In the Garden – December 2018

In the Garden – December 2018

You might think that here in the Northern hemisphere not much is happening in December. Not so, it’s a very happening place. Our northern California Mediterranean climate means many plants and shrubs are still blooming, and spring blooming plants are busy putting down roots with the winter rains. FINALLY! The garden beds at the back of the house have welcomed the addition of a lot of new plants (plus compost). The new annuals and perennials won’t flower until the spring, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. The lovely annual baby blue eyes, and short-lived perennial California poppies have already tripled in size. They will self seed (in fact there are a lot of seedlings from last year popping up) for this and next spring. It will be a lush planting come mid-spring.

This is what the back garden bed looked like the beginning of this month:

View to the back of the house

It doesn’t look that different a month later. There are a few more small plants, that’s all.

My wildflower meadow has progressed, you can see the new seedlings coming up from recent rain showers.

 

I worry that I seeded the area too densely; this was my first experiment with a wildflower meadow and pollinator garden. There are some transplanted perennials, a salvia, a few lavender plants, and a montilija poppy (also called a fried egg poppy), plus some plants that didn’t do as well in the back garden bed. This will be the third attempt with the montilija, they are very hardy as long as they like where they are situated. But if it isn’t to their satisfaction, forget it. This is a new site with really excellent drainage, we will see.The rest is from mixed wildflower seeds, over 50 different types which are specifically designed for the Pacific NW. I have also added some bunch grass seeds for the birds.

My goal of attracting and keeping hummingbirds in the garden during the winter has been a success. They are aggressively protecting their territory, visiting the feeders and, even more importantly, the plants. Feeders do not provide all the nutrients they need through the winter. None of the following plants (considered hummingbird plants) were planted in the garden until about March of this year.

Hummingbird at a feeder

The hummingbird plants currently blooming in the garden are of many varieties…salvias, sages, abutilon, nasturtiums, and cuphea. All of them have tubular flower shapes that attract hummingbirds. Most of the plants are still fairly small, but the variety is large. They will get much bigger and fill in the bed.

That’s the quick update for December. Oh…I almost forgot. I have 3 additional raised beds added to the existing 2. I planted 3 artichoke plants in the new beds; as well as seeded more lettuce, radishes and kale. According to Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce (a gardening bible for bay area gardeners), it is iffy that the radishes and kale will grow this month. But the weather is weird and, who knows, it has been a lot milder in recent years.

We are well on our way to being more self sufficient. We have had our first salads, a mixture of different mesclun seed mixes, arugula, and baby mustard leaves. The greens were picked only an  hour before we ate them. They almost doesn’t need any dressing.

 

The lettuce mix is so wonderful compared to the grocery stores, much more tender and delicious.

The baskets are to keep off the birds while the plants are small. So far I haven’t noticed a problem but I experienced a lot of plant loss in Oakland due to birds and squirrels. There are too many predators in Fort Bragg, they keep the squirrel population very low.

 

 

December – Gifts From the Kitchen

December – Gifts From the Kitchen

This year I am having fun making many of the gifts I am giving during the holidays. As well, it is wonderful to have something ready for hostess gifts when invited to a party. Wrap any of these in a pretty tea towel for a personalized gift.

Here are some ideas, most have been posted on my blog over the past few years.

II didn’t realize I had so many recipes for lemons! Skip past this section if they are not available to you. But, if you are lucky enough to a backyard lemon tree (or don’t know what to do with ALL THOSE LEMONS), here are some options, make:

Meyer Lemon Confit

Confit Meyer Lemons in Olive Oil

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices (would work with regular organic lemons, wash and maybe add more sugar as Meyers are sweet):

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

Meyer Lemon Indian Spiced Pickle

What about preserved lemons? Use some holiday spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in the preserving process.

Preserved Lemons 

Preserved lemons

There is Lemon Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Just the thing for Christmas tea.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Toast and Tea

There is Meyer Lemon Aigre-doux. This is an Italian sweet and sour preserved lemon recipe, wonderful blended with olive oil for a lemony salad or roasted vegetable dressing.

Meyer Lemon Aigre-Doux,
Preserved Lemons

And lastly Lemon-Lime Curd, amazing on any kind of holiday bread or toast. You could also make this all lemon curd or even all lime curd. Panettone anyone?

Lemon Curd

Lemon Lime Curd

What about homemade applesauce? Apples are readily available in many areas. Add a few cranberries to the simmering apples to color them pink or red. Homemade applesauce is so much better than any commercial one you can purchase.

Gala Applesauce

Consider a pretty crock of cheddar beer dip or spread. Use a sharp cheddar and one that is the darkest orange for the best color (I used a white sharp cheddar which wasn’t as pretty).

Cheddar-Beer Dip

Or a jar of homemade mustard, there are two recipes on my blog. Choose the one that fits your schedule. Here is the second for hot and sweet mustard, it’s quick and easy.

Hot and Sweet Mustard

Give it in a pretty container for a special treat.

What about spice mixes? Most of the commercial spices are full of sugar, preservatives and other ingredients you don’t want to put in your food.

A popular mix with my friends is the Fennel Spice from Michael Chiarello. Although it is easy, I find most folks would rather receive a jar than make it themselves. I have given it many times in the past and it is always a much appreciated gift. He also has an excellent toasted chili spice. I use it to coat port tenderloin (or a slow cooked shoulder of pork) before I cook it sous vide. It’s also great on grilled chicken. For a vegetarian or vegan option it is wonderful coating slices or wedges of sweet potatoes.

Fennel Spice Before Being Blended – Can’t you just smell those fennel and coriander?

Pork Tenderloin Coated with Vinegar Then Coated with Toasted Spice Rub

There are other bloggers who have amazing spice mixes, Mollie from the Frugal Housewife has a delicious “smokin’ Chipotle Taco Seasoning‘. Any Mexican food fan would love a jar. She has a number of other spice mixes and blends, all of which don’t contain any preservatives or additives you don’t want to feed your family. Plus, they taste better than commercial blends. The Foodbod is another source of various spice blends, focused on vegetarian cooking. She is also the queen of sourdough. She sells her own starter on her bread website, which is full of tips and instructions.

You’ll also find a number of spice mixes on my Pinterest page.

December – Hot and Sweet Mustard

December – Hot and Sweet Mustard

Are you looking for an easy homemade gift idea for someone who likes spicy and hot foods? Look no further. This recipe originally came from my mother and was labeled fondue mustard. Do you remember those days in the 60’s and 70’s when beef fondue was all the rage. Yep, that was the source. But, I find this mustard is wonderful at any time. It’s great as a horseradish replacement with roast beef, fantastic with pot roast or beef brisket or beef stew. Sometimes you just need a little bit of a flavor boost. And believe me, you will want to use this in judiciously.

I like to give these in pretty jars as gifts, the jars themselves are part of it. I happened across these lovely handmade jars by a friend of a friend, Patricia Lorenz. Each one is a work of art, never the same.

In themselves they make a unique gift.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz container of Colemans mustard powder
  • 1 cup of wine vinegar (I used my own home brewed but commercial red or white is fine)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 eggs well beaten

Method:

  1. Combine the mustard powder and vinegar in a large jar, mix well. Let stand overnight.
  2. The next day combine the brown sugar, eggs and mustard mixture in a double boiler.
  3. Cook over simmering water until the mixture thickens.

 

  1. Thickened Hot and Sweet Mustard

The mustard will keep several months in the fridge.

Hot and Sweet Mustard – this one is for me

Patricia also made larger jars, I just need to figure out what to put in them to give as gifts.

Any suggestions?

December – Preserved Kumquats

December – Preserved Kumquats

Just in time for the holidays, a gift which is not only delicious but also easy to make and beautiful. The jewel tones of the kumquats are perfect for the holidays.

Kumquats

Kumquats are a variety of citrus, the rind is the sweet part and the bitter the middle. The reverse of other citrus fruits. The kumquats are small, only about an inch or less in length. My mother would preserve them each year (she lived in Florida where they were common) but I haven’t seen them in the markets very often. So I jumped at the chance to recreate her recipe. They were delicious served beside smoked chicken or turkey, a sweet counter to the smokiness. But I think they would be equally delicious served for dessert with a square of chocolate.

I couldn’t find her recipe in my files but know it was very simple. A search on the web came up with on published in the New York Times some time ago…Evelyn Patout’s Preserved Kumquats. It sounded exactly like my memory of my mother’s recipe, plus it was simple and quick. It only requires about 20 minutes of your time, plus 4 days sitting in the simple syrup.

Preserved Kumquats

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of kumquats
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of light corn syrup

Method:

  1. Wash and scrub the kumquats thoroughly. Prick each one several times with a large needle or poultry pin (I used a crab picker). Put them in a large saucepan, add water to cover, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain.
  2. Combine the sugar with 3 cups of water in the saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Add the kumquots and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover the saucepan, and set aside till the next day.
  3. The next morning add 1/2 cup of corn syrup to the saucepan, bring back to the boil, then remove from the heat, cover, and let stand overnight again.
  4. Repeat the process in number 3 twice more.
  5. On the fourth day, after the kumquats have  brought to the boil, spoon them into hot, sterilized, Mason-type jars. Pour the hot syrup to within 1/4 inch of the top and seal. Refrigerate until ready to give, or you can seal in a canner (I would boil 10-15 minutes depending on the size of your jars).
December – Spiced Chickpea and Chicken Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

December – Spiced Chickpea and Chicken Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

This recipe originally appeared in the NY Times without the chicken. I wanted something heartier for a visiting friend who had driven 3.5 hours to visit us up on the coast. This was the perfect dinner after a long drive on a cold and rainy autumn evening. The coconut sauce is amazing, you really need something to soak it up. Serve it with lavash or other flatbread for dunking if you have some. Not having those in the cupboard, I served it over brown rice. I consider this comfort food as well as (somewhat) health food.

Without the chicken, this recipe is vegetarian and vegan. A delicious option if you have a dinner party with mixed eating preferences. Add the chicken to only a portion of the soup, a deli chicken would be easy and perfect. I had some sous vide chicken thighs in the fridge and added them at the end. The recipe also called for adding greens (kale or spinach), which I forgot to purchase at the market. So the picture doesn’t have greens. I am definitely making this again and will add them next time and take a picture. With the addition of a half-can of chickpeas, the leftovers were delicious the next day.

I consider this a pantry meal, most of the ingredients are already in my pantry and available for a quick meal. If you have greens and mint in your garden you are already perfectly positioned. No chicken, no problem. The original recipe didn’t include chicken. But check your freezer for a lone chicken breast that might be hanging around. Defrost it in the microwave, cut into cubes, and add it once the coconut milk and stock come to the simmer. If you have any salad greens in your fridge, use them as greens. Maybe some baby spinach? Arugula would be fine as well, shredded romaine…why not. If it is a cold and wet night, who wants to go to the store?

Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

Spiced Chickpea Chicken Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (15-ounce) full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard, kale, or spinach – stems removed, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup mint leaves, chopped for serving
  • Lime slice for serving
  • Optional whole fat plain yogurt for serving
  • Steamed rice, toasted pita, lavash or other flatbread for serving

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and ginger. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent and starts to brown a bit. That will take about 3-5 minutes. Be careful the garlic doesn’t brown.
  2. Add turmeric, red pepper flakes and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper again. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chickpeas start to sizzle and brown and fry a bit in the spices and oil. I had to add a tiny bit more oil at this point. They will start to soften and break down, becoming brown and crisp. It will take about 5 to 8 minutes.
  3.  Remove about a cup of chickpeas and set aside.
  4. Add the coconut milk and stock to the remaining chickpeas in the pot. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any crusty bits that have formed at the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add your chicken if using.
  6. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the stew has thickened slightly and the flavors have come together., about 30-35 minutes. Taste and see if you need to add salt and pepper.
  7. Add greens and stir, making sure they are submerged in the liquid. Cook long enough for them to soften, which will depend on the type of greens you are using, about 3-7 minutes. Spinach and chard will soften much faster than kale.
  8. Divide among bowls and add the reserved chickpeas and mint, a wedge of lime, and a sprinkle of red-pepper flakes if desired. A dollop of whole fat yogurt with a dusting of turmeric would be nice as well.

 

Sous vide boneless chicken thighs

Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

The recipe was adapted from the NY Times article, A Creamy Stew That’s Hearty and Virtuous.

I am bringing it to Fiesta Friday #253 to share with Angie and the gang. Click on the link to see all the wonderful ideas for holiday food, crafts and decorating. I am excited to be a co-host for the virtual party this week with Mila @ Milkandbun