Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Growing Garden

Here are a few choice pictures that B took yesterday.  As you will see about half of it is huge and the rest looks kind of empty.  Most of those squares have been planted at this point and I started seeing sprouts last week.  A few squares are still empty because I am trying to stagger my planting a bit for a more gradual harvest as opposed to all at once.  On to the pictures. 

Full Length Garden View
As you can see we did a raised garden.  We chose this option for two reasons.  We rent our house, so we are limited in how and where we can modify the property.  This side yard was empty so we didn't have to worry about changing/moving/destroying anything already in place.  Secondly, the ground in this area is extremely compacted and rocky, so rather than trying to till it up and amend the existing soil we decided it would would be a lot less work to just build up and have great soil from the start. Also, because this was the only real available space on the property and is bordered by the house and the side fence B built it 18 inches high, both to give the plants plenty of footing and to raise them to give them a chance for a bit more light each day.  The grid you see is based on Square Foot Gardening in an effort to maximize this limited space; it also provided the perfect structure for the drip system B put in.  
If you ever wanted to know what lettuce looks like when you let it grow - you're looking at it in the bottom right of the picture.  We really need to eat more salad...

Beans and Zucchini
At the bottom of the picture are my bush beans (green/string beans).  I've already harvested a very large handful of beans, and a second flush is ready to go.  At the top are my zucchini plants.  I gave the two zucchini's a full 9 square feet and they are still growing into all the neighboring plants.  I've already pulled 4 squash, the last two pretty darn big, and there are lots more little ones on there.  Look for zucchini bread in an up coming post!

The First Tomatoes
I have four varieties of tomatoes: Early Girl, Longkeeper, Stupice, and Cherry.  These  are the Stupice - the first plant that's ripening for me.  We've pulled a couple of cherry tomatoes, but this is the first real crop.  The other plants are laden with fruit, but due to the surprisingly cool weather we've been having they are slow to ripen.  Luckily in So Cal we don't typically get a freeze until well into November, so they still have lots of time.  

Bell Peppers
A sweet little baby and a big one in the back.  I have four Bell pepper plants, a Banana pepper, a Hungarian Hot Wax pepper, and a Chocolate pepper plant.  All of them are producing rather prolifically, so I'm trying to figure out how to use them up.  I prefer red bell peppers, so I'm leaving mine on to ripen, except when I need a green one for Cuban Black Beans (holy moly, it may be the only way I ever eat black beans again! I'll be doing a post on them soon).

Carrot Tops
I started these carrots from seed.  B is super excited about them.  They are Nantes if I remember correctly.  You can see my behemoth Paris Cos Romaine lettuce towering over them.

Sweet Basil
I planted three sweet Italian basil in the garden (I have another two in containers on the porch).  They are doing really well.  I hacked them back at the beginning of September and made a huge batch of pesto that I froze and they are about ready to be harvested again.

Thai Basil
I actually haven't used this yet, but it is so pretty with it's deep purple edging that I don't even care.  I am planning on making a big batch of vegan Pho soon, so this will be perfect.

I've got broccoli, broccoli raab, napa cabbage, cilantro, two types of chard, two types of kale, several more lettuces, arugula, and spinach coming up that were all started from seed.  I'll post pictures of those when they've gotten a touch bigger.  Between our CSA and our garden we'll be meeting most of our produce needs which makes me super excited (it also makes me want to rip up all the silly bushes and grass in our yards and plant useful things).  But I'm not bitter, really... one day we will own our own home and I can have a giant garden! Until then I am very pleased with the one B built - good job babe!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

I was happy to find this information today.  

Alton Brown has long been my most favorite chef on Food Network and it is welcome news that anyone on that network is recognizing the problems our current food system is causing and making an effort to address the issues (no, he is not going vegetarian, but like I said - it's a step).  I realize some of my readers may not watch that network due to the prolific use of animal products by, well, every single show.  But long before I went veg I learned much of what I know of cooking from watching Food Network and am still quite the addict (and still learning).  

If you use Dish Network you should check out the channel Veria.  They have lots of interesting holistic shows, including a cooking show called Naturally Delicious by Ann Gentry, founder of the restaurant Real Food Daily in L.A.  Her show is completely vegetarian, and almost completely vegan (I saw her use an egg once, in a recipe for pancakes, where it was completely unnecessary, and a tiny bit of cheese one other time, but those were the only digressions).  If you are a cooking television addict like me it is very refreshing to watch a program in which you can eat every item made without having to modify the heck out of it.

In other news, I signed up to participate in VeganMoFo.  I hope it is the catalyst I need to blog more often, so be sure to check back frequently in October since I'll be posting close to every day ::gulp::! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Camping Eats

B and I went camping with my family for a week in August.  I made a number of items to take with us so I would have plenty of things to eat while everyone else was chowing on animal... things.  While I failed to take pictures of most of what I made I thought I'd share what I took.  I made: black bean burgers, simmered seitan (for steak night), seitan sausage, and for my night to cook for everyone I made five-bean chili (even my aunt's father enjoyed it, and she told me he is very resistant to vegetarian anything!).  We also took a variety of fruit and veggies, a big batch of hummus, and I made a couple types of cookies.  
Homemade Granola
For breakfast I made us a green smoothie for every day.  I froze them in quart jars and took them that way.  It worked pretty well, but they were a little... funky... by the end of the week.  If you can figure out a way to actually keep half of them fully frozen until the last half of the week it would be ideal.  Additionally, I made the banana bread I have posted previously and the granola pictured.  It was my first time making granola and while I was happy with it, I am going to play with it a bit more.  I want to try and get more clumps.  It is very healthy, but not really lowfat, due to the healthy fats from the nuts, flax, and a small amount of coconut oil.  I don't want to eliminate fat entirely, but I want to try lowering it a bit without sacrificing too much nutritional value. 
Homemade Granola with Dried Cranberries

And finally, while everyone else was getting hopped up on coffee this is how Mom and I started our day: 

Camping is a fun and inexpensive (once you've bought the reusable equipment) way to vacation. Living outside need not mean eating unhealthy, boring, or processed foods.  Eating well and getting in touch with nature go hand in hand, and that's what us "crunchy, granola hippies" love, right :o)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cupcakes (again...)

My best friend and her family were out in CA for her daughter's first birthday in August and she asked me to make cupcakes for the party (anyone else starting to notice a trend...).  I choose to make two "plain" versions, since I knew there would be a lot of kids, and two spruced up flavors.  All of the recipes are from VCTOTW. 

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
I made both the cupcakes and the frosting with vanilla bean paste so you can see the specks.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes
Straight up chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream.

Uber Lemony Cupcakes
I don't know about you, but I *love* citrus and hate it when baked good which advertise themselves as such have weak flavor.  This is an especially common malady among lemon flavored baked goods.  So I used three different types of lemon to punch up the flavor in these babies.  Lemon zest, lemon juice, and lemon extract all went in.  Next time I think I'm going to try adding a couple of drops of lemon oil as well.  They were topped with a simple glaze of confectioners sugar and lemon juice.  You can add zest for extra flavor and pretty flecks which I typically do, but left out of this one. I can not tell you how much I love this glaze. It is actually indecent.

Cookies 'n' Cream Cupcakes
Made with Trader Joe's Joe Joe's. 

I have a number of recipes and new things I want to share with you, however I left my camera in Oregon (boo) and I'm waiting for B's brother to mail it down to me.  Hopefully I'll have it soon!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Cook's Mecca

A couple weeks ago B and I went to lunch with a good friend who also enjoys cooking. After lunch we all went to Penzey's (okay, B went mostly because we all drove together and therefore he didn't have a choice!), a trip E had been insisting I make for some time.  This was my very first trip to Penzey's, although I had perused their website before, and I was both overwhelmed and instantly enamored.  The following is what I brought home, which, mind you, is not even a fraction of what they carry.

My Penzey's Booty
Here it is all together. 

Dried whole peppers (a mild variety), bay leaves, and two types of sausage seasoning.  Sausage seasoning?! you say. Why yes, the seasonings themselves are all veg and so I thought they would be great for my vegetarian sausage experiments. 

Spearmint, peppermint, sumac (hidden), herbes de provence, french thyme, and minced lemon peel.  The mints are whole leaves, I think they'll make great tea.  The sumac is a revelation.  I could not find it in any of my local stores when I first looked for it so I ordered some online (not from Penzey's).  That stuff can't hold a candle to Penzey's - seriously amazing.  The herbes de provence is beautiful and doesn't hold back on the lavender.  Minced lemon peel is basically dehydrated zest. Great for when you don't have any fresh lemons on hand.

Poultry seasoning, horseradish powder, whole coriander seeds, buttermilk ranch dressing base, and minced orange peel.  The poultry seasoning is great, you can really see the sage, the texture is not nearly so fine as what you typically find.  I was so excited to find horseradish powder (I had no idea such a product was available!). Many prepared horseradishes on the market contain dairy, most aren't strong enough for me, and almost all of them have weird preservatives.  I can't wait to play with this.  Our friend E said I had to get the buttermilk ranch mix.  There is no dairy in the mix itself and I love ranch in principle but tend to hate it in most of the versions I've tried (plus there is dairy that's in most prepared ranches).  I haven't had a chance to use this yet, but I'll let you know what I think when I do.

Mint hot chocolate, Tuscan sunset seasoning mix, and pure orange extract.  We love hot chocolate, and this mix is dairy free so you can mix it with whatever kind of milk you prefer.  E insisted I get the Tuscan sunset seasoning and who am I to argue with the man who is greeted by name when he enters the store.  Oh my gosh - the orange extract is like an orange in a bottle, no harshness on the nose, just pure, sweet orange - amazing, you must get it.

Mace, fleur de sel, hot chocolate, kosher salt, pure almond extract, pure lemon extract.  I've just started trying gourmet salts, so I decided to try their fleur de sel (no joke - that stuff is not cheap - I got the smallest jar).  The hot chocolate has a touch of cinnamon, but E said it's not like Mexican hot chocolate in which it's a prominent flavor, but rather amplifies the chocolate itself.  I've only ever had Morton's kosher salt, so I was interested to try a different kind. Also, Diamond Crystal has no additives, and according to Robert L. Wolke in What Einstein Told His Cook, Morton's does contain an anti-caking agent (ewww).  As with the orange extract, the lemon and almond extracts smell pure and sweet with no trace of bitterness or weird additives.

And finally, Madagascar vanilla beans. Swoon. Three to a container, for $7.25, which if you've shopped for vanilla beans recently you know is a freaking bargain. If you buy 15 beans they are $28.65, which means you are almost getting one whole container free. They also have Mexican vanilla beans, if you prefer, for the same prices.

As I said, I barely scratched the surface of what they carry.  They offer most all their spices and mixes in small bottles (like the one my mace is in), larger bottles, and in bags in a couple different weights like most of what I purchased (I have empty spice bottles at home since I usually buy my spices from the bulk section).  Check them out, their prices are much better than your supermarket and the quality far beyond anything you'll find there.  If they have a store anywhere near you, or somewhere you'll be visiting, go to one and smell.  They offer tester bottles of everything so you can sniff to your heart's content (or until your nose calls uncle). I bet you'll fall in love as fast as I.