Thursday, May 24, 2012

Strawberries and Red Wine

Last weekend I joined chef Niki in the Lucas Arts Center kitchen at Montalvo to help with a literary luncheon featuring authors Alice LaPlante and Jessica Theroux. The menu was based on Jessica's book, Cooking With Italian Grandmothers which chronicles her adventurous year in Italy doing just that.
Its a pleasure for me to schmooze with creative accomplished cooks whose enthusiasm for preparing fresh food matches my enthusiasm for growing it. I'll gladly be any good cook's bitch, give me garlic to peel, herbs to chop, salad to wash, sauces to stir, pots and pans to scrub. By working hands on, their skills rub off  and my culinary repertoire expands.
This particular day I was given the splendid task of prepping strawberries for dessert. Easy as pie, easier really, just sort, cut, sprinkle with sugar, and soak in a proper red wine. As we prepared the rest of the luncheon my job was to stir the strawberries every 10-15 minutes,which required a trip to the laundry room fridge and tasting at the insistence of the Task Master. After a few hours the berries turn deep crimson and sweetly take on the wine notes. By show time, tastefully served in chilled bistro glasses and dolloped with whipped cream, they were a revelation.
So enthused by the simplicity of this deliciousness I tried it at home that very evening. Distracted, I poured in too much wine, finished the bottle, and left my strawberries soaking all night. The next day they looked like beets but tasted soooooo yummy tho a tad over developed. Besotted actually.
Now a strawberry infused red wine is a terrible thing to waste. What to do with all that extra liquid?  I was about to pour it off and save it for wine coolers when my mad skills sweetie, in the middle of making loquat ice cream and grilling lamb chops, claimed it for a reduction sauce. It was brilliant as it laid down with the lamb.

Jessica's Theroux's Italian Grandmother's Wine-soaked Strawberries
Cut 4 cups ripe organic strawberries into halves or quarters; leave small ones whole. Place berries in a large bowl; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Pour 1 cup red wine over them. Toss gently. Serve immediately or let berries soak a few hours in the refrigerator to allow flavors to develop. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Garden Yoga

Funny I hadn't mentioned yoga in this blog before, the essential silent partner of the gardener and the cook, fundamental to the Holy Trinity of body, mind, and spirit. Too esoteric for a food blog or is my catholic girlhood rearing its head again?

No need preaching to the choir about the benefits of growing your own organic food and living la vida yoga. What’s not to love about health and eating well? Yoga practice nourishes and shapes the mountain goat agility I need to maneuver around the terraced obstacle course of my mountain garden/construction zone. Even in comfortable shoes (the secret to a happy life) it takes the flexibility and balance of a yogi to circumvent exposed gutter tubes, abandoned cables, hoses, loose gravel, shaky ground, gopher holes, random tools, and debris left by the construction crew. Often while standing one legged on the edge of a 5 foot retaining wall I'll slip into Virabhadransana, Warrior 3 pose, then ease into drishti, a gazing technique to improve concentration. Reaching for that bean on the highest part of the vine I inhale into yoga mind, exhale, and go deeper into the stretch. Core strength for double digging? Yoga delivers.

I twisted my ankle recently, no bloody drama, just getting up from my desk, a simple accident in the home. Such an irony considering all the precarious places my moccasins walk. "It’s So Easy To Slip," (thank you for that song Bob Weir) you eat healthy, exercise, maintain the right attitudes and then stumble upon your own self. It is only a foot after all, plenty more functional body parts in this package, but the injury has left me practicing yoga and gardening in a gimpy format. Aside from the vanity plummet of poor form, hobbling about has heightened my awareness of the body, mind, spirit connection, recalling once again that the Mindfulness of yoga is what brings it all home. 

In or out of the garden, always changing, always the same;

Let go of what was going on before.
Let go of what will be going on later.
Be in this present moment,
 and BREATH...
as if your life depended on it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Garden State of Mind

In the garden getting down, or in the kitchen cooking up.

Catch of the Day

Monday, May 14, 2012

Enchantment in the Berkeley Hills

Every year my sweetie's family gathers in the Berkeley Hills to celebrate Mothers' Day. Our hosts are art collectors who's tastes spill into every facet of entertaining. Mothers and children are treated to a magical banquet for all the senses. BBQ ribs, deviled eggs, Chinese noodles and Voss Garden salad are the traditional fare. But for me, the garden is the feast that leaves me charmed and inspired, affirming  once again that you can't take the gardener out of the garden.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Bean Poles

Here's the skinny on beans.  I plant them in cages made from wire fencing, 9 feet high, 2 feet in diameter, secured with bamboo poles. The 5" grid leaves plenty of room for harvesting hands. Since my territory is terraced I'm always looking for the best use of vertical space. The upwardly mobile bean plants cling to the cage, allowing the vines to rise up and yield beaucoup returns on a limited share of garden real estate. Lightweight, a breeze for the lone gardener to move, they can be reused year after year. Perching on the wires, the caged birds sing, and I know why.  Cages are fabulous support networks for tomatoes, peas, or placed sideways for cucumbers and brassicas.
In a pinch of desperation I've jerry rigged a few into some no nonsense booby traps for deer.

Note to self: Be careful not to fall into them...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Romancing the Calla

May I wax poetic in May?

My affections lean to the Calla Lilly. Callas are the most elegant of flowers because they keep it simple. Their curvaceous clean lines beckon the beauty from the beholder.
They used to grow like weeds here, popping up in sporatic places and never blooming, quite annoying to the anal gardener. I grouped the strays according to my "like things together" philosophy. Clumping in general makes for stronger plants and visual statements, like being surrounded by family. Now Calla clans flourish in prominent places, lifting their trumpet like forms to play heavenly eye music.  

May I indulge? May I revel in memoirs?
A Midwestern girl, I'd never seen a Calla until my early 20's, when I left the USA  in a fit of "love it or leave it." Casting fate to the wind, the vision quest landed in Bolivia. My husband and I found dwelling in an abandoned brick factory at the end of the bus line on the lower outskirts of La Paz, a city at 12,000 feet. Settling into our new home in the Valley of the Moon, we paid $5 a month rent to our landlady, Frau Lilly, a German widow of questionable emigration status. (Was she or was she not an ex Nazi?) She dutifully ran a tight little garden, the remnants of a land reformed dairy farm. Calla Lilies bloomed prolifically outside her uber tidy house, while abundant bouquets charmed the inside.Young and impressionable, my first up close and personal with a Calla in Frau Lilly's living room left me breathless. Their graceful form seemed supernatural. Perhaps it was the altitude.

The local Indians, taking advantage of the warmer temperatures and flat terrain of the valley, farmed long rows of Calla Lilies to sell at market. They'd set up makeshift plastic booths at the bus stop and hawk Callas and ham sandwiches. We nicknamed the display "The Valley of the Ham Sandwiches." Vegetarians at the time, we never tasted their wares, but would load up on Callas just to hang out with the Cholitas as they watched the Beverly Hillbillies dubbed in Spanish on 4" black and white TV's, proudly wearing their derby hats and multiple petticoats... hmm, long term memory seems to be in check.

Meanwhile, its planting season and the lovely Calla has been gilded long enough.
Now where did I put that trowel?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kiss Me, I'm Iris

Oh the Merry Month of May

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Tuesday, May 1
too much commotion to be outside much, Daryll weed eating, wood chipper down below
soak corn overnight
Wednesday, May 2
plant corn in 4" pots, 8-9 per pot, cover on deck
transplant orach from Gabe Bed to Long Bed, make way for new retaining wall
cage peas in Bed 2 and Sam Bed, peas are stirring
beans and cukes are up, germinating on deck, no cover
harvest last of spinach in Sam Bed
Thursday, May 3
take out flowering kale, Edge 1 and Scotty Beds, save seed
plant out cilantro from 6 packs, Edge 1
plant out kolrabi from 6 packs, Scotty Bed, gallon pots
plant out parsley from 6 packs, top between lettuce
thin lettuce, Bed 5, plant out on top
weed carrots and assorted flower beds
cover eggplant on deck, no germination yet
Monday, May 7
take out white radishes in Gabe Bed
harvest for chef in evening. little gems, purple cauliflower, etc.
Daryll plant potatoes in little farm
Tuesday, May 8
very hot, 80's
get gopher in favas! Edge 2
finish harvest for chef, snip spring mix
transplant orach out of Gabe Bed into Long Bed
transplant russian kale out of Gabe Bed into Cherry Bed
plant out bronze fennel on top, new bed by faucet
plant out borage, Border bed on top
Wednesday, May 9
amend Bed 5, plant out celery from 6 packs
pot up 6 packs of impatiens and snap dragons
Thursday, May 10
plant out tuscan kale top of Bed 5 and fill in
seed plant dill, top of Edge 2
start to amend Beds 2,3,4 for beans in back, pull out cages
pot up watercress, pumpkins, 2 kinds of cukes
arrange flower pots on decks, start new succulents
plant out cosmos in asparagus pots
Friday, May 11
plant out beans in cages, Beds 2,3,4
yellow, purple, blue lake, haricouverts
Daryll planting sunchokes and sunflowers down below
" landscaping front entrance to barn
start 2 six packs parsley
direct seed chervil in Long Bed, cover
Monday, May 14
harvest for chef, take out all remaining little gems, spinach, chard, thin arugula
Daryll plants 12 tomatoes in Gabe Bed
Tuesday, May 15
build starting bed next to dutch door of New Room
plant 4 kinds of sunflowers, direct home seed, cover
Wednesday, May 16
transplant potted Blood Sorrel into Top Bed, clean up top garden
harvest Tuscan Kale seed, turn and amend Edge 2
plant out Romanesco Zucchini, Edge 2
connect irrigation drip hoses to each other (Daryll's suggestion), Edge 2
clean up bedroom deck, trim ivy etc. cut back blue violas, put in New Room
Thursday, May 17
thin rustic arugula in Long Bed, transplant into Cherry Bed
transplant shiso into Cherry Bed and Long Bed
rework irrigation,transplant amaranth, shaker seed 2 lettuce mixes and cover, Edge 2
set up cages for favas in Willow Bed, plan more beans here
Friday, May 18
foot still hurts, cramping my style
prep willow bed for butternut squash, going to direct seed
harvest onion seed from willow bed, a pleasant surprise, I just liked the flowers
harvest curly green kale seed from Sam bed, take down aphid infested seed plants
Thursday, May 24
bad gopher gets a tomato in Gabe Bed, setting traps
turn and amend: Sam, Scott and Willow Beds, mess with irrigation, its a mess
harvest red kale seed
plant out red sunflowers, nasturtiums

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Late Bloomers

I'm a firm believer in late bloomers because they're just like me.
They get planted with their group and lag behind, never making the big harvest. The rest of the class graduates and moves on, but they remain, leafy and fruitless, waiting for a nudge.
They occupy prime garden real estate yet I refuse to pull them, rather wishing to give them a shot. Speaking in plant whisperer-ese I offer encouraging words, "Never give up my pretty," or "I think I can, I think I can ... " Struggling, propped up with bamboo stakes, they fight off late frosts, schizophrenic weather patterns, a wider range of pests, and inferiority complexes.
"Fear not!" I say after each bout, then sing them a few bars of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" and do the Kelly Clarkson dance.  Faithfully, they hang in there.

Lo and behold, one day, scarred and weathered, they bear fruit and tasting better than all the rest.
Just like me.
Happy May Day!