Saturday, January 31, 2009

Best Laid Plans...

Today, I planned to stay in and just catch up on blog postings and do my taxes. A plan was cooking, though, with Asiya from Forage Oakland to collect some grapefruits from the towering grapefruit tree on 51st near Broadway. This morning, I got laundry started and did some housework and headed out with Asiya where we collected about 75# of very large grapefruits. They are rather sooty from being so close to traffic, so I won't likely be candying the peel from these fruits.

Asiya had to go off to work, so I did more laundry, downloaded updates to Quicken so that I could install the new TurboTax and then headed out to ask about a lemon tree in Rockridge.

First stop, though, was to check on an enormous back yard grapefruit tree. I met one of the tenants of the building who gave me the phone number of the owners who live in the lower unit.

As I made my way up the next block, I saw a tiny old woman with long white braids and a knit cat sitting in the sun, and a sleek black cat who looked like Dobson sitting on the roof above her porch. I said hi and introduced myself - she asked where I was headed. When I said I was going after some lemons, she said "Do you want some Meyer lemons?" I accepted and said I'd return.

When I got to the end of the street, there was an old man sitting on a wheeled walker sort of thing - just watching the street and the people. "What are you working on?" he asked, I told him I was off to pick lemons.

At the house with the lemon tree, I was enthusiastically received by the owner of the house, Steven - he said I could pick as many as I wanted. The tree is very prolific and there's never a shortage. I told him about Asiya's project and the article that Michael Pollan's student wrote for tomorrow's Chron, and he was excited. "I heard about a project like that in Berkeley, I'd love to be introduced!" He also mentioned that he has Hachiyas, apples and plums in his back yard, and admired my fruit picker. "I've been needing to get one of those," he said.

I started picking lemons while Steven went to write his e-mail and phone for me. His three blonde kids (all under 6) waved and watched me from the window. Within 15 minutes, I filled two big canvas bags and started back toward Ruthie's house, offering lemons to some neighbors across the street who were doing yardwork (and I still brought home 40# of softball size Eureka lemons).

At the corner, I stopped to talk with the old man - he asked about my lemons but didn't want any. I noticed a miniature harmonica on a chain on his neck and he asked about my birthday - since December was close enough, he played "Happy Birthday" for me. His name is Howell (and his birthday is November 9). We talked about cooking and food - he said that at 95, he doesn't eat a lot but I think he does hang out on the corner in the sun when weather permits.

As I walked down the block with my fruit picker and two big bags of lemons, I saw Ruthie getting up to go inside. She had me follow her into the house and we talked. She raised 5 kids, "So we needed a big house." She is 87 and a tiny delicate thing who hasn't left her house in 10 years. Two daughters live nearby to visit, a son lives in England where he is a professor. She has a caretaker living upstairs who does her groceries and errands (and has the sleek black cat). She emigrated from Germany just before Hitler's rise, the whole family was safe though her father died before they left.

She showed me to the back yard and we picked Meyer lemons, and she offered me to pick some oranges too. She asked me about my family, whether I had children, we talked about world population and food crises. I told her about Asiaya's project and she seemed enthusiastic - she said she would be happy to have us visit next week to pick oranges.

Yay! Three new places to harvest citrus! I will be writing up some back-dated posts later tonight - after I finish washing and squeezing and zesting all these lemons and grapefruits, complete my taxes and bring in and put away my dry laundry.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Theory of Flaxseed Crackers

FLAXSEED CRACKERS are yummy. No two ways about it. I have been looking at recipes and instructions over the last several months but didn't get off my duff to actually make any until I had some crackers at my friend Kiera's house on New Year's Day with some of my own persimmon chutney. She bought these tasty crackers from Trader Joe's - but I thought, "Hell, it's a LOT cheaper to make them."

So, off and running. I read up on some recipes, checked out my Cafe Gratitude and other raw foods cookbooks and put together my first few batches of flaxseed crackers. One batch was flaxseeds and black sesame seeds with tomato curry catsup that I made (I know, not entirely raw), the other batch was full of hot yellow curry powder and garlic powder. Both batches came out really well.

Third batch, I went a little crazy - I used raw cacao powder, sprouted the hell out of some almonds and mixed it together with ground flaxseeds (soaked after grinding) and agave and turned out some crazy delicious thin, crispy flaxseed cookies.

Fourth batch - I really went nuts. Not only did I juice 10# of carrots and 5# of beets, but I used the pulp from my Breville juice fountain in the flaxseed crackers. Here's a list of the ingredients I combined for this batch of crackers:

Garden Veg Flaxseed Crackers
  • 2 c. beet pulp
  • 4 c. carrot pulp
  • 3 c. flaxseeds ground and soaked with as much water as you need to use
  • 2 c. almonds, soaked and sprouted
  • 1 c. dried tomatoes, soaked and pulverized in blender or food processor
  • 3 jalapenos
  • 1 red onion
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 1 c. nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 Tb of Miso Master mellow white miso (this stuff rocks!)
  • Fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme, cilantro and parsley from the garden, pulverized in blender
Really, for this you can pretty much add any vegetables you have in the house. I recommend soaking dried veggies so that they pulverize more nicely, but as long as you can mix and spread the mixture - and taste it! - you will have yummy crackers. Don't add salt - sprinkle a tiny bit on top of the crackers at the end if you want to add some because you have to remember that this is all going to dehydrate and any salt will be intensified greatly.


Long after pulverized the ingredients in my Breville Die Cast Blender and trusty ole Cuisinart, and blended them in my Kitchen Aid mixer, I realized that the mixture looked exactly like meatloaf.



After 36 hours on low - they crisped up nicely. I know I saved some photos of the finished crackers somewhere, so I will dig those out and update this posting later.

My theory? You just cannot screw up flaxseed crackers. There's no way.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Millennium Winter Mushroom Cooking Class

2009 Millennium Winter Mushroom Cooking Class - Here are some photos from the class, I will be posting recipes this weekend:







Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Potato Condo!

POTATO CONDO - second best idea I heard of in 2008, right up there with the Diva Cup. After doing some research, and last summer happening to find some wire mesh on the side of the road in the Berkeley Hills with my friend Jon, I finally put together my potato condo today.

The basic concept is to create a vertical garden instead of using square footage on the ground. The advantage is that the dirt can be re-used somewhere else, heading off the development of potato-specific diseases, you can harvest potatoes very easily, and once the vines are done, you just knock that condo over, shake and disconnect the seam and (with some very strong friends) sift the dirt away from the potatoes.

Now, most directions for a potato condo involve wood and attaching slats to the sides, adding dirt as the vines grow and removing slats from the bottom to free the potatoes. Some instructions are for stacking old tires. That just seems like a lot of extra work to me.

Somewhere, in my research, I saw these great instructions for using wire mesh for the potato condo by creating a tube by bending the edges over each other, then cutting hand-size holes around the tube to stick in the potatoes.

Good, in theory. In practice, my experience has been to realize I need a much better pair of wire snippers. My hands got sore. Also, wearing long sleeves might be advisable since I ended up with so many scratches on my arms that I look like I came out of the losing end of bathing a herd of cats. Also, I need to use smaller mesh - this mesh is stiff and holds up well but actual chicken wire would probably be easier to cut and hold the dirt in.

The biggest problem has been keeping the dirt IN the potato condo. It just wants to go out. It's not wet enough and I'm afraid it's going to dry out too fast. Next time - I'll water down the dirt in the bag or in the pots so that it is nice and sopping wet before I heave it into the potato condo.

Also, in retrospect, I should have made it bigger around and shorter - I think my potato condo is Jenn-size. Don't just do it - do it BIG!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Bad Winter for Growing Things but Everyone Likes Lemonade!

MUSHROOMS FORAGING/COOKING: As much as I enjoy 68 degrees and 83% humidity, that is not good mushroom growing weather. If we don't get rain, I may not have much of a garden, either.

James made good use of some of those golden chanterelles last weekend - he made oven roasted breakfast potatoes with golden chanterelles, garlic, fresh herbs and pine nuts that was just outstanding.

This weekend is the "Winter Mushroom" cooking class at Millennium Restaurant. I'm assisting chef Eric Tucker and will be leading a mushroom foraging trip after the morning visit to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. If you're interested in the class, call Erica at 415.345.3900 x11 to see if there are any spaces left!

GARDENING: Saturday, I pulled up all my stakes and dead tomato plants, stacked tomato cages and built a potato condo (I promise a photo!). The potato condo needs a bit more dirt. I bought a bunch of red and yellow potatoes at Farmer Joe's in the Laurel District -- they had some nice baby Yukons which I hope will sprout so I can plant them in the potato condo. Garlic still is not in - I have to decide where I will put that.

Sunday, I helped James pull up his garden, too. He also harvested a big pile of purple carrots which seem to taste a lot sweeter without the purple skin.

LEMONS and other backyard citrus are in full swing. Tonight I zested 25 lemons with a microplane and poured 1.75 L bottle of 190 proof Ever Clear that my friends brought down from Portland -- I couldn't bring it on the airplane with me when I bought it there in November because it is a fire hazard.

I also made a killer pitcher of lemonade - and I am leaving 2 cups of lemon juice in the fridge so I can make another batch without defrosting cubes. I think I'll have a lot of nice lemony Vitamin C this week to combat all the bugs that seem to go around the office. Might be time to ask Barbara if I can pick more of her gorgeous Valencia oranges with my fruit picker.

DEHYDRATOR ACTION! This past week I have embarked on several flaxseed cracker experiments which have turned out quite well. First two batches were garlic/curry/cashew/flaxseed and orange curry catsup/black sesame/flaxseed. The next savory batch was homemade dried tomatoes with flaxseed, nutritional yeast, oregano, rosemary and thyme. I have raw cacao powder/agave/almond/flaxseed in the dryer right now. I just don't think there's a lot you can do "wrong" when it comes to making flaxseed crackers. I'll post some more actual recipes in a separate entry.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Chanterelles, 2009

Naysayers be damned! Despite a slow start to the season due to unseasonably dry weather, Eric, Veronica, James and I trudged around our favorite Oakland Hills spot this morning - it was Veronica's 5th mushroom outing - and found about 10# of golden chanterelles, a few random non-edibles and were home by noon.


Eric uncovered a very gnarly, deformed looking chanterelle - probably the result of the mushroom having to push up through ground that was drying faster than it could grow and push out of the earth.