Adventure Time

Bay Area Day Trip: Pescadero, CA

January 21, 2016

Pescadero Sign

Pescadero is a charming spot just two miles off Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Half-Moon Bay. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track activity to do in easy driving distance of San Francisco, look no further. Nestled amongst the farms and fields that dot the scenic Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Monterey, it’s just a quick day trip from anywhere in the Bay Area. Though tiny– with a population of 643 at the 2010 census, it isn’t big enough to merit town designation– this census-designated place more than makes up for what it lacks in size with an excess of charm.

Market Cart

Strawberry Sign

Green Roof

Having heard delightful things about Pescadero’s famous artichoke bread, I decided to hop in the car and go check it out for myself.

Cat Sign

Getting There

There are three main routes to access Pescadero from Palo Alto, where I live and none of them are a particularly straight shot. Though it’s not far as the crow flies, there’s a stretch of mountains separating the coastal town from the main hubs of Silicon Valley. The best ways to reach it are to drive south on Highway 1 from Half-Moon Bay, or, if you’re starting farther south, head north up the PCH from Santa Cruz. Both routes offer some other fun stops along the way, like Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Tasting Room in Davenport, Highway 1 Brewery, and Highway 92 Succulents— for all your drought-and-neglect-tolerant plant needs.

Highway 92 Succulents

What to Eat

In all honesty, there are not a lot of options for food in Pescadero, but that’s fine because you can’t go wrong with a stop at Duarte’s Tavern. Duarte’s is one of those places that appears to have accidentally slipped forward in time, completely unchanged, from when it was originally opened in 1894.

Duarte's Sign

The menu offers a tasty cream of artichoke soup, as well as a cream of green chile, but the smart move is to get them swirled together where the light spice from the chiles nicely compliments the creaminess of the artichoke.

Half & Half Soup

And definitely don’t forget to order a slice of olallieberry pie before you go. Yumm!

Olallaberry Pie

 

What to Do

Need a post-pie coffee? Stop by the funky Chikken Revolution for a latte to go, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try their Dandy Blend– a dandelion and chicory-based coffee substitute. I happen to think it tastes kind of like dirt, but who knows? Maybe you’re into that.

Chicken Revolution

Dandy Blend Coffee

Also be sure to check out their slightly manic and heavily nostalgic sense of decor, and, if you need a moment to recover from your food coma, duck into their movie nook and catch a flick.

Inside Chicken Revolution

Chicken Revolution Movie Nook

Then, after you’ve caffeinated be sure to walk down the town’s one main street, where you’ll find a handful of shops to peruse– ranging from kitschy antiques to made-on-the-spot pottery to for-a-cause retro and artisan finds.

Stage Road Shop

In Slow We Trust Sign

Slow Coast

 

Grab a Souvenir

In my humble opinion, the best kind of souvenir is an edible one. Before you leave Pescadero, make sure to stop by Arcangeli’s Grocery for their baked-fresh-by-the-hour Artichoke & Garlic Bread.

Arcangeli Bakery

Artichoke Bread

It’s best fresh out of the oven, but if you’re still stuffed from your lunch at Duarte’s, you can also get this partially baked version so that you can recreate the magic at home.

Arcangeli’s also offers hand-crafted goat cheeses from nearby Harvey Farms, which I’ve heard is a great place to visit, though they weren’t open to visitors in the middle of the week when I was passing through.

On the Way Out

As I mentioned earlier, Pescadero is a postage-stamp of a place, so you probably won’t need to spend more than an hour or two in town to feel like you’ve taken in the sights. But before you head back to your daily lives, wherever they may be, do yourself a favor and head just a couple more miles south to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Sit by the water a while and drink it in. Life really is beautiful.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Ocean

Pigeon Point Barrel

Succulents

Whale Skull

In the Kitchen

Pecan Chia Pudding with Rum-Stewed Asian Pears

October 7, 2015

Pecan Chia Pudding with Asian Pears

I think I can officially say that, despite lingering daytime temps in the 80’s here in Palo Alto, it is now my favorite time of year– fall! Aka pumpkin season. Aka corn maze season. Aka the best time of the year.

This particular recipe may be pumpkin-free, but it still tastes like fall to me. Between the rum and the chia seeds, it’s equal parts decadent and healthy. Not that I’m much of a health nut. I may or may not have eaten half of my rum-soaked asian pears before they even made it on top of the pudding. No judgement if you want to do the same. They’d also taste pretty delicious over yogurt or oatmeal if chia pudding isn’t your jam.

I’m not gonna lie to you, this is one heck of a fancy breakfast. And by fancy I mean slightly high-maintenance. First you have to make your own pecan milk. Some of you may have stopped right there and said, “Forget it! Too much work.” Making home-made nut milk is actually pretty simple, it just takes some time to let the nuts soak. That said, feel free to use store bought almond milk or your favorite replacement instead for an easier prep.

Pecan Chia Pudding with Asian Pears 2

Pecan Chia Pudding with Rum-Stewed Asian Pears

For the Pecan Milk:

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 2 cups water
  1. Put pecans into a bowl or mason jar and cover with water so all are submerged. Cover and let sit overnight or up to two nights in the fridge.
  2. Drain pecans and rinse. Add soaked pecans to blender with two cups of fresh, clean water. Blend on high until pecans are pulverized.
  3. Strain pecan mixture through a nut milk bag or cheese cloth to remove pecan pulp. Set aside pecan pulp in a sealed container for another use.

Pecan Milk

For the Chia Pudding:

  • 2 cups Pecan Milk
  • 1/3 chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, whisking vigorously to incorporate.
  2. Let sit five minutes and then whisk again to prevent clumping.
  3. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes in order for the chia seeds to begin to gel and set into a pudding-like consistency.

For the Rum-Stewed Asian Pears:

  • 2 Asian Pears, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp high quality sipping rum, like Ron Zacapa
  1. Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and heat until the liquid begins to bubble.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pan.
  3. After five minutes, remove the top and allow to cook un-covered, stirring occasionally until the liquid has reduced and the pears are soft.

Spoon the Asian pears over the chia pudding, top with crumbled pecan pieces and cinnamon, and enjoy!

Asian Pears

In the Kitchen

Homemade Sriracha

September 20, 2015

Homeade Sriracha 2

Today I’m going to share with you my recipe for homemade sriracha. You may know it better as Rooster Sauce, or that ubiquitous green-capped hot sauce that young folks nowadays love so much. At it’s simplest, sriracha is a fermented blend of hot peppers, salt, garlic, and vinegar. Though it’s precise origins are not known, sriracha was used as a condiment in Thai and Vietnamese cooking long before it was popularized by the wildly successful Huy Fong Foods, which made the green-capped, rooster-emblazoned version that we’re all so familiar with.

This homemade version doesn’t taste exactly like the original, but what fun would that be? After all, variety is the spice (ahem) of life. Don’t mind me. I crack myself up. This version tastes a bit brighter, and depending on the pepper type that you use, can be significantly hotter than the Huy Fong version.

This recipe also allows you to customize the level of fermentation. I personally like the complex, umami flavors that are added through the fermentation process, so I usually let mine go through at least several days of fermentation, tasting every day until I find the flavor profile I like. Once you reach that desired flavor, simply add the vinegar, which stops the fermentation process and preserves the flavor as it is in that moment.

Picking Your Peppers

Ripe Red Filius Blues

Sriracha is typically made with fully ripened red jalapeños. (Did you realize that jalapeños eventually turn red if you leave them on the plant long enough? Now you know. Knowledge is power, y’all.) However, I am a big proponent of not making things the way they’re typically made, so my recommendation is to experiment with your sriracha recipe until you find the pepper type, or pepper ratio that you prefer.

I happened to have a bumper crop of a special little pepper known as the Filius Blue growing in my garden this summer, so I decided to use those instead of the typical jalapeños. Filius Blues are so named because the peppers start out a beautiful blue-purple color– at which point they are quite spicy– before ripening into a slightly milder, mature red.

Purple Filius Blue Peppers

Red Filus Blue Peppers

Filius Blue peppers are quite a bit hotter than your average jalapeño. Whereas a jalapeño measures in at approximately 10,000 to 20,000 Heat Units on the Scoville scale, a Filius Blue clocks in between 40,000 and 50,000 Scoville Heat Units. If you’re not up for the heat, or can’t get your hands on these relatively rare peppers, try substituting jalapeños, serranos, or Fresno chiles, for a milder heat.

Another trick for using extra hot peppers is to mix them with a milder pepper. In this recipe, I use half Filius Blues by weight, and half sweet, red bell peppers. The bell peppers help to dilute the extreme spice of the hot peppers, while also adding more available sugars for the fermentation process.

A Peck or a Pound? Weighing Your Peppers

Weighing the Peppers

One last note on experimenting with hot sauces before I unleash y’all on my recipe. I decided to write this recipe by weight in order to make it both more accurate and easier to customize. The ratio of peppers to salt is fairly important. Generally speaking you want to add 2% salt by weight to your pepper mash, or 2 grams of salt for every 100 grams of peppers. Knowing this ratio makes it very easy to scale this recipe up if you decide you want to make four times the amount, or if you decide to triple the ratio of bell pepper to hot pepper for a milder heat. Just adjust the salt accordingly.

Homemade Sriracha

  • 100 grams or approx. ¼ lb Filius Blue peppers*, stems removed
  • 100 grams red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 grams sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  1. Blend peppers, garlic, and salt in a food processor until it forms a paste. Scrape the paste into a clean pint-sized mason jar and cover with a paper towel and rubber band. It will only half-fill the mason jar, but that’s okay. The pepper mixture will rise as it ferments, so it’s good to give it some extra room.
  2. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 2-7 days, stirring the contents each day and checking to ensure no mold is growing. Bubbles should form on the surface within 2-3 days, which means your sauce has started fermenting. This where the rich, complex flavor comes from in sriracha. Try the hot sauce each day until it reaches the flavor you like best.
  3. Once the hot sauce has fermented to your liking, add the fermented pepper paste back into a food processor with the vinegar and blend until uniform in texture. Store the sauce in a tightly sealed container in a refrigerator. It will keep for up to 4 months.

*Filius Blues can be difficult to find if you’re not growing them yourself. Try substituting ripe red jalapeños, serrano peppers, Fresno chiles, or any other hot red pepper for a different heat and flavor profile. Experiment until you find the combo you most enjoy!

Homemade Sriracha

In the Kitchen

Kickin’ Pumpkin & Bacon Mac N Cheese

September 10, 2015

Individual Mac N Cheese

In keeping with our theme of spicy foods for September, here is a delightful little recipe I dreamed up for a white habanero-infused mac n cheese. It’s got just the right amount of spice, and with chunks of pumpkin and thick-cut, smoky bacon mixed into the macaroni, it’s a hearty dish to start your autumn off right.

Kickin’ Pumpkin & Bacon Mac N Cheese

This recipe is loosely adapted from Laura Macek’s award-winning Best Ever Mac N Cheese.

  • 1 pound of elbow macaroni or cavatelli pasta
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon
  • 1 cup of raw pumpkin, butternut, or red kuri squash, cubed
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 white habaneros, finely minced
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 3 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 cups extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the macaroni. Remove the pasta 3 minutes sooner than it says on the package instructions. It’s okay it’s still a little al dente—it will finish cooking when it goes in the oven to bake. Drain and rinse under cold water. Pour cooked macaroni into greased baking sheet.
  3. Cook the bacon until crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Reserve 1 tbs of bacon fat. Crumble the bacon when cool.
  4. Sauté pumpkin cubes over medium heat in bacon fat 5-6 minutes, until starting to brown. Remove pumpkin, and mix into the cooked pasta in the greased baking dish, reserving as much fat in the pan as possible.
  5. Add butter to reserved bacon fat. Sauté shallots and minced habaneros over low heat in remaining butter until shallots become translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook 1-2 minutes more. Increase heat to medium and, whisking constantly, slowly pour in the milk and continue whisking until mixture begins to bubble.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in the Cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and pumpkin and stir to evenly distribute.
  7. Combine breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and bacon and sprinkle over top.
  8. Bake until cheese is completely melted and the top is slightly browned. 20-30 minutes. Enjoy!

This dish goes exceptionally well with Southern-style BBQ meats like pulled pork and brisket, which is how I found out that a little bit of BBQ sauce on top just makes it that much more delicious.

Individual w: BBQ

 

 

In the Kitchen

Holy Moly Habanero Guacamole & Salsa

September 4, 2015

Guacamole and Salsa

What goes better with margaritas than salsa and guacamole? Pretty much nothing. Which is why I came up with these spicy versions of the beloved classics to go with the Habanero Watermelon Margaritas I posted earlier this week.

Salsa and guacamole may seem like a no brainer appetizer, but adding a hot and unexpected twist to these time-honored crowd-pleasers in the form of minced white habaneros will keep your dinner guests on their toes and clamoring for more. So break out the spice and don’t forget to keep the margarita refills handy!

Pink Watermelon Margarita

A Note on Handling Hot Peppers

Real quick, before we dive into the recipes, I just want to remind everyone to please be careful when handling ultra-hot peppers like habaneros, scotch bonnets, and the like. If you’ve ever touched your eyes after chopping jalapeños, you know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t made that mistake yet, trust me– it is not fun. I always wear disposable gloves when handling super hot peppers, and I highly recommend you do the same. Now, let’s get chopping!

White Habaneros & Gloves

Habanero Tomato Salsa

Habanero Tomato Salsa

This salsa is fresh and light, with a mild heat.

  • 3 cups diced tomatoes, approx. 5-6 small tomatoes
  • ¼ cup packed cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 habanero, sliced thin, seeds and all
  • ¼ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp sugar
  • juice of one lime

Pulse everything in a blender or food processor until it reaches your desired consistency. Refrigerate for an hour before serving to allow flavors to meld together.

Holy Moly Habanero Guacamole

This guacamole gets a lovely hint of sweetness from the mango, and a bit of heat from the seedless habaneros. Spoon lavishly onto corn chips and dunk into the Habanero Salsa for added heat.

Guacamole

  • 4 large avocados
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 mango, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 white habanero, seeds removed and minced
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Scoop avocado flesh into a large bowl and mash together until it reaches your desired consistency. Squeeze lime juice into bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined.

To store guacamole, cover with saran wrap and press wrap down so that it touches the surface of the guacamole to prevent discoloration.

Enjoy!

Habanero Guacamole and Salsa

In the Kitchen

Habanero and Watermelon Margaritas

August 31, 2015

Pink Watermelon Margarita

Looking for a perfect beverage to get you through the final days of summer? Look no further. This watermelon and habanero margarita perfectly matches the weather as we head into the first days of fall. It starts off cool and refreshing with a hint of sweetness from the watermelon, just like those first crisp days of September. Then the habanero kicks in, like a late summer heatwave, just when you thought you were through with all that. It’s sassy, sultry, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

My summer garden is beginning the slow descent into dormancy for the winter, but my hot pepper plants are just starting to ripen into their final fiery colors: white habaneros, orange scotch bonnets, red and purple Filius Blues, and the mother of all things spicy– ghost peppers.

White Habaneros

Scotch Bonnets

Filius Blue Peppers

Ghost Peppers

As they’ve started to ripen, first one by one, and then two by two, and now all in a jumbled mess of super-heat, I’ve started to panic. When one or two habaneros is enough to bring a pot of chili to my perfect heat level, how on earth am I possibly going to eat the dozens of peppers that are practically dripping off my plants? I’ve had to get creative to find new places to sneak in the heat. This watermelon habanero margarita is the first of a string of hot pepper recipes I’ll be posting over the coming month, so keep your eyes peeled for a host of tongue-tingling recipes as part of my new month-long series: September Spice!

White Habanero Watermelon Margaritas

Serves 6, or 4 thirsty individuals.

Not sure if you can take the heat? Don’t worry. These margaritas are the perfect blend of sweet and sour with just a hint of spice. But if it’s still too much you can modify the recipe to use a jalapeño instead, or omit the peppers altogether. You can make these with traditional red or pink watermelon, or try it with an heirloom yellow watermelon for a fun twist! Or be like me and make both!

Margaritas

To make the Habanero Tequila:

Infusing the Tequila

  • 2 cups tequila
  • 1 white habanero, sliced into rounds

Place habanero slices in a pint-sized mason jar or other sealable container. Pour tequila over top and seal. Let sit for 4 hours or overnight. Strain out habanero pieces before using.

To make the Margaritas:

More Margarita Ingredients

Margarita Ingredients

  • 1 cup habanero tequila
  • ¾ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz agave syrup
  • 6 cups cubed watermelon, orange or pink
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Add all ingredients to a blender and whiz until smooth. Strain to removed watermelon pulp, or leave as is for a little extra texture. Pour over ice and enjoy with some salsa and guac!

Yellow Watermelon Margarita

In the Garden

Reminder: Time to Start Sowing

August 20, 2015

Sprouts

Just a friendly reminder to start thinking about what you’re going to plant in your garden this fall.

Here in Palo Alto, USDA plant hardiness zone 9b, it’s time to start sowing seeds indoors for cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, and kale. These winter crops can be shockingly slow-growing so the earlier you can get them started, the sooner you’ll be reaping the rewards!

Happy sowing!

 

Adventure Time

5 of My Favorite Spots to Grab a Bite in Austin, TX

August 14, 2015

Austin

Paris may be for lovers, but Austin is for eaters. As someone who tends to plan my trips around my three main meals, that made it impossibly hard to pick just a handful of restaurants, taco trucks, and coffee shops from the hundreds of mouthwatering Yelp reviews I’d read in anticipation of my recent trip to Texas’s funky, food-forward capital city.

I didn’t get to visit even a fraction of the places that were recommended to me, but I still managed to walk (okay roll) away from the city feeling pretty satisfied with my choices.

Here are, in no particular order, 5 of my favorite spots to grab a bite or a brew in Austin, TX:

Freedmen’s BBQ

Freedman's

Holy mother of all things smoked! When it comes to BBQ, Freedmen’s does not mess around. Freedmen’s is different from many of the other Austin meat meccas in that it is primarily a bar, which just happens to serve tremendous BBQ brisket on the side, but don’t let its upscale appearance and small table count fool you– Freedmen’s BBQ is ridiculously tasty. I got the chopped brisket sandwich with potato salad, and a smoked banana pudding for dessert. I was a happy, happy camper.

But do you want to know the best thing about Freedmen’s? No line. That’s right, not only are the desserts smoked, but you can also be in and out in the time it took your buddies to Instagram their view of the line at Franklin’s.

So, next time you’re passing through Austin and don’t have an entire morning to devote to waiting for your BBQ fix, head on over to Freedmen’s. They’ll treat you right.

Uchiko

Uchiko

Uchiko is the sister restaurant to the ever popular Uchi. That’s me and my pops standing outside, getting ready to chow down on some serious deliciousness.

Between the ultra-fresh, cleverly plated sashimi and aptly, yet ridiculously names Jar Jar Duck (delightfully tender, melt-in-your-mouth morsels of duck marinated in an applewood smoke that poofs out of the jar when you open it) Uchiko has the hipster farmhouse Japanese cuisine niche on lock.

Uchiko Sashimi

Uchiko Jar Jar Duck

Go for the perfectly curated ambience and make sure to bring friends– you’re going to want to try it all.

Veracruz Taco Truck

I visited a couple of taco trucks on my sojourn through Austin, and the original Veracruz truck on E Cesar Chavez was by far my favorite. Order the migas tacos and a Mexico Lindo smoothie. You will not be disappointed.

Tacos Veracruz

Oh and the tortas are pretty bomb too.

Jacoby’s Mercantile

Jacoby's

Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile is a gem of a place tucked along the Colorado River. The patio is where it’s at. With a whimsical yet homey vibe, it’s the perfect place to catch the sunset while snacking on upgraded Southern classics like pimento cheese and this divine pork chop, piled with peaches, and drizzled with a sweet and tart sorghum syrup.

Jacoby's Porkchop

Odd Duck

If I’m being really really honest with you, Odd Duck was probably my favorite restaurant of the trip. With a tapas-style menu full of small, funky dishes, there’s something to please most anyone who stops by this fine establishment.

Odd Duck Cocktail

Even my mother– who doesn’t care for most cocktails, and especially doesn’t like whiskey– swooned over their High Five cocktail. And as unappetizing as “pig face” sounds, their Parker house roll with pig face really hit the spot.

Odd Duck Buns

So did the crawfish boil. And the dessert. And pretty much everything we ate.

Odd Duck Crawfish

Odd Duck Crawfish Broil

Odd Duck Dessert

Yum!

Have you been to Austin? What were your favorites? I have to start compiling my must-eat list for my next visit!

In the Kitchen

Dill Cucumber Spears

August 10, 2015
Cucumber dill pickle spears ready to be bottled

Eat Your Flowers

Did you know that dill flowers are edible?

They tend to get a bad rap because, as with all annuals, the appearance of flowers is a sure sign that your dill plant is about to kick the bucket. The flowers, though a harbinger of impending death, actually have a lot going for them. They’re wonderful pollinator-attractors– bees, in particular, are big fans– and if you leave the flowers to set seed, you can harvest the seeds for use in breads, spice rubs, and seafood dishes. You can also use the flowers fresh, and while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating one whole, they can be used with great effect to flavor pickles and soups– anywhere where you would like a subtle hint of dill.

I recently came across a bunch of flowering dill at my farmer’s market and was immediately seized with the need to make dill pickles.

Dill Flower

I’ve been getting cucumbers almost every week in my CSA box, and though I feel like a gardening fraud to admit it, I’m not really that big of a cucumber fan. I’ve gotten better at eating cucumbers, especially if they’re liberally dunked in hummus, but I still much prefer them in their pickled form. So when I got a bunch of pickling cucumbers in my CSA box the very same week that flowering dill appeared at the farmer’s market, I took it as a sign that it was time to get a’ picklin’!

Cucumber Pickles

Recipe: Cucumber Dill Pickle Spears

This recipe makes one quart jar of pickle spears.

These pickles are incredibly easy to make, and will last for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, though I’ve eaten them up to a month after making them, with no sign of deterioration of quality.

  • 2 large kirby cucumbers
  • 2 flowering dill heads*
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  1. Wash the cucumbers well, rubbing off any spines. Cut off the stem and blossom ends, and quarter lengthwise. Pack the spears into a clean quart-sized mason jar, trimming as needed to ensure they fit inside with a bit of room to spare at the top.
  2. Add the dill flower heads, spices, and garlic to the mason jar.
  3. Bring the salt, water, and white wine vinegar to a boil on the stove. Pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers to cover. Seal the jars and store in the refrigerator for a week before eating, to allow the flavors to meld together. Enjoy!

* If you can’t find dill flowers, you can simply substitute a sprig of dill leaves instead.

 

Cucumber Dill Spear

In the Garden

How to Harvest Basil for Maximum Yields

August 3, 2015
This is what the top of a basil plant looks like several days after removing the top set of leaves-- new growth is coming in

A couple of weeks ago we covered the basics of keeping a potted basil plant alive. Let’s dig in one step deeper. We don’t just want our basil to live, do we? We want it to thrive! Preferably, we’d like it to furnish us with countless verdant leaves with which to garnish our caprese salads and pizzas all summer long. These are attainable goals! It only takes a little know-how and a couple of minutes of maintenance to keep your basil productive well into the depths of summer.

The number one step you can take to encourage your basil to grow faster and more vigorously is… drumroll please…

Pruning Basil

Harvest it! It may seem counter-intuitive, but harvesting your basil actually encourages it to produce more new growth. So don’t be afraid to pluck a couple of leaves for your sandwich just because your plant isn’t all that big yet. The key is to harvest from the top. You can and should intentionally pluck off the very top set of tiny leaves when you first buy your basil plant to get a jump start on this process.

Top Leaves

Picking off the top leaves of your plant will encourage it to bush out, sending out additional side stems with new sets of leaves, rather than getting all tall and spindly.

New Leaves on Pruned Basil

 

IMG_5116

If it’s particularly hot or late in the season, you may notice your plant starting to put out pretty little flower spikes. These signal death for your basil plant.

Basil Flowers

Thai Basil Flowers

Basil is an annual, meaning it dies after it has completed its reproductive cycle, and the act of flowering is your basil plant telling you it’s wrapping up its time here on earth. You can halt this cycle, however, by plucking off the flowers (which are totally edible, and can replace basil leaves in many recipes). Better yet, whack off the entire top third of your plant, whizz it up into pesto, and watch as your plant miraculously regrows before your eyes.

New Basil Shoots

In the Garden

What’s That Black Spot on My Tomato? (And How to Fix It)

July 29, 2015
A ripe tomato with Blossom End Rot.

Tomatoes are a finicky bunch. They’re susceptible to an astonishing number of diseases, many of which are nearly impossible to diagnose without an advanced degree in plant pathology– and even then, you’d be surprised how hard it can be to determine what’s causing, say, a wilting leaf. It could quite literally be a hundred different things.

Thankfully, one of the most common tomato ailments is also one of easiest to spot. (Get it? Because it forms a spot? I crack myself up.)

The Dreaded Dark Spot

If you’ve grown tomatoes in pots before, chances are you’ve come across a tomato or two in your time that formed a grayish brown or black splotch on the underside of the fruit, right where the dead flower blossom once connected to the fruit’s skin. You may not have noticed it right away because these spots only form on the underside of the fruit, and the tops can looks surprisingly healthy.

Blossom End Rot- Tops

 

Blossom End Rot- Bottoms

These dark spots can be small or large, and will often grow in size as your tomato matures. They can be just a little spot just on the underside, or, in extreme cases, they can spread up the sides of the fruit until half of the tomato is affected.

Blossom End Rot- Green

If your tomatoes are experiencing these symptoms, it’s safe to say that you’ve got Blossom End Rot (or BER). It sounds nasty, but before you panic and rip up your plant in frustration, take heart in the knowledge that Blossom End Rot is relatively easy to correct, and even easier to prevent.

BER is a symptom of a calcium deficiency in your plant. While not one of the big three macronutrients that most new gardeners are familiar with– those would be nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, abbreviated as NPK– calcium is still a critical nutrient that plants need in order to function at optimal levels of health and productivity. Calcium is particularly critical to plants in the nightshade family, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. If you’re noticing the telltale signs of Blossom End Rot on your tomatoes, then you can bet your plant is having trouble accessing this critical nutrient.

Thankfully, calcium deficiency is easy to correct with a liquid or powdered calcium supplement. While not available at all nurseries, most stores catering to hydroponic growing carry calcium amendments for gardening purposes. Call ahead if you’re not sure if your supply center carries it. Once you’ve got your hands on some calcium, dilute it with water according to the package instructions. Now, many of these supplements will instruct you to spray the calcium-fortified water on your plant’s leaves, but I prefer to use it to drench the affected plant’s roots instead. I might sprinkle some on the leaves as well, but I definitely suggest you pour at least a gallon of the diluted concentrate on the soil around the roots. Repeat the process once more a week later.

Calcium Supplement

It’s important, once you’ve supplemented your plant’s deficient soil with the missing calcium, that you then keep up a regular watering schedule. Under-watering and irregular watering can seriously exacerbate the condition of plants affected by Blossom End Rot. This is why it is so much more common to find BER in tomatoes which have been grown in containers, because they have a harder time holding onto water and generally tend to be under-watered as compared to their in-ground compatriots. A full-sized tomato grown in a properly sized pot (at least 15 gallons) will probably need to be watered once per day in the middle of the summer, depending on climate conditions. Hot sunny weather obviously requires more water than overcast or rainy weather. Windy weather can be deceiving, for while it can help keep temperatures down, wind also has a strong drying effect on the soil.

While it’s relatively simple to diagnose and correct for Blossom End Rot, it’s still always preferable to take steps to prevent the issue so that you never deal with it in the first place. So what can we do to keep BER at bay next time we plant out our tomatoes?

First of all, make sure that you’re fertilizing your tomato adequately when you transplant it to its final destination– be it a pot, a raised bed, or just a plain old hole in the ground. In addition to an all-purpose fertilizer (which typically contained some calcium– check the package to be sure), and any other amendments that you like to use to feed your tomato, I like to add a big handful of a high-phosphorous and calcium supplement, such as bone meal or bone ash. The phosphorous is critical for blossom production, and the calcium will help keep Blossom End Rot at bay. It’s also a great idea to throw some saved, crushed eggshells from your morning omelet in the bottom of your planting hole to build in a little slow-release calcium source for your plants to draw on throughout the season. Continue to fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer throughout the season for best results, particularly if you’re growing in a pot. Making sure your soil is rich in calcium from the get-go, together with a good watering routine should keep your tomato plants BER-free and growing strong all season long (…just as long as one of the other 100 tomato diseases doesn’t get them!)

 

In the Kitchen

CSA Saturday

July 25, 2015
All of the beautiful produce that came in my CSA box

It’s been an excellent seven days in the kitchen, and I’m so excited to share my CSA-inspired meal ideas of the week with you today on this lovely CSA Saturday. Last Saturday’s box came packed to the gills with plums, tomatoes, green beans, red onions, jalapeños, a cantaloupe, and an Armenian cucumber. Many of these are repeat visitors as you may recall from previous CSA Saturdays, but I like to keep things fresh and exciting so read on to see what new things I made with them this week!

Let’s break it down.

Cucumber

I had big plans for this cucumber. He was going to get cooked (cooked!) with honey and rice vinegar and other exciting flavors. And then I ate him raw instead, without doing a single fancy cooking thing. I’m a barbarian like that.

Plums, Melon

Melon and Plum Salad

Juicy ripe cantaloupe and crimson plums played nicely with fig wedges and slices of the tiny tart apples I picked during an excursion to the Taylor Street Farm in San Jose this past Sunday. This tiny, tucked away urban farm is located practically beneath the 87 freeway exit for Taylor Street in San Jose. It’s a joy to wander around in– a tiny oasis in the city– and even has a U-Pick option for families who want to stop by and snag some local veggies and show the kids how food is grown. I couldn’t have made this tasty little fruit salad breakfast bowl without ’em! Of course, the melon and plums helped too.

Green Beans

Glazing the Beans

I recently picked up a copy of one of my favorite food & garden blogger’s cookbooks, and found myself cooking my way through several of her recipes this week, with a few tweaks and edits of my own (I can’t help myself! I’m a tinkerer.) These lovely balsamic-glazed green beans came from The CSA Cookbook by Linda Ly. I have to say, I’m a huge fan! Both of the beans, and the book. If you’ve enjoyed my CSA Saturday series, you will definitely enjoy her cookbook, which focuses on how to use all of a garden’s bounty, including some of the underutilized and under-appreciated parts of plants, like tomato leaves and watermelon rind, both of which are totally edible! Who knew?

Balsamic Roasted Green Beans

Slicing Tomatoes

My tomatoes were so ripe when they arrived this week that some of them were already starting to split and run by Sunday, which meant I needed to use them ASAP! I sliced up the ripest of the lot and cooked them in a galette with the last of my homemade (frozen) pesto from my very first CSA box, three weeks ago. This recipe was also inspired by the CSA Cookbook. My main innovation was to swap out the ricotta the original recipe called for with goat cheese, and to drizzle a little local honey over the pie before serving, which kicked it up a notch and lent a subtle sweetness to the otherwise super savory dish.

Tomato Tart

The remaining tomatoes went into the freezer to keep them from spoiling, but reappeared later in the week in the form of a soup.

Cherry Tomatoes, Frozen Slicing Tomatoes

Cream of tomato soup. It’s a classic. You can’t really go wrong. You don’t even need a recipe. I just threw all my remaining tomatoes– both cherry and large– into a pot with some garlic and Italian herbs and simmered until I was ready to eat. Then I just added a dash of heavy cream and whizzed it all up with my immersion blender. I didn’t measure a thing and it was delicious.

Tomato Soup

Jalapeños 

I’ve got one word for you: chilaquiles. I vaguely followed this recipe, but I used all three of the jalapeños that came in my CSA box, and I roasted them and the tomatillos in the oven before blending them into the salsa verde. Once again, I didn’t measure a thing, so don’t worry about sticking too close to the recipe. Measuring is overrated. (Says the person who finds carpentry particularly challenging).

Chilaquiles

Red Onion

Making the Quinoa Cakes

I could think of no higher calling for red onion than cheesy quinoa cakes. Mince half of an onion and chuck it into a bowl with 3 cups of cooked quinoa, some chopped green onions, 2 beaten eggs, somewhere in the ballpark of 1/4 cup of flour (enough to hold the batter together), and a hefty handful each of goat cheese and cheddar. Form the resulting batter into rounds about 1/4 cup in volume and fry over high heat with olive oil, and you’ve got yourself a light and lovely vegetarian lunch.

Grilling the Quinoa Cakes

Quinoa Cakes

Bon appetit!

Bon Appetit