In My Garden – March 2019

In My Garden – March 2019

What happened to February?! It simply disappeared in a flood of rain and grey skies (plus we were traveling the first week). In any case, it simply flew by without me getting in front of my computer to write about it. With the cold and wet weather, there hasn’t been much change in the garden. We are having an unusual amount of rain, or at least it is unusual compared to the last few years. Normal for the Northern California coast, Fort Bragg area, is about 40 inches. That is compared to the SF bay area where it is about 28 inches. The mossy low spots in the yard feel like a wet sponge, they squish when you walk on them. My sandy, fast draining sol is saturated. One small blessing is the absence of mud.

Along with the rain we’ve had hail, and even snow once.

Hail on the back deck

The result is some sad looking plants.

Unhappy Baby Blue Eyes

Prevailing garden lore claims that the best time to plant in Northern California is the fall, but I think I will reconsider the recommendation in light of the damage (and death in some cases) of those plants I set in the ground last autumn. Everything planted last spring seems to be surviving well.

This will be a quick update since the cooler weather has slowed down any new growth, with the exception of the bulbs.

The pollinator meadow, which was seeded last fall, will need thinning soon.

Pollinator Meadow

And the raised bed garden is producing lots of wonderful salads. It’s just warm enough during the day for the cool season veggies to be happy.

Raised Beds – cut and come again lettuce and radishes

The peas  are also happy in this weather.

There is a dry gully at the edge of our driveway, no longer dry. Under that protective basket is/was a small veronica bush planted last fall. It liked a moist spot but probably has been drowned under current conditions.

Dry Gully?

Casey and Quinn are overjoyed with their own personal pond for cooling off after a game of catch.

Casey and Quinn in their own personal pond

January – Curried Carrot Soup in the Electric Pressure Cooker

January – Curried Carrot Soup in the Electric Pressure Cooker

I couldn’t believe how flavorful, creamy, healthy, quick and easy this soup was to make in the electric pressure cooker. Mine isn’t an Instant Pot, which I know is all the rage. But it is very similar and works exactly the same way. You could, of course, make it on top of the stove. It will still be delicious and I will include directions for that as well.

This soup is dairy free, gluten free and vegetarian; qualifying it  it as vegan. The creaminess comes from coconut milk with additional richness and flavor from peanut butter. Curry paste and ginger add a touch of spice.

Curried Carrot Soup

Ingredients:

(serves 4 generously, 6 not so much)

  • 8-10 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can of coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetarian broth or water
  • 1/4 cup of peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Thai red curry paste
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped cilantro for serving

Method:

  1. For the electric pressure cooker – add everything to the pot and set the timer for 15 minutes. When done, let it cool down naturally for 10-15 minutes. Then carefully release the pressure. When cool, blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt to taste. Top with cilantro for serving
  2. For the stovetop – saute the onions and garlic in coconut or other oil until soft. Add the carrots, coconut milk, broth, ginger, and curry paste. Simmer gently until the carrots are very soft. Add the peanut butter and stir to melt it. Cool before blending smooth. Top with cilantro.

Curried Carrot Soup

I am going to take this soup to Fiesta Friday #260 hosted by Angie, the co-hosts this week are:

 Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens

January – Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

January – Homemade Red Wine Vinegar

Did you know you can easily make your own vinegar from any partial bottles of red wine sitting around? Amazing red wine vinegar at a fraction of the price of those imported ones at the gourmet store, and just as good.

In fact, I think homemade red wine vinegar is miles better than the best commercial brand, and only takes a little patience on your part. As well, it a a “live food”, fermented by you. If you have leftover bottles of red wine after pouring a glass or two from the bottle (the wine really isn’t much good after a couple of days whatever method you use to preserve it), this is the way to reduce your waste and get something delicious from your kitchen. Not to mention the cost savings.

My initial crock of vinegar started because of the win of an “instant wine cellar” at an auction and benefit about 4 years ago. I won 100 bottles of wine, some of them very expensive from small boutique vineyards, quite a wonderful windfall. Hooray! Most of them were leftover from auctions and benefits of past years, we were very excited. But…they had not been stored properly; and many of them were “over the hill” or “corked” once opened and sampled. It’s discouraging to open three bottles of expensive wine just to get one that is drinkable. We ended up with dozens of bottles of spoiled wine (that should have been wonderful), but were starting to turn to vinegar. So, what to do? I couldn’t stand the idea of chucking them down the drain.

Enter My Pantry by Alice Waters, plus information from the internet. I was inspired.

Making your own red wine vinegar is easy, white wine vinegar…not so much. I don’t recommend mixing red and white wine together (although Alice does) when making your own vinegar. Start with a simple red wine vinegar. I understand white wine vinegar is much more difficult to get right and haven’t tried it yet. We usually don’t have as much white wine left over since I often use the remainder of the bottle for cooking.

This recipe takes something that you were going to throw away, plus a touch of living vinegar, to make something that will give your food a ton of flavor. No leftover wine? No problem. You don’t need expensive wine, just something hearty and full bodied for the best vinegar.

What you do need a starter or “mother”. What’s that? Mother of vinegar (MOV or Mother for shorthand purposes) is a fermenting bacteria culture used to make vinegar — an acetobacter that develops in fermenting alcohol and converts the ethanol into acetic acid (what gives vinegar its sour taste) in the presence of oxygen. If you have a friend who makes vinegar ask them to share their mother; otherwise do as I first did and use Bragg Natural Vinegar as a starter.

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

It was even on sale after the holidays.

Bragg vinegar

You can make a small batch but why not make a lot.

Vinegar Crock

I started with a large crock. But I had a lot of leftover, going bad, wine. You can scale up the following basic recipe.

For a smaller batch, say almost a bottle, go with:

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cups wine (feel free to combine the dregs from several bottles)
  • 1/4 cup of starter vinegar with mother.

Method:

  1. Pour your leftover (not from people’s glasses) wine into a clean wide mouthed jar or crock.
  2. Add starter vinegar.
  3. Mix it all up
  4. Cover with a clean fine mesh towel (secured with a rubber band or string) and let it sit at room temperature, stirring vigorously when you think of it, until a thin, gelatinous film starts to form on the surface. That will form into the mother. You may see it 7-10 days after you begin the process, the time be will dependent on the temperature where it is stored. Start tasting after a month but it may take longer. Be patient. My larger batch took almost 5 months but it is worth the wait.
  5. Once it tastes more like a smooth vinegar and is to your liking, strain (I use a coffee filter) it into bottles and seal. You can then add more wine to the leftover mother in your crock or jar or start with more Bragg vinegar to start the process again.

Note: Do not use cheesecloth to cover your fermenting container. The holes are too big and you will end up (as I did) with vinegar flies about the size of gnats in your curing vinegar. I had to throw the entire first batch out. I now use a clean tea towel tied securely around the top.

Red Wine Vinegar

Your vinegar will be slightly cloudy, but that is because it is alive.

January – Lemon Chicken

January – Lemon Chicken

Remember that lemon cofit I made back in November of last year? It was really just sliced lemons slowly braised in olive oil. The oil is infused with lemon and makes marvelous salad dressings, or brush it on meat or potatoes before roasting. Anyway, to get on with things, it makes the most amazing and easy chicken breast recipe I have come across in a long time. I am not normally a big chicken breast fan, I much prefer the juiciness and taste of dark meat. But this one recipe has changed my mind. And it is easy (did I already say that?) and quick as well as delicious. There are really only 3 ingredients (4 if you count the salt). If you don’t have lemon confit on hand, not to worry. Just use freshly sliced lemons and olive oil, or lemon olive oil if you have a bottle stashed somewhere. Because you are going to eat the skin, it is best to get organic lemons if you can. Otherwise, scrub them well to remove any wax coating.

Confit Meyer Lemons in Olive Oil

For the best flavor, start this is the morning so it has time to marinate.

Without further ado, here goes…

Ingredients for 2 people, easily doubled:

  • 2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts

and either

  • 1/4 cup oil from the lemon confit plus some lemon slices

or

  • 1 lemon, sliced about 1/4 inch thick (prefer organic if available)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

plus

  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt (less if you are using regular or sea salt)

Method:

  1. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels (don’t wash them) and place in a clean zip lock bag or bowl.
  2. Add the lemon slices, olive oil, and salt. Close and seal the bag if using one.
  3. Massage the chicken breasts, evenly coating them and the lemon slices with oil. You can use clean hands if the chicken is in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
  4. When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Heat an oven safe non-stick pan on the stove top using medium high heat. Add the chicken breasts and sliced lemons to the skillet, don’t wash off the oil. Cook on each side until brown (about 4-5 minutes).
  5. Place the pan it in the oven, cook for 10-15 minutes. This will depend on the thickness of the breasts and how well you like them cooked. My own were done in 10 minutes but my oven runs slightly hot.
  6. Carefully remove the pan from the oven, the handle will be very hot. Transfer the chicken breasts to a cutting board and let rest for at least 5 minutes.
  7. Serve with the caramelized lemon slices. They are amazingly sweet and delicious.

Lemon Chicken

Lemon Chicken

i roasted some asparagus in the oven at the same time and served them both with a fresh green salad from the garden. A perfect low carb and delicious meal.

You could make a sauce by adding a bit of butter and chicken broth to the pan, boil it down until thick. But the chicken really didn’t need it. If not watching what you eat this January, roast or boil some potatoes and coat them with any leftover lemon oil when they are finished.

Lemon Chicken, Roast Asparagus and Green Salad

Good for phase 2 of the Fast Metabolism Diet.

I am bringing this to Fiesta Friday #259. Come on over the Angie’s blog and take a look at all the fabulous food and crafts this week. The co-hosts this week are Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook

 

In My Garden – January 2018

In My Garden – January 2018

January is a quiet time in the garden but also a time of promise. The promise of spring is there with the emergence of the first bulbs, and the sprouting of self seeded wildflowers. Snowdrops and hellebores are beginning to bloom.

The flowering current, Ribes sanguineum, against the garage is also starting to bloom. I think the hummingbirds will enjoy it. This is considered a red flowering current even though the blooms are pink. The flowers emerge before the foliage.

Flowering Current

Most of the same plants that were blooming in December are still in bloom but not as eagerly.

The biggest change is in the vegetable garden. My raised beds are now in place, all 5 of them have plantings that are doing well. Lettuce, kale, chard, radishes, cilantro, parsley, artichokes and arugula all do well in our mild winter climate with the winter rains. Chances are that I won’t need to worry about watering until sometime in April or even later.

The mulch, warmed by the sun, is the perfect place for a nap.

Casey in the sun

And we are finding some amazing mushrooms due to the wet weather. These were more than a foot across.

Mushrooms – That’s my foot for comparison

They have pores and I was told they are members of the porcini family, but I wouldn’t dare eat them. Some creature clearly doesn’t feel the same way though. Before the fence we had mushroom hunters crossing our property in mushroom season, maybe that is why we are seeing these now. I am told it can be a very profitable business.

Lastly an update on the meadow, the winter rains have been kind and things are greening like crazy. The bare spots are places where I have sown bunch grass and other drought tolerant grasses that need at least 55 degrees F to germinate. It has been too cold but they will hit a growth spurt when the weather warms a bit.

Meadow January 2019

Lastly, a couple of photos of the coast less than a mile from the house.

 

Storm on the coast

Sunset with storm clouds

The sunsets, with storm clouds on the horizon, are always stunning.