Sunday, October 24, 2010

Handmade and Local at Artisanal LA

As I suspected it would be, Artisanal LA was great. Lots of interesting and, often tasty vendors. Dan and I spent more time there than we thought we would and spent more money than we should have. But, it was great to see so many people interested in and producing local and handcrafted foods. There is more of a sustainable food movement in Los Angeles than I thought there was and that is very exciting. 

I decided to showcase some of, but certainly not all of, the vendors that we encountered at our time at this event. Above is jar of Hell Fire Pepper Jelly from Jenkins Jellies. I've tried a lot of pepper jellies before but this is by far the best one that I have ever tasted. They know how to balance the sweetness and heat. And, yes, we bought a jar. I can't wait to pair this with a nice goat cheese for an appetizer or try it with pork. 

Tried some out-of-this-world jams at the Lemon Bird Design booth. Even bought a jar of their tomato with vanilla bean jam. The acidic tomato with the lovely warmth of the vanilla beans is heavenly. This made Dan and I feel that we need to step up the creativity with our jams and preserves. Also, I have to say, that I love their logo and label design. Their booth looked great as well. Sadly, too many people to get a great shot.

Tools of the butchering trade at the Lindy & Grundy booth. This is a new butcher shop that will be opening this December over in the Fairfax area of West Hollywood. The owners and operators are two women. The shop will feature local, pastured and organic meats (beef, lamb, pork and chicken). And, they are going to offer workshops on butchering techniques. I can't wait for the shop to open even if it will be a bit of drive to get there. I have a feeling that it will be well worth it.

Super cute display of 'breakfast' ornaments at the Common Thread booth. Yes, that's a chicken, a piece of toast and a slice of bacon. Not sure why the chicken and not an egg, since there is a breakfast theme but I'm guessing it was because the chicken was cuter (yet strangely blue). This sewing studio from South Pasadena was offering a bit of crafting at the show. For a small price, you could make either ornaments or egg cozies.  

So, Dan and I could not resist the 'breakfast' ornaments. Besides, who uses egg cozies. So, for $10.00, we got to make our own set. We had a lot of fun doing this. It was a nice, relaxing break from walking around the show. Plus, we made something to bring home. Can I put that bacon ornament on a Hanukkah bush? 

Since it is time to start planting our late fall and winter garden, we stopped by the Winnetka Farms booth and picked up some heirloom Italian seeds. They also have classes and workshops on gardening with edibles and are located in the San Fernando Valley. We can't wait to see how the veggies will grow from the seeds we purchased. 

We fell in love with this group, Backwards Beekeepers. They are a Los Angeles-based collective of small-scale, chemical-free beekeepers. They also rescue feral bees and teach beekeeping skills. Bees are responsible for pollinating a third of our  produce crops as well as providing delicious and nutritious honey, so it's so important to take care of them in a sustainable and humane way. We were glad to find people teaching these skills and keeping this craft alive.

I love this flour sack towel that we got from the Miss Fruitfly booth. The towel is unbleached cotton and made in the U.S. Then Fina from Miss Fruitfly silk-screens designs and quotes onto them. I love what this towel has to say and thought it was the perfect way to end this post.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

This Weekend: Artisanal LA

This is what I'm looking forward to this weekend. A trip to the Artisanal LA event in downtown. And, it is right up my alley, an event dedicated to celebrating local handmade foods. There are over 75 local vendors participating. I can't wait to go.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beef Daube Provençal

With a nice low pressure system over the West, Los Angeles has been experiencing actual fall weather for the past several days. We have had cool temperatures and even rain. So, with the fall season finally in full swing, it's time to enjoy some stews. So, yesterday, after the trip to the fall harvest festival, I came home and made Beef Daube Provençal for dinner. I found the recipe in an old Cooking Light magazine from last October. It sounded perfect for a chilly and drizzly Sunday evening dinner. And, for once, I did not mess with the recipe. I actually prepared it as stated. This is unusual since I almost always change things. And, I discovered, much to my delight, that I didn't need to change anything. This recipe is great as it is. I know I'll be making this a few more times this fall and winter. To give it a try, just click on the link above. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Fall Harvest Festival

Yesterday, Dan and I went with our neighbors to the annual fall harvest festival out at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark. It was antique tractor weekend. This is our third consecutive year attending this event.  We love it. Lots of fun for families and even those of us who do not have children. As you can see from a few of my photos, there are barnyard animals, sunflowers, scarecrows and, of course, pumkins. Lots and lots of pumpkins. I love pumpkins. And, I love that fact that this farm has a lot of different varieties rather than just the standard field pumpkin that people commonly use for their jack-o-lanterns at Halloween.

The other thing that I love, is that Underwood Family Farms is actually a real farm. They are not organic but they do practice sustainable farming methods and they are pretty damn local considering the geography of the Los Angeles area. Also, they sell produce year round at many of the Los Angeles farmer's markets. I buy from them at the one in Pasadena every Saturday. Nice people with wonderful, fresh and delicious produce, I highly recommend them.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

End of the Summer Season

The end of the summer season has been pretty good to us. We did a lot better this year with our tomatoes, radishes, eggplants and peppers. Radishes seem to be the one thing, other than herbs, that we do well with all year round. But, we had some challenges as we learned about growing bush beans, shelling beans and squash. The lessons we learned we will definitely be applying in the spring. We are still waiting to see if our winter squash plants will yield anything or not. Yes, I sowed the seeds late but our cooler-than-average summer weather has been a bigger issue than my lack of appropriate planning. 
We were more vigilant with our figs this year, so we actually were able to harvest some before the squirrels got to them. Sure, six figs isn't exactly a lot, but considering we got zero last year, this is a triumph of sorts. A couple of them even ended up in one of our batches of fig jam.
As we head into fall and winter planting, we have a new foe in the garden... raccoons. Until now, they have ignored the garden. But this year, they have been digging up not only parts of our perennial beds but also our vegetable beds as well. It's the vegetable beds that I'm most concerned about since these little gangsters. The first thing will be to eliminate the grubs and then I need to tackle the raccoons. I am hoping that beneficial nematodes will take care of the grubs and that a healthy dose of a hot pepper spray on the soil and on the plants will deter the raccoons. I don't want to resort to pesticides or poisons. We garden organically and humanely for a reason.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More Peach Jam

Dan and I are finally starting to get comfortable making jam. Yesterday, we made our second batch of peach jam. It was amazing to us how different the two batches are. The first batch we made with some freestone yellow peaches from the farmer's market. The jam has this lovely pink hue to it and a very sweet flavor. Then, this second batch was made with clingstone yellow peaches from the Path to Freedom Urban Homestead. The jam came out much more yellow and the flavor was not quite as sweet as that first batch even though we used the exact same recipe. We really love the diversity in the jam that using different varieties of peaches have given us. It is a great reminder to us as to why it is so important to make sure that this type of biodiversity continues to exist.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part IV

Our weather has been unseasonably cool this year. Most mornings are grey and overcast for several hours before the sun finally breaks through. And, the highs in our area have only been in the low to mid 80s. Normally, it would be in the high 80s or 90s. I guess this is part of climate change. We have a mild summer while the East Coast has one heat wave after another. 

Regardless, of the the lack of heat, our tomatoes are ripening up. These are Yellow Grapes. I am hoping to harvest these in the next day or two. We already have a bunch of the Isis Candy and a few Sungolds that have been picked. They have been really sweet and delicious. The verdict is still out on our Romas though. A couple of the plants have a few fruits  on them but then the other plants have flowers and no fruit. Yet, they have been getting taller. Not sure if we'll be getting much from those. And, here I was hoping for enough Romas to can a batch of tomatoes. Something tells me that I may have to buy them at the farmer's market if I want to do that.

This is just one of several Japanese eggplants that have emerged in the last week or so. There is even one that is almost large enough to harvest. May be by next weekend, there will be a few to grill.

Our first Jalapeno pepper has finally emerged. Might be able to harvest it this week if the weather gets warmer and this little guy has a growth spurt. We have one very small Red Bell pepper that is to pick. And, there are more on that plant that are starting to ripen and the plant is getting top-heavy so I need stake it.

The Sante Fe lettuce is finally getting big enough to almost eat. We have a couple of heads that might make for nice little salad later this week. Though I am a bit disappointed that so few of the seeds that I planted germinated. I usually have better luck with lettuce but not this time. Time to plant some more seeds and see what happens.

Peach Jam

I am a bit late posting this. Dan and I actually made this peach jam last Saturday. This is our second canning project. And, it came out pretty damn delicious. I was able to get peaches at the Pasadena Farmer's Market at a really great price. One of the farmers often has a couple of boxes of seconds. I dug through the box and got enough peaches to make this batch of jam. The seconds were only $.90 per pound, which is a great price and totally makes doing this worthwhile. What is batch number three is going to be? Not sure yet,  might be fig jam or may be pickled carrots.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part III

Aww! It's so cute. It's the incredibly small red bell pepper. No, I'm not kidding. It is only about 3 inches in diameter and maybe 2 inches tall. At least, it's ripening. 

A couple of the Roma tomato plants are starting to fruit. Very excited about that. Not sure if we will get enough to can this year. Things are going better now in 'tomatoland.' Even with some our earlier mishaps this year, we are having more success with them than we did last year.

I am keeping a close eye on our Brown Turkey figs. They are almost full-size now and should start to ripen soon. My concern is the squirrels. Except for a couple of figs, those little furry bastards ate all of them last year. I'm hoping to beat them to it this time around. I am determined to make fig jam from our own figs. 

I could not believe my eyes the other day when I noticed that our Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree was blooming again. This is first time that we have seen it bloom twice in a year much less just a few months apart. Will this lead to more lemons? I have no idea. We already have about 16 of them on the tree. Not sure if this little dwarf tree can hold more but we would thrilled if it did.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pumpkins? Maybe?

After planting more pumpkin seeds, one finally germinated. One...out of the dozen that I replanted. Maybe a few more will sprout. I certainly hope so. It would be really, really nice to have more than one pumpkin plant growing since it will increase the likelihood that at least one of them might reach maturity. And, given my lack of gardening success these last few months, I need all of the help I can get. 

This variety of pumpkin is a French heirloom variety  called Rouge Vif d’Etampes. It is also referred to as the Cinderella Pumpkin because they look like the pumpkin that magically turned in to Cinderella's coach. These are lovely pumpkins that are great for use ornamentally. I had one that I purchased last fall at a farm in Somis that lasted till this past week. That is almost ten months. But, I hear that they also make delicious pumpkin pies. It would be nice to find out using a homegrown one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part II

Things are finally starting to pickup in the garden. We have more of our Isis Candy cherry tomatoes starting to ripen. And, the new tomato plants that I planted last week are doing well and growing.

The three basil plants are doing very well. And, it feels like a miracle since we have had several basil plants in the last few months get eaten up my some mystery pest. 

The first flower on our Japanese eggplant plants. Hoping for a few more on this plant and that the other one will start flowering soon as well.

And, after several weeks of worrying, some of our winter squash and gourd seeds are starting to germinate. The seedling above is for ornamental gourds. But, we have a couple of seedlings from our Waltham Butternut Squash seeds starting to come up as well. Now, if only the acorn and pumpkin seeds would germinate. If not, I have a feeling that I may be planting some more seeds. I want to see part of our front yard overtaken by squash and pumpkin vines and I'm not ready to let go of that little dream just yet.

The Meyer Lemons are almost the size of large eggs. There are 13 of them on the tree right now.

Last but not least, one of our red bell pepper plants is starting to produce. This is the largest pepper on it so far. Which is not saying much, since it's about the size of a ping pong ball. But, we are hoping that we will have peppers we can harvest next month.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Time Canning - Apricot Jam

Well, I finally did it. Or I guess I should say we did it. Dan and I made homemade jam (yep, it took two of us). It's my first time canning. I've been wanting to give it a try for over a year now but I have been too intimidated. I had already purchased all of the appropriate equipment. However, all of that safety stuff and fear of pathogens can make someone a bit nervous about giving this age old form of food preservation a try. But, I finally committed after buying a box of apricots a few days ago. It was that or make a lot apricot crisps. Next up, homemade pickles.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Airing My Clean Laundry

For the most part this blog has about gardening and food but the goal has really been to write about our efforts at sustainability and self-sufficiency. So in an effort to live a more sustainable life and reduce our carbon-footprint, Dan and I are trying our hand at drying our laundry outdoors. I’m aware that we are not actually on the cusp on this trend since it been around for the last couple of years but we are making changes as we get to them. It’s simply impossible to tackle everything all at once.

So now the challenge is ‘greening’ our laundry. We already use eco-friendly laundry soap and have, long ago, given up things like chlorine bleach, softener and dryer sheets. The next logical step seemed to be reducing our energy consumption. And, the best way to do that was to reduce the number of loads of laundry we dry in the dryer. We live in Los Angeles and the weather here is pretty damn perfect for doing this. If we lived in Seattle or Portland, we might be a bit more challenged drying clothes in this manner.

Dryers are great but they are energy hogs and cost about $0.50 per load to run depending on your utility rates. In fact, using a dryer consumes approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year for the average U.S. household. This means that Dan and I were probably spending around $130 per year just drying our clothes. If we could reduce our energy use, we could also reduce our monthly costs which makes this a win-win situation for the environment and our bank account. And, another added benefit is that your clothes last longer when they are dried on a line or a rack.

The only problem was that I am a complete newbie at using a clothsline or rack. My family may have had a clothsline when I was a child but I don’t remember one. Dan’s family used to use a clothsline for part of the year but he didn’t remember the specifics. So, I did a little bit of research and ended up deciding that a drying rack would be the best option for us. You can use the rack outdoors and indoors which makes it a versatile choice. I ended up ordering one from e-tailer Abundant Earth. As you can see from my lovely photos, I have no idea how to hang things on the rack. But, I’m trying and I hope that I’ll get the hang of it (no pun intended) at some point.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer in the Garden - Part I

The summer solstice was a couple of weeks ago so I thought is was finally time from a little update from the garden. We have had some success as you can see above but a few misses as well (see below). Though our beet and carrot harvest has been nice, our bush beans have not been going as well as planned. Though we had some success in the beginning, the plants have just withered and died. So, this being southern California, I'm going to try again and plant another round. It's nice to live in a place where you have a year-round growing season.

Speaking of hits and misses, some of our tomatoes are doing well, especially the Isis Candy above. However, we had a few casualties with these as well. And, I had to replace 5 plants in our tomato bed. Now all of the tomatoes are at different stages of growth so it'll be interesting seeing what matures when. I have a feeling that we could be harvesting some into September or even October. We're just hoping that most of the plants survive.

If nothing else, the mint is growing like crazy. Yes, it is safely confined to a container so it doesn't go crazy and take over the yard. I've seen that happen to other people and it's not pretty.

When things don't grow as planned, you can start over. This is what I spent a few hours on yesterday. Tearing out two of our raised beds and prepping them for new plants and seed was a lot of work. A number of the plants, like the kale, arugula and snap peas just bolted and you cannot salvage them once that happens. Then the other bed had the carrots and beets so those got harvested. 

So, the bed that gets the most hours of sun got the heat loving plants. Those would be red bell peppers, jalapenos, eggplants and a couple of more tomatoes (Romas). I will be working on the other bed today. That one is going to be lettuces, snap peas, radishes and may be, some more carrots.

No, that is not a sunflower, it's a Black-Eyed Susan. I wish I could say I grew it but I didn't. I bought the plant at the nursery. I tried growing some sunflowers this year but the seeds never germinated. I was very sad about that. So I got these instead since they make me smile.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mulch: I Never Seem to Buy Enough

This year I am finally getting around to mulching our garden beds. It is something I should have been doing a long time ago but it's taken me some time to get on the mulch bandwagon. Yes, I know that it's great for helping to conserve water, suppress weeds and is aesthetically pleasing but it's a big pain in the butt to get from the garden center to our home. Why? We don't have a truck or an SUV. I have the largest vehicle in the family and that's a VW Jetta. It's not exactly a work vehicle but it does have a lot of truck space. We have used it to haul bags of pea gravel, though that took a few trips to get all the we needed and almost destroyed the car. And, it can easily handle a bag or two of potting soil or compost. But, when it comes to mulch, I have discovered that you always need more than you think you do. For example, the garden bed (partially pictured above) really needed six to seven bags of mulch. I thought five would do it but I was obviously wrong. Hence, there is a big empty spot waiting for its mulch. So, now one of my errands this week is to go back to the garden center and get more mulch. I'm starting to think that I just need to stockpile it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Slow-Roasting Cherry Tomatoes

This past Friday, since it was the end of the week, I was debating all day about what to make for dinner that evening. And, part of that debate was trying to figure out how to make the best use out of the produce that we had left-over from previous Saturday's foray to the Pasadena Farmer's Market. Lo and behold, we had some cherry tomatoes that were a bit past their prime. I hated the idea of giving them to the worms since they were still edible. But, they were bit too ripe and there was not a lot of them. Really just a couple of handfuls and I have small hands. So, I'm was trying to figure out what to do with them and I finally remembered reading about slow-roasting tomatoes in Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Molly is the blogger who created OrangetteIt's one of my favorite food blogs and I loved her book. So, I went searching for the recipe. Well, the recipe is really for roma tomatoes and not cherry tomatoes. But, what the hell, I was willing to give it a try. And, I'm glad that I did, they were delicious on our gorgonzola stuffed hamburgers that evening.

So delicious, that I am making another batch today. This time though, I'm using romas.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spring in the Garden - Part III

It's still spring but just barely. In just a couple of more weeks, the solstice will bring us the beginning of summer. But, for now, we are still enjoying the spring weather. We have June gloom. It's overcast and cool in the morning and then gets sunny and warm in the afternoon. And, this weekend we are even experiencing a bit of heat wave with temps in this part of Los Angeles up into the high 80s and low 90s. The veggies are loving it. We have harvested our first little bunch of bush beans. It wasn't that many so we combined them some from the farmer's market to make a full side dish for last night's dinner.

Oh, that's not a bush bean. It's a shelling bean. Or we hope it will be shelling beans. They are Jacob's Gold. They are supposed to taste similar to Pinto Beans. We are cautiously optimistic that the plants will produce enough so that we can actually use them for chili at the end of the summer.

Our Dwarf Meyer Lemon has started producing fruit again. I've counted 10 of them so far. And, we are hoping for a few more. Unfortunately, they won't be ready to harvest till late fall or early winter but it is fun watching them grow.

And, last but not least, we are trying to grow at least 9 tomato plants this year. We did end up ordering seedlings since the ones that we have been trying to start from seed were not doing so well. So, this is a photo of an Isis Candy plant that I picked up at the farmer's market. Isis Candy is a yellow-gold cherry tomato with red marbling. They are supposed to be rich tasting and sweet. They are an indeterminate variety, so we are hoping it will produce well all season long.

And, I have good news about some our little starter seedlings, a few of them look like they are going to survive. I may even be able to start transplanting them next week. The more tomatoes the better! I dream of being able to can some my own homegrown ones.