Thursday, July 31, 2008

Apricot Jam, pt 2

This round of apricot jam was much smaller apricots that were not entirely ripe, so I had to cook them a bit longer. Despite admonitions, I did scorch the bottom of sweetie's big pot, but since it is teflon and it was only fruit (no sugar) it came right off. I ended up with 24 cups (that's 1.5 gal) of apricot -- no added water or anything.

After it simmered quite a while, and made a gorgeous apricot tinted white foam on top of the pot, I divided the batch into 10 cups and 14 cups in two different pots, added the pectin to a mixture of unrefined cane sugar and demerara sugar -- the demerara gave the apricot jam a much darker orange color.


10 - 16 oz jars
8 - 8 oz jars
1 - 4 oz jar

Wednesday, July 30, 2008



CANNING: I'm either hitting the bottom or reaching new heights -- I had to run to the store for more pectin on my bicycle at 9:30. Though I'm pretty happy with Pomona's pectin, but it comes in two parts, and the dry part (you make a liquid with the other part) runs out at a ratio of 3 dry envelopes to 1 wet part envelope. I need a bulk solution.

Like the organic unrefined cane sugar... I've ordered a 50# sack, it'll cost me $36 at Whole foods.

I'm not ready to join a canning 12-step program yet. There are still green gage plums, yellow peaches, pears, figs, quince, apples, Concord grapes and tomatoes still to be had. And lots more lemons from Regan's tree to keep the costs down since every jelly/jam recipe calls for some lemon juice. I should start saving the seeds to put in cheese cloth -- that might help reduce the amount of pectin required.

SOLAR DEHYDRATOR: my brother is making progress. He's thrilled that he has an excuse to get angle clamps and he caught something in the plans that Jon and I missed, which accounts for the extra 30' of 1" x 2" ... yay for brothers!

PICTURES: I swear, I am going to insert pictures into past postings, but for now, you can view my canning madness on my Flicker Food album.

Maple scented splurge...

Of interest - picked up a small packet of dried candycap mushrooms (ridiculously expensive!) for making an infused vodka. Good vodka, not the cheap stuff. Mmmm!!

I'm going to be the infused alcohol/fruit brandy queen if I keep this up.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Peachy Keen...

Tonight was the night to finish up the white peach jam and jelly -- my brother came over to help with the solar dehydrator, and says he'll return to complete it. Tonight, I didn't scorch the bottoms of any pans badly and it all seems to be setting well. I also used my food mill attachment for the first time to pulverize half the peach flesh for the jam. I think it came out quite well. When the rest of the neighbor's peaches are ready -- I'm going to make peach chutney and canned peach slices (big jars of 'em!). I find myself eagerly anticipating the availability of Concord grapes -- two neighbors have those and I have always wanted to make grape jelly! I need to build a garage to store all these jellies!

1 - 4 oz
7 - 8 oz
6 - 16 oz

9 - 4 oz
10 - 8 oz

My home is filled with the plink-a-licious sounds of success. I still have to cut up and cook down some apricots so there is room in my fridge. Yes - more apricot jam tomorrow night. I'm just going to put this all in 16 oz jars -- these are the apricots from my sweetie's neighbor's tree. I have a feeling that this batch of apricot jam will be going to the homes of the kids in James' neighborhood!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Raw, Vegan Lasagna

This evening, my brother came over to help me kick start the assembly of the solar dehydrator. A friend of his came along and brought homemade dinner -- something people rarely do at my house. At my house, we often cook things and order takeout but having someone bring a ready-to-eat raw vegan lasagna was a real treat.

Here's the recipe:

Pignoli Ricotta
2 c raw pine nuts
2 T lemon juice
2 T nutritional yeast
1 t salt
6 T water

Place everything but water in food processor and pulse a few times and then slowly add water till you have a ricotta consistency.

Tomato sauce
2 cups sun dried tomatoes
1 small tomatoes, diced
1/2 small onion
2 tbls olive oil
1 tabls agave nectar
2 tsps salt
pinch of hot pepper flakes

Add all ingredients to blender/food processor and blend till smooth

Basil-pistachio pesto
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs. olive oil
glove or two of garlic
1 tsp salt
pinch black pepper

Combine in food processor and blend well.

4-5 tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini sliced with a mandoline
2 tabls olive oil
1 tabls fresh oregano
1 tbs fresh thyme
pinch salt
pinch black pepper

Toss the zucchini with the other ingredients (except tomatoes), you can adjust with more oil if needed and let sit for 30 min.

Layer in a baking dish:
Zucchini overlapping each other. Spread about 1/3 of each of the tomato sauce, then dollop on the ricotta and pesto then a layer of tomatoes then continue layers till all is used up. Let sit for a few hours at room temp or stick in fridge and let sit overnight.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lemon Chutney -- Kitchen Tools, Sugar & Recipe Modifications

ZESTING LEMONS: First, I cannot stress how important it is to use a microplane or some ergonomically-friendly item to zest 3 dozen lemons. I was up until 2AM zesting, supreming and sectioning lemons. This morning, I remembered I had bought a microplane - it was hanging on my baker's rack, laughing at me.

SUGAR: After reviewing the recipe, and retasting the last bit of chutney from the last batch, I considered my fruit and sugar options for this round. So many chutney recipes call for brown sugar -- this is basically white sugar mixed in with the molasses that was taken out of it to make it dry and white. I usually use unrefined cane sugar in my house, as well as dehydrated sugar cane in these forms:

  • unrefined cane sugar: looks like white sugar but it's more tan in color. This is not whitened through bone char and considerably less processed than white sugar.
  • demerara sugar: sugar cane juice that is centrifuged to make nice big crystals. It has more molasses than unrefined cane sugar.
  • rapadura & sucanat: both dehydrated, powdered forms of unrefined sugar cane juice, containing all the molasses and sugar. I'm not entirely clear on how different these two are from each other and am still experimenting.
  • blackstrap molasses: this is the gooey black/brown stuff that is left when the sugar cane solids are separated from it.
  • organic brown sugar: unrefined cane sugar with some of the molasses mixed back into it.

RECIPE MODIFICATION: I decided to make two batches. One batch would be "sweeter" -- and I used organic/vegan brown sugar. The other would be more "savory" with onions, more garlic, chili flakes and demerara sugar and a small amount of blackstrap molasses.


As I mentioned, I originally mostly followed a chutney recipe from Laura Colwin's cookbook. This time, I made a lot of changes. First of all -- I was working with a lot more lemons. I quadrupled the recipe and then halved it. After prepping 32 lemons, I realized I didn't have enough lemons left over to make 2 cups of additional lemon juice, so I went up to my friend Regan's house and picked another sack of lemons. This was a bit more work -- I zested the lemons before juicing them, grabbed any loose bits of pulp from the lemons and the juicer, and also saved the seeds to add to the chutney in cheesecloth later.

Supremed and Sectioned Lemons
Supremed lemon IMGP7122

Lemon Pulp in the Pot
  1. Lemons, pt 1: Zest, supreme and section 32 lemons, reserving the seeds and discarding all pith and membrane.
  2. Finely mince zest, and add with lemon pulp into glass or earthenware container (my grandmother's Hull beanpot works great for this, you might use a tagine or Pyrex covered dish) with 8 T of sea salt. Let sit overnight. The lemon pulp will release plenty of juice!
  3. Lemons, pt 2: Zest, halve and juice enough lemons to get 2 cups of lemon juice (in my case, this was 15 of Regan's lemons -- many didn't have seeds, so I think they were a bit underripe but still tasted plenty lemony). Reserve the seeds with the other seeds and divide the zest into two equal portions.
  4. The next day, strain the salty lemon pulp and zest, reserving the liquid. Divide evenly by weight using a kitchen scale (this was 3# of pulp and zest in my case, with 2.5 c of juice), and put into two separate pots. Divide reserved juice evenly by volume into the two pots, as well as the reserved extra zest.
  5. Mise-en-place for two batches of chutney as follows:

    1 c fresh lemon juice
    1 c cider vinegar
    3 T finely minced fresh ginger

    minced garlic 8 cloves (1.25 oz)

    1 c currants
    1/2 c finely chopped dates
    1/2 c finelychopped dried figs

    1.5 lb organic brown sugar

    1/2 Ceylon cinnamon stick (leave whole in chutney)
    1 t cayenne powder

    Toast Spices, then grind:
    2 t black cardamom seeds (from green cardamom pods)
    2 t coriander seed
    1.5 t dried red pepper flakes
    1 t whole clove
    1 t whole allspice
    1 t fenugreek seed

    1 c fresh lemon juice
    1 c cider vinegar
    3 T finely minced fresh ginger

    minced garlic 12 cloves (2.5 oz)

    1 c raisins
    1/2 c finely chopped dried apricot
    1 large yellow onion, chopped

    1.5 lb demerara sugar
    1/4 c blackstrap molasses

    2 bay leaves (leave whole in chutney)
    1 t cayenne powder

    Toast Spices, then grind:
    2 t black cardamom seeds (from green cardamom pods)
    2 t coriander seed
    2 t dried red pepper flakes
    1/2 t black pepper
    1/2 t brown mustard seed

  6. The spices are pretty labor intensive -- if you haven't bought hulled cardamom, put the green cardamom pods into your mortar/pestle and bust them open until you have enough. Toast the spices -- except the cayenne (believe me - you don't want to breathe that in!). Once they toast and the coriander starts popping, put them in your mortar & pestle and grind as finely as you can, or put into a spice mill/coffee grinder.
  7. Cook everything for 60 minutes or so until it reaches the right consistency.
  8. Remove cheesecloth with lemon seeds. Let sit overnight. Taste, make any corrections (additional lemon juice, more ginger or chili, for example).
  9. Heat up, taste again, when satisfied, put into clean, hot mason jars and hot water bath can.


6 - 4 oz
2 - 8 oz

7 - 4 oz
2 - 8 oz

I have to admit -- the sweet(er) version surprised me. The chopped figs really thickened up the chutney and it is very fruity and yet very lemony. The savory version definitely has a kick to it. The sweeter version is much darker in color (the figs and dates, to be sure). Both are pretty darned tasty.

PEACHES: I managed to cook down the peaches and have a full half gallon jug and a 2/3 half gallon jug of the juice, and a big pot of fruit. I'm letting it cool so I can make jam and jelly tomorrow while canning the chutney. Apricots are still in the refrigerator.

My brother visited and brought Indian food this evening. I'm hopeful that he'll come over and help me tomorrow night by assembling the pieces for the solar dehydrator. He knows how to straighten slightly warped 1" x 2" pieces! He was taking pictures of my stacks of jars of jelly and inside my refrigerator for "proof" that I'm turning into Grandma Clark.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

When Life Hands You Peaches...(and a peach of a neighbor!)

My darling cats are little foragers -- and in chasing them one day, they showed me a neighbor's burgeoning peach trees. Right across the street -- from my driveway, I can see fruit on the ground, rotting. Today I introduced myself, and we had a great visit -- I showed him my garden, we shared homemade liquers with each other (his fruit brandy is made with currants and he liked my limoncello).

E. is in his 50s, originally from Iran and he works as a general contractor and teaches construction at a nearby community college.. He loves planting trees and believes, "well, if you need plants and greenery, why not something that produces fruit and is useful?" I found out that he's responsible for planting trees all along our street where none existed when he first moved her in 2003.

He invited me to pick all the fruit I could -- two trees should be ready next week, even tastier than the white peach we cleaned up together this afternoon. I now have about 15# of apricots, 20# of peaches and 10# of lemons. I still need to paint the solar dehydrator pieces, so it looks like I will be spending my evening in the kitchen with all the fruit, alternating with applying coats of varnish to the wood.


When Life Hands You Lemons

Actually, it seems more difficult to get ahold of lemons lately. When I bought two 3L bottles of olive oil at Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufactory, I also picked up a pile of lemons so I could make some more lemon chutney this weekend. The first batch I made was with this recipe from Love and Cooking, but I might actually try this recipe from Nourish Me -- and I just got a copy of "Nourishing Traditions" and "Wild Fermentation," so am going to scour them for interesting ideas.

No rest for the wicked -- after backpacking in Yosemite (photos to be up on Flickr soon!) and three days at Harbin (where I had 5 massages in 3 days), I have a lot on my plate for this weekend:
  • re-tie and stake tomatoes -- they are going nuts!
  • weeding & watering
  • finding a place to plant beans (where broccoli rab used to be), dill, garlic and purslane
  • lemon chutney - zesting and juicing the lemons today, cooking tomorrow
  • painting all the pieces for the solar dehydrator with spar varnish in preparation for putting them together (my friend Eric said he might even be up for helping with assembly)
  • finish Matthew's quilt - it's all pinned, I just have to get it on the machine and do the top quilting
  • buy more soil and clothesline (my line snapped in several places due to weathering!)
All that and I still plan to see Persephone's Bees at the Uptown tonight!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Infused and ready to go...

INFUSING: My friend Eric gave me an idea for those gorgeously scented Santa Rosa plums: infused vodka, with a liberal helping of fresh ginger. Fortunately, I picked up some ginger on sale (embarrassingly, at Safeway -- not organic but not an "at risk" food) for $1.09/lb while walking over to pick up more canning jars at Long's (talk about your $65 tomato! I spent $70 on jars yesterday and $110 on lumber for the solar dehydrator - so much for paying down the credit cards!).

I digress - I now have a half gallon mason jar full to the brim of red-purple plum and ginger vodka goodness, next to a similar jar of apricot. Seriously considering adding a ceylon cinnamon stick or a vanilla bean...

I need more lemons so I can make up an other batch of limoncello and some more lemon chutney. Dear Universe, where can I raid someone's backyard Meyer lemon tree? Even Eureka lemons would be ok...

Thursday, July 17, 2008


One of my fondest memories of life in New Orleans is from the summer I worked as a bike messenger. Every time I had a job that would take me into the heart of the French Quarter, I would go into a great candy store called Laura's. It had more space than it needed for customers and was always dark and quiet as a church, except for the hissing of the air conditioning. It was also freezing cold, like walking into an ice box.

I'd lean my bicycle against the wall by their door on a quiet street a few blocks from Jackson Square so I could see my front tire and go in and buy a single, dark chocolate dipped candied apricot. It was always so cold and satisfying - rich candied fruit and dark chocolate. I would always start eating it inside the store to get the cold chocolate & apricot sensation, and then take it outside for the big, gooey melt down in the 100 degree afternoons of New Orleans in the summer. Then, I'd lick my fingers, wipe them on my black tshirt and shorts and hop on my bike back to the fountain plaza at the New Orleans Board of Trade where my best friend Lara and I would wait for her brother to radio our next job to us on walkie talkies. Sometimes, if she was going to be there when I arrived, I would bring her a treat, too.

Candying apricots

Candying Apricots

In the interest of (self?) preservation...

CANNING: After letting it rest overnight as the recipe suggested, I was relieved to find the ants did not invade my apricot chutney. I pulled out the big sticks of ceylon cinnamon - and, well - I sucked off the chutney. I chewed the ends and ate them. No way those sticks would fit in the 4 and 8 oz jars for canning.

Apricot Chutney:
13 - 4 oz jars
5 - 8 oz jars

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE: My dear friend Jon kindly volunteered to take me to buy the lumber and hardware for the solar dehydrator plans (PDF) that captured my interest. He arrived a bit after noon, and we took about 30 minutes to do the shopping and to go up to his garage to get out the equipment. It took him about 1 hour to cut up all the wood, then another 15 minutes for us to clean up and we headed back down to my place to unload. On the way, someone had put out a pile of metal mesh fencing and some bamboo stakes, so I took the opportunity to hop out and grab what I needed. He did a great job and I regret I did not have a camera with me to capture the action!

DIVA: I confess - I love this thing. It has now shortened my period to 2 days from 3. I am ready to take back all unopened boxes of tampons to the store for cash and to buy the cup for my sister and her three girls right away!

Now, I have to make something to eat, candy two dozen apricot halves, get ahold of my friend who will be kitty/house sitting, pack for Yosemite and pack for the hot springs, clean the house, fold laundry and hang a load to dry... I still have to do something about the 3 pounds of gorgeous Santa Rosa plums (they are red inside!) and might just eat them all in the car on my way to Yosemite as my lunch!


CHUTNEY is a great way to make up savory fruit meal complements - I think this will go well with a moroccan tagine. I mostly followed a recipe from, with some modifications.

Apricot Chutney

Fruits & alliums

  • 4 pounds fresh apricots, pitted and chopped (no more than 1/2 inch thick)
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces mixed raisins, cranberries and dried blackberries since that was all I had in the refrigerator!


  • 3 inches ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 2 big sticks of Ceylon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brown mustard seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 dried dried Ancho chilies, crumbled, including seeds but omitting any stems
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 tsp fenugreek

Sour & sweet

  • 1 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup fig balsamic vinegar
  • 12 ounces Sucanat
  • 3 lemons, both zest and juice


  1. Lightly toast the spices until they start to get fragrant. Remove from pan quickly and put into a cool dish to cool a bit, then grind coarsely with mortar and pestle.
  2. Put apricots, garlic, onions and spices into a large stock pot with a heavy bottom. Turn the heat onto medium high. Pour in enough vinegar to prevent mixture from stick to bottom of pot. Bring to simmer then lower the heat to medium.
  3. Add more vinegar as the mixture simmers to prevent it fairly mobile - you don't want it to erupt like molten apricot lava out of the pot. You should have used more than half of the vinegar by now. Continue to stir to avoid sticking, lower the temperature to maintain a gentle simmer.
  4. After about 1 hour, stir in the raisins, lemon zest and lemon juice.
  5. Stir in the brown sugar as soon as the apricots look like they are nearly falling apart. Add the sugar gradually, stirring and letting it dissolve. Alternate with remaining vinegar or additional lemon juice if needed.
  6. Simmer and stir occasionally another 45 minutes or until the chutney has a thick jammy consistency.
  7. Turn off of the heat, and set aside overnight on the stovetop or cool and put in fridge if you plan a longer delay.
  8. To finish, stir and taste your chutney!
  9. Bring the chutney to a simmer over medium high heat, then lower the temperature to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer.
  10. Add any additional spices, vinegar or sugar to desired taste and viscosity. Cook for 1 hour.
  11. Ladle the hot chutney into the jars and process (10 minutes in hot water bath).
  12. Store in a cool location at least 2 to 3 months before serving.


6 - 8 oz
11 - 4 oz

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Freecycle Apricots, Apricot Jam & Catnip Mystery Solved

FREECYCLE FRUIT: I put a call out on Freecycle and made contact with a woman with an apricot tree full of ripe apricots, falling to the ground. I made a quick trip over there and picked up 12# of very large, ripe, gorgeous apricots. She also offered quinces when they ripen in late August, and persimmons in the fall ("the squishy kind," she said). She has a small apple tree, so I'm going to check on that as well.

While I started prepping the apricots for jelly and jam - a neighbor came by, and we had a chat. I gave him a jar of plum jelly and he promised to bring me some Santa Rosa plums, and offered me picking privileges when his fig tree ripens in a month or so.

APRICOT CANNING GOODNESS: Last night, I made up:

1 - half gallon of vodka & 14 apricots for Apricot brandy
3 - 12 oz jars apricot jam
2 - 16 oz jars of apricot jam
5 - 16 oz jars of apricot jelly

This morning I set to simmer a big pot of apricot chutney using about 4# of apricots, and I have about 28 choice apricot halves which I am going to candy tomorrow, and then dip in chocolate. Hopefully my kitty/housesitter won't eat all of them while I am on vacation!

I love Freecycle. I love neighbors and neighborhoods with fruit trees.

GARDEN: This evening, I returned at the same time as a neigbor just to the other side -- offered her some volunteer tomato plants. I gave her the three I dug up and put in water last Thursday, and dug up 3 or 4 more. I apologized that they were volunteers so I couldn't tell her if they were cherry or regular tomatoes and she said, "That's the fun part -- it'll be a surprise!"

The baby basil sprouts are looking great. The catnip isn't looking so great - but I found out why: George. Here, I thought I had over fertilized it or under or over watered. I caught him bent over into the pot, cleaning the last leaves off the thing. He's pretty darned ferocious when it comes to catnip and feathery toys. He could totally kick Dobson's butt, and yet he's so gentle with him and often ends up losing tufts of fur in their wrestling matches.

Time to round up the kitties and bike to Berkeley for dinner with my sweetie. I promise a post on a recent rash of thefts in this neighborhood due to war and recession.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More sorbet...

I'm on a roll, now. I made a batch of nectarine-mango sorbet, and peach sorbet with a bit of raspberries thrown in. I put a shot of vanilla stoli in each batch so it won't freeze too solid... and tomorrow, I get to pick apricots to make some jam.

Still have to re-cook the plum-habanero jelly and finish the quilt... and pack for my vacation: backpacking in Yosemite (2 nights) and then soaking at Harbin (3 nights). Pictures coming soon, I swear...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bye Bye CSA

I have canceled my CSA account for now. Though Farm Fresh To You permits customization and uses a very clear labeling system -- it's in English and the packing room does not really read the labels very well. You'd think that they could print them in English/Spanish but this has resulted in a lot of management on my side. In addition, the box often comes late -- which wouldn't be a problem if everything wasn't quite so ripe. I have had a lot of very overripe stuff in my boxes -- put strawberries in the fridge on Friday and on Sunday they are moldy and mushy. That's not good.

Today I got basil -- which I thought was on my "do not send" list -- which was dry and crunchy on the bottom with black tips on the leaves. It looks nothing like the gorgeous basil I picked in my garden last night. I'm going to start going to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays or the Temescal market on Sundays -- I hate the crowds but I'm going to have to go do my own shopping now. Bah!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Plum Tuckered!

GARDENING GOODNESS: Today I finally tied up every single tomato plant and pinched suckers and leaves along the bottoms of all tomatoes in the ground. I finished off the evening by giving them all a special fertilizer drink (and the rose bush, too! I want more roses outta you, sucker, so I can make my own rosewater!). I pulled a lot of weeds - the kitties even helped by biting on some of them.

I finally broke down and KILLED some tomato plants - that's right. I killed four volunteers so that my heirlooms have space. I also put a volunteer in a little pot for a neighbor, and three other volunteers are in a big bowl with a bit of water, hoping they survive so she can plant them.

Now I'm down to about 52 plants altogether (including volunteers). I also broke down and laid out a black plastic bag on the ground for the peppers to try to generate more heat, and took out my shiny silver hot water tank insulation which I use to insulate my ice chest on desert camping trips -- I nailed it up on the fence on the north side of the garden, and a smaller piece on the east side near the pepper plants.

I'm in so much trouble - there are flowers on every single tomato plant. Even the "late" plants. The "early" plants haven't popped tomatoes yet - but there are about six tomatoes on different plants, the biggest is about the size of a super ball. One of the Principe Borghese plants has a cute little green plum tomato, it's so cute... I had better get going on building a solar dehydrator. What is it about the way new projects pop up all the time?

MORE PLUM JELLY: After cleaning up from the garden, I boiled up the gallon of plum juice - stored in the fridge in two half-gallon Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufactory olive oil jugs... that takes up a lot of space. I did one batch just plain, straight-up plum and the other I simmered with a couple sticks of cinnamon, 8 cloves, 5 white peppercorns, three star anise, and 5 green cardamom pods, and used half unbleached cane sugar (my standard house sugar) with half rapadura for a more molassses/jaggery taste (since I was using chai spices). Guess which version I like better? The version with the simmered spices -- strained out before adding the sugar -- tastes amazing.

And, this time, I followed the instructions on the box of "Pomona's Pectin" from Whole Foods -- I love how the label says "now you are free to use less sugar!" -- which is nice, and healthier. The plain plum jelly tastes a bit tart but that's not a bad thing. I might use all rapadura/demerara in the next batch of fruit jelly (it might be too dark for lavender, basil or mint jelly).

1 - 12 oz
6 - 8 oz
3 - 4 oz

3 - 8 oz
7 - 4 oz
1 - 8 oz pyrex icebox dish with lid for me to eat!

Time to go pick more plums...

MORE BACKYARD FRUIT OPTIONS: The owner of the house next door lives, I discovered today, one street over. She has a big tree with Valencia oranges and a giant Concord grape arbor in her back yard. She promised I could take grapes for jelly and Oranges for -- well, to keep them from falling and making her yard a mess, I suppose. They are still yellow like lemons, but she's got about 500 oranges on this tree and they are all about 8' or more off the ground -- I'm going to have to get a BIG ladder. Or a fruit basket...

Time to go clean up the kitchen so I can get to bed early enough to go swimming at 5:45.

FREE THE LADYBUGS: Released a pint of ladybugs around 11pm -- earlier in the day I found a black beetle had covered a broccoli rab with all kinds of grey fuzzy looking eggy things, so pulled it up and scooped out some of the dirt around the rab. Also found ants in the chard, so the ladybugs should take care of this. I did find quite a few lady bugs in the garden while I was working (and also on the plum tree when I picked plums, and on the bush that I trimmed). I will just keep releasing ladybugs until you can't go into my backyard without seeing them there.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Whittling away...

One of my New Year's resolutions - I think - was to declutter and finish up projects and get them out the door.

One big project has been to go through old college documents. I'm finally scanning in two file boxes of article photocopies that were used for my masters thesis. Which I finished in 1995. I have been reluctant to pitch them because, well, I didn't want to ever have to re-order them and waste more paper. Of course, now the information is historical and I don't think that when I go back for a PhD, I will be focusing on female political elites in Mexico (though the subject of political elites still fascinates me). To appease my inner librarian, I'm scanning as much of these as I can and saving them as PDFs, to go up on my website (and backup drive) with all my thesis files.

Next big project to be wrapped up is the quilt. I got it mostly pinned and need to start doing the topquilting and finish it up. I should be able to do that by next week - that's my goal, anyway.

Next new project is to scan in my mom's baby album, which I have had for an embarrassingly long time, and some old family photos. Those can't be scanned with a sheet feeder and will require some correction, so I probably will just do high res scanning and fix stuff later to get the pictures back to her sooner and out of my house sooner.

Then, I'm going to make two more queen-size quilts -- I have two more batts and plenty of fabric. This is "use what you've got" -- at least as far as materials, if not time, is considered. I want to put together some nice quilts and use up some of my stockpiled fabric.

Along with all these other projects, I need to clear out my drawers, closets and shelves - and am doing this in bits and drips. I hope to really tackle this later this year after I get the quilts done. I'd like to have some space to store all the food I'm canning!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Eating Green Stuff

Sunday I canned the plum sauce -- I ended up with:

2 - 12 oz
7 - 8 oz

I also made up a batch of cilantro pesto using three cilantro plants that bolted in James garden. It was a lot of work pulling off the little lacy tendrils (fortunately my friend Jon was here to help) -- it resulted in amazing. I ended up with about 2 cups of cilantro, added about 8 sun dried tomato halves (soft, not oil packed and not crunchy dried), pumpkinseed oil, olive oil, raw almonds, garlic, salt, pepper -- it came out incredibly delicious.

My friend Eric brought a bottle of wine and a head of cauliflower over while I was picking arugula and chard in the garden. We started planning dinner and were picking leaves off stems when James arrived. Our dinner was really delicious --
  • Acme green olive bread with pesto I made earlier in the day
  • Salad - red leaf lettuce (CSA), arugula (garden), mint (garden), yellow broccoli rab flowers (garden), heirloom tomatos (CSA) and avocado (store) with a gorgeous mustard dressing that Eric whipped up
  • Cauliflower (Eric's CSA box) with broccoli rab greens and chard (both my garden), capers, garlic and other yummy stuff.
  • Figs (CSA) and strawberries (garden) drizzled with saba
Eric and I were talking about combinations of pesto - he suggested I try chard-mint pesto. I've got about a pound of clean, dried arugula in the fridge, so tonight will be pesto night. I'll make up a few batches of pesto and freeze in ice cube trays. I still have a gallon of plum juice to make into jelly -- that might be tomorrow night's project.

I can't seem to pass up seed stands -- I bought some quinoa seeds at Whole Foods last year (and killed all the sprouts by forgetting to shut off the soaker hose) but can't locate any this year. I need to plant some more stuff after work: garlic (sprouted cloves), dill, oregano, and some seeds I just got -- spinach, micro greens, lovage and fennel.

The garden is doing really great -- the new arugula sprouts are coming up and the parsley is finally looking like parsley. I have a ton of chard and am probably going to plant more chard seeds in a week or two before I head out of town on vacation. The broccoli rab is continuing to send out shoots but they almost instantly turn to flowers -- the greens are still awesome delicious, so I am going to plant some more seeds on a tray and start a few more broccoli rab plants.

And, in the interest of equal time - the kitties are very pleased with the garden. Carmine and George like to sit inside the canopy of tomato plants where they can guard against the landlord's dog, Fred, who has done a few laps through the garden (EEK! No! Fred!).

Saturday, July 05, 2008


I have a bank check in my pocket - and the car just went away. Bye bye car!

A recent suggestion to use my bicycle to go camping has me thinking -- that's a heavy pack! I could do ultralight on Angel Island, but that's about it. I go camping to get the hell away from people - meeting people, finding out about how they live and what they do is not a problem. I'm far to extroverted to miss out on such opportunities. Camping is for getting the hell away from that. :)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bye Bye Little Green Car

I decided to sell my car - 30-35 mpg is not enough. I like the little car well enough, but it is really expensive to own a car. I calculated that I have spent almost $40K on all auto related expenses, including lease payments & payoff, tolls, parking, repairs, maintenance, insurance:

2004 - 6,311.26
2005 - 8,535.01
2006 - 7,792.23
2007 - 14,963.13
2008 - 1,561.97

Net total: $39,163.60

This doesn't even take into consideration interest on credit cards where purchases were made on credit cards, transfer fees or anything else.

That's quite a chunk of change. I mean - that's a LOT of money. I could have paid off my $30K of student loans ages ago with what I've put into the car.

Once payment clears, I can pay off most of my credit card debt and cut down annual expenses by about $3K. Easily $300/month -- allowing me to pay off my student loans by the time I am 40 next year in December 2009.

Of course - I'll be without a car. It's a good little car and I have done many useful things with it. This will require me to ride the bicycle 5 miles to James' house and rent a car for camping trips. Even if I rent 5 times over the course of the year, that would cost about $1000, more or less. I'd still be saving money over owning the car.

And, of course, I can always get another car. Probably a hybrid. In a year or two.

I posted on Craigslist and started at $15K and waited a week, then went to $14K and then to $13K. I had a bit of interest at $12K and this evening, took all my will power to not back out of showing the car. I washed the car, emptied it out and waited for the buyer to show. He was really nice, and came with his adorable sister who had a list of questions written on paper. They looked it over, we went for a drive and they asked if I would be flexible in the price. I am pretty sure I could get my asking price for it, so held firm. They gave me a cash deposit and promised to return on Saturday -- we'll go to the bank and get cash and I'll hand over the keys, pink slip and records.

Bye bye, little green car. We had a lot of fun -- camping trips, road trips to LA. I never drove you out of the state of California once in 4 years, but we covered a lot of California. And, honestly, 30-35 MPG isn't going to be enough when we run out of oil.


One of the most endearing traits of my sweetheart is that when he gets inspired by something I do, he really takes it to the next level. Last winter, he got excited about my cast iron pans and started doing some research and seeking out some for his own use. He now has way more cast iron than any one person I know. In March, an antique Sabatier knife caught his eye, and
comparing it with my Henckels set, he started off on a multi-month odyssey to learn all about the best knifes, settling on some fine Japanese cutlery. A lot of it, actually - he has a lot of knives, and got me a really super knife and then later got one for himself.

Gardening was something that, at first, had a lukewarm reception. He wasn't sure that he needed more than 5 tomato plants. Once we got to work - he wanted more and more seedlings and he now has about 35 tomato plants to my 46 or so (I've lost count - there are more than a dozen volunteers, and I don't have the heart to tear them up!). He's started so many seedlings for basil, broccoli rab, watermelon and so many other things that he's got stuff getting leggy on the porch while he tries to figure out where to plant it. I think we're going to have to expand the garden to take over the rest of the yard!

His early basil plants went kind of crazy - so he decided to pull up two of the biggest plants and make pesto out of them. He researched this and decided that he would do it with the large granite mortar & pestle he has because it releases the flavor better than using a food processor or blender. His pesto turned out pretty good - different from my blended pesto -- large chunks of pine nuts, garlic and larger pieces of basil leaves.

He also brought over some big cilantro plants he pulled out of the ground. I'm going to turn that into pesto -- cilantro-pumpkin seed with pumpkin seed oil, and cilantro-almond with olive oil. Pesto and quilting are my two big projects for the weekend. And more jelly - maybe plum-basil?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Plum Massacre

I confess - I probably overdid it, but it wasn't entirely my fault. You see, last year, I looked out the window one day in the 2nd or 3rd week of July and thought, "holy cow! I gotta pick the plums!" I managed to fill up a 5 gallon bucket plus a big size bowl with every single plum off the tree. I am not joking -- I picked the tree clean last year.

Yesterday afternoon, I got out the ladder and started picking. And picking. And picking. I ended up with about 20 or 30 gallons of plums. There are still a lot more plums. The goal in picking all the plums is to avoid waste of perfectly good fruit and to avoid having to clean up rotten, squishy plums out of my garden and off the ground and yard furnitures.

So, I got cleaning and cooking. I ended up with 3 gallons (maybe more) of plum juice. I also ended up with about 1/2 gallon of plum sauce after running the juice through a jelly bag. I made a batch of plum habanero jelly with 16 cups of juice (and 18 cups of sugar), and plum lavender jelly (8 cups of juice, 9 cups of sugar). I used Pomona's Pectin and therein lies the rub... stuff is not setting properly.

I cooked everything down a LOT. I even overboiled a couple times and probably lost about 5 cups of jelly on the stovetop. The plum lavender jelly is setting a bit better than the plum habanero but since I finished that at midnight, I'll give it another day (and an overnight in the fridge) to gauge the set. The plum habanero tastes a bit hotter than last year - I used 8 habaneros (started with 4 but it wasn't spicy enough).

Total haul:

Plum habanero:
7 12 oz jars
8 8 oz jars
9 4 oz jars

Plum lavender:
2 12 oz jars
4 8 oz jars
4 4 oz jars

The plum pulp was used for plum sauce -- I have always wanted to make my own plum sauce, it's sweet, tangy, salty and delicious for dipping egg rolls (which my sweetie & I first made two weeks ago). I read some recipes and threw this together in a pot:

1 chopped up onion
2 star anise
4 cloves
3 chopped cloves of garlic
1/4 c. soy
1/4 c. rice vinegar
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 c. unrefined cane sugar
1 t chili flakes
1 c. water

I simmered that and added 4 c. of the plum sauce, then simmered some more and added the rest of the plum sauce and a couple ladles of the hot plum habanero jelly. I threw in another half cup of brown sugar and a cup or so of demerara sugar just to be safe. Plum sauce is darned sweet.

At midnight, I ended up with a Dutch oven totally full of about 8 cups of plum sauce. This sauce smells and tastes like some kind of insanely non-tomato-based BBQ sauce. I'm going to re-taste it after leaving it chill for 24 hours and decide if I want to continue doctoring and cooking it, maybe puree it in the blender and then seal it in jars. I cannot wait to put this on portobella mushrooms on the fire!

I still have two half-gallon bottles of plum juice for more jelly. Guess what everyone's getting for gifts for the next six months?

I also plan to make a batch of lavender jelly once I get through the plum stuff. I have so much mint that I will also make mint jelly and plan to make both mint basil jelly and mint basil pesto once the basil is big enough to harvest.

James pulled up a couple of cilantro plants -- I should have been making cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto instead of reading blogs tonight... oops! It was so quiet over there in the bowl of water by the window!