Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cooking: Holiday Party Fare

Deep Green Salad with Spicy BeetsThe biggest holiday of the year is upon us, with parties and dinners and generally lots of indulgences. So, what do my thoughts turn to? Kale…

No, seriously.

Knowing that we are likely to have at least a few sugary treats during the season, I'm trying to pack as many different tasty greens into our meals as possible. As fortune has it, there are some incredibly nutritious choices in good supply right now, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and various kinds of kale.

This salad uses lacinato kale, sometimes marketed as "dinosaur" kale because of its textured leaves. Whatever your greengrocer is calling it, it's a nutritional powerhouse, low in calories but high in vitamins A and C, a smattering of calcium and iron, loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, and a rich source of soluble fiber. Good stuff.

Many people are put off by greens, perhaps because they've only had them cooked to death or smothered with strong flavors like vinegar. This salad uses raw kale that has been "massaged" with a little salt. The result is a wilted, tenderized green that hasn't been overcooked. Add in a few tasty additions and top with Spicy Beets, and the result is stellar. Black mustard seed is pretty important to this dish—look for it in ethnic markets, spice shops, or from online sources. It adds a pleasant, distinctive, almost nutty flavor that can't be duplicated with other spices.

A food processor fitted with a shredding disk makes quick work of grating the beets; or, use a box grater.

Deep Green Salad with Roasted Yams and Spicy Beets
serves 4

Make the Spicy Beets (can be made several days in advance)

3 T olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed
2 large shallots, cut into fine slivers
1 green chili, thinly sliced (jalapeño or serrano)
1 lb trimmed but unpeeled beets, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt (use less if using table or sea salt)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Heat oil over medium-high; when hot, add mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, add shallots and chili. Fry for 30 seconds.

Add beets; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add salt and 1/2 C water. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower heat. Cook gently for 10 minutes.

Uncover, turn heat to medium, and cook for 3 minutes; add lemon juice and stir to mix.

Cool completely before adding to the salad (the beets are delicious hot on their own, too).

Make the roasted yams

1 yam (unpeeled)
1 small red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle. Trim stem end of yam, then cut in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1/4 inch slices and place in a bowl. Cut red onion in half lengthwise, then into 1/4 inch slices; add to bowl. Add olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Spread out in single layer on rimmed baking sheet, then season lightly with salt and pepper to taste, plus the thyme. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the yam slices can easily be pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove and let cool.

Make the salad

1 large bunch kale, with ribs removed (lacinato kale seems to work best for this)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (use 1/2 teaspoon if using table salt)
1 ripe but not mushy pear
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger juice (or, fresh ginger, minced or grated, then squeezed in the hand to extract the juice)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut kale into 1/4 inch strips. Place in a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon kosher salt (see note in ingredient list above). Set a timer for 2 minutes, then “massage” the kale with your hands, squeezing and mixing as you go. The kale will start to wilt and turn a vibrant deep green. When the 2 minutes are up, add the cooled roasted vegetables to the kale.

To prepare the dressing, combine the pepper, ginger juice, mustard, and balsamic vinegar and blend. Whisk in the olive oil until combined, then pour over the salad. Toss until everything is well coated. Cut the pear in half, core, then cut into 1/2 inch cubes; add to salad and gently toss. Top with a large dollop of the Spicy Beets and serve.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Exotic Fruit

Dragon Fruit and Kiwi BerriesDragon fruit, or piyata, is the fruit of an epiphytic cactus vine native to Mexico, and Central and South America. Now widely cultivated in Southeast Asia and Hawaii as well.

Kiwi berries are delicious little bundles of Vitamin C, without the fuzz of their larger cousins. We found lots of these, grown organically, right here on Vashon this fall and have been enjoying them. Let them ripen at room temperature until they just start to wrinkle.
Dragon Fruit

Here's the dragon fruit cut up and served in its own skin. The seeds are nutty and pleasantly crunchy, and the fruit is very delicate and refreshing.

Isn't that color combination surreal?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Autumn Glory

Big Leaf Maple LeavesThis Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) near our house has the most amazing fall color thing happening. I can't wait to see how it develops over the next couple of weeks.

Ain't nature grand?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tutorial: Circular Photo Frames in Photoshop

Photoshop tutorialThere are several methods for creating a circular frame for a photo in Photoshop. You could, for instance, simply use the oval Marquis tool to make a circular selection of a photo, copy it, and paste it into another document, but that technique only copies the pixels inside the original circular selection. Here's one way to achieve the same thing, while giving you more options for resizing or repositioning the photo behind the frame.

(Click on any image to view a larger version; or, Control-click/right-click and open in another window or tab)

Start with a new document and fill it with whatever background color you wish. I've chosen this reddish orange.
Photoshop tutorialUsing the oval Marquis tool (it's the top left tool in the default Tools palette; click and hold on the tool to select the oval variant of the tool from the drop-down menu), make a circular selection (hold down Shift while dragging to constrain the selection to a perfect circle). With the Marquis tool still selected, you can click inside this selection and move it to wherever you want in the document. To resize the selection, go to Select>Transform Selection and use the corner controls to alter the size; click Return/Enter when done to accept the transformation.
Photoshop tutorialOpen the photo that you want to copy, and select all (Command/Control-A), then copy it (Command/Control-C). You can close the photo file. Go back to the document that has your circular selection in it. If you've left the photo file open, go to Window>new file name to make it the current window.

Now, go to Edit>Paste into and your photo will appear inside the circular selection that you made earlier. When you paste anything into a Photoshop file, Photoshop creates a new layer directly on top of the layer that was active when you initiated the Paste action. When you Paste Into a selection, Photoshop also automatically creates a Layer Mask in the shape of your selection. Of course, your selection can be any shape you want, and Photoshop will create a mask in that shape. Nifty, no?

Photoshop tutorialIf we look at the Layers palette (if it's not already open it, display it now by going to Window>Layers), we can see that our document now has two layers: the Background layer is our original colored layer, and the next layer up contains the photo, as well as the layer mask. The layer mask reveals or hides the contents of the upper layer depending on its shape (and opacity, which we won't be dealing with in this tutorial).

In the Layers palette, we now see a thumbnail for the photo, as well as a black and white thumbnail for the layer mask. Note that the entire photo is actually there, but the layer mask is only showing us the part that is revealed by the white area of the mask. We can now resize the image, or move it around behind the mask, which gives us much more flexibility than if we had simply copied a circular selection of pixels and pasted them in.

Photoshop tutorialIf we want to resize the image, first make sure that the layer that contains it is active (click on the photo thumbnail), then go to Edit>Free Transform (or, just press Command/Control-T). We now see the transformation box on the image, and we can click and drag the controls to resize the image, while leaving the circular mask the same.

Now, let's suppose we want to create a second circular image that's the same size as the first one. To do this, we need to copy the original circular selection that was used to create the original layer mask.
Photoshop tutorial

To do this, Control-click on the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers palette. This loads the mask as a selection. Using the Marquis tool (press M), we can now go back to our image and click inside the circular selection and drag it to a new location. By using the Marquis tool, we are assured of only moving the selection, and not the image inside the selection.
Photoshop tutorial
We can now paste a second image into this new selection (open a new photo, select all, copy, return to the destination image, paste into) and Photoshop will create another new layer, complete with a new layer mask. Easy!

Photoshop tutorialTo add a little dimension to your frames, you can add a Layer Style, which I've done on the left image. To add a Layer Style, click on the image thumbnail of the layer you want to style, then go to Layer>Layer Style and select Inner Shadow (or, click on the Layer Style button at the bottom of the Layers Palette). Adjust the settings to your liking, and press OK.

If you want to move your circular frames around, you need to lock the image and its corresponding layer mask. Do this by click the space between the image thumbnail and the layer mask thumbnail; a small chain link will appear, signifying that they are now locked. You can now use the Move tool (press V) to click and drag the circles around; both the image and the mask will move. When the image and its mask are locked, you can also resize both simultaneously (Command/Control-T). To unlock the image from its mask, just click on the little chain link and you can then transform them independent of one another.

Layer masks are powerful tools, and I've just scratched the surface of what you can do with them. They are an essential tool for compositing images, and well worth your time exploring. Have fun!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Early Fall at the Farmstands

Sweet peppers from the farm standIt's officially fall, and the items available in the island farm stands are reflecting the change in seasons.

Besides these gorgeous sweet peppers, we found garlic, storing onions, amazingly sweet green-striped tomatoes, Desirée potatoes, and purple kohlrabi.

We also found island-grown melons at the island organic grocery store.

I love harvest time!

Friday, September 11, 2009

September Riches

Melon, Raspberries and KiwiIsland-grown melon, raspberries from Burlington, Washington, organic kiwi fruit from Trader Joe's (god knows where they got them from).

Pretty tasty!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tutorial: Resizing an Image in Photoshop

If you're posting images online, and who isn't these days, it pays to know how to re-size images so they aren't bandwidth hogs. Photoshop makes this easy, but like all things related to Photoshop, there are a few subtleties that make big differences in the result. In this tutorial, I will re-size a photo, then save it as a JPEG for posting to a blog or website.

Before we get started, I want to say a couple of things about resolution. This subject is little understood outside the computer graphics and print worlds, but it's an important thing to understand.

An image that has a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (ppi), if it is 1 inch by 1 inch in dimensions, will contain 900 pixels. When printed on most printers, it will print at 1 inch by 1 inch. On screen, however, at 100% magnification, it will look much larger. That's because computer monitors (typically) have a resolution of between 72 and 96 pixels per inch. Therefore, our 300 pixel wide image at 300 ppi will appear to be more than 3 times as wide on screen as when it prints.

For print, you usually want the most pixels you can get. This means a large number of pixels both across and down in your image. The more pixels, the better continuous-tone images like photographs will print. But the large number of pixels has a price: the computer has to store data for each and every pixel in your photo, with multiple bits for the three color channels (red, green and blue), as well as information about luminance (the tonal range) and transparency (usually referred to alpha). Image files intended for print are usually quite large (in terms of file size), even if their printed size is small.

We don't need all of that weight for an online image, due to both storage issues (your uploaded photo is just a file on a server somewhere) and bandwidth (how much data needs to be transmitted to a computer to view an online image). Plus, the screen resolution of less than 100 ppi will display much smaller images at what appears to be "normal" size, although if you print that same image, it will be about 1/3 of the size it was on-screen.

Fortunately, the internet is utterly non-committal about the resolution of an image (the ppi). The internet only cares about pixel dimensions—how many pixels wide and how many pixels tall is the image?

So, now that I've diverted into the murky world of image resolution, let's forget about it and concentrate only on the pixel dimensions of our image.

I've opened the photo I'll be working with in Photoshop. I'm using Photoshop CS2 on a Mac, but the techniques are the same for Windows.

Because I shoot all my digital photos at the maximum size allowed by my camera (so I can print nice sharp versions at the largest possible size if I choose), I know that this image is going to be too large to display on-screen. If we go to Image>File Size…, we can examine the resulting dialog box.

Resizing photosThe image's dimensions are shown in the top box, conveniently labeled "Pixel Dimensions," along with the size of the file (in this case, 9MB). I usually have my units of measure set to pixels in Photoshop, so that's what comes up here, but if you don't see "pixels" next to the width and height boxes, use the drop down buttons to change it.

I want people to be able to see the entire photo without scrolling in their browser window, so that gives me a guideline for the height. You can search the web for safe dimensions by browser, but I can't be bothered trying to accommodate the multitude of browsers now available, so I'm going to try 500 pixels for the height. People with small screens are used to scrolling, anyway, so they'll get the experience they're used to.

Before changing the height, make sure the "Constrain Proportions" box is checked. This will ensure that when we change the height, the width will adjust appropriately. We can completely ignore the second section of this dialog box, because we're not concerned with resolution or document size for this exercise, only the pixel dimensions.

Before clicking OK, we need to change one other setting, and that is the bottom control labeled "Resample Image." The default setting for this control, which determines how Photoshop decides which pixels to throw away while maintaining the visual integrity of your image, is Bicubic, and that is fine for a default. I get better results when shrinking an image, however, by selecting "Bicubic Sharper" from the dropdown. Conversely, when enlarging an image (more on this in a minute), I select "Bicubic Softer." I don't understand the technical reasons why this gives me better results, I just like the results I get. Now click OK.

OK, we've re-sized our photo to a web-friendly size. Now, we need it in a format that can be displayed on the web. For photographs, this usually means either JPEG or PNG (an open-source algorithm developed to replace JPEG, which is a patented process). These are both compression algorithms that are used to shrink file size (remember storage and bandwidth). Both are what are known as "lossy" algorithms, meaning they produce a smaller file size by throwing away data. We want to control this process to ensure the highest possible image quality at reasonable file sizes.

If we started with a JPEG (which is the most common format used by point-and-shoot digital cameras), it would be tempting to just hit File>Save now. We could also use File>Save As… and then choosing .jpg or .png in the file type drop-down, but neither of these methods gives us any control at all.

Save for web dialog boxInstead, use File>Save for web…, which will then open some controls we can change. The Save for web… dialog box has several important features. In the upper left, we can select to display only the original image, only the compressed image (Photoshop calls the compressed image "Optimized"), or display them side by side. If you want to try out several different levels of compression, you can click the 4-Up tab, then set different levels of compression for each window. I usually find that the 2-Up configuration works fine. It lets me keep an eye on my original (left pane) as well as the compressed version (right pane). In the lower left corner, you can change the magnification of the previews in case you need to really see what's happening up close. I usually leave it at 100% because that's the size I'll be viewing it once it's online.

In the upper right, there is a dialog box with several controls. Select JPEG or PNG from the drop down (PNG-8 will result in smaller files than PNG-24, but will also throw out more data in order to achieve that small file size). For photos, these are really the only two options you should consider, and I won't discuss the other options in this tutorial.

I've selected JPEG, then played with the Quality setting. The information at the bottom of the right-hand image shows me what the resulting file size will be based on my settings. I usually look for a balance of image integrity and file size, remembering that many users won't often wait for a large image file to download to their screen, but will click away after just a few seconds. When I have the settings the way I want them, I click OK, then give the JPEG a file name.

That's it. My JPEG is now a svelte 40k in size and still looks good. I wouldn't print an image that small, but it's fine for viewing on a screen.

Images of the same pixel dimension can end up different sizes after saving as a JPEG. The "busier" the image, the larger the final file size. This is because the JPEG algorithm looks at the edges between things to determine what it can toss. The more edges (say, in a crowded street shot with lots of buildings, windows, and people), the larger the file size will be. The Save for web… dialog lets you see what your final image will both look like as well as how large it will be (file size), while letting you control both. It's a great tool.

Now, what about enlarging an image? Enlarging the pixel dimensions of an image is problematic to say the least. When you shrink an image, the computer is throwing away pixels; when you enlarge an image, the computer has to invent what it thinks the new pixels should look like. Enlarged images always—repeat, always—suffer a loss of sharpness. It rarely results in a quality image. There are third-party plug-ins and stand-alone programs that purport to do this with greater accuracy, but they are still inventing pixels based on what they start with. I don't recommend enlarging images if the end result is to be crisp and detailed. If your goal is to get something fuzzy or pixelated, and sometimes that's what I need for artistic reasons, then go for it.

So that's it. Have fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cooking: Cabbage Koftas

Cabbage KoftasOne of my favorite cooking web sites is Manjula's Kitchen. I especially love watching her knead doughs for rotis, parathas, and other Indian breads, using just her right hand. But what a hand! So expressive.

I've made several of her recipes, although I usually dial back the chilies to better suit our palates.

Recently, she posted a video about making Cabbage Koftas, fritters made from mostly cabbage, with some seasonings and a binder. Manjula serves her koftas in a spicy tomato gravy, but I wondered what they would be like in a mixed vegetable curry with coconut milk. Dinner with friends presented the perfect opportunity. I used garbanzo flour instead of gram flour (which is made from hulled black lentils) and a modified frying technique. Here's my revised recipe.

Cabbage Koftas
makes about 16 koftas

2 cups finely shredded cabbage (I used red cabbage)
1 hot chili, seeded and chopped (I used a Santa Fe chili; jalapeño or serrano would work well, too)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed (or use 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cups garbanzo flour
oil for frying (I used sunflower oil; coconut oil would work beautifully, too)

Begin heating oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron or stainless steel skillet. There should be 1/2 inch of oil in the pan.

Combine cabbage, chili, cilantro, ginger, cumin seed, salt and flour in a bowl and combine. Using your hand, press the mixture together, squeezing as you go, until the cabbage exudes enough moisture for the whole thing to hold together. Keep at it—this can take a few minutes.

Test the oil by dropping a small ball of the "dough" into it. The oil should start to bubble around it.

Form small ovals of the mixture by squeezing them and patting them into shape, then gently lay them in the hot oil. Continue with as many as will fit in the pan without them touching—if you crowd them, things will steam, not fry. Leave them alone, bubbling away, for a couple of minutes, then gently turn them. I just used a table fork for this. If you try to turn them before the bottom has crusted, they will break.

Continue cooking on the other side until it, too, is crisp and golden brown. Press the ovals lightly with the tines of the fork—when they feel solid, they're done. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel, then continue cooking the remaining mixture until they're all fried.

These are utterly delicious to eat out of hand and would make a great appetizer or first course, served perhaps with a fresh chutney. Frankly, they were so good, I don't even think that is necessary.

I used them in a different fashion, however, placing four of them in the bottom of the dish before serving a luscious vegetable curry over and around them. The curry contained lots of onion, garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric, chopped chilies, carrots, yams, cauliflower and green beans, plus coconut milk. Seasoned liberally with home-made curry powder, it was sublime.

The delightfully chewy, rich-tasting koftas were like little bundles of treasure. I'll definitely be making these again, soon.

Curry with Cabbage Koftas

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Eating Roasted Melon Seeds

Roasted Melon SeedsWhile cleaning the seeds out of an orange-flesh honeydew melon recently, I found myself wondering if they could be roasted, like pumpkin seeds. After all, melons belong botanically to the same family (along with other squashes, cucumbers, and gourds), and roasted pumpkin seeds are delicious, so why not melon seeds?

It turns out that it's me that's behind the curve, because roasted melon seeds are consumed across much of the Middle East and Asia. I even found ready-to-eat, roasted, salted melon seeds available for on-line order.

The technique couldn't be simpler. Rinse away all of the pulp (that which is not seed, in other words), soak for awhile in heavily salted water, drain, and roast in a dry skillet until golden and puffed. Let cool.

Now comes the meditative part. These seeds are small, and they must be "shelled" to reveal the tiny, nutty germ inside. (I suspect that larger-seeded varieties provide the seeds for roasting in other countries.)

Holding a seed on edge, I bit down lightly on the pointy end until it popped open slightly, a surprisingly easy and, for some reason, delightfully sensual activity. Then, using my fingernails, I pried the seed apart to reveal…sometimes nothing, sometimes a tiny kernel, sometimes a surprisingly plump morsel nestled inside.

Eaten one at a time, the seeds had a delicious flavor, slightly salty and nutty. You could shell a cup of them and only end up with a tablespoon of edible bits.

So why bother?

I bothered (and I eventually ate every single seed) because I found the process quite meditative. I would sit at the table after dinner and go repetitively through the few steps required to open these diminutive seeds, an activity that coaxed me to draw my attention down from the sometimes hectic swirl that I whip up in my brain, to focus, with purpose, on gently opening a single seed. Sometimes there was a reward inside, and sometimes there was not. What a great lesson in attachment!

Eating melon seeds, I have decided, is not so much about the outcome (the kernels) as it is about the process, how we go about getting where we're going. And that's just as important as the finish line.

I told my sweetie I was getting in touch with my inner junco; he nodded gently in that way he has that means "How did I end up with someone this strange?"

Luckily for me, he likes juncos.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Fifth Metatarsal

This is a boot cast. It is on my right foot. It is on my right foot because I might have an Avulsion fracture of the fifth metatarsal. This does not make my foot happy.

Fractures of the fifth metatarsal, the long bone that runs along the outside of the foot, are evidently common. This bone is shaped differently than other metatarsals—it has a little protrusion that sticks out where the metatarsal meets the tarsal. An Avulsion fracture occurs right across this protrusion, as if the bone was trying to rid itself of this odd little bump.

Even though the X-rays didn't show a fracture, hairline cracks may have occurred. Time will tell. The boot cast, which will be my constant companion (except for sleeping and showering) for the next 7-10 days, is needed in case there is a crack. Not wearing it could lead to an actual fracture, and that means a much less comfortable cast.

Avulsion fractures apparently happen when the metatarsal is stressed, particularly when the foot is twisted inward. I stepped on a step wrong, and then the pain started.

Fortunately, there was Vicodin for sleeping last night, and today it's already better. The anti-inflammatory benefits of the way we've been eating have paid off in a big way—today, there is no swelling or redness at all. Hooray for anti-oxidents!

UPDATE 082509: Not broken, but possibly bruised. The boot cast will be coming off for longer periods of time over the next week. Best of all—no hard cast. Yay!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cooking: Wheat-Free, Sugar-Free Muffins

Joanne's Muffins, Amended"What!!?"

Take a deep, cleansing breath or two. Better now?

I've posted previously about some of the dietary changes we've been making of late. Less a diet than an entirely different way of thinking about what we put in our bodies, it's had some remarkable effects already, particularly for me.

We kept hearing about this "anti-inflammation" diet craze that seemed to be sweeping the island. Hey, it's not that big an island; word travels fast. What was amazing was just how many people we knew or met who had taken the classes and experienced a wide range of relief from many common symptoms. Between my sweetie's arthritis and my chronic digestive and allergy problems, as well as being overweight, there were many compelling reasons to check it out.

In the course of taking the classes (if you live in the Seattle area you might want to check them out at this web site), one of the recipes that was provided was for Joanne's Muffins, made with no wheat and no sugar. Intrigued, I whipped up a batch and, somewhat surprised, we found we like them.

Being an inveterate tinkerer in the kitchen, however, I immediately began thinking of slight alterations. We really like this version, which omits the olive oil completely (because I forgot it, but it didn't affect the final outcome at all), and adds grated carrot, cooked quinoa, cinnamon, ginger, and both vanilla and almond extracts. Here's the revised recipe:

Joanne's Muffins, Amended
makes 12 muffins

1 cup cooked squash, pumpkin or sweet potato (I used canned organic pumpkin)
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1/2 large carrot, grated
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup chopped walnuts
4 eggs, lightly beaten until creamy
2 cups almond flour (usually sold as almond meal—keep this in the refrigerator or freezer)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (use less if using table salt)
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 12-muffin pan with unbleached muffin papers and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except pumpkin seeds. Mix well. Because there is no gluten, you cannot really overmix this batter.

Using a large spoon, fill the muffin cups to the top. Place a few pumpkin seeds on each muffin.

Bake for 25-35 minutes (check them at 20 minutes). Cool in the tin on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan.

When completely cool, wrap the muffins individually. Keep some in the refrigerator for immediate use, and freeze the remainder in a zipper bag. To serve, rewarm in a 300 degree toaster oven.

If you are used to eating a lot of sugar (as we were), these will not taste very sweet the first time you make them. If, however, you do not eat sugar, the subtle sweetness of the banana and pumpkin is quite delicious. We like these just as they are, with some fruit, for a satisfying breakfast. Add a cold-brewed iced coffee: oh la la!

You can also add blueberries to the batter, or substitute almonds or hazelnuts for the walnuts. Substitute sunflower or sesame seeds or poppy seeds for the quinoa. And if you are trying to consume more good-quality oil, add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to the batter.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking: Cold-Brewed Coffee

Cold-Brewed CoffeeI like coffee. I like the way it tastes, I like the ritual of making it, I like the caffeine, I like the activity of drinking it.

This doesn't mean, however, that I drink a lot of coffee. I like to have three or four good coffee beverages a week, and that's it.

When I say coffee beverage, I'm not talking these days about elaborate concoctions with flavored syrups (really not much more than sugar), caramel (sugar), chocolate (more sugar) or even dairy.

Black. Straight espresso, drip or iced americano.

One thing I've learned is that when you drink coffee black, it needs to be really good coffee. That's not really a problem here in the Puget Sound region—good coffee roasters are everywhere. I'm also looking for organic, shade-grown, and "fair-trade," again, not a problem to find these days.

Recently, I've found my taste buds responding to different stimuli as a result of some major dietary changes we've made, and the double espresso I had been enjoying at the local coffee house just didn't sit well on my tongue. It suddenly seems too acidic, too tannic. What to do?

I haven't solved the problem of my weekly coffee house indulgence, but at home I've started cold-brewing coffee, and I'm really liking it.

Cold-brewing coffee couldn't be easier: simply combine ground coffee with cold water and let it sit awhile, then filter it. Here's the technique I've been using, which makes delicious coffee.

Cold-Brewed Coffee
makes enough for 2 cups of coffee or 2 iced coffees

1/3 cup medium grind coffee (caffeinated or decaf)
1 1/2 cups cold water (use filtered water for really good coffee)

Combine ground coffee and water in a jar with a lid. Give it a stir and let it sit at least three hours, and up to twelve. Strain through a coffee filter. Store the coffee extract in a glass jar or bottle in the refrigerator.

To use, mix half and half coffee extract and either hot water or cold water. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

Cold brewing coffee doesn't extract the acids from the coffee beans the way hot water does, so if you like the acidic bite of traditional coffee, you might not care for cold-brewed. If, however, you're looking for something with all the flavor but much more mellow, give cold-brewing a try.

By the way, if you garden, put the coffee grounds in your compost or simply bury them in the garden. They also make an excellent mulch for acid-loving plants like rhododendrons, Japanese maples, and blueberries. Studies have shown that coffee grounds may also reduce slugs, who can't handle the caffeine.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cooking: Lamb with Green Beans, Artichokes, and Black Olives

Lamb DishThis is a rich and satisfying dish that borrows from Provençal traditions.

Lamb with Green Beans, Artichoke Hearts and Black Olives
serves 2, with leftovers

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound lamb sirloin, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 large onion, in 1 inch chunks
2 small shallots, chopped (or use one of the humongous ones that they sell in the grocery these days)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 pound green beans, stem end trimmed, in 2 inch pieces
2 small red skinned potatoes, in 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup pitted black olives, cut in half
1 cup canned artichoke hearts, cut in half
fresh marjoram
fresh thyme
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a large sauté pan or medium-sized dutch oven over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil until it is shimmering. Add the lamb and stir it about so it gets coated with the oil. Brown the lamb, stirring it occasionally, until it is nicely browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the remaining olive oil and the onions and shallots. Season with a sprinkle of salt and some black pepper. Continue cooking until onions are just starting to soften, then add garlic, green beans and potatoes. Give everything a stir and continue cooking for a few minutes.

Add the olives, artichoke hearts, leaves from 4-5 sprigs of marjoram, and leaves from 6-8 sprigs of thyme. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt (use less if using table salt) and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until the beans and potatoes are just tender. Give it a stir a couple of times during this process.

When the beans and potatoes are tender, taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

This was absolutely delicious. To make the plate proportional, I also served a salad made from romaine, spring greens, quartered fresh figs, diced avocado and a handful of blueberries, dressed in a red wine vinaigrette.

A wedge of watermelon for dessert was just perfect.

Lamb Dish

Cooking: Mushroom Ragout

Mushroom Ragout MealTraditionally, a ragout is made from meat, usually with various vegetables as flavoring agents. Here's a meat-free version that tastes rich and satisfying. I served this tossed with brown rice pasta and fresh green beans, with simple herbed baked chicken and a spinach and blueberry salad.

Mushroom Ragout
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces oyster, white beech, chantrelle, or shiitake mushrooms, whole or sliced*
1 cup vegetable stock or water
fresh marjoram
fresh thyme
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it is shimmering, add the onions. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until onions are soft and starting to turn golden, about 10-12 minutes.

Trim and slice the button mushrooms. Trim the "exotic" mushrooms, and cut up if large.

Add the mushrooms and garlic to the onions and cook until the mushrooms have given off all their water and they start to turn a golden color, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Strip the leaves from 2-3 sprigs of marjoram and 4-5 sprigs of thyme and add to the mixture, along with the vegetable stock or water. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.

Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.

* I found organic white beech mushrooms at my local grocery. Look for them where Japanese produce is sold. Or, use the widely available shiitakes or other local wild mushrooms when you see them in the store or at the farmers' market. You could also substitute some reconstituted porcini mushrooms (or fresh ones, if you're lucky enough to find them).

Musroom Ragout

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fragole di bosco

Alpine StrawberriesTiny alpine strawberries are ripening daily in the back yard. No, we are not so fortunate as to have these growing wild; we planted some in pots.

The plants, Fragaria vesca to be precise, stay evergreen through our winters here on Puget Sound, and start blooming as early as April.

There are both alpine and wild types of strawberries known in Italy and France. In Italy, you might see tiny fragole di bosco on offer in the Campo di Fiori as early as March. The French call them fraises des bois. They go by many other names depending on the region. By any name, they are tiny, just about the size of the tip of a little finger.

Not as sweet as their hybridized cousins, they pack an enormous amount of strawberry flavor in a miniscule package.

My favorite way to end dinner of late is to pick whatever of these are ripe (which might only be a few), add some red huckleberries, and finish off the handful with some delectable ripe native blackberries (these are the trailing kind, not the invasive Himalayan blackberry, which is just now setting fruit).

Unfortunately, the birds knew exactly when the huckleberries were at their peak and the bushes are stripped practically bare. Actually, I don't mind sharing them with the birds at all.

Red Huckleberries

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cooking: Vegetable Sushi

Vegetable SushiI had some leftover purple sticky rice from dinner a couple of nights ago, so I thought I would try making some sushi with it.

These rolls, which would technically be known as makizushi in Japan, are made with vegetables only. I would have added some avocado if I had a good one in the house.

Traditionally, sushi rice is seasoned with rice vinegar and sugar, and cooled by gently moving it about in a large wooden tub, all the while fanning it to dry it out. I didn't do that. Here's my simple recipe, which omits the sugar.

Vegetable Sushi
makes 3 rolls (18 pieces total)

1 cup cooked purple sticky rice (or use any leftover rice)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
thin strips of carrot, cucumber, snap peas, avocado, or any other vegetable you like
3 sheets toasted nori
bowl of cold water (for dipping your fingers)

Put the rice in a bowl and fluff it gently with a fork. Sprinkle the vinegar over the rice and, again gently, fluff it around. The point is to season the rice without breaking it up.

Place 1 sheet of nori on a sushi mat (I used a Silpat, or just use a cloth napkin or lint-free towel). Spread 1/3 of the rice in a pile. Dip your fingers in the water, then use your fingertips to spread the rice out in an even layer. Leave a 1.5 inch strip across the top of the nori uncovered by rice.

Lay strips of vegetables near the edge closest to you. Don't overstuff—just a few strips will work. Using the mat (or napkin or whatever), lift the front edge and start rolling the sushi. Once you get it going, you probably won't need the mat. Keep rolling until you reach the edge where there is no rice. Using your fingertips, wet the exposed nori at the back edge, then firmly roll the whole shebang together. The water will help seal the roll.

Place the roll sean-side down in a dish and do the next one. Remember, this should be fun.

These can be served immediately, or refrigerated for up to 3 days in a covered container. To serve, run a sharp knife under cold water, then slice each roll into six pieces.

Serve with tamari with as much wasabi mixed in as you like.

These rolls are quite good, crunchy and cool. The rice is sumptious. The wasabi will wake up your sinuses. It's all good.

Vegetable Sushi

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cooking: Bulgar Patties

Bulgar PattiesWe're testing wheat to see if either of us has an inflammatory response to it, so I thought I'd try making some bulgar patties.

Bulgar is made by soaking and cooking whole wheat, drying it and then stripping off part of the bran. The remaining kernel is then broken into small pieces.

Although it loses some fiber in the process, it still retains enough of the bran to qualify as a mostly whole grain. Because it has already been soaked and cooked, bulgar can be very quickly prepared. Traditional tabbouleh recipes often call for the bulgar to be covered with boiling water, then left to re-hydrate without actually cooking it again. While not as nutritious as whole wheat berries, it is nevertheless handy when you're short on time.

Bulgar Patties
serves 4

1 cup water
1/2 cup bulgar
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic (or more), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon wheat-free tamari
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder
3/4 cup garbanzo flour mixed with 1/2 cup cold water

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, then add bulgar, onions and garlic. Simmer, covered, until water is absorbed, about 5-10 minutes. The bulgar I used, from Bob's Red Mill, took about 15 minutes to fully absorb the water.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Pop this mixture in the refrigerator to set up a little (I stuck mine in the freezer for 15 minutes). Heat 1/8 inch of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is just starting to shimmer, drop large spoonfuls of the batter into four mounds, flattening slightly with the back of the spoon.

Fry until set and golden on the bottom (the upper part will start to look dryer, too), then carefully turn them over and cook the other side.

I added about 1 teaspoon of curry powder to my mixture, which was very nice. They were satisfyingly crispy/chewy on the outside and moist on the inside. I served them with a simple sauce made by stirring together 1 tablespoon sugar-free mayonnaise (Trader Joe's makes an organic one), 1/2 teaspoon double-strength tomato paste (from a tube), plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and a few dashes of Tabasco. Very tasty.

The next time I make these, however, I think I will add some chopped parsley or other herbs, as well as some chopped sun-dried tomatoes. They would also be great with grated vegetables mixed in, like carrot or zucchini.

Wealth

Mixed Berries
Raspberries’Nuff said.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cooking: Crisp Roast Kale

Crisp Roast KaleKale, round 2.

There are dozens of recipes for crispy roast kale floating around on the internet, but the basic premise is the same. Here's my take.

Crisp Roast Kale
serves 2

1/2 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the kale and shake it mostly dry. Using a sharp knife, trim out the tough stem. Finely shred and put in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and toss to thoroughly coat the kale. You can do this right on your baking sheet if you don't want to get a bowl dirty; just be aware that raw kale is springy and you may end up with it all over your counter, which you will also have to wash.

Spread the kale on a rimmed baking sheet and stick it on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Roast for 5 minutes, remove and turn things over with a spatula. Return to the oven and continue roasting another 6-7 minutes, or until the kale is crisp. Test it to see.

When it's done, remove from the oven and sprinkle with sea salt. I used Celtic gray salt (which I keep in a grinder) and it was great.

These are so light, crisp and delicious. We had them alongside some roasted carrots, yams, onions, and beets, and a meatless burger. It's impossible to eat these with a fork—pinch some between your fingers and have at it.

I'm thinking these would also be a fabulous garnish for puréed soups, or piled onto a salad or tostada.

Cooking: Sautéed Kale with Curry Pine Nuts

Sauteed KaleKale is in good supply at the farm stand and farmers' market, and we're increasing the amount of vegetables, especially dark green ones, in our diet.

However, we both have a bias against greens. Too tough. Too bitter. Too…green.

How to cook them so we actually eat them? Here's one option.

Sautéed Kale with Curry Pine Nuts
serves 2

1/2 bunch kale
1/2 sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced *
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 lemon

Wash the kale and shake off most of the water. With a sharp knife, cut out the stem. Stack the leaves and very finely shred them. This works best with a sharp knife, as these greens are tough.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Sauté until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic (slicing the garlic keeps it from burning so readily) and cook for 1 minute. Add the shredded kale and toss it to coat in the oil. Season with kosher salt (greens benefit from salting both at the start of cooking and at the end).

Pop a lid on the pan for a few minutes, then stir everything again. Replace the lid for a few more minutes, or until the kale is nicely wilted. Watch it so it doesn't burn. Remove the lid and continue cooking, stirring often, until the kale is done to your liking. Season with a little more salt, ground pepper, and lemon zest.

Drizzle a little more olive oil over the greens, then squeeze the 1/2 lemon over it all. Serve topped with Curry Pine Nuts.

Curry Pine Nuts

1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1-2 teaspoons curry powder

Place the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat and toast, stirring often, until they start to turn a nutty brown and they sweat a little oil. Stir in the curry powder and continue toasting just one more minute. Remove to a bowl to cool.

We had this with some red quinoa topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, and some fresh tomato.

* If you grow your own garlic or have access to a farmers' market, try using fresh garlic. Basically, fresh garlic hasn't finished forming the dry paper skins that separate the cloves. When really young, you can chop up the entire head; once the skins begin to form, just peel them. This garlic is delicious and mild.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteriHere are two newcomers to our garden this year, Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) happily using the sturdy Lilium 'First Choice' and an Amsonia hubrichtii as a support.

We are pretty happy ourselves that their bloom times overlap.

Matilija Poppies can grow to eight feet high and will spread through underground runners where conditions are suitable. Huge swathes of them cover hillsides in Southern California, where it can become invasive in light, sandy soils. Here in the Pacific Northwest, with our clay soils, they are harder to establish, and tend to behave themselves a little better than their warm-climate cousins.

Romneya coulteriHere's another flower, on a stem that has flopped into a nearby Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Worcester Gold,' which is just starting to show its lovely blue flowers.

Romneyas tend to go dormant after flowering, usually dropping all their foliage, and you might be tempted to think it has croaked. More likely than not, it is just resting and will emerge healthy and robust the following spring.

Unless it dies, of course.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cooking: Prawns with Corn and Fava Beans

Prawns  with Corn and Fava BeansWhile at a farm stand this morning, we found bags of fresh fava beans, which we're seeing all over the island this year. Later, at a produce stand that sets up on Fridays and Saturdays, we found the first luscious, fresh sweet corn of the season. My old Ohio farm roots kicked in, and I thought "Succotash!"

Traditionally, succotash is a melange of corn and lima beans. Why not use the favas, though? Sure, they're a little work to prepare, because you first remove them from the pods, then blanch them, then slip off the tough outer skins to reveal the incredibly green goodness inside. These were so fresh that if I had been puréeing them (mixed with lemon juice, salt and pepper) I might have left the skins on.

We sat on the front porch, shelling the beans, something I did countless times with my grandmother when I was a child. In those days, it was first peas, then lima beans, then "shelly" beans, which were then dried for winter consumption. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting on the old glider liberating the legumes from their pods.

We don't have a glider, and we don't have a farm, and we didn't grow the beans ourselves, but it was still pretty satisfying to sit there with my sweetie, watching the birds and doing something productive.

The thing about fava beans is you need a lot of them to end up with anything. Five pounds of beans in the pod may only yield two pounds of shelled, peeled favas, which is why I usually pair them with other things when we buy them.

Prawns with Corn and Fava Bean Succotash
serves 2

olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 small jalapeño pepper, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh fava beans (unshelled weight)
4 small ears fresh corn, cut off the cobs
1/2 pound large prawns (about 8), peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 ripe avocado, cubed

Prepare the fava beans by shelling them. Remove the nibs unless your beans are very small. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add a lot of salt, then dump in the beans. Bring back to the boil, then boil for 1 minute. Remove the beans to a bowl of water with some ice in it to stop the cooking. When cooled, remove the outer skins. Small, fresh beans may not need this step; eat one and see. To remove skins from larger beans, pinch a small hole in one end (the skin will have become slightly elastic), then squeeze the bright green bean out of the skin. Set aside.

In a 12 in non-stick skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. While it's heating, pat the peeled shrimp dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.

When the oil is hot, slide in the garlic and jalapeño and cook for 1/2 minute. Add the corn kernels, season with salt and pepper, and turn the corn so it gets coated with the oil and the garlic isn't all trapped on the bottom, where it can burn. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the corn becomes less milky looking. You can cook the corn until it starts to caramelize, if you like, but for this dish I just wanted a fresh corn taste.

Gently stir in the peeled fava beans and mix them in. Cook for one minute more, or until the beans are tender (taste one). Push everything to one side of the pan.

Drizzle a little more olive oil in the empty part of the skillet, let it heat up, then lay in the prawns. Sprinkle them with the grated orange zest. Cook about 2-3 minutes, then turn them over. Continue cooking for just 1-2 minutes, or until they are opaque and firm. Turn off the heat.

Pile some of the succotash in the middle of a plate and top with the prawns. Garnish with avocado.

This was delicious as is. Add fresh herbs or a squeeze of fresh lime juice for another twist.

Fava Beans

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gardening: Phlomis cashmerii

Phlomis cashmeriiNot nearly as well known as it's cousin, Phlomis russeliana, P. cashmerii is a smaller-stature plant with soft, lilac-pink flowers instead of yellow.

Forming a tidy basal rosette of felty, gray-green leaves, it sends up these lovely flower spikes with whorls of pink, fuzzy flowers. Very drought tolerant once established, it's a tough, pest-free performer in our garden.

In the photo above, you can see the rich maroon flowers of Clematis 'Niobe' growing on a nearby trellis, a fortuitous combination, indeed!

Like other species of phlomis, P. cashmerii is partially evergreen, meaning that it retains leaves through the winter, although these are always the worse for wear come spring. If you get around to it, cut all the old foliage down and it will push up new, fresh ones. Or, if you forget, the plant will still push new leaves up, which tend to push the old ones down and out of sight. We usually cut the old leaves off, though, to avoid a soggy, rot-inducing collar of old foliage around the base of the plant.

We usually let the seed heads remain on the plant, which add architectural interest in the late summer garden, at least until my sweetie gets tired of looking at them and chops them down.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Bounty

Apricot and RaspberriesWhat a great pairing.

Luscious organic apricots from the Yakima, Washington area and local Puget Sound raspberries that are just perfect.

So simple, and so good.

It's really difficult to stop eating this combo…

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cooking: Scallops

Pan-Seared ScallopsWhile at the grocery this morning, I noticed these succulent scallops, labeled "Wild - Chemical Free." Not sure how they know they're chemical free if they're wild, but they were irresistible. Into the cart they went.

We're changing the way we eat around here, eating less protein and grains and more vegetables and fruit. We're also avoiding dairy for the time being, so sautéing in butter, what I would usually do, was out.

Here's how I decided to do them (I made this up as I went along).

Pan-Seared Scallops
serves 2 (you might want more)

4 large scallops
1/2 Yukon gold potato, sliced 1/4 inch thick
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper (I used Mignonette pepper, a blend of black and white pepper with coriander seed)
1 teaspoon grated organic orange rind
1 teaspoon finely shredded fresh basil
coconut oil (or use olive oil)

In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 teaspoon of coconut oil (it's usually solid at room temperature). When it's shimmering, lay the potato slices in a single layer. Push them around from time to time until golden, then season with salt and pepper and turn. Continue cooking until the tip of a paring knife just barely penetrates the center. Remove to a plate.

(At this point, I threw a bunch of wax beans, trimmed and cut in half, into the hot pan and cooked, shaking and flipping frequently until they started to brown in spots, then removed them and set aside.)

Add another teaspoon of coconut oil to the pan. While it's heating, dry the scallops thoroughly with paper towels. If you put them in wet, they will steam instead of browning. Season with salt and pepper, then place in the hot oil. Cook about 4-5 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown and slightly crusty, then flip them over and continue to cook another 4 minutes or so. Don't cook them until they're completely firm, or they will toughen.

A couple of minutes before the scallops are done, add the potato slices back into the pan to warm.

Pan-Seared Scallops
To plate, lay out two slices of potato and top with a scallop on each. Sprinkle with the grated orange zest and basil. Serve the remaining potatoes with the beans.

We had this with a salad made from sliced carrots, sliced snap peas, cubed avocado, and sliced orange. The orange juice, plus a small splash of walnut oil, salt and pepper makes a lovely bright-tasting dressing. Toss it all together and pile it on.

Dessert was fresh local raspberries and a Washington state apricot. So delicious.

Cooking: Curry Powder

I love curry. My sweetie likes it, too, so we enjoy making both Indian and Thai curries at home. I have always just purchased curry powder, albeit good ones, like this one from Penzey's Spices, usually supplementing it with additional cumin and/or coriander. I also use Madras curry powder in the green tin, as well as Balti seasoning (also from Penzey's).

When planning a lamb and vegetable curry for my sweetie's birthday dinner, I decided to go the extra step and blend my own. Off we went to an island purveyor of herbs, spices, coffees, teas and other good things, where we bought whole cumin seed, whole coriander seed, white peppercorns, and black peppercorns (not for the curry, but hey, you have to have black peppercorns in your arsenal).

Back at home, I put 2 tablespoons of cumin seed, 3 tablespoons of coriander seed, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (because this was to be a mild curry; increase for more heat), 2 teaspoons of black mustard seed, and about 10 white peppercorns in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. I kept a close eye (and nose) on the spices as they roasted in the pan. Every now and then, I gave the pan a swirl, to keep things toasting evenly, as well as to take in the luscious aroma (be careful sniffing it, though, if you have added a lot of hot pepper flakes, as the essential oils of the peppers are volatilized by heating). When the mixture was toasty brown, and the mustard seeds were just starting to pop, and the smell was heavenly, I poured it all into a bowl to cool.

When cooled, I put it all in my spice grinder (which is just a normal coffee grinder that we reserve for spices) and ground it to a medium-fine powder. After pouring it back into the bowl, I stirred in 1 tablespoon of ground termeric and a teaspoon of ground ginger.

The result was stunning. The curry powder has a wonderful, lively freshness to it, and is slightly nutty from the toasting. I used about 2/3 of it in all in making the curry, which had lamb, cauliflower, green and wax beans, carrots, cubed yam, lots of onion, ginger and garlic. Because we're not currently consuming dairy, I added coconut milk. The finished dish was so fresh and delicious, packed with vegetables and little bits of browned lamb sirloin, and redolent of exotic spices.

I was hoping for leftovers, but we ate every single bite.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Stumpery

The island we live on is home to the largest stumpery in the United States. What, you ask, is a stumpery? It is a type of garden first popularized in the Victorian era in England, when a romanticized interpretation of nature was in vogue. Simply put, a stumpery is constructed of tree stumps, uprooted to expose the roots, piled aesthetically, and planted with woodland plants, especially ferns, which the Victorians adored.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we emerge from winter with a fair number of trees blown down, especially shallow-rooted Douglas firs, and soft-wood trees like Alders. Clearing for construction results in still more stumps. The makers of our local stumpery thought it would be a good way to recycle this material, rather than seeing them chipped or burned.

The gardeners have created a 9,000 square foot garden, filled with fantastical piles of gnarled roots, interplanted with magnificent Tasmanian tree ferns, thousands of ferns, hostas, trilliums, terrestrial orchids, and over 100 different epimediums. It's truly an otherworldly place, and will only grow more so over the years as things develop a coat of moss and lichen.

To see an article about this stumpery, including a photograph (it's the second of two photos), follow this link. To read about stumperies, including the one at Highgrove in England, check out this Wikipedia entry.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Touring Gardens

Lilium First Choide
This beauty is Lilium 'First Choice.' Ain't she grand?

Today, instead of working in our own garden (not that it doesn't need it), we decided to go on the island garden tour, an annual fundraiser for various arts programs. This year, the tour included six gardens ranging from an extravagantly planted garden surrounding a French provincial style house, complete with a stunning view of the largest harbor on the island, to a "stumpery," a more woodland garden that contains over one hundred large tree stumps salvaged from various sites and then underplanted with thousands of woodland plants. We visited three gardens today, and will see the other three tomorrow (including the stumpery, which we're intrigued by).

The gardens we visited today all had extensive hard-scaping in place, which certainly helps define a garden. If we actually owned the house we lived in, we'd be doing that, too. The first garden we visited was the densely planted one, where everyone seemed simply dazed by the sheer amount of plants present. It was quite impressive, especially in that most of the plants were not that unusual, and some were downright old-fashioned (Maltese cross, peonies, lilies, roses). Despite the sheer volume of plants, the garden is broken up into neatly defined zones that made it seem more intimate. My favorite plant was a primrose with a tall, fox-tail of a flower spike in pink, with a tuft of red a the top. Stunning.

The third garden we visited is located on a pretty steep site, which has been terraced, with lots of clever little paths stepping down here and there. Full of old-fashioned roses that smelled great, and little enclosed "rooms" with raised beds for growing vegetables, the most enchanting detail were the many places where small beach rocks had been set on their sides to form patterns. Lovely.

Tomorrow, the stumpery.

Meanwhile, here's a couple more shots from our garden. The first is Asarina scandens, sometimes called Trailing Gloxinia or Trailing Snapdragon. The last photo is Clematis 'Niobe,' one of the most beautiful large-flowered clematis, at least to our eye. This year we're getting quite a prolific number of blooms. This clematis continues blooming for us over a long period, making it a definite winner in our book.

Asarina

Clematis Niobe