August – Corn Cob Pasta Salad

August – Corn Cob Pasta Salad

Did your neighborhood participate in National Night Out on August 1st? National Night Out happens across the U.S. and is intended to bring neighbors together and promote relationships with local fire and police. Our own had a block party, it was easy to block the street since we live on a cul-de-sac. We roped off the street at 6 pm and let the kids roller skate and play basketball. It was a wonderful party, a chance to catch up with our neighbors, share some good food and wine. Our elected officials, local police and firemen took the opportunity to come around to introduce themselves and update us on civic events and trainings.

My contribution to the party was this vegetarian pasta salad. This is a perfect make ahead salad for warm days, I was able to make it in the cool of the morning and let the flavors mingle. Leftovers were even better for lunch the next day. There is no mayonnaise so you don’t have to worry about spoilage. It would be a great side for a summer BBQ.

Why do I call it corn cob pasta salad? Because the first step is to make a “broth” from the leftover cobs. I’ve read about this technique when making corn chowders, the cobs (once the kernels are removed) flavor the stock and give an extra flavor boost to the soup. Start by cooking the ears of corn in boiling water, then remove them after 4 or 5 minutes (when the corn is cooked to your liking), cut the kernels from the cobs, and return the ’empty’ cobs to the boiling water for another 30 minutes. The result is a mild corn flavored broth in which you cook the pasta. A corny stock.

You could use any shape of pasta, I used rotelle (wagon wheels) because I thought it would be fun for the kids and easy to eat off a paper plate.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, I mixed it with the corn kernels, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped red onion, black beans, halved pitted black olives, shredded mozzarella, and lots of chopped parsley. The seasonings are light and simple, some red pepper, salt, vinegar, and olive oil. Since there is no mayonnaise, you don’t have to worry about food poisoning if it sits out for a couple of hours on a picnic table.

Corn Cob Pasta Salad

This makes a lot of salad, suitable for sharing at a large gathering for a 8 – 12. You could add fresh spinach to stretch it even further.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears of fresh corn, cleaned
  • 1 lb box of dried pasta, your choice of shape
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 12 black olives, halved or sliced
  • 2 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar depending on strength
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add the corn to the pot, turn down the heat when it comes back to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes until it is cooked to your liking.
  3. Use tongs or another utensil to remove the corn from the pot.
  4. Cool the corn until you can handle it and cut the kernels from the cob, reserve.
  5. Salt the boiling water well and add the cobs back to the pot, simmer for 30 minutes on low heat.
  6. Remove the cobs from the water and skim any silk that might be floating in your corn broth. Bring the water back to the boil.
  7. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook as per the package directions.
  8. Meanwhile combine the corn kernels, tomatoes, drained black beans, red onion, and olives in a large bowl.
  9. Drain the cooked pasta, cool slightly (don’t rinse, I add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep it from sticking together) and add to the bowl with the other ingredients and add the pinch of red pepper.
  10. Add the olive oil and vinegar, toss together, taste for salt.
  11. Mix in the chopped parsley and mozzarella once completely cool.
  12. Taste again and add any additional seasonings that might be needed.

Also nice in the salad would be chopped red or orange pepper, I actually forgot to add them but think the pepper would be a flavorful and colorful addition. Finely minced garlic would also be good if you are serving only adults. What about hominy? Then it would be a triple corn salad…broth, fresh kernels, and hominy. This recipe is only a basic template for a world of flavors and your imagination.

July – Easy Graham Bread

July – Easy Graham Bread

Cleaning out old files of recipes can be a treasure trove of food memories. This time it was one for Graham Bread, found on a stained 3 x 5 card written by someone named Lynn (I regretfully don’t remember her but I remember her bread).

Graham Bread

I used to bake this quick dark loaf almost weekly. It is super easy, there are only 6 ingredients and zero fat. With a smear of cream cheese or labne (yogurt cheese), and a piece of fresh fruit it was a healthy and quick breakfast. It still is. Although this recipe doesn’t call for any added butter or oil, it is still moist. It contains a 1/2 cup of honey for the entire loaf, no sugar! You could substitute another form of sweetener such as maple syrup or molasses, both would add some interesting flavors. I haven’t tried it, let me know if you do.

Graham bread keeps well and provides a walloping 2.5 g of fiber and 3.8 g of protein in a single slice. I used sprouted wheat flour so the fiber and protein content is probably even higher.

Graham Bread

This bread is very satisfying but doesn’t sit like a lump in your stomach, it will fill you up and prepare you to meet the challenges of the day. It’s equally good as a snack at the end of the day.

Please note that the flavor of the flour is crucial here, use the freshest and best you can find. My local store did not stock graham flour, I was able to easily find and purchase it on line.

Graham Bread

This bread is not very sweet and goes well with savory dishes as chili or soup.

If you are not familiar with it, graham flour is a very coarsely ground whole wheat flour, usually made from dark northern hard red wheat. It contains all the germ, oil and fiber from the whole wheat kernel. It is very flavorful and commonly used in rustic breads and classic graham crackers.

You will recognize the flavor of graham crackers in the bread. Add chopped nuts and/or dried fruit for extra crunch and sweetness if you want. But it doesn’t need it.

Graham Bread

  • 2 cups of buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of flour (I used sprouted wheat flour)
  • 2 cups of graham flour

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)
  2. Whisk together the buttermilk and baking soda in a large bowl until bubbly
  3. Add the salt and flours to the buttermilk mixture, mix well.
  4. Pour into a large loaf pan.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes.
  6. Cool on a rack before slicing.

Graham Bread

This is the first time I’ve used this nutritional analysis, please bear with me while I get the hang of it. The loaf could easily be sliced thinner than 14 slices, it holds together well.

I am taking this to share on this week’s Fiesta Friday #182. Fiesta Friday is a virtual party hosted by Angie and co-hosted by none other than myself and Jenny @ Jenny Is Baking.

Please stop by to read all the fantastic recipes from all over the world.

A single serving of this recipe has 140 calories.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 14
Per Serving % Daily Value*
Calories 140
Total Fat 0.7g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.2g 1%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 1mg 1%
Sodium 37mg 2%
Potassium 69mg 1%
Total Carb 31g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2.5g 9%
Sugars 11.6g
Protein 3.8g
Vitamin A 0% · Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 3% · Iron 6%
*Based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Recipe analyzed by
July – Intermingling in the Garden

July – Intermingling in the Garden

No, this isn’t an X-rated post about steamy things going on in the garden. Intermingling is a new term in horticulture, a mix of ecology and garden design. I first heard the term a week ago at a talk by Thomas Rainer at the International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, OR. I attended his lecture out of curiosity, knowing nothing. I came out having had an almost spiritual transformation. He gave an inspirational talk. Intermingling in the garden refers to designing lush plant communities which mimic the wild places we are rapidly losing. It is about designing plantings that look and function more like they do in nature, more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious while requiring less maintenance. For those of us who have spent hours weeding mulch, this was an “ah-ha” moment. In nature plants richly cover the ground, any bare spots are quickly overgrown. So, why not design for that overgrowth? In his book Planting in a Post-Wild World Mr. Rainer proposes designing with plant communities that link nature to our landscapes, that bring together both ecological planting and traditional horticulture. The focus on layered plantings means that there can be more beneficial plants in small spaces. What does he mean by layered planting? He suggesting thinking of garden design in three vertical layers. The upper design layer would include those plants that create color and texture. The lower layers, that may stay hidden, provide essential erosion control, soil building, and weed suppression.

  • Structural layer – tall species that tower over other plants, this would include tall grasses as well.
  • Seasonal theme layer – plants that create color and texture at certain times of the year. These plants are placed as they would be in nature, not all in drifts.
  • Ground cover layer – those plants that occupy the lower layer of grassland communities. They generally have shallower root systems that do not compete with the deeper roots of tall plants.

Although this is a fairly new concept here, gardens in the U.K. and Germany are already being designed this way. And in many cases they are using our own native plants because of the enormous diversity of species in the U.S.

Another book which explores this idea is Planting, a New Prospective by Piet Oudolf. I have it on order. Mr. Rainer mentioned Piet Oudolf in his talk. The description sounds perfect for helping design the Fort Bragg garden since we are starting from scratch. “Planting: A New Perspective is an essential resource for designers and gardeners looking to create plant-rich, beautiful gardens that support biodiversity and nourish the human spirit. An intimate knowledge of plants is essential to the success of modern landscape design, and Planting makes Oudolf’s considerable understanding of plant ecology and performance accessible, explaining how plants behave in different situations, what goes on underground, and which species make good neighbors.”

You can read more about this concept on his website. He has also written articles for fine Gardening, here is a link.

We spent the weekend in our Fort Bragg garden, using a pick ax to break through the compacted soil to create a garden bed. I don’t think that soil has ever seen a speck of compost, it soaked it up like it was dying of thirst. It is not the ideal time of year to be doing this, grass seeds are going to sprout when I water the soil. They will need to be weeded out before I plant. But, we have to work with the time we have and those irises need to go in before the rain starts this fall. Meanwhile I am researching plants to intermingle. I do think there is a role for mulch as far as moisture preservation, especially in drought torn California and before the plants are established.

The beginnings of a garden bed

The garden has a long way to go. Gardening is a patient occupation that often takes years to see results. Hopefully my back will hold out.

July – Three Pepper Quick Roast Chicken

July – Three Pepper Quick Roast Chicken

Three Pepper Chicken comes from a recipe typed by my mother on her old manual typewriter. I came across it while cleaning out some files, finding it was like discovering buried treasure. Mom had a cooking school in Florida back in the 70’s, but I don’t think this is from her classes. Judging from the folds, my mother must have mailed it to me. We shared a love of food and cooking. I don’t remember ever making it, which makes me sad. I missed an opportunity for the memories of a shared conversation about the recipe and the evening on which it might have been served. She would have wanted to hear all about the guests and the menu.

Three Pepper Chicken

This chicken was destined for our BBQ on a warm Friday night. It was too hot to spend time in the kitchen as we don’t have air conditioning. If your weather doesn’t cooperate, you could easily roast it in your oven. That’s how the recipe reads and my mom must have made it.

I combined her suggestion to spatchcock the chicken, cutting off the backbone and flattening it (see video),  with opening up the thighs for faster cooking. You can see more about this technique in my post about 45 minute roast chicken. The chicken does look a little pornographic but it immensely speeds the cooking time and ensures that the thighs are cooked at the same time as the breast meat. This method also has the advantage of letting you rub the three pepper seasoning into the thigh meat and the entire breast. The flavor is amazing!

Three Pepper Chicken

The three peppers are sweet paprika, black pepper, and Szechuan peppercorns. Only the additions of a little salt and olive oil are needed.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon coarsely and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns, bruised and crushed slightly (I used a mortar and pestle but you could put them in a plastic bag and hit them with a rolling pin)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Olive oil – about 1 tablespoon

Method

  1. Preheat your BBQ or oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). If making it in your BBQ, set it up for indirect heat (the central burners off or coals pushed to the side)
  2. Mix the paprika, black pepper, Szechuan peppercorns and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Coat the chicken, inside and out, with the spices. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. If cooking in the oven:
    • lightly oil a roasting pan just large enough for the chicken to lay flat, skin side up.
    • Press any remaining spice mixture into the skin.
    • Roast in the center of the oven for 30-45 minutes until juices run clear. The time will depend on the size of your chicken.
  5. If cooking on the BBQ:
    • Clean and lightly grease the grill.
    • Rub any remaining spice mixture into the skin.
    • Place the chicken skin side up over the area of your BBQ where there are no burners or coals.
    • Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
    • Turn the chicken skin side down and continue to cook for 20 minutes or longer until juices run clear. Timing will depend on the size of your chicken.
  6. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes before carving.

Three Pepper Chicken

The chicken had the most lovely color and flavor from the spices. She would have enjoyed hearing all about it.

 

July – In the Garden

July – In the Garden

Did you know this blog was intended to be about gardening as well as food? That is the spades part of the title. I realize that I haven’t written about plants in some time. The cover picture in this post is the Oakland garden in spring, a few years ago. You can see the tall bearded irises coming into bloom in the back. I am preparing to leave that garden, but it is difficult to disconnect emotionally and let it go. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like that lovely picture anymore. Last year it was a victim of the California drought, water restrictions, my day job, and time spent on the remodel of the Fort Bragg cabin. This year’s excuse is the time required for new construction at the very same house, plus getting the Oakland house ready to sell by the end of this year.

I shifting my garden focus from Oakland to our retirement cabin (now becoming a house) in Fort Bragg, California, starting a new garden almost from scratch. Fort Bragg is a small town of about 8,000 full time residents, 3 1/2 hours north of San Francisco, on the Pacific coast. You have probably heard more about Mendocino, their sister city, only a few minutes south on highway 1. The Northern California coast is absolutely gorgeous, full of empty beaches, redwoods, hiking trails, and deep forests. I have always loved the area and am excited at the prospect of spending more of my time there. I predict that much of it will be spent in the garden.

Our property is just over 1/2 mile from the coast, far enough inland to escape most of the salt air and summer fog which plagues homes directly on the coast. I’m using this post to document the “before”, the blank canvas before I get my hands in the dirt. Most of the 7 acres are filled with second growth redwood and pine trees. The pines have been devastated by drought and an onslaught of the Western pine beetle.  They were originally planted a couple of decades ago as a scheme to become a Christmas tree farm, a misguided attempt to take an agricultural tax cut. They are too close together, and dying. We have had to remove the ones closest to the house as a precaution against fire. At first, I thought to remove the dead and downed trees in other parts of the property, but I am starting to change my mind. The trees and undergrowth have a unique ecology and are homes to many small animals, birds and insects. I might just let things rot.

The house itself sits in the middle of a large meadow, an acre or more in size. There will be plenty to occupy my time and energy and it will be several years before things begin to take shape. Those efforts will need to start with the soil as it hasn’t been amended in many years (if ever). A lot of organic matter will be needed to enrich this sandy loam (read that as mostly sand). We are only a short distance from the dunes of MacKerricher State Park. It is quite different from Oakland where I was gardening in clay; a now underground creek ran right through the garden. I could have sold that clay to a potter; it was that dark and heavy. In our dry summer it was like concrete.

I will transfer as many plants as possible from the Oakland garden, to the one in Fort Bragg, starting with summer dormant bulbs. The timing of July/August is perfect for digging and dividing Dutch iris bulbs. They did not bloom well this year, having become overcrowded. Dividing should refresh them. So far I have several hundred bulbs with a few more clumps to dig.

What do you think about a long bed of irises along the left side of the driveway approaching the house? I think the bulbs will appreciate the fast draining soil.

Left Side of Driveway – Before

Iris Border Along Driveway – This is my ultimate goal

Bearded Iris Bulbs

I have ordered a few more “exotic” colors to mix in with the rest. Mine are mostly deep purple, pink, light blue, and lavender.

I am also planning a draught friendly berm of both native and Mediterranean plants on the right side of the driveway. Before I start though, there are two very large and overgrown trees to remove. They both lost branches in last year’s heavy winter storms. Many of the branches are dead and they block the sun in that area. Plants on the berm will have to be ones that resist deer, gophers, and rabbits since there isn’t a fence yet. The wish list includes plants that are attractive to bees and other pollinators, I am partial to lavenders, sages and grasses for their movement.

Site of Berm on Right Side of Driveway

The back of the house will have the vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, herbs, and several flower/herb beds. It doesn’t look like much right now with the construction still in progress. But it is full of possibilities. Stay tuned.

Once the new bedroom/bath is finished, I will post some pictures of the house.

Back Meadow

Rhododendrons do incredibly well here, I’d like to plant a few more colors at the edge of the redwoods. There are currently 11 mature plants on the property, they require minimal water and attention from me except deadheading the spent flowers.

Fort Bragg Rododendrons

I had to move a mature dwarf yellow rhododendron and two pink azaleas from the back of the house (where the addition was to be located) to another bed at the back of the meadow because of the construction. I was worried they wouldn’t survive being transplanted during the rainy season, but they seem to be doing well and are putting out new growth. The soil is very fast draining, which helped. I think they would have drowned in the heavy soggy soil of the Oakland garden. It’s difficult to see in the picture, one of the azaleas has lovely chocolate brown leaves.

Transplanted mature rhododendron and azaleas

I would love to hear suggestions from any gardeners. We don’t currently have a deer fence but that will come in the near future.