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Archive for April, 2009

forgotten-basket-ii

A flower arrangement for Mrs. Hardy, and countless other items on the day’s to do list scrambled me just enough to end up driving across town to The Family Plot, without a basket or bucket. Luckily I had some plastic cups in the trunk. A baby cauliflower, a few beets…My dash and back seat were so royal on the ride home!

forgotten-basket

I have been trying to make frequent trips to check on the strawberry patch. The crows, squirrels, and mice and taken a break from ravaging…and I was able to fill three cups with the sweetest most delicious strawberries ever!

forgotten-basket-iii

If it hadn’t been 104 degrees that Monday, I could have filled the entire back seat of the car with sweat peas! Not all is lost however, the seeds are setting and there will be enough to create a 50′ wall of fragrant heirloom sweet peas next winter!! There will be several packets available at the Los Cerritos Carnival – Saturday May 16th from 11-3pm.  Be there or be square.

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wipes-for-carnival

The Los Cerritos Carnival is coming up Saturday May 16th and that means the Garden Booth will be bursting with handmade goodies. The kids are working on clay plant markers, mobiles and garden decor that are going in the kiln Monday. There are jars of Apricot Jam from a family tree, and packs of seeds we have saved from the school garden. The Eco aspect of the Garden Booth is sponsored by the school’s Green Team. My entry is inspired by a good friend and her quest to be Naturally Frugal. She found the following recipe for homemade cleaning wipes on Apartment Therapy and swears by them! She added Tea Tree Oil instead of the Olive Oil, but I imagine you can use any essential oil that blends well with the orange essence. I found this old postcard with the title “Orange Groves of California” to use as the recipe card. As you only need the rind for this concoction, you can eat the orange while you make these sweet smelling wipes.

With almost three weeks to work on items such as seedlings and cloth napkins, there is bound to be something for your home or garden.

homemade-wipes-copy

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I received my daily delivery of Dirt du Jour, with the heading “Six plants you can’t live without!”. Launched by the Sunset blog, Fresh Dirt, the meme question for every blogger today is a good one and thankfully we don’t have to have only six. It’s interesting to think about and even more so, to consider everyone else’s faves! Today everyone try to choose six plants…just six! I am totally partial to edibles, but not just edible for me. I have to think of the birds and the bees! So here is my list…and it wasn’t easy!

wisteria-april-07

White Wisteria, because it provides seasonality in the Southern California garden. Architectural in it’s bare winter form. The promise of spring and snowstorm of white flowers in March. Then the chartreuse hedge of thick vines and feathery leaves, that provide shade and shelter for tender spring flowers and a natural den & hide-out for the outlaw cat. In the fall the leaves turn yellow and drop, while the seed pods crack open like a natural fireworks display!

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Icelandic Poppies are amazing! The vibrant colors and tissue like petals are dramatic enough to be displayed one stem at a time. I usually plant them mid-November in front of the wisteria vine where they are beautiful and prolific until Easter. The bees just roll around in the blooms and can barely fly their legs are so heavy with pollen. As soon as the petals drop off, dead head the stems for longer lasting production.

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Yarrow, is a tremendous asset to any garden for so many reasons! The fern like leaves and tiny flowers have powerfully beneficial qualities. From medicinal teas and poltice to pure nitrogen for your compost pile. It is a nectar flower for butterflies and just plain beautiful!! I also love the way it naturalizes in So Cal as a native it’s just perfect.

french-thyme

French Thyme, is my culinary must have herb. I use it in soups, stocks, sauces, stuffings, while roasting a bird, while finishing an item on the grill with a final smoke out (I dry the stems and throw the little herbal bale on to the fire and close the lid for that first delicate smokey bite). It has a terrific mounding growing habit and is easy to multiply by laying the soft woody stems on the ground and covering with soil. The tiny flowers are also great for garnish. Love it!

hummer

Lantana Tree-I don’t know if life would be the same without my lantana tree just outside the dining room. This little guy and all his cousins just love to sit a spell…before the frenzied quest to hit every single flower in each of the clusters. Bees, Hummingbirds and Butterflies are abundantly present in the garden when the lantana is blooming. When I was a kid we used them as Barbie bridal bouquets.

maiden_fern

Maidenhair Fern – I just love them! The black stems were used in basketry to create designs, they are pretty hearty for a fern. In the ground on the Coast they do well in a full sun location. I use them as a house plant for as long as possible, placing them in stressful situations like low light and no drainage. When that party is over I put them in the ground to create a lovely shade border that is iridescent in the moonlight with the bright green new leaves shimmering against the dark stems. Plus, my grandma’s bridal bouquet was a huge bunch of maidenhair fern with gardenias, so fabulously simple and elegant.

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Okay-we have been having so much fun with science fair!  Last night Kiely cut up the fabric swatches, 6 x 6″ linen squares.  We then mixed up three separate mordants.  Mordant means “to bite” and is the step that keeps colors fast, and can completely change the pigment.

mordanting-the-linen

You can simmer the fabric in the mordant, but we chose soaking over night.  Kiely kept swishing them around a bit to keep them submerged.  We used household pantry items;  salt, vinegar and baking soda.

This morning we made the dye baths.  Onion skins, red cabbage, grass clippings and annatto seeds (commonly used as a colorant for margerine, also known as achiote).

dye-onion-skins

I grabbed a bag of skins over at Buy Low.  The checker looked at me questioningly, I told him what they were and he just shrugged and threw them down the belt-no charge.  Next up-basic red cabbage, which my kids are now wondering why it’s called red if it’s purple and the dye is blue?

dye-red-cabbage

The cabbage made blue-check out the amazing bright jewel tone of this blue too-it’s amazing!  The annatto seeds also from buy low cost about .86 cents.  I am going to dye a few tee shirts for sure!  We didn’t crush them up…I bet the color would have been much deeper and more red if we had.

dye-annatto

Kiely was hoping for a green, so she got the idea to try grass clippings.  We had the grass cut the day before, so she went out and scooped some off the lawn.  Pale, maybe longer, overnight in the dye bath for a greener green…but it worked!  Guess all those grass stains were a good indication that it would work.

posting-swatches-to-dry

Dye baths brought to a boil, then down to a simmer.  Added the mordanted linen two staples for baking soda, one staple for vinegar, and no staples for salt.  All swatches in to the dye baths to simmer for 40 minutes or so.  Rinsed and hanging to dry.

swatches

All the colors are fantastic!!  I would have thought the annatto seed was going to be the darker rust color…but that is the onion skins.  I am in love with the blue.  Clear, crisp and perfection.  We are totally inspired to dye some baby clothes, blanks left from their baby days.  We might try the mulberries from school…I noticed they started dropping last week.

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sorrel

An absolute favorite of the kids at the school garden, and known in the under 10 set as Sour Leaf. It’s the first thing they ask for when they are turned loose for their weekly moment of zen in the urban farmyard.

Sorrel starts well from seed and I will be working up a tray this weekend. Until I buy a soil block maker, I will start with an empty flat, lay a piece of tulle or burlap on the bottom to line. Fill with moist, friable soil and poke evenly spaced, shallow holes for the seeds. I like to cover with vermiculite as it retains moisture and helps keep the seedlings from drying out while germinating. This clump pictured above, could probably be dug up and separated in to several good sized individuals. When it comes time to harvest, just pick leaves as needed.  If you have a nice row of plants, go ahead and cut completely…it will come back nicely. Do this often to avoid letting the plant go to seed. It will last all year in inland LB if it gets partial shade. This would be a great item to replace the shade garden cauliflower over at Victory Home Garden! I’ll throw you some baby Sorrel when they’re ready for transplant Adrianna!!

Sorrel was always a popular ingredient with the European Chefs I worked for in the 80’s…mostly served up in a bowl as soup. Here is a good recipe from Epicurious.

Sorrel, Pea, and Leek Soup Gourmet | April 1996

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less but requires additional unattended time. Makes about 4 1/2 cups

White and pale green parts of 3 leeks (about 3/4 pound), chopped, washed well, and drained
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small boiling potato (about 1/4 pound)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups cold water plus additional to thin soup
1/2 cup shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas
1/4 pound sorrel*, stems discarded and leaves washed, spun dry, and cut crosswise into thin strips (about 3 cups loosely packed)
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

In a large saucepan cook leeks in oil with salt and pepper to taste over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Peel potato and cut into 1-inch cubes. Add potato, broth, and 1 cup water to leeks and simmer, covered, about 10 minutes, or until potato is tender. Stir in peas and simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes, or until peas are tender.

In a blender purée potato mixture with sorrel in 2 batches until very smooth, transferring to a bowl. Whisk in sour cream and remaining 1/2 cup water, adding additional to thin soup to desired consistency. Chill soup, covered, at least 2 hours, and up to 24.Just before serving, stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

I might use borage flowers to garnish and probably use an immersion blender, rather than get out the regular blender. I saw a really good one in Saveur Magazine current issue. Really great page on kitchen must have gadgets and tools. Loved it!
Also, saw a few comments out there about the color of the soup not being a bright and springy green, as the sorrel leaves are very tender. I believe, if memory serves, the chef would sometimes direct you to blanch a little watercress to brighten up the greens. There is a great book out there from the 80’s, called Secret Ingredients, that has the inside scoop on those untold techniques for polishing a dish. Brightening color, punching up flavors, stretching expensive ingredients and amazing and “magical process of combining flavors”. All fair game and just plain smart tips. Authored by Chef Michael Roberts from the now closed but much celebrated Trumps Restaurant on Melrose.
I just pulled out my book, and he has a recipe in there for Pea and Sorrel Soup. He touts the importance of aromatics in all soups. I agree and always start with a mire poix of 2 onions, 1 carrot, 2 ribs celery and 3 cloves garlic. Going out now, to start the seeds and to check on the strawberries. More on Strawberries tomorrow…I am battling right now with squirrels, rollie pollies-probably mice and birds too.

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italian-panettone

My favorite store in the Chelsea Market (they film the shows for the food network upstairs) was the Italian Dry goods & Deli. I never did figure out exactly what type of bread this was -pictured above, some kind of panettone. But I loved the packaging with the piece of grape vine tied on to the paper wrapping. The selection in each category was amazing, authentic & totally imported, and very reasonably priced. Our hostess was duly impressed and bought some salt and tomato paste. She would have gone crazy, but we were on our way to Brooklyn, and my sister had already declined to carry shrimp and scallops in her backpack all day…

italian-olive-oil-jugs

I totally would have purchased an olive oil jar or ceramic bottle, but I was already regretting two pairs of shoes, a large knitted wrap and at least one jacket. Suit case full. This is officially on my wish list!

italian-quince-preserves
Last fall I became enamored with the Quince. This jar of preserves makes me want to do better this year. Between now and the first quince at the farmers market, I am going to master the art of putting up some fruit! Kiely is completely obsessed with the in-laws blackberry jelly and will surely be my partner in the process.

italian-capers-salt

Many, many kinds of salt and capers! Capers in salt, capers in vinegar.  Pink, grey, volcanic…

italian-dry-goods

This is the section that sort of blows your mind…tiny bags of pine nuts from Italy = $8. But, they are from Italy and it’s got to be quite a process to get the nuts out of a pinecone.  And wow – two rows of anything dried that you could possibly imagine.

I think I have just figured out our next foodie field trip! Santa Fe Importers on the West Side may be the LB option for an awesome Italian Market. I have my fingers crossed…There is always the amazing Bay Cities if you’re in Santa Monica…but I think I’ll check out the local option next!

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chelsea-market-san-marzano-tom-paste

Okay- the Science Fair rough draft is due Wednesday, we have yet to perfect our hypothesis, let alone perform the experiment. Tween angst, coupled with parental guilt (NYC vacation) leaves the boys and girls in the house wondering what’s for dinner at 8pm. Haven’t shopped for two weeks…down to a handful of shallots, can of marinara, rice and a couple of thawed chicken breasts. Rinse two cups rice until water is clear, add water up to the first line on your index finger (swear), bring to boil, cover and simmer until the steam holes have no bubbles. I have my favorite glass lidded pot for the rice. Who has time to check the clock…ha! Use your eyes.

So pan is smoking hot after a tablespoon of butter is added, add chunked up chicken, walk away. Peel all the shallots, if large, make 1/2 inch. Stir chicken around, nice and brown. Add shallots and more browning, splash of what you’re drinking or chicken stock, throw in whole can trader joe’s marinara, pinch of red chilies, several turns on the pepper mill, big ole pinch salt. Herbs if you have any, parm if you have any.

Totally delicious, kids were all asking about the shallots, really sweet flavor. They liked them, they really liked them! Moral of the story, keep onions, shallots, garlic and salt in the house at all times! In the most desperate of times they fought for onions and salt…never forget it! Marcella Hazan remembers salt rationing…hear her tell the story and you’ll never take it for granted. A tense evening was turned around quickly with a 20 minute dinner and a story from Grandma about her silver toed boots getting tangled up at the airport and then falling in to a skycap…her hand went right in to his pants as she broke her fall. Funny how a glass of chardonnay and your mom telling your kids how she groped a porter, makes for near hysteria at the dinner table. Hmmm, that stuff doesn’t happen to just anyone…

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