Saturday, July 31, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Sometimes, the littlest things make me so happy. Like this reclaimed wood caddy I got at Red Ridge Farms in the Willamette Valley. I filled it with a bunch of differently sized tin cans my dad's been saving for me. I lined them with plastic, punched drainage holes in the bottoms, filled them up with potting soil, and used them to pot up the little broccoli, kale, chard, and bok choy seedlings I started a few weeks ago. I filled the smallest ones with chives. Now, every time I go through the front door, I see them and smile.

Now, I've got to talk basil. Maybe I missed the boat and everyone already knows this, but I just learned that putting freshly harvested basil in a jar full of water is the best way to store it until you're ready to use it. I used some basil the other day that had been in the mason jar for a week and it was still vibrant and just like new. This has been a simple, but amazing discovery! I've always had a hard time harvesting and eating all the basil I grow before it starts to flower, but now, I know I can harvest it and keep it fresh for a bit until I'm ready to use it. Plus, it makes a beautiful bouquet! Right now, I have a jar of fresh picked basil next to a larger jar of huge dahlia blooms from the garden and it's the best centerpiece I've created in awhile. And it smells great too!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Seed Saving Class, this Saturday!!

It's not too late to sign up for the Saving Seeds class at Seattle Tilth, which will be held tomorrow, Saturday, from 10am to 12am. I stumbled upon the class listing in a Seattle Tilth e-newsletter this week (not sure why I didn't see it earlier) and faxed my registration just yesterday. Unfortunately, because of low enrollment, it might not actually happen. And that would be such a bummer! It is being taught by the author of the book Edible Heirlooms, which you might remember hearing about in this post. I saved my own tomato seeds last year for the first time and I've got to tell you, it's the coolest thing to have tomato plants flourishing from them this summer. I think the class will be super interesting and informative! You should join me!

Here is Seattle Tilth's class description:

You can grow vegetables from your own seeds. Save your favorite variety, make your plants truly local, perpetuate and pass on heirloom varieties and save a bit of money in the process. The class will cover pollination types, how to choose your seed plants, how to hand-pollinate, how to save seeds using dry and wet methods, and how to harvest and store seeds.

Bill is the author of the recent book “Edible Heirlooms: Heritage Vegetables for the Maritime Garden,” which tells the lore and cultivation of more than 100 heirloom varieties of favorite home-garden veggies.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I heart summer!

Oh, summer! How I love thee! Let me count the ways!

I love peach and blueberry pie!

I love how happy the chickens get when they graze on the sun-kissed lawn.

I love leaving the car at home and riding my shiny new bike for business (trips to the market) and pleasure (jaunts down the boardwalk at Alki).

I love the amazingly beautiful blooms that adorn my new pathway and love the bees that visit them!

And I love enjoying fresh basil and the first zucchini from the garden!

Zucchini Basil Pizza
Adapted from Local Flavors.

This recipe is almost too simple to post, but I want to share because I just devoured way more of that pizza than I should have. I used the pizza dough recipe from Deborah Madison's cookbook, Local Flavors. It always turns out amazing!

homemade pizza dough
1 medium zucchini, cut into thin slices (about 1/4 inch thick)
8 or 9 large basil leaves, slivered
olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Roll the dough into a circle and place on a pizza pan.

Place the zucchini slices and slivered basil leaves in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and a couple splashes of vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss zucchini until well coated.

Brush the dough with olive oil and spread the zucchini slices on the dough, covering completely if there's enough. Dot the pizza evenly with crumbled, fresh chevre.

Bake for 15 minutes. When the crust is golden, remove from the oven and brush the outer crust with olive oil. Cut into wedges and enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Willamette Valley Wineries: A Green Getaway

Jake and I were originally supposed to go backpacking this weekend, but Jake injured himself while running this week, so we had to change our plans. A quick, last minute search on the Internet and led us to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, about a half hour outside of Portland, for the perfect low-impact activity – wine tasting!

I've never visited any of the local wineries in our area, but it's something we've been talking about doing for awhile. Especially after traveling to Mendoza, Argentina for Malbec tasting. Granted, we didn't trek all the way to the southern hemisphere just to taste wine, but once we did, we had so much fun, we talked about checking out the wineries available in our own backyard (or hemisphere). Washington and Oregon have many to choose from. And what a fantastic discovery it was!

I had no idea how lovely our local wine country is! It is absolutely beautiful! We left Seattle early Friday morning, which put us in Dundee Hills, one of the large winery areas in the Willamette Valley, just after noon. Before we started our tour, we stopped in at the Newberg visitors' center for a winery map. They gave us several vouchers for free tastings at two different wineries and were also able to give us some good recommendations, which was nice since there are so many wineries to choose from. On our first day, we visited the following wineries: Four Graces, Winderlea, Lange, and Erath. This area is known for its Pinot Noir, which is one of Jake's favorites. We're normally partial to red, but were suprised to discover several whites that we really liked, especially the Chardonney from Lange.

After a hard day of wine tasting (wink), we had both worked up an appetite and I was delighted to find the most perfect restaurant for dinner, right in our hotel. First, I've got to say that the Inn at Red Hills, the boutique hotel in Dundee where we stayed, was lovely! I loved everything about it – the organic/farmhouse chic decor was right up my alley and the owner, Kendall, was super welcoming and cheerful.

Even the gifts they sold in the lobby were adorable! I loved everything – the ceramic farm kitchenware, the reusable bags, the "Who's your farmer?" bumper stickers, the hand carved, wooden pig bookends, and the turquoise bird salt and pepper shakers that I just couldn't resist.

And the restaurant! The lovely, little restaurant in the hotel called Farm to Fork focuses on creating delicious meals with locally sourced and super fresh ingredients. Our dinner and breakfast, which we ate at the restaurant, were amazing! Saying that Jake loved their delicious and uniquely crisp breakfast potatoes would be an understatement.

And it was all I could do to focus on the meal and stop making comments like, "Oh, Jake! Look at that picture of chard! Oh, I love those tables! Aahh, look at those wood pigs! Oh, I should put my lavender cuttings in vases like these!" There was no doubt that we had found the most perfect spot!

Our second day in the Willamette Valley was lovely as well. We started by taking a drive to Carlton, another little winery town in the valley. We didn't end up doing any tastings there since we weren't quite ready to start drinking wine before noon, but we decided we'd have to come back when we were. It was definitely worth the drive though – I was able to hit up some cute antique shops there, including a sale in a big red barn!

We actually ended up back in Dundee, where we stopped off at Red Ridge Farm for olive oil tasting and lavender smelling! The farm was amazing! Their beautifully fragrant lavender plot was teeming with bees! The buzzing sounds and lovely smells could have kept me entertained for hours.
I eventually lured myself away for our visit to Domaine Drouhin, Bella Vida, Crumbled Rock, Torii Mor, and Penner-Ash. The pinots were delicious, the views were incredible – the whole trip was so worth the short drive from Seattle. We finished off our getaway with another delicious, localtarian delight – dinner at the Farm Cafe in Portland. I'm eating the other half of my Farmhouse Veggie Burger on ciabatta bread as I type this – it's unlike any burger I have ever had. Did I mention they posted the recipe for said burger on their website? Yes, I will most definitely be making it as soon as I see eggplant at the market this summer.

I didn't mean to write a novel today, I just had no idea this amazing place existed. And just a quick car ride away! The whole experience was so lovely. I can't wait to explore even more of our local treasures!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pie in a Jar

It's blueberry season, people. I've been waiting quite patiently for this time to come back around and it's finally here! The weather has finally warmed up enough to ripen those beautiful berries and the U-pick farms around Washington are open for business! I could not be more thrilled, which is why I went to Bryant Blueberry Farm in Arlington on Thursday and picked my first 28 pounds of blueberries.

Ok now, I know what you're thinking. 28 pounds of blueberries?! Quoting my bff, "What does one do with 28 pounds of blueberries?" That's a perfectly valid and logical question. So to start, I have to explain the oatmeal debacle. Last year's blueberries ruined us for plain oatmeal. Jake and I were going along just fine, eating plain old oatmeal everyday before work until I started putting blueberries in it. Later in the year, I'd make it with frozen blueberries that I'd preserved from my picking and it was equally delicious. And then, when we finally depleted our blueberry reserves and had to start eating plain oatmeal again, it was a total letdown. It's like this episode on Seinfeld when Elaine and Jerry are on the same flight, but Elaine is in the mundane, crowded coach seat and Jerry is in the decadent first class seat. He tells her he's been in first class and knows what it's like now and can't possibly go back! Having blueberries in your oatmeal is like flying first class; I can't go back to coach now! So, Jake, being the smarty mathematician that he is, dutifully calculated how many pounds of blueberries I'd have to pick in order for us to eat a 1/4 cup of blueberries in our oatmeal every weekday of the year until blueberry season comes again. According to his calculations, I'm going to have to pick around 51 pounds! I know, you probably think I am crazy to be actually contemplating picking 51 pounds of blueberries for oatmeal. Having blueberries in your oatmeal everyday is not a necessity – I realize this. However, if it means I get the day started off right with some antioxidants and a smile, plus have an amazing time picking each and every one of them (at only $2 a pound for organic, local berries), I think it might be worth it.

So, because I couldn't possibly store all of those berries without enjoying some of them while they're especially ripe and spectacular, I put some of them to immediate use this weekend. I made blueberry butter. And by making said blueberry butter, I officially became a canner! That's right – I made a canning recipe that I processed using the boiling water method and can proudly say that I'll be storing those goods on the shelf, thank you very much! And the result (because yes, I already opened one jar – can you blame me??) – toast never had it so good! Believe me, if you think apple butter is good, try this recipe ASAP. It is phenomenal!!

Blueberry Butter
Adapted from Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter,

According to Ashley in Canning and Preserving with Ashley English, the book I've been reading before bed (yep, I'm just puttin' it all out there now), a fruit butter is "a fruit and sugar mixture where cooked fruit is pureed and then combined with sugar and heated until smooth and velvety."

I'm finding that a frying pan splatter screen is a valuable canning tool. This recipe makes a mess. Oh! And note to self - don't wear white while simmering this dark blue butter!

I highly recommend that you check out the original recipe for this butter, which uses a slow cooker. I will most definitely try it out some time. Naturally, I had ten million projects going on at once when I made this, so I just made it on the stove. But, it turned out delicious all the same – like pie in a jar without the crust!

Makes approximately 3 pints

8 cups of pureed blueberries (about 12 cups of fresh blueberries)*
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

Put the blueberry puree, sugar and spices in a stockpot and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about an hour, until the mixture has cooked down and is dark and smooth. Make sure to stir often so the mixture does not stick or burn.

Ladle the blueberry butter into your sterilized mason jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

*Blueberries puree beautifully in a blender, no added liquid necessary.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tin Can Lanterns

I've got art on the brain for some reason. This may be obvious, considering my last post and the newly added page to this blog, The Art. It's just such a big part of my garden and my life, it's gotta be part of this blog. So, my latest endeavor to beautify my space has been to create more garden lanterns.

I started creating mason jar lanterns last year after reading this post of Willi's. I put lids on the jars in the fall to keep the rain out of them and they held up just great through the winter. Of course, I don't light them during the cold and rainy winter months, but they make me happy just seeing them hanging in the trees. They keep me thinking about the sun that is soon to come.

This year, I've moved on to tin cans a la Martha Stewart. And I love them! They are just so precious and easy to make. Plus, they're green – transforming recyclable tin cans into functional art!

Just rinse out the can, fill it up with water (leaving about 3/4 of an inch of space from the top), and stick it in the freezer until frozen solid. The frozen water helps the cans keep their shape. Then, using a variety of nails to create different sized holes, pound a design into your can with a hammer. Don't forget to add two holes near the top on both sides of the can for the hanging wire. I forgot to do that on the first one and when I tried to pound them in later, I completely dented the can. Now it's resigned to be a table lantern.

I used some thick, but pliable wire to create simple hangers and used my needle nose pliers to bend a spiral shape into the ends of the wires, a feature that also keeps the hanger attached to the can!

I have the tin can and mason jar lanterns hanging all over the maple and apple tree out front and when they're all lit, it's the most welcoming and cozy sight I've ever seen in the city. Makes me feel like I should have a porch swing!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Mosaic Mural

Those of you that have been in my garden know that art abounds around here. I think one of the things I love the most about having a big yard is having space to decorate outdoors. I love me some color and even more, I love mosaics! (Remember these and this? Oh! And who could forget him?) I was blown away by Gaudi's mosaics when I studied abroad in Spain during my college years, so when I came back to the states, I immediately found a mosaic stepping stone class. That class created a monster and I have since been mosaicing an abundance of surfaces around my home, inside and out. Well, this month marks the three year anniversary of my biggest project yet, a 12 foot by 5 foot tumbled stained glass mosaic mural, which adorns the back wall of my detached garage and is the backdrop for my patio. It took me exactly 31 days to complete, the whole month of July 2007. I worked for six to eight hours a day putting up every piece by hand, and three years later, I'm still loving every one!

The blank canvas, before

Tile backerboard and a quick sketch

Mountains and a tree line, an idea which didn't come about until a quick trip to Bedrock for more glass. I was driving over the hill towards Ballard, saw the beautiful Olympics in the distance, and thought, Yes! That's what I need! A tree line!

Treeline complete. The interminable application of grass blades begins.

Filling in the tree and...more grass.

Another tree!

Blue skies with pieces of mirror to reflect the natural sunlight

Yep, more grass

Sunshine and Ria's bluebird, a little tribute to my bff, Radhi.


Thousands of blades of glass, which I cut by hand out of four different shades of green stained glass

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's a barbecue without the mustard?

It has been so sunny and beautiful lately. I love summer in Seattle! And to make things even better, I've got time off to do all my projects. So, I've finally made a couple of recipes from the super cool book, Jam it, Pickle it, Can it. I made mustard!

To make this classic barbecue condiment, I mixed together organic yellow mustard powder, sugar, vinegar, and salt. I let it sit in a cool, dark place for two weeks and just in time for my dad's birthday barbecue, the mustard was ready!

It's delicious – tastes like dijon honey mustard. The consistency is a little odd. It's thick like peanut butter, so you have to spread it with a knife. I spread it on the crust before baking the delicious Romanesco cauliflower tart with carmelized onions I made for dinner tonight. I was raving after every bite!

Tonight, I made the recipe for ketchup. It has to sit over night, but judging by the taste I had while it was simmering, it's going to be delicious too. I had no idea mustard and ketchup could taste so good!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Our Second Spring!

I learned in a Seattle Tilth class last year that July is our second spring. That means that now is the time to start planting your fall and winter garden. I use the Seattle Tilth Maritime Northwest Garden Guide for direction and make sure I buy seeds for overwintering plants or plants that are meant to be planted for the fall. A lot of times the varieties will be slow-bolting, which means the seedlings hold out for our cool, fall weather longer than varieties we'd plant in the spring that would quickly go to seed in our hot summer weather.

The key is to keep that seed bed moist – you don't want the soil to dry out before your seeds germinate. One way you can do that is by draping some floating row cover over the seed bed. It is a special type of agricultural fabric that is designed to let light and rain water in, while keeping a lot of pests out. You want to drape it loosely on the seed bed with some slack, so when the seedlings start growing, the fabric will move and "grow" with them. Just remember to keep it watered under there!

This month, you can plant:

Overwintering Carrots

Oriental Greens, like Pac Choi

Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage

Swiss Chard and Kale

Snap and Snow Peas

In late July and August, plant:

Spinach and Lettuce

For a complete listing of all the delicious vegetables you can grow during the fall and winter, check out the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide. On my Pacific northwest urban farm, it's indispensable.