Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An Old Tin Can Transformed

My friend Rogelio owns a restaurant with one of the best salad bars in town. You could eat there every night for a week and never make a salad with the same ingredients. It has that many choices.

Most of it is fresh produce - I do live in the Salad Bowl of the World, so it better be. But he does make salads with some canned products - kind of the standard ones you'd find: 3 Bean, Black Bean and Corn, Beet and Mixed Olive. He buys the big #10 cans of the vegetables he needs. AND he was throwing them out in the recycling.

I said, "Rogelio, I want those cans. I can repurpose them." Of course, he gave them to me, shaking his head in disbelief that I'd go through the garbage to get them ... it wasn't so bad. I was on a mission!

So, I brought them home, cleaned them up, sprayed them with a vinegar and water mixture and let them sit outside until they rusted.

And they're beautiful!

I attached a leather belt with a few rivets as a handle - got that at the Goodwill for $2. I sealed them with a clear spray so the patina would be protected.

You can find them on my Etsy store —  Baby Girl Farms — it you want to add a touch of fall to your home decor. You can thank Rogelio!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Symbolic Passion

Passion fruit,  Passiflora edulis — just one of the most beautiful flowers. Just down the road from my house, I stumbled across a fence covered in the vine. It was early morning and the flowers were just unfurling in the warm morning air. And the fruit was just beginning to form.

To me, the flower looks like like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. But that's not how it got its name. Here's the story:
It was named by 16th century Spanish missionaries who came across it in South America. Everything about it meant something to them (the following is from Wikipedia):

  • The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the Holy Lance.
  • The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.
  • The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (excluding St. Peter the denier and Judas Iscariot the betrayer).
  • The flower's radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.
  • The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail
  • The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance).
  • The blue and white colors of many species' flowers represent Heaven and Purity.
An interesting blog about the healing power of the passion flower. 
I use the fruit to make jam! It's really good! Here's the recipe:

Passion Fruit Jam
20 Passion Fruit
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
Pectin - on hand, if needed

Cut Passion Fruit in half, scoop out seeds and set aside.
Boil skins until soft and transparent - scoop out pulp.
Blend pulp and seeds together.
Cook pulp and seeds - bring to boil then simmer until thick.
Ladle in to jars. Water bath or store in refrigerator.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

From My Bookshelf

Add caption
For anyone who lives by the cycle of the seasons, Jenna Woginrich's book, One Woman Farm, is a celebration of that rhythm. The book chronicles a year-in-the-life at her place, Cold Antler Farm, in upstate New York. With bewitching insight, she harvests the aura of farm life that keeps some of us, with muck boots firmly planted, tied to our homesteads. If you've ever daydreamed about a life defined by the time of year and not by the time of day, then this book will capture your spirit and send it in search of its own patch of land.

She sorts the book into seasonal chapters — autumn, winter, spring, fall and, her most-loved Holy October. Interspersed throughout are spellbinding characteristics that define her time on the farm: cider making in October, lambing in winter, milking lessons in spring and summer gliding in her hammock. She weaves a rich tapestry that is her farm life, complete with tending to her animals, planting a garden, completing unending chores and daily learning, inspiring us to take a step out of our artificial time zones and embrace Earth's natural life cycle.

Her expressive prose is romantic, revealing the intensity of her love for her livestock, her land and her life. It's not easy. The work is hard. The hours long. The trials at times overshadow the rewards. Her lifeline is her determination. She says, "It's harder to fail when success is your only choice for survival."

If, as part of your daily routine, you traipse between chicken coops and tomato beds, eat apples standing under the tree and get goosebumps at the farm store, you will find a kindred spirit in Woginrich and the blueprint to making a dream happen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

So Good Hand-cranked Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

The custard
The other night, I was half-watching a Food Network show with my guy when suddenly my ears perked up. The host was making vanilla ice-cream in an old hand-crank machine.

Custard into the canister.
I nudged my guy, who was also apparently only half watching (sitting on the couch always makes our eyes droopy), and said, "Wouldn't that be fun to do?" He didn't respond. It could have been that he was actually asleep ... hmmm.

Well, the next morning, there in the kitchen was an old hand-crank ice cream maker. Apparently, he wasn't asleep! The machine had been his dad's and had been sitting in the garage for probably 30 years. He scrubbed it clean and that night we made vanilla bean ice cream. Yippee!

We used fresh eggs from our chickens, heavy cream, whole milk, a little sugar and and one crazy looking vanilla bean. We cooked those ingredients together to make a custard. Once that was cooled, we poured it in to the steel canister, slid in the paddle and locked it down. That canister is then locked in to the wooden bucket with the handle mechanism and then the fun begins.

We cranked! For about 20 minutes. That's all it took to get rich, creamy, delicious ice cream.

So worth the effort. We've been eating it plain. We topped it with strawberries and blueberries. I even added a few chocolate chips — ok maybe more than a few.

But the best way to eat it is right out of the canister! You can lick the paddle!

We used the recipe from the Food Network's Farmhouse Rules.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Fair Share

I took a step away from my garden last month and headed to the Minnesota State Fair for a bucket list moment … how much fried food-on-a-stick could my guy and I eat? Turns out we managed to eat 25 different foods in 12 hours. We started the day with fried cheese curds and ended with deep fried pickles — in between we snacked on fried … peanut butter cups, tomatoes, corn fritters, a twinkie, bacon, baklava, donuts, cheese … and that was just in the morning.

Any state fair is a smorgasbord, but not just of food. What really draws me to the fair is the reason state fairs began. Agriculture. Farming. Livestock. A celebration of the rural life. 

As a gardener, I want to see the 14 rows of dried corn cobs showcased in the seed exhibit. It means something to me that 700,000 bushels of corn are grown in Anoka County, where the fair is every year; that 100 bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels. It’s these kind of facts and figures that keep people coming back each year. 

That and the deep fried grilled cheese sandwich bites.

There are fragrant and aromatic livestock barns filled with cows and pigs and horses. One entire  barn is devoted to chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, pigeons, pea hens and rabbits. An utter bonding of coop animals. Each animal has its own 4-H’er who’s hoping to win the blue-ribbon-best-of-show prize. Camping out in the stall seems to be part of the process. Not sure why they have to wear white pants. That seems to be a real walk on the wild side choice. The barns were full of nose-holding gawkers drawn to the fair for this tip toe through the sawdust moment.

And the deep fried baklava.

The Great Minnesota Get-together, as it’s called, was named by USA Today in 2015 as the best state fair in the U.S. I discovered the secret to its success — the Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculpture. I stood rooted to a spot outside a glass-walled refrigerated room and watched a woman turn a 90-pound block of Grade A butter into a life-like effigy of the reigning Princess Kay as she sat bundled up in clothes fitting for the worst of a Minnesota winter. Each of the 11 in her butter court get their own butter head. The best part? They get to take them home, where apparently many have butter parties! Talk about knowing which side your bread is buttered on. The dairy industry is brilliant! If only I could butter up a princess and get invited to her butter party. That would bring me back.

That and the deep fried cheese stick.

In a corner of the Creative Activities (aka as Home Economics) building I found nirvana. The canned food display. Hundreds of jars filled with the best a summer garden has to offer. Jams and pickles ruled the day, but tucked in between were the best efforts of applesauce, sauerkraut, tomato juice and fruit butter — not fried, but still looking delicious — makers.

My heart swelled in harmony with my fellow canners. At least I think that’s why.

It could, of course, have been the deep fried rueben sandwich I had just eaten.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Flower Power

Matricaria chamomilla -
German chamomile
"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." - John Phillips

This song always reminds me of daisies. And I love daisies ... of all shapes and sizes. And those flowers that look like daisies, but really aren't like Helianthus annus, sunflowers and Matricaria chamomile. Woven together, these flowers make the definitive  flower crown so reminiscent of an era of peace, love and Bobby Sherman.

As a  child of the 60s, that's my era. The flower power movement, and all that came with it, was blossoming right as I was. That time is a comfort zone for me. My kids tolerate the fact that my radio is tuned to the oldies station, that my fondness for the Mamas and the Papas, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beach Boys and the Beatles, and so many other distinctive bands is less about any dislike for current music - much of which I love - but more about how that time defined who I am.

A flower-child hippie!

That's what I love about gardening. I can wander around in my tie-dye t-shirt, hair down, hands dirty from digging in the dirt with Peter, Paul and Mary blaring from Pandora on my iPhone planting seeds on my two-person commune. Oh the irony of life!

I grow chamomile because the dried flowers make a very soothing tea. I also grow it because its flower is a bright, cheery face in my garden. That's also why I grow sunflowers and asters and brown-eyed Susans. I also get to blast Van Morrison's Brown-eyed Girl when they bloom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Foggy weather salsa
As a gardener who loves to grow food, I’d like to grow as many different vegetables as possible. I have the space - three acres. I have the time. I have the inclination. I like to think I have the knowledge. The one thing I can’t control — the weather.

It’s foggy. Most of the summer months are dominated by wet, drippy early morning fog. And then wet, drippy late afternoon fog. On most summer days, there’s about a six hour window of blue sky.  

Before I planted my first veggie garden, I asked  a farmer friend of mine for advice on what to plant. She said, "Look around and plant what you see."

Now, I live in the Salinas Valley, known as the Salad Bowl of the World. We grow more lettuce, celery, broccoli, strawberries and cauliflower than anywhere else in the country. That's what I saw. But I wanted to plant cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, peppers and onions. 

I tried. I tried really diligently. But the weather just wouldn't cooperate. It just doesn't get hot enough for cucumbers or peppers or the sweet onions I wanted to grow. My dream of making my own homegrown salsa was not to be. So I adapted. Gardening to me is one giant experiment anyway.

I found cool weather varieties of tomatoes. I substituted zucchini, which are prolific, for cucumbers. I can grow radishes by the bushel, so I swapped out the onion with this peppery root vegetable.

It's not a traditional salsa, but it's uniquely mine ... and the weather was in full cooperation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer Squashed

If you’ve ever grown zucchini, you know it’s not for the faint of heart. Squash, and particularly zucchini, are prolific. One plant can produce more fruit than any one person can eat in a summer. And yet, knowing that, I planted nine of them.

Something about seeing those beautiful orange flowers beaming at me just makes me smile. Squash blossoms are so captivating; they grab my attention like the fanfare of bright, vibrant trumpets sounding a call … a call to plant more zucchini!

Beware! Don’t get drawn in to this cucurbit pepo ballyhoo. Once the fruit comes in, a nightmare ensues of how to get rid of it all. Then it’s a mad rush to parcel it out to friends, neighbors, the mailman, UPS driver, FedEx delivery guy (or girl) and even strangers on the street. I’ve even been known to ship it across country to family members. Yes, they’re still talking to me! The mailman, not so much.

Fortunately, zucchini is quite good for you - that’s the sales pitch I use as I’m throwing it out my car window at passersby on the street. 
“Hey there. Catch. Low in calories!”
“Coming at you! More potassium than a banana!”
“Heads up! Helps prevent cancer and heart disease.”

Of course, if that doesn’t work, you can always just cook it … and then give it away as a gift! People are much more receptive to zucchini when it’s baked in bread or muffins or brownies or cakes. Make a tart or a lasagna; a salad or quiche. Pickle it. Stuff it. Fry it. If your dare, you can even deep fry those enticing squash blossoms which are completely edible and actually considered a delicacy. There are as many recipes as there are zucchini.

Our zucchini woes are of sadly of our own making. The plant was brought to the Americas by Italian immigrants in the 1920s. The word squash in Italian is zucca. Should you by some chance just grow one zucchini, you would say you grew a zucchina. Hardly possible. 

There are, strangely, contests for the biggest … the largest on record was 69 1/2 inches long and weighed 65 pounds. The average zucchini bread recipe calls for two cups of the vegetable, which is about one pound. So, Mr. Bernard Lavery of Plymouth Devon, UK who grew this humongous veggies could have made 65 loaves of bread and celebrated the accomplishment on April 25, National Zucchini Bread Day! There’s a bucket list moment.

The town of Obetz in Ohio hosts a four-day Zucchinifest. That’s one way to get rid of an overabundance of this member of the gourd family. Every year a new Queen reigns over all things zucchini and a parade of costume-garbed zucchini-ites marches through the streets, voices raised in harmonious tribute to this productive plant.

I’m there in spirit. I raise a black beauty variety in unity with those hearty enough to tackle zucchinis every summer. Our rallying cry is: one zucchini, two zucchini, three zucchini, four … five zucchini, six zucchini, seven zucchini, more and more and more and more.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sunflowers and the Sultan of Swing

My favorite flower is the sunflower (helianthus annuus). Something about that big, bright, sunny face chock-full of edible seeds that just makes me want to grow them. They’re happy looking. There’s nothing better than a garden full of happy looking plants … except for a garden full of tomatoes, but that’s another story.

Back to sunflowers. I have one hundred sunflowers in my garden right now. One hundred sunflowers with an average of 2,000 seeds per flower means I’ll have 20,000 seeds. Just imagine how many baseball games that would get me through!

We all owe Reggie Jackson a debt of gratitude that professional baseball players stopped chewing tobacco and started the spittin’ seed habit. Some teams go through as many as 12 cases of sunflower seeds in a season. What must the dugout look like at the end of the game?

Back in the 60s when Reggie was making seed history, he most likely just chewed the original salted and roasted version. Since then a flavor revolution has taken place. The seeds of a native American flower now spice up our national pastime. Dill Pickle, Cracked Pepper, Barbecue, Chili Lime, Ranch, Jalapeno Hot Salsa, Sour Cream and Onion, Sea Salt and Black Pepper, Old Bay, Heinz Salt and Vinegar, Red Hot Buffalo Wing, Bacon Salt Sizzlin’ Bacon - I’m looking at my sunflower seedlings in a whole new light.

I could create a new taste sensation. Like Thai Basil Seeds - the perfect accompaniment to Gai Pad Bai Gaprow. Or how about Chamomile Tea Seeds - a great bedtime snack. Or maybe even Chocolate Mint Seeds - great with ice cream. A little vegetable oil and a spin in the dehydrator and I’ve got a potential no spitter in the works.

With my 20,000 seeds I could hit a full-flavor out-of-the-ballpark home run in my rookie sunflower season. I see a signing bonus in my future; maybe even a spot in the baseball hall-of-fame.That’s why sunflowers point east. It’s not some scientific reason like heliotropism. It’s because that’s where Cooperstown is. I can see it now; me laying a bouquet of my sunny sunflowers, sans seeds of course, at the feet of The Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat.

Now there’s a happy thought. That’s why I love sunflowers.

These are just about ready for me to pluck out the seeds and start drying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Flowers Make Great Subjects

Valentine's Day found me and my guy in Los Angeles at one of our favorite artist's gallery for a "Romance In Bloom" show of her works. We stumbled upon Erin Hanson at the Capitola Art and Wine Festival about five years ago. Her work was a standout in a crowded field of pottery, sculpture, photographs, and a wide-variety of artisan crafts.

Her very large oil paintings are more than impressive, they're inspiring. She captures the boldness of nature with her "plein-air" style artistry, that takes a page from the great Impressionists of the 19th century and updates it with her dramatic viewpoint. With her brush strokes, the outdoors is brought to life in a way that draws you in and out.

As a gardener, this exhibit spoke to my love of all things that grow. These two were my favorites - date palms in Coachella, CA and wild poppies somewhere in Erin's great outdoors.

As winter winds to a close and spring starts to bloom, I'm hankering to be outside in my garden, inspired to create beauty much like Erin has done.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

When Life Gives You Lemons ...

Another bushel of lemons came into my life this past week. This basket-full on the heels of a bushel-full a couple of weeks ago. I can't let produce, fruit or vegetables go to waste ... it's just wrong. So, first lemon-time around I made candied lemon rind and lemon ice cubes. Both of which I still have.

This time around - lemon cake and lemon marmlade. Not only were these both incredible taste sensations, but my house smells amazing. It's been raining for days here in California - so badly needed - but after so much rain, the house starts to smell and fell and little dank. Nothing like a house full of lemon zest to chase that away.

Lemon saturated cake, topped with candied lemon rind, accented by lemon slices and lemon rind zest. It's a lemon-stravaganza!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

800,000 Tubers is a Lot of Begonias!

As a University of California Master Gardener I get to be a lifelong learner! The requirement is 12 hours of continuing education every year. Yippee! Here, in the Salinas Valley, the Salad Bowl of the World, there is so much growing going on that our continuing ed is generally at a local ag company.

This past week our group got to go on a tour of Golden State Bulb Growers, a local grower of California Callas, AmeriHybrid Begonias, Scilla Peruviana and Eucomis. The company was the first and is now the last remaining grower of tuberous begonias in the US. Operations Director, Michael Ferguson, walked us through the entire facility in Moss Landing, CA. Golden State grows bulbs, tubers and rhizomes for resale, as well as flowers the cut-flower market.
We got to see how bulbs are sorted and then packed for resale, the cooling sheds where both cut flowers and bulbs, etc are stored - 800,000 begonias in one shed!, 15 million throughout ... wow!; we walked through the greenhouses where are few trail begonia varieties were growing. We met employees who were happy to share their knowledge about their role in the company.

And ... Michael graciously gave us a bag of begonia bulbs for our home gardens and a bunch of cut flowers to remember our visit. It was a put-your-muck-boots-on great day!

Narcissus - aroma was
The grading shoot.
Cool ... literally!
Cut flowers in cold storage.
Begonia bulbs.
Flowers being cut and bagged for resale.
I'd take these!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Citrus is a Winter Fruit

I have a prolific Meyer lemon tree (citrus x meyeri). These trees are tiny but oh, so plentiful. So far this winter I've made lemon ice cubes (not so hard to make since all you do is freeze the juice in ice cube trays!); I'm currently pickling (salt and lemon juice is all it takes) a big jug of lemons, great for middle eastern cooking - in a month I'll let you know how those are; and I've made candied lemon rind - which is delicious dropped in a cup of tea, on top of a green salad, on my oatmeal in the morning and as a simple sweet-tooth fulfilling treat!

I'm thinking of making some marmalade. It's very labor intensive - a lot of peeling and scraping and slicing, but it sure would taste good on toast in the morning!

These are the last of them for now. They brighten up my whole kitchen and that sweet, lemony smell makes me smile.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On Second Look ... or Third ...

This from my hike last Sunday. What is it? It caught my eye because of the pattern. I'm fascinated by what nature creates. There's a heart shape here ... the image of a face ...  an amber jewel ... when actually it was a hollow in a tree trunk, probably created when a branch broke and just deep enough to collect water from the recent rains. Can't explain the face ...

"Keep close to nature's heart ... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. 
Wash your spirit clean." - John Muir

Monday, January 11, 2016

Umbrellas in the Grass

I'm fascinated by mushrooms right now. Probably because I haven't seen many in dry, drought-stricken California these past four years. I was walking in my upper pasture this weekend and scattered throughout the grass were these beauties. Even though most mushrooms are deadly, I find them quite whimsical. Something about little rooftops in the grass that make me smile.

It was lightly raining when I was out mucking so, of course, I started singing ... in the rain ... which made me think of Gene Kelly ... which made me want to dance with an umbrella ... which these reminded me of ... where's my yellow rain slicker when I need it!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I'm a Nature Nerd

I'm a Nature Nerd - N to the second power; that's me.

Today, I was hiking at the Pinnacles National Park near Soledad, CA and not too far from where I live. It was a beautiful day - cool and overcast. More often than not when I hike there it's 100 degrees. Looking at nature all around me with sweat dripping into my eyes is not so fun. But today was great.

There's a California Condor spotting team of volunteers that I run into quite often. There are about 70 condors nesting between Big Sur, CA and the Pinnacles - a huge success story. I didn't see any today; didn't see much wildlife today, but I did see lots of mushrooms.

Mushrooms are so intriguing and stylish and creepy and whimsical and deadly. Look at this one. What caught my eye was the big canopy top, but when I bent down to get a closer look I noticed the fluorescent band around the bottom. So cool.

I like the way this one has a saggy, droopy roofline and that giant foot-like stem. A little Tolkein-esque - Lord of the Rings middle earth feel to it. 

So much in nature inspires creativity. That's what keeps me hiking! That and the piece of chocolate cake I ate after my nine miles today.