Wednesday, November 6, 2013
College Park Organic Garden and Diablo Day Community School Organic Garden both have a new garden angel by the name of Lisa Meyers. Her company Meyers Homegrown Organics has been selling vegetable seedlings and plants at the Pleasant Hill Farmers Market all summer and as her season nears a successful end she has donated a huge amount of winter vegetable seedlings to our gardens for the students to plant, coaxing a long and fruitful winter crop from a living gift. Lisa and her husband Phil live in Pleasant Hill but Lisa is a Martinez native herself. Lisa and Phil’s inspired gift is the definition of full fledged community involvement in the gardens and have put an apple cheeked rosy glow on all of our students faces. We are immeasurably grateful and will surely support Meyers Organics in the future and we wish them a fruitful season as their business grows. As we traverse the cool season we look forward to a stunning winter garden overflowing with kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and much more. Tramping through pumpkin farms and the farmers markets always induces juicy imaginative ideas for cookies, pies, cakes and savory dishes. Especially charming are those divinely inspired Cinderella pumpkins. Deep red and magenta to almost make believe orange, the Rouge Vif d’Etampes looks like something out of a fairytale. Also known as Cinderella pumpkin, owing to the resemblance of a famous get away coach, this French heirloom cucurbit makes for excellent, long lasting décor. Legend has it that this pumpkin may have been the variety cultivated by the Pilgrims and served at the second Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t be captivated by her squashed, deeply ribbed good looks alone though as the molten orange flesh is creamy sweet, beckoning to be pie filling as much as savory treats. Gently slice off top scooping out seeds, saving them to sprinkle with salty olive oil and roasted for crunchy tidbits alongside nibbles at the Thanksgiving gorge. Create a layered casserole inside the pumpkin by throwing sliced zucchini, chopped onion, grated parmesan and cooked spinach into the cleaned pumpkin. Top off with eggs beaten with cream and seasoned with salt and pepper. Put the top back on placing on a baking sheet in 350* oven for about an hour until the egg mixture has set. Use the rich flesh for pie, cookies and breads by cutting off top, slicing in half and scooping out seeds. Place in a baking dish with a ½ inch of water, cover and bake at 350* until soft. Puree or mash and use according to your recipe. You will likely have several recipes worth of pumpkin puree from just one so I measure it out according to recipes and freeze it in batches for later culinary tricks and treats. Add chocolate chips top any pumpkin cookie or bread recipe for a surprisingly addictive sweet. My motto: Two for décor and one to eat now. You will never buy a can of pumpkin again. We have been greatly blessed with ridiculously gorgeous days and chilly evenings in our valley as the season changes and local flora and fauna in neighboring yards don sunset colors day and night with leaves turning crazy hues of almost unnatural reds and ghoulish oranges. This time of year is always challenging for adults to remain on the straight and narrow resisting urges to steal candy from wee ones amped into complete sugar induced joyfulness almost unhinged in the belief that they won’t notice a few missing peanut butter cups. Hope everyone was a little naughty and sated that annual gig. As our slightly craze inducing season creeps up, stalking with holiday décor before Thanksgiving menu’s hit the planning stage consider the fact that a good hike in the hill around us can induce an amazing endorphin created narcotic haze seeping into every brainy nook and cranny as well as a good yoga class sooths tightened muscles so while you are gearing up for frenzy take time to heal in and out and enjoy our amazing valley we call home. Homemade Peanut Butter Cups Makes around 4 dozen 1 cup creamy unsalted peanut butter 4 tablespoons unsalted butter ½ cup turbinado sugar or brown sugar ½ cup powdered sugar 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt 32 ounces high-quality dark chocolate or chocolate chips Mix together peanut butter, butter, sugars, and salt in a bowl. Taste, then add more salt if needed. Roughly chop chocolate and melt it in a double boiler or in microwave. Arrange mini cupcake wrappers on a baking sheet. Pour just enough chocolate in to fill the bottom of the wrapper about 1/8 of an inch. Let set in fridge for 10 minutes. While the chocolate is chilling, begin shaping heaping teaspoons of peanut butter and sugar filling into flattened balls that will fit into mini cupcake wrappers on top of chocolate. Remove chocolate from the fridge and pop a ball into each one. Reheat remaining chocolate and pour into cupcake wrappers to cover the balls. Sprinkle the tops with a little extra coarse sea salt if you like and let set in fridge at least 20 minutes. Remove and pack into air tight containers or devour all you can in the next hour and give the rest to friends and family.
There is a certain DNA phenomenon that kicks in during season changes, deliberately and with purpose in our bodies as weather and shadows change. Autumn brings a sweet little chill with it, longed for after months of dry skies and high mercury. Familiar longings, temporarily pushed aside for sweet flowers, intoxicating stone fruits and luscious tomatoes resurface with nagging intensity almost overnight begging to be quelled with roasted butternut squash and crunchy sweet grapes tossed into end of summer arugula with torn fresh basil. Soups start to sound really good while beef stew craving comes roaring out of left field totally unannounced. Fall is here. We saw it coming, we do every year and while summer gives up the fight we yearn to cook just a bit more than usual satiating powerful culinary wants and needs in the process. Gardens are waning and if you have not done it yet, get the winter garden in now. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots beets, arugula, winter peas, the list could go on for awhile because we live in Northern California and it is easy. We can coax an astounding amount of food out of the earth year round pretty easily just by planting it now and pretty much not a whole lot else for the rest of the winter. Imperative for success is to get the seeds, seedlings or smaller plants into the ground while it is still above 55 degrees at night giving them plenty of resources to build up a hearty system acrawl with roots. You may not see a lot happening above ground but it is moving along hypnotically like long a slow rock ballad achieving breathless satisfaction in completion and harvest of your own sweet songs of nature. Weeding and watering factor in but nowhere near the attention seizers as the summer garden diva can be. Sweet peas, snapdragons, hollyhocks, poppies and lupine seeds like to be planted now as well. Buried and forgotten until they start to come up in early spring bringing immense joy in the discovery of new life after winters chill. We do have seasons here in the Bay Area; they just as a little blurred between the lines as a slightly crooked juror sometimes may. Pomegranates and persimmons gracefully hang jewel like from leaf barren trees peevishly preening, waiting for thirsty fingers to grab and mouths to savor autumn delights. All greens from kale and Swiss chard to lettuces of all kinds have resurrected lush and salient now that solar rays are finished blazing for the season. Apples are everywhere. As out of hand and sliced up eating get old try making applesauce or apple crisp to brighten up ever shortening evenings. Pears are mostly cold storage at this point but the Alhambra Pear People at the farmers markets have incredible Bartlett’s and if you are lucky a French Butter pear or two still left for you to snag and slurp. Farmers’ markets are gearing down as crops dwindle out but are still there offering amazing choices weekly to be procured and prepared in any assortment of delightful means. A visit to Matt and Nate or Connie and Lupe at the Pleasant Hill market will be most gratifying with seasonal goods as well. The long and patiently awaited meat market next door is soon to be a reality for all the carnivores’ out there so be on the lookout. Hiking and outdoor walking in Briones and all the ridges is never better than this time of year in my opinion with mists crawling all over and animals scurrying here and there in preparation for the supposed long winter. This side of our beloved Mount Diablo is good for hiking but heartbreakingly enough we will be staying off the east side for many moons to come. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the families affected by that dang fire. It will be a long time in the healing but we can hope for rain and join a tree planting party to help it along. Apple Sauce This will make about 4 to 5 cups depending on your apple choice. Also if you use a sweet variety you may want to use water instead of juice and adjust the lemon juice. The lemon juice has the added effect of keeping everything a nice color as well. You can store unused sauce in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the reefer and use within the week. 6 large apples, peeled, cored, rough chop ¼ cup white grape juice or apple juice Juice and rind from a big lemon Cinnamon to taste Vanilla to taste Place apples, juices and lemon peel in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Cover and cook until apple are soft enough to mash. Add vanilla with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve warm. Fresh Fruit Crisp 6 cups fruit 1 cup wheat flour 1 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar ½ cup butter, melted (1 cube) 1 T vanilla 1 T cinnamon ½ c oats 1 t salt Preheat oven 375*. Spray 8x8 baking dish. Place fruit in dish. Mix flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, oats and salt in bowl. Crumble onto fruit. Bake 1 hour until fruit bubbles and top is crunchy and lightly browned. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cold the next day for a very decadent but sensuous and utterly fulfilling breakfast. Serves 6.
In ancient times August was also known as Weod Monath, which also means weed month as the eight month of the year is the month when growth crescendos with lush plants of all kinds peaking along with as many varieties of weeds as Carter has pills. Known as the hottest month of the year it is traditionally the biggest vacation month of the year too. Old English saying is “If the first week of August be warm, the winter will be white and long.' Now that we know this fact we will have to keep an eye out for the weather the first week and if it correlates with the winter. Let me know what you find out about the time December rolls around. Little known fact that August is Water Quality Month but more importantly August is …. Drum roll…National Goat Cheese Month!! Leading into one of the month’s largest crop – tomatoes! Tomatoes can astound a person on many levels. After many murmurous conversations between bees and plants you should have an abundance of pollinated flowers producing huge crops of looming, tangled vine weighted down with lovely multi colored fruits. Or not, one of the astounding factors, but hopefully you do and thick slices of said tomatoes of any variety pair swimmingly well with goat cheese slathered on slabs of lovely bread sprinkled with sea salt and chopped fresh emerald leaves of sweet basil that is hopefully cohabitating peacefully as well as abundantly alongside your tomatoes. Of course the long standing favorite, Salad Caprese is always lurching in the wings begging to be first on the menu and truth be told, it never gets old especially when you are using amazing cheese. Make it a mission to search finer cheese shops for Burrata cheese. It is fresh mozzarella on the outside and pure cream in the center so it kinda smooshes with the tomato and basil literally forcing you to catch your breath and calm your excitement after taste buds register the velvet. Grilling tomatoes brings out sugars you never knew existed and adding them to any dish gives lush complexity to scrumptious summer concoctions. To those who know me it is no surprise that Sun Gold cherry tomatoes are one of my longstanding favorites. My garden partner Stephanie and I go crazy over them and make sure to get a lot planted at the College Park Organic Garden every year. The students love how sweet they are and very few make it past the pickin. For those that do make it inside, conjure up a beautiful salad using Sun Gold’s cut in half, fresh corn cut off the cob, baby arugula, fresh crunchy chopped cucumber and crumbled feta. Drizzle excellent olive oil, squeeze lemon juice and crack sea salt gently mixing with marvelous affection and you will have the salad you will live on for the rest of the summer. Stone fruits, swollen by sun are peaking this month as well and are luminous bursting with natural sugars when bit into. Juices roll down chins as nature intended so sink leaning happens a lot with those peaches and nectarines. Slice onto a piece of puff pastry and egg wash the dough. Pull it sloppily up around the fruit and sprinkle with a dash of raw sugar and bake at 400 until the pastry is brown and the juices are bubbling. Inner and outer fire will ensue as you eat this free form tart hot with melting vanilla bean ice cream creating a luscious sauce around your plate to be licked up later when only loved ones are present. Mercury has been a bit high but it is those evenings we live for when the sun gives up the fight and the gentle summer breeze off the bay rolls into our little valley making it one of the finest places on earth to call home. Get out on the trails early and hydrate lots. Mangia. This is my most popular item I prepare for folks all summer long hands down. A little bit of work but it will guarantee you a spot at any party, a lot of suitors and even several proposals of marriage Corn Fritters 1½ cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon soda 1 teaspoon kosher salt 2 large eggs ¾ cup milk 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 cups fresh corn kernels 2 tablespoons each chopped parsley and chopped basil Mix flour, powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center and put eggs, oil and milk in center. Whisk together and add corn and herbs. Put enough oil in a frying pan to grease well. Fry the fritters a few at a time until golden on each side. Serve with Sweet and Sour Tomatoes. Sweet and Sour Tomatoes 2 pounds of assorted heirloom tomatoes, seeded and cut into chunks 1 bunch green onions, sliced thin 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh cilantro 2 tablespoons of honey ¼ cup of seasoned rice vinegar 1 tablespoon of olive oil 1 teaspoon of kosher salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground cumin Put tomatoes, green onions and cilantro in a bowl and set aside. Heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add cinnamon and cumin and heat until bubbly, about 2 minutes. Slowly add honey and rice vinegar. Cook for 3 more minutes or until a little thick and gooey. Pour mixture over tomatoes, cilantro and green onions. Season with salt and let sit for about 5 minutes before using.