Eggs and Grits California Style

Breakfast is definitely one of my favorite meals. When I was a kid I can remember all of us kids (there were 7) snuggly sitting around the kitchen table (an oilcloth covered wood picnic table with benches) and mom serving a platter of fried mush. Mush, as I remember it, was corn meal cooked and then poured into a loaf pan to cool overnight. In the morning she would cut the cold mush into slices, dip each one in flour then fry them until they were golden and heated through. We would top our mush with butter (really it was margarine) and hot syrup. She made syrup each time we had fried mush, pancakes or waffles, which she always made from scratch, never using a recipe except the one she kept in her head. To make the syrup she dissolved sugar in boiling water, then added some Mapeline, which came in a little bottle like vanilla does.  The Mapeline, I later learned was, imitation flavoring.  It gave the sugar water it’s flavor and color. The syrup was never thick, like store bought syrup, but it was sweet and tasted good on the crispy surfaced mush.

Polenta and eggs

This morning I felt inspired to get creative with the leftover polenta that I had made for my last post. Taking my mom’s idea of frying leftover mush as the basis for the dish, I lightly browned slices of cold polenta in olive oil and butter (I didn’t dip the slices in flour.), sautéed fresh Spring spinach in the same, then fried a large egg over-easy and layered it on top. It was good. In fact, it was so good I fixed the same thing for breakfast the next day. Sometimes you just can’t get enough of a good thing.

Will have to try mom’s fried mush next time I have leftover polenta. But I think I’ll skip the margarine and Mapeline flavored syrup. I’m more of a sweet butter and Maple syrup kinda girl now.

It Won’t Be Long Now

I’ll bet you think I’ve lost my mind. Well maybe I have but I was so excited this morning when I checked my Russian Heirloom cherry tomato to see that there are tiny tomatoes on it, that I couldn’t wait to shout it to the world. I have tomatoes! Well, I almost have some. It won’t be long now.

This year, I am trying a new variety called Koralik. I bought the plant in Sebastopol on a day my sis and I spent antiquing and nursery hopping. Definitely a great way to spend a Spring day. Anyway, I usually buy the cherry varieties since I grow them in a container. I did learn one thing after I had purchased and planted it that I wish I had known before. The little plastic tag that has the information on it said “Organic Russian Heirloom red cherry – Determinate plant: bears loads of cherry-sized fruit with great flavor. Wonderful for all locations. Only 60 days!” The thing I learned is what “determinate plant” means. Determinate are varieties that grow to a compact height. Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All the tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.

So the good news is that the tomato won’t require staking and it is perfectly suited for container planting. The not so good news is that it sounds like all the fruit will ripen at about the same time so I’ll be overwhelmed with cherry tomatoes for a couple of weeks then I won’t have any. That wasn’t what I had planned on, but looks like what I’ve got. Such is life. Live and learn.

This is the vegetable container part of my little garden. The Koralik tomato is in the pot at the back, an Ichiban Japanese eggplant (Abundance, July 2010) is on the right and a container zucchini, Astia, planted from seeds from Renee’s Garden is in front. The zucchini is also a new selection I am trying this year.  An upgrade to my garden this year is the addition of the wheeled pot stands. They are fantastic. I can move the pots easily to change their location or just to rotate them so they grow more evenly. They even have little brakes you can set so the wheels can’t move. Definitely a luxury I should have given myself long ago.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest I think I’ll get back out there and check on what the snail population is munching on. And that is a whole other story.

(note: the sprinkler that is sticking up in the front pot is not how I’m watering the pots. They are on an automatic system that works off my in ground sprinkler system. I think I stuck that one in there so I wouldn’t misplace it. Good thing I took this picture cuz now I’ll remember where it is next time I go looking for it.)

Hungry Hollow Asparagus

Undoubtedly, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. At this time of year I always look for it at the Farmers’ Market. There was fresh asparagus at the market on Sunday but I didn’t buy it. Instead, I stopped at my neighborhood grocery store and  bought some. I didn’t buy it there because the price was better. It was actually about the same. I bought it because it was from Durst Organic Growers, local fourth generation farmers from the “Hungry Hollow” area at the mouth of the Capay Valley.

Capay Valley, about 45 miles from where I now live, is where I lived during my last two years of High School. We had a 40-acre Almond ranch there and the elementary and high School, in Esparto is where all the kids from up-the-valley and all the areas surrounding Esparto went. Some kids spent an hour on the bus getting to school and another getting home. The buses carried both elementary and high school (there was no middle or Jr. High) kids, so if you were from a large family like me, you rode to school on the same bus as your brothers and sisters.  The schools were very small by today’s standards, about a couple hundred of us at the high school and that’s probably being generous. My senior class had thirty-two. It was a wonderful place to live in those days, a little like Mayberry RFD. The Durst kids went to school with my younger sisters. Some of their cousins were in my class. In small towns everybody is somebody’s cousin, unless like me, you moved there.  So maybe it was nostalgia that brought me to buy their asparagus. But really, I don’t think nostalgia was the reason. Durst Organic Growers bring beautiful products to market so while nostalgia may have played some small part in my choice I was really just looking for the very best asparagus available. The only asparagus I’ve had that beat theirs was some wild asparagus I found growing in a meadow along a trail where I was walking. It was so beautiful, some of the spears had leafed out into their fern-like foliage and tucked below it were perfectly shaped spears, some  about 7 inches tall and no bigger around than a pencil. The temptation was too great. I had to to taste this perfection.  I broke off the spears and ate them, slowly, one by one, relishing their taste and texture. They were sheer heaven.  I don’t know what there is about foraging food but to me it always tastes much better than anything I can buy.

To celebrate my asparagus bounty I grilled some and added it to a penne pasta recipe I came across on one of my recent digs (through recipe clippings of which I have more than I probably need). This is not heavy, although with all that cream one would think it would be. I didn’t feel it over whelmed the vegetables. I could still taste their bright spring flavors.

Penne with Asparagus, Peas, Mushrooms & Cream

8 – 10 servings

1 lb thin asparagus

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 medium shallots, minced

¾ pound shitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 ½ lbs penne rigate

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen baby peas (if frozen thaw them before using)

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat a cast-iron grill pan. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus over high heat, turning until it is lightly charred and very tender, about 6 minutes. Cut the asparagus to 1-inch lengths. (I used my BBQ instead of the cast-iron grill pan)

2. In a very large, deep skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and cook, stirring once or twice until the mushrooms are golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water.

4. Add the pasta to the skillet along with the asparagus, peas and grated cheese and toss well. Add the reserved pasta water and simmer, tossing, until the pasta is nicely coated. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley. Serve right away.

More asparagus ideas from Annie:

Grill’n Between Storms

Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans Prized Asparagus. Me too.

Slow Post for a Quick Stir-Fry

California Rice

Snow geese over harvested rice field

When I drive to work in the morning I cross a three-mile bridge over a floodway. This floodway, or bypass, was created early in California’s history to carry water away from the Sacramento River during high flows and prevent the city of Sacramento from flooding and so far it has done its job. Within this floodway a wildlife area was created in 1997, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It provides habitat to hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that visit each winter as they travel the Pacific Flyway from Alaska and Canada down into California’s central valley. There are also rice fields alongside the wetland habitats within the bypass. They also provide food and shelter for scores of wildlife species. In fact, California ricelands provide habitat to 230 wildlife species, including more than 30 that have been designated as special status. Ricelands provide more than half of the food needed by wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.

Rice production also benefits Californians in a big way, it puts more than a billion dollars into our economy, it supports local communities and premium California rice is found in every piece of sushi made in America. So if you eat sushi, you’re eating rice grown right here in my back yard. So, how did rice get to be such an important crop? It certainly isn’t native to our area.

Like so many things in California you could say it all started when Sutter found gold in “them thar hills”. The California gold rush brought thousands of fortune hunters to California. Immigrants from all over the world came, the largest group were Chinese workers hired by the mines and the railroad. Rice was an important part of the Chinese diet and it had to be imported from China or Japan. European and Asian miners who didn’t fair well in their search for gold turned to their previous profession, farming. Some saw rice as a potential crop.

But early attempts to cultivate long grain rice failed time and time again. It wasn’t until 1908 that a USDA soil specialist discovered that a Japanese medium grain variety, Kiushu, was better suited to northern California’s climate and soil. The first successful crop was grown at the Belfour-Guthrie Ranch in the community of Biggs just after the discovery and by 1912 the rice industry was established. Today California’s rice industry flourishes in the Sacramento Valley and a small portion of the San Joaquin Valley. About half of the rice produced in California stays in the US, the rest is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Middle East. Rice is also produced in two other principal areas of the United States: the Grand Prairie and Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri and the Gulf Coast of Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

One of the things I like to make with California short grain rice is risotto. I’ve been using it for years now and prefer it to the more traditional Arborio rice from Italy. To me Risotto is a comfort food, much like mac-n-cheese.

Farmhand Risotto

Tonight I put together a risotto hearty enough to satisfy a hungry farmhand or just a very hungry gal looking for some comfort food. It combines short grain rice, chicken stock and vegetables fresh from this morning’s Farmers’ Market, fresh carrots, crimini mushrooms, onions and tender spring spinach. I also used celery and country sage sausage, a touch of fresh thyme from my garden, a pat of sweet butter, some baked garlic cloves I had on hand, and a sprinkling of grated Asiago cheese just before serving. Served with a simple mixed green salad and a glass of wine it was the perfect dinner on this rainy spring evening.

Additional information and recipes for California rice can be found at California Rice Commission.

3/10/11 – Annie’s article  for step by step information on how to make risotto.

Astoria (Oregon) Sunday Market

Recently two of my sisters and I took advantage of low Southwest airfares and flew to Portland. When we left Sacramento it was raining and in the 50’s. We arrived in Portland to sunshine and 86 degrees. That was a rarity. It should have been the other way around. Eighty-six is pretty warm but we weren’t complaining.

First order of business was to head over to the car rental pick-up location and load up our rental with our luggage. Then it was off to one of my favorite farmers markets, the Portland market at Portland State University. Unfortunately, we arrived with less than an hour before closing and had just enough time to make a quick perusal of the possibilities for lunch. We sat under the beautiful big trees and ate our lunch as the vendors broke down their stalls and packed their trucks. Next time I’ll make sure I have a couple of hours of shopping time. Tummies full and anticipation high we headed back to the car for our leisurely drive from Portland to the coast, then north to Long Beach, WA and five days of a much needed vacation. If you’re ever in Portland on a Saturday between 8:30am and 2:00pm, check out the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University. It’s open 8:30am – 2:00pm March 19 – December 17  and  9:oo am – 2:00 pm November and December. If the PSU market won’t fit into your visit there are markets happening in Portland everyday but Friday. You can find out more about locations, days and times here.

Sunday morning we decided to drive over to Astoria, a nice two-hour drive away and check out their Sunday Market. The Astoria market is easily the largest farmers market in the Columbia-Pacific region — and one the largest statewide, with up to 200 vendor spaces. In addition to its size it’s one of the few Oregon markets open on Sundays.  After a wonderful breakfast at Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe (They also have a booth at the market which sells yummy bakery items) we walked a couple of blocks to the market which was already very busy. The market is a mix of food (ready -to-eat and fresh), art & photography, handmade clothing, things for kids and pets, body care products, crafts and jewelry and plants and garden items. There is also a prepared food section where you can sit and eat and listen to some local music.  This isn’t one of those flea markets where products come from everywhere all products sold at the Astoria market are made or grown by the vendor, so you’re supporting local folks.

One of the most interesting things I found at the market was a young entrepreneur selling goat milk soaps. This bright young lady named  Mary told me her title was, Milkologist and Monster Master of Mary\’s Milk Monsters.  With a title like that and a smile like hers who wouldn’t take a few minutes to listen to what she had to say.  She told me she got into making soaps because her goats (her 4H project) give a lot of milk and she was looking for a new way “to make use of their hard work.” By adding her own hard work she has come up with a wonderful little business. You can find out more about how she makes her soaps and  meet some of her goats on her website. If you won’t be in Astoria anytime soon, you can buy her soap through her website. A very nice way to support a very engaging and energetic young entrepreneur.

After talking with Mary, and browsing, and shopping for non-food items for a couple of hours we finally got down to the business of buying food and bought chives, goat cheese, eggs, apples and some amazing goodies at the Blue Scorcher Bakery booth to take back to our little cabin in Long Beach.

If you are going to be up in the Northwest this summer take time to visit one of their Farmers Markets. You’ll meet some really nice folks, you’ll find fresh local foods and crafts and sometimes you’ll even meet someone you’ll never forget.

A Guide to North Coast Farmers Markets

Astoria – open 10am – 3pm, Sundays, from Mother’s Day through the second weekend in October
Commercial and 12th Street, Astoria, OR
astoriasundaymarket.com
 
Newport-open 9am – 1pm, Saturdays, May 7-Oct 29
US Highway 101 and Angle Street, Newport, OR
newportfarmersmarket.org
 
Lincon City – open 9am – 3pm, Sundays, May 1 – Oct 16
540 NE US Hwy 100, Lincoln City, OR
lincolncityfarmersmarket.org
 
Tillamook – open 9am – 2pm, Saturdays, June 11 – Sept 24
Laurel and 2nd Streets
tillamookfarmersmarket.com
 
Manzanita – open 5 – 8pm, Fridays, June 10 – Sept 23
Fifth and Laneda Avenue
manzanitafarmersmarket.com
 
Cannon Beach – open 2 – 5 pm, Tuesdays, June 14 – Sept 27
Midtown public parking lot
cannonbeachmarket.org
 
Seaside – open 1pm – 4pm, Saturdays, July 2 – Sept 24, except Aug 27
2315 N. Roosevelt Drive
no web address
 
Columbia-Pacific – open 3 – 7pm Fridays, May – September
Downtown, Long Beach, WA
longbeachwa.gov/farmersmarket
 
Scappoose – open 9am – 2pm, Saturdays, mid May – September
E 2nd Street entrance to City Hall parking lot on E Columbia Avenue
scappoosefarmermarket.com
 
Two Island’s Farm Market – open 3 – 6:30pm, Fridays, May – October
59 W Birnie Slough Road, Puget Island, WA
stockhousesfarm.com/farm.html
 
 
 
 

Mange-tout – Eat The Whole Thing

Sunday while at the Farmers’ Market I bought some Sugar Snap peas. The French call them mange-tout, or eat the whole thing and they area absolutely right, there’s no shelling involved. I love these crisp peas and often eat them raw like carrot sticks. In fact, I’ve had them twice this week in my lunch just that way. But when it comes to preparing them as a vegetable with my dinner I usually sauté them until just crisp-tender. Tonight I sautéed some sliced Crimini then tossed in Snap Peas than had been cut in half diagonally. When the peas were crisp-tender I added a touch of Sesame Oil and a splash of Tamari, quick, simple and delicious.

To make a one-pan meal of this add some cooked diced chicken or pork after you add the peas. You could substitute Snow peas for the recipe above if you can’t find the Sugar Snap.

Peas are a cool weather crop here in the Central Valley. May has a tendency to get much warmer than the peas like so we should be at the end of the season but it’s been cool and rainy so the peas are still happily producing and I’m still buying them and enjoying them.

Here are a couple of sites that I found while surfing around that I thought you might enjoy. The first one is from a blog called Vegetarians in Paradise. The article includes more history than you might ever want to know, but it’s interesting all the same. Included were sections on: Folklore and Oddities, Genetics, Cuisine, Growing, Nutritional benefits, Preparation and Recipes.

Next was Formula For Life, there you can find Nutritional information, Varieties, Selection, Storage, Preparation Information, Historical Information and Recipes.

Last was a very cool historical timeline of the pea (1650 – 2011) on Google. I love timelines so naturally I found this interesting. If you’re not enamored with them, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

Try some peas while they are still in season. You might find you love them too!

Slow Post For A Quick Stir-Fry

There is much talk these days about “slow food”, but this is about “slow posts”. I have been trying for over a week to get this posted. I didn’t have trouble getting to the Farmers’ Market to shop, that’s part of my Sunday routine. I bought the shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, scallions, and more green garlic so I could try a recipe I had found for Ginger Fried Rice. I made the recipe. It was delicious. I even got photos taken but what didn’t happen was finding the time to write and put the words and photos together. I’m sometimes amazed how long it takes.  Do you have weeks where it seems like you go from Monday to Friday in just one day instead of five?

Shiitake mushrooms are, in my opinion, simply the best. I love the flavor and the texture finding them even meatier than a Portabella. I guess the edge the Portabella has is its size. I’ve never seen a Shiitake that comes even close to the Portabella in size and I’ve never tasted a Portabella that comes close in flavor to the Shiitake.

Also known, as Chinese black mushroom and black forest mushroom, shiitake are the second most cultivated mushroom in the world. They also have an ancient history being recorded in Japan back to AD 199 and in China there are written records of them during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1127). During the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), they were prized not only as a food but also as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion and weakness, and to boost life energy and prevent premature aging. Today they are still touted for their curative properties and extracts from the mushroom and sometimes the whole dried mushroom, are used in herbal remedies.

Prior to 1972 it was thought by the USDA that the species was invasive so cultivation was not allowed in the United States. In 1982, Gary F. Leatham published an academic paper based on his research on the budding and growth of the Japan Islands variety; the work helped make commercial cultivation possible in United States.

Today,  mushrooms have become popular in many other countries as well. Russia produces and also consumes large amounts of them, mostly sold pickled, something I have never tried. There is a global industry in  production, with local farms in most western countries in addition to large-scale importation from China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere.  A lot of the imported mushrooms come to us dried. They have a very rich flavor but I prefer the texture of the fresh ones.

The fried rice recipe I made was a variation on one I found on epicurious.com.

Ginger Fried Rice with Shiittake Mushrooms and Asparagus

Makes 6 side-dish servings

2 tablespoons plus 1-teaspoon vegetable oil

2 large eggs, beaten with 2-tablespoons water

1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger (I recently read that you can freeze ginger root and just grate it into a recipe and that’s what I did this time and it works great. You don’t even need to fool around with peeling it)

3 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately

3 green garlic, white part and tender light green parts sliced thinly  (optional)

½ lb asparagus cut on the diagonal into 1” pieces

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

½ lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced (you could substitute dried shiitake that have been soaked and drained, or you could try crimini but the flavor and texture of either of these will be very different than the shiitake. I definitely wouldn’t recommend using the white mushrooms.)

3 cups cold cooked white rice (I use a short grain white which tends to stick together more than the long grain but it worked just fine.)

½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Toasted sesame seeds (not sure how many I added probably a tablespoon or two)

Heat a wok or a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot. Then add ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and swirl around wok/pan. Add half of egg mixture and swirl pan to coat bottom with a thin layer about 5 inches in diameter. When egg crêpe is set, about 45 seconds, transfer with a wide metal spatula to a plate to cool. Make another egg crêpe with remaining egg mixture. Roll each crêpe into a cylinder, and cut crosswise into ¼ inch-wide strips, then unroll. (This was so simple to do and I loved the way it looked and tasted. If you don’t want to make the crêpes, scramble the egg and water mixture)

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add ginger, white part of scallions, garlic and salt and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes and s and stir-fry until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Crumble rice into wok add asparagus pieces and stir –fry until rice is lightly browned and asparagus is still crisp tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add scallion greens, egg strips, and sesame oil, tossing to combine.

I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute broccoli for the asparagus. Just keep the pieces cut into sizes that will cook uniformly, or steam the broccoli separately then add at the end with the scallion greens and egg strips. I think I would also like to try this with bok choy as the vegetable. This is an easy meal to prepare, as with most stir-fries the longest time will be spent in preparation.

If you give this one a try let me know how you liked it and what substitutions you made.

Spring Garlic

You can see the cloves starting to form on this one.

Sunday I got to the Farmers’ Market later than usual, it was already packed with people but choices were still good. The first thing I wanted to do was find the egg guy and trade in my used cartons. It seems like the only time I remember that I’m going to take them back is when I am at the market buying more eggs. Very happy with myself for finally remembering. Egg cartons returned and a fresh dozen in my basket I was off to see what looked good as far as vegetables go. I bought a nice bunch of chard, a green that I much prefer to kale or mustard greens, some beautiful, thin asparagus, some very nice baby spinach, more Fuji apples, tangerines and the subject of this weeks post, green or Spring garlic.

Garlic is a species in the onion family and green garlic is simply immature garlic, which has been pulled to thin the crop. Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives are close relatives. Since I love all garlic’s cousins I guess it isn’t any surprise I love garlic. I love it in its mature form and delight every spring when I can get it in its immature form.

Green garlic is much milder than mature garlic. To use it trim off the root ends and any tough part of the green leaves. Chop or slice the white, light green and the first few inches of the dark green leaves (using only the leaves that are tender).

I read that the sticky juice within the cloves of mature garlic is used as an adhesive in mending glass and porcelain in China and that garlic has been around for about 6,000 years and is native to Central Asia. I also read that it was highly prized in early Egypt where it was even used as currency.

Here’s a little dish I prepared tonight using some of my fresh Spring garlic, left over baked Japanese sweet potatoes (Satsumaimo), a little butter and baby spinach.

First I thinly sliced the garlic, then placed it in a fly pan with a little butter and let the garlic gently cook until it had browned and was a little crispy. This isn’t something you would want to do with clove garlic as the taste of the garlic would be bitter. That doesn’t happen with the young version.  I then added the cooked garlic and butter to the Japanese sweet potatoes that had been peeled and mashed with a fork. Once this was done I made some little patties from the mixture then added them back into the frypan with just a touch of butter and gently fried the patties until they were crispy and browned, then turned them and did the same to the other side. When they were browned on both sides I removed them added the spinach and a splash of chicken stock (you can use water) added a lid and cooked the spinach until it had just wilted. That’s it, another one-pan yummy treat. Perfect for a spring evening.

You can find a recipe for green garlic and baby Bok Choy from one of my March 2010 posts here if you’d like another idea on how I’ve used it. It’s also excellent in any egg dish, think cheese and bacon omelet with spring garlic. If you can find Spring or green garlic at your Farmers’ Market or market, give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Spring Musings

I follow a considerable number of blogs, many of them on food, others on nature; its mysteries and wonder. To me they are all related for they all have one thing in common, earth and all that it has to offer, nutritionally and visually. But the earth like anything else can throw me a curve now and then offering up trying scenarios.

This weekend has been rainy and windy, encouraging me to deny my urge to get outside and instead stay inside and finish my income taxes and some other chores I have been procrastinating about. Thankfully, I completed those yesterday.

Those chores done, I have one more glorious day to myself. This morning my itch to get outside hasn’t lessened. It is the first day of Spring but unfortunately it is still very wet and very windy, so to ease the itch I donned my raincoat and headed out to take myself to breakfast, then over to the Farmers’ Market, which considering the weather was surprisingly well attended by both vendors and customers although I noticed a considerable lack of “easy-ups” because of the wind. We are lucky that our market is situated under an elevated part of the freeway so there is some shelter from the elements. Not the most beautiful location but definitely functional. This morning I bought Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, a small sized acorn squash, shitake mushrooms, Fuji apples and Purple Haze carrots, the subject of today’s post.

If you have never seen Purple Haze carrots you are missing a truly beautiful vegetable. Their wine colored skins encase bright orange cores that retain their color when lightly cooked or used raw. They are not only beautiful to look at they are heavenly to eat having and earthy sweet taste and crisp texture.

When I researched them I found several interesting facts:

1. Purple carrot varieties are actually one of the first originally cultivated varieties among all carrot colors. They can trace their origins back to the 10th century in what is modern day Afghanistan.

2.  Carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world, second only to the potato. In my book they are above the potato.

3.  The hybrid variety, Purple Haze, was named after the 1967 song of the same name by Jimi Hendrix.

Now as far as facts go the last fact was definitely the most interesting fact that I dug up. If you, like me, are curious about what the connection might be you can read more about the song and its inspiration here. I’m still not sure I get the “why” of it but I definitely think it interesting.

I did several things with this bunch of carrots; I shredded some and mixed them with equal amounts of shredded Fuji apple, roasted walnuts and just a hint of mayonnaise for a salad and the balance of them I used in a recipe for a coconut carrot muffin another nice way to eat your veggies!

Coconut Carrot Muffin and a cup of hot ginger tea

Coconut Carrot Muffins with Mascarpone and Toasted Walnuts

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (½ cup for muffins, ½ cup for topping)

1 cup oat flour (you can use whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ lb carrots, washed and shredded

½ cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 325°. Oil muffin pan (I used a Texas sized pan that makes 6).

Roast walnuts on baking sheet until just browned. Set aside to cool. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until mixed. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Mix in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Stir in the carrots, walnuts and coconut. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until springy and golden. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

After the muffins were cooled I just barely warmed some Mascarpone cheese, then liberally topped each muffin and sprinkled them with chopped toasted walnuts. It’s best to serve these immediately after adding the topping. The muffins, without topping, will store for several days if kept in an airtight container.

As I sit here typing I keep thinking about getting outside. There seems to be a storm inside as well as outside, one minute I’m ready to put on some rain garb and join mother nature and her blustery wet weather. I could fill the bird feeders and check on the section of fence that blew down last night, make sure there’s not more.  The next minute I decide to stay inside for a little longer, hoping for a break in the action, I enjoy my hot ginger tea and muffin.

Spring Artichokes

These beautiful artichokes spoke to me as I passed amongst the merchants at the Sunday Farmers’ Market. They knew I had just purchased some Spring lamb chops and wanted to be part of my Valentine celebration dinner. So not wanting to disappoint them, I put them in my basket and brought them home. I can’t think of a better combination than grilled Spring lamb chops and artichokes.

The other reason, and more likely the true reason I bought artichokes and lamb, was that I’m sick of eating chicken and chard. As much as I like both chicken and chard I figured that if I’m treating myself to a special Valentine’s dinner it should be something new and exciting, something special.

Since I haven’t written about anything for a week or so, I decided that today was the day and since I had the beautiful artichokes to inspire me, they are the subject of today’s post.

ARTICHOKE HISTORY

Historically artichokes have been around since the middle of the 9th century. Modern scholar, Le Roy Laduire, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc (1966) has documented the spread of the artichoke:

“The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Filippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed in Venice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the north-west…Arctichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principle towns they spread into the hinterlands…appearing as carchofas at Cavallion in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo…They are very small, the size of a hen’s egg…and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit which one preserved in sugar syrup.” Preserved in a sugar syrup, really?

French immigrants brought them to the United States in 1806 when they settled in the Louisiana Territory. Though the first commercial artichoke fields were developed in Louisiana, by 1940 they had mysteriously disappeared. The Spaniards later established them in California in the Monterey area during the later 1800s and that’s where the two I bought today came from. Every Sunday Contreras Flowers, who also sells at the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market, brings flowers and “cool weather” vegetables, from the Moss Beach area, to our market here in Sacramento and while they don’t meet the 100 mile “local” criteria that is spoken so much about lately,  they definitely qualify as fresh having been picked just yesterday. Today, nearly 100 percent of the United States crop of artichokes is grown in California. Worldwide they are also cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain.

Here’s a bit of artichoke trivia I found.  It’s from the site, What\’s Cooking America by Linda Stradley.

“In the 1920s, Ciro Terranova “Whitey” (1889-1938), a member of the mafia and known as the “Artichoke King,” began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate. He created a produce company and resold the artichokes at 30 to 40 percent profit. Not only did he terrorize distributors and produce merchants, he even launched an attack on the artichoke fields from Montara to Pescadero, hacking down the plants with machetes in the dead of night. These “artichoke wars” led the Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare “the sale, display, and possession” of artichokes in New York illegal. Mayor La Guardia publicly admitted that he himself loved the vegetable and after only one week he lifted the ban.”

You can find more history and artichoke lore at What\’s Cooking America. There’s some very interesting reading here.

WHEN AND HOW TO BUY ARTICHOKES

The peak seasons for artichokes are spring and fall. You want to look for artchokes with a tight leaf formation, and those that feel heavy for their size. To test for freshness, press the leaves against each other and you should hear a squeaking sound. Browning of the tips can indicate age, but can also indicate frost damage.

Fall artichokes may be darker or bronze–tipped or have a whitish, blistered appearance due to exposure to light frost. This is called “winter-kissed” and many consider these frosted artichokes to have a more intense flavor and be the most tender.

Baby artichokes are not a separate variety but a “baby” version of larger artichokes. Their size comes from their location on the artichoke plant. They are picked from the lower parts of the artichoke plant where the plant fronds protect them from the sun, in effect stunting their growth. These tend to be the most tender and are most often more expensive than the regular mature artichokes.

COOKING THEM

Artichokes can be steamed, grilled or baked and can be added to just about anything from pizza to an omelet. Very often, they are served with sauces or herbed oils that the leaves can be dipped into.

Today I tried a nice recipe for grilled artichokes that I found in My Nepenthe by Romney Steele, a delightful cookbook and history of Nepenthe, an iconic historic restaurant on the California coast, that I received as a gift from a friend last year.

Grilled California Artichokes with Garlic Basil Aioli

(I didn’t serve them with the Garlic Basil Aioli but have included the recipe incase you want to try it. I really liked this recipe and will definitely try it again, next time I’ll try the  Garlic Basil Aioli too)

Serves 4 to 6

4 to 6 small or 3 large artichokes, stems trimmed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Handful arugula or mache (optional)

Garlic Basil Aioli (recipe follows), for serving

Lemon Wedges, for serving

Trim off the thorny tips of each artichoke and rub the cut ends with a little lemon juice. Place them cut side up in a steamer with ½ inch of water at the bottom. Steam the artichokes, covered, over medium heat, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just tender (make sure that the water doesn’t run dry). Transfer them to a towel-lined plate to drain.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.

When the artichokes are cool, cut them in half and discard the thistly choke, leaving the heart intact. Drizzle the artichokes with the olive oil and fresh lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-high flame, turning on occasion, until well marked and warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Arrange on plates with a tussle of arugula and dollops of the aioli. Serve with lemon wedges and the remaining aioli in a bowl for dipping.

Garlic Basil Aioli

Makes about 1 cup

2 clocves garlic, peeled

Salt

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup olive oil

White pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped basil

With a fork mash the garlic with a pinch of slat until it makes a paste. Combine half the paste with the yolk, lemon juice and mustard in a large bowl. Combine the oils, then add a drop or two to the yolk mixture, whisking well to emulsify: Slowly add the remaining oil in a steady stream, whisking rapidly to combine. Add a pinch of white pepper and the remaining garlic to taste, if desired. Stir in the basil.

More Recipies

You can find more recipes on the Artichoke Advisory Board of California‘s site, Simply Recipes, posted by Elise on Apr 16, 2007 (how to cook and eat) and My Recipes from Southern Living, 2009 (fresh grilled artichokes).

How do you cook and eat artichokes? What are your favorite dipping sauces, that includes what kind of mayonnaise if that’s what you dip into?