Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Dish From the Garden

Artichoke time!

It's been a little slow-going with the chilly spring, but things are finally starting to be ready in the garden.  In honor of my artichokes being ready father's day, I made my husband (fabulous father to our dog and cats) a meal that centered around fresh garden artichokes.  The menu: grilled lamb, roast potatoes and artichokes with lemon-thyme aioli (aformentioned peach galette for dessert).  The lamb and potatoes came from the supermarket, but almost everything in the artichoke recipe that could come from the garden, did.

This is why I am a vegetable gardener.  There are few things more satisfying than looking at a recipe, then heading out into the garden to gather the ingredients.  It is amazingly gratifying.

So last Sunday, I took a look at a favorite recipe from Sunset magazine and went out to harvest.  I picked artichokes, thyme and lemons from the garden, then headed back inside.  In a few weeks I will be able to use homegrown garlic in the recipe, but the garlic heads aren't quite ready yet. 

The harvest: thyme, lemons, artichokes, pepper & strawberry

A note about artichoke eating - you know how the artichoke heart is the best part?  Well, the entire stem of the artichoke is an extension of the heart!  If you grow them yourself, cut off as much stem as you can and you'll have more tender artichoke heart to enjoy.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for artichokes with lemon-thyme aioli.

Artichokes with lemon-thyme aioli
adapted from Sunset magazine
Serves 2

for the artichokes:
2 large artichokes
1 lemon, juiced

for the aioli:
2 Tablespoons mayonaise
Juice of one half lemon (about 1/4 cup from our Meyers)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons thyme leaves
A couple pinches lemon zest

1. Place a large pot of water on the stove.  Add the juice of one lemon to the water; add squeezed lemon halves to the pot as well.

2. Prepare the artichokes.  Rinse the artichokes well in cold water.  Slice off the top ~1 inch of the artichoke, then trim the sharp tops off the remaining leaves.  Remove toughest leaves at the base near the stem.  Slice just the very base off the stem of the artichoke, then peel the stem with a vegetable peeler.  Slice the artichoke in half and remove the choke.  This is the hairy center of the artichoke, with purple-tinged leaves.  I scrape it out with a teaspoon under cold running water.  Now slice the halves in half again, ending with chokeless artichoke quarters.  Place these in the pot of lemon-water.  Repeat with remaining artichoke.

3. Bring the artichoke-lemon-water pot to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes until the artichokes are tender (easily pierced with a fork).

4. While the artichokes are simmering, prepare the aioli.  Put mayonnaise and remaining lemon juice in a bowl, stirring well to combine.  Mix in minced garlic, thyme, and lemon zest.  Test for salt or pepper, if desired.

5. When artichokes are tender, drain them in a colander, then drain on paper towels (I skipped the paper towel step and ended up with water running down my arm all through dinner as I tried to eat my artichokes... oops).

Serve artichokes warm or at room temperature with aioli dipping sauce.  If you have leftover aioli, it makes a great dip for pita chips or spread for a sandwich!

Delicious Sunday Dinner

Friday, June 24, 2011

Artichokes on Steroids... er... Compost

Do you recall the little artichoke plant that was keeping the strawberries company a few months ago?  Well, would you believe that this monster is the same plant?

Holy cow!  This artichoke turned into a beast!  It was planted in March and in only 3 months it seems to have taken over the world.  I attribute the amazing growth rate to the exceptionally cool, foggy and rainy spring we've just been through - that's perfect artichoke weather.  However, as I've never grown it before this crazy growth rate could just be normal arti behavior.  Regardless, it is clear that I'm going to need to come up with some awesome recipes to do this bounty justice.

Artichokes are heavy feeders and they like lots of compost dug in prior to planting.  When they start to produce fruits, you want to cut the head off the main stalk first.  This will be the biggest artichoke.  If the main artichoke opens up into a thistle-like flower, the plant will think its mission is accomplished and stop producing fruit.  However, by cutting it off before the flower stage, it encourages the plant to produce side-shoots with more artichokes.

I don't want to be a buzz-kill here as artichokes *are* delicious, but if you're going to grow them, there is something you should know.  Earwigs like them as much as we do.  It's just one of those facts of nature you need to accept if you're going to get your veggies from the ground rather than the supermarket.  After you pick your artichoke (by slicing it off the plant), you will want to hold it tight, then flick it vigorously toward the ground in an attempt to dislodge all the earwigs.  I'm not gonna lie, it's kind of gross.  Just try not to look at them and think of it as gardening exercise... and-a one!  and-a two!  Once you get the chokes inside you can also soak them in water to further clean them up, but if you were diligent in your flicking (I probably flicked over 10 times per choke) they should be earwig-free by that point.

I have yet to try to implement an Earwig Eradication Effort, but I think I just might.  Most of the little artichokes are still small and less likely to harbor the little rascals.  There are two methods I am interested in attempting - (1) beer traps and (2) rolled damp newspapers.  With method (1) you put a saucer/empty tuna can/small container of beer out in the garden at night.  In the morning you return and dispose of the dead earwigs, rinse and repeat.  With method (2), in the evening you put out rolled damp newspaper near the garden.  Again, return in the morning, wad up the newspapers and discard; repeat that night.  I'll start with the beer and will report back on the successes or failures of the method.

Stay tuned next week when I will be passing along my so-far favorite way to enjoy artichokes.  It is super delicious and not too labor intensive, promise!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fruit Pickin' Expedition

We have quite a few backyard fruit trees here at the MKG, but it's still fun to take a little trip out to the local orchards.  A whole crew of buddies were heading out into the farmland to go fruit picking recently and I happily joined in!

The first farm we went to specialized in cherries.  This farm had row upon row of cherry trees.  Some of the trees held ripe fruit, while some varieties needed a bit more time.  In only fifteen minutes (seriously) I had filled up my bucket with more cherries than I could eat.  Fruit picking is the sort of activity that can appeal to everyone- if you like accomplishing things, you can pick quickly and be done.  If you like savoring things, you can hunt for hours for just the right fruits.  I think everyone came away feeling quite contented from the experience.

My cherry haul
A group of cherry pickers take a break
The second farm we visited had peaches and nectarines.  I prefer peaches myself so stuck to those.  As soon as we started walking through the peach orchard I was struck by a powerful scent memory - it smelled exactly like my grandfather's farm!  I don't even really remember eating peaches there, but the smell was unmistakable.  I was suddenly 6 years old being carried through the farm on my enormous uncle's shoulders convinced I was going to fall off and die (he's 6'5").  I stood there breathing in the orchard for a full minute before continuing on to gather a nice batch of perfectly ripe peaches. 

Ripe peaches, ready for the picking

Peach orchard
So far, peaches and cherries have been enjoyed fresh by my husband, and on Sunday I made this peach galette (just 5 ingredients if you only count the Trader Joe's frozen pie crust as one):

Peach galette - photo taken quickly because I really wanted to eat it already!

Now I just need to decide what else to make with all this delicious fresh fruit.  I have my eye on a cherry-almond upside-down cake next...

Also, Happy Summer Solstice!  I hope the sun is shining wherever you are!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Garden Tour: S & J's Richmond Garden

Some friends of mine, S & J, moved into a new rental house in Richmond, California about six months ago.  In that short period of time they have managed to put together quite a nice veggie garden!  They were kind enough to let me stalk their plantings so I could share them with you.  Isn't it fun to see other people's gardens?

There was a low retaining wall forming a step in their backyard- they decided that this would make the perfect spot for the garden beds.  To prepare, they cleared the area of weeds and added mulch.  Then they set up four raised beds measuring about 2.5' x 5' and filled them with a mix of soil and compost.  Two of the beds are home to tomatoes and herbs, one bed contains sunflowers, beets, carrots and herbs, and the last bed holds lettuce and peas.

Tomatoes, marigolds, and cilantro

The long view - looking down the 4 garden beds

Mesclun mix overflowing the bed

Happy beets - carrots - beets

Considering that this garden is only a few months old, and we have had wet and cool weather out here, things are looking great!  Not pictured are three wine barrels, home to herbs and peppers.  J spent a lot of time living in New Mexico and there was no way she would have a veggie garden that didn't contain chiles.  There seems to be some cult surrounding New Mexicans and their chiles...  Maybe she'll share some with me when they're ripe and I will understand their magic, too. 

Thanks, guys, for sharing your garden with us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sierran Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Today is the 15th so I should be showing you what is blooming in my garden.  The problem is, I'm not in my garden today.  I am in the eastern Sierra geologizing (you might not think that's a word but Darwin did).  Therefore I decided to take some pictures of the wildflowers and flowering shrubs here in the lovely Owens Valley.

Indian paintbrush



Sulphur buckwheat


Rayless daisy
Many thanks to Deborah, a local biologist for the plant identifications!  The monkeyflowers are hard to photograph; they form some beautiful carpets across the scrub.  And the Rayless daisy is just too cute!  It's an adorable little yellow puffball that looks like something out of Seuss.  I encourage you to stop and look for blooms - even in an unexpected area they often appear if you're looking for them.

I hope this little dose of mountain flowers improves your Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Changing My Tune

In the past, I've been known to say things like, "Look!  Our psychotic felines who eat everything won't even eat lettuce!  Proof positive that lettuce is completely useless!"  In terms of salad greens, I'll choose arugula over just about everything, followed by spinach, followed by mixed greens if I must.  I eat the mixed greens because they're there, or I should, but not because I'm particularly enthusiastic about them.  I will eat buckets of arugula, but I'm just not stoked about lettuce. 

I am a gardener so I really should know this already - it turns out I just wasn't eating the right lettuce.

Last week I went out to the garden to harvest some fresh lettuce that had magically appeared through very little effort on my part.  It was there so I should eat it, I thought.  Well, lettuce straight out of the garden and into the salad is a completely different beast from the bags one gets at the supermarket or even the Farmer's Market.  It was crisp!  And fresh!  And tasty in that watery way that lettuce has of being tasty!  I actually liked it! 

I am officially ready to change my tune and start singing the praises of lettuce.  In fact, I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it that I went out on Saturday and planted four feet of Tennis Ball lettuce seeds.  I may have to put up a shade cloth or something to keep them from bolting, but for the first time I actually think it's worth it to try to grow my own lettuce.  I can't wait for the next harvest!

In honor of this new-found yummy vegetable, here is the salad that I made with those first delectable leaves.  Enjoy!

Lettuce and Pear and Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad
adapted from everywhere- this is a really standard salad combo
Serves 4

for the salad:
8-10 leaves Butterleaf lettuce
1 ripe pear
1/4 cup Blue cheese crumbles
1/4 cup chopped Walnut pieces

for the dressing:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard*

Chop lettuce into nice bite-sized chunks.  Chop pear into smaller bite-sized chunks (I leave the peel on).  Put lettuce, pear, blue cheese, and walnuts into a bowl.  Toss.

Put olive oil, white wine vinegar, and mustard into a jar.  Shake until emulsified.  Drizzle over salad. 


Note: I use Trader Joe's aioli garlic mustard sauce - this stuff is the best

Friday, June 10, 2011

The New Additions: Pineapple Guava

Are you familiar with Pineapple Guava a.k.a. Feijoa?  I'm not, but I've got four new shrubs of it planted along my back fence line next to the espaliered apple and pear.  I took a local orchard class that covered it, and I've read up on the topic, but I have yet to taste or see the fruit.  I'm really looking forward to trying it though!  Currently the plant is in bloom with these fabulous flowers:

They are a big hummingbird attractor for obvious reasons (their centers are Hummingbird Feeder Red).  Also, the flowers are edible!  Now tell me that's not cool.  There was a recent post on Sunset's One Block Diet blog about making a nasturtium cooler... maybe I can modify it and use pineapple guava petals instead!  I will have to be diligent though if I am going to come up with 20 blossoms like they used in their recipe.  Maybe I'll make a very small batch of Pineapple Guava Syrup.

From everything I have learned and read, pineapple guava are really forgiving plants.  They thrive in a Mediterranean climate, are evergreen (leaves are dark green on top and pale grey-green on the bottom), and require very little in the way of maintenance.  They can be pruned into a hedge shape or tree, but if you want fruit you need to be cautious with your pruning.  The plant bears fruit on new wood so prune right after harvest; if you prune in spring you might seriously deplete your crop.

Future Pineapple Guava Hedge along fence line

Fruit are typically ready to harvest 4 to 7 months after flowering.  In my climate, I'm expecting to harvest the pineapple guavas around October.  When the fruits are ripe, lay a tarp under the plant and shake it vigorously - the fruits will fall to the ground.  If you do grow them, you will want to be aware of potential issues with vermin.  I'm told the fruit they drop is quite enticing to the rodentia.  However, if you stock your garden with a squirrel-hunting dog and a pair of everything-hunting cats, you should be all good!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spied on the ground:

A partially-eaten fallen Pluot. According to Snoutface, the pluots aren't quite ripe yet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

May 2011 MKG Harvest

The first Oro Blanco grapefruit!

It has been one wacky "spring."  Out here in California we've had more rain than any of us can remember- it rained all weekend even!  That might not be a big deal in some places (and in general we need it out here) but it is strange and unusual in this Mediterranean climate to get rain much after the first few days of May.  It's usually dry as a bone from mid-May into September.  Seriously.  Needless to say, my harvesting is way behind schedule.

The May 2011 MKG Harvest consisted of:

   - a bunch of Meyer lemons
   - several oranges
   - the first Oro Blanco grapefruit
   - 4 stalks green garlic
   - a big bowl of chard

Hmmmm, that list looks a little sparse.  Oh well, the weather can't be spectacular all the time.  I don't expect too much out of June, but I've got big hopes for July!  I can't be too bummed, though - my first green garlic was quite scrumptious.  And the verdict on the Oro Blanco?  Delicious!  It didn't need any sugar, it was just the right sweetness naturally, and the flavor was amazing.  I can't wait for more to ripen!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fabulous Gutters of Dallas

Last fall I had the pleasure of visiting Dallas for an exceptionally fun wedding.  We went out for brunch on Saturday morning before all the big festivities began and enjoyed the ambience of the restaurant.  Then, as we were walking out, I spotted the courtyard.  This is the wall decoration in said courtyard:

These were some seriously fabulous gutters!  The restaurant has a series of staggered black metal gutters bolted to a brick wall within an inner courtyard.  The gutters are planted with succulents, cacti and ferns.  I managed to snap this photo with my phone (while trying not to disturb the diners in the courtyard) as my slightly embarrassed husband made a swift move for the exit.  There was just no chance I wasn't going to document this display.

I've seen posts about gutter gardens for several years now, with one gardener in Alaska ingeniously using gutters along the side of her house to maximize her limited sun and space.  But this was the first (and only) gutter garden I have seen in action.  I'm sold.  This looked great- very modern and organic at the same time.  Plus it brought a lot of green into an indoor space.  I was instantly jealous that we weren't seated next to this lovely planting.

If you have limited space in your garden (even just a balcony!) or want to keep food away from marauding pets (I'm looking at you Snoutface-the-strawberry-stealer) a gutter garden could be a great way to go.  Plants with shallow roots would do very well in this setting including strawberries, herbs, lettuce, chard, or spinach.  There isn't enough space for the big guys like squash or tomatoes but that's okay.  With a gutter o' greens you'd have your very own salad bar all season long!
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