Thursday, June 9, 2011

Seedy Characters

OK, I give up. Despite our best efforts, pretty much all of the food plants we were attempting to grow inside have failed. Mostly I blame the fungus gnats that have totally overwhelmed our plants. More on them in a future post. 

But, hey! It's California, right? Can't waste all this temperate sunshine on NOT growing plants. So instead of edibles (even the herbs died!) we've focused our attention instead on propagating some succulents and cacti. So much has been written on propagating succulents from leaf cuttings, I'm not even going to go into it here. Needless to say, it's incredibly easy. And if you live in a place where succulents are thriving everywhere, I suggest you take a walk after a good storm and pick up some fallen leaves. We've gotten a great deal of plants that way (plus a bit of Home Depot pilfering. What they don't know won't hurt them.) 

New to the mix is growing cacti from seed. In the little pots below are Lithops, Fenestraria (Baby Toes), and Diteranthus seeds, all so incredibly tiny that they could pull an over-stuffed clown car sight gag inside of a sesame seed. I feel like (previous paragraphs excluded) I have a pretty green thumb, but I've never tried growing anything like this from seed before. I'm looking forward to posting updates!

Just in case anyone is wondering, Diteranthus seeds are the smallest things I've ever seen. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Master of Worms (and snakes).

We at Rattlesnake Master are not only masters of rattlesnakes, we are masters of worms as well! Specifically, red wriggler composting worms! (And even more specifically, we are not masters of rattlesnakes.) 

A few months back, I used Freecycle to acquire a handful of composting worms from the overpopulated compost bin of a fellow East Bay-er. I kept them in a yogurt container with holes pokes in its sides and top, with some newspaper wrapped around it to keep light out.  Not the best, but certainly good enough for a temporary home. The FEMA trailer of worm bins.

Tragically, much like real FEMA trailer, this housing situation did not work out to be in the worms' best interest. I gave them a bed of moistened, torn newspaper, leaves and cardboard and fed them small amounts of vegetable scraps, but imbalance prevailed. Reading up on what to feed them, I tossed in a handful of Cheerios one day, having read somewhere on the internet that Cheerios are a favorite worm snack. Within 36 hours, the bin was a big, hot mess of blue bread mold all over the place. That might work for a large-scale outdoor bin, but not my mico-mini-cosm.

It was time to upgrade. I found these black plastic filing bins at an office supply store one day while on an ink cartridge run and took them home to be a new and improved wormopolis. Holes were drilled in the bottom of both bins, and around the tops of each and in one of the lids. The other lid was flipped onto the bottom of the setup in the event that any water/nastiness needs catching. A bed of peat moss and torn, moistened newspint and cardboard was laced with bok choy and other tasties, and in went my somewhat depleted worm population. Oh, joy! Oh, success. 

Oh, no. Hours later, all the worms were grasping to the sides of the container, having left their beds behind in search of... something. Several had crawled into little nooks in the top of the container, and had to be coaxed free with take-out chopsticks. Back in, as I'd read that sometimes they don't adjust well to their new homes right away. After the same thing happened again a few hours later, I did some research and found that I should have soaked my peat moss first to remove the acidity and that my worms were probably crawling out because the environment was too acidic. However, they should be able to adjust given time, so I made an extra few inches of their usual cardboard and newspaper bedding on top of the moss mixture and put them in there. 

That seemed to solve the problem. I spent a nervous week or two digging through the pile every few days to be sure somebody was still moving in there and I was not now the proud owner of a pet box of garbage. But all is well in Wormopolis, and I've even seen a little wriggly baby or two (which makes me very happy but is still a bit icky). I'm still considering getting more worms, because right now they are more like pets than efficient waste-disposal / compost-production machines. But I'm kind of riding high on the fact that I've managed to keep them alive, and maybe it will be fun watching my colony grow.

They're in there, I swear.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ode to the Temescal Farmer's Market

I'll admit it -- I'm obsessed with the Temescal Farmer's Market. Every Sunday I look forward to my amazing (mostly organic) produce haul. I almost feel bad singling any specific farms out from the amazing mix of farmers and vendors, but right now I'm sitting in my apartment trying to decide if it makes sense to eat a full week's worth of food at once and I have to give credit where credit is due.

First of all, Happy Boy Farms. You can't see much (except for their adorable graphic design) at the website right now, but every week I stop and buy something here. The bag of mixed salad greens with edible flowers is a favorite at Casa de Rattlesnake Master, as are the spicy radishes and picture-perfect herbs. Not to mention that the adorable signs have convinced me to try several new varieties of squash, all of which are delicious. If vegetables were people, squash would be the boyfriend who likes to cuddle and always makes you dinner. Don't ask me why.

Another Sunday must is the Glaum eggs stand. These eggs are so incredible, they make me want to learn egg tempera painting so I can make a shrine to them. The shells crack like porcelain, and the yolks are almost the color of orange juice. I cannot say enough how much I like to eat these eggs. I bought two dozen this week, just because we never seem to have any left by the end of the week.

The Catalan Family Farm is great because they have a little bit of everything, but it's the onions that bring me back.  They feel heavy for their size, and they make me cry less than other onions.  I'm not sure what it is, but they're a pleasure to hold, cut, and eat. They're basically the triple-threat of onions and I can't get enough.

Am I snubbing the other farms? I hope not, because I've certainly gotten my share of delicious carrots, fennel, blood oranges, dried pears, pretzel croissants, salami and walnuts from any number of other stands. But these three farms... I can't write ballads or love songs, so I just have to blog about it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Baked Beans, Two ways.

It's pouring rain this morning. But I hear it's already snowed back in Chicago, so I guess I'd better be thankful. Still not so eager to walk to the farmer's market, but it must be done.

Here's a recipe for baked beans I tried out the other night, adapted to be vegetarian. I'm surprised by how much flavor they had, even without all the pork. I'll post this recipe both ways, and I should mention that it was a christmas gift from my father, tucked inside a bean crock he threw on his potter's wheel. (I come from a long line of crafty.) If you don't happen to have your own personal potter to make you these things, they're easy enough to find elsewhere. I would recommend doing it in a crock or casserole dish of some kind, however. To paraphrase Alice Waters, "Beans just taste better when they're cooked in clay."

Nellie's Baked Beans

1 lb white, navy or other beans
1 pork shank
1 t. sald
1 small onion, diced
1/4 c. molasses
1 t. dry mustard
2 T brown sugar
3 pieces lean bacon (or about 1/4 cup guanciale or slab bacon)

Wash and pick over beans. Put in a large saucepan and add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil for two minutes, then let stand for one hour. (Alternatively, cover beans with twice their amount in water and let sit for several hours/overnight).

Cut the pork into pieces. Drain beans into a large bowl, reserving liquid. Add salt and onions to beans. Mix together molasses, mustard, and brown sugar.

Put a 1 piece of pork at the bottom of the crock. Turn beans into pot. Add molasses mixture 1 C. bean liquid and stir gently. Bury rest of pork just under beans. Bacon strips can be rolled and tucked beneath beans, slab bacon or guanciale cut and buried as the pork. Add enough of the remaining soaking liquid to cover the top of your beans. Bake, covered, at 275 degrees for 6-8 hours, depending on your soaking time. Check liquid levels every hour or so. For the last hour of cooking, remove the cover and let the beans brown.

Adapted Vegetarian Baked Beans

1 pound pinto beans
1 T. salt
1 small white onion, chopped
1/4 cup honey
3 T. unrefined cane sugar
1 t. mustard seeds
1 T. good-quality prepared mustard (we used homemade!)
1 t. coriander seeds
1 bay leaf

Soak and prepare beans as dictated above. Add salt and onion to drained beans. Turn into cookware, and add all ingredients except bay leaf. The coriander seeds can be ground or left whole.  Bury the bay leaf under the surface of the beans, and fill with enough liquid to cover. Follow cooking instructions dictated above.

Tip: Baked beans are a slow process, there's no way around that. But if you let them cook at 325 for four or five hours hours, the beans will be almost the same as at 275 for eight hours. In general, it's best to make these the day before if you plan on eating them for lunch, or get an early start for dinner.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fun ideas for potting up plants

Those of you who know me know that I've been working part-time at a succulent nursery here in the Bay Area while looking for full-time employment. I've been making some really fun 'arrangements' of succulents in standard pots as well as lava rocks and it's got me thinking of other ways to display your plants. Having recently moved to an apartment that lacks the backyard to which I'd become accustomed on Chicago's south side, I'm thinking a lot lately about how to get as many plants in my home as possible.

One cute idea that I used to see sometimes back in Chicago is using cinderblocks turned on their sides as planters. I found an link here from the apartment therapy website on how to make a DIY succulent planter, and thought I'd share their image for inspiration. There's more of a tutorial on the site if you need it, but it seems pretty self-explanatory.

I love, love, love this idea and can't wait to try it out with herbs. Picture some oregano draping over the top, the mint nicely isolated to keep it from squeezing out all the other plants. Maybe some chives for fun. But it still sadly requires a bit of outdoor space. Or a great deal of time in water-sealing if you wanted to try it indoors. I, for one, don't really feel like bringing that many blocks of cement up to the forth floor of my building. Next!

Poetic Home has some really cute ideas on how to repurpose things around your home into planters. I always get a little nervous when people don't allow drainage, no matter how many rocks/pot shards are at the bottom of a pot. But the ideas are so cute and (as long as your plants are small and carefully watered) a great idea for ways to cram plants into every last nook of your home.

And, of course, there's always Crate and Barrel. I've got a few of each of their Hanging Candle Holders and Beaker Wall Vases at home, and they're each great in their own way. My boyfriend keeps his air plant in the candle holder, misting twice a week, and I keep cuttings of pothos or other draping, viney plants in the wall vase. Probably anything that's happy without soil would work, though.

Check out the Flora Grubb website for great ideas on air plant display as well as tons of other fun indoor gardening ideas. Another favorite of mine, the vertical garden, is pictured below. Ms. Grubb is a fantastic source of inspiration, and great floral design happens there, too!

How cool is this?!?!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Torta la Serena Cheese

As a continuation of the post I made at the Wood Street Blog about the wondorous cardoon, I'd like to tell you all how fabulous Cowgirl Creamery's Torta la Serena is. For those of you who don't feel like reading the original post, here's a quick overview.

Torta la Serena is a cheese made using cardoons (a wild relative of the artichoke) to coagulate the milk rather than rennet, which is an enzyme derived from the stomach of a mammal (often the same animal the cheese is made from)  after it's been killed. For those of you who don't eat meat but partake of milk, you may not know that you're still technially participating in the slaughter of animals for the production of food. Those of you, like myself, who happily eat most things, will just find it interesting that thistle is used in the production of a delicious cheese.

Torta la Serena, based on this first and only tasting (read: gobbling) is a unique cheese. A side effect of it's method of production is that the cheese stays softer in the middle than at the outside. The inside has a texture more like goat cheese or a young fontina, and the outside stays harder and more evenly dense. The taste, however, is strong and earthy and a bit tart, perhaps due again to the use of thistles. CC's website describes it as 'vegetal'. All in all it's a bit like a more complex gorgonzola and I'm thoroughly enjoying it on my Acme herb loaf with some capers. (How is it possible that a bakery as famous as Acme has no website? Am I missing it?) On that note, look forward to a post sometime in the near future about my new favorite I-want-to-grow-it-so-bad food, the caper!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick Bread-and-Butter Pickles

1 white onion
2 lbs. pickling cucumbers
a few spoonfuls of salt
2 cups unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
2 cups cane sugar
1/2 cup water
2 T pickling spices

Chop onion and cucumbers into 1/4" slices. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cover with ice water, stir to blend, and leave covered in a refrigerator for 3 hours or so.

Remove from fridge and drain well while bringing remaining ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive pot. Add about enough of your vegetables to keep them more or less submerged in your pickling liquid and turn the heat down. Simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. You'll know they're done when they...for back of a better description, start to look like pickles. Using a slotted spoon, remove your (now) pickles and add more cucumbers and onions. You should only need to do this twice, but you can take as many turns as you need to finish up the batch.

Once all your pickles are in jars, divide up the remaining liquid. All the pickles need to be covered by liquid, so top off with extra water, or make more vinegar and sugar mix for a stronger flavor. Seal your jars and keep them refrigerated; they should last a few weeks, but I never have mine around for that long.

NOTE: This recipe is NOT true canning. Please do not leave these pickles in a pantry, or in the fridge for long periods of time. I am a pickle junkie and don't even bother storing them properly, they do just fine for a week or two. This recipe can be canned, but please follow instructions you find elsewhere. How about Ball's website, makers of many canning and preserving products?

The delicious finished product.