Strawberry fields
Sunday April 18th 2021, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Food

Huh. I would link to it but it seems to only be in the paper copy tonight. Weird.

I still subscribe to the local newspaper. It’s one that got bought out by a hedge fund, which gutted its staff and sold its building and basically firebombed it, but it’s still the local paper.

Every now and then it justifies itself.

Because where else would they talk about winter strawberries being tasteless not because there’s no summer heat to sweeten them but because of the variety that produces then? And that UC Davis has been working on that and has just released two new winter strawberry varieties that actually taste good: the UCD Finn and the UCD Mojo to replace the tasteless Portola.

They used gene typing to figure out which genes did what they wanted and then old fashioned breeding to mix varieties that had more of those genes till they hit those two winners.

One will be dark red through and through, the other kind of a peachy orange.

I didn’t love the part where they said nobody sells berries by the variety so that while there aren’t many plants out there yet the distributors will mix the old with the new next winter and good luck.

The little geodes. We’ll have to crack them open.



Not a figment of imagination
Wednesday April 14th 2021, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Wildlife

I actually googled yesterday re whether or not Black Jack figs produce breba crops, because mine never had; I’d seen a few tiny dark stubs over-wintering and gotten all excited about it till they’d dropped off in the spring, but that was it.

I found arguments about whether or not they were really only a seedling of Mission figs that came out bigger, but no answer.

I’ve been taking photos of that tree these past two weeks as the leaves have been coming out just because I love how they look, but I never saw any sign of fruit. Nor all winter. Nothing. And yet there are two of these today! Figs in April! The leaves haven’t even finished growing to full size yet!

This past winter felt long and chilly and yet it was the first one in memory where it never went down into the twenties. That might account for it.

I know brebas are supposed to have much less flavor and sweetness than the crop the tree puts the whole summer’s heat into.

But who cares when August is so far off. A roasted fig stuffed with cheese, maybe a little honey drizzled on at the last if it’s not naturally sweet… Okay, so, put something else in the oven with them to justify the time in there. Blueberry cake or something.

They’re so big already. I put some clippings from my husband’s last haircut around them to try to fend off the rodentry. Not right up against the fruit itself because I figure chances are good that any birds still nest-building are going to be thrilled to find those locks, but, in the vicinity.

Meantime, halfway around the house, the juncos are waiting for the Morello cherry leaves to hurry up so they can hide the nest they want to build.

It’s blooming slowly from the ground up.

Oh, and in case you needed it: Mick Jagger gave the pandemic lockdown a piece of his mind yesterday.



Time to get out the juicer
Sunday April 11th 2021, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Food

I’m wondering whether the branches on this tree that are hanging down so hard will snap back upright after they finally get all that weight off them. This is my Gold Nugget mandarin’s first real crop and it went all out, especially on that side. Which is looking really funny: like a Pez dispenser for oranges.

And on another note, I wonder. A creme brulee torch is for creme brûlées but this guy seems to think they’re for cheesecakes?

Seems a little odd… And great fun.



Happy Easter!
Sunday April 04th 2021, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Someone in the neighborhood was having an Easter feast with several cars’ worth of attendees. Probably all vaccinated, right?

Still, it left me with a sense of, oh, if only.

I texted Happy Easter to my kids. In response we got a photo of one exhausted toddler sound asleep mid-dinner in his high chair and some FaceTime with his 18-month-old cousin who, having discovered this wondrous indentation right there in the center of her, had to show us her discovery of having a belly button. As every not quite entirely verbal yet baby that ever was has done for all of time. While her big brother made sure she had enough jelly beans. This was clearly Jelly Beans Day, to her amazement, holding some out in our direction. She opened and got help closing the little plastic egg halves again and again.

The St. Bernard, as always, refused to hear her name coming out of a screen because she knew that’s just not real. She got to her feet and walked away.



Alliums among us
Saturday March 27th 2021, 11:04 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Life

I have this plant that grows next to the house. I didn’t put it there; it was a surprise. It simply showed up one spring and every one thereafter, leafing out of the ground and then sending up a purple flower stalk next to the walkway. I had no idea what it was. It never spread–it was just the one plant. For easily twenty years now.

Last year there wasn’t much of a flower to it at all, which made me realize how much I’d been looking forward to it. Oh, well.

This year, the rainy season is nearly over and we’ve gotten about a third of normal. Dry dry dry. My allium did come up under the sidewalk light as always but it’s tiny, with no sign of any flower to come, but at least it’s still alive.

I ordered some cream with my groceries. I had a craving for making chocolate tortes. I wanted to run the beaters, melt the chocolate into the cream, mix the one spoonful I like to make of leftover ganache into my hot cocoa the next morning, all of it.

The new next door neighbors, as it turned out, do indeed like chocolate and are not allergic to dairy.

She opened that door in excitement before I could even knock.

She’d had to work today and it had been a long hard day and then she’d just gotten home to my message. Not five minutes later I would get a text saying how good that torte was.

And as I kind of floated down the sidewalk, there it suddenly was.

Wait. Where did you come from? What…?

It was a new allium. With the tips of its unusually short leaves just brushing the sidewalk. There had been so little water there was almost no stalk, either, but there it was, radiant in the late sunlight.

And it wanted me to notice.



Rising
Sunday March 21st 2021, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

I offered a neighbor an apricot seedling and found out she grew up on an apricot orchard and has a bountiful tree in her back yard, to our mutual delight at the shared enthusiasm.

Meantime, two people in two days asked a variant of what came down to the same question, when I thought about it: what are you not doing that you wish you were?

One of those wanted to know if I was knitting anything, and I admitted I hadn’t been of late; there’s no happy anticipation of making someone’s day, no way to know who needs that pat on the back. I guess we all do right now.

Well, huh. I couldn’t fix everything, but there is now some cranberry pumpkin sourdough rising overnight in the kitchen, the smell of cinnamon on my fingers, and I am looking forward to the smell of it baking filling the coming morning.

It’s a start.



The frosting on the cake
Saturday March 20th 2021, 8:45 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden

(With the weekly apricot progress picture.)

Some had flowers in their gardens too good to only keep to themselves.

Some offered to bake. And it’s always more fun, not to mention safer calorie-wise, to bake for others.

And so we had a drive-through Relief Society party (ie for the women’s organization) at the church parking lot. You stop your car–sometimes it was a line–you say from a safe distance your preference of type of cupcake, everybody with masks on, or whether you’d prefer flowers to calories; one person brings your choice to you (if a cupcake) in a little box with a heart at the top so it won’t smush all over the inside of your car or make you have to hold it while you’re trying to drive, several people at social distances away from each other are bringing more to other cars and nobody breathes on anybody.

So-and-so pulled in to park and could you move just a bit so they can get out. Sure.

We could actually some of see each other’s faces for real for the first time in over a year and we did chat a bit from there; not too long, more are coming, we let them have their turns.

Man, did that feel good.

The response to the original query was such that not only did I get a chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache and cream cheese layered in the filling, I was offered to take a random one home to Richard along with a blue hydrangea stem.

His turned out to be vanilla. With sprinkles. Which made me laugh. Our kids memorably swooned over sprinkles on a cake someone brought us when they were, well, kids.

All the leftover cupcakes were going to end up on the one family’s doorstep if we didn’t rescue them.  No! It’s okay! Him, too! Take one!

After tasting mine, I understood the danger. Man, that was good.



Butter emails
Thursday February 25th 2021, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Food,History,Politics

The question on everyone’s minds, clearly, is this: does your butter still spread on your bread?

Who expected an outcome of the pandemic to be, and I quote, rubbery butter?

Who knew that farmers fed their cows palm oil? But apparently they do, and in Canada it has become an issue.

Since everybody’s home quarantining, more people are baking, and they’re using more butter than normal, and the farmers needed to step up production to meet the demand.

So they increased the palm oil in the animals’ feed, (bbcnews link) which apparently does work at upping the fat content in their milk.

Making the resulting lipids not traditionally soft at room temperature anymore.

The farmers, after saying, hey, the US and the UK do this too and it’s not new made clear their intention towards us consumers: Let them eat cake.



February 14th
Sunday February 14th 2021, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Chocolate cupcakes by Michelle and my first-ever bingewatching: the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. I know, right? Where have I been. It was great.

And chocolate hearts from the Heart Attack at the door yesterday.



Want to grow a superb apricot?
Thursday February 11th 2021, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden,Life

Being able to putter around, checking on my seedlings, doing laundry, making a lemon almond cake just because the daughter wished out loud for one, making a spinach souffle with vegan parmesan (for her dairy allergy) and bacon bits that turned out surprisingly good: vegan cheeses aren’t great on their own but it turns out they do pretty well in recipes.

After yesterday, it was a day of just being really happy about all the little things. It’s raining and cold? Have a second mug of cocoa. Why not. He loved it.

I have Anya apricots starting to sprout again and a bunch more kernels still in the fridge.

Last year I followed instructions online that said that after the required cold months, soak them overnight–and had a 70% rotting rate. This year I followed instructions that said for the next stage put them in a wet paper towel in a ziplock in the fridge, did that for a few weeks and I have eleven that are looking good so far and one that rotted. I put them in Root Riot plugs that have rooting hormone added, and the roots that are just starting look much bigger and healthier than anything I ever saw last year.

Probably you should just stick them straight in the Root Riots out of the fridge without the whole paper towel nonsense.

So I have a question for you all: does anyone want some of those saved dry kernels? You cannot buy the trees anywhere, they’re not on the market, period, and the developer’s orchard of them has been ripped out and replaced with almonds. If you want to taste these you’ll probably have to grow your own.

I bought Anya apricots at Andy’s Orchard last summer: so at least one parent is an Anya. Andy only grows what tastes good. The other parent might be one of John Driver’s other two varieties that Andy grows, it could be a Blenheim or something, there’s no way to know.

It should take three to five years before you have fruit.

But then oh what fruit. Anyas are what apricots were always meant to taste like and never could be.

Yours for the asking and the willingness to take care of them.



It costs a lot of dough
Friday January 29th 2021, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

(The full moon with an atmospheric river last night.)

The algorithms are at it again. But then, who needs butter when you could have healthy vegetables with your fat?

I’ve posted the occasional picture on Facebook of my fruit trees and I’ve been poking around via Zillow at a few houses for sale, as I’ve mentioned. Facebook knows all and tracks all: I am told that even if you clear all cookies off your computer theirs will still be in there, hidden.

So. Clearly what I really really need, according to their ad, is a 40-acre avocado orchard in SoCal with a house with lots of windows looking out over the ocean!

My first thought was, man, that’s a lot of toast.

I didn’t even make the connection when I started up a loaf of sourdough this evening, the first one in over a month–till just now writing this.



Feed His sheep
Sunday January 24th 2021, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

Finished a hat last night.

One thing said in church today was that in this time of so much isolation, write someone a note. Reach out.

And so a note showed up on the doorstep next door, thanking the neighbor for opening the door to my daughter at 11:00 at night so that we could retrieve our groceries that had been dumped there, and with the note, a plate of homemade biscotti by said daughter. Who took great delight in going over there again, and then in anticipating their coming home to the surprise.

They were gone all day. They called to tell us that that plate of excellent cookies had been devoured the moment they’d walked in the door.

Second thing said in church today: one of the members had splurged on some food that was to be a particular treat for the husband, who’s been working covid cases in the ICU for long, long hours–but it got stolen off their porch.

The first reaction was anger and upset; the second was, but what if it was because someone is hungry? Because there are a lot of people going hungry right now. She tried to do a little something about it.

The end result was–well, it made the local paper.

And now excuse me, I’ve got me some more note writing to do while there’s a little time left in the day.



Over on the coast
Saturday January 23rd 2021, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Were they open? Yes they were, for pickups and deliveries. No the pandemic had not done them in. Hallelujah. So let’s help them stay that way.

There’s a week-long storm rolling in and you do not want to drive Highway 17’s twisty steep narrow mountain passage in the rain and next Saturday looks like a really bad idea. But today was going to be dry and the fire-damaged trees haven’t fallen across it–yet.

I grabbed a hat project that had a second ball of Mecha for the next one in the bag because you never know, right, and we headed out to the car.

I did not knit a stitch. I wasn’t going to miss a moment of seeing every moment of every sight out of sight of the house. (Wow that reservoir is low for January.) We have now been in quarantine for a solid year here.

To Mutari Chocolates in Santa Cruz. Where a dairy allergy is taken good care of and the small-batch chocolate is the very best. It’s a splurge we try to do a few times a year, and the daughter is here for the moment, so, of course.

The hot chocolate.

The chocolate covered orange rinds that are her absolute favorite.

The wild Bolivian bars were mine.

The wild bay laurel truffles we tried were…different, and curious, but declared good.

I confess we did not try the douglas fir truffles. I decorate Christmas trees, I don’t eat them.

Chicken.



Pandemic kitchen soup
Friday January 15th 2021, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Recipes

A box of chicken stock, a stalk of celery, green onions, let simmer while deciding what they want to be when they grow up. A little extra virgin California Organic olive oil (insert long lecture about how the Feds allow adulterated and lesser grades to be labeled EVOO but California’s grandfathered law requiring California Organic EVOO to be exactly that means that if you buy Californian-grown and organic and extra-virgin olive oil, that specific combination on the label, then you know you got what you paid for.

And it is revelatory if you are new to such.

Apollo‘s varietals are the best I’ve found. It’s like the difference between freshly grated real parmesan cheese and the (delete the phrase hamster bedding) that shakes out of the green can.

Hey, when you live this close to where so much of the country’s food is produced for so long it rubs off on you. Last I saw the baby artichokes 10/$1 sign was still up along the coast.

A few shakes of gumbo file powder for thickener and flavor.

Hmm, a half hour of simmering later, how about a good long squeeze of Costco Californian tomato paste in a tube. We’ve seen those trucks in the Central Valley, stuffed bottom to top with tomatoes and a few red bombs flying off the back (don’t get too close) and splatting on the road behind them as they go. A few bounce. We saw no pallets, no divisions, and no covers (I bet that’s changed now), just open beds piled high like a giant heaping tablespoon of a truckload.

That’s what I always picture when I see tomato paste.

A half package of frozen okra, stir, and let it simmer another half hour.

Here’s where my mom goes, You’re finally eating okra? On purpose?

Then take a small package of precooked Teton Ranch beef sausage links out of the freezer, in my case, which adds a little pepper to it too, or ham, chicken, whatever floats your boat, slice and throw it in and let it keep going till the meat is nice and warm.

Dish and sprinkle grated fresh parmesan on the servings, not in the pot, because there might be some leftovers (there was, though not a lot) and Michelle’s driving down from Washington State for a visit and it would be nice to be able to hand her something dairy-free and good within a minute when she walks in the door tomorrow after that very long drive.

I can’t wait.



Landlubber
Thursday January 07th 2021, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Food

Nope, no 25th yet.

Milk Pail is on vacation for five weeks, so I decided to try out the fishermen again who’ve teamed up with a few local farmers.

Oysters harvested Wednesday were on their list. I was curious. They were hand-delivered today and I realized I suddenly had to get serious about figuring out what to do with the little ocean geodes.

We hadn’t bought rock salt since making ice cream the hand-crank way when the kids were little and we replaced that with an electric one pretty early on, being, y’know, fast learners and all that.

The rock salt is to smush them into to hold them in place curvy side down so the juices don’t leak out. Oh. Huh. I ended up balancing them on each other just so, sort of like a preschooler experimenting with a tinkertoy set, wondering if I could move them into the oven without–whoops, try again.

On the third wobbly try I had them all on their backs facing upwards and I put a small rack across the top to keep them that way. It sorta/almost worked.

I remembered my mom once tackling a huge bag of mussels big enough to feed our family of eight when I was a kid and her telling me, if one is opened before you cook it you throw it away–that one’s dead and it could give you food poisoning. You check to make sure they’re shut tight.

These all looked shut tight to me.

The internet said in multiple places that you could just roast them in the oven at high heat and then the shells would pop right open.

Good, because we’re right out of oyster knives if I even knew what one looked like.

450F seven minutes and then you can have your still-raw oysters!

Uh…

Ten minutes. Checked. No popping open. Put it back in for another minute. As if. Then, what the heck, four more.

At that point it smelled wonderful and there were signs of bubbling juices so I figured they were done.

You know how many had cracked open?

One. A second one teased that it might. There were thirteen.

Well huh.

I went looking for a camping knife: I once bought a bunch of random mismatched silverware at Goodwill for not caring if a piece got left behind outside some tent somewhere. Turns out I’d long since let them go back to where they’d come from.

I had one dinner knife–Magnum Lauffer, no less, but still–whose handle had separated slightly from the blade, which I had long rued. It never fell apart but it never felt good in the hand. So that one was the victim, and I went at it.

Most of them actually opened without too much hassle. There were a couple where the oyster was bigger than its outer shell was letting on and they weren’t letting go that easily. I now understand whoever created oyster knives. I don’t *think* the very tip of that rounded blade was broken off before but it is now and I’m just glad no shards, not shell nor metal, hit me in the eye. But they tried. Yay glasses.

So were they way overcooked? I’d say the texture was actually pretty surprisingly perfect. And the flavor was as fresh as I’ve ever had.

Chewy seawater.

I’d order more, but I think next time Costco is going to do the work. Even if those jars won’t give me the shellfish stock that’s in the fridge waiting for tomorrow’s chowder.