I have tasted the food of the future and it is delicious

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Back in September I was invited by a friend to attend an event put on by the Culinary Breeders Network. I didn't know much about it but the name piqued my interest and I got a kick out of joking to myself that it was going to be a gathering of foodies who love to procreate.

The mystery increased when we arrived at a HUGE warehouse in Portland's NW industrial district and we saw hordes of people milling in. The first surprise was how young and hip most people looked. It turns out that the room was full of the hottest chefs from one of the hottest food cities in the world (plus Bar Tartine in SF who I learned have their very own farm). The chefs were on hand presenting dishes they had prepared with the purpose of highlighting new food crops grown by local producers, artists in themselves. The ingredients ranged from groundnuts to parsley to tomatoes to shiso.

After a short intro and slideshow, us "tasters" were given spoons and set loose on a culinary mission the likes of which I will remember for the rest of my life. The perimeter of the warehouse was lined with tables grouped by ingredients in their raw state and as prepared as a dish.

One of the highlights for me was the corn table where Maya Lovelace of Mae had created a beautiful, creative, and exceedingly yummy dish showcasing the Chilean Choclo corn bred by Bill Tracy at The University of Wisconsin: fresh Choclo corn grits were served with sour "Blue Eyed Blonde" corn, pickled pepper & herb salad with fried chicken "corn nuts".

Next up, I had a parsley revelation. I'm a pretty big fan of parsley to begin with. I use it year round and it's in the garden nearly year round in Portland at times when few green things are in the veggie patch. This was a Macedonian Lanceleaf variety bred by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed. It has a feathery leaf shape and was used in a parsley and apple granita with buttermilk mousse created by Le Pigeon pastry chef Nora Antene. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. An explosion of tart, herbal iciness held up by a cloud of mousse. 

As a tomato enthusiast, I felt a thrill at getting to taste the new introductions from Jim Meyer's  tomato breeding program at Oregon State University (he's a tomato celebrity if such a thing exists and the creator of the Indigo tomato line). Log House Plants, my go-to source for interesting new vegetable varieties was on hand to present his varieties and breeding lines. Log House act as a gallerist of sorts for the gorgeous Indigo tomatoes of which there are now 19 varieties!! Indigo rose was the first to hit the market for home growers and as beautiful as it is, and full of healthy blue antioxidants from the anthocyanins, it has been a disappointment for many in the flavor department, myself included

I'm happy to report that many of the new indigo tomatoes that Jim Meyer's and others have been developing are as tasty as they are beautiful. The hands down winner for me was Indigo Cherry Drops. It's a sweet cherry tomato with a rich, slightly smoky flavor.  A little like a mini Paul Robeson, a personal favorite of mine. 

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Harvest Time

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Even on my little city lot, I'm starting to recognize the rhythms of gardening. In the Spring I feel like an athlete and become single-minded about gardening--all I want to do is be outside in the mud and rain hauling 20 boxwoods across town, hand-spreading compost over my entire lawn, getting into wrestling matches with forsythia. I'm washing heaps of filthy gardening clothes constantly. And my plant lust is at an all time high--there are weekly trips to the nursery where I mean to pop in for one thing and leave with a car load. Then early Summer comes and there's still a little work to be done here and there but by July I've totally lost interest in anything strenuous. I really can't be bothered with anything except a little minor futzing with the veggies and harvesting peas and potatoes and picking pretty bouquets. By August it's chaise lounge time. And then I start to feel all wistful.

The gardener's seasons:

1. Spring
Spring training starts in January.  Drills and endurance excersises include hauling 20 boxwoods across town in the rain, hand-spreading compost over the entire lawn, and wrestling matches with forsythia.

2. Summer
Gardening? Gardens are for croquet and laying on the grass with the dogs and picking mint for iced tea and gathering bouquets for every room of the house.

3. Fall
Fall is here when you don't want to walk barefoot outside anymore. And you get that self-satisfied feeling when you admire your cupboards stacked high with canned fruits and pickled things and imagine all the Christmas gifts you won't have to worry about later.

4. Winter
Winter is for reading seed catalogs in the bath tub. And sharpening your tools. 

The best antidote for that is harvest time. There is something so romantic and heart-warming about storing things for the Winter ahead. My Mom just gave me some raspberry freezer jam and I can't stop thinking about how amazing it's going to taste on a cold February morning. And she also made some blackberry lemon jam which failed to set up so I am looking forward to using it as a cordial and making fancy cocktails with it during the holidays.

I'm new at this whole food-preservation thing and am eager to try new things but also trying to be smart about it so I have things I actually eat and not 20 jars of pickles. 

Any of you pros have any words of advice--what are your favorite things to store for Winter? Should I buy a freezer? I dehydrator? One of my goals at my community garden plot was to grow things I can store, especially canning tomatoes. Things are just beginning to ripen up and I am looking forward to my first year of canning tomatoes. Stay tuned for my report and taste test. 

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End of Season Sales for Garden Lovers

Friday, September 18, 2015

I get the biggest thrill out of getting a huge bargain. Come Spring I will be sipping some elderflower cordial on my Teak Deck Lounger, big grin on my face, and shaking my head at all the suckers who have to pay full price to join me. That doesn't have to be you...

I can imagine so many INDOOR places where these Industrial String Lights would come in handy from kid's rooms to kitchens to fireplace mantels.

And this SW inspired pouf could also do double duty inside or out. It's only $29.98!! It's taken me over 40 years but I'm finally realizing the usefulness of poufs. They are perfect as extra seating, impromptu tables, and a place to prop up your feet so you can balance a laptop or Boston Terrier on your legs.

Lots of stores are switching out cushion covers right now so this is a great time to grab some at prices so good you won't worry about using them outdoors. This Silk Road Euro Sham has the wabi sabi thing dialed in.

And finally, something for the little people in your life. This Sol Rocking Chair has an outdoor vibe but throw a lambskin over it and your new pouf and it's a cozy reading chair.

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The Most Delicious Tomato in the World

Monday, August 31, 2015

I've been waiting with bated breath to taste the first ripe tomatoes from my Indigo Dragon's Eye tomato plant. Would it be The Most Delicious Tomato in the World as I had suspected last year? I needed a second season to confirm that fact because as we know, conditions change--those we can't control (this year we had the warmest June on record) and those we can (last year I nearly rotted my tomatoes in grow bags on a hot deck before moving them very late in the season to an inground location).

I know some plants thrive on stress and thought maybe the deliciousness I was tasting from Dragon's Eye last year was a result of torture and not something I could replicate. The flavor was so over the top. I've grown about 35 varieties of tomatoes and I've never tasted anything like this. The flesh was dense, the flavor layered and concentrated, the balance between sweet and acid a sexy tangle.

This variety was obtained from Log House Plants, which has the most amazing collection of tomato plants--they act like a gallerist, selling selections from the top tomato breeders around. Dragon's Eye is called an "Indigo" though it doesn't have a trace of purple. I wonder if it's high in lycopene though and has the same health benefits of the Indigo tomato varieties. It's a Wild Boar Farms hybrid. They're the folks who brought us the famous Berkley Tie-Dye, for all you tomato fanatics.

This year I gave the tomato a prime spot and let it do its tomato thing. The first tomatoes are off the vine and the verdict is in. Dragon's Eye, I crown you The Most Delicious Tomato in the World!

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A Plant Named George

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Springtime (imaginary) tea party in Sky Meadows, Washington.
My Dad died in April. Having never lived together since I was a baby, the past decade we shared a duplex, my husband and I upstairs, and he in the downstairs flat. When we moved in, gardening was a new adventure, something we both looked forward to. We dreamed of English roses (him), and tomatoes (both of us), and scarlet runner beans (him), and banana trees (me). All of these dreams became reality over the years. Together, our lack of self-control when it came to buying tomato plants, was compounded. We egged each other on at the nursery. The weirder the name, the more excitement. There's a tomato called Bloody Butcher. We HAVE to grow that. And Mortgage Lifter. Well, we could certainly use that. And who can say no to Dr. Wyche's? The first year, I think we grew 12 tomato plants which all grew as tall as trees.

As my Dad's health and energy waned over the years, the result of 50 years of smoking, the garden became more and more my domain, but he always kept his flower box fresh with seasonal flowers and we spent hours upon hours sitting in two chairs in front of it talking about women's tennis and cheddar cheese and international politics and English league soccer and the nature of reality and more than anything, his life story. A glorious story full of unlikely adventures in an English orphanage before, during, and after WWII and stints living in Saudi Arabia and Seattle and Indonesia.

St. George Runner Beans, made as favors for my Dad's memorial service.
In October of 2013 my Dad became a grandad at the age of 82 and I became a mother at the age of 39. It was another great adventure to share. We talked about planting a celebratory Springtime garden while I was pregnant but once the new George arrived that plan fell to the wayside with the reality of living with a newborn. We did have a lot of fun in the garden last Summer though, watching this new life waking up to the world, the thrill of sitting in the grass and feeling the breeze and watching the way the light played on different plants.

The Georges and Papa and Dutch and Mugsy in front of the future site of the "Dad" garden.
After my Dad died I immediately started thinking about what I could plant in his honor. I figured there must be a "George" plant out there and started my research. The more I looked, the more George plants I found, and the idea grew to create an entire George garden. At present I have 14 George plants and have my eye on several more. My hope is that this Fall I will create a small garden with a brick paved area for a Lutyens bench, the king of the garden to be the King George Rhododendron, which is of the Loderi variety. These Rhodies are new to me, with large, tropical looking leaves. This particular variety is very kingly with flowers the size of HUGE lilies. And they're fragrant!

Lutyens Bench, an English classic.
Rhododendron 'Loderi King George' planted in The Portland Nursery parking lot, Stark St location.
I might relax the rules later but right now I'm enjoying the challenge of being totally limited in my plant choice. I will permit a "Georges" plant but won't go so far as to allow a "Georgianna".  Is it possible to create something that actually looks good or will it be a clashing, will-nilly mess? Will there be unexpected surprises? One of the lilies I bought is looking like it might actually bloom at the same time as the asters are blooming. That would be a refreshing purple combo, very welcome in the dry and sepia final days of Summer. There are so many George Spring bulbs that I'm pretty sure the garden will look beautiful in the Spring (what garden doesn't look beautiful in the Portland Spring?) but with only one George hebe and one heather that I've found, will I be able to create any sort of Winter structure, and if not, can I make up for it with some pots or sculpture? This mission has really taught me how much goes into garden design, something pretty new to me since most of the gardening I've done has evolved very slowly according to my whims and wallet.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to having a place to commune with my Dad come Spring and to reflect on all our happy porch chats. I'll see you in the garden, Dad.
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Grow Haiti Plant Collection

Friday, April 24, 2015

Did you know you could grow peanuts and hibiscus and okra in the Pacific Northwest? I like to think of it as zonal denial for the veggie patch. Last Summer my vegetable garden was more exciting and colorful than it's ever been, thanks to a fun test-growing project I got to participate in to see what Haitian plants might work in our climate. It's a project called Grow Haiti from Loghouse Plants and the brainchild of my creative plant-loving friend Myrtle Von Damitz who was looking for a way to support the people of Haiti. Proceeds from the sale of this plant collection will go to The Lambi Fund which supports sustainable agriculture and development in Haiti.

This has been so fun in so many ways--growing things you didn't know you could grow here, the craziness and extreme beauty of many of these plants, the terrific packaging (I'm a sucker for a pretty label), and the gateway the plants provide to this rich and beautiful culture. Plus, through this project, I created perhaps the most delicious meal that ever emerged from my kitchen (more info below!) and I'm so excited that I'll have the opportunity to grow the magic ingredient again.

This beautiful collection will be sold at Log House stockists--check their site to find your nearest nursery. And if you're in Portland and free this Sunday, April 26th from 12-2 please head on over to The Portland Nursery on Division for a fun launch event. I'll be there buying plants and would love to chat with you about growing peanuts!

On to the plants...I was provided with several plants that I'd never grown before and not all of them made it into the collection. The mirliton was beautiful and fun to grow. It was almost a Jack and the Beanstalk experience as I watched it engulf an arbor with its twining tendrils. It really is a beautiful plant with large, tropical leaves. It didn't fruit for me unfortunately so won't be included in the collection...

 Mirlitons, twirlitons, just getting started with their magic tendrils!

My neighbor made me a special arbor for my mirliton growing experiment. Isn't it enchanting? Aren't good neighbors gold?

Other plants were very fruitful though! The peanuts, which I really didn't have much hope for, grew wonderfully and were SUCH A TRIP. Did you know that peanuts form underground? You thought potatoes were fun for kids to grow and harvest? Try peanuts! As the plant matures it sends these weird alien looking pegs into the soil and at harvest time you uproot the entire plant to find the roots teeming with peanuts. Perfect, beautiful peanuts! In the case of the Schronce’s Deep Black variety you had the added excitement of peanuts encased in a shiny, dark purple skin. Stunning.

 See those purple tendril things? Those are the peanuts legs that go down into the soil and form those funny Charlie Chaplin shoes we call PEANUTS. Man, nature is a hoot.
 Behold, the mighty peanut! Grown at my Grant Community Garden plot. I bet my neighbors had no idea what riches there were under the soil in my little plot. I didn't either!

I would have made George walk so I had room to harvest more peanuts but he didn't know how. And he was wearing white socks.

The Scotch Bonnet Peppers were another favorite of mine. Man are they beautiful AND prolific. Mine got stuck behind some towering tomato plants in a plot already hurting for sun and they still went bananas and kept producing into Fall.

 Scotch Bonnet Peppers are sooo pretty. Look at them! Golden delicious.

I'm always amazed at how well peppers do in our climate and these Scotch Bonnet Peppers are one of the best producers I've met. 

The hibiscus, Roselle (Flor de Jamaica), also did well and is a true stunner. If you've had the refreshing Jamaica from Mexico, it's like that, and the flowers are easy to dry and make tea of. The plants didn't get too large--about 2' but produced a nice amount of flowers. I would grow it just as an ornamental.

 Tropicalissimo! Roselle is a true stunner in the garden patch.

And now, onto the recipe that I mentioned before. Griot is a typical Haitian pork dish that has an unusual cooking technique which seams almost counter-intuitive. It's really not hard to make but there are several steps and it's the kind of thing you need a lot of time to plan for. You marinade the meat, then slow-cook it, and THEN you fry/brown it. At first I thought this was so weird, but then I realized that this is the traditional technique for making Mexican carnitas, minus the marinade stage. The flavors are also quite similar (orange and pork) but SO much more intense and delicious. It will really knock your socks off and would be an amazing gift to make for a large group or party. Serve with black beans and rice and some Pikliz and you're in heaven.

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Top (weirdo) Trees (or bushes pretending to be trees) for Small (and tiny) Gardens

Friday, July 11, 2014

It seems like there a lot of these "Best Trees for Small Gardens" lists but I have two problems with them:

1. They are so ho-hum. I do love a well-placed Japanese Maple but there are so many other cool options.
2. Their definition of small is not really that small. What if you have a truly tiny garden? I have some ideas!

So here's a list of some of my outlier favorites. Honestly I have very little tree knowledge (and if you live in the tropics or the desert, you're on your own) but play along with me...

Chain-flowered Redbud (Cercis racemosa)

My newest tree crush is Cercis Racemosa growing here in NE Portland. It reportedly grows to about 20'. The pink dangling catkins on this tree make me think of Chinese paintings. Cherry blossoms? Pfff. These are TO DIE FOR and give way to long flat purple pods, also pretty cool looking. I passed on some seeds I collected from this tree and my garden blogger friend Ann at Amateur Bot-ann-ist is going to attempt to germinate them. Good luck Ann--the world needs more of these pink darlings!

Wedding Cake Tree, Cornus controversa 'Variegata' 

I love to say the name of this one--it sounds like a Harry Potter Spell. Cornus controversa 'Variegata'! Poof! It gets its common name "Wedding Cake Tree" because it grows in tiers like a cake and in the Spring it is covered in frothy white flowers. Doesn't it look good enough to eat? This specimen in my yard is 8 years old and it's about 12'. I fell in love with this tree when I saw it in a photo in The Jewel Box Garden. It's excellent for lighting up a dark corner, especially on an overcast Spring day.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Next up, blooming here in its Dr. Seuss sunshiny glory, is Edgeworthia chrysantha. I guess some of you would call this a shrub, but maybe that all depends on the size of your garden. It can take some light pruning so you can make it look a little more tree-like if you prefer. Mine always gets tons of suckers that need to be trimmed. I used to be a snob for this edgeworthia over the red blossomed Edgeworthia papyrifera ‘Red Dragon’ (the blossoms ARE bigger on the yellow version) but I have been won over after seeing my Mom's recently planted 'Red Dragon' showing off in a big way. 

Chinese Parasol Tree (Firmiana Simplex) at Brian's Botanicals

Tropicalisimo with huge leaves over a foot wide! Chinese Parasol Tree can grow up to 40 feet but its trunk remains slender and the foliage is at the top (hence the name) so you can easily grow things under it and it has a small footprint. It can be invasive in some areas of the South but in the Pacific Northwest it seems very well-behaved. 

 California Lilac (Ceanothus) at Yerba Buena Nursery

If you start them young you can prune California Lilac into some pretty extreme shapes--I even had a lollipop once but then I moved it to a new location and it died on me. I'm currently trying another one, a variegated variety. Hope to share some photos next year--it's pretty promising! This is a great plant with shiny leaves that are EVERGREEN and in the Spring it's covered in little blue flowers which the bees love. There's the common dark green variety, several variegated forms, and even a black one called Tuxedo! 

 Black Lace Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh

My love for this tree/shrub knows no bounds. It's just a knockout in so many ways! It has black foliage that makes Japanese Maples green with envy (or should that be black with envy?) and tufts of heavenly smelling pink flowers--such a beautiful hew that looks almost orange at times. I'm not a lover of pink in general but something about this one just does it for me. You can make cordial out of the flowers or wait for the berries, also edible. It's an AMAZING foil for chartreuse plants. It does need some pruning every year or it turns into a giant Cousin It pretty quickly, but that's its only fault, and who among us is perfect? 

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot), photo from The Oregonian 

Hot damn, look at that! TWO smoke trees, the common purple variety AND the "Golden Spirit" which is like a beam of light. This is another potential Cousin It but it can be pruned into a small tree. In my experience it needs full sun if you really want to see some glowing chartreuse foliage.

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