In My Garden – April 2020

In My Garden – April 2020

The following two paragraphs are copied from Kitchen Garden Seeds. I’m on their email list and get messages fairly frequently. Perusing seed catalogs in print or online is a time honored winter and early spring tradition for most gardeners.

“Back in the 1940s in the midst of World War II, Americans across the country planted Victory Gardens to supply themselves and others with fresh food, which was a scarcity at the time. Victory Gardens were hugely successful, and a symbol of our country coming together toward a common goal of keeping ourselves healthy and proactive.
We’re now in the midst of another global crisis, and judging from what we’re hearing from our customers, gardening is yet again what we’re all gravitating toward for sustenance and comfort. As we all hunker down to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and the population in general, flattening the curve as best we can, we have the opportunity to get back to basics: spending quality time with family, cooking leisurely meals, engaging in meaningful conversations, and, of course, gardening. Growing our own food and flowers is incredibly therapeutic, with the added benefit of supplying our families with fresh food without stepping foot in a grocery store.”
Even if you only have room for a small patio garden, it can be very gratifying to pick some fresh herbs or a few cherry tomatoes for your dinner. This link will lead you to a post I wrote a few years ago with some ideas, Kitchen Basics to Grow in Pots.
We have been preparing the vegetable garden for early summer vegetables. Although I did have summer squash in the raised beds last year, it’s too cool for cucumbers or tomatoes. We’ve hope to remedy that by covering some of the raised beds with plastic to make mini-hoop houses.
I would love to grow peppers but it really is too cool for them here. I did run across an interesting article about them though and had a few minutes of ‘hot’ summer envy. Here is a link if you live in an area where you can grow them. The link is from a site called Happy DIY Home, they had some handy tips regarding home and garden.
Raised Beds

Raised Beds with Hoops for Plastic Covering

At the moment my raised are filled with lettuce, kale, and chard. Definitely winter produce, and because of the cold they are growing very slowly.

The sparrows were decimating the peas, they haven’t been able to get a start because of the foraging birds. I found some old netting in the garage and that seems to be giving them a helping hand. I won’t wait as long next year to wrap some netting around them.

Snap Peas with Netting

Snap Peas with Netting

We spent a day digging out redwood roots from one of the raised beds. This is a chore that has to be done once a year to each bed as the trees and their roots are very aggressive. There were some sore backs after the job was completed. It made me wish for that hot tub we keep meaning to purchase.

Raised Bed - roots removed

Raised Bed Minus Redwood Roots

I’ve started some seeds in seed trays.

New seeds

Seeds – lettuce, chard, kale, cilantro

So, what is happening in the flower beds this month? Spring is definitely here and the plants are starting to leaf out and bloom. The tulips and irises are in bloom, also the Geums. Salvia concolor has not been out of bloom since the start of winter, much to the delight of the yard’s hummingbirds. This variety of salvia seems to be doing better than most others of its kind in my garden. I planted several of them last fall with Alonsoa meridionalis “Apricot Mask Flower” and both have been in non-stop flower.
Salvia and Alonsoa

Salvia and Alonsoa

I am mesmerized by foliage combinations, especially welcome when not much is flowering. Here is one of my favorite combinations.

The tangerine color of the Geum flowers mirror the leaves of the Heuchera, both shown off by the dark foliage of the Anthriscus. All the Geums have just started blooming like crazy, they do very well here and I consider them one of the most successful plants in the garden. Everything has to be able to put up with the competition of the redwood roots.

The first rhododendron is in bloom, it’s a bushy yellow one. I think the variety is ‘Top Banana’ but I’m not sure.

Rhododendron 'Top Banana'

I think this is:Rhododendron ‘Top Banana’

And the first dahlia shoots are showing.


First Dahlia Emerging in the Spring

It will be another few weeks before most of the emerge. It’s a tricky time when the snails and slugs can ravage them.

Banana Slugs

Banana Slugs

Here are two pictures of the pollinator meadow, 2019 and 2020. Late last fall we mowed all the plants in and this year we will see how it changes. I’ll add side by side pictures each month for comparison.

If you would like to take a look at the garden last year at this time, you will find the link here. We had a lot more rain last winter season than this one. In fact almost twice as much as this year. I fear that, without a lot of early spring rain, we are headed into a drought.

And lastly, while I have been digging in the raised bed and putting in new plants, the dogs have been busy doing their own excavations. They have completely dug up a portion of the yard in search of a allusive gopher or mole.

Major Gopher Excavation

Major Gopher Excavation

Dogs digging

I know it’s here somewhere

There must be a whole colony from the looks of it.

Examining a Days Work

Examining a Days Work

Definitely a tunnel here.

Stay well everyone, stay safe. Let me know how your garden is doing. Right now I call it my therapy.

April – Aduki Beans with Bacon, Bourbon and Rice

April – Aduki Beans with Bacon, Bourbon and Rice

Shelf at my grocery store

Adzuki Beans

Does your grocery store look like this? There was not a single can of beans on the shelves except these aduki beans. It was a sight I never expected to see, I guess beans are a good pantry staple. But why wasn’t anyone hoarding aduki beans? They are delicious. I guess most folks are not familiar with them.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil:

“Adzuki beans are small, red beans that originated in China. These legumes (also called aduki or azuki beans) are most often enjoyed boiled with sugar and mashed into a sweet red bean paste that is used as a filling in many popular Asian desserts, including ice cream. The nutty flavor of adzukis is equally delicious in savory applications: Festival Rice from Japan combines adzuki with rice, which receives a pleasant pink tint from the beans.”

“Like many other beans, adzukis are a good source of magnesiumpotassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and B vitamins. Also of note is the adzuki’s status as the “weight loss bean,” since they are so low in calories and fat, yet high in nutrition. Additionally, they are relatively easy to digest, so they should not give you gas as other beans do.”

This is a pantry dinner but still delicious. It could be either the entire meal or a side dish.


  • 1 can of aduki beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 strips thick, uncured, apple wood smoked bacon
  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed (or white if that’s all you have)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups of water (depending on the type of rice)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (start with 1 tablespoon and add more to taste)
  • pinch of salt, to taste

A note on substitutions…

    • No thick sliced, uncured bacon? Use regular bacon with a few extra slices.
    • no bacon or are you vegetarian? Use any smoky vegetarian substitute.
    • no bourbon? Use brandy or a smoky scotch or sake or leave it out completely.
    • no honey? Use maple syrup or agave or a tablespoon of brown sugar.
    • and if you are missing all of those…use two or three tablespoons of BBQ sauce.

You are looking for a flavor profile, something sweet and smoky and a little sharp.


  1. Slice bacon in half, lengthwise, and then chop into small pieces. Add bacon to cold saucepan or Dutch oven and turn heat to medium. Cook bacon until fat is rendered and pieces are crisp and golden. Transfer cooked bacon to a small bowl and set aside. Drain off all but one tablespoon of grease.
  2. Add beans to pan, stir, and then add rice. Stir to coat in bacon drippings. Add bourbon, stir and cook, about a minute, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add water, bring mixture to a simmer, and cover pan, lowering heat. Cook until liquid is absorbed and beans and rice are tender, about 30-35 minutes.
  3. Fluff mixture with a fork.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of honey, reserved bacon pieces, and mix into beans and rice. Add additional honey if necessary.
  5. Add salt to taste. Serve hot or warm and enjoy!
aduki beans and rice

aduki beans and rice



  1. Aduki beans with bacon and bourbon

    Aduki beans with bacon and bourbon; with roast cauliflower















In My Kitchen – April 2020

In My Kitchen – April 2020

How are you all doing out there? I know that we are facing some hard times. In California we are in our third week of shelter-in-place and going a little stir crazy. I am spending a lot of time in the kitchen, but it’s not the same. I’m trying to avoid the grocery store and market, shopping only once a week or less (which is not my common practice).

By the end of the week, when fresh produce (and other essential ingredients) are running out, we find ourselves eating a lot of pantry meals. Some of them have been surprisingly delicious. Others, not so much.

Meanwhile I have been struggling with so many emotions, seemingly all at the same time.

  • I am sad and grieving, for all of us. It is heartbreaking to read what is happening in Italy, and NY, and Detroit…all over the world.
  • I am encouraged and hopeful. I know many people and companies are ramping up research and production to meet our needs in this medical emergency.
  • I am afraid for my family, friends, my community, the world and myself.
  • I feel full of appreciation, respect, pride and even love for those that are stepping up. In my book our medical caregivers, our first responders, and many in our local and state government are my new heroes.
  • The day seems to go so slowly but then again, the day is over before I know it.
  • I am accomplishing very little even though I have all day to do it.
  • And I am mesmerized by the news.

For the first time in a long time, the world feels very small. We are all connected. We are all in this together. Things will never be the same. That might be a hopeful thing.

Exercise helps, taking a walk or a Zoom class or getting out in the garden helps, a lot.

So what’s happening in my kitchen? More ambivalence… I want to spend time in the kitchen. But, then again, I’m not interested in spending time in the kitchen.

Emotions are complicated things aren’t they?

So, in my kitchen, I have pickled asparagus. Spring is happening, ignoring the reports of doom. The asparagus is amazing. I purchased 4 big bunches at the market (before the lockdown) and made 4 quarts of pickled asparagus.

Pickled Asparagus

Pickled Asparagus

I couldn’t decide whether to pickle them tip up or tip down, so I did some of each. Does it make a difference, what do you think? Our weekend brunch favorite is pickled asparagus on avocado toast with a poached egg on top. The sharpness of the pickle contrasts delightfully with the crisp toast, creamy avocado, and the rich soft egg.

I made fennel spice rub with a few adaptations for Forever Roasted Pork Shoulder. There was plenty left over for other dishes.

Roast Fennel Spice

Roast Fennel Spice

Forever roasted pork shoulder

Forever roasted pork shoulder. You will find the recipe for the pork shoulder and the spice rub here.

In my kitchen you will find me using my electric pressure cooker more often. It’s not an Instant Pot but it works the same. The market seems to have large packages of chicken and I cooked a big batch of chicken thighs so we would have leftovers for lunch. It was very successful.

Asian Inspired Chicken Thighs in the Instant Pot

Asian Inspired Chicken Thighs in the Instant Pot. You can find the recipe for Asian Inspired Chicken Thighs here.

It’s useful to know you can cook an entire family sized package of thighs quickly. Most of the recipes online call for only four. Now that everyone is home for lunch each day, leftovers are very welcome. Use any kind of rub or spices that are family favorites.

Towards the middle of the week, and thinking about lunches again, I made a pantry soup while there was still a few zucchini and potatoes hanging around. This recipe is endlessly adaptable. I chose to make it more Italian spiced but you could easily change it to Mexican by using beans instead of potatoes, frozen corn, and chili powder. Or Indian if you have ground lamb and some curry powder. Customize it to what you have on hand and the flavor profile you feel like in the moment.

There’s a wonderful book, first published in 1991, called From Pantry to Table by Marlena Spieler. She has some creative cooking ideas and suggestions from a well stocked pantry or kitchen. I know Amazon did not rate it highly but for me it’s a go-to for ideas when my pantry is down to the bottom of the barrel.

Italian Soup - Sausage, Zucchini and Tomato

Italian Soup – Sausage, Zucchini and TomatoThe recipe for Sausage, Zucchini and Tomato soup is here.

In my kitchen I have one new cookbook, recommended by a friend. I haven’t cooked from it yet but am looking forward to it. It may need to wait until I can do some more expansive food shopping.

The Beauty Chef

I do like her emphasis on self care and that your skin reflects what you eat. We all need to be reminded to take care of ourselves right now.

In My Kitchen is a collection of posts from around the world. It’s hosted by Mae from Sherrys Picking’s. Please do check in with us, this month the world is very small. And please, if you are a blogger or writer (or a poet), think about joining us and adding your own thoughts, it will help all of us through these difficult times.

I welcome any comments. What are you doing to stay sane right now?




March 2020 – Garden Failures

March 2020 – Garden Failures

No one likes to admit failure; but I think it is educational to know that ‘*’ happens, especially in the garden. These posts are a record for me, my garden diary. Maybe reading it will give me pause before I purchase my 12th Salvia ‘Blue Note’. I love the look of it and want it to thrive. On its part, it doesn’t like my garden no matter how much I baby it. I am forever optimistic.

Every garden has its unique character and characteristics. This is my 3rd year gardening on our 7 acres in Fort Bragg, CA. I have logged a great many failures during that time. We have a deer fence around a couple of acres surrounding the house, I am lucky I don’t have to worry about grazing deer as they are a big problem here. (As an aside, the deer fence is new and I do have some ideas about plants that did well and were not eaten by deer. Just email me or comment on this post.) Our clearing is surrounded by tall conifers (heavily dominated by redwood trees). It does give us protection from the wind (the ocean is less than a mile away) but it also means we are cooler and shadier than areas more inland.

I thought I would give you a glimpse of my three years of extensive gardening in the cultivated part. I promise to post my successes as well. The property outside the fence is wild and we leave it that way, a stream runs through part of it and we treat it as wildlife refuge.

Visitor to the Wild Part

A midnight marauder – before the fence he was after the bird seed, now the bears come after our garbage on trash pickup day (thankfully outside the fence).

This is a list of plants that failed to thrive or just plain croaked soon after planting. Why? I am not really sure for many of them. The garden does have some unique features which make it difficult; competition by redwood roots, acid and depleted soil although it has been supplemented with enormous amounts of compost (several times a year), bone meal and other amendments. We are supposed to be in climate zone 9b but I am not sure that is completely accurate. We get a lot of winter rain (in most years) and it’s soggy weather. Summers are on the cooler side with summer fog. The soil is basically sandy and drains well, but is low in nutrients, maybe because it does drain well…the nutrients just leach out. And again, there are those redwood roots, it could be that root competition does them in.

Anyway, here is a partial list of my failures:

I admit that when I find a plant I love, I don’t give up on it. The above plants represent multiple failed attempts. Other master gardeners at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens have mentioned bad luck with Salvias, they think that Annie’s Annuals (an amazing nursery where I get many plants) may have wrong zones listed on some of their plants. I also think our gardening geography has some unique features.

What has been your experience? Have any of the plants listed done well in your garden? Any tips, especially on the Salvias?

Look for another post on those plants that have been successes, there are quite a few that have done well.



March – Forever Roasted Pork Shoulder

March – Forever Roasted Pork Shoulder

I cannot believe I have never posted this recipe! I searched my recipe index but couldn’t find it anywhere, even though it’s a big favorite of both friends and family for years. This dish will give you days of leftovers for pulled pork, carnitas, BBQ pork sandwiches, tacos, etc. And if you are feeling, like I am, sightly depressed…it will make your kitchen smell like a warm hug (something in short supply at the moment). Now is the perfect time to cook something that takes most of the day in the oven, where else are you going to go? Don’t make this in the slow cooker, it will not be the same. You could make it in your instant pot, you would need to crisp it in the oven after. But why? Use the low oven method unless it’s 4 pm and the zombies are at the door (instant pot options at the end), I encourage you to embrace slow oven cooking for this if at all possible.

If you want it have dinner at 6 pm, you need to pop it in the oven right after your Zoom workout or the first conference call of the day at 9. Rub it down with the spices and put it in the roasting pan at 8 am while you are having your second (maybe first these days) cup of coffee. Let it rest at room temperature on the counter until you have finished your workout or your call. At that time preheat the oven, and put the pork in the oven (uncovered) at 10:30. Forget about it all day (you won’t be able to ignore the aroma coming from your oven). It will be ready at 5:30, enough time for it to rest. Resist the urge to steal crispy bits before dinner is officially served, I usually can’t.

You will have the entire day free. Time to deal with home schooling, your toddler, the garden, and/or work.

The original idea for this recipe came from Michael Chiarello’s cookbook Casual Cooking, published in 2002. He was named Chef of the Year by the Culinary Institute of America  and Food & Wine Magazine. Founder of the Tra Vigne Restarurant in St. Helena, CA (in the wine country).

I have dramatically simplified his recipe except for one thing, the amazing mixture of spices that he uses. Toasted Fennel Rub is my absolute favorite spice mixture in the whole world. You don’t need to use it though, use any beloved spice rub of your own. I just happen to have this on hand most times and often give it as a present to friends. I’ve modified it with the addition of some heat. But, use what you have. Any BBQ rub would be excellent, what about taco seasoning, or chili powder with some added salt? Do not fret about it. The trick is the slow roasting which transforms the pork into a meltingly tender piece of meat with a crisp layer of fat on the outside.


  • One pork shoulder roast (mine was bone-in, about 5 1/2 pounds)
  • Enough rub to coat all sides of the roast (see the recipe for fennel spice at the bottom of this post)


  1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F
  2. Rub your spice mixture of choice (see Fennel Rub below) over all sides of the roast
  3. Place the pork, fat side up, on a rack in a roasting pan or other dish (there may be quite a lot of fat, so a deep one is best). Line it with foil for easier clean up.
  4. Roast, uncovered, for 7 hours.
  5. Let the roast rest for 20 minutes, then slice or shred.

Note: If you don’t have a rack of the correct size for your pan, make one with halved onions or whole carrots or crumbled foil.

Pork Shoulder Roast with Rub

Pork Shoulder Roast with Rub

Pork Shoulder Roast with Rub

Pork Shoulder Roast with Fennel Spice Rub

Here it is after 7 hours, juicy and ready to shred. As usual, I couldn’t stop the fingers from pulling off crispy bits before we were ready to eat dinner.

Forever roasted pork shoulder

Forever roasted pork shoulder

Shredded Pork Shoulder

Shredded Pork Shoulder

It was easy to shred. Served with roasted asparagus, avocado, pickled cabbage, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa.

Shredded Pork Tacos

Shredded Pork Tacos

We have some really amazing leftovers for the week. Stay tuned for some ideas.


Enhanced Fennel Rub


  • 1 cup fennel seeds
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • My additions:
    • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1/4 cup chile powder (use something on the sweet rather than on the hot side, or leave it out)
    • 3 tablespoons cumin seeds


  1. Place a dry small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel, coriander, peppercorns and cumin seeds (if using). Continually stirring, roast until light brown and the smell is amazing.
  2. Turn your oven fan (high), add the chile powder and red pepper flakes. Continue to stir (it will smoke) for a few more seconds. Then remove from the heat and immediately turn the spices out onto a large plate to cool.
  3. Once cool, add the salt.
  4. Grind in your blender, mini food processor, or spice blender to a powder. There will still be some whole spices that won’t be completely ground, that’s okay.

If you want to make this in an electric pressure cooker or Instant Pot, here are some suggestions. After you coat the pork with your spice mix of choice, brown it on the saute setting in the pot or in a large skillet. Then add 1 cup of broth (chicken or vegetable), set the machine to high pressure and cook for 60 minutes, then turn the machine off and let the steam naturally release for 30 minutes. You won’t get that amazing crust, or a whole day of comforting aromas, but you will have dinner on the table for hungry mouths much faster.

Stay well everyone, stay safe, and please stay in touch.

I am going to take this dish to Angie’s at Fiesta Friday #321. Please come check out the virtual party on her site. The cohosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and, none other than myself: Liz @ Spades, Spatulas & Spoons

And if you would like to join us, link your post to and/or the cohost(s), so you can be featured.

And if you would like a chance to be featured next Friday, please read the guidelines.

Also linking this to Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.