Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fruit Trees budding!

It's just a cherry tree, agreed.  Both my cherries were said to have died.  We did a lot of landscaping, and it was particularly close to the cherries.  It was a repeat of the original landscaping in the backyard.  We had a mature cherry, exactly where this one is, and it died.  My gardener said cherries have particularly sensitive roots.  So, he was our casualty.  We replanted 2 more last year, apparently they need each other to pollinate.   Anyways, we did a bunch more terracing work, and the cherries looked like they died.  All the leaves fell off prematurely.  I had the landscaper look at them, and my gardener.  They both said the top one was dead, and the lower one might make it, but could be dead too.  So, it's Spring, and everything started blooming.  Then, I noticed the lower one had some life, and started blooming.  A week or two later, and boom, the upper one starts showing life.  It's so exciting to see him bloom, his demise was greatly exaggerated, to coin a phrase.  :-)

Up front is the Bada Bing cherry, and below is the apricot.  This cherry was said to have a chance.  He bloomed first, and that in itself was great to see.  Below that, the apricot is growing exceptionally fast.  Last year, it's first season, it produced about a dozen apricots, incredibly delicious.  This year it's so much bigger already.  Almost like a vine in the way it grows.  I am doing a little espalier to it.

Here's the pear, on the other side of the yard.  His second year.  He didn't produce fruit last year, but sure looks like he might this time.  Notice the concrete bench.  Still, work to finish around the garden.
That's the Pink Lady apple, with the Meyer lemon in the background.  Yes, this is the one I added, even after having already purchased 3 other apples.  I didn't want to regret not having it.  I've been getting these from our CSA, and they are incredibly delicious.

This is the 'lower' garden.  I just added this terrace.  So far, there's lots of grass and weeds growing down there, but the soil is awesome, and easy to pull the weeds.  We planted closest is the fig, then peach, then nectarine, then plum and 2 apples.  :-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Apple, Fig, Peach and Nectarine trees

'Bare Root' Fruit Trees
Here's a sneak peek of our new fruit trees.  Lots of people ask me, do you have a lot of space?  No, I don't.  So, what am I doing with 6 new trees.  Well, guess what?  I've already got 5 fruit trees.  Meyer lemon, produces like crazy, twice a year.  It's not only dwarf, but a bush.  You can barely see it behind the table in the back of the picture.  There's another one way in the back there too.  Just to the left of the concrete.  It's a pear.  Along with those 2, there are 2 more cherries up top, along with a apricot, and down below, a plum.  At least 3 of the new ones will go down below.

So what's new?
Apples:  Gravenstien , Fuji, Dorsett
Peach, Nectarine, Fig

What can I tell you about them?
- Arctic Star White Nectarine  Earliest to ripen.   Rave reviews in trial tastings.  Ripens mid June.  Low winter chilling requirement, about 300 hours.  Self-fruitful.

- White Genoa Fig  Old variety, a favorite in cool coastal areas.  Also excellent inland.  Prune to any shape.  100 hours, Self-fruitful.  Greenish yellow skin, amber flesh, distinctive flavor.

- Fuji - From Japan, California's favorite.  Ripe mid September.  Excellent pollenizer for other apples.  Less than 500 hours chilling requirement.

- Bonita Peach - An excellent peach which bears well in milder and coastal climates.
Medium to large, Elberta type peach. Red blushed skin. Yellow flesh, fine flavor. Freestone.
Ripens: Late July. Requires 250 hours of chilling below 45ยบ F.

- Gravenstein Apple - Large fruit.  Skin bright green with red striped skin. Crisp and juicy. Keeps well, good for shipping.  A cooking and eating apple.  Needs pollination with any self-fertile variety such as Jonathan, Red or Yellow Delicious. Requires 700 hours chilling below 45degF.

- Dorsett Golden Apple Medium to large. Yellow skin with orange-red blush. Firm, smooth, crisp flesh with sweet-tart flavor.  Does well in mild winter areas.  Good pollinizer for the Anna. Requires 250 hours of chill below 45EF. Ripens: Mid-June to Early July.

Jib Jab
A few things to keep in mind when you get fruit trees.  I went to Half Moon Bay Nurseries.  They are huge.  Awesome product, and selection.  Great help.  Very knowledgeable.  Maybe a bit expensive.

- How to pick a Nursery
Big selection, knowledgeable, helpful staff.  HMB Nursery passes bigtime in both categories.

- How to pick a tree
First, what do you want?  Where do you put it?  What conditions does it like?  The good news is, pretty much everything they sell is specific to the area.  They don't sell it if it doesn't grow well here.  Having said that, I still wanted to ask.  HMB climate is significantly different than mine, for example.  That said, here's the next consideration.  When does it fruit?

I tried to pick varieties where I would fill up the summer and fall with fruit.  Not sure how well I did.  I know I have summer and fall harvest, so we will see.

How much do they fruit?
I wanted a lot.  I think most of those I purchased meet that requirement, but not 100% sure.  I also wanted super tasty fruit, more than anything.  Again, I think I have that.  I wonder a tiny bit about the fig.  He's a green one.  I am sure he will be good.

Dwarf or not?
I asked the guy we were working with.  He sounded like he had about 100 trees at his farm.  Basically, he said, you can trim any of them to be any size you want.  Nuf said.  He explained, I would need about a 4-5 foot radius on each trunk for space.  Okay, not too bad!  He also said he tops all his trees, so he can pick without a ladder.  So, dwarf is nice, but not necessary if you don't mind trimming.

How to pick from the stock?
He picked for us.  Essentially he looked for something, I forget the name, but, you want a tree with branches evenly distributed radially, in particular, every 120 degrees.  They will fill out best.

What about planting?
Dig a hole twice the size of the tree container.  Fill with good dirt, and the container dirt.  Water and firm up in soil.  Trim extra branches.  He suggested a bunch get cut.  I know, first thought is don't.  I am going to try it though.

Watering?  Trimming?
Do not water for a month after the initial water.  He said why, I forget.  After that, once a month is best.  Less after a year or two.  They may grow without, but water will help.  Trim in winter.  Now, Feb/March is a good time to do it.  Cut off extra branches.  Keep to the 120 degrees.

Cutting instructions
cutting instructions
cutting instructions

Ellie and fruit trees

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eating With the Seasons CSA, Bare root fruit trees, meyer lemon marmalade

Eating with the Seasons CSA 'small' selection (plus one extra)
Eating with the Seasons is my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  It's really an awesome experience.   We are on a 'regular' small plan now.  That means we just finished a 'trial' period.  Both the trial and our regular plan are a 4 week thing.  To be honest, I am not 100% sure of the logistical difference.  The concept is, sign up for 4 weeks to see if it works for you.  Once you decide, you can sign up for on-going 'regular' service once a week.  So, maybe I will review our trial period in an addendum post.  In a nutshell, let me summarize:

Trial Period, Eating with the Seasons CSA results:
- every single item we ordered was delicious.  I don't mean good.  I mean exceptionally delicious.  In some cases, the best I've ever had (see Pink Lady apples in the picture above).  In many cases, we continued to get the same thing the following weeks, and it was consistently stellar.
- EWTS people are just as good as the produce.  Exceptional.  Super nice demeanor, helpful, and just someone you are glad to know.
- All in all, a great addition to our week.

Our first regular order
You can chose either extra small, small, medium or large orders.  We switched from large (12 items) to small (6 items).  The last order we received, it was a bit of effort to use everything up, and, as it turns out, there is not much downside to having a small, and individually adding to it, by order, so that's what we did.  The first order for 6, we added one extra item, which was an additional $2.75 beyond the weekly rate, which may be $15.00-16.00  or so, for 6 items.

Here's our order and confirmation email so you can see how it works:

We have received your order. Thank you.
Below is a summary of the contents of your order.

1 Kiwi (1.0 lbs)
1 Fennel (1.0 loose)
1 Dandelion Greens (1.0 bunch)
1 Pink Lady Apples (4.0 loose)
1 Minneola Tangerines (4.0 loose)
1 Parsnips (1.0 lbs)
1 Dill (1.0 bunch)

Amount charged: 2.75
Date of delivery: Mar 11, 2011
Pick-up location: San Carlos

Thank you
Eat With The Seasons

Tips and Tricks of our CSA
So, using a CSA took a little adjustment.  The good news is, it didn't take long, and, it just makes life better.  It's like exercise.  After you've done it, you're happy you did it.  A few tips we wondered about, and learned:
- You have lots of choice.  Yes, you sign up to have a weekly delivery, and you have a very large number of choices of fruits and vegetables each week, so we never ran into a situation where we were wishing our order quantity was less than it was.
- Second, our CSA people are flexible when it comes to delivery locations.  Even within the week, I made adjustments, and felt like it wasn't an undue burden on my CSA peeps.
- Third, everything we ordered was delicious.  
- Finally, pick up is at a house on the front porch.  Very convenient.  Just drop by during your time, and find your name on your bag, and pick it up.  Our pick up was in our town, and handy.

Jib Jab
First, and maybe foremost, a CSA is not a grocery store.  It's not a Trader Joe's, or a Whole Foods, and of course, it's not a Safeway.  I am learning to avoid the comparisons.   Our CSA has nothing to do with commodity price comparisons.  If you are looking for something 'cheaper' than Safeway, or cheaper than whatever,  you are not going to be happy.

Shopping takes on a new meaning.  For example, you have to order and pickup.  I have heard of other CSAs who deliver to your door.  Sounds super convenient, and truthfully, expense for someone, likely everyone.  Farmer and otherwise, let alone mother earth.  Our CSA touts, it's a way of life.  As a marketeer, I read that as if it's marketing spin.  As it turns out, it's not.

You've heard the age old bumper sticker, Think Globally, Act Locally.  Yes, now you are talking CSA.  Now you've hit the center of the bull's eye.  A CSA is a way of life.  It sounds overly dramatic, and it is.  Although, speaking for myself, it's those itty bitty, teeny, tiny decisions that make the most significant difference.  I see you cracking a smile.  It's true for you too, right?!  So, yes, a CSA addresses all those things you've heard about in Omnivore's Dilemma, Super-size me, Food Inc., Slow Food movement.  all those books and movies talking about how corporations are 'helping' us with 'easier' meals, 'faster' meals, and so on.  The bottom line is, they aren't after making our lives better, their focus is on making money for a corporation.  Yes, capitalism is good.  No, it shouldn't be our society's singular or primary measure of success.  Wow.  That didn't take long for me to get on my soapbox.  Suffice it to say, the CSA is about a sustainable future.

It's about getting closer to what we eat.  It's about supporting an environment and community.  It sure sounds like the 70's all over again.  Peace, Love and patchouli oil.   It is, and it isn't.  I think there are those farmers and ranchers who are committed to a way of life, and then there are the CSA organizers, who bring a sales channel to all of us, in the neighborhood.  Yes, you have to order your food a few days in advance, and pick it up in a specific window of time, so yes, it's less convenient than Safeway.

- It's more expensive.  I'm going to get that out there right away.  Don't do this if you are out to save yourself money in your budget for groceries.  Frankly, I could have said, when you add everything up and look at the total cost, bla bla bla, it saves money.  I am sure plenty would love to have a raging discussion about this.  I think there are valid points about saving money by having quality food, and eating less of it.  I can see saving money and lowering your calorie intake by eating higher quality food, and less emphasis on quantity.

So, is the only reason to do it, to save the planet?  Not to me. Again, it's subtle at first.  It seems like the right thing to do, and I have to think about it a bit to really understand.  What do I mean?  Okay, a little story.  (I am wondering if I am going to get to bare root trees and marmalade in this post...)  the Jib Jab is kicking in...

A little story.
Why did I start with a CSA?  Is was my two daughters.  Both passionate people.  Sarah is more of a doer, and Moira more of a thinker, but both wanted and liked the CSA idea, so we did it.  To be honest, I did it more as a family thing than anything else.

First Order
Moira ordered with me.  It was fun!! You pick what you want, from an extensive list of choices from the CSA.  We had the 'large' order, which means 12 items.  We also had a dozen eggs every other week.  You pick those 12 items from about 30 to chose from.  In our email, they also make suggestions on the weekly picks, what's particularly good to them, and so on.  So, our order is in by Wednesday, and we pick up on Friday, between 3-9pm in San Carlos.  It's a person's front porch.  A bag with our name on it.  It's exciting and fun and you feel like you are a part of something.  Pouring the bag out on the counter is a bit like dumping your halloween bag after trick or treating.  What did I get!?!?!

First Glance
At first glance, I had a twinge of, geez, those are small, and, wow, those aren't very shiny.  In almost the next breath, I realized how the supermarket had conditioned me.  Big is better.  More is better.  Quantity, quantity, quantity.

I have this built-in hypersensitive part of my brain that resists being told what to do, and the alarm was going off.  Big brother national grocery store chains had influenced my decision...  So, I tried a 'small' apple.  It didn't look particularly special.  It was firm, a tiny bit dusty looking, I would call it?  So, I wiped it off, bit into it, and immediately knew I loved my CSA.  The taste is outrageously good.  Such an intense delicious dense flavor of sweet and tart.  Nirvana.

So, we've been doing this for 5 weeks now.  We've had a couple challenges.  We were leaving town the day of delivery for about a week.  What can we do?  Well, my CSA guy was so helpful working with me.  We came up with dropping it to another one of their Thursday locations, which worked out great.  The next challenge was, we forgot to order during our ordering window.  The rule says, you will get the 'default' order.  I thought, oh geez, all the stuff we would prefer not to- potatoes, onions, carrots, that kind of thing.  As it turns out, we did get some of that.  I'm glad we did too.  The carrots were absolutely delicious.  Sweet, crunchy.  Not woody, super tasty.  Really a special treat.  Yes, I am used to getting carrots in bulk for a really low price at the grocery store.  It just isn't that.  It's what you would expect if you grew a garden and harvested.  They are awesome!!  So, yes.  There have been some adjustments.  It's a new paradigm.  And I love it.

Okay, another post will be marmalade and trees.  :-)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Goal: 300 Meters - 4:00 minutes

I love this photo.  This is getting to the pool, for the 6am workout a couple days ago.  It's a little eerie, a little daunting, and a downright blast to be swimming in the dark, as the sun starts coming up.  The colors are outrageous.  The whole thing is a comfortable transition from not being able to see, and focusing inward, to gradually adding spectacular saturated colors, to the white light of the day.  It's a beautiful way to start the day.

4 minute 300
It's also how I've been feeling about the 4:00 minute 300M.  It just sounds daunting!  It's not a little challenge.  It's, well, I don't know how I'm going to do it challenge.  I had a workout the other day where I was leading the lane, and feeling particularly strong, fast and comfortable.  We were doing 300's and I came in on 4:45!  Everyone in the lane had a comment about how fast we went.  I felt great too.  Glenn even said it's the fastest 300 he's done.  Ever. 

Then I thought about the 4 minute challenge.  Dang!!!  Unfathomable!  I ended up swimming a 4:30 300.  A stellar benchmark for me.  A super strong swim for me.  In fact, a 1:25 100 is a super fast 100M for me.  So, how in God's green earth...  And yes, why? is another question altogether.  How to get to the 4 minute 300?

Get in.  Go back and forth
So much of the challenge is, get in.  Get going.  Swimming a 1:20 pace per 100 is something I've only done when sprinting my fastest 100's ever.  The fastest I've ever done in my life is about a 1:17 100.  So, I'm working on it.  Yesterday I swam 50's as hard as I could.  Feeling how fast fast is, for me.  I swam a 37 second 50.  Dang.  I didn't know I could do that.  Sweet!  :-)  Makes me happy.  And, I can see the sun coming up. It's starting to clear, what I need to do.  No question.  Still a long way to go, but I'm starting to envision what it will take.
Sun coming up
Oak at PCC, after the morning swim

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cardamom Rice Pudding

Cardamom Rice Pudding

This is my first guest post!  It's not a full-blown guest post.  Kirsty made this last night, wanting to replicate something we've had at Kabul's, our local Afghan restaurant.  It's basically our family restaurant, meaning we go there for family celebrations, birthdays, graduations, and in general, special days.  This is a standard when we go.  The other one is Chala or something like that.  Sarah, remind me what it's called.  It's like a pumpkin custard, not exactly.  Anyway, back to the Cardamom Pudding.

This recipe came from Alton Brown, of the famed Food Network.    He calls it Indian Pudding.

1 cup cooked long grain rice (Kirsty used Jasmine)  Alton uses Basmati

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom - Kirsty added extra, even double it
1 1/2 ounces golden raisins, approximately 1/3 cup (Kirsty skipped this)
1 1/2 ounces chopped unsalted pistachios, approximately 1/3 cup - Kirsty toasted, which brings a really nice crunch and roasted flavor
1/3 cup coconut flakes - small angel hair flakes - Kirsty's addition, which added a nice flavor and texture

Makes about 4 servings, but Kirsty tripled it, thinking, breakfast for sure, and then some.

In a large nonstick saute pan over medium heat, combine the cooked rice and milk. Heat until the mixture begins to boil. Decrease the heat to low and cook at a simmer until the mixture begins to thicken, stirring frequently, approximately 5 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium, add the heavy cream, coconut milk, sugar, coconut flakes and cardamom and continue to cook until the mixture just begins to thicken again, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Use a whisk to help prevent the cardamom from clumping. Once the mixture just begins to thicken, remove from the heat and stir in the pistachios (and raisins if you use it). Transfer the mixture to individual serving dishes or a glass bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Jib Jab
This is a really rich and delicious dessert, and turns out it's really good warm, or cold for breakfast.  Thanks Kirsty, for being my first guest poster!

Chana Masala

See the steam rising?  Chana Masala
This is last night's dinner I've been wanting to make for a couple days. Kirsty, Kathy and I made Chana Masala, Indian Rice Pudding, and you can see the chard, rice and avocados. We also had delicious huge artichokes too, that we ate with meyer lemon juice and mayonnaise dip, and a horseradish mayo dip.

The recipe is from Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life.  She's also the author of a food blog, Orangette.  I started looking at her blog, but still need to spend time on it to comment.  I like the book though, the recipes in general are simple and the ones I've tried are tasty.  I like her writing style too.  It's a bit more sophisticated than mine I would say, but gives that personal closeness feeling.

Let's get right to the recipe, and our little adaptations.

1/4 cup olive oil (I used less, but more than I would have used intuitively.)
1 medium onion, chopped (I had a huge onion, and used half, next time, I would use it all)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (I was out, so skipped this, yes, add next time)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (I used 1 tsp cumin powder, then added 1 tsp cumin seeds when I found we had some, and it was not too much)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (Didn't have, so didn't add.  I think more spices would be better, next time, add)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (I think I used 1/2 tsp)
1 teaspoon garam masala, plus more for serving (really, this is what got me going on the whole recipe)
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed under the side of a knife (I used powder, which is a big compromise.  Cardamom is expensive, but I want to try it whole, next time.  My sister said they would just snack on it in Honduras.)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
One 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon cilantro, coarsely chopped, and more for serving (I used fresh Italian parsley, it's what I had in the garden, and it tasted great.  I think, use what you have)
Pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes, or more to taste - I did a pinch of cayenne, which was too subtle.  I would add a big pinch next time
Two 15 ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 to 1/2 cup plain yogurt (not low fat or no fat, and it's optional) 
A few lemon wedges (optional for serving, but I would say it was a great addition) 

Serves 4

Pour the olive oil into a pan or dutch oven and warm over medium heat.  Add onions.  Molly makes a big deal about cooking down the on onions, to get them to caramelize.  Mine seemed to brown, more than anything, but I got them pretty brown, and agree, it would add a really nice sweet flavor.

Reduce heat, add garlic, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, cardamom, and salt.  Stir constantly until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds.  Molly says add 1/4 cup of water to get all the brown bits from the bottom.  I had so much oil from the beginning, I added some water, but just for the process.  Cook until the water is evaporated completely.  Pour in the juice from the can of tomatoes.  She says, just break the tomatoes with your hands.  We blended in the mixer.  I think either are fine.

Raise the heat to medium, and bring to a gentle boil, then turn it down to a simmer.  Add the cilantro and cayenne, and cook down about 5 minutes.  Finally, add the chickpeas and cook another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add 2 tablespoons of water, and cook for another 5 minutes more.  Molly mentions the process of adding water and cooking down, concentrates the flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender (and toothsome?!?)

Finally, serve with a dollop of yogurt, or add in.  You can also skip the yogurt and squeeze lemon on top.  I did both, add yogurt and then added lemon.  Sprinkle with the garam masala and chopped cilantro.

Jib Jab
My sister is allergic to onions and garlic, so we made two batches actually.  The one in the top of the picture is with onions, and the closer one below, is without.  Essentially, the lower one, we started by cooking the spices in the olive oil.  Pretty much everything else is the same.  You can also see the chard down in front, and we served with white rice, up top.

Sorry, sissy, with onions does taste better.  I think somehow we cooked it down more too, with the adding water, reduce cycles.  I think that actually somehow sweetened the tomatoes.  Regardless, the dish is so delicious, and as much as it sounds complicated, it isn't.  Pretty much start to finish is about 45 minutes.  Give or take.

I read Molly's book, A Homemade Life, da da da, and by the end, I really enjoyed it.  The recipes start from fairly mundane, potato salad, to the last one, a chocolate cake, specifically the recipe she made for her wedding cake, 27 times or something like that, for her wedding party.  She calls it Winning Hearts and Minds Cake and its kind of how I feel about food.  It really doesn't stand alone.  To me, it's all about sharing it, who you celebrated with, who you cooked with, who you ate with, the whole experience. Where you got the recipe, the ingredients, everything. Just hanging out.  Cooking.  Brewing.  Steeping.  Simmering.  It's food, but moreso, people, friends.  Family.

My sister, gave me the book to read, because of my blog.  The Chana Masala recipe stuck out in my mind, because of the garam masala spice.  I had never heard of it, so I was curious.  I think I mentioned it to Kath, and she had some, and brought it over, so we could make it. 

Back to the Masala.  This is a great recipe to make, and have in the fridge for the next few days.  Molly says it gets even better the second day.  I can imagine.

This was my plate, with onions.  Also, I squeezed lemon on everything.
Last bit of Jib Jab
You'll likely see more use of meyer lemons in the near future.  Our tree is full, and to be honest, there's not too much I use the lemons for today, but my daughter, mom and my sis especially love them and seem to use them all the time.  So, anyways, I am on the lookout for more meyer lemon recipes.  If you have a keeper, and want to share, send it along.

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