Monday, January 17, 2011


So, I've been yearning to make bread again after a long hiatus. And so, I purchased this awesome book, Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a day. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a bread fetish, such as myself, and to anyone with very little extra time in their life...sadly, also such as myself.

I think I did pretty good considering this is all hand bread machines allowed. The cool thing about the basic bread recipe (which I'm intentionally not posting here as I think you folks ought to buy this amazing book...) is that you can really mess around with fillings for each loaf.
One of these is cheddar garlic, the other olive rosemary. They freeze remarkably well.

Happy Solstice! (a bit late, I know...)

Here is wishing anyone and everyone a glorious decade. I have to admit, the last ten years have been arguably some of the roughest ones I've spent. Perhaps it is the curse of aging that when one looks back on one's life and journey, it is somewhat inevitable that the pages seem a bit less full of the writing one might want to spend time reading.
This decade saw so much change for me....leaving California, living up in Oregon, meeting new and wonderful people, illness the likes of which I never hope to experience again, found love, lost love, death of friends and loved ones, healing, breaking, moving, digging, discovering, cooking, creating, learning, renewing...growing. It's been a strange trip, for sure.
At midnight this past December 31st, my oldest friend and I called each other at the stroke of 12....she's recently lost both of her parents to horrifying ongoing illness, and I've been dealing with my own nightmares the last few years of a similar ilk. In any event; we popped a cork on a good bottle of champagne, seven hundred miles apart, and toasted to what we both hope will be a far better of hope for us all, one of renewal, and one of lasting happiness where missed chances for heart connection and laughter are a thing of the past.

So blessings on you all who might follow either publicly or privately these little posts on garden, kitchen, and gentle witchery. May your years be as you wish them to be, both the soon to be, and the yet to be. Life is too short to miss any second of it.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

These were relatively easy to make, and pretty tasty.
1/2 pound de-veined shrimp, tail off. Ick.
Rice paper wrappers, can be found at local Asian supermarket. Mine are from Seafood City.
Fresh mint.
Bean thread noodles.
Bean sprouts.
Fresh basil.
Fresh lettuce of your choosing. I used some arugula from my garden....I like the spiciness.
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce.
4 tbs. mirin
2 tbs. memmi, a soup stock can omit this is you want to.
1/2 tsp. chili paste or if not available, ground red pepper will also work.
4 tbs. chunky no-salt peanut butter.

How to:
Steam the shrimp and set aside to chill.
Boil a large pot of water, and carefully dip the rice paper wrappers into the water. It'll only take a few seconds to wilt them. Lay them out onto wax paper or parchment to dry. They'll stick to paper towels. Yes, I found this out the hard way...six wrappers later..ughkkkk.
When you've boiled all the wrappers you intend to use, add the bean thread noodles to the water and very quickly remove. They cook rapidly.
Drain these guys on paper towels and then set in the fridge to cool for a bit.

Chop the mint, basil and lettuce into thin ribbons.
Wash and drain the bean sprouts.

Place a wrapper onto the counter and add a narrow strip of the greens mix, two shrimp, some of the bean thread noodles, and some of the bean sprouts.
Carefully roll the entire thing up, tucking the sides in half way, and finish by sealing the edge closed with a bit of warm water.
Continue wrapping and rolling until all are finished. Place in the fridge while you finish making the dipping sauce.

For the dipping sauce:
Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, mirin, memmi, and chili paste and whisk together. I usually head up the peanut butter a bit before I whip it about. It makes things more smooth and you don't have to work up a froth trying to get it to incorporate.

Serve the rolls with the dipping sauce.

Espaliered Tomato Plants

Wanted to post about the only real experiment this year.
My good friend Keith, an avid gardener friend, had shown me his garden of espalier tomatoes a couple seasons ago.
Last year, I'd thought about doing this, but was so consumed with the idea of grow boxes and soil additives...well, it just never happened.
So, this summer, in my ongoing effort to find the BEST possible tomato growing operation, I tried it out.

As you can see from the worked pretty darned well! Not only did it allow for a lot of air flow around the plants, it was very easy to pick the little guys when they were ripe. The only alterations I'd made to this would be to lower the cement reinforcing panels closer to the ground. Doing this would have eliminated a whole lot of tying up of vines in the early stages.

It's January, and if you can believe it, I finally ripped out these babies and ate one little last cherry tomato that was clinging for dear life to a blackened vine. Summer is certainly in the past...and fall rolled through wine country like a ghost, barely stopping to crisp leaves and turn the sky that amazing copper blue light.

So much pasta sauce!!!

This summer we grew an obscene amount of Roma style tomatoes. It's always interesting to see what will grow and what won't. There's been so little time to post anything this past year, that I thought maybe I'd take some time to post a pasta sauce recipe here from the summer harvest.

Six pounds *yes* of Roma tomatoes.
Submerge in boiling water for about a minute. Run under cold water, peel, and seed the tomatoes.
Saute three onions in the bottom of a large stock pot, along with about half a head of crushed garlic. When both are softened, add 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or 1/4 cup chopped fresh red peppers.
Add tomatoes and half a cup of good, vegetarian stock.
Continue cooking tomato sauce, slowly, for about four hours. It will reduce in size.
Add 1 tsp. grey salt, and 1 tsp. black pepper.
Add 4 cloves chopped garlic. I do this only because I like the combination of both the cooked and the uncooked garlic.
Add about three cups of chopped basil.
Cook another half an hour.

I usually can all my sauce for the wonderful taste of summer throughout the dead of winter, but this is equally delicious right from the pan served on a bed of fresh pasta.

Monday, January 10, 2011

This year's other new thing...

I decided to build my own raised beds this time out. I know...this is insane...sort of. I am the one with tools in the fam. and so was pretty much on my own on this one. I wanted a dedicated bed for the squash and one for edible flowers. The squash happened, the flowers did not.
The first one is about 6'x8'..and was a bear and a half to move from garage to garden....but it got in there. The second was 5'x5'. And it never got filled with new dirt.
But the larger bed did VERY well for the plants in all.

Of course, once again, we put up the giant anti-opossum fence to keep the little twerps out of the beds. I managed to actually have some squash to freeze for future breads and pies and fritters as a result. Yay!

I wish I could say I'd done massive garden time this past summer, but other than the drip system, nothing really huge occurred.
All in all, it was quite the abysmal summer in terms of the production. Eggplant essentially failed in the cold. Basil...ughkkk, I never even made pesto for winter! I'm regretting this now, as we are deep in the heart of January.