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?

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.

Kumquat Digestif – The Perfect Ending To a Party!

Are you one of those people whose  friends are always giving a little bag of this or that? I am. My friends know that I don’t like to waste anything and so often their excess becomes this weeks project on how to use what ever it is they have given me.  Such was the case when a friend gave me a small sack of kumquats. I knew that they were a type of citrus and I had heard that the rind was edible and tasted sweet, but that the flesh was quite acidic and sour. Acidic is not one of my favorite flavors but I thought, there must be something I can do with these outside of making marmalade, which I don’t really like.

The answer came amazingly not after an Internet sleuth but after digging around in my recipe clippings, Kumquat digestif. A digestif, for those of you who might not be familiar with the term, is it is a drink that’s imbibed as an aid to digestion after a meal and is often more alcoholic than an aperitif which is served before. Armagnacs, cognacs, scotch, brandies and whiskeys and some heavy and sweet wines such as, Madeira, port, and sherry, all of which I like, are digestifs. So based on how much I like all of the aforementioned,  I thought the Kumquat version would be perfect. I also had a party coming up and thought it would be fun to try the Kumquat digestif on my friends.

The recipe is from Sunset Magazine, November 2009 and I find it interesting that I had clipped a recipe for a fruit I had never tried and one that I knew to be acidic in taste. Funny how some things happen.

 

Kumquat Digestif

Makes 2 ½ cups

Time About 20 minutes, plus infusing time of at least 3 weeks

½ cup sugar

2 cups vodka

10 kumquats cut in half lengthwise, plus 5 to 6 whole

Several branches fresh thyme

In a medium saucepan, heat sugar with ½ cup water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

Stir in vodka. Pour mixture into a decanter or jar and add kumquats (halves first) and thyme. Chill at least 3 weeks. Serve ice-cold, in shot glasses.

I’d definitely try this again and my guests gave it a “two thumbs up” rating too. The article said that this was good over ice cream too.

A little history: There are several kinds of kumquat, round and oval. The kind I was given was the oval variety. Kumquats come from trees that are native to south Asia and the Asia-Pacific. The earliest historical reference to kumquats appears in Chinese 12th century literature. They were introduced to Europe in 1846 and to North America shortly thereafter. The English name “kumquat” derives from the Cantonese word kam kwat, which translates to “golden orange”.

An interesting article: Here’s an interesting story written in 2008, by Susan Russo for NPR, Kumquats: Discovering the Sweetness of Sour. It contains a lot more information and some tasty sounding recipes.

Winter Squash; The Perfect Side Dish for Thanksgiving

In keeping with my winter squash post from last week, here is another perfect side dish for Thanksgiving.

Butternut Squash with Browned Butter and Thyme

  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, flesh diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add the butter, whisking frequently. Continue to cook the butter. Once melted it will foam up a bit, then subside. Honey-colored browned milk solids will begin to form. The butter should have a wonderful nutty aroma. Remove from heat. Add the thyme, whisking continuously. If using fresh thyme, the mixture will foam up a bit.

(Note that it doesn’t take much time to go from browned butter to burnt butter. You will want to remove the pan from the heat element and place it on a cool surface to help stop the cooking of the butter. If the butter burns, I recommend dumping it and starting over, something I’ve had to do on occasion when not paying close attention.)

2 Add the cubed butternut squash pieces to the pan and return the pan to the burner, heating to medium high. Use a wooden or metal spoon to stir the squash pieces so they are all well coated with the butter thyme mixture. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread the squash pieces out in an even layer and let cook, without stirring, so that they brown a bit on one side (several minutes). Stir and spread the pieces out again and let cook without stirring so more sides get browned.

3 Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and let cook until the squash is tender, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how big you cut the pieces.

Add more salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with a bit more chopped fresh thyme before serving.

Serves 4.

Pick up these ingredients at your local Farmers Market:

• 1 1/2lbs butternut squash

• fresh thyme

This recipe is from Simply Recipes, a blog or personal website, created and maintained by Elise Bauer. It’s a great site. Check it out and enjoy her yummy recipes.