Our friends moved from San Francisco (urban) south to about 10 minutes from where my husband and I live (suburban). Whenever they bemoan the fact that they are no longer urban dwellers I point out all the wonderful things about living where we do. Like having a backyard! With sun in the summer (it’s fog in SF during summers)!
Walking around the yard that my husband and I enjoy year round, noticing things in bloom, I feel happiness. I would be hard pressed to give that up for city street noise and summer fog. And in the other extreme direction, would the smell of cows on the wind and sharing the road with tractors be an improvement over the suburbs? For now I’ll stick with our suburban yard which means fences and a house in most shots of what’s in bloom because I have a little of both worlds. Above, my grapes– fruit varietals not wine varietals — look like they are doing great on the trellis I built and moved this one to.
The asparagus has done its thing but still doesn’t get very thick. I’ve let it go to fern so it’s strong for next year. Every year it seems to produce a little more.
All the roses are starting to bloom. This remains one of my favorites but I say that about more than one of them.
The irises that bloomed for the first time last year despite always being in the garden have bloomed again and I believe there might even be more of them? It’s very exciting because these purple ones still smell like “fake grape” to me.
I let the front little garden get purposely overrun by California poppies which look nice around the irises. It’s great spring filler and then once some of the other flowers start showing up the poppies can easily be pulled out but will still come back!
It may not be a big ol’ plot of land on a farm, it’s certainly not an urban garden, but I like it. I squeeze in everything I can into my garden and Spring sure does make me happy here. How about you?
If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh artichokes now is the time to get these thistles. Spring is the official season for artichokes and with farmers’ markets full of them, it’s good to know how to quickly cook them for a weeknight dinner without having to boil a pot of water or turning on the oven.
How do you pick the best artichoke at the market? Look for ones with the petals (these are flower buds, you know) that haven’t opened much and listen for squeaking when you give them a gentle squeeze. This applies for any size of artichoke, the ones you see here would qualify as large. Medium to large artichokes are some of the best for steaming. With luck you will find artichokes with some stem like these which is great because the stem is edible and similar in texture to the artichoke heart.
Before starting, prepare a microwave-safe dish — I use a glass one– with about 1/2-inch of water with a dash of lemon juice or white vinegar. Artichokes will oxidize and the acid will prevent them from turning brown. Also don’t forget to give these flower buds a rinse! They are from the outdoors and it’s best to rinse them of any contaminants (mine obviously had a visit from a birdy…).
If you’ve ever worked with fresh artichokes you know they have little thorns so use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the tips of the petals off. The top of the bud doesn’t need to be trimmed because you will be cutting off the top inch or so.
Don’t throw away that stem! Pull off any small leaves, slice off the old cut end and then use a pairing knife or vegetable peeler to peel the stem.
When you have peeled the stem, roll it around a bit in your prepared water to keep it from coloring. I’m only preparing two artichokes here but this method would apply to as many as you need to prepare (think bigger glass casserole dish!). Keep the water in the dish and cover with plastic wrap.
For two large artichokes, start with 10 minutes in the microwave and then check them for doneness. Time should be about 10-13 minutes depending on your microwave. Add time for more artichokes. CAREFULLY pull back the plastic wrap (there’s hot steam under there!) and use a fork or paring knife to poke gently, if it easily slides into the flesh, it’s done. If there’s resistance, recover and return to the microwave for a few minutes.
To clean the thistle out of the artichoke, turn them on their base and remember there’s still steam in there so they are HOT. Be careful. Let them cool a little if possible. Then 1) gently “open” the choke, 2) pull out the center smallest petals which still have spikes at which point 3) you should see purple petals which you 4) should use a spoon to gently scrape out including the little hairy bits.
If you’re feeling fancy these can be filled with a dipping sauce (like aioli or mayonnaise if you’re feeling lazy) or at this point you can put them on the grill, petal side down, for some extra flavor and char.
My husband and I enjoyed them as is with dipping sauce on the side. I mixed crushed garlic, fresh lemon juice, mayonnaise, kosher salt and harissa infused olive oil to make a dipping sauce. Melted salted butter, plain olive oil or a vinaigrette would also be great as a dipping sauce.
For those unacquainted with eating these, you simply pull off a petal and use your bottom teeth to scrape off some of the soft flesh. As you make your way to the more tender petals there’s more and more of the soft flesh to enjoy before you get the always wonderful artichoke heart.
Every holiday, whether fabricated or not (I’m looking at you, Valentine’s Day), is a good excuse to make sure your cherished ones know how important they are to you. Not that we need an excuse, but hey, if it includes an excuse to eat candy– which we do need an excuse for– then it’s just frosting on my cake. Which brings us to Easter, a day that meant a lot more to me as a child when I took pleasure in Easter egg hunts and wearing a new spring dress than it does as an adult when I don’t even get a day off from work for it.
If memory serves, since I’m not seeing that I wrote about it on the blog at all, I’ve hosted maybe two or three Easter brunches in years past. Family and some friends have convened over ham, brunch food and chocolate eggs because it somehow seems strange to ignore Easter. Which is exactly what I wad going to do this year. Our dishwasher (you know, the one that is only two years old from our kitchen remodel!?) is broken so I said, “No hosting since we can’t do dishes.” But then everyone kept asking, “Sooooo…. are you hosting Easter?” And I finally gave in with my husband’s permission. But, you all get paper plates and plastic utensils!
And since of course it’s me, we didn’t just end up with a small Easter gathering but a group of 10 to be hosted. That’s about the size of a Thanksgiving for us which I spend weeks thinking about. However, we decided to do this gathering with only about three days notice! Luckily, everyone volunteered to bring brunch dishes and I simply made a ham, a chicken in the slow cooker (thanks, Pinterest!) and baked some bread the day before. Easy peasy.
One Polish tradition that I have been forgetting to do for a while is breaking the “Christmas wafer” or in Polish, “oplatki,” before our meal. I distinctly remember doing this before dinner at my grandma’s house and at my great uncle’s home for Christmas and Easter each year. Everyone gets a small piece of the wafer and then goes around and breaks it with everyone else. Then we say a prayer and eat it. From Wikipedia:
Breaking off and exchanging part of opłatek with someone is symbol of forgiveness between two people and is meant to remind participants of the importance of Christmas, God, and family.
In our family we did it for the big holidays (Thanksgiving too? I can’t remember!) and it was a nice way to mingle with family. I haven’t done this in years and years and though this stuff is a big mouthful of cardboard (flour and water) it brought back memories of when I was little as soon as I tasted it on Sunday. I may have to hunt down more and keep this tradition.
Hosting a sit-down meal on the fly for 10 makes me think I’m going to have challenge myself to a bigger gathering for the next Thanksgiving! I’m glad we were able to have everyone join us and we had a beautiful meal with ones who I’m happy are part of our lives. I was also happy my sister and I were able to introduce everyone to a Polish tradition we value.
Do you have any holiday traditions that you celebrate on Easter or another holiday?
Is there any better time of year than when spring shows up with budding leaves and blossoms? Sure, fall brings us lovely foliage and summer brings sun and my beloved tomatoes while winter brings… cold? But I think spring takes the cake for most exiting season. Heck, if you’re not in California spring is still surprising you with snow!
This past weekend my husband and I joined family and friends for an annual trip to California’s Gold Country and the first signs of the season were coming into full bloom everywhere. Starting March 15th, a local attraction opens up, Daffodil Hill, and we ventured out to Volcano, CA to experience 10 different types of the flower.
Generally each type of daffodil was planted in a section of its own but there were a few sneaky outliers. Of course there were some of the standard flowers you see normally (like the yellow ones that live at our house) but there were a few varieties I had never seen before like this cream one with a sunset colored cup!
It was still a little early to see absolutely all the flowers in bloom but there were enough of each type that we could see all the varieties. I also was impressed with some extra large yellow on yellow flowers that were really the size of a cup and saucer. Should have seen if I could have taken some of those home!
The one below is an interesting variety that had multiple blossoms on one stem!
Plenty of daffodils to take in and enjoy. A perfect way to take in a little spring on a sunny but still slightly chilly morning.
Of course there were also some photo ops requiring our significant others to take pictures of the women folk. I call this, “Four Cameras, Four Men.”
Back at my homestead I’ve been enjoying the freesia blooms from the bulbs my grandma gave me! This is one of my favorite bulb flowers because they smell amazing and these ones are the most vibrant fuschia. they are sprouting alongside reddish orange giant poppies and red nasturtium right now so it’s quite the site. While I love having the flowers outside, I had to bring a little branch inside and our living room smelled lovely.
There are still things that surprise me in my relatively tiny garden. Salamander/newts in the garden? Commonplace now. Pumpkins cracking on their own and rotting? It’s happened a few times. Pound and a half tomatoes? Duh. But this was a new first.
Uhhhh… what is that!?
I spent Sunday cleaning out the gardens– and gathered over six pounds more of usable tomatoes!– pulling out tomato plants, pumpkin plants, zucchini plants that were all past their growing prime and called the season officially done until I start seeds in February. The same pumpkin plant that grew a gorgeous, massive 20-plus pound pumpkin for my Thanksgiving table also covered just about everything in its path in my side yard including several rose bushes and a very old looking fuschia plant. And what you see above is the result of a pumpkin plant covering an already somewhat sad looking plant that otherwise grows beautiful flowers (and normal leaves) like this only a few months prior:
After calling in Ghostbusters and establishing that it wasn’t going to hurt me, I lopped the gross parts off and am thinking it might be time to do some transplanting if possible of the fuschia and roses back there so the pumpkin destruction is reduced next year. And if this fuschia doesn’t make the transplant, at least I put an end to it’s weird mutant misery.
Anyone every successfully transplant old roses or fuschias? Or catch one trying to grow it’s own body our of green furry leafiness?
The month of November flew by but somewhere in there the husband and I hosted nine friends and family members for our second annual Thanksgiving feast!
Last year we laid the table (which was two tables pushed together and surrounded with every chair we had) for 11 people with drop clothes, silver, crystal and cloth napkins. Between that dinner and this year’s, my grandma gave me two beautiful linen tablecloths that were my great-grandmother’s. Naturally it was worth breaking out the nice linen to lay under my other great-grandma’s silver and my hand-me-down crystal (which may have been yet another great-grandma’s).
Even with two less people our standard dining table would not have fit everyone and while I debated buying an eight-foot banquet table to keep, we ended up renting a table, chairs and a green linen to go under my great-grandmother’s. It was well worth the very minimal rental fee and my husband and father just had to pick everything up and drop it off. Worked great!
My grandmother said that this linen was custom monogrammed in Chicago for my grandfather’s mother. There are also matching napkins that I have but there was only so much dry cleaning I was ready to commit to. With such lovely silverware, glassware and linens being used, I kept everything on the table to a minimum and took things from my garden.
Centerpieces were mason jars with the garden’s straggling roses and kale. My pumpkins made an appearance and even my giant French muscat pumpkin was finally picked as a beautiful centerpiece! It doesn’t look terribly crazy but it weighed in at over 22 pounds!!! Quite the show piece and I’m very proud of it.
The grape vines in our backyard do turn fall colors so I made use of a few large leaves with more roses.
We serve the food buffet style in our home because even if I hadn’t put anything on the table it would have been a tight fit with all the dishes we had!
After setting the table it became crunch time in the kitchen where my spatchcocked turkey was cooking and I was finishing up some last minute side dishes. My dad got some pictures but I haven’t seen them yet!
I’m so thankful that I was able to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my loved ones and that I have been entrusted with pieces of history from my family. I cherish the loved heirlooms from my ancestors and look forward to enjoying them for years to come.
Before leaving for vacation my husband and I asked the neighbor to come water the plants occasionally. As we were walking through our narrow side yard (which you can see was taken over by tomatoes last year, too) which is turning into a forest of food (in a really small space) my neighbor asked, “What is in your soil!? These tomato plants are huge!” The answer is: nothing special. Vegetables just seem to love this part of our yard and except for a little manure, compost and a sprinkle of fertilizer I try and remember to water occasionally and the tomatoes keep growing and monster zucchinis appear. Which leads me to believe it’s location, location, location. Not what’s in the dirt.
I’m obsessed with pumpkins, and I don’t want to jinx myself, but after having a failed pumpkin last year which started growing way too late in the season, I think I finally have a promising squash here. At least I think it’s a pumpkin. This is another one of my mystery squash/melon plants where I threw seeds in a pot and planted what sprouted.
It may still be too early to tell, but I’m hoping this is one of my fancy French pumpkins also known at Musque de Provence Pumpkin. This is really the pumpkin I am eager to get to grow due to it’s beautiful reddish orange flesh and sweet flavor. Come to mama!
Dinner last night included a big salad with lettuce and green beans from the garden and zucchini from the garden with pasta and a sprinkle of basil from the garden. It’s my favorite time of year when I can make most of a dinner from the garden I’ve been tending for the last few months.
What are you harvesting? Do you have magic soil or a magic location somewhere in your yard/growing plot?
In mid-March I started heirloom tomato seedlings in an egg carton and they are now flowering. Last night for dinner I went out to my raised garden bed and gathered enough lettuce for a nice salad. And there was a surprise showing by squash plants (pumpkins!?) that sprouted from new seeds after I killed my first round of squash egg carton seedlings so they are now happily situated in small area of dirt on our side yard. The peas from my spring garden came out last weekend to make room for summer peppers. The vegetable bounty is so close now I can taste it.
Have you started harvesting anything from your summer garden yet? Is your spring planting still going strong?
Today I am taking a break from my usual Farmer Friday post to admit that I’ve been so crazy busy this month (having fun) that I’ve been neglecting the blog a little (but there are still projects going on, I just have to finish and post them!). But what’s a good blog post without some pictures!? I’ve become keen on Instagram this month so I figured I’d show what I’ve been up to but hasn’t shown up on the blog in May with some phone pictures, most of which made it to Instagram.
The first weekend of the month my husband was in a 200-mile relay on a team with 11 other people to support a charity called Organs ‘R’ Us. I woke up well before sunrise with him to head to San Francisco and drop him off at the van (that’s another non-running spouse in the picture below).
As I was driving myself back home and expecting to get into bed I realized that I was going to be able to see the sun rise (a rare event for me!) and started kicking myself for not having my good camera. I raced to a little hill in a park by our house to take some phone pictures anyhow.
It was one of the most beautiful things I had seen in a long time. And as it turns out, was the first of two sunrises I saw in May! But since it was Cinco de
Drinko Mayo I went back to bed, ran some errands, and then met up with my lady friend’s spouse to celebrate.
Oh and a few beers, naturally. I may be wearing a light up Cuervo necklace but for the record, I have strong feelings about never drinking tequila again. Noooo thank you. Later that weekend we not only saw our runners but met them at the finish line the following day (yes the race is two days!).
The next weekend was Mother’s Day and my mom came to visit my sister and I in Northern California. I did a bunch of cooking of magnificent things and we also went to Filoli Gardens on Mother’s Day to enjoy the flowers and gardens.
That’s my mom above with a very large orchid. I made dinner for us one night with a strawberry and rhubarb cobbler (it was super good) and brunch for Mother’s Day which included a quinoa salad with asparagus, a kale and chorizo quiche, strawberries, banana chocolate chip muffins and kalamata olive bread.
The day after the show we were packing our bags for a weekend trip to a different wine country than Napa– Sutter Creek aka Shenandoah Valley. It’s really California Gold Mine country and it’s east of the Bay Area. It also happened to be my sister’s birthday! On the way we stopped at a lunch spot we stop at every year we make this trip.
It was nice to see something else in wine country besides the bottom of another wine glass. This is maybe my fifth time doing this trip with my dad and step-mom and each time we’ve stayed at the same six-room bed and breakfast, the Imperial Inn Amador.
Saturday morning before wine tasting I was again up before the sun to go golfing with my husband, dad and uncle. While I’m not a regular golfer and usually resist being coerced into going when my husband asks me to, this was an over all pleasurable experience. Even the waking up early part.
Once we finished 18 holes we zipped back to the inn, got cleaned up and headed to a winery to picnic, play bocce ball and drink wine. Normally on “wine tasting” trips we go to several wineries but this time around consensus was to stay at just the one and enjoy the day. On our way home we stopped in the sausage shop in a tiny one light town.
We spent the week recharging our batteries before our final road trip of the month. When given the option between flying or driving somewhere, my husband and I will never shy away from the driving option especially if there are buco bucks to be saved. In this case we opted to drive to Palm Springs in Southern California (about 7-8 hours) instead of flying (about an hour) to save a couple hundred dollars. Worth it! I get more 1:1 time with my husband which is priceless to me.
On this Memorial Day weekend trip we decided to drive down to my parent’s house for the night and suck up the final two hours to Palm Springs the new morning because 1) we saved money by not staying in a hotel and 2) my grandma gave me a whole bunch of canning jars, fabric, patterns and freesia bulbs. Again, couldn’t have done that if we flew! On the way we made our usual stop at In N Out (hamburger animal style for me, cheeseburger animal style for my husband) before arriving at my dad’s house to enjoy the outside fireplace and an adult beverage.
My dad pulled a typical “my dad” and drew very details maps to not only get us to Palm Springs but also direct us to a bar within a restaurant. But before heading out I took my husband to Nick’s Deli in Seal Beach, the place I had my first legitimate breakfast burrito ever when I was in high school. It gives me the warm and fuzzies despite some wacko crazy lady yelling at us from across the street. I even ran into a friend that I went to elementary and junior high schools with (and I almost never run into people I know so it completely threw me off) and apparently nearly missed another friend from my Southern California days. All to say: Nick’s is super popular because it’s super good. Go there.
Palm Springs was pretty wonderful. We had “cooler” than normal weather which meant instead of being triple digit heat it was in the 90s all weekend, perfect for me. The hotel we stayed at was cute but a bachelorette party made it a little more rowdy than we wanted to experience. The good news is that we did try Shanghai Red’s, the place my dad had recommended, and even went back again because they had fish tacos as good as the one you get in Baja Mexico.
Have you been having nice weather and enjoying yourself yet this warm season?