Monthly Archives: August 2011

a weekend of relaxation

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It was my birthday this past weekend. It was one of those birthdays with a 5 at the end of it, which means I’m halfway to an age with a 0 at the end of it. Oy! To compensate for my slight grumpiness about the whole age thing, we spent most of the weekend relaxing, sitting and eating. We knew we had been working hard the past handful of months, but you don’t really realize how hard until you finally sit down. We drove out to one of my favorite places, Point Reyes Station and took in lunch at the Station House Cafe, which has one of the most lovely courtyards around. I always leave that town inspired to garden and make our yard a better place.
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After a few hours spent browsing through the bookstore, shops, bakery, farmers market and lunch we headed up the coast to Hog Island for a bag of clams and came home to our first dinner outside. We finally got the back deck in a state that we could heave our heavy table up onto it and with a weekend sale on umbrellas at the hardware store, we’ve been all set for dining alfresco!
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(the above pictures crack me up a bit, I’ve worked so long in the wine industry choosing lifestyle shots for marketing, that I feel like I’ve become my work!)
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Afterwards we did some more apple & pear picking for yet more cider. Taking a full weekend to enjoy life and our surroundings was such a pleasure and a great reminder that we need to do that more often!

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Filed under Life in Sonoma

on making apple cider

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Tonight we made some more cider and tonight I brought my camera out with us. First, it starts with a huge amount of apples. As we were sitting together chopping apples into quarters and taking out any worms we saw, we remarked that the only way you’d be able to afford to make cider is if you had your own apples trees, because it takes a lot of apples to make cider! To buy apples for this endeavour would cost a fortune!
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When I began researching apple presses I had narrowed it down to two, one from Happy Valley Cider Presses and the one we got from Pleasant Hill Grain (we got the MacIntosh press). There aren’t many reviews of apple cider presses out there, so we had to go on educated guesses and personal preferences. We in the end decided on the mostly metal construction with the oak tub, rather than the all pine construction. In hopes that we will live in this house forever, that means pressing a lot of cider and all metal construction seems more durable than pine. It was a little more expensive in the end, but I’m happy with our decision. This model came with a separate grinder, whereas the Happy Valley press came with a grinder that emptied straight into the tub, which I kind of liked the idea of, honestly. No worries though, this doesn’t seem to slow us down.
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After quartering the apples, you send them through the grinder so that the press can extract the most juice as possible.
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Then you place the grinds into a mesh bag which sits in the press and away you crank. What we also liked about this press is that the entire red metal top, folds down so that you can easily clean the tub and take the fruit in and out easily.
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Isn’t the press beautiful? The grinder too, I think. There is something about well made, quality constructed, simple things that I find so beautiful. I want to put this press on a table for display.
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Pressing cider is certainly a group effort. While one person presses, another person has to hold the jug to fill. This year I feel, we are just getting used to this contraption, what it can do, how the juice tastes, what different things we can press. Next year I want to host a cider pressing party.
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Because like I said, you need an amazing amount of apples to make a small amount of cider, so we need all the help we can get! We’ve filled a few bottles for the freezer too. What fun! I doubt our family is immune to the stresses that every other family feels. We too worry about all sorts of things that other people are worrying about in this day and age, we get frusterated with our kids and each other. But there are times when we get to do something like this, that slows us down and makes us appreciate simple things, like cider, solid construction, each others company, and adds a little richness to our every day. And sometimes I think that’s what it’s all about. Adding that bit of beauty and richness into our daily lives, that makes it all worth living for. Cheers!

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Filed under fruit trees, preserving

let the children play :: in the garden

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Recently I came across the blog let the children play. I’ve enjoyed seeing their ideas of children playing outside, but I hadn’t really taken any specific actions to set up play areas in our new yard. Basically I let the boys find their own spots to play and let them create their own worlds. Recently they found a wide patch of dirt, conveniently within easy site of the kitchen window, so I could safely watch them play. At first they used it as a sandbox of sorts then the other week they suddenly turned their casual dirt/truck spot into a place of hard work. They spent days out there, all day long, hard at play. Running to go get shovels, then water, then bricks. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing, but I let them play uninterrupted as best I could.
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Finally after two or three days they were ready for their big reveal, a gardenia garden! They had planted both gardenias they’d rescued from our old house and brought over, with gardenias that needed rescuing here and planted them all together with brick lined paths. Each plant is decorated with feathers, rocks and well, dump trucks of course. Landscape gardeners or not, boys will be boys.
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Filed under Uncategorized

oh the glorious bounty

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Oh the glorious bounty that summer has brought us in this new house. Overwhelmed with apples and pears we made an investment in a cider press. It arrived late last week and we patiently kept it boxed up until some friends arrived on Sunday to help us set it up and put it into production. With three adults and four children we picked and ground and pressed those apples into the most incredible cider. After years of coveting a cider press, I was all too excited to get going to bring out the camera, but there will be more pressings soon and those I will document. Meanwhile we have also been researching making hard cider. We have three pear trees that are loaded and there are only so many cans of pears you need over a year! We look forward to trying our luck at hard pear cider.
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The blackberries get picked a container at a time as I find a few minutes between chores. Some are being made into jam, others frozen on cookie sheets and transfered to ziplocks to throw into winter oatmeal.

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The peaches are just starting to ripen. These peaches are much different from what we had before. They are smaller, denser and even more flavorful. Tomorrow morning, expect to find me in the kitchen making peach fruit roll ups.

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Our patch of tomatoes are growing slowly but surely as are our rows of melons below.
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Also growing is our little girl, 11 months now. How time flies. (This is how we looked one year ago.) She now has become privy to the apples. A typical morning finds me wandering around the garden, her on my hip and a freshly picked apple in my other hand. She now leans all the way forward for bites as we walk along. Sweet little thing.

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I have so many exciting things to share with you in the coming weeks. New lotion experiments, a book giveaway, and new kitchen experiments. Stay tuned!

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Filed under state of the garden

Fog, Fruit Rollups & Peach Juice

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately. A lot of time outside too, but I haven’t been taking many pictures outside. My favorite time to take garden pictures is early morning, when the kids are still asleep and the first light hits the plants. The past 6 weeks or so it has been foggy just about every morning. Not that I’m complaining, it’s our natural air conditioner, it’s just not very helpful when you like to take pictures outside as everything just looks sort of ‘flat’.
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So instead I’ll keep you inside until the fog lifts. I made yogurt cheese out of some homemade yogurt that went terribly wrong. Do you make your own yogurt? I find it terribly fussy to make, the whole heating up to a certain temperature then cooling off to another temperature then getting it to sit at the right temperature for 8 hours. I just haven’t had much success either with my patience or with my yogurt. However I found that straining out the whey to use for fermentation experiments makes a good cheese that is perfect between a cracker and some homemade pepper jelly (one of my favorite snacks).
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Recently there was a big rummage/tag/thrift sale in town and I picked up this little beauty, the Juice King. I do believe that it was originally intended for oranges, but it juices peaches like a champ!
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Realizing that school is going to begin in one short month and that I’ll now have to prepare two lunches everyday, I’ve been making a whole slew of homemade fruit roll ups. We have an beautiful old workhorse of a stove that always runs warm. The oven temperature always is at about 120 degrees. Probably not the best for our utility bill, however great for drying! I’ve found that 15 plums makes two cookie trays worth of roll ups. I just make up the puree, spread it on the cookie sheet and stick in the oven and check on it every handful of hours. Easy!
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And if you cut them about an inch thick, you end up with 20 roll ups (the end cuts are for the chef). A big tip I discovered this time around is to brush the parchment paper with olive oil first to make for easier peeling!
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(this batch was a little too thick, I used 20 plums) I’ve read that homemade fruit leather last about a month unrefridgerated but lasts about a year in the freezer, so into the freezer they went, to be used in winter when there isn’t any fresh fruit to be found. School mornings can be so hectic I find great comfort in knowing that at least one component of their lunch is all ready to be popped into their lunchbox.
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And oh yes, what Sunday morning wouldn’t be complete without peach cobbler (it’s breakfast food right???).

I hope you are all well and enjoying this summer!

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Filed under in the kitchen

Fresh Blackberry Bars : a recipe to try

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I was on the fence the other evening about typing out the recipe for these blackberry bars. I never know when it’s okay to share someone else’s recipe or not. However after thinking about it, my eagerness for you to try them, and my annoyance for having to sign up in order to get the recipe through the link I provided, spurred me to share the recipe. Plus I changed it up a little from the original, so I think it’s okay to share.

That said, you must try these! There is something about the goat cheese/shortbread/berry/lime combo that was so good to me. They are rich so cut them on the smallish side and share, otherwise you can borrow my 20+lb baby to put on your back and shovel mushroom compost too to work it off. Who needs the gym?

Fresh Blackberry Bars

1 c. butter, cut into chunks
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 c. flour
3/4 c. blackberry jam
2 c. fresh blackberries
4 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. goat cheese (or cream cheese if you don’t have goat cheese on hand)
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. flour
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime
1/2 t. vanilla

In a large bowl beat the butter until soft, then add sugar and salt just until incorporated. Add flour and mix until it forms a dough. Press dough into a 13″ x 9″ pan lined with foil. Bake for 20 minutes @ 350 degrees. Cool for about 5 minutes.

Spread jam over freshly baked shortbread and then sprinkle evenly with fresh blackberries. Set aside.

Beat together cream cheese and goat cheese in a large bowl. When well mixed, add in sugar and 1 T. of flour until blended. Slowly add egg, egg yolk, lime zest, lime juice and vanilla, mix until smooth. Pour evenly over berries & shortbread. Bake @ 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Let cool for one hour on wire rack, then chill in the fridge for 2 hours. Pull the bars out of the pan with the help of the foil onto a cutting board. Cut into squares and peel off foil on bottom. Enjoy! (try not to eat too many all at once!)
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(we have a peacock as a neighbor, he’s been leaving us gifts and he walks around our yard)

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Filed under in the kitchen, recipes

The Harvest Begins

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I got the camera back out today, it’s been in hibernation for a while. Things have finally gotten to the point in this cool summer where we are starting to drown in ripe fruit. We have felt this every summer, however we got used to the size of the bounty of our harvest in our old garden. In this one, it’s a whole new ball game! The blackberries started ripening last week, yesterday Scott walked in with the first three ripe pears, we’ve been slowly picking ripe gravensteins off the tree for a couple of weeks now knowing we’d be bombarded soon, and today I walked out and the entire santa rosa plum tree is ripe! Where do we even start?

How about we start at blackberry bars? So divine. I used this recipe (follow the link for Fresh Raspberry Bars) only I used blackberries and lime rather than lemon. I found them to be ridiculously good. That recipe is a keeper!
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While typically Scott is the canner in our family, I have been watching him for so many years and helped out often enough that I have canned two batches of blackberry jam completely without help. It’s a great feeling to master a task that seems so overwhelming and hard. It’s really quite easy.
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After keeping a tight budget and only spending on necessary house related expenses, we splurged on something ‘fun’ and had 5 yards of mushroom compost delivered last weekend. We swear by this smelly stuff. We’ve gotten into the habit of getting a few yards delivered every couple of years to boost our usual compost efforts and our garden has thrived on it. It’s been a family effort to spread this around the roses, the fruit trees, some of the flower beds and the back lawn. Scott’s been filling wheelbarrows of it, the boys have been filling red radio wagon loads full and with the baby girl tied on my back, I’ve been taking shovel full by shovel full to the front flower beds. The soil in this area is much different from our last house, it’s much more clay-like as opposed to our old house. It takes great effort to take shovel to ground here when the ground is dry, however I think this soil might hold nutrients better than at our old garden. We worked hard to get our old soil to retain moisture and nutrients, here, I think we might be trying to get better drainage. Funny what three little miles can do to the soil. Our hope in adding the compost is that by layering it over the dirt it acts as a mulch, adds even more nutrients, and lightens the soil so it drains properly and is easier to work.
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A few interesting links I wanted to share:

This was a brand new idea to me, can you be vegan and be a gardener at the same time? Interesting to think about.

Inspiring post to read if you have a dream in mind.

What I’m thinking of making with at least a portion of those plums. Our family has a complete addiction to pot stickers, one of our only processed food vices, at least this sauce might make that meal a bit healthier.

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Filed under in the kitchen, just picked