Sunday, August 1, 2010

Zucchini Daze

Shredded zucchini ready for anything; 1/2 pint of lacto-fermenting zucchini; zucchini chips
Ahem. Well now. That was an embarassingly long silence on my end of things. Truth is, I have about 4 unfinished, abandoned posts languishing in html limbo, but for reasons unknown even to me, will likely remain unfinished. I'll try to extract a couple recipes from there though, cause there were a couple good ones. Like the beet hummus. Yum.
So summer is in full swing, which means long foggy and windy days here. If we're lucky, the fog burns off in the early afternoon and the tomatoes can get at least a small dose of sun. While the rest of the country swelters, here on the coast we've been wearing sweatshirts and wool socks and occaisionally turning on the heat in the chill of the evening. This is not bragging. I love the heat of summer, with cicadas and thunderstorms and lightning bugs. I love the sticky feeling that makes you want to jump in a pool or pond and stay in till your fingers are pruney. I love real summers and I miss them. Pout.
But there is one eternal part of summer that even we get to participate in. Zucchini larceny. Everybody lock your doors and put the dogs out to guard the house, 'cause I just found out that August 8 is the official National Sneak Zucchini Onto a Neighbor's Porch Day. Oh, yeah. It's on. Our squashes have been gloriously productive this year (as opposed to last year, when we got maybe 3 off of 6 plants), from the Raven zucchini to the Ronde de Nice to the mystery volunteers which look like pale green zepplins. I've made my standbys: sneaky squash pasta, zucchini muffins and bread. Now its time to get creative. One of the most sucessful experiments has been zucchini chips dried in the dehydrator. They are crunchy, just a little salty and actually quite pleasant tasting. Even Z., who hates zukes, enjoys these chips. All you have to do is slice the squash as thin as possible, toss with a small amount of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat), arrange on dehydrating trays, and sprinkle with a small amount of salt. I like for just a few grains to get on each slice, but season to your taste. I have a feeling that garlic salt would be pretty tasty on them too. In my experience curry powder does not work well. Maybe parmesan cheese? Oregano? Red pepper flakes?
The other experiment is a lacto-fermented relish from the book Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, by the Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante. I'm quite skeptical that merely layering shredded squash with salt and some water and letting it sit will transform zucchini into a tasty fermented treat. Really, I'm just worried that I'll poison myself. But this type of preservation has been used for ages and is much healthier than canned foodstuffs, as it is chock full of probiotics and enzymes. So we'll see how it goes. I may also try to make zucchini relish or dill pickles. If I'm really motivated.
Do you have any favorite zucchini recipes that you would like to share? Any advice on the best way to sneak extra squashes onto unsuspecting porches?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Relishing Radishes

If any of you garden, you know what it's like to go on vacation and return to what was once your tame, mild-mannered little plot and is now a rampant, exploded, wilderness of greenery. I kind of love that. While we were eating mangos and poke (not together) in Hawaii, our zucchinis put out their first fruits, the radishes grew to monstrous proportions, and the beets are now a harvestable jungle. It makes me giggle. I have been looking forward to this moment, when I can eat nearly every meal from the back yard for months now. I am determined to plan things better this year and continue gardening through the winter. Oh, and if anyone wants bags full of a slightly leggy mesclun mix, please take it off my hands. I need to replant the area with either 1) more greens for salads or 2) more beets? more parsnips? broccoli? cabbage?
I've been making salads for dinner, which is the perfect way to end a day. Loads of healthy greens, a few cooked veggies, a little protein, some flavorful accents and chopped herbs. The variations are pretty much endless, but I've been eating a pseudo-Nicoise salad almost exclusively and haven't gotten tired of it yet. What makes it pseudo? Well, there is no tuna. Cause I don't have any in the house right now. And the olives are kalamata, not nicoise. And I threw in some sunflower sprouts. Other than that, it has the greenery, the steamed green beans and new potatoes, the olives and the anchovies (oh, yes), and a mustardy vinaigrette with shallot. To make it even more Francais, I chopped up a handful of chervil and scattered it over the top of everything. I'm kind of obsessed with two things in the garden right now: chervil and radishes. Chervil is a wonderfully delicate herb with a taste somewhere between fennel and parsely. It is used quite a bit in French cooking, but seems underappreciated here in the Colonies. And radishes are an almost ubiquitous back yard staple, underappreciated and often grown out of a sense of duty rather than joy. At least for me. But this year I have discovered the pleasures of this humble, quick growing treasure. Best of all, I have found a way to serve it to Mr. Seasonality so that even he will enjoy it. Miracle of miracles.
A radish on it's own is a bit overwhelming (especially when it is roughly the size of a kitten); spicy, pungent, crisp and tender. A couple bites of one of ours sets my mouth and gut on fire and not in a good way. Paul Pitchford says that radishes are cool, pungent and sweet in nature. They transform phlegm, relieve food stagnation and are detoxifying. In Western medicine, radishes are used as a remedy for stones in the gallbladder, kidney and bladder. My mother used to make this concoction for sore throats (which I had plenty of as a child) that was surprisingly effective: one or two radishes sliced thin into a small jar and moisten with a tablespoon or so of honey. Let it sit for a few hours until the honey pulls the moisture out of the radishes and they become shriveled looking. Then drink the liquid in small sips over the course of a day. According to Mr. Pitchford, those of us with deficiency cold should not eat radishes, which is too sad to even think of. I have to say that too much of them throws off my balance, but as long as it is warm outside and my digestion is primed and on line, I'll probably keep eating radish in moderation. I'll let you know if I get any side effects.

Pseudo-Nicoise Salad
Part of the enjoyment of this as a meal is the presentation, so have fun with the
arrangement of the different elements on the plate

Boil water for steaming. In a steamer basket, cook until very lightly tender (10 minutes or so):
3 new potatoes, halved, per person
1 small handful green beans per person
Steam for 4-5 minutes, or until tender but not mushy.
Arrange on individual plates:
Large bunch of salad greens (I would encourage the inclusion of arugula)
3 anchovy fillets per person
4 or 5 olives (use kalamata or nicoise, not plain black) per person
A handful of sprouts (optional)
A handful of chervil or parsely, chopped per person (optional)
1 hard boiled egg per person (optional)
Sprinkle of blue cheese (optional)
Dress with your favorite vinaigrette. Or use mine.
Mix together in a small jar:
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or to taste)
pinch of salt

Radish Crostini

1 slice of bread (Sourdough is nice), toasted
Slather amply or to taste with:
Arrange over the top:
1 large or 2 normal sized radishes
And sprinkle with:
pinch of fleur de sel
Devour. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Market Treasures and Garden Update

Oh, how I love spring. The bursting, vibrant energy that makes my blood sing, the warm touch of sunshine... these are days that remind me over and over how very fortunate I am to be alive and healthy. I am a lucky girl. Spring in California is a bit of a strange bird, in that it is never really severe enough winter to get the full effect of the bone-deep relief that comes with the first warm days. Winters here are damp and chill above all else, but the rains of winter make everything lusciously green for a couple months until the sun and lack of rain browns it all up again. We're having a bit of an unusual spring here, the winter storms which normally cease and desist in early April are continuing their onslaught right through to the end of the month. Today is a blustery and rainy day, but I'm trying not to mind because the garden really does love all the extra moisture it can get.
Things are taking off in the garden right now. We have the tomatoes (sungold, cherokee chocolate, hillbilly, black cherry, yellow pear cherry, san marzano paste, marvel striped, green zebra, paul robeson) in the ground and already sending up new leaves. The beans (dragon's tongue, royalty purple pod, tiger's eye) that are surviving nightly raids by slugs and snails are unfolding shiny second leaves. Zucchinis (raven, ronde de nice) seem to be doing much better than last year, and are already expanding magnificently. The lettuce seedlings (parris island cos, flashy trout's back, merlot) are as lovely as a party dress. And in my new bed, the carrot, beet (chioggia), lettuce (red and green oak leaf) and radish (french breakfast) seedlings are on their way quite nicely. Corn (triple play from last year's harvest), winter squash (potimarron, Pennsylvania Dutch crookneck), chard (bright lights) and basil are all up, but struggling a bit. After all, winter hasn't quite given up on us yet.
With all this bounty just around the corner, I'm still going to the farmer's market every week to stock up on veg (other than arugula and lettuce). As my own garden progresses, I'll keep going for our staples of locally grown sheep cheese and lamb sausage, dates, and when the season starts, stone fruits, but I will be subsisting mostly off of what we grow in the back yard. This Saturday's market was particularly exciting and I got some treasures that made me as giddy as if I had found a pair of designer shoes at Ross for ten bucks. Hey, sometimes it happens. My bounty consists of an ugly/cute celeriac, the first fava beans, broccoli, sorrel, crimini mushrooms, sheep feta, green curly kale, beets, a basket of perfectly ripe strawberries and the crowning glory, purple asparagus. Yup, it comes in purple. The stalks are smooth, almost velvety looking and dark violet colored. They cook up crunchy and sweet and take on a dark green tint, but some of the purple stays with a light and quick steaming.
To celebrate such treasures, I had to make something special. Like a quiche. But with a crust this time. I cannot tell you how terrified I have been for years by crust making. Until recently, we did not own a food processor and so making a crust would find me trying to blend cold butter and flour with two butter knives battling for dominance, swearing like a sailor and ending up with an overworked, leaden mess of wanna-be pastry. But no longer! Thank god for food processors. My Kitchen Aid is now my new hero.
With the quiche done, I set myself to a Deborah Madison recipe that sounded intreguing but potentially icky. Braised broccoli with olives requires a long cooked broccoli that is falling apart tender, and could be a bit too close to the overcooked limpness I've accidentally made in the past. I should know better by now than to doubt that woman. It came out brilliantly, with the broccoli well flavored with tangy olives, oregano and lemon. I've been spooning it onto toast with a sprinkling of sheep feta for lunch, which is a wonderful way to eat more veg.
Lastly, a strawberry dessert. I tried for puff pastry tartlets with pastry cream and sliced strawberries. This was a bit less successful, so I'm reserving the recipe until I can get it better.
To finish things off, a tea of nettles, oatstraw, raspberry leaf, lavender, rose and garden peppermint. These are some of the best herbs to keep the nervous system relaxed and the hormones balanced, which is important during these times of finals.
And that's pretty much it. Except for Mr. Seasonality's foray into ale making, which is very exciting. He took a recipe by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall for Nettle beer and added a wee bit of lemon balm. It should be ready tomorrowish, so I'll let you all know how it tastes. I'm very excited.

Greens, Potato and Artichoke Quiche

1 recipe for pie crust (I use this one from Smitten Kitchen), par-baked

Arrange on the bottom of the crust:
2 medium waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold, boiled till lightly tender and sliced
Scatter over the potatoes:
1/4 cup crumbled or shredded cheese (I used sheep feta, which is amazing)
Sweat in a wide pan until transluscent with a wee bit of olive oil:
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bunch sorrel, chopped
1/2 bunch chard, chopped
Handful of nettles, cooked and chopped (optional)
1 sprig of oregano or marjoram or thyme, finely chopped
And cook until the greens are wilted and greatly reduced in volume. Arrange the greens over the potatoes and feta.
Over the greens, place:
6 artichoke hearts, halved
While the greens are cooking make the custard of:
4 eggs, beaten
Whisk in:
3/4 cup whole milk (preferably raw)
Pinch of salt and pepper
Pour the custard over everything and bake at 375 for about an hour, or until the top is golden and there is no liquidy center.

Braised Broccoli with Olives
Adapted from Local Flavors, by Deborah Madison

Bring about 8 cups salted water to a boil in a large pot.
3 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
stalks of broccoli, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
Cook for 10 minutes, then remove promptly to a colander, reserving:
1 cup cooking liquid.
Chop the broccoli up into wee bits and set aside.
In a large pan, heat a wee bit of olive oil
Add and sweat till transluscent:
1 large shallot, sliced (or an onion)
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup chopped green olives
1-2 tblsp chopped oregano
finely grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
Cook together until fragrent, about 1 minute.
Add in:
the broccoli
reserved cooking liquid
Cook on medium-low heat for about 15-20 minutes, or until the broccoli is super tender and falling apart.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Garden Update

My nemesiseseses (what is the plural of nemesis?)

So this is why the 30 or so pea seeds I put in weeks ago never came up. Little buggers. Take special note of the wee one riding on the shell of a larger one. They'd be cute if I didn't have seeds to sprout. Now the beans and squashes are safely germinating away in egg cartons under the kitchen table and will be transplanted next week if it dries out enough.
This week in the garden has been one of trials and excitement both. In the new raised beds, snails haven't come a knocking yet (touch wood), so I have three lovely zucchini transplants that are flourishing, a row of Walla Walla onions, a row of carrots, a row of parsnips and a row of beets. I'm especially excited about the carrots, which are a delicacy for snails, slugs and earwigs, and they are actually sprouting here! Yay!
On the more somber end of things, I had a disturbing incident with the California Department of Agriculture. I had ordered 6 heirloom tomato seedlings and a ground cherry seedling from Seed Savers Exchange, and was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning the day they were schedualed to arrive. It was a sunny and warm day, but right before a weekend that was forcast to be rainy. Perfect planting weather. On my UPS tracking log, I saw a most unusual entry: "shipment abandoned by shipper and/or reciever". With panic in my heart and lead in my stomach, I called UPS and was told that they had never seen anything like that before. The local branch called me a few minutes later and informed me that the Department of Agriculture Inspector had looked over the shipment and confiscated them. And then destroyed them. Destroyed!!! My tomatoes! As pathetic as it sounds, I actually wanted to cry at that moment. Or hit something. My next phone call was to Seed Savers where they were very kind and informed me that this was because the tomatoes were grown in Wisconsin to organic standards not to the requirement of California. There were apparent concerns by the CDA over Japanese beetles and Colorado beetles (I was assured that Wisconsin is far outside Japanese beetle territory) and rather than risk it, the plants were destroyed. I understand the need to keep invasive species out of California and certainly would not want to be ground zero for a pest invasion. However. It seems that rather than actually inspecting the plants, my tomatoes were discarded on the grounds that they were not grown to California standards. Which makes me mad.
Therefore, this past market day, Mr. Seasonality and I purchased replacement tomato seedlings with a slightly heavy heart. But when I saw the selection, I cheered right up. Call me fickle, but the prospect of raising Black cherries, Marvel Striped, and San Marzano Paste tomatoes had me pretty excited. We also picked up a Yellow Pear Cherry, Green Zebra, Purple Cherokee, and a variety I had never heard of called charmingly Hillbilly. I have 6 more seedlings on the way from a California vendor, so we should be good for tomatoes. I can't wait!
Soon there will be more veggies than we know what to do with, but for now, I'm savoring the dream of tomato salads with fresh mint and basil, steamed green beans with butter, and roasted corn. There is definately something to be said for the anticipation that builds when one is eating seasonally and locally. It, like hunger, is one of the best seasonings one could ask for.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Liver Time!

It is officially the spring season, the season of birth and rampaging growth. It is also the season for what we in the TCM world call Liver Qi Stagnation. You may have experienced this phenomena. Probably recently. Probably when you were standing in line for something and had a sudden fantasy of doing violence to the person deliberating over the choice between two near identical products. Perhaps you were in a car and someone cut you off and you experienced a rush of road rage. Or perhaps you have just been waking up with the feeling that your skin is too tight and you want to shrug yourself out of a too-small life and blaze across the face of the world.
This, my friends, is Liver Qi stag.
It can and does happen any time of year, but spring is the season for it to happen most...enthusiastically express itself. Spring belongs to the Wood element, which makes a lot of sense. Wood is all about growth and change, movement and regulation, planning and decisionmaking, hope and vision. It is the impetus of a sprout warmed by the sun, pushing determindly through the earth to spring free at last and fulfill the destiny described in its DNA. It follows its plan without doubt or hesitation, growing and changing, adapting to its environment and always pushes forward. Spring is the official time of shaking things up that have been still and quiet all winter.
Wood has two Officials or Organs (I hesitate to use the term Organ, because they are less a physical viscera and more a collection of functions and related energy of the body/mind/spirit), which are the General or Planner (Liver) and the Decision-maker (Gallbladder). The function of the Liver is to make plans, the function of the Gallbladder is to carry out those plans by making right decisions. Because it is the Planner, the Liver regulates the even and smooth flow of Qi throughout the entire body. I think of it as the architect drawing up blueprints for a building, figuring out where the plumbing and electrical lines will go so that the construction will be easy and smooth. The Gallbladder is more like the general contractor; the one who decides and executes the details of the architect's vision.
Spring is what the ancients called the Birth of Yang, the time when things are bursting forth in all green glory. There is a huge rush of energy as we move out of Water's depth and the winds of Wood shake and spin us around. I always get serious wanderlust during this time. For me, the itchy irritability seems to feel less if I am also moving. Which is kind of key. Movement, as I have mentioned previously, is vital to the healthy, unrestricted flow of Qi. After the appropriate restfulness of winter, there is bound to be some stagnation, usually some sluggishness. In bursts Spring, shaking things loose and inciting riots. And since we are never seperate from nature, the same forces of Spring are acting on our bodies as well as seeds. Things want to grow and change and move. The Liver moves qi to the best of its ability, but if there are places of blockage, areas where we are holding tension; if we are not properly aligned to be a conduit for the energy to flow through us unimpeeded, then stagnation is what occurs. If a force is restricted, it builds up energy and increases its force until it can break through that blockage and rush free.
Consequently, the organ that experiences qi stagnation most acutely is the Liver. And Spring is Liver time. Hello, Liver Qi stag. Common symptoms that appear are irritability, easy to anger, emotional fragility or mood swings, frequent sighing (an unconscious effort to release stagnation), tightness or pain in the ribs or sides of the body (the area that the Wood channels traverse), restlessness, skin rashes, muscle twitching, tendon spasms, headaches (especially at the top of the head or at the temples or behind the eyes), and often digestive difficulties like bloating, belching, distension and discomfort in the abdomen and stools that alternate between hard and loose (TMI, I know, but I talk about this all day).
So, what is to be done about this?
-Number one: don't fight it. Nature is inevitable and un-arguable. Just utilize this energy as a positive force for change and creativity. Start a vision board, start a new project, start a garden.
- Number two: exercise. This is really, really, really important. You need to physically move your qi in some way, whether by running, biking, ect or doing tai chi, qigong or yoga. Move it.
-Number three: find ways to be flexible and forgiving. It is natural to be irritable at this time, but find ways to not take it out on yourself or others. It is a good idea to make plans, but its ok for plans to change. We need to have healthy, flexible Wood that can bend and not break. -Number four: eat right. You may be craving greasy food, but be nice to your Liver and Gallbladder. They really don't want to expend extra energy breaking down fats, not to mention that fats are heavy and cause stagnation. It's a lot of work. Eat fresh greens instead, especially with just a little vinegar or lemon juice. Eat some fresh fruit because a mild sweet taste will soften and ameliorate the roughness of Liver qi stag. Note that I said "mild sweet". Excess sugar is never good (and it's been proven that sugar intake can actually lead to a fatty liver and cirrhosis), and everything should be done in moderation. Mild sweet tastes like fruit, milk, rice and small amounts of whole sweeteners like honey or rapadura are ok, but keep it small and light. Also, some pungent ingredients like green garlic and spring onions are fabulous to add to greens. And the pungent, acrid taste helps to disperse stagnant Liver qi.
This is a time to harness the energy of change and planning. Take advantage of it by doing some Spring cleaning, not just in the physical world either. Take some time for self-reflection, turn your Liver's vision inward and really look at yourself and your patterns of behavior. Now is the time to take steps towards changing. Now is the time to envision yourself and your life however you would like it. Don't place limits on your vision, because limits are blockages. Boundaries are healthy, but let your imagination go. And then put it into action, take the first step. Give birth to your life as you always wanted it to be.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Root Veggies and a Spring Celebration Pasta

All right, here we go. It's only taken me about a week to post this (Liver Qi stagnation + Blood deficiency= NO FUN! I'll explain later) but I made a wonderful celebration of Spring in food form that I have been very excited about. It marries the last of the winter root crops with the first green veggies and I had so much fun cooking it! The story goes: one day I woke up and was warm. It was sunny out (gasp!); the wisteria was a fountain of violet and lavender, exuding the most delicious, intoxicating fragrance and the garden beds were barren and sad looking. So Mr. Seasonality and I decided it was high time to turn the beds. Step one: clear beds. Step two: point husband at beds and watch his muscles ripple as he turns them. Step three: use the gleanings to make a fabulous meal. At the end of the day, I had some lovely purple dragon carrots, a couple baby carrots, some baby parsnips, and a huge turnip. I love roasting veggies of all persuesions, but root veg in particular benefits from roasting. It brings out a lovely sweet nutty flavor and mellows any bitterness in older roots. To address the lighter side of spring, I made an angel hair pasta dish with sauteed shrimp, crimini mushrooms, asparagus and peas, and a meyer lemon pseudo beurre blanc. Ok, so the peas were frozen, but only because the snails have eaten every single pea sprout in the garden. grr. If you are lucky enough to have shelling peas coming up in your garden, I would highly encourage the use of them in this dish. And notice how I snuck the meyer lemon in there? Yep, I'm sneaky.

Roasted Root Veggies

You can use any combination you like, but here's what I pulled from the garden:
2 or 3 Dragon Carrots
4 baby Chanteney carrots
4-5 baby parsnips
1 turnip (mine was ginormous and tough, I would rather 3-4 baby turnips)

Pre-heat the oven at 450ish (sorry, my oven doesn't really do exact temps). Chop into chunks roughly the same size and leave baby veggies whole.
Toss with a mixture of:
Small glug of olive oil
1 tsp maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Spread evenly on a parchment lined baking dish, making sure that the veggies are in one layer, not crowded. Roast until tender, around 40 minutes, flipping the veggies once or twice during the cooking process.

Spring Celebration Pasta

1/2 lb angel hair pasta
1/2 bunch asparagus
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
8 shrimp, thawed if frozen
1 clove garlic, minced finely
1tblsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 tblsp butter
1/2 cup white wine
1 Meyer lemon, juiced and zest reserved
1-2 tblsp mint, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to boil in a pot large enough for pasta to cook and salt water. In a large, non-stick skillet, warm olive oil on medium heat and add garlic, sauteeing until fragrant. Add mushrooms and cook until tender. Add shrimp first, then asparagus and peas. Cook until shrimp are pink and the veg are still bright green and crisp, it should only be a few minutes. While these a
re cooking, cook the angel hair pasta, drain and set aside briefly (it shouldn't sit for too long).
To make the sauce, in a small sauce pan, sautee the shallots in butter until transluscent. Add the white wine and lemon juice and simmer until the liquid has reduced by 1/2 to 3/4. Remove from heat.
Toss together in a bowl the pasta, sauteed veg, sauce and the lemon zest and mint. Season to taste and serve with a shave of parmesan if you wish.

This would be really nice followed by a dessert of sliced fresh organic strawberries sprinkled with brown sugar.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Raised Beds!

The plum trees are blooming and it's warm and sunny! Welcome spring!

Mr. Seasonality put in two beautiful new raised beds and it makes the garden space about a third bigger and much more spacious feeling. Here's a picture of our beautiful new beds.

Roommate D. dismantled one of the compost piles and loaded the lot onto the back one and I planted 6 lovely lettuces, including my favorite trout romaine. Soon we'll have fresh salads again. I'd love to hear from anyone who is planting right now and what is going into the ground for y'all. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I'm holding off on planting seeds until it's clear again and I know that they won't wash away.