Friday, December 21, 2007


The turnips are coming in. I've steamed the greens and eaten them as a side; I've tossed them into soup; I've blanched them, chopped them finely, and tossed them with eggs, cheese, and bacon for a quiche. I'm running out of ideas for the greens.

For some reason though, the turnips themselves are inspiring: sliced into wedges, sautéed in olive oil, carmelized with a smidgin' of sugar then glazed with sherry vinegar, and finally finished with fresh crop walnuts from a friend's yard and sea salt, they're delicious.

When I come back from New Mexico after Christmas, there will be more turnips. There will the first peas just setting, second-crop sprouted broccoli, and lettuce aplenty. Those are wonderful things to look forward to, but right now, I'm just looking forward to seeing my family.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

ECG's Cheese

What's the perfect way to follow a difficult game of strategy and intrigue?

Easy. ECG's fondue game.

Classic Fondue

You will need:
1 garlic clove
1 cup Alsatian Gewürztraminer
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 ounces of grated Gruyere cheese
8 ounces of grated Emmentaler cheese
4 ounces of grated Appenzeller cheese
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 shot of kirsch
ground pepper to taste

To make the fondue:
Peel the garlic clove and cut it in half. Rub the inside of your cast iron fondue pot, or other heavy-bottomed saucepan with the cut side of the clove the discard the clove or use it for another purpose. Pour the wine and lemon juice into the pot and bring to a mild simmer. (At no time should you boil the ingredients--they should bubble slightly but never vigorously.)

In a large bowl, toss the grated cheese with the cornstarch. Dump a handful of cheese at a time into the simmering wine, stirring each batch until it is almost completely melted before adding another. Once all the cheese is added, stir in the kirsch and freshly ground pepper.

Transfer the fondue pot to its stand over its burner, or pour the fondue into a fondue pot over a burner. Serve with good bread, wine and beer, a zippy salad, and good company.

To play the game:
When someone drops his or her bread into the cheese, that person must share an embarrassing episode of his or her life. I guarantee that some of these stories will be cheesier than what you're eating.

Laugh. It's all fun and games when there's fondue to be had.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chilly Greens

The mountain's breath bit with its icicle teeth at our rosy checks as we hiked this morning. After a brief service project planting trees for the City of Pasadena, my Environmental Club members and I hiked up and into Eaton Canyon.

Two members of the club had never been hiking before, and another told me that the mountains looked like her home in the Philippines that she had left a few years ago. Our local chameleon mountains seem to remind everyone of places they love; I've heard comparisons to Hawaii, to West Virginia, and even to Switzerland.

The water was so cold it hurt to touch. It was cold the way clean mountain water should be. And, like nearly all natural water, it drew us towards it with a force stronger than gravity. Just being near it rinsed the teenage residue of Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft, Cosmo Girl, and reality TV gently away.

The rains that have been filling the canyons and dusting the mountain tops with snow have turned my garden soil into a cold sponge. Luckily, the cold wet soil doesn't seem to impede the growth of the sugar snaps, whose vines are now taller than me, or the favas, whose tuxedo-blossoms class up the little plot.

The cold has knocked leaves off the trees, making the wild in the urban easier to spot.

Although the cold is bracing, it never seems to stop the local avocados from fruiting (in fact, it seems as if there is always at least one variety of avocados coming to prime, no matter what season), the citrus from coming on strong, and the lettuce in the garden from sending up silken blistered leaves.

When all these good ingredients come together in December, it is time for one of my favorite salads.

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

Use whatever salad greens you love to make this salad. Today, I used the buttery Marveille deQuatre Saisons lettuce and Italian parsley because it is what I had--a happy state of being, I tell you. However, I've made this salad with romaine, with arugula, and with spinach, and have been happy each time. It is a bright-flavored, zingy salad, made meal-worthy by the avocado, cheese, and meaty olives.

You will need:
A healthy-sized bunch of salad greens, rinsed and dried
1/2 large avocado or 1 small avocado
10-15 pitted nicoise, preferably marinated in garlic and chili
1 grapefruit
a shower of Parmesan shavings
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil

To make the salad:
Over your salad bowl, cut off the peel off the grapefruit, making sure to cut below the white membrane. Be careful to let the juice that drips off the fruit fall into the salad bowl. Cut each segment out of the fruit by sliding your knife along the edges of each segment. Let the peeled segments fall into your bowl. Once you've finished, gently hold the segments while you drain the juice into a small bowl or jar in which you'll make the dressing.

Peel the avocado and slice thinly into the salad bowl. Toss the olives into the bowl and the salad greens, torn into large pieces, over the other ingredients.

In the small dressing bowl, whisk together the grapefruit juice, the mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. While whisking, drizzle in the oil until the ingredients are fully emulsified.

Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients, and toss gently together with two large folks. Toss the Parmesan over everything. Eat.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


In many climates, the sowing, growing, and harvesting are done for the year. What does the avid gardener do when he or she can no longer putter outside, pull weeds, check plants for bugs, and spend countless hours just looking at his or her garden? I'm lucky—I can do this all year long—but I’ve often wondered about those who don’t live in such a mild climate. How do gardeners get through the early period of winter, before the seed catalogs come, before it’s time to plot out next year’s garden?

I’ve found the answer: they exchange seeds.


Imagine this: A gardener, let’s call her Helen, has transitioned her veggie plot into hibernation mode. She’s cleaned out the remains of the vines and bushes, planted cover crops if she can, and seen the sparkly crystals of frost glittering on the surface of her beds. A Saturday morning rolls around, and she—usually one to pop out of bed and throw on her ripped garden jeans to head out to be with her plot—shuffles in her slippers to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, then plops in front of the computer.

Helen turns on the computer, waiting impatiently through the startup screens, sipping the coffee and pulling her robe tighter against the cold of the morning house. When the computer wakes up, she begins clicking through her bookmarked forums, signing in as (What screen name shall we give her? Hmm. I’ve got it.) lnched1000ships_69.

In this virtual world, lnched1000ships_69 is gardening. She’s tending to her crops for next year, culling her excesses, and adding diversity where needed. Her latest post, “HAVE: heirloom tomato seeds, many varieties,” has drawn responses from other gardeners all over the country, the most thrilling from veggie_daddy who has offered her Fordhook Gem melon and Kentucky Greasy Bean seeds for her Reisenstraube and Omar’s Lebanese tomato seeds. Oh, she has been wanting to try growing Kentucky Greasy Beans for years! Giddy with the taste of the legendary bean, she emails veggie_daddy offline, tells him she’s in for the deal and gives him her address.

When she heads back to the forum, a new posting leads the list: HAVE: Seminole squash seeds available by SASBE. She learned early on, when she first got in the seed trading game, that SASBE meant “self-addressed stamped bubbled envelope” and a deal that was too good to pass up, free seeds.

In ten minutes, she’s already added to next year’s garden and shared her wealth with others. She can spend hours on seed exchange forums. It may be an addiction, but at least it is passing the time until she can get her hands in the dirt again.


Now, clearly, Helen is not me, for I could never, ever pull off a screen name like lnched1000ships_69. But, I’ve gotten in the game too. This summer, ECG collected plastic snap-close boxes at his lab for me to keep seeds in (I place the boxes in a larger box and keep them in a cool, dark closet), and I’ve been trading what little I have and taking advantage of those glorious SASBE offers. Seed trading is not only a fun way to connect with people all over and to build up our gardens, but it helps us keep even the rarest of heirlooms alive. In a recent exchange, I received seeds for a small, yellow-fleshed watermelon that is an American Indian heirloom I’ve never heard of. These were seeds that the sender included as a “Christmas gift;” they were an extra I hadn’t even exchanged for. And now, they’ll grow in another garden, and this little melon will stay alive in the midst of the ever-narrowing genepool of industrial agriculture.

To see seed exchange forums, and perhaps even participate, check out these sites:

Seed Exchange--GardenWeb (US)

Seed Exchange--GardenWeb (UK and Europe)

Seed Exchange--GardenWeb (Australia)

New Zealand Garden Swap

In the spirit of passing along seeds, I’ll pass along one of my favorite late fall, early winter recipes that you don’t even need to send a SASBE to receive.

Persimmon Bread

I’ve modified this recipe a bit from the James Beard classic, found in his little beauty, Beard on Bread, to fit the needs of our household. This time of year, when the persimmons are in abundance around here, I cook with them a lot. This is one of my favorite means of using the fruit. I can eat this bread all the time, with butter or cream cheese, or even plain, but ECG and I both agree that the best way to eat this is spread with a soft, salty, creamy blue cheese. Persimmon bread with blue cheese and a good cup of hot coffee may just be the perfect breakfast on a cold morning.

You will need:
3 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flaxmeal
1 cup melted butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
¼-⅔ cup Cognac (I like a lot, ECG likes a little)
2 cups persimmon purée (the pulp of about 4 medium, very ripe persimmons—not necessary to peel)
1 ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup raisins

3 loaf pans, greased and floured

To make the bread:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir all the dry ingredients (flour, salt, soda, ginger, sugar, and flax) together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the persimmon purée and the rest of the ingredients. Mix the dough until all ingredients are thoroughly combined, and pour the mixture into the loaf pans, so that each pan has approximately the same amount of batter. Bake for 1 hour, or until the bread bounced back when gently depressed by a finger in the center of the loaf. Cool the loaves in the molds and turn out on a rack.

(Oh, and if you're looking for something fascinating to watch while you're munching on persimmon bread or putting your seed list together, check out Mustard Plaster's recap of her garden here. It's definitely worth a visit.)