What a difference a month makes.

Koralik Russian Heirloom Cherry tomato

Well it’s warming up here in the Central Valley and the garden is growing quite nicely so thought I’d give you an update. Tomatoes are ripening and I have enjoyed several of the little jewels as I wander through the garden early in the morning. My favorite time in the garden is around 6 or 6:30am. It’s perfect then, not too hot or cold and it’s quiet with only the songs of the birds to break the stillness.

The first fruit from the Ichiban Japanese eggplant is ready to pick, which I’ll do in the morning and the Astia zucchini has been producing just fast enough that I don’t have to eat one a day. They are nice little (I pick em small) squash and are a really good dipper for the edamame hummus that I have been buying at Trader Joe’s. I haven’t tried any cooked yet. They taste too yummy raw.

 Here’s the difference a month can make. On the left is how they looked on May 9 and on the right June 10.

Here’s a look at the rest of my little plot.

On the left is my bean tepee which is growing green, yellow and purple pole beans, the squash is a zucchini called Zephyr. I’ve grown this one for a couple of years and really like it. Two thirds of it is yellow and the blossom end is light green. Quite pretty. If you look closely you can see one just to the right of the chives.  Squished just past the squash are Persian Baby cucumbers (Green Fingers), an Ambrosia melon and a Romanian Sweet Pepper, that isn’t really taking off like everything else. Think it needs more heat, which is forecast for this week. The little green berry basket is protecting some parsley seedlings from the snails. Herbs are thyme by the beans, chives by the squash and tarragon by the cukes and melon. Tarragon is supposed to be a good companion plant for just about everything so we’ll see how happy the melon is when I taste it later this summer. There are already several 1″ melons growing so that’s a good sign of things to come. The beans have only recently started blooming and I’m looking forward to seeing some sets in the next week or so. The other plants in the foreground are; Sweet Alyssum, Snow in Summer and Santa Barbara Daisy, which was recently clipped to encourage a second bloom and also give the melon and cukes room to spread. Later in the season the squash will flow out over the Snow in Summer which it did last year. That arrangement didn’t seem to hurt either plant.

The beans, cucumbers, container zucchini and parsley were all grown from seed from Renee’s Garden, local seed company. The other plants were from starts I picked up at various local Farmers Markets. The size of the plot is 4′ x 10′ and this is it’s second season as a veggie garden. Last year I had beans, squash peppers, melon and cukes too but this year I rotated the positions of the plants putting the squash where. A mini crop rotation if you please. I also added organic manure before the rains last winter and let it soak into the ground not mixing it into the soil until this spring. Think I’ll try to plant a cover crop of legumes or clover this fall and see what that’s like. Must be why I love gardening so much, there’s always something to learn and it’s always an adventure.

How’s your  garden doin?

Salmon With Tarragon Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes

I really love French tarragon and have it growing in my garden in several places. I do this not to provide abundance, which I certainly have, but because tarragon is a good companion plant.  Tarragon has a scent and taste disliked by many garden pests making it a natural pesticide. I have it planted amongst the veggies, not just with other herbs; I have some in the flowerbeds too. Just like some human companions work better together than others, you  kinda have to learn which ones work in the situations  you are thinking about. There is a good site with compatibility information and more about organic gardening  here.

You don’t need a large yard to have fresh herbs, they do well in pots on a patio, deck or terrace and you can companion plant them that way too. I also love the way the textures and colors of their foliage looks amongst my flowers. My in ground gardening area is really pretty small so I also garden in pots on my patio. This year I created a space about 4’ x 10’ in the sunniest part of my yard. I dug out the ground cover that was planted there and  planted green beans, carrots, Persian cucumbers, bell pepper, summer squash, an heirloom melon, and various herbs, including chives, thyme and basil and even some zinnias. I expect that the squash and the melon will overflow into the adjacent flowerbeds later in the season. I also have pots on my patio planted with a Japanese eggplant and cherry tomato, along with more herbs such as parsley, sage and rosemary and more flowers (some of which are edible). The garden and pots are all organic with insects being controlled by birds, a few lizards and beneficial insects. Even if I do have to share with the pests sometimes, there always seems to be plenty left for me (the insects take pretty small bites). A garden is always an adventure, different every year.  Maybe that’s the reason I enjoy gardening so much.

Tarragon and chicken are good companions but tarragon sauce and fresh wild caught salmon make excellent companions. This is one of my favorite ways to use fresh tarragon. I can’t think of a more delicious meal on one of these hot summer evenings.

I have found it’s a good idea to  steam the potatoes and make the sauce ahead of time. That way all I need to do at dinner is pour a nice glass of wine,  light the BBQ and grill the salmon and make a salad. To serve, spoon sauce onto 6 plates and arrange some potatoes in a circle, overlapping slightly, on top of sauce. Arrange grilled salmon on top. Garnish with fresh tarragon, gather your family and enjoy.

Tarragon Sauce

(for use with grilled salmon or as a dressing on grilled chicken sandwiches)

2 large bunches fresh tarragon (about 1 ounce total)

1 large bunch fresh chives (about 2/3 ounce)

1 large shallot

3/4 cup fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves

1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Pick enough tarragon leaves to measure 1/2 cup (do not pack). Chop enough chives to measure 1/3 cup. Coarsely chop shallot. In a food processor puree tarragon, chives, and shallot with remaining sauce ingredients until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Sauce may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring sauce to cool room temperature before serving.

Steamed Fingerling Potatoes

Cut 1/12 pounds of fingerling or other new potatoes into 1/8” slices and steam over simmering water until just tender. 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

The Perfect Washington Coast Vacation Breakfast

On the first day my sisters and I were in Washington we stopped at Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. to pick up some fresh seafood for dinner. To keep preparation simple we decided to get two cooked crabs. Before we got to the cottage we stopped at Sid’s Market in Seaview and bought fresh sourdough bread and a bottle of wine. What could be simpler and more delicious than chilled cracked crab, bread and butter and a good glass of wine? We ate until we were full but there was still some crab left. What do you do with left over crab? You make omelets for breakfast.

At the Astoria Sunday Market we picked up some fresh chives, goat cheese with dill and fresh eggs. Later that day, at Jack\’s Country Store, I found an avocado for a mere $1.79 that I splurged on. Living in California I’m really not used to that price for avocados. Jack’s, just up the road from where we stayed, is a real honest to goodness general mercantile. The floors are wood, there are rolling track ladders to reach the top shelves of the oak showcases and there is a beautiful stained glass ceiling. They carry everything from paint and hardware to hunting clothes, kitchenware, toys and pet supplies. It’s very much like the general store we shopped in when I was in high school in rural California a mere forty-something years ago.  It has everything including a grocery store where you can get avocados. They have a great catalog too. Take a look and be amazed. The stage was set. Omelets for breakfast were firmly on the menu for the next day.

I learned to make omelets by watching Julia Child on TV. Really, that’s where I learned and that lesson has served me well. Omelets are wonderful things. They can be simple or exotic. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, you can use just about anything for a filling, even leftover cracked crab, and fresh goat cheese with dill, organic chives and avocado and if you serve it with toast made from leftover sourdough bread spread with Blueberry Lavender Pepper jam from the Painted Lady Lavender Farm,  you’ll  have the perfect Washington coast vacation breakfast.

Bon Appetite!

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