Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!

Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!
peel, eat, repeat

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Autumn and winter squashes are overflowing bowed tables at farmers markets as we bundle and bustle into late months on the calendar. Many cucurbits are overlooked and used strictly as décor on merry porches until the poinsettias replace them to the backyard somewhere. Smooth, yellow and oblong, spaghetti squash is in the class of most interesting American native cucurbits. Raw, it may resemble any other hard winter squash with seeds. Taking on an otherworldly character when baked, the flesh falls from leather like skin resembling precisely sliced vermicelli ribbons beckoning to be combined in all manner of mysterious creations picking up flavor nuances like a greedy hitchhiker. Slice in half and remove seeds to begin your culinary adventures. Bake with olive oil or butter filled cavity, seasoned with sea salt and pepper, snuggled in a covered baking dish in a hot 425* oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Fluff with a fork to devour creamy strands as is or while feeling exotic, mix with some freshly made garam masala, orange zest and toasted almonds serving alongside nice lamb Tagine. Sauté sliced winter vegetables with awesome olive oil paired generously with chopped soft herbs, parsley, marjoram, tarragon and a touch of tomato sauce and lavishly drape over sweet ribbons for a sexy, soul craving break from holiday “food” onslaught. Leftover cooked squash can be sweetly incorporated into cinnamon spiked pancakes or cranberry studded pumpkin muffins leaving bamboozled partakers with a lingering cucurbit flavor wondering what they just ate. 

Not just for carving to scare wee bairns, some pumpkins are amazing eaten. Deep red and magenta to almost make believe orange, the Rouge Vif d’Etampes looks like something out of a fairytale. AKA Cinderella pumpkin, owing to the resemblance of a famous getaway 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. 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.

Creamy yellow and orange specked with long green furrows, the Delicata squash is almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Also known as Sweet Potato squash the Delicata does indeed marry well with the yam. Pick firm and heavy squash and prepare to roast, sauté or mash by removing both ends and peeling the skin off. Slice in half lengthwise removing seeds to free up the flesh for a velvety soup concocted by roasting and puréeing squash with a touch of stock, apple cider vinegar and cinnamon spiked cream. Create an amazing Thanksgiving side dish of sliced Delicata layered with sliced apples, onions, fresh thyme and grated Gruyere baked to bubbling golden brown. Embellish mashed potatoes with half mashed squash and a few zests of orange peel. Cube and simmer along with lentils, garlic and fresh ground cumin warming chilly winter tummies.  After partaking in the delights of this squash you’ll never lose sight of the culinary pleasure enclosed in that astoundingly beautiful shell.

As of this writing, still no rain, but the ridges around us are amazing in their scorched simplicity and deserve a romp up and down dusty trail, spotting owls, coyotes, spiders, snakes and all manner of wildlife native to our hood. There is a group of 16 turkeys we spot almost every hike. They started out as 17 babies about 3 or 4 months ago and to our knowledge have only lost one. Traveling in a tight group throughout the park probably helps in survival. So fun to casually monitor animal friends in our midst. Get out and start from any staging area, you won’t be sorry as about halfway along your bliss kicks in and you remember what you are grateful for as stresses slough off leaving you in good shape to happily continue on through life.
The Farmers Market Lovers Calendar is once again available for holiday gift purchases at or I deliver!! Happy Thanksgiving!!

As I pen this column, fires rage unrelenting all over California and the West. So little water, still, and so much devastation for those affected by these roaring, totally unforgiving amoebic infernos, fueled on all sides by nothing less than the best firewood money can buy. My sister and her family are among the many hundreds of folks that are staring hollow eyed at the gaping nothingness of their devastatingly burnt out properties. How do you recover from something like this? Anyone ever burnt out can tell you that you never really, totally do. The smell and pain tinged with a little nagging fear will linger long after new buildings, photos and memories are created. But they all got out alive, unlike others, and  life goes on in the strong and beautiful  communities of the mountain people that live daily with the threat of fire never expecting it to really actually happen to them. Blessings to all.
Considering the small amounts of water that my fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been receiving all summer, surprisingly it has been a wacko year for apples among other produce. I have a red delicious tree that looks like something out of the Wizard of Oz that’s going to start talking to you and throwing apples if your response aint right. Granny Smiths are big and juicy and falling off almost quicker than I can pick them off the tree or ground. At College Park the apple tree has so many apples that coach Keck reports his weight room students are eating them.
Usually first to ripen at summers decline are McIntosh apples. Said to be descended from a single tree discovered in a field in Canada by farmer John McIntosh in 1811, the McIntosh apple has seen some days. Chains of DNA history abound around this apple and it has sparked many a new variety off its branches mixed with other heirlooms. Attractive, with dark red to crimson with green swaths of tint running through, these creamy fleshed beauties have a sweet crunch with just the right acidity, seductively addicting you to the variety and keeping one on their toes for each season when they show up at the market. McIntosh are an early variety and are at their peak perfectly ripe off the tree by mid September to mid October and don’t hold really well past a week or two of picking before losing a bit of characteristic brightness.
An apple eater could get drunk off their honey sweetness and many do early in season preferring to simply eat out of hand, at first. McIntosh, or any of the varieties for that matter of apples, are great for concocting fresh apple sauce to eat warm with a touch of cinnamon and vanilla bean. Cakes explode with apple flavor while the red skin of the apple gives the batter a complex pink hue. Cider from the McIntosh is thick with lavish texture and glittery palate notes. Savory applications can cause a pitter patter of the heart when apples are sautéed with butternut squash and onions and baked into a quiche with a tender, buttery crust and dollops of smooth, melted chevre. Pork chops sautéed to a crispy exterior are enhanced immensely by the addition of your precious apple sauce. Chicken goes classical when coupled along with a buttery, sautéed apples, cognac and cream. McIntosh apples are enshrouded with lore and go away faster than a rainy cherry season. Be alert and be happy when their season may cross your path. Other varieties of heirloom apples can be easily scored for the next few months at the local farmers markets.
Heirloom apples refer to a seed that has not been altered. Apples are actually part of the rose family and are traceable to fourth century Egypt, Babylonia and China. In North America they go back to pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts. Easterners feel possessive about their apples but in Northern California and the Northwest we have some pretty fine heirlooms to choose from at the farmers’ markets. Fragile heirlooms don’t ship well and will not be obtained elsewhere unless it is off your own tree. Core apples whole and slice into rounds to brush with walnut oil and place on a medium hot grill. Grill three minutes on each side and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar immediately as you remove from the grill. Puree one cup of fresh strawberries and warm in a saucepan. Drizzle over apple slices. Whether it is an Arkansas Black, Honeycrisp, Red Banana, Black Twig or Cox’s Orange Pippin, the flavor of an heirloom apple soars miles above the flavor of a common apple grown who knows where, who knows when and isn’t just better when you are looking the farmer in the eye and talking apples?
This is an amazing time to get up in our local hills and hike. Wildlife is plentiful as are intricately woven spider webs dusted with morning dew, glittering in early sunlight. Move it or lose it.
Apple and Pear Bars w/ Streusel Topping
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
2 t baking powder
1 T cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1 cup turbinado sugar
¾ cup almond milk
2 T coconut oil
2 t vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup diced apples
1 cup diced pears
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries

Streusel Topping
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup oats
¼ cup whole wheat flour
3 T coconut oil
1 T vanilla
1 T cinnamon
1 t sea salt
Preheat oven to 350*
Spray a baking pan with coconut oil. I use a large cookie sheet with edges but any baking dish will do.
Measure dry ingredients into pour bowl or onto a piece of parchment paper for easy pouring into wet ingredients. Combine sugar, milk, egg and vanilla and beat well. Pour in dry ingredients and mix lightly. Add fruit and fold in. Spoon into baking pan.
Mix all streusel ingredients together until moist and crumbly. Sprinkle generously onto batter in pan. I poke holes into the batter like Foccacia bread so topping actually gets into the batter. Bake for 15 minutes and check to see if top is firm. Bake another 5 if needed. Let cool a bit and cut into squares or bars as desired.