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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Always listen to Mark Bittman!

For those of you who don't know The Minimalist, Mark Bittman's NYTimes column...well, get to know it. You should.

After running out of yogurt this morning, I found myself with quite a bit of excess granola. Thanks to the Berkeley Whole Foods' insistence on selling their bulk goods in paper bags, it was either use it or lose it on this quick-to-go-stale ginger granola. Enter the Minimalist. (It seems like that should be in lowercase, but maybe that's too minimal.) This column appeared a few weeks ago, and I've been trying to figure out if it was a good idea to try or not. Turns out it was, with a caveat. And that caveat is, if a recipe has less than 8 ingredients, and especially if this recipe is for a baked (in this case non-baked) good-- FOLLOW THE RECIPE!

(I'll link to the recipe here.)

I had the correct amount of granola, but only a few spoonfuls of honey left in my bear (I know it's the cheap, commercially produced stuff, but it comes in a bear!). So I decided to substitute more peanut butter, leaving me with a mixture of 85% peanut butter to 15% honey. I also neglected to heat it before adding it to the granola. So even after chilling for 4 hours, I basically had little squished rectangles of peanut butter and granola. My boyfriend made fun of me, but I ate them all anyway. It would have made an awesome crumble on ice cream, had we had any.

The second attempt was much more successful and included organic cranberries and sunflower seeds (I can't get enough of these lately) and the right amount of locally produced honey*. Soooo much better. They're like rice krispie treats for grown ups, something I like to consider myself these days. 

*At this point I'd just like to say how awesome it is that local, organic, seasonal, all-the-bio-buzzwords ingredients are so readily available in the Bay Area. California, I love you to death.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pickled Beets

To start off this blog (and so that I have something in it to play with layouts while my next recipe boils away on the stove), here's a recipe I posted previously on the Wood Street Blog, my previous collaborative craftiness effort. Enjoy!

Delicious Pickled Beets!
(recipe taken from Sept. 2010 Food and Wine Magazine)

1 cup cider vinegar plus 1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 garlic cloves, quartered
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 pounds medium red beets, peeled and cut into 2-by-1/2-inch sticks

(I used a sprig of fresh oregano in place of both the oregano and thyme.)

Bring all ingredients but beets to a boil. Simultaneously, boil the beets for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and return to the cooking pot. Pour hot pickling liquid over the beets and let stand at room temperature for 4 hours. Drain and serve!