Thursday, July 29, 2010

Seed Giveaway: Fall & Winter Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

Summer is just getting going and its already time to start planting for fall and winter harvests. It feels funny to be thinking about cauliflower and "winter keeper" beets, while I am breathing down the neck of my tomato plants, telling them to "ripen already!"

My focus for this year's cool season garden is the salad bowl. I have at least a half dozen salad greens, along with beets, radishes and red and green scallions. I am also going to try a fall crop of snap peas, which I have not tried before. Does anyone have an advice for the fall snap peas?

Here is what I hope to be eating in my Thanksgiving salad bowl:

"Redina" leaf lettuce
for color

"Mache" winter lettuce
if all else fails, this should survive

"Samish Savoy" spinach
for iron 

"Mizuna" mustard green
for its great taste and mild spice

"Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled" Cress
for its peppery bite


for its enjoyable mellow bitterness


for its great health properties, and for the taste and structure it will add

Except for the cress, which needs light to germinate, I like to mix all of my salad bowl seeds together. I use an empty spice jar, with the sprinkle top still attached. Then I use it to sprinkle the seeds into the bed and let everything grow together. This makes a mixed harvest easy: just use scissors to sheer off the leaves, two inches above the ground.

To get you started on your winter salad bowl, I am giving away a collection of seed packets, including my very favorite, "Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress," a delicious Mizuna, Red Winter Kale, and Arugula.

To enter the drawing for the seed collection, simply leave a comment telling me your best tip for a good salad (special green? favorite dressing? anything!). Since its about time to get these greens growing, I will randomly draw a name on August 5th and get them in the mail ASAP! Be sure to include your e-mail address when you sign in to leave a comment.

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to travel (rustic) with a baby


...get the suitcase to double as a stroller

...clean the baby when he is poopy.

...and bathe a baby when you have no bathtub

...rock a baby when you have no crib

...nurse a baby when you are wearing a swim suit bears from a safe look-out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What to eat and do in Arcata, Humbolt County

I just got back from a trip to Arcata, in Humbolt County, Northern California. The foggy town of Arcata is flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one side, mountain ranges on the other side, and surrounded by Redwood forests to the North and South.

Not only is Arcata well worth being a destination on its own, it also happens to be the half way point of a great drive between Grants Pass, Oregon and the Bay Area, California. If you ever have the chance to make a road trip through the area, there is plenty of awesomeness to see, including ghost towns and vortexes. I will tell you about those another time!

If you happen to be in Arcata on a Saturday, don't miss the farmers market on the main plaza. Besides the foods of many hardworking farmers, you will find handmade crafts and even custom poetry, written on the spot. Live music is performed and you'll find families and drifters dancing side by side.

waiting for breakfast at Renata's with grandma and baby

my son enjoying his morning coffee
If you haven't had breakfast yet, head up to Renata's Crepes, located one block from the main plaza, at 1030 G Street. My cousins rave about this place. They use three types of crepe batter: buckwheat for the savory crepes, a smooth white flour batter for the sweet crepes, and a gluten-free batter for those who are gluten-sensitive. Their sweet crepes are hard to pass up, but their savory crepes make a great breakfast or lunch. Although their menu has many fine choices, I was feeling finicky the last time I ate at Renata's, and they were kind enough to whip up a custom order for me (ham, brie, onions and scrambled eggs).

lunch at Japhey's
When you are ready for lunch, do not  miss the food at Japhey's for the best meal in town. Their excellent food makes up for their odd hours (they are closed on the weekends?!). You can choose between half a dozen kinds of noodles and customize with your choice of broth or dressing, protein, and vegetables. They make all of their own sauces, and source their ingredients locally, and organic, when possible. Part of their philosophy is to run an open kitchen, make everything themselves, and keep prices low. You can hardly go wrong with a philosophy like that. I recommend the green curry with chicken, served over rice. It is mild and sweet, as curry goes (my 9 month old enjoyed sharing my bowl with me), but it is so comforting. I find it hard to resist, even when I want to try something new. I solved that problem this time by ordering the chicken curry for lunch and the noodle salad with prawns, for "dessert."

Japhey's sits next to an upscale bistro, Folie Douce, if you want something fancier for dinner. Floie Douce serves up (expensive) West Coast fare and wood fired pizzas, and is quite good if you are looking for something more appropriate for date night. I went there for dinner last year and they made a killer risotto and introduced me to a non-alcoholic juice made from wine grapes that I just loved. I would make an even stronger recommendation for Larrupin Cafe, a twenty mile drive, north on Highway 101. If you eat a meal there, be sure to add a few jars of their dill mustard-sauce to your bill, to bring home with you.

There is plenty to do in the area, besides eating. A trip to Patrick's Point beach will give you beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed there. If you are feeling romantic, you can hike up to Wedding Rock, where many couples say their vows each year. Another hiking trail will take you to Agate Beach, where you can hunt the surf for agates, a type of quartz.

If you are looking for a warmer activity than foggy beach hikes, take highway 299 towards Redding. A 45 minute drive inland can mean a 45 degree temperature change. Look for swimming holes marked with "river access" signs. If you prefer to play it safe, drive to Willow Creek and swim in Trinity River, at the public beach in town.

hidden swimming holes
clean water and sunshine is good for the soul

Before you leave Arcata, you can pack your picnic basket at the local co-op, the locally owned Wildberries Market, or Los Bagels, the "multi-cultural bagels bakery cafe" with the beautiful mural in the parking lot. If you are grocery shopping, and lucky enough to catch a food demo by the "Tofu Lady", be sure to say hello to my grandma.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Simple Lives Thursday: Producing More, Consuming Less

I am happy to participate in Annette's "Simple Lives" Blog Hop, on the topic of "producing more, consuming less." Annette, author of the blog "Sustainable Eats," was generous enough to invite me to her garden last month (well, I invited myself really...), to see how she managed to feed her family from an average sized city lot. From the looks of it, time is her most precious commodity, so I was very appreciative that she so willingly shared it with a stranger. How does she get so much done with two active boys running circles around her and the chickens?

Besides being awed by Annette's garden, I just finished reading Shannon Hayes' book "Radical Homemakers," so I am surrounding myself with people who are doing what I strive to do, they are just doing it better. The inspiration is helpful, even if I don't aspire to try to "do it all." In the process of simplifying one's life, it shouldn't be made miserable. I, for one, believe that every little change towards "producing more, consuming less" is helpful.

I still own a TV (and refuse to be ashamed about it), and don't own a clothes drying-rack (I do feel slightly guilty about all of the electricity I use to dry the clothes, but I barely keep up with the laundry as it is). However, I have managed to replace a significant portion of my grocery shopping with food from the garden, and have learned the wisdom in the saying, "not wanting something is as good as having it."

I just returned from a blissful vacation on the banks of Redwood Creek, in Humboldt County, California. I introduced my baby boy to the joys of river swimming, black bear spotting, and getting sand in your lunch. I also began the process of teaching my son that true fun and adventure doesn't need to include "package deals" or Disney characters. 

I had an Iron-Chef moment in the morning, before heading out the river, which resulted in the pasta salad seen below. The pesto disappeared with the men, who left at six in the morning, to fish all day. I sifted through the contents of the cooler and came up with rainbow chard and garlic, from the Arcata famers market, and a block of feta cheese.

I warmed the garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil over the stove, and added dried herbs and chili flakes that I found in the cupboard. I tossed the flavored oil with the cooked pasta, feta cheese, and 4 cups of chopped raw chard. It held up very well in the cooler, and was good enough to make me glad that the pesto went AWOL.

 great-grandma and baby enjoying a river picnic

Monday, July 19, 2010

Instilling Adventure in Children

I never went to Disneyland as a child. I never went to the top of the Space Needle, in the city where I was born and raised, until my husband took me to the top for dinner. My parents are not the tourist type. What they lack in touristic tendencies, they make up for with adventurous spirit, which they worked hard to instill in all of their children.  How many 9 years olds get kicked out of their train compartment, by soldiers as they cross the border into Yugoslavia? Or spend their summers swimming, clothing optional, on the banks of secret swimming holes in California? Or allow their 14 and 12 year old daughters to find their way from one end of England to the other, to catch a flight home to the States on their own?

Although my husband has a different level of comfort in regards to risk taking, I am determined to instill the same adventurous spirit in my own children, with a bigger dose of safety thrown in for good measure (my husband has already vetoed any future white water rafting plans, but I didn't need any more scars on my head anyway). 

My fondest memories from my childhood summers were the family road trips we took down the Washington and Oregon coast, to visit my aunts and uncles in Humboldt County. Both of my aunts, and my grandmother as well, had taken their turns living up in the mountains above the Redwood coast. Remnants of their lifestyle show up in my house today, like the handmade rattle my son shakes, made of leather that my aunt stretched and cured (did she kill the animal too?). Eventually, each woman came down the mountain and moved into a house in town, complete with electricity and indoor plumbing. But, their time in the mountains meant that private swimming holes, friends with rustic cabins, and first hand knowledge of the back roads became part of my life too. 

This week, I am sharing some of this love for the back woods with my son. His experience may be a little more conservative than my own childhood, but he is enjoying it all the same. We camped out under the stars (on the deck of a friend's cabin), we hiked down to a swimming hole for the day (and wore swimsuits), and even watched a black bear drink from the banks of the river (from a safe viewing spot on a hill).

Today, we are enjoying a day in town before heading back into the hills for another chance to get some color on my skin. The weather in the coastal town of Arcata is a full 40 degrees cooler than the weather one hour inland from here. 

If you are ever in the area, coming through Arcata on a Saturday will be worth your time. The town as a wonderful farmers market on the plaza, with live music and handcrafted treasures.

I enjoyed my stroll around the square, and spent my money on an original poem, custom crafted by this wonderful wordsmith, Jacquiline Suskin. She wrote me a poem to give to my husband for our anniversary ("your subject, your price"), which made me cry, and I gave her the cash that I had in my pocket. 

Goodbye for now. I will now return to my otherwise un-wired vacation. The relaxation starts where the cell phone signal ends. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

(Vegan) Sorrel Mint Pesto

The garden space that I occupied last year is now being worked by a friend of mine. This is her first foray into urban food production, and she is open to whatever advice I have. When she and I stood at edge of the plot in the spring, surveying the space and planning where she would plant her seeds, I spotted a few sprigs of last year's mint, pushing through the damp soil.

"If you leave this corner untouched, this mint will grow well, all on its own." I told her.

Any advice to do less work is music to the ears of a woman who is gardening with a toddler in tow. Little did she know that she would end up with a thicket of mint, that now fills 20 square feet and continues to advance.

"I am not watering it ever again!" She told me this week. I doubt the mint will simply give up its crusade, on account of a little drought. The good thing is, I know she won't mind if I help myself to as much mint as I can figure out what to do with.

Knowing I had a lamb chop waiting for me at home, I picked a large bundle of mint, while out to water the garden today. I still have about 3 feet of sorrel left over from an early spring planting, so I snipped a handful of their tart leaves as well.

I remembered a recipe from years back, that I had made with my step-grandmother. It was a mint pesto, which we made with pine nuts and Meyer lemons from her backyard tree (if we were all so fortunate!). I replaced the lemon juice with the sorrel, with excellent results. I was also thrilled to find another use for the sorrel! I left out the pine nuts, since I didn't have any, but feel free to add 1/4 cup if you have them on hand.

This pesto was wonderful with the lamb, and I could easily imagine it on grilled chicken. Today, I used the leftover pesto as a salad dressing for mixed greens, garbanzo beans, tomato and avocado. This recipe is a winner. Maybe this is what I will serve next time I host my gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free friend for lunch!

Sorrel-Mint Pesto

1 cup of sorrel leaves
2 cups of mint leaves
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of salt and black pepper

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, and process until a smooth paste, about 30 seconds. Unlike traditional basil pesto, the color of this pesto stays a beautiful bright green.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stylish Raised Beds: Volunteer Park Cafe

My friend Sharon and I strolled the baby down to Volunteer Park Cafe yesterday. Apparently it is closed on Mondays. Hmph.

All was not lost though. It was a nice walk, despite the detour caused by a bomb scare in Volunteer Park, and the heavy cloud cover.

I also got to peek into Volunteer Park Cafe's developing back garden space. I didn't know that I could like the Cafe more than I do already! I guess there are some (un)neighborly disputes raging, but I am looking forward to sitting out back, amidst their very charming raised beds.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Beets for Three Seasons

This is not the first time I am writing a post about beets. As one of the vegetable underdogs, I feel a need to champion their cause. You don't usually have to convince people to like pie, or bacon. Maybe I love beets as much as I do, partially because I came to love them as an adult, and converts usually sing their praise the loudest.  

Whatever the reason, I eat them often, which means that they enjoy a prominent place in my garden. With a little planning, and the right varieties, I keep myself in a steady supply of beets for much of the year. 

An early spring planting of Early Wonder Tall Top can be eaten by Memorial Day. In late spring and early summer, a few rows of striped Chiogga and golden beets add more color to my summer beet repertoire. Soon, I'll be planting Lutz Winter Keeper for a Thanksgiving and Christmas harvest.

I like to plant beet seeds fairly close together, since I like to eat baby beet greens. When the beet leaves are about two inches tall, carefully pick out every other plant, to add to your salad bowl. As the beets grow larger, thin out the plants again, so that the remaining plants have enough room to make a bulb, about three inches apart.

Admittedly, beets have a unique flavor, and unique flavors can be a challenge to work with. However, a little experimentation will yield some great flavor combinations. I think beets pair especially well with pungent cheeses like Gorgonzola or feta. Beets also go well with ginger! I've even had little jewels of candied beets, at a Bellingham restaurant, and I always thought that would be great with pistachio ice cream. When I give it a try, I'll post the results!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Traditional Nigerian Wedding

Because a woman can never have too many irons in the fire, I have been doing some wedding coordination lately. This weekend I had three weddings in two days. Although summer doesn't come to the Pacific Northwest until the weekend AFTER the 4th of July, it does seem like a good idea to have an Independence Day wedding, and get some free fireworks for the reception.

All of these weddings have had me thinking about my own wedding(s). I had two weddings, the traditional Nigerian ceremony, and the "white" wedding at the church (named for the color of the dress).

We were lucky enough to have chosen a wonderful wedding photographer, who attended both ceremonies. I thought I would share some our wedding album, for colorful eye candy. All photos by One Love Photo. You can see my "white wedding" on her blog, here.

Dressing the Bride

The Groom's Family Arrives

Family Negotiations

The Bride is Brought In

Revelary Ensues


Bride & Groom

Thursday, July 1, 2010

U-Pick Shuksan Strawberries

Picking berries is one of my favorite summer traditions. It satisfies two of my requirements for a good thing: it's cheap and involves eating delicious things.

Last year, I didn't let a swollen baby belly get in the way of fresh picked berries. I used a skateboard to scoot myself down the rows.

This year, the baby joined me. He wasn't very helpful. But he wasn't particularly un-helpful either.

These u-pick strawberries are called Shuksan. Foodies grow crazy for them. Going by the buzz on Twitter, you'd think they invented them. Shuksans are not meant to sit around on a store shelf, their sugary goodness goes from ripe to drunken mush in less than 24 hours.

You have to use them or lose them. Quickly. I baked buttermilk shortbread, made whipped cream, and ate gobs and gobs of berries for dessert last night. I made a low-sugar jam with what was left.

Now I am waiting for raspberries.

If you want to pick your own, head out to the Duvall-Carnation area, where you will find many U-Pick fields. I went to Shuksan-growing Harvold Berry Farm (425-333-4185) this year. Remlinger is another great place for berry picking. Their farm themed amusement park, and ice cream shop, turns berry picking into an all-day family activity. Remlinger is not organic, but they do boast of their Integrated Pest Management practices, which reduces the amounts of chemicals used, and makes the berries safe to eat in the field. Their fields are large, and make for good picking.

While you are in the area, consider swinging by the Armadillo BBQ in Duvall, to refuel after your stint in field work. I was greeted by the most enthusiastic server I have ever had the pleasure of ordering from, and their pork ribs were so tender! They sell their spicy BBQ sauce by the bottle, and we took one home. 

(If you are a quilter, Duvall also has a sweet little quilt shop with a nice assortment of novelty fabrics. I picked up a few more cuts for my canning cupboard quilt)