A Look At My Garden

Carrots right out of the garden. iPhone photo.
Carrots right out of the garden. iPhone photo.

Back about 5 years ago, I was fed up with my horrific water bill. So… out went all the grass, roses, hedges, small decorative flowers and walkway in my front yard. In went a new fence, apple trees, lemon tree, raised bed garden boxes and decomposed granit patio and tan bark by the truck loads. Hello happy garden and happy home gardner. 

2010, our front yard is being transformed.
2010, our front yard is being transformed.
2010, our front yard is being transformed into our new garden space.
2010, our front yard is being transformed into our new garden space.

 Now most of the pictures I am posting were taken with my old point and shoot or my iPhone, some of the most recent will be from my Canon 6D. Please forgive the quality. 

2010
2010, start of square foot gardening.

For the first two years I choose to follow the rules of square foot gardening and the harvest was amazing and I honestly could not believe what a 4X4 square could grow. My husband (the love) built me three 4X4 raised boxes and one 2X8 bed and then one 2X3 bed. He also insisted that two compost bins be placed in the yard too because as soon as he saw what could be grown he knew the trash company was not getting all my hard work- it was going to be put back to good use.

2010
2010, six months after the boxes went in.

After the first two years I decided I wanted a few permanent plants in the garden such as lemon verbena, sage, rosemary, lavender, French thyme and tarragon. I’ve carefully placed these in corners or at the end of the long boxes mainly to create a good anchor and to help hold water, my husband also added a good amount of peet moss to the raised bed to help keep the moisture in and also to keep the soil temperatures up. I just went outside to take a soil temperature and one of my 4X4 boxes the soil temperature is at about 80 degrees. This is really good!

 

2012 raised bed garden
2012 raised bed garden

Every year it’s a little different in the garden but there are always tried and true vegetables: carrots, beets, kale, squash and pickling cucumbers. The one time of year my neighbors have a say in what I plant is mid winter and they always choose the french sweet pea seeds, the amazing fragrance keeps people who are walking by our home rooted to the spot, sweet pea fragrance is intoxicating and Steve, my husband built special trellises just for them in the garden. I honestly do not think my neighbors would forgive me if my yard was not spilling over with those delicate twisting and twirling tendril floral beauties.

My son and his lemon tree that grows flamingos.
My son and his lemon tree that grows flamingos.

Right now in my garden there are many fruit trees and citrus trees such as; Anna apple,  dorset apple, meyer lemon, Australian finger lime, pink lemonade lemon, Buddha’s hand, and Osborne fig. The list of herbs are; lemon verbena, sage, rosemary, chives, french thyme, tarragon, lavender, spearmint, mint, dill, basil, pineapple sage and a rose geranium. The vegetable list includes; carrots, corn, beets, kohlrabi, pickling cucumbers, zucchini, snow white tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, kale, Roma tomatoes, pumpkins and a few other self seeding tomatoes. 

2014 early spring harvest
2014 early spring harvest

I love harvesting vegetables and picking fruits or flowers for my friends, the above picture has been one of many hostess gifts I have brought recently to a few parties. The weather has been amazing so the come over for a BBQ invitations are steadily coming it. I’ve ordered from Ikea a few sets of bowls and I make sure to pack the bowl full of garden fresh treats. The look on the host or hostesses face when I present this garden bouquet to them is absolutely heart warming and priceless. 

My daughter and her sunflowers
My daughter and her sunflowers

I posted this picture on Instagram a few weeks ago. My Daughter Paige quietly snuck giant sunflower seeds into the box that has my sweet peas, sage, lemon verbena, rosemary and chives in it. Those sunflowers grew to over 16 feet tall and the amazing amount of sunflower seeds we harvested will keep my children quite happy over the summer as they perfect the art of cracking the seeds open and spitting out the shells on make shift distance marker on the ground. If they only were not allergic to watermelon we could have a watermelon seed spitting contest. Oh well. 

The garden in spring 2014
The garden in spring 2014

I love pic stitch, this was taken in April and I can not tell you how amazing it was to watch all of this food grow right in my front yard. On any given day I spend anywhere from 15- 30 minutes outside watering, pruning, harvesting or fertilizing the garden. My children love to help me pick the new plant seeds and figure out where to plant them in relation to what will the height be, does the new plant need sun or shade? What size will it grow to, will we need just one of these plants or could two work? All I know is this my children know where their food comes from and they have a say in it, what parent can have a issue with that? 

Take a look at your yard a really good and honest look. Do you have the ability to put a few boxes in or maybe a few containers for vegetables or fruit trees? If you do I can guarantee it will be one of the best investments you could make. Fresh grown food, a welcome addition in water conservation (getting rid of that water sucking grass) a food source for butterflies, bees and birds too. I can not wait to take out a good part of our backyard grass and put more raised beds in it. I hope you enjoyed the look into my other kitchen, my outdoor kitchen and if you have a question or would like to share your transformed yards please do. Have a great week.

Cheers!

 

A Farmers Market Visit

Farmers MarketLast weekend I visited my local farmers market. I needed to stock up on a few items and I wanted to see and share with you what was in season. I live in a small beach side community about one hour north of Los Angeles. Our area is known for its rich top soil and long standing farming families, some of which I am lucky enough to be related to. These men and women work tirelessly day in and day out to feed our community, as well as working with distributors to ship our County’s bounty all over the United Stated and the World. 

Oxnard, California Strawberries

Strawberries grown on the Oxnard plain make the long journey to Japan, South Africa and even Russia.

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 Citrus grown in Santa Paula, Piru, Ventura, Oxnard and Ojai become treasured sunshine jewels to those in Alaska, Canada and even England.

Beets, Underwood Farms

Root vegetables grown in Camarillo, Ojai and Somis sometimes grace the plates presented by famous chefs at the Oscar after parties, Governors Balls and even meals served at the  White House.

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Flowers from the Ventura County fields and green houses find their way as part of the New Years Day Celebration on floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade held in Pasadena, California.

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Sometimes the season is truly giving with crops of artichoke from Somis, Ojai and Moorpark. But usually we receive our artichoke crop from the Monterey County area.

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I hope these photographs inspire you to get out tomorrow and visit a farmers market or farm stand near your area. Go meet the farmers, taste their food and better yet buy their food. Help keep farmers farming! This profession is a treasured way of life that is in trouble due to lack of water in some areas, restrictions and regulations and the growing number of imported fruits and vegetables .

IMG_6971I don’t know a farmer around that does not like a thank you, in fact they love it. All a farmer truly wants is good weather, water, a market to sell his or her product to and some simple thanks for all their hard work; especially the hard work of their farm hands and managers that make their profession and way of life possible. Have yourself a wonderful weekend, I hope the sun is shining and the temperatures are not too hot for you. I would love to hear about why your area Farmers Market is special, I’m always up for a road trip you never know where I might show up next.

Cheers!

Citrus and Fennel Salad

Ingredients
  1. Salad
  2. 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, fronds saved for garnish
  3. 2 oranges; blood orange, Valencia orange or navel orange
  4. 2 tangerines; murcotts, Dancy, golden nugget or Yosemite
  5. 1 shallot minced
  6. zest of one lemon
  7. zest of one orange
  8. 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
  9. Salad Dressing
  10. 4 tablespoons of olive oil or citrus infused olive oil
  11. 2 tablespoons of citrus vinegar, champagne vinegar, pineapple vinegar or pear vinegar
  12. Salt and Pepper to taste
  13. juice from 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Place the thinly sliced fennel in a large bowl along with the oranges, tangerines, shallots, zest and fresh thyme. In a mason jar or small bowl add all the dressing ingredients and shake or mix well, pour dressing over the salad and toss gently. Arrange on a platter and garnish with the fennel fronds.
Notes
  1. Serve with a very cold, crisp Viognier wine or sparkling water with citrus slices.

Salty Dog

Salty Dog Cocktail

On Sunday I spent a few hours in my garden getting the next round of late summer early fall seedlings planted. What I added to the raised to beds were pole beans, kale, beets, squash, herbs and spinach. The weather was gorgeous, high 70’s lots of sun, no humidity, a cool breeze and no fog which in Ventura, California summer is usually known for fog, lots of fog. I came into my kitchen to make lunch and there they were three picture perfect grapefruit just screaming  “Make me into a cocktail!”

Ruby Red Grapefruit

A few weeks back a group of girlfriends and I ate brunch at Azu Restaurant in Ojai, California. I ordered the salmon cake eggs benedict that had a meyer lemon hollandaise sauce- if you are ever near Ojai I highly suggest this restaurant for brunch, the outdoor covered patio is tranquil with its large urn water feature, shaded peaceful nook areas and lovely crisp white tablecloths and simple floral centerpieces. Elizabeth, one of the owners at Azu is a friend of mine, she suggested that I order a salty dog with my brunch choice. What was in it exactly I had to ask?  Well, it has fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, gin or vodka and a salted rim. With a smile on my face I told Elizabeth yes, please I will take one! That cocktail complimented the briny and perfectly seasoned salmon cake and the tart yet sweet grapefruit juice matched the creamy meyer lemon citrus hollandaise.

Azu Restaurant in Ojai, California

So remembering all the flavors from that brunch, I sliced up a few Snow White tomatoes from my garden then tore a few pieces of fresh mozzarella and dressed it with a home made reduced Modena balsamic vinegar that I had infused with rosemary and garlic. I juiced the grapefruits and added it to my glass that was packed with ice and had a perfectly salted rim, then I added a good splash of Deaths Door Gin. The tart, salty and sweet grapefruit juice added a deeper layer to the sweet fruity flavor of my small cherry sized yellow tomatoes that were still warm from the sun. But the big surprise was how well the cocktail and the reduced vinegar worked with each other, the rosemary and the tartness of the vinegar blended and complimented maybe even enriched the juniper berry, coriander and fennel in the gin. Next time you are at the store pick up a few star ruby or ruby red grapefruit, salt your glass and squeeze the juice over crushed ice then add a good quality vodka such as Grey Goose or a good quality gin like Death’s Door Gin. Welcome in summer and enjoy sitting in the shade of your backyard or garden while eating a fresh tomato salad, you can not go wrong.

Cheers!

Fresh Made Salty Dog

Ingredients
1.    2 ounces of gin or vodka
2.    4 ounces of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
3.    kosher salt with a bit of grapefruit zest mixed in
4.    Collins glass
5.    ice

Instructions
1.    You will need a Collins glass, and slightly wet the rim. In a small saucer or bowl place the kosher salt and grapefruit zest in it and mix well. Take your glass and roll the wet lip of the glass in the salt mixture until it is well coated, shake off the excess salt. Fill glass with ice and add vodka or gin and grapefruit juice, with a spoon give it a gentle mix and serve.

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad with Avocado

 

Caprese salad, the beautiful Italian dish meaning “Salad of Capri.” By far you cannot find a salad any simpler that this fresh and flavorful creation. Thick slices of fresh mozzarella, garden grown tomatoes, lush green basil leaves and then add a little salt, pepper and some olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar too. I asked my friend Francesco who owns Sapssos Cucina Italiana what is it about this creation that honestly makes my eyelashes flutter and my bellyache with hunger pains? It is because Caprese salad resembles the colors of the Italian flag: red, white, and green. What Italy is all about is there on your plate.

Oh he’s right, the creamy mozzarella cheese, you can taste the fresh milk and its silky texture just melts with every bite you take. The sweet and acid burst of flavor from the seasonal tomatoes, honestly this salad is the reason why I grow so many varieties of tomatoes in my garden. I want to know is the Roma or Beefsteak the perfect tomato for this dish or is the Japanese Pink, Brandywine or possibly the Black Truffle tomato? Right now all my tomatoes are still slightly green and not quite ready for the salad bowl, however your area farmers market should have some beauties!

Farmers Market Tomatoes

I believe this salad should start a meal, an antipasto, not a side dish to be added to your plate and not as an end of the meal; this is where your feast needs to start. Have a simple bowl of al dente pasta with a bit of shaved parmesan cheese and olive oil then to drink a lovely Chianti my pick would be Gaetano D’Aquino Riserva 2010 I promise your lunch or dinner will be perfect. Make sure to use a sharp knife when chopping the basil it will keep from bruising the basil leaves and the slices of tomato need to be on the thicker side I like a 1/2 inch slice. If you can find it purchase the mozzarella in a long log shape or the small mozzarella balls that is packed in water for freshness, sometimes they are packed in olive oil with herbs and spices- thats a good option too.

Caprese Pasta Salad

All of this has made me very hungry and I have the perfect tomato sitting in my fruit basket that is calling to me. Oh I forgot please, please, please I beg you- do not store your fresh bought or picked tomatoes in the fridge. That will ruin them. They like fresh air and room temperatures maybe put an unripe peach next to it and watch the magic that happens as the tomatoes helps ripen that peach in a matter of days. Food is magical, not only on the science front but on the sheer magic it holds and its ability to awaken senses you never knew were possible. To the Italian creative genius that coined this salad, I thank you, my taste buds thank you and my wonderfully hungry belly thanks you too.

Cheers!

A Comforting Bowl of Red Beans

Red Beans      My husband has a folder in his mind titled “Kate comfort food.” My red beans recipe is in the top 10, maybe top five. Simple yet flavorful food can bring comfort to a stress filled day or warmth on a cold night. Yes, it does get cold in Southern California- I promise. I have discovered a secret in the preparation and cooking process of red beans, let’s say it lessens the tummy issues and I’ll leave it at that. The secret is the overnight soaking water and the first boil. It is nontraditional-but it works ** see recipe.

My earliest memories of red beans were with my Poppa, Charles Mathson Slaton he was born in Macon, Georgia in 1918 truly an amazing and talented man who I miss dearly. We would go to a small diner where he would order us a bowl of RBR with a side of cornbread. I would get this giggle and laugh going and then my mouth would start puckering due to the heat of the Andouille sausage_ it’s flavorful spices and smoke honestly was and still is my favorite part.

Charles "Chuck" Slaton, my Grandfather.
Charles “Chuck” Slaton, my Grandfather.

 The vegetables in this dish are not many- simply green bell pepper, onion and celery-always referred to as-the Trinity. Poppa would say “Bug” (ref #1) the way to a man’s heart is in these three here vegetables and he pulled a few of them out of the bowl and onto a plate: green bell pepper, onion and celery. “If you use these in your food you will find a good man.” Guess what, in all my years of making red beans I never made them for someone that I was dating, I have only made them for my husband. Poppa was correct.

 The first time I made my red beans and rice for my soon-to-be husband he was going through particularly tough time. He had just lost his father to cancer; and, he was back from his deployment in Iraq. Steve was in a lost spot and honestly I did not know what to do. Then I remembered feeding helps those who need comfort. Off to the store I went to get: smoked ham hocks, spicy sausage, red beans and the trinity. Overnight the beans soaked becoming plump and full, in the morning out came my two tried-and-true, battered and banged up orange colored Le Creuset French Oven. The first French oven had the beans simmering away,  the second was used to sauté the remaining ingredients. The sweet smell of onion, thyme, bay leaf and garlic started to wrap their fragrant hands around him-coaxing him to ask what was I making. “It’s red beans, it’ll make you feel better, I promise.”

 Soon the smoky ham hocks were added and the spicy sausage, by then Steve had moved into the kitchen with me, watching what I was doing quietly sitting there reading his book being comforted by the smells of simple, good food. The beans were added to the sautéed vegetables along with chicken stock, the lid was placed on and the French oven then I slid it to a back burner for its low heat simmer.  The pot for the rice was on the stove gently bubbling away. Next the oven was set to 400°F; and, my 60 + year-old Lodge cast-iron 10″ inch skillet was placed in that oven to heat up with a good tablespoon of bacon drippings. Just when the cast iron and bacon fat was good and hot I took it out of the oven and poured my sweet cornbread batter into the pan, its like a sizzling kiss of love that hot bacon fat makes the perfect crisp outer crust to any corn bread recipe.

 It’s now 10 years later and I look back on that dinner, I remember seeing a moment of peace, comfort and healing. I don’t know why but somewhere in the soaking, boiling, simmering, stirring and tending to,  love was so gently infused into that meal. Still to this day his face softens, his shoulders relax and his smile returns whenever he smells my red beans slowly cooking away on our stove.  I hope you find comfort in this recipe I also hope you giggle a bit at the spice it has too.

 Cheers!

Poppa’s Red Beans

Ingredients
  1. 1lb dried red kidney beans
  2. 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  3. 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
  4. 5 cloves of garlic crushed
  5. 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  6. 2 medium sized ham hocks
  7. 1- 1 ½ pounds Andouille sausage, cut into rounds
  8. 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  9. 2 bay leaves
  10. 2 cups stock (chicken, pork or vegetable)
  11. 4 cups water
  12. Creole seasoning to taste
  13. salt and pepper to taste
  14. 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
  15. 1 tsp baking soda *
Instructions
  1. Sort and rinse your kidney beans then add to a large pot or bowl, fill with enough cool water to have at least 2” space between the beans and the top line of the water. * tummy helper #1 add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the water mix around and leave to soak overnight. At least 12 hours.
  2. After overnight soak drain and rinse the beans very well. Place beans in a French oven or large pot and cover with cool water. Place the pot on the stove and use a low flame to simmer the beans. About 1 hour.
  3. While the beans are half way through their simmer in your second pot add your oil and heat the pot on medium. When the oil glistens or has that heat ripple look, sauté the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the celery and bell pepper, about about 5 minutes then add the thyme, bay leaves, ham hocks, sausage 4 cups water and 2 cups stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.
  4. Drain your tender beans and rinse very well * secret #2. Add beans to the simmering pot and slowly cook for 2 to 3 hours. At the 2-hour mark check the beans to see if they are soft and creamy then taste, add your creole seasoning and any salt and pepper that is needed.
  5. Serve over a bowl of light and fluffy white rice and enjoy or simply on their own.

Reference #1 my full name is Kathleen but I was called Katie as a young girl and “Katie Bug” was my nickname; but, my Poppa called me bug for short.

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