Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Canadian Thanksgiving

A Canadian Thanksgiving
Carlos, Stefan, Greg and Brian put in more seeds on Sunday. We are staggering the seeding so we should have a continuous harvest for some time rather than "This week's menu is Spinach."
S0-called "winter tomatoes" are in the nurseries right now, but I've not had good luck with them in the past. Without the hot, sweetening summer sun, their tasteless texture makes the grocery store variety seem a treat. That said, Carlos grew a "Manitoba Tomato" start for me. Considering how many Canadians come to California for the winter sun, the name alone portends well. To give it more of a chance, we'll plant it in a pot rather than directly in the ground. The confined space within the container will help warm the potting soil and that baby's roots. I might also add a bit of gin to its water, too. That always seems to make my Canadian cousins sweeter, red and well juiced when they visit us in the winter.
Maya was busy this weekend so she contributed by writing the letter in the side picture. I'll translate it below for those of us oldies with diminishing eyesight, which emerging scientific research indicates may be caused by too much gin in the water, but can be counteracted by eating plenty of vegetables. The recipes for Sunday nights' Canadian Thanksgiving dinner-- this time "Cooked by Carla"-- are at the end this post.

A True Garden
by Maya Alana, age 9

"So far Mrs. Karla and I have been planting carrots, swiss chard, micro greens, lettuce and leeks. Mrs. Karla is very good at gardening. She can garden fruits, vegetables, and any other plants or flowers. Her garden is such a beauty and once you walk into it nature surrounds you.
Mrs. Karla's garden is what someone would call a true garden. Her garden is so healthy and neat that it almost looks like it's glowing with light. Mrs. Karla cares for her garden alot, you could imagine a little angel sitting in her garden and whispering to her plants as if they were children.

Clearly, Mrs. Karla is a true gardener and she has a true garden."
A Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner
Manitobans give thanks for the end of Mosquito Season on the Second Monday of October. They celebrate by eating and drinking as much as they can at one sitting. They will not participate again in this strange ritual until the Second Tuesday of October. Californians, please note: Manitoba is not a little town somewhere in Iowa. It is a very large province in a very large space that Europeans and other educated people call Canada. Contrary to what many in the United States believe, Canada is not just some "sort of bottling company for cheap whiskey." For more information regarding the unique customs and beliefs of this emerging country, please see Wikipedia.

Dinner: Scavange any left over produce you can from the summer garden. Cut up a season-end cantalope and sprinkle it with torn spearmint leaves and balsamic vinager. (Note to self: never again plant mint anywhere in the garden except in a container. Note to others: if you need mint, I have plenty.}
Rub 4 cornish game hens with salt & pepper and a bit of olive oil. Stick up their bums the last Meyer lemon, cut into quarters, along with some rosemary pilfered from a neighbor's yard. Scatter a roasting pan with some garlic cloves, plop the birds on top, and place pan into a pre-heated 425 degree oven. (That's 230 C in Canadian). Whisk 1/3 of a glass of wine {okay, it started as a glass when I first poured it, but a 1/3 is more than enough for a bunch of little birds} with 1/3 cup chicken broth & a couple more teaspoons olive olive oil. After about 25 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F (that's 175 C Canadian) and pour the wine sauce over the birds. Baste about every 10 minutes, if you remember to do so, and continue roasting for around another 25 minutes.
Peel 3 large yams & cut first into 1/2 inch rounds & then cut the rounds into halves. Saute a thinly sliced leek with a little olive oil and about 1 1/2 teasp of the pilfered rosemary, finely minced. Dump yams and a cup of vegetagle broth into pan, bring it to boil and then cover and reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. When yams are soft, coat with 1/2 cup whipping cream, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and generously with ground nutmeg. Smash up roughly.
Fix wild rice mixture according to package instructions. Beer left over from last party. Any open wine bottles hanging around. Chocolate cake for dessert. Eat & drink well. Don't let Stefan play with knives. Brian will do the dishes. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tom Sawyer's Garden

As the planting started in Maya’s Garden, I played Tom Sawyer.

While Maya, Carlos, Brian, and Greg laid out Bed #1, first drawing tidy little square boxes in the dirt to delineate each variety of vegetables and then lines within those boxes to indicate the seeds would be placed, Davan---Maya’s Dad---took over my kitchen to make us dinner. I poured myself a glass of wine.

Carlos says our garden is not truly a square foot garden, which requires an engineer’s soul to devise, but French Intensive, or a double-dug raised bed, garden. Those smart French people, with their narrow urban backyards, came up with this method to yield the most produce for the least area. Double dug, with added humus, the soil is fluffy to a depth of 2 or more feet allowing the roots to grow deep and (hopefully) give stupendous yield. As the larger plants grow tall, they can then be interplanted with smaller more delicate ones, such as spinach or baby lettuces.

Maya has drawn a chart of the bed, showing what has been seeded in each section. So far, we have Italian green cauliflower, carrots, micro greens, leeks, and swiss chard. Each section of the chart is dated as to when the seeds were planted and how many days will pass before harvest. (For example, the cauliflower was planted on 9-27-09 and should be ready in 75 days.) For the most precise placing possible, Maya and Carlos used a nifty little syringe-like tool known as a seed dispenser.

We are not giving the cauliflower much hope. The seeds were brought from Italy to me as a birthday gift several years ago. I somehow then buried them in my garden shed rather than the ground. The packet expiry date was 2006, if I am translating the Italian correctly. Maya and Carlos dropped the seeds into a cup of water, theorizing that those that sank to the bottom are still alive. Those belly-upped at the top of the water are dead ducks. If they don’t sprout, I’ll sneak in some cauliflower seedlings and no one need know the tragedy hidden below.

Since our cats always like to help with the digging process, Brian & Greg covered the bed with a fine mesh tomato netting. It lets the sun and water in, but keeps predators out. Some types of manure are just inappropriate for a kitchen garden. When the plants are large enough, we’ll remove it as the cats are finely attuned to nature and will not dig where there is a growing plant.

With everyone having so much fun playing in the garden, I poured myself another glass of wine. Gardening is easy when it is done right! Three days since planting, the micro greens are already beginning to sprout.

Dinner by Davan
Buy one Jaherdale Squash from Flowerdale’s Demonstration Garden. (But, any solid yellow or orange squash should do, perhaps Japanese kabocha). Find a large stock pot hidden somewhere in Carla’s Country Kitchen. Put 16 oz of vegetable broth and a can of lite coconut milk into pot with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.. Using olive oil in a sauté pan, sauté gently, one large, finely chopped yellow onion, add ½ inch fresh grated ginger, two or three small cloves of minced garlic & continue sautéing until all the ingredients are soft but not colored. Then plop them into the stock pot with the liquids. Add a bit more olive oil to the pan, sauté squash cut into one inch cubes until soft. Stick sautéed squash into a blender and puree. Plop that into the stock pot. Simmer lightly to heat. While the stew is heating, fry plantains-- cut on the bias into about ½ inch segments-- in vegetable oil. (Davan says peanut oil would have been better, but he could have fooled me.) Plantains should be fried until golden on each side. They only take a minute or so. To the stew, add some of Davan’s mother’s home roasted cumin and a bit of mild flavored pepper. (I was pouring another glass of wine here rather than watching, but I think he either used a few drops of some generic hot sauce I had in the refrigerator or a few sprinkles of crushed red pepper from my cupboard.) Add a tablespoon or so of minced thyme from the herb garden. Top the squash stew with some parsley, if you have it. Serve with a crunchy French bread and the plantains on the side. Another glass of wine, Voila! A perfect Sunday evening.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Maya's First Blog..

The Reason I like Gardening

by Maya

Gardening is probably the best thing that has happened on earth. Without gardening, we wouldn't have any food.

My neighbor, Mrs. Carla, and I have been having so much fun gardening. I've combined my school project, Carla's demonstration garden, and a little bit of home gardening myself. And, its hard work, but it's fun, too.

In my school project I needed to research landscape architecture so I've been combining Carla's gardening tips to help me.

Carla's gardens are so beautiful that they've inspired me to spend more time in my garden and to be even closer to the natural beauty of nature.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It’s started! The cool weather heirloom test garden!! Maya’s Garden!!

Maya, my young neighbor, is combining the garden with a school project on architectural landscaping. Pretty cool for an eight-year old. Already, she is taking copious notes.

I’m manual labor. I’ve pulled all the summer veggies as production had grown to a snail’s pace, of which there were several in the garden. It’s organic so we just have to realize that bugs happen.

We have four raised beds, each 4 X 8 ft, which as I calculate will give us 128 sq. ft. and hopefully enough to at least partially feed the two families. Because of the limited space in my suburban garden, we’ll plant the beds by the square foot method rather than in rows. Because it’s so easy to reach across the 4 ft span, there is no need to waste the growing space on rows to walk in while weeding and harvesting.

Each bed has been augmented with a ¼ of a box of organic, granular vegetable fertilizer, two bags of Bumper Crop, a bag of worm castings, and a cup of Natural Soil Humate per bed.

I went over to Flowerdale Nursery this morning where Carlos Ruiz was teaching a class on Winter Heirloom Gardening. I now have an idea of not only what I do to prepare the beds each season, but why I do it. Since my soil is heavy clay, a full and fluffy compost helps it drain better. The compost also gives good bugs in the soil new stuff to eat. Those nifty little microbes will then poop their hearts out giving even more nutrient to the plants. Of course, then we will eat the plants and so on and so on.

The whole concoction is now simmering for another week and then we actually plant!