Monthly Archives: January 2009

An Intro into Fermentation : How to Make Kimchi

Making Kimchi
When we were in Kauai, we stopped for breakfast at the Ono Family Restaurant one morning in Kapa’a. In some sort of weak attempt to look like a local, I ordered the Local Girl Omelet. The Local Girl Omelet is not your ordinary omlet, for one it was filled with brown fried rice, but to top it off it was also filled with kimchi. I had never tasted kimchi but I’d heard a lot about it, so of course I had to try it. Kimchi, in case you haven’t heard of it is basically a type of Korean Sauerkraut. But as I found out kimchi is oh, so much more than sauerkraut. The omlet combination was fantastic. I’m not a huge omlet fan. They always are greasy and leave me feeling too full and icky feeling afterwards. But this omlet didn’t leave me feeling that way at all. Maybe we can attribute that to the kimchi. I don’t know. But I do know that that taste of the kimchi…that sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy taste haunted me for weeks afterwards. I wanted more!

Before we had left on our trip I received a copy of Nourishing Traditions from the library, so when we got home I started browsing through it. You can only imagine how happy I was to see a recipe for kimchi in the book and it was so easy to make! And lucky for us, Napa Cabbage everywhere in the Farmers Market right now, so we grabbed head and set home to give this kimchi recipe a go.

If you are used to canning, making kimchi is really going to throw you. Kimchi is made by a process of fermentation. A process that goes so against the process of sterilized canning that it will make you wince a little bit, as did we. You don’t sterilize the jar at all. You don’t boil anything, you don’t use a virgin can lid, you don’t wait for the top to pop. You just put a bunch of cabbage and other vegetables in a jar with some salt and some whey*, pound it down with a spoon handle and let it sit….at room temperature…for days. Are you scared yet? And it may bubble, but that’s okay. And some white film may form at the top (ours didn’t however) and that too is okay. After three days of sitting on your shelf you are ready to eat it and put it in the fridge. I won’t be ashamed to admit that we were a bit scared for our safety to try it. But try it we did and we’ve been adding it to everything now.

Lucky for us we came upon this recipe first because when you really start to research about how kimchi is actually made by the Koreans, the process becomes a lot more involved. So involved that we probably wouldn’t even have attempted it.  But since we haven’t had much kimchi in its pure form, we are happy with our simplified method. What we did learn though that kimchi is one of the most healthy foods in the world! No really, many different people claim that.

The reason it is so good for you is because of all of the good bacteria (lactobacilli) that proliferate when it is fermented. These lactobacilli are found on the surface of all living things but they are especially prolific on the leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. The by product of these lactobacilli is lactic acid which not only preserves vegetables and fruit perfectly, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestines. Kind of like yogurt.

Back through history most cultures used some sort of fermentation to preserve their food. In fact anything that you hear of today as being pickled used to actually be a fermented item before mass production. Once industrialization took place and fermentation started to happen on a grand scale, they found that the results often varied. So they went in and used vinegar instead of letting the fermentation happen naturally and they also had to pasturize it, which like milk, kills all of the beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria.

Luckily fermentation is really easy and fun to do at home. Basically you just put a bunch of vegetables or fruit in a jar, pound them for a few minutes, add in any herbs or spices you like and salt. Salt will preserve the produce until the lactic acid starts to get produced. If you add whey it will just guarantee your results.
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So here is the recipe we used, again from Nourishing Traditions. It calls for Napa Cabbage, but I think on this next go around we might use regular cabbage since we have it growing. I’ll let you know how it goes. And I’m excited to learn about this fermentation method. In fact I might try more fermented or pickled veggies to preserve the summer harvest this year. In fact I might have to add this book to our bookshelf: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

Easy Kimchi
(makes 2 quarts)

1 head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, grated
1/2 cup daidon radish, grated
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 tablespoons whey* (or use additional 1 T salt instead)

Place vegetables, ginger, red chili flakes, salt and whey in a bowl and pound it with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer to release juices. Place them in two quart sized glass jars and press down firmly until all the juices come up to the top and cover the vegetables. The top of the vegetables should be at least an inch from the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days at which time you can put it in the fridge or cold storage.

*You can get whey by draining a quart of yogurt (make sure it contains the good bacteria-we use Pavels) through a clean dishtowel for a few hours. If you do this overnight you’ll end up with more than 4 tablespoons, but it will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. And you’ll also end up with yogurt cheese as a by product, which is delicious and makes a great alternative to cream cheese.

Are you a kimchi fan? Have you ever fermented anything? Do you have any tips for me and my new obsession?

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Onions : All You Need to Know

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We bought our onion sets and got them in the ground this past weekend in between rain showers. I did a whole slew of research about onions this past weekend and thought I’d share what I learned:

The Most Important Thing About Onions
The thing to keep in mind when growing onions is how suitable they are for your growing region. Check in with your local nursery. If they are good, they will only carry onions that grow well in your area. Onions like a determined amount of sunlight each day. Long-day varieties which are suited for the northern latitudes need 14-16 hours of sunlight a day. Short-day varieties need 10-12 hours of sunlight. And Intermediate or Day Neutral need about 12-14 hours. These ‘day-neutral’ varieties can be grown just about anywhere. If your onions are given improper amount of sun they will either bolt too quickly or won’t bulb out at all.

Shelf Life of Onions
Another thing to keep in mind when planting in quantity is thinking about the storage life of your onions. Long-day varieties tend to be the longest keepers, Intermediate-day onions have a moderate shelf life, and short-day onions don’t keep well at all.

Seeds, Sets & Transplants
You can grow onions from seed, sets (small bulbs) or transplants. From our experience, seeds are difficult to get started and transplants are the most expensive option. We usually get sets when they arrive at our nursery in January. We bought 60+ (there were actually more than 60 in our bundle) for $3.99. They are easy to plant and hardly any have died on us.

When to Plant Onions
If you live in a mild-winter area like we do, you can plant seeds in fall through early winter and plant sets anytime in winter. If you live in a cold-weather area, you can start seeds indoors in winter and plant them out as soon as the soil is workable.
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What Onions Like
Onions like most veggies, like loose, rich, well drained soil. They like to be placed about 4-5 inches apart in a sunny location. As you can see above, we put a sheet of metal fencing over our raised bed and plant a set in each square. It is an easy way to get your onions (and garlic) perfectly planted. Since onions are fairly shallow rooted you don’t need to water too deeply, but make sure they get watered frequently.

Onions also like to be well feed, so if you aren’t planting them in a spot where you’ve planted green manure, you want to make sure you feed them regularly with an organic fertilizer or mulch them with grass. The bigger and stronger the plants, the bigger the bulbs.

Good Companions to Onions
After we had filled two full raised beds full of onions sets, we still had a pile of left over onions to contend with. We looked at our favorite book Carrots Love Tomatoes and found that we could interplant our onions with any member of the cabbage family, beets, strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce. But that they do not like peas and beans at all. Now our strawberries are peppered with onion starts. Scott reminded me that we put some in the strawberry bed last year and those onions did the best of all last year. We’ll see how they do this year.

How to Harvest
You’ll know when it is time to harvest your onions when the tops have yellowed and have started to fall over. At that point, pull out your onions and leave them on the ground to dry for severals days in the sun. Use the tops of the plants to shade the bulbs to prevent sunburn. Once the tops have dried completely, pull them off the onion bulb, brush of the dirt and store them in a dark, cool, well ventilated area. For us this means in a box in our laundry room. This room doesn’t receive heat and we rarely turn on the light so it seems to be a good spot.

What Onions We Chose
We chose two varieties, Super Star Onion and Red Candy Apple Onion. The Super Star onion is an intermediate length grower, which means that it isn’t particularly sensitive to how many hours of sunlight it receives, which in turn makes it easy to grow just about anywhere. It is a mild, sweet, large onion (up to 1lb each) and they claim that it tastes good raw. Although ever since my last pregnancy I can’t seem to stand the taste of any kind of raw onion, so we’ll see about that. It should be mature in about 100 days, so let’s see how we do. That would put us right around May 5th. Cinco de Mayo. I’ll report back. Although it looks like last year we pulled most of our onions around July 4th.

Our red variety choice was the Red Candy Apple onion. This also is an intermediate or day neutral in terms of sunlight it receives. The name Red Candy Apple comes from the fact that it is so sweet you can eat it like an apple.

Have you planted your onions yet? Do you have any growing tips to add? What varieties do you want to plant?

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More Edible Weeds

We had a good rain storm in December that brought us some much needed water. And then we had this really freak 80 degree weather in January for about a week. So you can only imagine what that has done to the weeds. They are thriving and ready to take over. So while the far northern half of the country is maybe taking a snowy winters break from working in the garden to admire the many seed catalogs that have been arriving, we have been doing all that we can to avoid being covered alive in weeds. Sometimes it seems like there is no rest here!

Many years ago, Scott and I bought a book called Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. We were inspired to get it after a Labor Day weekend camping trip where we discovered wild huckleberries growing near our campsite. Each morning we had huckleberry pancakes. Ever since we’ve had fun finding new, wild edible plants.

This year we’ve discovered a few more edible weeds in our yard that I’d like to show you.

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Chickweed is a scrawny stemmed annual weed. It falls over when it gets to tall and reroots at the leave joints….You an only imagine how quickly this spreads! Anyway, its very pretty and delicate looking with a dainty white five petaled flower at the top. Chickweed is easily distinguished by a single row of teeny-tiny little hairs that grow along the stem. At each leaf joint the row of hairs switch sides.
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Chickweed is known as one of the tastiest salad greens in existance! Isn’t that bold thing to say? I’ve tried it and it is, in fact, pretty tasty. The entire plant is edible, stems and all and makes a great addition to salads. Which is fortunate because at this point it looks like we could provide all of Sonoma with a weeks supply.
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Filaree is another new discovery. We’ve had it growing in our yard all along, but just now identified it. To be honest, it doesn’t look like something you want to eat. It grows right in the middle of our lawn (along with in the veggie garden). As the stems grow they become really hairy. The kind of hairy that you really don’t want to put in your mouth. But luckily you don’t eat the stems, you eat the tender new leaves. Filaree has small five petaled flowers that are a pinkish-purple color.
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If picked young, the leaves have a parsley like flavor to them which add a nice flavor to salads.

If you like to hike and camp, this is a fun book to have. Even though the title says that it is for the West, it says that at least 50 percent of the plants shown in it appear all over the States and 75% appear from in the northern half the states from California to New England. I’d recommend adding Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West to your collection.

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How Do You View Food?

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fennel & orange salad
Is food comfort to you? Is it a way of nourishing you? Is food art to you? Do you relish in stockpiling what you grow? Do you play at being frugal in how you feed your family? Has food become your outlet in fighting the world’s ills? Chances are you might consider all of these things when you think of food. But have you ever thought of food as medicine?

For as long as I remember, I’ve had an interest in food. As the years progressed so has my interest. My interest in food and eating took a rapid step up after spending time in Italy. How can half a year there not change your interest in food, really? To me, at that point, it was mostly about taste. And about community. And interests of growing food started to take a higher interest. I would spend my quiet days between art classes walking through our University’s Urban Farm thinking and dreaming of a future that I luckily live today. I started taking cooking classes and would attempt to translate Italian cookbooks into evening meals.

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waiting for dinner with a gin & tonic…the ultimate health beverage…right?

During my single days in Larkspur, I lived over a French restaurant. While the sounds and smells of french dining filtered up into my windows I set out to perfect the perfect pork chop and apple tart. I had no real interest in viewing food as a way to save money (although I was always near broke at the time), or a way to save the world. I thought it neat to buy things local from the farmers market, but I didn’t make it priority. I didn’t even have so much as a window sill to grow things, so growing food was just a hope for the future. I just wanted things to taste good. I knew nothing about pasture fed animals and ‘free-range’ turkeys seemed like an outrageously expensive indulgence.

Then I met Scott and my simple interest in food was dwarfed by his devoted passion for it. Little did I know that he was busy cooking down in that same French restaurant. He already had a thriving vegetable garden and would shower me with homegrown succulent fare. But again, for us it was all about the freshest, best tasting food we could find and grow. And sharing food with others was always an important element.

Fast forward to just over a year ago. At that point, I had just read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food and we realized that pasture fed, free range animals weren’t a frivolous thing to eat, but they were important to our health. We learned that buying our produce local and seasonally wasn’t just a ‘neat’ thing to do, but that it made such a difference in our world’s future when we didn’t. So food became a little bit more about health as well as a bit more about foods impact for our environment.

My poor baby has asthma!
the evil (yet helpful) asthma medication
At the same time our oldest son at age 3 was diagnosed with asthma. I don’t know if your children have asthma or if you know anyone with childhood asthma, but it is a scary thing to face as a parent. We were faced with having to give him regular inhilations of steroids through this very intimidating face mask. He would cry bloody murder out of fear of that mask anytime we approached him with it. Which only made me even more unsettled about what we had to go through. So I did as any mom searching for a better solution would do and I ordered the book, Natural Relief for Your Child’s Asthma: A Guide to Controlling Symptoms & Reducing Your Child’s Dependence on Drugs. And that made me think about food in an entirely new light. Food really could heal you. We’ve made small changes in his diet and environment that have helped control his asthma enough that we’ve been off the daily Flovent since the beginning of last summer.

You may remember my post on raw milk last month. That post was inspired by my recent reading as well as the reading I’ve done about asthma, allergies and excema. I’ve been doing some additional reading that talks about food as medicine which I can’t wait to share. But before I do, what is your take on food? How do you view food? If thinking about this provides enough fodder for your own blog post, add your link to the comments and I’ll add your link up here so we can all read it.

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All About Cover Crops

Cover Crop
While we were on our vacation, Sunshine Through The Windows asked about when the right time to plant cover crops is. I thought I’d take the opportunity to make that small question into a post all about cover crops, if you don’t mind.

Cover crops (also known as green manure) are fantastic ways to enrich your soil. In fact they’ve helped to improve our soil dramatically over the years. Cover crops are a crop that you plant in the off season that works while you rest. Their roots help to break up hard soil and aerate it while also imparting nitrogen into your soil. You can see the nitrogen on our last years cover crop of favas and vetch here. In the spring you cut or mow down the crop leaving the roots in the soil. You can then gently till the soil to spread around the nitrogen and other nutrients the roots provide. As for the tops of the plants, they are a welcome addition to your compost pile that will help amend your soil also.

There are all sorts of cover crops that you can grow, favas, field peas, vetch, buckwheat etc. This year we went with a variety cover crop seed mix that our local nursery pointed us too. Normally, in our non snowy climate, it’s best to plant this in fall. However time escaped us this year and we didn’t get to it until December. If you live in a snowy area, you can plant this first thing in spring and mow it down in summer when your tomatoes and peppers are ready to plant out.

If you’d like to read more about cover crops and overall soil health, I can’t recommend the book Secrets to Great Soil (Storey’s Gardening Skills Illustrated) enough. We refer to this book over and over again.

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Citrus Week: Kafir Lime

Kafir Lime
Are you a thai curry addict? Curry nights are one of my favorites in our house and Scott makes a great one. But when Scott said that he wanted to buy an entire Kafir Lime tree just to make our curries better, I thought that maybe that was a little excessive. Did we really need and entire tree to make an occassional dinner better? However a good nursery sale and the promise of it being a small evergreen patio tree was enough to convince me, so we are now the owners of a kafir lime tree.

While the actual kafir limes are used for their zest, the juice of the bumpy skinned limes is generally ignored. The covetous part of this tree is the leaves which are added to curries to bring an incredible flavor and aroma. I read recently that often in Thailand one tree was plenty to supply an entire town with leaves for their meals. Soon we will be able to supply the greater Sonoma area with leaves. If you live in town or come for a visit, let us know and we’ll share the supply.

That wraps up Citrus Week for us. What citrus do you have growing in your garden?

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Citrus Week: Navel Oranges

Orange
When we first toured this house five and a half years ago we realized quickly that it fit everything on our ‘must have’ house list. Including a big yard. And just to make the icing on the cake a little sweeter we found an apple, pear, and orange tree. Well, honestly saying ‘orange tree’ is really an exaggeration. It was more of a newly planted orange stick. For years it remained an orange stick with maybe only an inch or two of growth gained per year. It would blossom and fill the yard with it’s sweet scent, but we never had any oranges before. Until we read about how heavily they needed feeding. They have a voracious appetite for nitrogen, so we decided to be good citrus parents and feed it, along with the meyer lemon, with Dr. Earths Organic Citrus Fertilizer. Two years later it’s grown about three times its original size and has probably about a half a dozen oranges on it. Which is about twice as many as we got last year. Six oranges, is just about enough for a batch of marmalade, which has been my passion for a few years now. Frog Hollow, found at the San Francisco Farmers Market is my all time favorite.

Navel Orange trees can get pretty big, which is fine in my book. I wouldn’t mind a huge orange tree in the spot that it is in. However while they are frost tender when young. So while they are small enough, it’s a good idea to throw a blanket over them when the weatherman warns of a freeze. Or you can just look around as you drive through town at the neighboors citrus trees. Come December (in our town) you might notice all sorts of odd blankets and sheets strewn across people yards.

Do you have an orange tree? What do you do with the bounty?

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Nectarine Blossom

Nectarine Bloom
I just wanted to interrupt Citrus Week for a moment to show you what is now blooming on our mantle. A beautiful nectarine blossom. As if this odd 70 degree weather isn’t a reminder, this blossom let’s us know that while we are in the heart of January now, spring will soon be on it’s way.

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Citrus Week: Meyer Lemons

Lemon
Well we reluctantly came from Hawaii and while we miss our exotic tropical fruit searches, at least we came home to some ripe citrus fruit in our garden. Since it has been a while since we’ve spent a week in the garden, do you mind joining me out there for a while to look at the citrus? Just before we left the Meyer Lemons turned yellow and now we are meyer lemon heaven. Have you had a meyer lemon before? They are a cross between a true lemon and a mandarine orange which makes their peel smoother and their taste sweeter. Once you try one, it’s hard to turn back. We use them for everything, in baking, for lemonade, and even in our sandwiches below…

As for the tree themselves, they are a compact dwarf tree, so they are easy to fit into a small yard and if it gets too cold where you live (while they are hardy they are still frost tender) you can bring them indoors during winter as a house plant. If you live in a moderate climate, like we do, where freezes are occassional, they are fine left outside. Just throw a sheet or blanket over them when the temperature dips past freezing. Plant them in a sunny location and put them close to a walking path or patio. The scent of their blooms is intoxicating. As with most citrus, they are heavy feeders so make sure you invest in some organic citrus fertilizer.

Meyer lemon trees are grafted onto grapefruit tree rootstock, so make sure to check that you aren’t getting grapefruit limbs growing below the graft. The winter of 2002/2003 was a cold one and our tree was damaged right down to the graft. Without realizing it we let the grapefruit branches grow with wild abandoned and ended up with huge tasteless grapefruits. You will know that they are grapefruit and not lemon branches by the fact that they will have wicked spikes on them. Lemon branches do not have spikes on them.

Salami, Arugula & Lemon Sandwich
For you who are already meyer lemon afficianados, have you ever tried one in your sandwich? (This one was made for you Katrina) Not only will it redefine sandwich making in your world, but it will redefine what you can do with meyer lemons in your cooking. This Salami, Arugula and Meyer Lemon Sandwich is to die for.
Lemon Sandwich
Slice your meyer lemon as thin as your knife skills will allow, peel and all. Layer on toasted sandwich bread (or crusty sliced french bread) along with mayonnaise (or garlic aoili if you are really fancy), garden fresh arugula, and your favorite salami. I promise you that the lemon slices won’t be bitter at all. It will add a fresh, juicy element to each bite. You are going to love it.

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Fruitstands in Kauai

fruit of hawaii

Aloha! I was going to wait until we returned to write a post, but at this point we really don’t want to ever return. We’re ready to ‘go bamboo’ up in Hanalei Bay. Up on there, on the north side of Kauai it is so beautiful that it starts to be a little ridiculous. Really. It is so lush and green with majestic mountains and picturesque beaches. So if you don’t hear from us for a while, you’ll find us up there, probably in front of Java Kai’s or across the street eating fish tacos with an umbrella clad drink. Or maybe just laying on the beach. Although, I suppose living in paradise would get old..at least that’s what I tell myself when flashes of reality come back to us.

hanelei bay

Meanwhile, let me show you this incredible fruit we’ve been finding. I underestimated Hawaii a lot. I just always thought of Hawaii as resorts and beaches and coconuts, pineapples leis and luau’s. I didn’t realize how rich and interesting the culture is. It’s like visiting a completely different country in some respects. Nor did I realize how friendly the natives would be. And I really didn’t think that we would discover the little works of natural art that we’d find at roadside stands.

Our first find was bananas. We have a Safeway across the street from us and on our first morning we ventured over to fill up our kitchen. We found regular bananas, the kind we all have at our market, from Equador. And then we found these smaller fatter bananas, called apple bananas. They are creamier have a slightly peachy color when you bite in and do have a bit of an apple taste to them. From that first realization, that there was a whole new world of fruit awaiting us, we’ve become a couple obsessed. When we aren’t sipping frosty drinks, logging in hours in the water, or driving off to another adventure, we are hitting the car breaks to find all sorts of little roadside markets and trucks with odd fruit spilling out the back.

Kauai Roadside Stand

The oranges here are not really orange. They are ugly and heavy….and juicy and the sweetest that you’ve ever had. The avocados are insanely huge. The papayas and starfruit actually have flavor  unlike what you find at the grocery store.

rambutan

And then there are these things called Rambutans. Unbelievable. Apparently they are widely cultivated in the tropics. And I guess it makes sense that I’ve never heard of them since I’ve never been to the tropics. But oh my. They are golf ball sized and red, with soft, thin spikes. And they smell like lilies. Then you open them up and inside is a lychee like fruit – like a peeled grape. But it tastes like a sweet flower. If you ever run across one, do try it. We are captivated by them.

Langdons

Then there are Longans or Dragon’s Eyes. Kind of like rambutans, because you peel them and are left with a lychee/eyeball kind of fruit. But these are small and brown and the flavor is much more intense.

So as you can see, between these wonderful finds and all the fresh fish we’ve been having, the eating has been good. In fact everything has been good. And I’m quite sure that I might actually shed a tear or two upon getting back into that plane. But in the meantime, we’ve got more beach walking to do. I hope you had a Happy New Years friends.

hawaii-0101

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