Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 9 – What the heck am I doing and cookbook porn

942000_10201384548321558_1113451416_nOkay, so today I woke up and wondered what the heck am I doing with 6 acres of land covered with fruit trees and vegetables and other stuff. How am I going to do something with the bounty? The avocados hanging on the trees mock me. We can’t sell them at a Farmer’s Market unless we get a producer’s certificate. Which I want to do, but that is in between the rest of life as if I don’t have enough to do. And while I can give away the bounty, I can’t really give it away fast enough. I can do food swaps, but then again, I will end up taking stuff home. And I can donate it to local food banks, which we are doing some but some of the fruits just don’t travel very well, like loquats and mulberries, and cannot be easily or effectively donated.

Instead of doing anything productive to solve that problem, I spent Day 9 of my journey lusting after cookbooks. Of course, Day 9 was the last official day of the book fair at my kids’ school, so I started off by looking at the cookbooks there. And then poked around Amazon. My wish list now has the following books.

First, I love Nigel Slater’s cookbooks. I started with Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard because it seemed appropriate to have a cookbook subtitled “A cook in the orchard” and fell in love. I bought it at Rolling Greens in Costa Mesa (a wonderful store if you haven’t been) and the woman helping me recommended another book by Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater. That I absolutely loved. Loved. Sent it to my mom (who loves English mysteries) for Mother’s Day, and lusted after some of his others:

Given Amazon’s helpful recommendations, I then fell in love with several other cookbooks.

 

My husband is going to be out of town for an important upcoming holiday so he may just end up purchasing some cookbooks for me . . . . .

Wild Edibles – Foraging for Dinner

SAMSUNGSo the other night I didn’t have any veggies or greens to add to our dinner. I had fruit and I had potatoes, but nothing green and bright. So I did a quick foraging expedition in our backyard – choosing both some so called weeds and some components from the garden. And I thought I would share what I found in early April in Los Angeles near the coast.

First, I found tons and tons of Tropaeolum, commonly known as Nasturtium, a flowering plant. It is a “weed” in our yard – that is, it is growing everywhere and I didn’t cultivate it.  

The genus Tropaeolum contains several popular garden plants, including T. majus, T. peregrinum and T. speciosum.  I specifically found T. majus, which is also known as garden nasturtium, Indian cress or monks cress.   For T. majus, the leaves and flowers can be eaten.  Even the fruit is edible and is used as a caper substitute by some. 

I’ve eaten the flower petals and the young leaves.  The flowers and young leaves have peppery taste with a very faint bitter note at the end. I haven’t collected the fruit ~ but this year, I am going to try. T. majus is growing rampant in my yard – it really is like kudzu.

In any event, the flower petals added a nice peppery note to the salad. It seems the most common use of T. majus is to use them to add color and some peppery notes to a salad.  But if you want to try a nice recipe with it, I found this recipe for Nasturtium Leaf Pesto at RootSimple (I met one of the authors this weekend ~ more to come).  Also, Miche Barcher has a very interesting recipe for Nasturtium Goat Cheese Ice Cream in her book Cooking with Flowers I am going to try tomorrow.

I also collected dandelion greens, some blueberries from our blueberry plants, a handful of French sorrel and a leaf from my tree collard.  The French sorrel added a lemony note.  Dandelion greens taste different depending on when you harvest them. I’ve always been told to harvest the greens before the plant blooms – if you wait too long, they are bitter. To be honest, I still find the young greens have a bitter note – but if you shred/tear into a salad with other components, the bitterness is welcome.  So, I took the greens and the fruit and rinsed, shredded as appropriate, added a dash of sea salt and served with Blood Orange Olive Oil and Georgia Peach Balsamic Vinegar, it was delicious.

Moving & Murphy’s Law – What can go wrong, does go wrong

bigstock-Bad-day-7213682Okay, so the title isn’t quite Murphy’s Law. Murphy’s Law is “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” That being said, I like my saying better because I’m going to hope that nothing more goes wrong.

In any event, the universe’s tendency towards perversity seems readily apparent when moving. So first we had running toilets. Then we had a broken furnace. Then our dog went missing for two days (but we luckily found her thanks to Noah’s Bark Rescue Organization). Then a waste line broke under our house. After that was remediated and the line fixed, the master bath’s toilet and shower backed up. That seems to have been due to somebody prior to us putting Swiffer dusters down the toilet. Now we have a water leak under the house. Oh the joys of home ownership.

But . . . . my first seed catalog came and I’m plotting what I can plant on our almost six acres. I’ve been thumbing through the 2013 Bountiful Gardens catalog looking at the wonderful heirloom, untreated, open-pollinated seeds. So I will just soldier on and plan my garden . . . .

 

Moving on up . . ..

bigstock-Orange-tree-13699937With a brand new year comes a new adventure. We’ve moved. We’ve left our house on the bluffs in San Pedro and moved to a just shy of 6 acre spread.

The first day was a bit trying. It was freezing (well, not really, but it felt cold for Southern California at 46 degrees) and our furnace didn’t work (and still doesn’t). Both toilets ran constantly. The house needs a lot of work and it was depressing coming from a basically “done” house.

But, it is still almost 6 acres. There is a lot of room. We’ve got avocado trees, lemons, oranges, and more. Yesterday, instead of unpacking as I was supposed to do, I spent time figuring out where my fruit trees from my rooftop garden will go. And then I decided where my raised beds for my new garden will go. I plotted what I will plant with so much room. It is a bit overwhelming to say the least. But exciting.

I also am debating getting chickens. My kids want goats. I also researched recipes to use up the bounty on this land. So this year this blog will be more about our adventures in remodeling our house, setting up a chicken coop and more. Stay tuned for the adventure.

Last night I cooked for the first time in our new house. Well, cooking sounds a lot more grand than what I did. The oven doesn’t work at all, so I am limited to an electric cooktop. Also I haven’t been grocery shopping so I only had some pantry items and minimal freezer and refrigerator staples. I had to toss a lot with the move.

But, I made do and this is my Moving Pantry Surprise recipe that turned out surprisingly good:

Moving Pantry Surprise

Ingredients:

  • 1 box pasta (Farfalle or similar)
  • 1/2 small bag frozen petite broccoli florets (spinach would work too)
  • 1 to 1 and 1/4 pounds ground turkey
  • Garlic salt
  • Dried basil
  • Cream cheese (whipped)
  • Butter
  • Oil (for browning turkey)
  • Parmesan cheese (grated) (or similar)

Cook 1 box of pasta following directions – I used Farfalle noodles. Add 1/2 bag of frozen organic petite broccoli florets to pasta and water at correct time to cook the broccoli according to its instructions. When done, drain and return to pot.

At same time pasta is cooking, brown some ground turkey. I used 1 and 1/4 pounds of organic ground turkey. I browned it in about 2 tablespoons of avocado oil because that was what I had. Season ground turkey with garlic salt and dried basil. I think turkey needs quite a bit of seasoning so be liberal. Also some fresh ground pepper.

Add ground turkey to the pasta pot and stir in to the pasta and broccoli. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup whipped cream cheese, a little butter, and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Voila!

 

Planting Blue Jade Corn in My Container Garden

So, if you read my blog, you’ll know that I have relatively recently become obsessed with gardening. But I don’t have a traditional garden – my garden is a container garden on my roof. So, what I choose to grow must do well in my climate, and also perform well in containers. 

I’m also trying to get my kids to eat more veggies. And one of the tricks is to have then eat the veggies they grow. Most kids like to plant seeds that they recognize – pumpkin, watermelon, and, of course, corn.

I’ve been wanting to grow sweet corn, but most sweet corn does not perform well in containers. I did try some last year, but I really didn’t get much of a yield. And that’s the problem – corn grown in containers doesn’t seem to produce much of a  yield for how much space the corn requires. The best approach is to try for dwarf varieties.

So, I was super excited to learn about Blue Jade Corn (Zea mays). It only grows around 3 feet high, and bears 3 to 6 ears with steel blue kernels that turn jade blue when boiled. Talk about perfect – corn that performs well in containers and that is a bright color that my kids will love and a sweet corn at that? Heaven. I first learned about it on Subsistence Pattern – his blog about corn being his nemesis made me feel like a kindred spirit. It seems like I can grow most anything else but never did well with corn. I was excited about his success.

So, I was going to order some seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, but I was shopping at my current favorite nursery, H & H Nursery in Lakewood, California, and they had seedlings. Whoot! So now I have some planted and will let you know how it goes. Not sure if the kids will like the flavor – I understand if you are used to the super sweet flavor of today’s varieties the less than super sweet heirloom taste may not be to your liking. I’m just glad to find a heirloom, non GMO corn to grow in my containers.

DIY – Herbal Infusion

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with growing and using my own herbs. Herbs are so easy to grow – you don’t need a garden even – just a sunny spot and some pots. You can even often just use an indoor spot with a sunny window. They really don’t need much care – some herbs even have a better flavor with a little stress. 

I also want to use them, and not just for cooking. I have this romanticized notion of the herbal healer woman. And I have a desire to be that herbal healer woman. At least sort of. A modern day notion. The ability to be able to make my own tonics and creams and teas and all that appeals to me.

So, in any event, I’ve been researching and reading what to add to my herbal garden. I thought I would share some of my adventues with you.

One of the easiest  herbal preparations is probably something you are already familiar with – the infusion. Preparing an infusion is really just like making a cup of tea. You bring water to a boil (a good, roiling boil – you want the hot water to break the cell walls of your herb(s)) and then pour it over a herb or a combination of herbs. Allow it to steep. Then, you can use a a tea strainer, or a small bag, or a ceramic insert strainer, or a strainer, or whatever, to take the herb(s) out when done. That’s it. You are extracting the herb’s scent, flavor, and color into the water. An infusion works best for delicate herbs.

Now, how much of the herb to use in relation to how much water, and the steeping time, depends on what you are trying to do.

Generally, you use about a cup of herbs in a quart jar, and fill with boiling water; close the lid; and allow to steep for 4 to 10 hours. Strain. You can then keep it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

You may use an infusion for a variety of reasons. I just made a herbal infusion for purposes of doing a facial steam. I used 1/3 cup of lavender blossomes and 2/3 cup dried chamomile (from last year) blossoms. After steeping and straining, I refrigerated the infusion. Then, 2 days later, I brought the infusion back to a boil, let sit and then draped a towel over my face and gave myself a facial steam. I then rinsed my face. Voila! Instant tension reliever, and chamomile is supposed to  soothe irritated skin.

Have you ever tried a herbal infusion?

Is lead lurking in your urban garden? A lingering problem.

corn growing in gardenGardening has become more popular with the increasing interest in organic and local foods. Urban gardening has become even more popular. But, have you ever stopped to consider the presence of the neurotoxin lead in your soils? 

Lead and other heavy metals are typically present in higher concentrations in urban soils than rural soils. Lead is present in urban soils primarily because of its use in paints, and the weathering of lead based paints and also remodeling and demolition activities. It is also present from its use as an additive in gasoline. Lead is also present in our soils from the pesticide lead arsenate, past and current industrial emissions, and other sources, such as lead tire weights (still in use). 

Lead in soils can pose a risk from the consumption of fruits and vegetables grown in such soils. Lead in soils can also pose a risk from ingestion, primarily children, and inhalation of lead contaminated dust. 

Is it really a risk? It can be, but it also readily managed. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that soils be cleaned up in children’s play areas if the lead concentration exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm) and 1,200 ppm in other areas. Other jurisdictions have established lower levels. In Europe, the residential standards range from 0 to 150 ppm, in some US states the residential standards are 100 ppm and in Canada the standard for soil for children is 140 ppm. 

How does this compare? Agricultural soils are usually around 10 ppm and background (or natural) soil levels are usually less than 50 ppm. What about urban soils? They can exceed 400 ppm. In fact, urban soil levels have been documented in excess of 50,000 ppm. Since 2003, hazardous amounts of lead have been documented in backyard and community gardens in New York, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington.  

Lead in soils is not a concern solely of economically depressed city neighborhoods. David Johnson, a professior of environmental chemistry at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, has found lead concentrations as high as 65,000 in the yards of upscale home. He emphasizes “it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. Lead knows no socioeconomic boundaries.” 

You can’t really know whether your soil has lead concentrations without testing. In fact, I tested the soil of a play area in San Francisco and found lead present at approximately 13,000 ppm. If you don’t want to test, and you are in an area that has older homes (built before 1978) and/or is near well traveled streets, you may well want to consider bringing in clean top soil or using clean soil in raised beds. A liner at the bed’s bottom may help prevent existing soil from touching plants. To reduce contact with lead contaminated soils, you can use wood chips or crushed stone or other options. Some experts recommended covering with sod. 

Also, you can avoid crops that are prone to picking up lead, such as herbs and leafy greens. Root vegetables such as potatoes, radishes and carrots frequently are found to have lead contaminated soils on their surfaces. Exposure to lead is more likely from dirt remaining on the fruits and vegetables than plant uptake, so wash well. Also, you can use crops less prone to picking up lead such as fruiting crops, such as squash, eggplant, corn and beans. Gardening experts also suggesting alkalinizing your soil by adding lime or organic matter such as compost. According to soil experts, lead becomes bound up in soils with pH levels above 7 binds with lead, thereby making it less likely to be absorbed by plants and the human body if the dirt is inadvertently inhaled or ingested. 

Also, locate gardens away from buildings and streets. 

Carl Rosen, Professor at University of Minnesota in the Department of Horticultural Science, reminds us that generally, plants do not take up large quantities of soil lead. So, he says it is generally considered safe to use garden produce grown in soils with total lead levels less than 300 ppm unless children are present that might ingest the soils or be exposed to lead contaminated dust. 

Of course, you can always test your soils. You just send collected soil for testing to several laboratories. Also, if you didn’t know, I can test soil with my Niton XRF analyzer. I’ve tested soil for several concerned parents, daycare centers and private schools.