Monday, December 31, 2012

Pecan pie and garden planning

We've moved! HiveQueen is now! 

Read "Pecan Pie and Garden Planning" and get the complete pecan pie recipe on the new site

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter garden

The winter garden is wet and cold, but stubbornly remains too productive for me to just ignore it until the weather gets nicer. Fall-planted peas are forming pods. Salad greens are thriving despite the fact that I don't especially crave salad right now, leading me to look for warm dishes to make with m√Ęche and miner's lettuce and ficoide glaciale.

The last of the root crops are patiently waiting to be picked, most of them still good after all these months. The rhubarb is loving the rain and has unfolded enormous leaves over vibrant red stalks, but I am obeying the Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles and giving it two full growing seasons to get established before I start harvesting it.

rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bitters and sweets

Any day that starts out with six pounds of sugar and a bottle of 151 proof alcohol is going to be interesting.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) in the garden

Verbena limoncello

Verbena limoncello and lemon verbena simple syrup

It's hard to tell when your homemade bitters are "sufficiently infused" when you're using Everclear as your base. You put a drop on your tongue, get an intense impression of lemon and nail polish remover, and then your tongue goes numb. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cover crop: fava beans

Illustration and sign for Cover crop: Fava Beans (vicia faba)

I always feel bad when it's time to dig my cover crops in. You're supposed to dig them in just before they flower, so all the stored energy and nutrients go back into the soil instead of into fruits and seeds. Still, it feels wrong to chop down a bunch of healthy plants just as they start to flower. Particularly when, if you left them alone, they'd produce delicious, tender, buttery fava beans.

So I'm trying to reshape my thinking. After all, this is why I planted these seeds — so I could chop them down. Instead of thinking about the fava bean harvest I won't get, I'm trying to think of this as a harvest of nitrogen and other nutrients.

Fava bean (vicia faba) plant

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Uszka for barszcz

Uszka do barszczu

In my last post, Post-Latke Barszcz / Borscht, I mentioned uszka, or "little ears." These mushroom-stuffed dumplings are the traditional accompaniment to barszcz wigilijny (Christmas Eve borscht). 

I have this irrational anxiety about making pasta, so instead of making the dough from scratch, I cheated and used pre-made wonton wrappers, available at any asian market. They're not the same; uszka dough is made with eggs, and is a bit thicker, with a different taste and texture. But you know what? They were still tasty. 

If you use wonton skins, remember to keep the stack covered with a damp towel, because otherwise they'll dry out and crack when you try to fold them. 

How to fold uszka

Monday, December 10, 2012

Post-latke barszcz / borscht

Barszcz wigilijny / borscht

Did everyone have a nice first night of Chanukah? Did you have lots of latkes? And sufganiyot? And do you now have a fried-foods hangover? Me too. 

Post-latke salads are a nice idea I spotted recently. They're crisp and healthy and mercifully oil-free, full of things like romaine lettuce and apple slices, celery and jicama. Perfect for the next-day lunch except for one thing: they're salads. I don't want salads in winter. It's cold and grey outside, and I want warm cozy comfort food. 

This is why we have borscht. Or, when I make it from my Polish cookbook, barszcz. Warm and savory without being heavy, the classic beet soup is perfect for cold winter days and nights. This version has a slight acidity that makes it a perfect counterpoint to the season's steady progression of rich dishes. 

Ingredients for barszcz / borscht: beets, leeks, celery, celery root, onion, parsnip, carrots

Friday, December 7, 2012

Candied ginger, candied lemon peels, and science

Candied ginger slices

I really thought candied ginger would be easy. Slice up some ginger, blanch it, put it in a pot with equal parts sugar and water, and heat to 225°. Straightforward, precise directions. I even had a thermometer — not a candy thermometer, but an accurate instant-read meat thermometer that I figured should do the trick.

You can see where this is going. After blanching, three hours of boiling, overnight soaking in their syrup, then individually fishing out the ginger coins and laying them on a pan to dry all afternoon, my ginger slices were all wrong; grainy and wet and crystalized. Sure, they were still delicious, but where were the chewy, golden, translucent coins with just a hint of stickiness that I'd expected?

Here's the thing, though. Just for the heck of it, I poured half of the gingery syrup back into the pot, then blanched a bunch of lemon peels and tossed them in. An hour later I had beautiful strips of perfectly candied lemon peel without even a hint of graininess. What happened?

As far as I can tell, there were two key differences: temperature and interfering agents. 

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger slices boiling in simple syrup

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to peel ginger... with a spoon!

peeled ginger (Zingiber officinale)

You can learn all sorts of neat tricks by spending time with culinary professionals. Or, for those of us who don't get invited over to their apartments to hang out, by reading their blogs.

Here's what I just learned from reading David Lebovitz's blog: You can peel ginger with a spoon. Apparently some other people already knew about this, but I didn't. Unlike your paring knife or vegetable peeler, a spoon will scrape the papery skin right off without taking the underlying ginger flesh with it. It even does well at working around the crevices and little knobby bits, which your peeler won't.

Also, using a spoon reduces the chance that you'll accidentally slice open your finger. Which, let me tell you, you don't want to do while cutting ginger.

How to peel ginger with a spoon

Monday, December 3, 2012

Oatmeal cake

Piece of oatmeal cake on a fork

Blogging has caused some changes in the way I cook, especially when I'm baking. I do more measuring and less eyeballing these days, even if I'm making things up as I go along. I usually remember to take notes. And if I'm testing a recipe and make a mistake, I might even start over. 

This cake started out as a test batch of my garam masala oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe, until I accidentally added four eggs instead of two. This is not like doubling the amount of chocolate chips or cinnamon; those are changes that you can and should make whenever possible. Structural ingredients like eggs, milk, and flour really do matter, and while you can get away with fudging them a bit, doubling any of them is going to seriously change your texture, and probably not for the better. 

After whipping out a fresh batch of cookies (and confirming that my measurements were just right), I came back to my first bowl. It was a well-blended mess of butter, brown and white sugar, eggs, and vanilla. This is actually a pretty common base for all manner of delicious baked goods. The difference at this stage is more a matter of proportion than ingredients. I figured with two too many eggs this blend was too wet for cookies, but might be salvageable as a cake of some sort.  

As I like to tell novice bakers when they're worrying, anything whose main ingredients are butter and sugar can't taste too terrible. It might be too dense, or too gooey, or too floury, but toast the pieces up and top them with sliced strawberries and whipped cream, and you've got shortcake, no matter what you were trying to make. It is at this point that my friends get calls like, "Hey, I totally screwed up this cake (or pie, or whatever). It's weird. But not bad. You should come over and eat some of it." 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Over and over

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) seeds scattered on soil
It's been wet and grey outside lately. Better weather for making stews and braises than for clearing dead plants from the garden and sowing cover crops. But a few days ago we finally picked and ate the last of the cucumbers, and so during a break in the rain I pulled up the dying vines, tossed them in the compost heap, and planted crimson clover in their place. 

Crimson clover is another cover crop I grow to a) enrich the soil, and b) keep the garden from looking totally unkempt during the winter and early spring. You get the most benefit by digging the plants into the soil before they flower, but the flowers are just so pretty. And as long as you've let them flower, you may as well let the flowers dry, and collect them for their seeds.  

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) in flower

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pseudo-shepherd's pie

The November issue of Cook's Illustrated describes a traditional shepherd's pie that took the author 5 hours to make. I can't imagine where people who herd sheep for a living found that kind of free time, not to mention the pastry bag and star tips needed to pipe the layer of whipped potatoes over the top of the filling. (The article includes an updated, simpler recipe as well.)

As you may have gathered, I am the type of person who will spend 5 hours making peasant food, but not the day after making Thanksgiving dinner. Especially not when the fridge contains all the ingredients necessary to make a perfectly good pseudo-shepherd's pie: mashed potatoes, some sort of meat, gravy, and miscellaneous tasty stuff. (I'm fairly certain that is the actual wording of the traditional recipe.)

1. pastry crust
2. stuffing
3. turkey
4. gravy
5. balsamic-glazed onions
6. mashed potatoes and mashed kabocha squash

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving snapshots

How was your thanksgiving? Ours was small and mellow. Some traditional dishes, some new experiments, and the discovery that a spatchcocked turkey will not cook in a mere 45 minutes if the oven is tiny and you've wedged a large pan of stuffing directly under the turkey. I'll give it another try next year, but either use a larger oven or just quick-toast the stuffing on a baking sheet while the turkey's resting. 

Photography was somewhat limited by the fact that my hands were covered in butter, flour, or similarly camera-unfriendly substances for most of the day, but here are a few snapshots:

You may think you hate brussels sprouts, but you probably just hate overcooked brussels sprouts. Try this: shred the sprouts, toss them in a pan with hot butter or bacon fat for a few minutes, stir in some crumbled bacon, toasted walnuts, and a tablespoon of maple syrup, and eat them immediately. See? They're good. (They're even good cooked this way without the bacon, maple, and nuts. But they're better with.)

Also, who owns a silpat but not a rolling pin?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to roast a kabocha squash

Kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima)

By now it should be clear that I am inordinately fond of kabocha squash. Last time I got one for a recipe, I ended up eating most of the roasted squash on its own, just scooped out of the skin and sprinkled with a little salt. Except for the bowl I ate topped with leftover pulled pork, which turned out to be one of the finest food pairings ever.  

Continue reading "How to roast a kabocha squash" at its new location:

Monday, November 19, 2012

What to do with that leftover pumpkin puree

Pumpkin pie with Kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima)

I am a big fan of pumpkin pie. Especially when it's made with kabocha squash instead of pumpkin. But whether you make your Thanksgiving pie with a home-roasted heirloom squash or the classic can of mashed pumpkin, there's a good chance you're going to find yourself with some extra pumpkin puree. My suggestions (with directions and recipe links after the jump):

1. Make my quick pumpkin soup. It's tasty and you can throw it together in a few minutes. I like to make this as an easy light lunch to tide people over until the turkey's ready.

2. Make pumpkin black bean empanadas. They take a bit more time but are so very worth it. If you've got enough to do before Thursday, you can always refrigerate the pumpkin and make the empanadas later in the weekend.

3. Make another pumpkin pie. For me.

Easy pumpkin soup and pumpkin black bean empanada

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Poison Garden

Alnwick Garden Poison Garden Gates: These Plants Can Kill
photo courtesy The Alnwick Garden
A while back, a group of preschoolers visited my garden during their afternoon walk. While most of them pointed out butterflies, identified plants they grew in their school garden, or told me what vegetables they liked and hated, one young fellow came over and asked, "Do you have any poisonous plants?"

Kid: if you're a reader of this blog and haven't showed up on any no-fly lists yet, ask your parents to take you to the Alnwick Castle and its gardens the next time you're in northeast England. You might recognize the castle already; it showed up as Hogwarts in the first Harry Potter movies. The Alnwick Garden is even better — quite possibly the coolest castle garden around. It boasts one of the world's largest treehouses, night time light shows, and The Poison Garden, where skull-and-crossbones gates guard over 100 plants of varying deadliness. (And also marijuana.)

The Duchess of Northumberland says on the garden's website, "I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill... I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be." My kind of lady.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Warm kale salad with roasted butternut squash, parsnips, and caramelized red onions

Recently, someone told me she'd cancelled her CSA box after one too many deliveries of kale and butternut squash. Those of you in similar situations might want to bookmark this warm winter salad. Kale's assertive, slightly bitter flavor can be too much on its own, but provides the perfect balance for the sweetness of roasted winter squash and parsnips, caramelized red onions, and maple-balsamic dressing.

Full recipe at our new site: Plant and!

Continue reading Warm kale salad with roasted butternut squash, parsnips, and caramelized red onions on

Monday, November 12, 2012

Growing my own garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) plants

As I was editing the photos for this post, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about the 25 lbs of garlic he was getting ready to plant. That's about a thousand plants. My garlic patch has maybe three dozen plants. This is the difference between gardening and farming; the difference between growing something for variety and growing it to supply your next year's needs. That, and a few orders of magnitude of labor. 

Still, I'm pleased with my garlic. I've got three different kinds going, and they should be ready for harvest next summer, assuming the squirrels don't dig them all up first. 

Garlic (Allium sativum): Silver Rose, Inchelium Red, Italian Late

Friday, November 9, 2012

November stew


I am generally not a fan of cold, gloomy days. On the other hand, they do provide a good incentive to make stew. Just browning the onions makes the house smell warm and inviting. Plus, if you deglaze the pan with red wine right after you brown the meat and onions, you can pour yourself a glass at the same time and enjoy it while the stew simmers. Just don't forget to stir the pot once in a while.

Cast iron pot, from above

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now planting: ginger

Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) root with sprout

Every time I visit my dad, I return home with a few choice new vocabulary words and a renewed appreciation for ginger. Mind you, he doesn't put it on everything. It's just that he might put it on anything. In multiple forms, and generous amounts. With excellent results, more often than not. (When they're not excellent, they're at least interesting.) And let me tell you, breakfast porridge wakes you up a lot more quickly when it's been dosed with fresh grated ginger, dried powdered ginger, and candied ginger.

At home, I mostly use fresh ginger. With a ginger grater (or even a fine cheese grater) it's as easy to use as the dried or preserved kind, and I prefer the flavor. I tend to be pretty generous with it — occasionally more than my guests would like, but at least I come by it honestly. Still, I occasionally find myself with unused stumps that sit around long enough to sprout.

This time I decided to plant them. Sure, ginger is readily available at all grocery stores and has a pretty good shelf life. On the other hand, now that I know how much better homegrown potatoes are than store-bought, I'm curious to see how fresh-picked ginger root compares to the store-bought version.

Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) root with sprout

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Yes on CA Prop. 37, and Food Policy Action

Yes on CA Prop 37

If you're in California, remember to vote yes on CA Prop 37, which requires that GMO foods be labeled as such. Because no matter where you stand on GMOs in general, consumers should have the right to know what they're buying.

Opponents (lead by Monsanto and DuPont) are putting out a staggering amount of misinformation around this one, so please take a few minutes to review the facts at:

Got similar issues on the ballot in your area? Post them in the comments. 

Food Policy Action

For anyone concerned with food policy in the makes it easy to see where your senators and representatives stand on food policy issues. The site also covers pending bills, rules, and guidance.

Full disclosure: A friend of mine is a scientist working for EWG, whose president sits on the board of directors of Food Policy Action.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How to avoid eating all the halloween candy

Option 1: Put all the candy in a large zip-lock bag and seal it carefully. Put that one in another zip-lock bag, along with several cups of mayonnaise. Ask yourself if that miniature bar of cheap chocolate is worth getting mayonnaise all over your hands and the furniture and everything. If this doesn't work, use live spiders instead of mayo.

Option 2: Put the candy away where you can't see it and make yourself an apple crisp. It's infinitely more delicious than most halloween candy and substantially less unhealthy, even if you eat the entire crisp yourself. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Marigolds for dia de los muertos

Happy halloween! I was hoping my marigolds would put out a big show of blooms for dia de los muertos, but they seem to be mostly done flowering for the year. They did pull off one impressive trick, though:

Marigold flowers and volunteer seedlingsTagetes patula seedling

They made babies. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Search: wasp pancakes

This month's most awesome search keyword is "wasp pancakes."

I get a list of the search keywords that bring people to my blog. Most of them are the sort of thing you'd expect: "tilden park little farm," "root and stem region of pisum sativum," and variations of "dark purple tomatoes varieties." Some of them are a little stranger.

The best part is that Google's ad engine managed to come up with a product they might be interested in:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I grow cilantro

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seeds

People who hate cilantro really hate it. There's a genetic factor* that makes cilantro tastes soapy to some people. Even cilantro-haters have to admit one good thing about it, though: without it, we would have no coriander. Coriander is actually the dried fruit and seed of the cilantro plant (whose latin name is, tellingly, Coriandrum sativum). It's also a key ingredient in many of your favorite Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African dishes, not to mention my amazing garam masala oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

*For geeks: There's a cluster of genes on chromosome 11 that code for olfactory receptors. One of those (OR6A2) has high binding specificity for aldehydes, which means it affects how strongly you smell a category of "smell molecules" that include the ones found in cilantro and soap. Within this cluster of genes is a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) — a spot where a single "letter" of DNA is different from the norm. A typo, if you will. In this case, a typo that seems to make this particular smell receptor extra-sensitive to a soapy smell molecule. For this SNP (rs72921001), people with a "C" instead of a "T" are more likely to taste cilantro as soapy, and more likely to hate cilantro. Full article at

Cilantro / Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) plant

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lemon-thyme-rosemary cake #2

Lemon-thyme-rosemary cake

My last attempt at a lemon-herb cake was a beautiful disaster. (Full details here.) This one was a total success. It may have helped that I started with a different recipe. One without zucchini. Also, this time I remembered to add all of the ingredients before putting the cake into the oven.

You're still out of luck if you're trying to use up extra zucchini. I'll keep working on a zucchini version once they're back in season and I'm desperate for any way to use them up. On the other hand, this one will help you use up that huge bowl of lemons you have lying around — you'll need 8 or 9 of them. (If you don't have a bunch of lemons, remodel your kitchen and get Dwell or Apartment Therapy to come photograph it — stylists always seem to bring large bowls of lemons to the photo shoots).

1/3 cup of lemon zest

Friday, October 19, 2012

Food: An Atlas

Update: the project reached its goal and will be funded and printed! They're now working towards stretch goals increase the print run. 

I pretty much had to sign on as a backer of Food: An Atlas. It combines so many things that I love: food, information graphics, alternative publishing models, local independent organizations ... oh, and the cover and book design are by one of my local independent designer friends (

And come on: it's got a map of America's "Beershed" (the sources of the ingredients that go into beer). Which reminds me: if you're local and homebrewing, let me know — I want to come over and take pictures.
America's Beershed. From Food: An Atlas via Edible Geography

From the project's Kickstarter page:
"Food: An Atlas is a collection of over 60 maps (and growing!) cooperatively-created by the guerrilla cartography community.... Dealing with subjects as varied as global cropland distribution, Los Angeles’s historic agrarian landscape, community supported fisheries in Massachusetts, the redistribution of food surpluses in Italy, and Taco Trucks of East Oakland, its chapters focus on food productionfood distributionfood security and cuisine."
Map section: Urban Agriculture Projects in San Francisco. From Food: An Atlas via

The Kickstarter campaign ends on Tuesday, and the project has almost reached its goal. (For those unfamiliar with Kickstarter: it's a way to crowdsource project funding. Like PBS, you generally get a thank-you at each pledge level, plus the warm fuzzy feeling of making something awesome happen. Unlike PBS, it's all-or-nothing: if the project reaches its funding goal by the deadline it sets, your credit card gets charged at that time; if it doesn't reach the goal, one gets charged.)

A $10 pledge gets you a digital copy of the book (and your location gets added to the collaborators map in the atlas itself); a $25 pledge gets you that plus a copy of the printed book (estimated delivery in December). The money goes to cover the printing costs, and any profit gets donated to a food justice organization. (The collaborators are all donating their time.) Read more about the project on its Kickstarter page:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bee talk this Thursday, Oct 18

Want to learn more about native bees? Professor Gordon Frankie will be giving a talk this Thursday in Berkeley about the relationship between native bees and native flowers, and how to plan a bee-friendly native garden. If you can't make it, visit his group's website and guide to bee-friendly gardening at

The talk is sponsored by the Golden Gate Audubon Society: more details at

Thursday, October 18, 
7 pm refreshments, 7:30 program

at Northbrae Community Church
941 The Alameda (btw Solano and Marin)

Free for GGAS members, $5 for nonmembers. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Apple-plum-ginger-carrot butter

If you have apple trees, you probably have a huge pile of slightly bruised, blemished, or bug-bitten apples sitting on the counter glaring at you right now. You can't store them in your root cellar or whatever, because blemished ones rot right away, and spoil all your good apples at the same time. Your grandma wasn't kidding about that one bad apple ruining the whole bunch, although she was probably referring to your hoodlum friend's juvenile arrest record rather than his tendency to off-gas ethylene.

So what do you do with this huge pile of apples that need to be used up right away? You make applesauce. And apple pies, tarts, cider, juice, and butter. If you have a still, you make applejack; if you have grandchildren, you make apple dolls. For the first few weeks, the cinnamon-clove smell makes you feel all warm and cozy and festive, and then the novelty of living in a house that smells like Pier 1 or Pottery Barn wears off and you're ready for something else. Of course, you still have crates of bruised apples to use up.

Apple-plum-ginger-carrot butter sounds a little crazy, but it's fantastic. Tart plums (or lemon juice) and plenty of fresh ginger give it a spicy zing, rounded out by the carrots' sweet, earthy note. Not convinced? Think of your favorite fresh juice bar blend. That's right: apple-carrot-ginger.