Early June Garden Pics

This pretty pink climbing rose has just started blooming in the front yard. I really like simple rose flowers like this one – it smells really good too!

The veggie garden is looking great! I had just watered in this picture, so the potatoes were a little flattened. Most of what you see on the right are garlic plants that we planted last fall (with a few red onions scattered in). Hopefully they’ll be ready in a month or so.

In the course of watering the garden, I accidentally uncovered these baby potatoes! It was great timing, since we had eaten some of the very very last of the local russets from last fall just the night before. Potatoes are one of the only starches that are grown locally around here, and now we’ve proved that you can have them year round if you do it right! You really could survive quite nicely here all year on local potatoes, greens, dairy, meat, and fish. I boiled these and we ate them as a snack. The flavor of a potato right out of the ground is simply wonderful! I won’t dig up the rest for a while, but it’s good to know everything’s growing well down there.

I bought some tomato seedlings at the farmer’s market this Saturday – here’s one of them. It’s so cool here on the coast all summer that I don’t have a lot of hope that they’ll thrive, but I decided to give it a try anyway. One is a Sungold (gold cherry tomato) that I’ve grown with some success in the past. The other is an Early Girl – a regular red tomato variety. The farmers I bought them from seemed to think the Early Girl would do well on the coast, but I’ve been disappointed before…. It just doesn’t get hot enough here for lots of tomatoes or basil, which is pretty sad since they’re two of my very favorite summer foods.

The lettuce, on the other hand, is doing really well. This is red romaine ready to be eaten.

This sage plant sat on our porch in a big 10 gallon pot for a year and looked just horrible. I couldn’t figure out why it just wasn’t happy, so I planted it in the ground a moth ago or so and what do you know? It’s blooming and looks as happy as a clam!

For a year and a half, since the fall of 2006, we’ve had a local blue Lumina pumpkin sitting on the front porch slowly decomposing. It was interesting to watch all the stages – by this spring it was reduced to a dried out pancake stuck to the porch. When I went to clean it up, I noticed how many seeds there were. On a whim, I planted some, and they came up! I’ve got 5 or 6 nice pumpkin seedlings!

Grilled Fruit and Chocolate Birthday Cake

This birthday cake was a wonderful example of serendipitous cooking.

We had a small get-together with some friends for Johnny’s birthday on Memorial Day. I had to work that day, so our friend Erin graciously offered to make a beet chocolate cake. (yes, chocolate cake with beets in it – they add a wonderful earthy richness!) She arrived with the cake and a pint of whipping cream for frosting. I happened to have a bunch of strawberries and apriums (a stone fruit variety that’s 1/4 plum, 3/4 apricot) that needed to be used up, so I decided to grill them on shish-kebabs.

Grilled fruit is one of those things I can’t believe more people don’t do. It’s totally delicious – like pie without the crust….

We whipped the cream, cut the cake into two layers, frosted one half, layered on some grilled fruit, put the other piece on top, and added more frosting and fruit. Messy, but wow – it was so good!

Late May Garden Pics

The apple tree is already forming little apples – How quickly it goes from flower to fruit!

Things have been growing so fast! We had a few days of freak hot weather a couple weeks ago, and it really jump-started my garden. (Here on the coast it almost never gets over 80 degrees, and we had a few 85 and even 90 degree days.) It’s been pretty normal since then – cool and foggy. The picture above is the front garden about a week ago. The Rhododendron and Azalea were in full bloom. The heat-wave made their flowers rot quickly – they’re all turning brown now. It’s funny – the Azalea blends in with the foggy sky in this picture – both were totally white.

Mustard Greens and Lettuce. The lettuce especially is growing really well. We’ve been eating salad from the garden for a few weeks now.

The potatoes are just awesome! I expect to be eating them in a month tops. They haven’t bloomed yet, but I bet they will soon….

This is a garlic head that speared a falling azalea flower. The garlic will probably be done before too long as well.

The back garden doesn’t get as much sun as the front, so it’s pretty much impossible to grow veggies…..this lavender sure is pretty though…..

I’ve forgotten the name of this columbine. It’s kind of under-stated, but beautiful none the less.

The Japanese Painted Fern is so happy in its spot! It’s one of the most beautiful plants we have!

Hot Days and Cold Salads

This is the first salad harvest from the garden! It’s a few different kinds of lettuces, some mustard greens, and nasturtium flowers. The flowers are edible – a little spicy, but good. There’s nothing like eating food that was picked just minutes before. It makes me feel more alive somehow!

Our part of California and some of the Pacific Northwest experienced an unusual early summer heatwave last week – it got up to the high 80s here on the coast, which rarely happens even at the hight of summer. Although I enjoyed it (I really love hot weather,) it was hard on the plants, especially the natives, who really aren’t designed for heat. I kept everything watered in the garden, and it seemed to get through OK.

Cooking anything hot in hot weather just isn’t fun, so we ended up eating a lot of salad. Here’s a few of the more interesting ones…..

This is a salad I had for lunch last weekend from things that happened to be in the fridge: butter lettuce, blue cheese, croutons, and raspberries. I dressed it with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, cracked pepper, and salt.

The raspberries really made it good! We’ve been getting some great prices at the Co-op recently on really tasty organic spring raspberries. I’m not exactly sure where they’re from – somewhere on the Central Coast I would guess. They sure are good though! I’ve been buying them two containers at a time and eating them for breakfast with oatmeal and yogurt. Just the taste of fresh sweet raspberries puts me in a good mood!

Earlier in the week I made a cold pasta salad for dinner. This is one of my favorite summertime meals, plus it’s one of those great dishes that you can make from almost anything that’s in the fridge.

This is Broccoli Raab (aka Rapini.) It’s not local, although the local stuff from Little River Farm has since started to come in. I sauteed it quickly in the cast iron skillet with olive oil and green garlic….

This is the green garlic chopped up. I’ve been using this stuff a lot this year. It’s basically just immature garlic that hasn’t formed a head yet. It tastes a lot like regular garlic, but a little fresher and “greener.” (duh!)

Not the most appetizing picture, but the finished salad sure was good! It consisted of pasta, broccoli raab sauteed with green garlic, fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, and oregano,) cheese cubes, olive oil, lemon juice, and smoked salmon. That, plus a gin and tonic was the perfect thing for a hot evening!

I bought these peas and some beautiful basil at the farmer’s market on Saturday, and made a really good potato salad, which unfortunately I didn’t get a get a picture of….It was potatoes, sugar snap peas, basil, rosemary, thyme, mayo, worstersire sauce, and lemon juice. Another wonderful cold dinner!

Early May Garden Pics

As you can see, we haven’t mowed our lawn yet this year. I love how the grass looks right now – it’s like we have our own mini prairie! It’s mostly rattlesnake grass, which has a beautiful seed pod.

This Azalea in the front yard is going crazy! In the 3 years we’ve been a this house, this is by far the best year for blooms. I don’t know what the variety is called, but it’s just gorgeous and super fragrant.

Here’s the little veggie garden. The potatoes are doing really well!

The bees are busily pollinating the flowers on the little apple tree by our front door. The tree itself is actually on our neighbor’s property, but it hangs over onto ours, and our neighbors don’t seem to care for apples… I’ve never seen them pick any. Johnny will be making apple butter this fall thanks to this little bee!

The “Popcorn Rose” is in its prime right now. It’s just gorgeous, and so amazingly vigorous. We just cunstructed this arbor last year!

The fuzzy bunny

The Ladies Mantle (aka Alchemia) is sprouting new leaves.

This is an old lilac is beautiful, but a little frustrating. All I want to do is bury my face in the fragrant blooms, but most of them are too high to reach.

Even the Rosemary is blooming right now.

I just got this start at the garden center yesterday. It’s French Sorrel – something I’ve been wanting for a while. The leaves have a really sour flavor – I’m excited to experiment with them in the kitchen when the plant is big enough.

Rhubarb Extravaganza

I decided to celebrate early summer rhubarb last weekend with a 3 course rhubarb extravaganza! This rhubarb is what we had on sale at the Co-op. It’s from Oregon, and it has the most beautiful dark red color. The rhubarb that’s grown around here seems to be really pale – probably because it doesn’t get cold enough in the winter.

Designing three courses that all feature rhubarb was a bit of a challenge, but I think I managed to make it work…..

The first course was a savory rhubarb cheese cake. I combined two recipes from Epicurious, one for a sweet Stilton cheesecake with rhubarb compote, and one for a savory Marscarpone cheesecake. This is the crust – it’s crushed crackers and butter. I don’t think I did it quite right – it was pretty crumbly…

Here’s the rhubarb for the cheesecake. I cooked it in port, a little sucanat, and lots of black pepper.

Here’s the Stilton cheese that I used. Mmmmm…. fancy blue cheeses like this one are one of my favorite foods. This is from England – apparently in order to be called Stilton it has to be from one of three counties: Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire. I blended it in the food processor with cream cheese, eggs, a little flour, and lots of fresh thyme. I’ve got so much thyme right now on the front porch, I can’t seem to use enough of it!

This is the cheesecake before baking. I put a layer of the cheese mixture down, then the rhubarb, and another layer of cheese on top. Then it went in the oven for an hour….

This is the rhubarb sliced for the main dish. I loosely followed a recipe I found at the LA Times website: Crisp duck breast with rhubarb-ginger confit.

I tossed it with a little sucanat, fresh ginger, black pepper, and soy sauce. Retrospectively, I wish I would have skipped the soy sauce – the flavor didn’t seem to blend well. I spread the rhubarb in one layer on a baking dish and put it in the oven with the cheesecake.

Now it was time to start the dessert : rhubarb ice cream!

Here’s the unfrozen ice cream: Cream, milk, eggs, sucanat, vanilla, stewed rhubarb (with sugar,) raspberries, and strawberries. Unfortunately, we don’t have an ice cream maker, so I just had to freeze it like this and stir it often while it was freezing. Not the best way to make ice cream, but it was bound to taste good!

And here’s the finished cheesecake. Beautiful! I put it in the fridge to cool.

This is the duck breast ready to be cooked. It’s seasoned with salt and pepper and a little Pickapeppa sauce, which is basically a Jamaican barbecue sauce. I cooked the duck over medium high heat in the cast iron skillet.

And it was time to eat!

Here’s the cheesecake ready to be cut. I sprinkled some thyme flowers on top for garnish.

It was really good! The only problem was the crust not staying together…. I don’t think I used the right kind of crackers, plus I didn’t crumble them as well as I could have.

Here’s the main course. The rhubarb complemented the duck perfectly. My only regret was adding soy sauce to the rhubarb….other than that, it was perfect!

And the ice cream. It took a long time to freeze! It was really good, but didn’t last overnight. By the next day it was pretty freezer burnt and hard. I’d really like to get an ice cream maker – although then I guess I’d probably eat too much of it…

So that was the rhubarb meal. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it all tasted really good, and I sure learned a lot about rhubarb!

April Garden Pics

We call this rosebush the “Popcorn Rose” since it’s got tiny yellow flowers that look a lot like popcorn from a distance……

I have no idea what the variety is really called. It’s extremely well established here, and one of the most vigorous climbing roses that I’ve ever encountered. It was probably planted by the original owners of this house.

The apple tree in bloom.

In the past few weeks, the Japanese Maple has gotten its leaves back. The new leaves are an amazing bright green color.

The raccoons finally managed to tear our compost bin apart, so Johnny took some duck tape to it. It’s pretty sturdy now, which is good – the raccoons are tenacious!

It makes great compost! We don’t compost meat or dairy, (so we don’t attract too many critters) but all the rest of our organic vegetable scraps go in here.

The thyme is growing faster than ever right now!

Red Russian Kale. I planted this in October or November….It’s finally ready to eat!

We have two kinds of magnolias in the front yard. I think this one is a Star Magnolia, and I’m not sure about the other one. They’re just gorgeous right now!

Asparagus and Strawberries

It’s definitely spring! Asparagus and strawberries are the stars of the season, and I’ve been trying to use them as much as possible. Here’s a few of the more exciting dishes I’ve made:

Asparagus, Salami, Mushroom and Roquefort Pizza

I can’t take any credit for this – it was all Johnny. In the interest of time, he used a store bought sprouted wheat crust. For the sauce he mixed some pre-made pesto with tomato paste – then he piled on Mozzarella, Salami, Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Roquefort Cheese.

Mmmmmmm……Here it is before cooking…..

And here it is right out of the oven. The large pieces of Asparagus made it a bit of a challenge to eat, but we managed! It was delicious!

Polenta Casserole & Strawberry Shortcake

It had been a while since we’d had Polenta, so I decided to make a spring themed Polenta dish. Above is the Green Garlic in the setting sun. Green Garlic is basically a baby garlic clove, harvested before it’s had a chance to develop. I sauteed chopped Green Garlic with Spring Onions……

Plus some spicy Italian Sausage, Asparagus……

Local Red Russian Kale, and a little Sage from the front porch…..

I layered the vegetable/sausage mixture with sliced Polenta (I bought the Polenta pre-made, although if I had more time I could easily have made it from scratch.) I topped the casserole with canned Tomato sauce, Fontina and Parmesan Cheese (I chose these cheeses only because we had some in the fridge that needed to be used.) I baked the whole thing until it was bubbly.

We ate it with a salad of local Spring Mix, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese.

And Strawberry Shortcake for dessert. We sell these little $.99 shortcakes at the Co-op. They’re really good! I didn’t even bother to whip the cream, I just poured it over the top. Delicious! The Strawberries aren’t quite at their prime yet, but they finally taste like real strawberries!

Rosemary Roquefort Buffalo Steaks and Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

I’ve been meaning to make Bread Pudding for a while. Johnny eats a Cashew Butter/Apple Butter sandwich with sliced Hazelnut sandwich bread every morning, but he never eats the heels. They’ve been piling up in the freezer waiting to be made into something. Tonight I decided it was finally the time. I had some Buttermilk that needed to be used up, so I searched for a Buttermilk Bread Pudding recipe. Here’s the onethat I found, which I followed loosely.

First I mixed the bread with melted butter and chocolate chips….

Then I combined the bread mixture with a mixture of eggs, sugar, milk, buttermilk, and vanilla. The whole thing is soaked for a few minutes and then put in a baking dish (I used a pie pan,) sprinkled with nutmeg, and baked.

Here it is out of the oven. The setting sun was really bright at that particular moment, so the picture isn’t that great.

It turned out really well. What a great way to use bread that would have otherwise been thrown out! I made a strawberry sauce to go with it – just pureed strawberries with Agave Nectar, Cream Sherry, and Vanilla.

While the pudding was baking, I cooked the steaks. This recipe is taken from epicurious.com. First I trimmed all the fat off the buffalo steaks and seared them in the cast iron skillet.

Then I spread Dijon Mustard on the steaks, sprinkled them with fresh Rosemary, and roasted them for about 10 minutes.

Here they are out of the oven. We moved them to a cutting board, sliced them horizontally, and stuffed them with a mixture of Butter and Roquefort Cheese (the recipe calls for Gorgonzola, but we happened to have some Roquefort, so we used that instead.)

We had them with baked potatoes on the side. This was seriously one of the best dished I’ve made in a long while! Really rich, but totally worth it! I really like buffalo – it’s leaner and higher in iron than beef. Plus, since buffalo haven’t been willing to be domesticated like cattle, there ‘s really no such thing as non-free range buffalo.

And of course, Leo the cat watches it all with interest……..He’s always delighted when we eat anything meaty since he gets to try it too!

Last weekend we planted potatoes!

I cut them up the day before so they could heal over a little….

Here’s the patch that we planted. We made a kind of elliptical shape. I hope they come up! It’s been a week, and there’s no sign of anything yet.

We used some of the compost from our kitchen composter when planting the potatoes. There’s an amazing number or worms in it – definitely a good sign! Using composted kitchen waste to help fertilize next years potatoes which will eventually contribute to the kitchen waste….it’s a simple cycle, but it feel really good on a symbolic level.

Baked Local Russets

Hard to believe, but there’s still some really good local Potatoes left over from last fall – these are from Warren Creek Farm, right here in Arcata. It’ll probably be at least 3 or 4 months until we have any new crop Potatoes around here. These Russets were the perfect size for baking…..

While the Potatoes were baking I fried up some Bacon, stir fried some Asparagus and Spring Onion in Olive Oil, grated some Cheese, chopped up some Chives…..


Carpaccio with Arugula

Yes, Carpaccio is raw beef…. I’ve never “cooked” raw beef before – It seemed a little risky, but since this is fresh, local, grassfed beef, I decided to go for it. -It was totally worth it!

We started with a smallish Filet Mignon. The first step is to freeze it, thaw it just a little, and cut it into slices….

The slices are put between two pieces of plastic (I didn’t have any plastic wrap, so I cut up this Ziploc Bag.)

Then you pound it with a mallet. This part was way easier than I thought it would be….

Here it is pounded quite thin. The process didn’t take long at all.

The pounded meat then gets rolled up in the plastic and put in the fridge to chill for an hour.

While it was chilling, I made this simple Vinaigrette – White Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Wine, Salt, Pepper, and some Chives.

And here’s the Arugula! It’s local now from Little River Farm in Bayside. It’s really bountiful – the farmer has more than he knows what to do with!

For the finished dish, you peel the beef off the plastic, then top it with Arugula, the Vinaigrette, and Parmesan. I couldn’t believe how good it was! Except for the cheese, it was completely raw!