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.

In My Kitchen – July 2017

In My Kitchen – July 2017

Can you believe we are on the downward slope of the year? It’s July, oh my goodness. And it’s one of my favorite times of the month, time for another “In My Kitchen” post. This one will be linked with the rest of the IMK bloggers through Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings. Click on the link to read the stories of kitchen adventures around the world.

There are lots of new things in my kitchen, starting with this lovely tea towel a friend brought back to me from her trip to Iceland.

Iceland tea towel

Also new is the hedgehog scrubber I saw at the store, I couldn’t resist. It is very flexible so gets into the corners of a pan and is safe for non-stick surfaces.

Hedgehog scrubber

Are you familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi? He is the inspiration behind the London restaurants Ottolenghi and NOPI, and has written several vegetarian cook books. They include Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem. His recipes have a wonderful mix of new spices, exotic ingredients, and methods (at least to me), many of them coming from the middle east. He now has a column in the New York Times Wednesday food section. In one last month he discussed Tahini, giving a review and recommendation of brands. I must admit to being a tahini ignoramus. Although I use it often, I had no idea that I was buying an inferior brand. Usually there is only one brand available at the store. Al Arz was one of the brands he uses in his restaurants, I found it on Amazon and immediately purchased a couple of jars. Oh my!!! What a difference! My eyes have been opened.

Tahini Sauce

His cookbooks use a number of items that are not familiar to me. When I saw these dried Black Lemon Omani, I immediately purchased a bag. So far I have dropped one into a braised chicken dish where they added a gentle citrus flavor. I will be doing more experimenting.

Dried Lemons

Baked Chicken with Thai flavors and Dried Lemons

Also in my kitchen the month is this strange fruit which looks like something out of a horror movie. It was at Trader Joe’s and I had to try it. The guy next to me just opened a package and took one out to eat, but I was too well brought up to do the same and purchased a whole package containing about 10. They are called ranbutan. Once you peel off the hairy shell (it is soft), a silver colored fruit that looks like a lychee is revealed. It has a pit and tastes a bit like a lychee. Have any of you tried it? I am not sure I am a fan, ok but not great.

Ranbutan

New in my kitchen is this charming tea cup with a strainer inside. I have been drinking more loose herb teas and this cup makes it very convenient to brew just one cup.

Tea Cup and Infuser

I fell for the green grass on the outside. It reminds me of the meadow at our cabin on the coast.

Not new at all are these glasses that belonged to my grandparents.

Antique Glasses

They are absolutely lovely, very fine crystal. But we are trying to downsize and my heart is broken. I am not sure I can bear to part with them but the glass size is very small compared to more modern wine glasses. This set also contains glasses for sherry and port, which we do not often drink. Storage space is going to be at a premium.

In my kitchen are the first figs from one of my two container trees on the deck. I hope to plant these trees in Fort Bragg once I find the perfect spot. These are perfectly ripe and I only just managed to collect them before the squirrels. Figs don’t ripen once you harvest them so having a backyard tree is a luxury. It is only a little tree but there are dozens of fruit ripening.

Figs

In my kitchen is the first strawberry jam of the year. In past years I would have already been preserving like crazy but this year has been busy.

In lastly but certainly not least, in my kitchen are my constant companions, always ready in case of an accidental spill or dropped treat.

Casey and Quinn

What’s new in your kitchen?

June – Tomato and Roasted Lemon Salad

June – Tomato and Roasted Lemon Salad

This scrumptious salad was inspired and came together by combining two recipes, the Tomato Chickpea Salad from the blog kitchn, and one for Tomato and Roasted Lemon Salad from the cookbook Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. Are you familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi? He is the inspiration behind the London restaurants Ottolenghi and NOPI, and has written several vegetarian cook books. They include Plenty and Jerusalem, in addition to Plenty More. His recipes have a wonderful mix of new spices, exotic ingredients, and methods (at least to me), many of them coming from the middle east. I changed some of the spices (I adore cumin, allspice not so much) and added the stir fried chickpeas from the kitchn recipe to make it a heartier dish.

Roasted Lemon and Tomato Salad

The new method in this salad is the addition of roasted lemons. I love the way lemons become caramelized and sweet when roasted, sheet pan roasted chicken and citrus is a favorite at our house. But, I had never thought of adding them to a salad. They add a wonderful citrusy scent and mellow lemon flavor sweetened by the roasting. Take a deep breath when you open the oven to check on them, the aroma is incredible. I had a sudden craving for lemon meringue.

Roasted Lemons – before

Roasted Lemons – after

This salad will be even better at the height of tomato season, unfortunately it’s still a few weeks away for us and I missed the farmer’s market last weekend. Use the best cherry tomatoes you can find (a variety is colorful), the rest of the ingredients will certainly ramp things up.

This is a salad I will be making multiple times this summer, it is a perfect side for a BBQ or potluck. In fact it is my addition to a friends party on the 4th of July. It has the benefit of also being both vegan and vegetarian, so can be served to a variety of guests without worry about dietary restrictions. You could bulk it up even further by increasing the amount of herbs or adding some arugula. It is even hearty enough to serve as a main dish with the addition of some crisp bread.

Roasted Lemon and Tomato Salad

The recipe will serve 4 but it is easily doubled or even tripled. Make the roasted lemons and chickpeas earlier in the day, all you have to do later is assemble.

Tomato and Roasted Lemon Salad

  • 2 medium lemons, unwaxed and organic preferred
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
  • 8 sage leaves, finely shredded
  • 2 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (it is nice to have a mixture of colors)
  • 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F (or 325 degrees C) and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Slice the lemons in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Thinly slice the half lemons into half rounds (paper fine if possible).
  3. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil.
  4. Add the lemon slices to the boiling water, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain well, place the lemon slices in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and the shredded sage leaves. Mix well.  Spread the lemon slices out in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake the lemon slices for about 20 minutes until the edges have browned and they have dried out a bit. Remove and set aside to cool.
  6. Meanwhile prepare the chickpeas. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chickpeas and spread out in a single layer. Cook without stirring until browned on the bottom (about 4-5 minutes). Salt and stir them, spread them out again to brown the other side. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until golden brown and blistered on all sides. Remove from the heat, add the cumin and red pepper flakes. Toss to coat on all sides with the spices, taste them and add some salt if needed, set aside to cool.
  7. To assemble the salad combine the tomatoes, chickpeas, parsley, mint, pomegranate seeds, pomegranate molasses, onion, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper.Lastly add the lemon slices and stir gently.

    Roasted Lemon and Tomato Salad

    Roasted Lemon and Tomato Salad

    This salad was a hit on the 4th of July, I bet the folks at Fiesta Friday will also enjoy it. This week it is Fiesta Friday #179 hosted by Angie and cohosted by Petra @ Food Eat Love and Laura @ Feast Wisely. 

Join the party by adding your own link and come visit all the lovely food that contributors               are bringing along.