Friday, April 29, 2011

Pink Pepper Picking

A few weeks ago I described my pink peppercorn find.  After confirmation from some expert foragers and recruiting an excellent foraging partner (my Mom!), I was ready to commence with the Pink Pepper Picking!

There was a serious abundance of fruits on the trees, so finding sufficient quantity was not a problem.  The main inconvenience of the mission was the sheer height of the trees- our harvest would have been larger had I brought a step ladder along.  I did bring gardening gloves, a pair of clippers and a tote bag.  But it turns out, all I needed was the tote bag.  We checked out the bunches of peppers within reach and chose to harvest the ones with the best color.  Our assumption was: bright pink = fresh.

After a mere ten minutes of effort, this is the resultant harvest:

Not bad, huh? 

We each decided to try a pepper and see how they tasted.  The answer?  The shell was sweet and the kernel inside was really peppery.  That might seem pretty obvious, but I just was not prepared for this level of pepper.  Half an hour later my Mom turned to me and said, "You know, I still taste that pepper."  I'm not sure she was a fan...

Now I will lay them out on a baking sheet to dry for a few days, then will bottle them up and store them in the pantry.  I am looking forward to making all of these dishes featuring them:

Pink pepper goat cheese spread
Pink pepper marinated olives
Chocolate and pink peppercorn cupcakes

Yum!  If you know a great way to showcase pink peppers, please pass it along in the comments.  And also, thanks, Mom!

Standard Foraging Disclaimer: Be careful, only eat things you're sure of, don't kill yourself, yada yada yada.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strawed Berries

Sometimes, Easter is a day for jelly beans and Easter egg hunts.  This year, Easter was a day for brunch with friends and gardening with my Mom.

When I expanded the MKG this year, I wanted space to plant perennials: artichoke, rhubarb and asparagus.  My 5' x 12' bed is designated for two artichoke plants and one rhubarb plant.  Around here, artichokes can grow to monstrous proportions so it will be necessary to have such a big bed one day.  But for the next couple years, there will be a big gap around the edges of the bed while those plants fill in.

I considered planting root veggies like carrots, beets, and radishes around the edges.  But then I remembered strawberries, the ultimate taste of summer.  I planted them three years ago and discovered that Snoutface is partial to strawberries, too.  I didn't get a harvest (she did- they were right at snout height) and I sort of forgot about them.  But the space around the edge of the perennial bed is perfect for a strawberry patch!

The bed perimeter is 34 linear feet - just right for 30 strawberries at one-foot spacing.  I selected three different varieties from the nursery: Albion (12), Sequoia (12) and Seascape (6).  The Albion and Seascape are day-neutral; the Sequoia is June-bearing. 

To give the plants a good head start, we trimmed all the baby berries and flowers off once the strawberries were in the ground.  This allows them to devote energy to establishing roots in their new home.  Some sources suggest pinching off all the flowers that first year, but that's just crazy talk.  I am willing to wait for my asparagus, but there is no way I'm going to eliminate an entire strawberry crop. Some things I am just impatient about. 

We also made sure to dig good compost into the bed where the strawberries are planted, and set up a drip irrigation system for them.  The story of the drip irrigation is a post for another day...  The last step in completing the bed was to mulch it with straw and drape bird netting over it.

And the result?  The bed below: 1 rhubarb, 1 artichoke and 30 strawed berries!

The Urban Homesteading Kerfuffle Gets Press

A couple months ago, I filled you in on a little skirmish taking place in the urban homesteading community.  Well, it looks like the homies are starting to get some press!  On my way to the office yesterday, while listening to the California Report on NPR, I heard none other than Ruby Blume- founder of the Institute of Urban Homesteading.  Listen to the interview here.

It appears that people are more concerned with the behavior of Facebook than they are about trademarking common usage words.  The Facebook issue (taking down pages for trademark infringement without notice or recourse) is very distressing, especially for groups who rely on it for communication, contact, marketing etc. 

I tend to be slightly more concerned with the idea of people owning words.  I mean, they're words.  "Urban homesteading."  It's not like it's a proper name or slogan or something.   But if Facebook antics are what get people to care and help stop this nutty trademark kerfuffle, I'm all for it.  Go get 'em, Ruby!

p.s. I am *still* an urban homesteader.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Let's just say...

Let's just say you were out in the garden... trying to get rid of the Bermuda grass... with a pick... and you happened to find one of your irrigation lines... with the pick...

You'd want to shut the water off... then go online... and learn about irrigation lines... and go to the hardware store... and buy some supplies...

And then you would take a hacksaw...

And cut out the damaged piece of pipe...

And clean off the ends of the undamaged pipe... and put a connector over them... and turn the water back on... and hope it only comes out where it's supposed to.

You know, in case something like that ever happens to you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


On my first trip to Mexico eight years ago, a colleague taught me the Spanish word for avocado: aguacates.  You see, if you try to use Spanglish and say:

"Yo quiero uno avocado" ("I want an 'avocado'"),

it sounds remarkably like

"Yo quiero uno abogado" ("I want a lawyer"). 

Now you know.

Avocados are one of my favorite foods.  I am perfectly happy to slice one in half, remove the pit, salt liberally, and eat.  I used to live down in Santa Barbara (Babs) and had the luxury of having a gigantic avocado tree next door that hung over my back porch (read: fire escape).  The neighbors were perfectly happy for us to grab as many fruits as we could reach.  It was awesome.

Here at the MKG we're not as fortunate.  We have a lovely Mediterranean climate but too many chill hours/frosts to successfully grow avos.  Avocados set fruit in the winter and therefore need to stay warm.  I would need to keep an avocado tree in a pot, cover it with blankets, and put Christmas lights in it to keep it warm enough to produce.  Santa Babs was perfect; here, not so much.

It's pretty lucky for me, then, that the Mamasita-in-law lives down in SoCal and has not one but TWO avocado trees in her backyard.  They are well over a hundred years old and still produce a ton of delicious aguacates.  In fact, when my husband was a kid, after wind storms he would fill a garbage can with avocados and sell them on the street, 4 for $1, and make a killing.  There would be cars lined up to buy them!  That certainly puts my rinky-dink lemonade stand to shame, but really, who can compete with avocados? 

The trees produce more than da Mama can eat, so after a recent visit I returned with this bounty of aguacates:

I plan to whip up a batch (or several) of an old Santa Babs standby- Guacamole.  I will make this and then sit with a bag of tortilla chips (or maybe just a spoon) and eat it all.  And it will be delicious.

Santa Babs Guacamole (con aguacates)
Makes about 4 cups
4-5 Medium avocados (~4" long), ripe, pit removed, flesh chopped into 1/2"-1" dice
Half a small red onion, diced, ~1/4 - 1/2 cup
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of one lime, ~1/2 cup
Kosher salt

optional add-ins:
1 small jalapeno, finely diced, ribs and seeds removed for less heat
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Place chopped avocado into a bowl, add diced red onion and minced garlic (add jalapeno now, if using), stir to combine.  Mash about half the avocado chunks as you stir the ingredients.  Add lime juice and kosher salt to taste (add cilantro, if using), stir to combine.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.  Buen provecho!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day April 2011

Flowers don't have to pay taxes.  Lucky.  Here is what's blooming in the MKG on this Tax Day.


Quince, quince, and blueberries

Ceanothus (California lilac), Easterm Lilac, Wisteria

Orange blossoms

Even though I record blooms once a month, I've already managed to miss some.  Between the March GBBD and this one, the apples blossomed as did one of the blackberries.  The wisteria was also looking more robust a few weeks back.  Right now, though, is when the garden is at its most fragrant.  The scent of the orange blossoms wafts around the garden and it is just heavenly.  Perhaps this weekend I should make time to take a nap beneath the orange tree.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An Impromptu Harvest

I got home late from work last Tuesday and didn't have time to take Snoutface (the dog) to the park before sunset.  Instead, we went for a nice walk down the wide bikepath adjacent to the park.  It's always a nice change to wander somewhere different; the view of the vineyard-covered hills was incredibly relaxing.  We were moseying along and talking about our day (that is, my husband and I were talking- Snoutface was just sniffing things) when I spotted a group of trees I hadn't noticed before.

Just last month, there was a post at The Kitchn about foraging for pink pepper.  I had never really given much thought to the pink orbs in a bottle of mixed peppercorns.  It turns out they aren't pepper at all but a South American native in the genus Schinus (as opposed to Piper) that can be found as an invasive plant here in California.  The tree along my path looked just like Schinus molle (Peruvian peppertree) so I gathered an impromptu harvest of peppers and a sprig of leaf to bring home for identification.

And the verdict?  Yeehaw!  It looks like I found myself several trees just bursting with pink peppercorns.  I am taking a foraging class this weekend and will bring my samples for expert identification.  Meanwhile, I am fairly confident with my amateur i.d., so I'm plotting a trip back to the trees soon to do some pink pepper picking!

Standard Foraging Disclaimer: Be careful and forage at your own risk. It's fun, yes, but let's not die over it, 'kay? Kay.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The New Additions: Grapes

Here it is- another installment of the New Additions.  Today I'll be introducing you to the grapes

We live in wine country out here and one of the most popular (and prolific) grapes in our valley is syrah.  So we really couldn't plant a bunch of wine grapes and not have syrah, that would just be silly.  We considered planting the whole vineyard with one varietal, but decided that it's better to hedge our bets.  The other grape we chose is zinfandel.  It also does well in our valley.  And it pretty much goes without saying that we love drinking both.

The grapes are set up in two different areas- the syrah is planted in the Mighty Kitchen Garden itself, and the zinfandel is planted in a mini-vineyard (which henceforth will be known as the Zinyard) in front of the espaliered apple and pear.  The syrah are oriented E-W along the wall of our house and E-W along the fenceline.  The zin are oriented NE-SW. 

The Zinyard
Pluot in the back corner, apple and pear along the fence.
Wine grapes are typically planted four feet apart.  For example, if you have two posts that are 8 feet apart, you would plant two vines between them, with each vine 2 feet in from the post (and 4 feet from eachother).  That's how all our grapes are planted. 

You can expect to get about one bottle of wine per vine.  Of course that depends on lots of factors so it's just a rule of thumb.  We have 10 syrah vines and 9 zinfandel vines so we're hoping to produce at least a case of wine... maybe even a case and a half.  Another rule of thumb is that it will take about three years for the vines to be established enough to produce wine.  Therefore, I'm looking forward to the MKG 2014 vintage!
Snoutface: Guardian of the grapes

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Most Memorable Meal: Bologna, Italy

Back in the 90's at the tender age of 17, I somehow managed to convince my parents to send me to visit a cousin in Florence, Italy.  She was there for a year to complete a Masters in Italian; she never left.  One of the things we did together was visit Bologna, a city she had lived in two years prior.  Not only is it a beautiful city, it was home to her boyfriend's family.  As an honor to me, the visting American Cousin, the matriarch of his famiglia served Sunday Dinner on a Thursday. 

This was a very big deal.

There were 6 of us all sitting around the table.  The Matriarch was at one end, I was at the other, with my cousin, her boyfriend and his siblings along the sides.  It began with the first pasta course: fettucini alfredo.  This was quickly followed by the second pasta course: meat ravioli with marinara.  Both of the pastas were freshly handmade, as were the sauces.  This was the first time in my life I ever tasted fresh pasta; it was delicious.  I had a moderate portion of each and my cousin warned me, "Pace yourself, there's a lot more coming."  She had been warning me about the volume of food all morning, but I suspected she was exaggerating just a smidge.  I was wrong.

Next came a green salad, refreshing the palate before the main course.  The main consisted of juicy, flavorful roasted meat along with roasted vegetables.  By this point I was getting really full.  But the food was amazing and this meal was in my honor so I had to keep going.  Along with the roasted meat came a fresh carrot salad that my cousin had told me about earlier.  It was just a simple salad of grated carrot soaked in lemon juice.  They started passing it around and I said "Ooo, the carrot salad!  My cousin told me this was delicious."  I tasted it.  "It's amazing!"  The Matriarch looked around the table and said dramatically (in Italian), "I slave away in the kitchen all day and what does she like?  The carrots!?!?"  I turned beet red and we all had a nice laugh. 

You might think that dinner would be almost over, but no, we had two more courses to go!  First, the tiramisu, made fresh that morning by the family daughter.  This was followed, at last, by pineapple soaked in champagne.  Let me repeat.  Pineapple soaked in champagne.  If you have never tried this, I implore you, soak pineapple in champagne and eat it.  It's awesome.

This meal took place well over a decade ago and I can still picture the room, the table, and the people, and taste the stunning variety of delicious dishes.  It's resonance in my mind so many years later convinces me that this will remain one of my Most Memorable Meals

Below is my adaptation of the Matriarch’s Carrot Salad.  You can use regular orange carrots, or it would look lovely with assorted carrot colors.  There are many ways to modify this recipe, including salt, pepper and olive oil.  But I like to keep it simple, like the one in my memory.  

Matriarch’s Carrot Salad
Serves 6-8
1 lb carrots
Juice of one lemon (Meyer is very nice in this salad)
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

Wash and peel carrots.  Grate carrots on the large holes of a box grater or shred in a food processor.  Put shredded carrots in a large bowl.  Add lemon juice to the carrots and toss to coat.  At this point, I often put the carrots into the fridge to marinate overnight, but it is not necessary.  Next, mix the minced garlic and parsley into the carrots.  Allow the salad to sit for about 30 minutes (or longer); serve cold or at room temperature.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Wrangling the bird netting...

Did I ever mention that I have two cats?  I have two cats.  And a dog.  They are fabulous, but they're not exactly garden compatible.  Freshly turned soil is very tempting for the cats, and strawberries, tomatoes and broccoli are very tempting for the dog.  As a result, I drape bird netting over the beds when they are empty or freshly planted.

I hate bird netting.

It seems like every time I walk past a bed with bird netting on it, I trip.  It gets everywhere!  And it's impossible to find an edge or corner.  The main problem is that I started with a big roll from the hardware store that I cut up into strips in the garden.  It was rather unweildy and the resulting strips of net are not the right size for the beds.  I decided it's time to fix it.

Here's how I did it-

-Measuring tape
-Bird netting (roll)
-Tape, 2 inches wide: packaging, Duct, electrical, etc.


Step 1.  Measure the raised beds across and along, including the height of hoops.  For the 4'x12' beds that is a 6.5'x15' net.

Step 2.  Cut strips of bird netting to the specified dimensions.

Step 3.  Lay out a flat, straight length of netting.  Roll tape along length placing half of tape strip on the netting and leaving half unattached.  I did this on the patio so dirt wouldn't get stuck in the tape.

Step 4.  Fold the tape over on itself, sealing all the sticky around the edges of the netting.

Step 5.  Tape pebbles onto the corners of the strips, and spaced out along the edges, as weights to keep the netting down.

Ta da!  Wrangled bird netting!

One of the best results of the modified netting is that it is *much* easier to find the edges and to tell which way the long and short dimensions are oriented.  Also, it's nice to be out in the garden without being irritated, cause that bird netting irritated me on a regular basis.  It's just better to fix those minor annoyances - life is more relaxing on the other side.  And with any luck, now I'll be able to wander around my garden beds without tripping!  Though somehow I doubt it...
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