Monday, February 25, 2013

Announcement! New name, new URL is moving to...

Every time I say "," people ask, "You keep bees?" And I don't. While I do welcome and encourage bees of all kinds in my garden, that's not really what the blog is about. It is about gardening and food culture, and the edible plants that I grow and the dishes that I make with them. So... has moved to

plant: (noun) A living organism of the kingdom Plantae; an herb, seedling, or other small vegetable growth. (verb) To place (a seed, bulb, or plant) in the ground so that it can grow. 

plate: (noun) A flat dish, typically circular, from which food is eaten or served. (verb) To serve or arrange (food) on a plate or plates before a meal.

Continue reading at

Thursday, February 21, 2013

FAQ: Where should I put my garden?

My garden covers the entire front and street-facing side yard of our corner lot, plus a little more of the back yard with each season. For those of you with actual restraint, deciding where to put your garden is mainly a matter of sunshine, followed by safety and convenience.

Maximum sunshine

Ideally, you want 6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day. If you have a lot of southern exposure, you're probably fine. If your tiny backyard is surrounded by buildings and fences and trees, this may be tough to find.

Remember that shadows move around, so a spot that's sunny in the morning may be in deep shade a few hours later. Likewise, areas that are shady now, when the sun is still fairly low in the south, might be sunny in summer, when it's more directly overhead.

It may help to look through photos you took last summer, and check the time-stamp. Or pick a day when you're around the house, and snap a digital photo of your yard every hour or two.

Tip: Raised beds can go anywhere, even over concrete. So if your back yard doesn't get enough sun, consider putting a small raised bed in your driveway or front yard.

Monday, February 18, 2013

BASIL Seed Swap

Friday night was the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library's 14th annual seed swap and potluck. While I did not win any raffle prizes, alas — I was especially hoping for the potted Cascade hops, though Oak Barrel has promised to call me when their rhizomes arrive — I did arrive home with a full belly and a bunch of new kinds of seeds to try.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Scientist's Valentine

It's Valentine's day, and you haven't planned anything. And — just so we're clear — this is not one of those foolproof last-minute Valentine's Day desserts that will distract your special someone from your failure to produce flowers / dinner reservations / bling on the day scheduled by the greeting card industry. 

But you know what? Anyone can make reservations and buy flowers. But can just anyone waltz into the kitchen and whip up a rich, creamy, decadent chocolate mousse? Can they do it using only chocolate and hot water? 

No, they can't.

Apparently, neither can I.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Garden update: Feb 11

The radishes have sprouted! Granted, this happens every year, five to ten days after I plant the radish seeds, but it still delights me.

It took this batch nine days, which is longer than I expected, but it is only February and the weather's been on the cool side. (In this area, that means mid-fifties daytime, forties nighttime). By the time you get around to planting yours, it will probably be warmer, and you'll have radishes popping up in a mere four or five days.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Event: White Labs tasting at SF Beer Week

Heads up, locals: Remember last month, when I wrote about our beer-tasting experience at White Labs? Well, they're having a similar tasting in San Francisco for SF Beer Week.

The tasting is tomorrow, Saturday, February 9th, at 3 pm.

It’s Alive!!: Sipping Session with White Labs, Kara Taylor, Analytical Laboratory Specialist

February 9 3:00pm – 5:00pm
City Beer Store
1168 Folsom Street, San Francisco

San Diego's White Labs, a leader in yeast production for the worldwide brewing community, brewed a hefeweizen specifically for this educational tasting session. The same recipe was brewed four times, each time using a different yeast strain.

The featured yeasts are: WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale Yeast, WLP320 American Hefeweizen Ale Yeast, WLP380 Hefeweizen IV Ale Yeast, and WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale Yeast.

Kara will be barside to break down the characteristics of each yeast strain; explaining the harmony between science + art, and how it applies to brewing.

Pencils and papers ready to go at 3pm.


Other SF Beer Week events:

(I'm not affiliated with White Labs, City Beer Store, or SF Beer Week; I just think they're pretty cool.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chicken stock

I have a confession to make: I mostly use chicken stock from a box. I buy the organic free range kind, and it's okay, but it's not great. Fine for deglazing a pan, or using as the base of a busy soup, but not something you want to sip hot with just a few slivers of green onion and a slice of ginger. 

There aren't many things I miss about working in restaurant kitchens, but chicken stock is one of them. The walk-in always had huge covered buckets of rich, delicious stock, made by someone who wasn't me. They got to deal with roasting pans full of bones and mirepoix, lifting the huge stockpots, simmering, skimming, straining, and reducing gallons of the stuff. I got an unlimited supply of intensely flavorful stock.

Monday, February 4, 2013

What's planting now?

Can you guess what kind of seeds those are? Here are a few hints:

  1. You can eat the leaves, stems, and roots. 
  2. People used to call them "Blood Turnips." 
  3. Some varieties can be used to make sugar, as an alternative to sugar cane.
  4. I grow them every year.
Think you know?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Millet risotto with butternut squash and purple cauliflower

Last week I found a bulk bag of millet tucked into the corner of the freezer, where it had escaped notice after the Terrible Pantry Moth Infestation of '12, when all new grain products were quarantined in cold storage.

I'd scrawled "1:2.5 / 25" on the twist-tie — the notation I use for bulk-bin grains to indicate the ratio of grain to water (1 cup grain to 2 1/2 cups water) and cooking time (25 minutes). I've never made millet before, so I don't know if my numbers were wrong or if the prolonged freezing did something to the grain or what, but instead of cooking up fluffy and nutty and delicious, it came out kind of gummy. 

Unfortunately, I'd made a lot of it. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Local Event: Seed Swap @ Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) on Feb 15

Painted Mountain Corn (Zea mays) at the seed swap

I went to the seed swap at the Berkeley Ecology Center last year, and it was a blast. Potluck, meeting other local gardeners and urban farmers, and a whole room full of free open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, many for varieties I'd never heard of.

Some of the seeds came from local seed libraries, while others were commercially grown packets that people hadn't gotten around to using, or didn't use up. This is one of my favorite things about both seed swaps and seed libraries. In a little urban garden, a packet of 30 seeds is often too many. You don't have room for thirty tomato plants, and certainly don't want that many of the same variety (unless you want your entire summer's harvest to ripen the same week).  

Seed swaps and seed libraries let you take home just the seeds you need. Signs at the swap suggested 2-3 seeds for each plant you want, to allow for some not sprouting. This means you can easily try a lot of different varieties, without buying and wasting 90% of the seeds in each packet. After last year's seed swap, I grew four kinds of cucumbers, eight kinds of tomatoes, six kinds of peppers, and so on. It turns out that some of the results weren't quite what I'd hoped for, but that's okay: I had plenty of other ones to choose from.

(Sorry about the quality of the photos; I took them with my phone.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Beer tasting at the yeast factory

Some time back, my husband expressed an interest in homebrewing. A bit later, I saw an infographic of America's beershed in Food, An Atlas, and learned that most of the world's brewer's yeast comes from just a handful of labs, one of which is located in San Diego, CA. And shortly after that, we happened to make a trip to San Diego to visit some family. Obviously, a visit to White Labs was in order. 

If you're a home brewer (or just a beer geek), White Labs is absolutely worth visiting the next time you're in the San Diego area. Don't expect a Willy Wonka experience — there's no dipping into the vats or licking the equipment. The tour gets a peek at the production area, but no entrance to the sterile labs, where yeast strains are isolated, banked, revived, and grown to supply the world's breweries, wineries, distilleries, and hobbyists. 

But there is a tasting room. And it will change the way you think about yeast.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Growing my own potatoes, year 2

A friend recently mentioned that he was growing potatoes. I got very excited and asked if he was growing them in towers, potato bags, raised beds, or hill-and-mulch. 

He looked at my blankly for a moment, then explained: "Whenever a potato starts growing, we throw it in the side yard. They're growing."

"Cal White" seed potato

Thursday, January 17, 2013

MLK Day Volunteer Events with Urban Tilth

This Monday, people all over the country will be volunteering in their communities as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service. You can find local volunteer opportunities at:

If you're local and want to spend a few hours working for food justice and sustainability (or just enjoy gardening, music, art, and community), consider joining Urban Tilth and a few hundred volunteers at the Richmond Greenway to plant fruit trees, build a market stand, plant spring gardens, rebuild a medicinal garden, and more.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Garden planning: Test your soil for lead

Spring is on its way, and you've decided that this is the year you're going to plant a vegetable garden. You've even picked out a nice sunny spot in the yard. But before you start digging up your lawn, there's something very important you need to do:

Test your garden soil for lead.

Lead contamination in backyard soil is common, and lead is toxic. Even at low doses, it can cause brain damage, nerve disorders, muscle pain, reproductive problems, and other serious health issues — especially for babies and children, whose nervous systems are still developing. 

It can take a few weeks to get the results back, so if you do the tests now, you'll have the results in plenty of time to fix the soil and plant your garden. (If you live somewhere with "real" winter, feel free to wait until the ground thaws first.) 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Produce aisle tantrum

Cherry tomatoes from my garden

In the grocery store this evening, I saw a toddler in a cart, preparing to throw a tantrum. But the object of her ardent desire was not the usual sugary cereal or candy bar.

"I WANT those little tomatoes!" she told her dad (and everyone else in the vicinity), pointing at a basket of cherry tomatoes. 

It warmed my heart to no end, seeing a small child get that wound up — in a positive way, that is — about produce. And not seedless grapes or strawberries or melon, but tomatoes. When I was a kid, I hated tomatoes. Hated. Of course, I was an especially picky child, and also hated avocados, pesto, persimmons, and all sorts of things I now know to be wonderful. (I was very fond of lima beans, though. Go figure.) 

But still. How many kids are that excited about produce? How many fruits and vegetables can inspire that kind of passion? And most importantly, how do you get kids (and grownups, for that matter) to crave fruits and vegetables the way they crave candy and chips and soda?

Mandarin oranges, clementines, or tangerinesThe folks behind those ubiquitous boxes of diminutive mandarin oranges, tangerines, and clementines have certainly done a good job. Their little citruses are delicious, seedless, easy to peel, and just the right size for little hands. Plus, they've got a marketing budget to help make that point, with commercials and magazine ads. 

The packaging is brilliant, too. Putting them in 5-lb. boxes means eye-catching displays, and helps you ignore the fact that you probably wouldn't buy them five pounds at a time if they were sold individually. And once you've got them home, the fact that you have five pounds of them makes it easy to eat two or five or ten at a time.

I'm not suggesting that all produce should be branded and marketed this way. I'm not looking to raise costs for the growers or consumers. And I certainly don't want to bring more problems into a market where perfectly good produce is left to rot because it doesn't meet a distributor's specifications for size, shape, and color.

I would, however, dearly love to find an advertising network that would enable me to support this blog with well-designed, tested, and optimized advertisements for whole grains, in-season produce, and your local farmers market. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Quick & Easy Honey-Oat Bread with Sage Butter (but without the spent grains from the honey-sage beer you just brewed)

Hot loaf of quick and easy honey-oat bread

This is the fastest, easiest bread I have ever made. Seriously, it might be easier to make it by hand than it is to dig your bread machine out from the back of the cabinet. One bowl, one spoon, zero kneading.

Best of all, it's a yeast bread that goes from start to finish in a little over an hour (assuming you're not stopping to take photographs of every step). The trade-off is that it is a little heavier than your traditional loaf. I'm guessing it might not be great for sandwiches, but it is fantastic for eating half the loaf while it's still hot out of the oven. Correction: we ate 3/4 of the loaf while it was hot, but what was left the next day was excellent for sandwiches. 

Honey-oat bread with sage butter
Butter infused with flecks of fresh sage

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's diet resolution? You have fun with that.

Perpetual spinach (Beta vulgaris var cicla) and a summer peach
Perpetual spinach (Beta vulgaris var cicla) gets sautéed with arugula-lamb sausages and a summer peach

I have a confession. That thing I said about pie being less fattening if you plan a garden while eating it? Not actually true. 

So if you followed my example and ate the equivalent of an entire pecan pie over the course of the holidays, not to mention several pounds of cookies, cakes, bagels with cream cheese and lox, champagne, candy, more champagne, and several pounds of latkes, you may be feeling a little sick of rich food right now. I certainly am. 

And also possibly a few pounds heavier than before the holiday season. 

Miner's lettuce with pappardelle, cherry tomatoes, and fresh ricotta cheese
Miner's lettuce with pappardelle, cherry tomatoes, and fresh ricotta cheese

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The top posts of 2012

Happy new year! It's January second, and many of you are heading back into work despite not having quite recovered from the holidays. Fortunately, it's a short week. If it makes you feel better, I spent the afternoon shoveling rabbit poop and soggy compost.

I did take a minute to check the blog stats for 2012 (readers in 47 countries, not bad for a 6 month-old blog) and thought I'd share the most popular posts from 2012. It looks like I should post updates on the ficoide glaciale and the cape gooseberry plants; both are doing splendidly. Although looking at the search engine reports, if I really want to target the most popular search terms, I need to do more posts on "big melons."

The most popular posts of 2012:

FAQ: Ficoide glaciale    

Glacier lettuce (ficoide glaciale)

FAQ: Cape gooseberry    

Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana)

Garam masala oatmeal chocolate chip cookies    

Garam masala oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

What to do with that leftover pumpkin puree    

Kabocha squash soup, Kabocha squash empanadas

Tuna salad, with chickpeas instead of tuna    

Tuna salad with chickpeas instead of tuna

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

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

Fee Fi Fo Fum: scarlet runner beans    

Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus)

Lemon-thyme-rosemary cake #2

Lemon-thyme-rosemary cake