Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fee Fi Fo Fum: scarlet runner beans

Remember Jack? His mom sent him into town to sell the family's cow, and he came home with a couple of magic beans. I'm thinking they were probably scarlet runner beans. I mean, just look at them. Definitely possibly magical.

Also probably magical: the scarlet runner beetle. (I made that up: I don't actually know what they're called.) But they seem to like living on the scarlet runner beans in my friend Becky's backyard, and they are absurdly pretty. I'm tempted to capture them and train them to sit on little girls' heads as accessories. Beetles: the natural, planet-friendly alternative to those wasteful plastic barrettes. Right?

Monday, September 24, 2012

New in the garden

Just FYI: you don't have to wait until spring to plant your garden. (At least, not if you live in this climate.) Right now is a great time to plant cool-weather edibles.

New additions to the garden:

Salad greens 

The back of the western veggie bed is all greens. So far, we've got six kinds of lettuce, two kinds of spinach, assorted spicy micro-greens, m√Ęche, and two new ones: miner's lettuce and glacier lettuce.

The miner's lettuce, tucked back behind the kale, is a CA native with a fondness for some shade and good moisture. Word has it you can still find it growing wild. Apparently, the gold miners ate it to prevent scurvy. I tossed my first harvest with pasta, topped it with garden tomatoes and some fresh ricotta, and am pleased to report that I am still scurvy-free.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I have a hard time letting go of summer. It's easy to be in denial when the weather is so nice. I'm still planting seeds and running around barefoot. The strawberries are bearing nicely, even though it's their first year, and some of the raspberry canes are putting out a small second crop.

Still, Saturday is the autumn equinox, and the garden is gently reminding me that this is okay. There are many lovely things about fall. The blueberry leaves turn pretty colors. I have three little winter squashes to make into ravioli or soup or pies, and the farmers markets and produce stores have dozens more varieties.

Blueberry, unknown variety. Gift from a neighbor. Produced a couple handfuls of tiny but sweet berries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vanilla-Tomato Jam

When I was ten or eleven, I read an article on the state of French cuisine. It began with a description of a dessert being prepared at a high-end Parisian restaurant. Fresh tomatoes were hollowed out, stuffed with a mixture of lemon and orange zest, chopped nuts, and spices, then braised in vanilla-infused caramel for 45 minutes. By cooking the tomatoes in hot caramel, constantly stirring it around the tomatoes without actually touching them, the chef was able to concentrate and intensify their flavor without turning them into tomato sauce.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Name this caterpillar

Remember the litchi tomato? The thorn-covered plant with the shiny red, kiwi-flavored fruits? Despite the spines, some critter has been burrowing through the husk and eating most of the fruits. And while I can blame most destruction on squirrels, slugs, or deer, I was pretty sure this wasn't any of them. Unless they'd learned to use straws. You never know.

Well, I finally caught one of the culprits in action. Picked a lovely ripe fruit, looked inside (always a good idea with pesticide-free gardens) and there he was.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Little Farm

"Auntie Claire! Thursday! Little Farm! Cows! Little Farm! Mooooo!" LMC is one seriously excited 18 month-old. She and her mom are regular visitors to the Little Farm in Tilden Park, bringing lettuce and celery (the only treats allowed) to feed the cows, goats, and other residents.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lemon-zucchini cake failure

This story does not end well. I think you should know that before you become emotionally invested or, even worse, follow my example. After the tasting but before the photo editing I considered whether I should try again, and again if necessary, until I'd produced a reliable cake whose recipe I could share in good conscience. On the other hand, the internet is full of reliable cake recipes. This one was kind of a disaster, but it was a beautiful disaster.

I love dishes that put ingredients into an unusual context and make it work. Olive oil ice cream. Rosemary chocolate. Basil sorbet. Finding myself with another overlarge zucchini on a bright summer day, I thought that instead of our typical chocolate zucchini cake I might try making a zucchini cake with lemon, rosemary, and thyme.

Monday, September 10, 2012

FAQ: Litchi Tomato

What's that plant? and other frequently asked questions

The litchi tomato is neither a litchi nor a tomato, though it is a member of the nightshade family. It is also one extremely hostile plant. The whole thing is covered in thorns: stems, both surfaces of the leaves, and the husks that wrap around the fruit. And these are big, long, extremely sharp thorns that will draw blood, even through your gardening gloves. I speak here from experience.

Why, you ask, would I plant such a thing right smack in the middle of my vegetable garden? Particularly given that it gets to be about five feet tall, with long sprawling thorn-covered branches sticking out everywhere?

Because the plant label said its fruit tasted like cherries, that's why.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lemon bars

If you invite us over and ask us to bring a dessert, chances are we'll show up with a pan of lemon bars — my husband's specialty. He's still searching for the perfect recipe, so each batch is a little different. Sometimes the custard is a little more creamy, sometimes a little firmer, but they're always knock-you-on-your-ass lemony, laced with plenty of zest, and just enough sugar to perfectly balance the tartness.

Conveniently, we have our own lemon tree in the back yard. I think it's a Meyer lemon, but more important than its variety is its fecundity. We never, ever run out of lemons. This is good, because the current version uses about a dozen lemons.

Recipe and more photos after the jump.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First watermelons!

Not too many people grow melons around here. It's not quite as warm as most melons like it, so you may be giving up a big chunk of garden real estate for nothing. On the other hand, you may get lucky. I planted a half-dozen seeds in the west bed of the garden back in spring, and now our little watermelon patch has a handful of tiny melons tucked away under the leaves, plus two about as big as my hand.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Roasted veggies

Some time back, I bookmarked a lovely-looking recipe for lemon-braised chicken with white beans and mint pesto. I was planning to make the dish last night, having finally remembered to pick up white beans.

This was before I discovered that one of the big heirloom tomatoes on the countertop had quietly gone bad overnight, and the other needed to be used immediately. The squash bed, thanks to improved watering and some compost, had several speckled zucchini that were getting to indecent sizes. There were portobello mushrooms in the vegetable bin that needed eating. And somewhat more than half a loaf of Acme Pain au Levain was about to cross over from slightly stale to rock-hard.

Also, I'd forgotten to pick up any chicken.