drove across from the 101 through Anderson Valley, through redwoods that made me homesick for Humboldt County, where we lived before moving to Tucson.

And then we came out of the woods, into the sunlight, and there was the ocean, along with a state park (that was open, fortunately, in spite of budget cuts, and it had restrooms).
We turned north and drove through Mendocino to Fort Bragg, just another 7 miles, where we checked in to the Colombi Motel. I'd found it on the internet and we just had to try it, because of its reasonable prices, convenient location, the independence it offered (all units have full kitchens), and the positive reviews on travel websites. Here's the kitchen:
 and here's the outside, with our little red rented Ford Focus in the carport (we really liked that car).
Not a fancy place but very comfortable. It was built in 1951 by the Colombi family, who still own and operate it, as well as the little corner market across the street and the laundromat next door. It's off the "main drag" and very quiet (the carports in between the units help with that as well). More like a little apartment than a motel unit, and three nights cost what one night in the big fancy motels-with-a-view would have - and it was a three block walk to the beach - I can do that. http://www.colombimotel.com
      Then we called the kids and went over to their place where we had dinner and a lovely evening. Next day we went to Glass Beach, at the north end of Fort Bragg, a great place to pick up beach glass, explore tide pools, and just generally climb around on the rocks and walk on the sandy beach and hang out with people we love and don't see often enough. Here's our grandson, son, Joe, and Bentley the dog,
 and here's our only granddaughter, the intrepid naturalist.
 Looking out to sea, it's obvious how the beach glass gets tumbled and polished.
But some of the most interesting views were close up, like this anemone waiting for the tide to come in and bring dinner (look at all the bits of rock and other natural debris caught on its surface)
and these colonies of mussels and some other shellfish, of which there were many on the rocks above the tide pools.
We collected somewhat less glass than on earlier visits but that was all right. The main point of going is to be there, not just to accumulate more stuff. And every time we go, it seems new; we notice things we hadn't paid attention to before. Starfish clinging to the rocks,
 patterns left in the sand by the outgoing tide,
 one piece of driftwood standing sentinel,
 the color of rock and sand and ice plant as the sun begins to set.
 Screen out the buildings in the distance and the noise of traffic a quarter mile away (the sound of the waves makes that easier), and it could be a hundred and fifty years ago.