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 – 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.

February – Chicken with Tomato Cream Sauce

February – Chicken with Tomato Cream Sauce

This recipe combines two of my favorite foods, chicken and tomato soup (don’t worry, it won’t call for that red and white can). Those flavors are especially welcome on a night like this, stormy and cold. We took the dogs for a walk on the beach just before the rain hit, the first drops fell as we were driving away from the parking lot.

Seaside Winter Beach

Seaside Winter Beach

Don’t you think a winter beach is special? It was empty of summer visitors, only the hardiest souls were out in the late afternoon. We only met two other couples, both with dogs chasing balls or sticks.  out. Our dogs were in heaven, excited by the wind, leaping into the air to catch the frisbee.

The beach was full of driftwood washed up by the waves onto the high tide line. I didn’t get a picture, unfortunately. The salvage groups have been out cutting up the logs.

Winter beach

Winter beach

I cooked this sous-vide, inspired by a post from Bewitching Kitchen for Chicken Korma-ish. But the dish could also be cooked in a skillet with the sauce. I will give instructions for both. Sous-vide means “under vacuum” and is a method of cooking in a water bath at a very carefully controlled temperature. Your food is encased in a food safe plastic bag, either under vacuum or the air having removed by displacement. Your food cannot overcook. It takes longer but the results are amazing. In this case, silky and moist chicken breasts.

I served this with both spiralized zucchini and pasta. Take your pick, it was delicious both ways.

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 tomatoes, sliced. I didn’t bother to skin them as I was going to puree them in the food processor.
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • thinly sliced basil or parsley, about 1/4 cup
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • toasted pine nuts for serving
  • garnish of chopped basil
  • pasta of any shape or spiralized vegetable

If making this in the summer with wonderful vine ripened tomatoes, you may not need to add the tomato paste. Since these were February tomatoes, green house grown, they could use a little help.

Method

  1. If using sous-vide, heat your water bath to 150 degrees F.
  2. Melt butter or heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat
  3. Add the shallot and saute until starting to soften.
  4. Add the garlic, do not let either the shallot or garlic brown. Saute for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the sliced tomatoes, cook until softened and starting to melt into the pan.

    onion, garlic, and tomatoes

    onion, garlic, and tomatoes

  6. Add the tomato paste and salt, stir to mix.
  7. Put the contents of the skillet into a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
  8. Add 1/3 cup of the cream and process again.
  9. For sous-vide:
    1. Add the diced chicken to a food safe plastic bag.
    2. Add the second 1/3 cup cream to the bag and mix.
    3. Add the contents of your blender or food processor and mix.
    4. Immerse the bag in the water and squeeze out the air.
    5. Cook for 2 hours, 3 is ok if you need to leave it longer.
  10. For traditional:
    1. Return the contents of the processor or blender to the skillet, add the second 1/3 cup cream and mix.
    2. Pour the sauce back into the skillet and heat on medium until just under the boil.
    3. Add the chicken and turn the heat to low.
    4. Cook until the chicken is done, about 10-15  minutes. Test a piece to make sure it is cooked all the way through.
Spiralized Zucchini

Spiralized Zucchini

There is a trick to using spiralized zucchini. Zucchini is mostly water. salting before using will help it retain the crispness. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher salt and drain in a colander. Then dry on paper towels or a tea cloth before using. You will be amazed at the liquid that is released (and doesn’t water down your sauce). You can then add the zucchini to the hot sauce in the skillet to heat.

Tomato Cream Sauce Chicken with Zucchini

Tomato Cream Sauce Chicken with Zucchini

The chicken was fantastic!

Chicken with Tomato Cream Sauce

Chicken with Tomato Cream Sauce

I am adding this post to the virtual blogging party at Fiesta Friday #158 hosted by Angie. The co-hosts this week are Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Petra @ Food Eat Love.

August 2016 – In My Kitchen

August 2016 – In My Kitchen

“In My Kitchen” is a blogosphere party, first hosted by Celia (Fig Jam and Lime Cordial) and now hosted by Maureen (The Orgasmic Chef). Maureen is taking a short break over the summer to recover from surgery, please check back in September when the party returns. Meanwhile a few of us are continuing the tradition. My last “In My Kitchen” post was in June so this is really a two month catch-up.

I enjoy, virtually, reading about the new things that have happened in kitchens around the world during the past month.

Here is a quick tour of my own.

In my kitchen I have the first cucumbers of the season.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

To go along with the tomatoes.

The first garden tomatoes

The first garden tomatoes

The tomato plants were gifted to me by my friend, Linda Dutcher, in Fort Bragg. They are Siberian and cold adapted varieties and we enjoyed the first fruit a month ago, unheard of here in Northern California.

From a recent business trip to Seattle I brought back fresh Copper River Salmon.

Seattle, Pike's Place Market

Seattle, Pike’s Place Market

Flying Fish Market

Flying Fish Market

The Flying Fish is one of the best known fish stalls in the market, and amazingly one of the best (they often don’t coincide). And why do they call it Flying Fish you might ask? The fish mongers are known for throwing the fish over the heads of a crowd of watchers, to be safely caught and packaged for purchase.

Copper River Salmon

Copper River Salmon

The Copper River flows in the state of Alaska. Almost 300 miles in length, this wild rushing river empties into Prince William Sound at the town of Cordova. Salmon that originate in these pristine waters are challenged by its length and its strong, chill rapids. Consequently, Copper River salmon are strong, robust creatures with a healthy store of natural oils and body fat. These qualities make the salmon among the richest, tastiest fish in the world. Fortunately, fatty Copper River salmon is good for you, as it is loaded with Omega-3 oils. Unfortunately the season is very short, only a few weeks. It usually starts in mid-May and ends early in June. I picked up the salmon in early June at the end of a business trip. The market will package it in a cold pack for shipping on the airlines.

In my kitchen I have tuna pate. It’s a quick and wonderful recipe to know about since it uses only good quality tuna in olive oil, butter, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and a bit of cream. Spread it on crisp toast and serve it with good olives. Your guests will never guess it is tuna.

Tuna Pate

Tuna Pate

These are individual chard wrapped greek yogurt pies. The recipe came from the NY Times and I modified it by using goat milk yogurt. They were delicious warm beside a salad, spread on crisp toast. I will post the recipe soon.

Greek Pies wrapped in Chard

Greek Pies wrapped in Chard

In my kitchen I have a beautiful wood salad bowl found in a gallery in TN while visiting relatives.

Redwood Top to Cabinet and wooden salad bowl

Redwood Top to Cabinet and wooden salad bowl

In our second home, the Fort Bragg cabin, I have an entirely new kitchen. You can read more about it here.

After - Fridge and Range Wall

After – Fridge and Range Wall

And for those of you wondering “Where the heck is Fort Bragg anyway?” Here is a map. If you Google Fort Bragg you will probably come up with Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Is is much better known as it is the largest military base in the world and home to US Special Operations. Both places were named for the same person, Confederate general Braxton Bragg. However, he never actually set foot in Fort Bragg California. 1st Lt. Horatio G. Gibson established a military garrison prior to the civil war and named it for his former commanding officer Capt. Braxton Bragg, who later became a General in the Army of the Confederacy.[9] The official date of the establishment of the fort was June 11, 1857; and its purpose was to maintain order on the nearby Mendocino Indian Reservation near the Noyo River. It would be hard to imagine two more dramatically different cities. Fort Bragg California was a lumber town, the area has pristine redwood forests, now mostly second growth. But drive up the coast a bit to see truly dramatic first growth trees.

Fort Bragg, CA

Fort Bragg, CA

It’s a 3-4 mile drive from San Francisco with the opportunity to pass through the Anderson Valley wine growing region. Or, if you have longer, you can drive up the coast for breathtaking views of the Pacific ocean.

From my kitchen I can see “The Wall” that prevents interspecies war. They each have their own space and don’t dare look at each other.

The Wall

The Wall – Quinn and Lucy

And, I can watch the squirrel police on watch.

Quinn on squirrel duty

Quinn on squirrel duty

What is new in your kitchen this past month?

August – Fort Bragg Remodel Finished!

August – Fort Bragg Remodel Finished!

I love the results of the remodel of our vacation cabin in Fort Bragg, CA! It turned out even better than we had hoped. The entire house looks brighter and larger with the new flooring, but the biggest changes are in the kitchen and bathroom.

Yes, my blog is about cooking and gardening; but also it’s a record of change. Changes in your home ripple and have an effect on your life and mental state. A change in your immediate environment changes you as well. A revamped (even cleaning out your cupboards, pantry and fridge) kitchen will make a difference in your life. That difference may include what is prepared in your kitchen, who comes to dinner, and the general mood of the cook. But it could be bigger. Experts have found that a messy and unorganized kitchen promotes overeating. Think about it, it’s stressful and feels out of control. And if you’re stressed you are much more likely to reach for the chips or the cookies. Ok, enough with the lecture.

Bear with me while I first talk about the new bathroom, but feel free to jump directly to the kitchen.

The “old” bathroom had a sunken tub and a clear glass window immediately to the right of the front door, necessitating a privacy screen. This picture of the front of the house is a little dark and it’s hard to see. I took this one the first week we had the house. It’s amazing how much bigger the bushes have grown over the past four years.

Fort Bragg "old" Front

Fort Bragg “old” front as it looked when purchased

The new window is frosted, it lets in tons of light but gives privacy to the person taking a shower. We wanted a large walk-in shower with a flat entry and frameless shower doors, you can see how much light that new window lets into the room. Increasing the size of the shower meant that we needed to move the toilet and reduce the size of the vanity. We purchased a dark blue molded glass sink from our friend John Lewis at his yearly seconds sale and found a small piece of marble at a close-out sale.

First, here is the “old” bathroom:

Fort Bragg "old" Bathroom with Sunken Tub

Fort Bragg “old” Bathroom with Sunken Tub and Privacy Screen

Fort Bragg "old" Bathroom Vanity and Sink

Fort Bragg “old” Bathroom Vanity and Sink

New Vanity and Sink

New Vanity and Sink

New Shower Window From the Inside

New Shower Window From the Inside

And we have a new front door as well as the new bathroom window.

New Front Door and Bathroom Window

New Front Door and Bathroom Window

Ok, it’s time to show the finished kitchen. Some of you may have already seen some pictures. The sliding glass door off the kitchen has now been replaced with a French door.

IMG_4728

Kitchen

Kitchen

Center Island

Center Island

Center Island

Center Island

Remember that raw redwood board?

Old Growth Redwood

Old Growth Redwood

Here it is on the finished cabinet.

Redwood Top to Cabinet

Redwood Top to Cabinet

 

Wood is so amazing!

If anyone in Fort Bragg, CA is considering a remodel, I am happy to share the names and give recommendations for the appliance store, custom window/shower glass store; not to mention our painter, cabinet maker, and contractor. We are extremely happy with the quality of their work and found them very professional to work with.

But you can’t have our contractor until we complete phase II, an addition on the back of the house.

The Architectural and Engineering Plans - Phase II

The Architectural and Engineering Plans – Phase II

Thank you everyone for your encouragement and comments along the journey!

June – Fort Bragg Remodel IV

June – Fort Bragg Remodel IV

The new Fort Bragg kitchen is finished, yeah! There are still several things to complete in the house…new front door, French doors off the kitchen, repair the deck, and shower door. But the most important “heart” of the home is done. We spent the holiday weekend moving back in. It gave us an opportunity to question what we want back in the house. When we purchased it almost 5 years ago, we moved in the “leftovers” from our main house. What do I mean by that? The battered and chipped and odd china and pots and pans (and tattered and torn clothing). When putting things away it gave us a chance to re-evaluate and keep only what we truly love. The house has much more of a minimalist feel.

Here are some before and after pictures of the progress:

Before - Fridge and stove wall

Before – Fridge and stove wall

After - Fridge and Range Wall

After – Fridge and Range Wall

After - New Fridge

After – New Fridge

Before - Island sink and dishwasher

Before – Island sink and dishwasher

After - Edge of New Island and Sink

After – Edge of New Island and Sink

What a pleasure to cook our first meal in the new range (gas top and electric oven), a quick roast chicken that I will be posting. This is the most amazing way to roast a chicken in only 45 minutes.

45 Minute Roast Chicken

45 Minute Roast Chicken

The remodel has been taking up all of our spare time these last few months. I hope to get back to posting more recipes soon, including the one above. You need to have this trick up your sleeve.

Meanwhile we did manage to fit in a hike with the dogs on the “haul road” along the coast.

Coastal Haul Road

Coastal Haul Road

 

May – Fort Bragg Remodel Update III

May – Fort Bragg Remodel Update III

Our remodel of the cabin in Fort Bragg continues although it seems to be slowing somewhat. I had hoped the workers would have started on the tile, not yet it seems. But, the new wood floor is installed with the exception of the spare bedroom.

New floor

New floor

That is the new range in the middle of the room, it should be installed this week.

The kitchen sink and faucet are in but not hooked up yet, ditto for the dishwasher.

Kitchen sink, faucet and dishwasher

Kitchen sink, faucet and dishwasher

We are very pleased with how the sweatshirt grey paint we chose for the back cabinets combines with the stainless steel refrigerator. Since living, dining and kitchen are essentially one room we didn’t want the fridge to dominate the room. The grey paint softens the stainless industrial look.

Sweatshirt grey cabinets and stainless steel fridge

Sweatshirt grey cabinets and stainless steel fridge

And the new lighting was a successful choice. Here are the pendants over the kitchen island.IMG_4415

The new window for the bathroom arrived.

Bathroom window

Bathroom window

It will go in this spot, in the back of the shower.

Area for new bathroom window

Area for new bathroom window

Can you believe it was clear glass before, necessitating a privacy screen? The window is placed just to the right of the front door.

Bathroom window

Bathroom window

The dry rot means we will have to replace some of the boards on the deck.

I’m not sure I will be able to get up to the coast again until the end of this month. Hopefully we will almost be finished by then. Look for more progress reports.