Monday, December 8, 2014

Growing Onions: Preparation and planting

Onions grow well here in Anacortes WA, which enjoys cool but not cold winters. We almost never get below 20F and that means we can plant onions now, in early December.

We like raised beds. Then the soil is what we make of it. Our beds are about five years old and are replenished and amended each year. Here are some tips if you're just beginning:

Location: If you are in Zone 5 as we are, you want sun. Make sure you have the most sun your yard will allow. A southwest facing slope is ideal, and good drainage helps most crops. (I am using the Sunset zones, not the USDA ones, which take only low temperatures into account.)

Size: You can make a bed as small as 2'x2'. Or make long boxes to fit your terrain. Stick with 4' foot widths so you don't have to step on the soil inside the box to plant or weed or harvest. Or start with containers, but in the winter they will freeze sooner and all year around they dry out fast.

Making boxes: All you need for a 2'x2' is a single 8' board. We like the sturdiness of 2" stock. Make 3 cuts, one every 2 feet, then build a square. We use corner braces to secure the pieces. Our boxes are 12" high, but you can get away with less. The higher you make them, the deeper the soil you can accommodate. We finish the boxes with white barn paint (because it contains no toxins) to help keep them from rotting. You could use cedar or treated lumber but then it's more expensive and we don't know what is going to seep into the soil.

Soil: The basis of our boxes is top soil we purchased. We had a truckload brought in, back when we didn't have anything planted and the delivery wouldn't destroy anything. It was very sandy, really a disappointment. We have amended it in several ways.

Our favorite 'outside' amendment is coir, which is made of ground-up coconut shells. It holds an amazing amount of water and doesn't break down readily. So garden boxes we established four years ago with a portion of coir are still our best producers. Back then we could find only small bricks of coir and thought of it as an extravagance. Now I have been able to find larger bricks online at a fraction the cost. Coir holds an amazing amount of water and so will help keep crops happy during our summer dry spells. To use it, soak a brick, then use it when filling a box. We soak ours in a kiddy pool: one brick when wet fills the pool, and makes a good amount for a 12'x4' garden box.

We also use our own compost. We put all our table scraps in a back corner of the back yard. More on compost in a later post. Every lawn mowing contributes to the pile, along with every veggie scrap. Whatever we have is divided into our garden boxes. There's no such thing as too much compost and we have neighbors who happily contribute their (untreated) grass clippings to the pile.

We don't use peat moss, which is not a renewable resource. We also don't use vermiculite, which is expensive and blows around and gets wasted. We do bring in rotting horse manure from a friend's paddock and have at times gotten straw from a neighbor. Straw can be treacherous though if it is fact hay and still has hay seeds in it. They will turn your garden into an intractable lawn.

Planting. Start small. Read about Square Foot Gardening, in which each plant is treated as an individual. You don't need massive amounts of food because in SFG you don't have a lot of waste.

Advice: Just begin. Then grow it from there. More to come....

Onions are great fun to grow and store well in the winter. You can eat the greens along the way and never have to run out. They are just one of the crops you can start right in the garden in December in Zone 5. What varieties will you try this year?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Perfect Popcorn

This popcorn is perfect because as soon as it comes out of the pot, it is buttered, salted and flavored. It takes only one pan to pop it in, and one bowl to pour it into. The rest is up to the guests.

In our house we always choose peppery popcorn but this recipe should work for just about any flavor.

The relative ease of popping corn in coconut oil has transformed and simplified the already fairly easy process. Here is step by step what I've adapted from traditional procedures, and the reasons for each step.

1. Choose a good-sized pot with good heat-retaining properties. Mine are stainless over a conducting core. You want the heat to be distributed over the whole bottom of the pot. You'll need a lid, of course.

2. Pour about 1/4 cup melted coconut oil into the pan, or scoop some out of the container it's stored in. (When I purchase coconut oil, which I do in gallon tubs, I melt it and pour it into pint canning jars for ease of use. Then when I want it liquified I place the jar on a saucer and put the whole thing in the microwave for a minute or a bit longer. Or I can scoop out the solids from the wide-mouthed jar.)

3. Turn on the heat fairly high to start heating pan and oil. Add 5 kernels of popcorn to the pan and sprinkle 1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt into the pan.

4. Have ready 1/2 cup popcorn and 2 tablespoons of butter, room-temperature if possible. Fridge-temp will do. Also have a sprinkling of cayenne ready, or about 1/2 teaspoon.

5. When 3 or 4 of the 5 kernels in the pot have popped, act fast. Add the butter, then pour in the popcorn, sprinkle on the cayenne, and close the lid fast. Then turn down the heat to medium.

6. Start shaking right away. You don't want any piece of popcorn in contact with the bottom too long. The popping should begin quickly.

7. Continue shaking back and forth, and let the top vent to get some of the steam out. (The steam is made when the water inside each kernel of popcorn super-heats, then is released when the kernel pops.)

8. When the popping has stopped for several seconds, take off the lid and pour the popped corn into the waiting bowl.

9. Eat! It will be buttered, salted, and flavored. If you want to use onion salt or other flavored salts, reduce the added salt or omit it. If you would like to have a caramel-flavored popcorn, add 1/2-1 tsp sugar in place of the cayenne. Be careful! Caramel is hot and sticky!

This recipe makes a very large batch for 2 people, and will disappear quickly with 4.

By heating the heat-tolerant coconut oil first, then adding butter and popcorn, the corn doesn't have a chance to burn before the whole potful is popped (with possibly the exception of a few kernels).

Questions? I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions! This recipe is of course naturally gluten-free.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hummus - Basic recipe

I haven't made hummus for a while. I like to have some sort of beans soaking and noticed the bag of garbanzos someone gave me. So I put them in water a couple of days ago, and by yesterday they needed rinsing and cooking. I turned off the heat last night when I went to bed and just hoped they were done.

This morning I tested them and they were cooked enough, maybe not quite all the way to very soft but good enough for hummus.

I have a new food processor that would surely smooth them into a pleasant paste.

The food processor had a residue of green powder in it. This was left over from drying greens from the garden and pulverizing them for use in the winter. One pound of greens - enough to fill my picking basket - dried down enough to make less than a half-cup of powder. So what was sticking to the food-processor bowl was a significant amount, something I didn't want to waste. Green powder would make a perfect amendment to hummus, so after I got out all I could, I just whirred the cooked beans in the same bowl. (My food processor has 3 nesting bowls.)

Here's the recipe I use. If you like to measure precisely, this is probably not the recipe for you!

Basic Hummus

1. Soak a 1 pound bag of garbanzos for a day or 2, rinse thoroughly.
2. Put in a pot with a lid, cover with an inch or more of water, and cook until tender.
3. Scoop half the beans into a food processor (or less if yours handles only small batches), using a slotted spoon.
4. Let the processor work until the beans are mostly smooth, adding cooking liquid to get to the consistency you like.
5. While the processor is working, add several tablespoons of sesame tahini (made from raw sesame seeds). I prefer a hummus that tastes strongly of sesame. You may want to use less.
6. Toss several garlic cloves into the processor chute while the processor continues to work.
7. Add salt to taste, 1 tsp or more.
8. While the processor is still working, squeeze a lemon over a strainer and into the processor chute.
9. When everything looks homogeneous, stop the processor and taste. Adjust as needed.
10. When you are satisfied, scoop the contents out into a container with a lid, pour several tablespoons of tasty olive oil over the top, and refrigerate. Serve on salad or with raw or cooked veggies.
11. Refrigerate the cooked garbanzos and their liquid for another batch of hummus or to make another garbanzo-bean recipe.

This is a gluten-free recipe made only with real foods.

Monday, June 16, 2014

First potatoes of the season!

Today John harvested the first 3 potatoes of the season, reds from last year.

We must have missed harvesting one. And from that one we have these three and lots more: The plant is in bloom, so it's still producing, growing the baby spuds still. 

I love gardens! Magical things happen there. You put this bit of DNA in the ground in the form of a seed or a piece of potato, and you end up with something that knows how to organize sunlight, water, stuff from the soil, and maybe things we can't see, into food we can eat. Tiny seed, lots of food. 

I never get tired of marveling over it. 

Anyway, we'll have perfect fresh potatoes as part of our supper for the first time tonight.

We were behind putting things in because we were away. This potato overwintered so it had a head-start on the others. Maybe next year we'll just leave a few dozen in the ground on purpose and save a lot of work!

Spring treat - frizzled garden greens

We planted a fair number of quick-growing greens when we got back from New Zealand in April. We were eager to get something out of the garden, and some greens take only 30 or so days.

And then the 30 days went by (rather quickly) and now we have lots of greens, some of them bolting already despite our very cool June. They include several kinds of mustard, turnip greens, radish greens, kale (old and new), chard (old, just starting to go into its second-year biennial seed-producing phase) - a total of 8 kinds.

If I'd left them in the garden, they would have become tough and bitter. I have other options: leave them in the fridge till I need them (but there are more every day); sauté them and pack for the freezer against a day next winter when they'll be great in a soup; or….

Frizzle them!

I have done this before with kale but not as a regular habit and not with other varieties of greens. Here's what I'm doing now:

I'm looking over the greens when I first gather them from the garden. I don't want to wash them if I don't have to. Mostly they are fine, since I have harvested them by cutting them off several inches above ground level with scissors.

Then I'm laying them out on foil on a cookie sheet. The foil has been used several times, and already has a thin coating of olive oil, which adds a perfect flavor for greens. Once there, I wipe them around a pit in the oil, and if they seem dry, I'm adding a few more sprinkles of olive oil.

Then into the oven they go. The oven has been preheated to 400 degrees. Or else it is hot from baking something else, and that's the temperature I use. They go on the bottom rack.

Then I do my best to keep an eye on them. I don't want them getting black. They could use moving around at about the 3 minute mark. In 5 minutes, they are ready to take out, usually.

Once they're out, I let them cool off. Or I sprinkle them with parmesan. Or I sprinkle them with salt.

I serve them with supper. They're great on soup, or just to eat by hand with almost anything. (So far, with everything.) They're reminiscent of nori.

I'm thinking of crumbling them into leftover rice tonight, after it's reheated. Though they really are best when they are crisp, and it takes almost no moisture to soften them up and the rice may wreck them.

Last night supper got delayed by Father's Day calls from the kids, so I didn't go out harvesting. Instead I just grabbed a handful of mixed greens from the produce-keeper bag in the fridge to frizzle. So if you don't have a garden but want to have these very tasty (irresistible) healthy crisps around, you can certainly use greens from the farmers' market or store.

Let me know how you're using them.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Making chocolate

When I first saw this recipe, I had to scratch my head. What did they mean by making chocolate. It turns out it is all about converting cocoa into something more like a Hershey's Bar. Sort of.

I shared my home-made chocolate tonight with a wide range of tasters, from a 7 year old boy to several seniors. 

Twice the taster said it was like fudge. It's sort of like fudge, I agree, but it's made entirely differently. All the tasters liked it. Many came back for more, including the 7 year old and several adults.

So you decide how like a chocolate bar it is, or how fudge-like. If it's convincing fudge for you, you won't have to go through all it takes to make real fudge.

Before I give you the recipe I used, I want to warn you about a big challenge these ingredients create for each other. You may find that you end up with a mass of brown sweet stuff that won't blend with the oil. I will let you know as we go along what I did about that. Because I did find a way, but it wasn't the food processor that finally got them to blend.

Is this recipe worth it? You decide. It yields a healthy, tasty confection that is very chocolate-y and makes you want more. Or at least made me want more, and my husband, and all those kids who tested it for me.

The recipe: Homemade Chocolate (makes a lot!)

Mix together 1 cup cocoa powder, 1 cup coconut oil, and 1/2 cup raw honey. That's it. 

Literally that's all you need to do. HOWEVER, when I mixed them in my food processor, I ended up with happily married honey and cocoa powder, and a nearly entirely independent layer of oil. 

In my kitchen, which runs less than 70 degrees most of the time (we keep the house at 65 but when the oven's on I know it's warmer), the coconut oil I buy is solid. When I made this recipe, I liquified it by placing the jar in a bowl of warm water. When it wouldn't blend that way, I cooled the whole mixture. Nothing worked.

So I started stirring. I stirred and stirred, and suddenly it all congealed and became one mass of yummy flavors. 

At this point I spooned several puddles of it onto a parchment paper on a cookie sheet and placed it in the freezer to cool quickly. It was firm right away - maybe 10 minutes later. Then I cut it with a hefty knife into bite-sized chunks. It was great!

Why did it suddenly congeal? I think it has to do with the fats in the cocoa. The coconut oil has no affinity for anything water-based, such as honey, but it would naturally be attracted to other fats. In cocoa the fats are bound up in a substance that is high in fiber and also contains other complex carbs and proteins. It could easily take several minutes for the oil in the powder and the coconut oil to combine.

In between, while I was still not successful with getting the ingredients to blend, I tried the blade in my little food processor. Even with the chilled mixture the oil separated more than it had been before I processed it.

I have plenty of chocolate left from this first experiment, but there will be a next time, and then I'll try chilling both the honey and the oil first. 

There's no cooking in this recipe. That means the raw honey stays raw, and same for the coconut oil. Since I buy the least processed products that I can get, it's a real plus to make a confection without cooking. 

If you make this recipe, please post your experience. It's worth making, but we're not yet sure the best way. 

Quick cocoa cookies or portable breakfast food (GF)

(Warning: These cookies are gluten-free only if your oats are gluten-free. Oats don't have gluten but the places where they are processed might be used too for processing wheat and then your oats could have gluten. I am highly wheat-sensitive (and maybe gluten-sensitive) but I can eat all the oats I've tried, as long as it's in moderation. Oats themselves are known to be inflammatory, so they can cause problems  in some individuals regardless of their contamination level.)


This recipe has no added sugar, just what's naturally in the unsweetened applesauce and banana. It doesn't need more. The fat comes from the cocoa and nut butter. The protein comes from the oats and nut butter. Minerals come from good salt. Every ingredient adds something healthy. You could have these for breakfast with a hot beverage and consider it a good meal.

Vigorously mix together the following:

3 ripe bananas, smooshed with a fork
2 cups regular (non-instant, non-quick) rolled oat
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup nut butter (almond, peanut butter, any nut butter)
pinch of good salt (coarse salt is fun - it doesn't all blend in, so you might get some in any given bite)

You can do the mixing in a mixer or food processor. Hand-mixing also works.

Let the mixture sit for 20-30 minutes before baking.

Drop by tablespoonfuls on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Space closely: they don't spread. Flatten them a little for faster cooking and check after 10 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for about 15 minutes. You want them cooked through but not dried out.

Let them cool. Can refrigerate or freeze.

Additions: Chocolate chips, nuts, bits of fruit.