Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Last Days of Fall

Fall is my favorite season. I will be sad to see it end on the winter solstice, December 21. Because we live in Southern California, we are blessed to be able to garden all year round. So, even though we will be heading into winter soon, the garden is still flourishing.

Our Meyer Lemons are ripening up and a few should be ready to be plucked in a few days. I'm thinking that lemon shortbread cookies would be the a nice choice to use them in. And, the arugula has been growing like crazy. I will need to harvest some soon. There is even a good chance that a couple of radishes will be ready as well.

Tomorrow is supposed to bring some more and much needed rain to our drought stricken city. The garden will be grateful.

Oh, and I'm grateful, that for the moment, the squirrels have stopped digging in the lettuce bed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon

I love Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays. I have been hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for 21 consecutive years, until now. This year, I am taking a sabbatical. Dan could not be happier about this decision. Having recently been laid off from my job of the last two plus years, has also taken the wind out of my sails a bit so I am relieved as well. So, I'll be taking it "easy" for once and just preparing a few things to take to a friend's house instead.

One of those things is Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon. The recipe is from a Bon Appetit November issue from a couple of years ago.

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon
(from Bon Appetit)

1 cup of ruby Port
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup dried cranberries (about 6 ounces)
1 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries
3/4 cup of water
1/4 cup sugar

1. Bring ruby Port and cinnamon sticks to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer mixture for 5 minutes.

2. Add dried cranberries to saucepan; simmer until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add fresh cranberries, 3/4 cup water, and sugar; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until cranberry sauce thickens and is darker in color and berries collapse, stirring often, about 20 minutes.

3. Transfer sauce to bowl; cool. Discard cinnamon sticks.

Do ahead: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Been Away So Long

It has been almost two months since I did my last post. I feel terribly guilty about it. A lot has happened since then and the biggest thing being that I have been laid off from my job. So, since I have a bit more free time on my hands, there is no excuse for not keeping this blog more up to date. I will have a new post a bit later today about my cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Starting from Seed

It's now September, so Dan and I thought we should get started on planting some late fall and winter veggies in the garden. But, this time instead of working with transplants, we decided to start from seed. This is a first for both of us so we'll be keeping our fingers crossed that this little experiment works.

We selected a number of greens and root vegetables and discovered that only a few of them should be started indoors. The rest need to be sown outside. We just finished assembling the little seed pots and planting the seeds for Red Velvet Lettuce, Little Gem Lettuce (a mini-Romaine), Oak Leaf Lettuce and Black Tuscan Kale. Five little pots of each.

In a couple of more weeks, we will prepare the beds and sow the rest of the seeds directly into the soil. Right now, it's still too hot in sunny L.A. during the day and too warm at night to get the rest started. But, with any luck the weather will start to get a bit milder as we move closer to fall.

The other veggies we'll be growing are Bordeaux Spinach, Detroit Dark Red Beets, Easter Egg Radishes, Scarlet Nantes Carrots, Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard and Arugula. With any luck, we'll be able to provide some of our own produce for Thanksgiving this year.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer Gardening

Well, the dog days of summer are upon us and nowhere is that more evident than in our little vegetable garden. As you know, it is our first year of trying to grow some of our own food. Unfortunately, it has not gone as well as we had hoped for. Even though it is only late August a number of our plants are already spent. I had to pull out our three zucchini plants today. I thought we might get one or two more but the last one that looked promising just stopped growing and then withered and died.

We did finally however get a watermelon. For months, all we have had is vines and then flowering vines but not a melon in sight. Then, suddenly, as if my magic a few little melons started to appear on the vines. We have one that is now the size of a softball. May be in September, it will be ready to harvest.

Even our tomatoes did not do nearly as well as we hoped. Sure, we had some to harvest. Though they were mostly the Grape, Sweet 100s and a few Romas. We got one Gold Medal but it ended up getting some sort of rot or bug damage and died on the vine. And, we did manage to coax a few Jersey Devils (above) to fully fledged and ripen adulthood. But, again, we lost more than we harvested. Our hope had been to have a enough tomatoes to can for the winter but we have barely ended up with enough for a salad. Hopefully, next tomato season will be better.

Ironically, in sunny and hot, Southern California, our chard has been been doing well. How, I don't know. I thought this would have hated the weather but it's going strong. We'll be planting more for the fall.

Our fall hope...the one, lone butternut squash. Why we only have one is a mystery. We're hoping against hope that at least one more will sprout from this plant.

But, we'll keep trying. As soon as the heatwave that we are experiencing breaks, we're going to plant new things for the fall and winter. Though the garden has not producted as many veggies as hoped for, we are not giving up. Plus, Dan and I are new at this, so hopefully we will get better at it.

A New Visitor to Our Yard

We added a birdbath to our backyard last weekend. And, ever since, Dan and I check periodically to see if we have any feathered visitors. And, finally we did. Yesterday we spotted a hawk drinking from the birdbath. It was awe-inspiring. So beautiful. He or she was there for a good 10 minutes. We just stared from the house in amazement.

Then, much to our delight this morning, the hawk was back. This time, we got to see it take a full bath.

It is true that if you provide water, the critters will come. We are hoping to be blessed with more sightings of the hawk very soon. I will try and get a picture if possible.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Dramm Fine Hose

Yes, it is totally geeky but I am writing out my new hose. I cannot help it. I love this this hose. It's orange. It makes me smile to look at it.

We actually already have one for the backyard and it's been great for more than a year and a half. Oh, we have had other hoses that we have purchased at Target or Home Depot. And, they were all crap. Calling them crap is being kind. Absolute garbage and a waste of money is what they ended up being. They would crack and leak and just generally fall apart within months.

Then one day, I decided to get serious about the hose issue and ordered the Dramm Colorstorm Premium Rubber Hose from Gardener's Supply Company. This one was yellow. But, the best part is that it worked. No cracking, no leaking. Plus, it is still going strong after a year and a half. Sure, it's not cheap but I had spent more money constantly buying crappy hoses so it has been money well worth spent. So well worth spent, that we just bought our second one for the front yard. And, I love the orange color. So much more fun and cheerier than green or black. Dramm gets it right. They make a high quality product that lasts and even comes in fun colors. The added bonus is that they are made in the USA. I'm not trying to point fingers or anything but those other hoses were all made in China.

The moral of this story is buy quality. It is well worth the extra money.

Egg + Bread = Yummy Breakfast

It's starting to become a bit of habit. The egg (preferably poached) plus bread (toasted with butter) breakfast. I cannot resist the siren call of Dan's homemade artisanal bread. And, though I could just eat it alone with some butter or jam or honey, I find that I need more than just carbs in the morning. I need some protein. So, this is the perfect mix for me.

Today's fine breakfast got a wee bit fancier than usual though with the addition of some sauteed spinach and crumbled feta. It was delicious. I have a feeling I'll be having it again very soon. Perhaps even tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sweet 100s

It's tomato time. I loved Sweet 100s before I even thought of growing them. Sure, they aren't trendy like heirlooms but they are delicious. Our first little crop just finished ripening with more to come. These were a very tasty addition to a pasta dish this evening. Hoping for more of these little gems in the next few days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Homemade Bread and Fried Eggs

It's a hot as hell Sunday here in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. A whooping 98.3 degrees as I write this. But, regardless of the soaring temperatures, Dan baked homemade bread this morning for brunch. We love this bread or we would not be heating up the kitchen at this time of year if it was not worth it. This rustic artisanal bread is delicious and easy to make. We got the recipe a couple of years ago from
Mother Earth News. Dan makes fresh bread for us a couple of times a week. There's nothing like. Give it a try and breakout of the store bought bread rut.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Itty, Bitty Tomato and Trouble In Squash Land

Well, we finally harvested (if you can call it that) our first tomato. And, as you can see, it is rather itty bitty. Of course, it is an grape tomato so it is supposed to be small. There are more on the way so hopefully, some day soon, we'll have enough for an actual salad.

Perhaps, our tomato harvest might not be as bountiful as we had hoped for. Time will tell.

And, there has been a bit more bounty from the garden. The herbs are doing great and we have been enjoying them in our meals. We had high hopes for these two zucchinis but only the green one was edible (and delicious). The yellow zucchini looks lovely and promising but looks can be deceiving. The outer skin was so tough that I could have sworn that I had grown a butternut squash instead of a zucchini. And, the inside was a mess...partially rotted and dry. Totally inedible. Sad, but it happens.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Perfect Lemon Tart

For a 4th of July party yesterday at a friend's place, I decided to make a lemon tart. It is a great summertime dessert. Light and refreshing with the right balance of sour and sweet. The tart was a huge hit and there was not one morsel left when I went to collect the platter. So, since it is such a yummy tart and easy to make, I thought I would pass a long the recipe.

This recipe is from cookbook writer, Lori Longbotham's book Luscious Lemon Desserts. If you love lemons the way that I do, then you will want to give this recipe a try.

The Perfect Lemon Tart
(from Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham)
  • Recipe uses approximately 4 lemons.
  • Serves 10
  • Equipment: 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom and a baking sheet
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 pinches of salt
6 large eggs
1 cup of fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Have ready an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the zest, and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Pour the butter mixture in a fine stream, stirring with a fork, and continue stirring until the dough begins to come together when a small bit is pressed between your fingers. Transfer the mixture to the tart pan and press it with your fingertips evenly up the side and into the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is light golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack while making the filling.

3. Process the remaining 1 cup of granulated sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon of zest in a food processor until the zest is finely ground.

4. Whisk together the eggs, the sugar and zest mixture, the lemon juice, and another pinch of salt in a medium bowl until smooth.

5. Beat the cream in an electric mixture on medium-high speed in a medium bowl just until it forms soft peaks. Whisk the cream into the egg mixture until just blended.

6. Place a baking sheet in the oven, place the crust on the baking sheet, and pour the filling into the still warm crust. Bake for 25 or 30 minutes, or until the filling is just set in the center. Let the pie cool on a wire rack.

7. Just before serving, generously sift confectioners' sugar over the tart. Cut into wedges and serve.

Malka's notes on this recipe:
  • The tart will taste different depending on what type of lemons you use. I have made it with both Meyer Lemons and Eureka Lemons (the ones you usually find in most grocery stores). Both yielded delicious results but they are different. The Meyer Lemon version is sweeter and has a much more subtle lemon flavor to it. While using Eurekas makes for a tart with a much more distinctive lemon taste.
  • I whip the cream by hand. My Kitchen Aid stand mixer just doesn't work for tiny amounts of whipping cream. I find that with a good whisk and chilled bowl that I can whip the cream by hand faster than it takes to pull out my ancient electric hand mixer and the clean-up is a lot less as well. Besides, it's a great little arm workout.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More Than Just Squash

June gloom is over and we finally have more plants producing veggies than just the zucchini. Of course, now we are having to water everyday.

A few of the tomatoes are starting to turn color. The eggplant have finally started sprouting actual eggplants. There are three bell peppers right now but it looks like more to come. And, there are even a few jalapenos. We might even have one jalapeno to use by the holiday weekend if all goes well.

Miracles of miracles our dwarf Meyer Lemon tree looks like it may finally produce a few lemons. We have had it for two years now. It blooms a few times a year but until now, it had not borne any fruits. Of course, we probably won't be able to enjoy them till December given their current size and color.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dinner From The Garden

Tonight was our first dinner from the garden. We had two zucchini, as of today, ready to eat. So we decided to go with a simple summer pasta dish. Nothing fancy...just a few ingredients. But, it was delicious. And, so satisfying to actually be eating something that we grew.

I have a feeling though that we will probably be eating more zucchini in a few days given what is growing on the plants right now. Besides the zucchini, nothing else other than the arugula and the herbs is ready for harvesting. Dan and I are hoping that there will be something new by early July to enjoy. In the meantime, I think we may be eating more of this pasta very soon.


2 - 3 medium zucchini, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons, olive oil
3 tablespoons, flat leaf/Italian parsley, minced
1 teaspoon, dried thyme
1 1/4 cup, chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes
3 cups, dried
orecchiette or similiar pasta
1/2 cup, grated Parmesean cheese

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add, zucchini and saute until it softens and starts to turn golden. Add thyme and garlic and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and cook for about 2 more minutes.

Drain pasta; return to pot or a serving bowl. Add vegetables, the remaining olive oil and the parsley and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt (preferably kosher or sea) and fresh ground pepper. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's Alive!

We are so excited. We are the proud parents of a lovely zucchini. It's our first vegetable from the garden.

I have been watching this little squash grow for the last week or so but in the last few days it had really started to get a lot bigger. Well, today it must have had a giant growth spurt. And, so I harvested it. Dan and I are not yet sure how we will prepare this glorious zucchini but in the meantime we are happy to bask in its lovely squashy glow.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bye Bye Oleander, June Gloom and other thoughts...

Bye Bye Oleander

Last Sunday was a big day in the backyard. We finally had our three Oleanders removed. We have hated them since the day we moved in. Though I will confess to being the bigger hater. May be it is because I am a native Angeleno but Oleanders have always seemed to me to be a cop-out landscaping option for those with little imagination or because they think they will be a low maintenance option. They are boring and they are poisonous. Plus, they were starting to take over parts of our backyard and block the sun from the other plants that we actually like. So, needless to say, I was thrilled when our gardener cut them down and took them away since this was not the right DIY project for us.

June Gloom

Yes, it is that time of year again in L.A. It's time for June gloom. Though since we have a fledgling vegetable garden, it's been great. Nothing is getting scorched from the relentless summer sun and we don't have to water as often. And, now with the new DWP water ordinance in effect, we have to be more careful and sustainable about our water usage.

and other thoughts...

The vegetable garden is still growing like crazy. I say "still" because we are amazed that we haven't killed anything as of yet. We swear that the zucchinis are going to take the house. The tomatoes are starting to appear on the plants. We do have a few issues with something eating holes in the leaves of the bell peppers, basil, jalapenos, spinach and arugula. I did find a worm one day and quickly dispatched it. And, have found aphids on a couple of the tomato plants. Not happy about the aphids. I quickly took to squishing them with my fingers. Yep, that was a bit yucky but you gotta do what you gotta do to keep those tomatoes healthy and happy.

Dan and I just finished spending several hours in the garden pruning, planting and cleaning up. Yet, you can't even tell. All that time and effort and no one but myself and Dan would probably be able to to see the difference. We love being out there but sometimes it would be nice to really see the hard work.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Attack of the Killer Squash...

The zucchini plants are taking over the garden. They are getting huge. Never having grown zucchini before, I had no idea that they would start to take over. I'm so glad that we only planted two of them. I'm sure that even with just the two plants that Dan and I will be up to our eyeballs in squash at some point in the coming months. I will need to start making every zucchini recipe that I can think of or dig up in my cookbook collection. But more on that in the future.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Garden Is Growing

I can't believe it but the garden is growing. I have only attempted a vegetable garden once before and that was in my tweens. It was a sad attempt indeed and nothing grew. So, it is very satisfying years later to actually have a vegetable garden and watch it grow. It changes daily and I'm in awe.

We even ate some of the arugula and basil last night in our dinner. Now that is local.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Building a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden - Part III

I am already remiss in maintaining this blog. It has been a couple of weeks since my last post. In that time, Dan and I finished building the garden. It was a lot more work than we thought it would be.

Dirt...I mean soil. We had 3 cubic yards of a compost/topsoil mix delivered by Actually, we think they delivered more than that. It was hell to move all of that soil to the beds in the backyard. No wheelbarrow, which made for back breaking work. We were exhausted but we got it done. And, we had leftover soil. We ended up using it for our other garden beds. They desperately needed it.

The next step was acquiring pea gravel for the paths. We decided to shop local like we did for the lumber for the beds. In fact, we shopped at the same place, Eagle Rock Lumber & Hardware. Their customer service was great...helpful and friendly. I was so glad to be able spend money locally rather than at a big box store like Home Depot or Lowes. It took 30 bags of pea gravel to fill the paths. That was 2 trips in my Jetta. All the time I was wishing I had a truck.

Once that was done,Dan and I couldn't wait to go get plants. So, it was off the Burkard's Nursery in Pasadena. Again, we stayed local and avoided the big box stores or the chain nurseries like Armstrong's. Burkard's had an amazing selection of vegetables and herbs to choose from, including a lot of heirloom varieties. So we loaded up and headed home to start planting.

Now, we just have to keep those little babies alive and thriving. And, learn how to properly harvest celery.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Building a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden - Part II

I just ordered our topsoil/compost mix to be delivered this Saturday. I was shocked at how expensive topsoil is. But, after doing a lot of research, I found a service called They are almost half the cost of having any of the chain nurseries like Armstrong's Garden Centers deliver. Sure, they just dump it all in your driveway but a least there are not all of those plastic bags to dispose of.

Dan and I are finally starting to get excited about this project since we are getting closer to having the beds completed. May be we will even be able to begin planting this weekend. We can dream.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Building a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden - Part I

Dan and I have discussed building a raised bed vegetable garden since we moved to our house a little over 3 years ago. And, finally, we are making it happen. I spent most of Saturday in the backyard cleaning things up. Dan, God love him, went to our local lumber yard (no Home Depot for us...if we can help it) and procured the fir boards for the beds. Then he came home and built all four of them. We did have the help though of these amazing raised bed corners from Gardener's Supply Company in Vermont.

Now, we just need to:
  • lay the weed cloth
  • position the beds
  • lay in about 64 cu. ft. of organic soil
  • put down pea gravel on the paths
  • plant veggies and herbs

Okay, it's a lot more than just that. But, may be...just may be, by the end of next weekend, we might be done. I can dream.