26 February 2010

The best thing about gardening

Sprouts: 'Sea of Red' Lettuce
'Sea of Red' Lettuce

The thing that I probably love most about gardening is this...

No matter what expectations I have when I walk out to the garden--especially now, when I'm looking for life, any sign of life... or worrying about all this rain... or did I do everything right this year? was I too ambitious?--is that it seems that good news is always there.

If only I would see it. It's up to me to look, look harder.

I may not see it for the first 20 minutes I'm outside, like the first green sliver of Sorrel I finally managed to spot right before coming inside. But it's out there. Tiny little soldiers, bearing the good news of Spring, of lengthening days, of life moving forward... and that nature knows what it's doing, if just given soil, water, sun and hope.

Because gardening is optimism.

Being a gardener who mostly starts plants from seed, and mostly edibles, around this time of year, I spend more than a bit of time in the garden just looking. Bent over, nose to the soil, looking. It's so amazing how easy it is to completely miss a microscopic, brave little forest of lettuce sprouts, but finding them is pure joy. Future delicious joy.

Sprouts: Baby Spinach
Baby Spinach

Future Blueberries
Future Blueberries

Brave Little Radish Sprout
Brave Little Radish Sprout

24 February 2010

pizza of the week: mushroom & chorizo


Mmm... savory, Madeira-spiked mushrooms and spicy, crimson chorizo. Add in some aromatic, meaty rosemary and thin slivers of red onion, and I'm a happy pizza lover. It's a pretty simple combo, but so delicious on a rainy, cold February night.


Mushroom & Chorizo Pizza

Do ahead: Clean and slice 3 or 4 mushrooms (I used Crimini) and sautée in a little butter and/or olive oil. Season with a pinch of sea salt. (Use a large enough pan so you don't crowd the 'shrooms -- you want to get some good color and flavor on them, not let them get watery and steam.) When nicely colored, add a splash of Madeira (or Sherry). Cook until the liquid is absorbed, then set the mushrooms aside.

To make pizza, start with basic pizza recipe. Roll out your dough and spread a thin layer of tomato sauce*. Sprinkle dough with a handful each of grated mozzarella and gruyere (or other "melty" cheese of your choice). Place cooked mushrooms on pizza and top with a small handful of diced Spanish chorizo, some slices of red onion, and some rosemary needles. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, to taste. Lightly salt the crust and cook according to basic recipe.


*Super basic, easy tomato sauce for pizza: In a shallow pan, heat a small glug of olive oil, sautée a couple of cloves of sliced garlic. Tip in a can of whole roma tomatoes, along with their juice. Bring heat to high and cook vigorously, breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Allow to thicken slightly and season with sea salt and black pepper. Buzz with an immersion blender until smooth (or the texture of your choice).

When in season, throw in some basil during the cooking phase. Red pepper flakes are great, too. Extra sauce can be frozen in pizza portions for easy access.

23 February 2010

love is a pillowy dumpling


Check out my Valentine's Day do-over from this past weekend. Oh, did I make these? Nah. The Mister did. And they were soooo good: dreamy delicate but delightfully decadent.

Not only did Toby make these adorable Ricotta Gnocchi, but he served them bathed in a Sage Brown Butter sauce*. I'm pretty sure my version of heaven is anything drizzled with sage brown butter.

Why the smooch-day do-over? Well, my job requires me to be 3000 miles away pretty much every Valentine's Day. Apparently the toy industry hates love. Hrmph... Anyway, this was Toby's year to cook--we take turns--a romantic, candle-lit dinner for two. HA... well, the gnocchi were excellent :)


* Recipe: Ricotta Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage Sauce, from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two. Sorry the first link is to a restricted site--they don't let you access recipes online unless you're a subscriber--but it is possible to get a free trial.

22 February 2010

late winter salad


My current favorite salad, featuring what's delicious now: sliced oranges, red onion, oil-cured olives, hass avocado, toasted chopped hazelnuts, cilantro + really good olive oil, sea salt & black pepper.

Variations: I've been using clementines, navel and blood oranges to mix it up. Using a nut oil would be delicious I bet. Today, I threw in some peppery baby arugula... ate lunch in the SUN(!) on the back porch. Happy.

19 February 2010

that certain type of soreness

Morning Glory, "Grandpa Ott's"

The backs of my legs. Shoulders. My, um...
behind. Just what have I been up to?

Planting the vegetable garden, people! It's a great kind of soreness, the kind that comes from being productive and busy. Bending over raised planting beds, moving pots around, hoisting enormous bags of soil. Sprinkling microscopic seeds and gently smoothing them with soil.

I've had the week off work, and it's been full-steam ahead on the veg patch. I've planted an insane amount of edibles, as well as some just pretty stuff. Spring seeds are tucked into the soil outside, and Summer's bounty is already germinating indoors on simulated Summer heat (warming mat) and pseudo Summer sunshine (grow lights). We've had the fastest indoor germination ever this year (two days!!!), so I'm taking it as a good omen for the season.

So, what did I plant? Really want to know? It's an obscene list, full of standard must-haves and more than a few impulse purchases:

Early Spring, Direct Start: Peas (2 types), Spinach (2 types), Radishes, Carrots (3 colors), Fava Beans, Lettuces (red & mesclun mix), Cavolo Nero, Chard (2 types), Beets (4 colors), Sorrel, Arugula, Fennel, Mexican Sour Gherkins, Cilantro, Parsley, Red Onions, Shallots, Garlic (2 types), Scallions (red & green), Baby Leeks, Chives, Sweet Peas (3 types)

Late Spring-Summer, Indoor Start: Thai Chiles (2 colors), Cherry Tomatoes (3 colors), Pear Tomatoes (2 colors), Tomatillos (2 colors), Purple Tomato, Basil (2 colors), Sage, Thyme, Alpine Strawberries, Lavender (2 colors), Marigolds, Echinacea, Moon Flowers, Purple Morning Glories (pictured above)


To be planted this weekend outdoors (weather-permitting): Anise Hyssop, Blue Borage, Bee Balm (2 types), White Nigella (decorative only), Nigella Sativa (for edible seeds)

For planting later in the season: Nicotiana, Sunflowers (5 types), Thunbergia vine, Summer Squash (2 types), Pickling Cucumbers, Pole Beans (3 colors), Winter Squashes, Winter Greens


16 February 2010

sixty-five hours in NYC

Ripping myself away from The Boy for the first real time, I headed out to New York City for a few days this past weekend. It was for a work thing*, with a little free time tacked on at the end. I'm going to remain mysterious (i.e., not bore you) on the work part, but here are some highlights from the other part:
  • For my Jane Austen nerds: a wonderful exhibition of letters and other documents at The Morgan Museum (thank you, Kristen, for the tip!)
  • For the cartographic nerds (myself included): Mapping New York's Shoreline: 1609-2009 at the New York Public Library. I accidentally walked into this one and it was really interesting.
  • Insanely delicate, delicious pizza: Posto, 18th St @ 2nd Ave. Had a really fun dinner here with two really fun ladies, after the work part of my trip was done. Haven't laughed that hard in ages. The food was amazing, too.
  • Picked up a bunch of spices at Penzey's, including 4 meat rubs for Toby (b/c that's how we roll for Valentine's Day). For myself, I picked up Charnushka (aka nigella sativa, which I also plan on growing this year), Aleppo Pepper, Zatar and something called Kala Jeera (described as exotic, flowery and slightly camphoric--wha?!). Spice experiments ahead.
  • Joe coffee! My god, it's good to have really good coffee in NYC. I started each day with a perfect Americano.
  • Dining options in the basement of Grand Central Station. Right below our hotel, and really great. One stand-out was Hale and Hearty Soups. Coming soon: Magnolia Bakery.
  • On the flight back home (Virgin America--awesome), finally watched Julie & Julia (meh... good enough) but really liked 500 Days of Summer. (Thanks for the rec, Robin!)
  • Coming home. Jacky was already in bed, but it was such a relief to be back under the same roof. Missed my little love.

* This is what we call "work" in the toy industry:

Yep, always this fun. Kind of like that movie "BIG" :)

11 February 2010

the truth comes out at snacktime

Dang, those furry creatures are hard to compete with! Working on growing a tail now...

08 February 2010

pizza of the week: baby leek & meyer lemon

baby leek & lemon pizza

Spring is on the way! Yes, not too, too soon... but it's out there. Proof is in the pizza.

I received some adorable baby leeks in our organic delivery the other day. I could have gone all potato-leek... but that would be too easy. A pizza is more fun to sort out.

Inspired by the Spring-y-ness of the wee leeks, I grabbed a meyer lemon and some new goat cheese. With the crushed red pepper flakes, it ended up tasting kind of like a light, lemony Italian pasta. By which, I mean yummy. I'll be repeating this with baby artichokes when they arrive.


Baby Leek & Meyer Lemon Pizza

Start with basic pizza recipe. Chop one clove garlic and steep it in extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes. Roll out your dough and brush with garlic oil. Reserve garlic. Sprinkle oiled dough with a handful each of grated mozzarella and gruyere cheeses. Trim baby leeks, slice lengthwise and wash thoroughly of any grit. Dry leeks and place on pizza in a cute arrangement. Slice meyer lemon very thinly, de-seed and place six or so slices on pizza. Sprinkle over the reserved garlic and dot with a bit of soft goat cheese. Sprinkle lightly with red pepper flakes. Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil. Lightly salt the entire pizza and cook according to basic recipe.


baby leek & lemon pizza

07 February 2010

Super snackin'

Some scenes from today's snack attack... hope you had fun today, Super Bowl or not!

First up, Guacamole and Homemade Chips. I garnished the guac with queso enchilado, red onion, serrano chile and radish. Served in a recent junk shop find -- I love, love, love this chip/dip bowl.

Super Bowl food

Super Bowl food

Super Bowl food

Baked Artichoke (and Spinach) Dip, served with celery and carrots. Baked one and froze two. This was alright... I think I blended the veggies too much. And if I'm honest, I was kind of missing the sinfulness of the original molten cheesy mayo blitz, but I'd definitely try this one again. With more cheese :)

Super Bowl food

Super Bowl food

After digging into the above, we were waaaay too full to even contemplate the third recipe I highlighted last week, the Healthy-ish Sweet Potato Skins. Next time.

But, Toby made something so cute (and delicious) that I have to include its photo here: check out the crazy cute little "Dogs in a Blanket" -- he made 'em from scratch. They're sooo precious they are begging to be pinched. And eaten.

Yep, those are his tater tots, too. :)

Super Bowl food

05 February 2010

Super Bowl snacks: Baked artichoke dip

For the final installation in Super Bowl Snacks week, I pass along a recipe that I've had my eye on for a long time: a healthy makeunder of that rich matriarch of all soirées, the mighty Baked Artichoke Dip. This version is from 101 Cookbooks and is lighter on cheese and contains no mayo, opting instead for silken tofu to bring the creamy yumminess. The photos look so good I want to eat my screen. I'm so excited to finally try this one out this Sunday. I'll be adding the sautéed spinach Heidi alludes to, and will serve it with crunchy crudité.

Happy Super Snacking!

In case you missed them: Super Bowl Snacks, Installments One & Two

04 February 2010

Super Bowl snacks: Healthy-ish sweet potato skins

sweet potato!

Hut hut. Pass the potato!

So, yeah...... scan the ingredients below. This isn't really a healthy recipe. True, sweet potatoes are indeed nutritional powerhouses. While "white" potatoes contain a surprising amount of vitamin C, the sweet guys feature a bounty of iron, vitamins A & C and dietary fiber. Consumed with another source of vitamin C (as we do frequently at Chez ST&F), the iron in sweet potatoes becomes what they call "bio-available." It's a more absorbable source of vegetarian iron.

Yep, I love em. So does Jacky, as you see above.

Anyway, sheesh... food nerd pipe down. Did someone say Super Bowl? Oh yes. I made these for the Big Game two years ago. Even Toby gobbled them up, and he's a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to naughty comfort food. He often looks askance at my hippy attempts at food makeovers. But, seriously, who can resist the unbeatable combo of caramelized sweetness, smokiness and spice?


Healthy-ish Sweet Potato Skins
- Makes 12 skins -

Shopping note: pick small sweet potatoes, so your snacks will be human-sized.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Wash, scrubbing thoroughly, 6 sweet potatoes and place on a lined baking sheet (sweet potatoes tend to release liquid during cooking). Prick all over with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until the interior is just tender (not mushy) and your kitchen smells sweet. Meanwhile, chop up 2 or 3 rashers of bacon and fry until crispy. Drain on paper towels and reserve for garnish. Remove cooked potatoes and let cool long enough to handle them. Split in half and scoop out most of the cooked potato flesh (reserve for another use: mixed with regular mashed potatoes? blended with hot stock, lime and spices for soup?). Place sweet potato skins on the baking tray, cut side up. Sprinkle with a bit of grated cheese: Jack, sharp cheddar, pepper jack? Whatever you like, however much you like. Scatter the bacon over and broil until the cheese is bubbly. Remove from the oven and garnish with sliced scallions, chipotle crema (Mexican sour cream mixed with a bit of the sauce from canned chipotle chiles--go slow: they can be really spicy) and chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.


I'll post photos of mine on Sunday!

Oh, did you miss yesterday's Super Bowl recipe? Check out Guacamole & Homemade Chips, La Mesa style

03 February 2010

Super Bowl? Time for Guac & Chips, La Mesa style

Hass avocados

OK, here's the deal. I don't really give a hoot about football... unless the Chargers are involved. But it's not what you think: I'm not donning a powder-blue throw-back jersey nor am I placing electric bolt stickers on our car's rear window. Heh. I only sort of root for my hometown's team because one of my brothers is a big fan. He speaks of this team in the collective: "We played a good game." "We had a building year." See, I'm such a good sister that I hope this team does well only because it will make my brother's day. Guaranteed happiness... awwww. Sibling love.

Anyway. This non-Chargers game will be on the TV at our house. I will spend some time in the room. I like a good game. But, truth be told, I really only look forward to this event for the food. By that, I mean, the terribly naughty snacks. I try to eat pretty healthy... vegetables, fruit, blah blah blah. But in my view, the Super Bowl is a totally worthy excuse to plan for some cheesy, gooey, crispy, spicy yumminess.

I thought I'd post a couple of recipes this week that honor this Big Game food ethos.

One of my must-have, go-to dishes for any festive occasion is Guacamole with Homemade Chips. Yes, guac is not groundbreaking -- I think I was explaining to Toby that it's probably a required dish, if one were to consult the Super Bowl Noshing Bilaws -- but I must modestly say that my guac is good.

Although, the homemade chips are really the star of the show. The taqueria near my childhood home inspired me to start making my own. It was either that, or carry them home on the plane. At this strip-mall den of awesomeness, you can order "bag chips" which is actually chips and salsa. The sign used to just say "bag chips" -- and we still order it that way. Anyway, the actual chips part comes in a double-paper bag which is instantly spotty with oily goodness. The chips are WARM and they're liberally salted. The salsa is great, too. Heaven.


Guacamole & Homemade Chips, La Mesa Style

Guacamole: First off, please step away from the blender, the food processor and the sour cream. Their services will not be required. Start by slicing open 4 or so ripe Hass* avocados. Scoop the flesh into a bowl, mash up with a fork until chunky and immediately squirt with the juice of half a lime (prevents browning). Mince a medium-hot (taste to test--if too hot, reduce quantity) Serrano pepper, dice 1/2 a red onion, chop a good handful of cilantro, dice a flavorful tomato (but this is February, so leave it out if you like), and mince a small clove of garlic. Scrape all into the bowl. Liberally season with sea salt. Combine everything with the fork, mashing the avocado further until it's as smooth or as chunky as you like. (I like a nice balance between smoothness and slight chunkiness.) Add more lime juice and salt as needed. Once you're happy, either gobble it up immediately or do the responsible thing and "let the flavors meld" as they say. Press cling wrap onto the surface of the guac (further prevents browning) and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. Then, greedily gobble it up.

Oh wait, you need chips!

Fabulous Homemade Chips: In a heavy-bottomed pan or deep pot, heat a half-inch or so of neutral oil that can get REALLY hot (i.e., not olive oil). I like to use organic canola oil. Pile up a dozen or more all-corn tortillas and slice the stack into 8 wedges (like a pizza). Once the oil is ready (i.e., vigorously frying--throw in a sacrificial tortilla wedge to test), carefully lay a single layer of your little tortilla wedges in the oil. Fry, turning over carefully with tongs once they begin to lightly brown. Pull out a test chip and test for crispiness. If it's good, pull them all out and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Repeat until you've turned all your little tortilla wedges into golden, crispy chips (monitor the heat as needed so they don't brown too fast). Serve warm. Ahhh.

I'll post photos of my batch on Sunday!


*Hass are now in season in California and are far superior (i.e., buttery) to other varieties.

01 February 2010

the weekend, pictorially


- Act 1 -
Misty canyon walk

weekend, 01 feb 10
the mud was starting to dry... but more rain is on the way?

weekend, 01 feb 10

weekend, 01 feb 10
baby yoga
(with beloved remote... sorry, spoon. sorry, hammer.)

weekend, 01 feb 10
Spring is coming!

- Act 2 -
The best calendar

weekend, 01 feb 10
Got together with Kristen to peruse plants (see below)... she gave me this beautiful letterpressed calendar from Krank Press. I love it for the the artwork, but it's also useful, with lists of what's in season and what to plant each month.

weekend, 01 feb 10
Thanks, Kristen!! I love it.

- Act 3 -
Flora Grubb Gardens with Kristen

weekend, 01 feb 10
Orange Pincushion

weekend, 01 feb 10
Agave Paryii

weekend, 01 feb 10
Cow Horn Agave

weekend, 01 feb 10
I'd like a big round stone, please.

weekend, 01 feb 10
...and a pretty cappuccino, of course.

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