Thursday, July 26, 2012

week 10

blooming cucumbers - dense with life

Green Beans                Cucumbers      Eggplant
Peppers                        Tomatoes         Lettuce
Summer Squash          Onions             Garlic             
Basil Cutting Celery Sorrel

It's hard to believe that July is almost over - but it is.  At least the weather is finally seasonal, meaning hot and sticky beyond belief!  The kids seem to do nothing but sweat and swim, and we feel as tho we were swimming in sweat as we pull the weeds from the garden, getting ready to plant another round of squashes, cucumbers, beans, and then the Autumn crops. 

Last Thursday's intense storm knocked the corn over pretty hard, but it's recovering, and we hope to have sweet corn very soon.  Lulah found the first ripe cantaloupe and it was a winner.  It looks like the melons will be small this year, but very sweet, due to the dry spell.  The latest picking of beans is coming out very nicely, but the lettuce is suffering.  Everything enjoys having the weeds pulled away, and its wonderful to feel the good moisture in the ground again. 

The gardens are overflowing right now.  Lulah announced that she would make lunch one day this week.  She wandered through the gardens with a basket, picking a few cilantro flower heads here, a handful of green beans there, a few carrots, a small head of lettuce, some basil, and of course tomatoes (tomatoes go with everything right now).  She washed and chopped and shredded (documenting everything as she went along with her old digital camera - a born blogger!) and served us a chunky fresh salad in the heat of the day.  She's one lucky girl and she knows it.

This is the end of the carrots until the Fall.  We're looking for room to plant the next round, contemplating the needs of the garden for over-wintering cover crops, Fall greens and roots, and fallowing for spring.  It's long term thinking, and as we try to do it well, we realize how little of our modern world works this way.  It's deeply satisfying to make a compost pile with the intent that it not be used in this calendar year.  Mid-summer is the time to plan what ground to leave open over the winter so that have open ground to plant the 2013 spring garden.  We will all be a year older, hopefully wiser for our time spent living, and still grateful for something fresh from the good soil. 

Here's a winning eggplant idea from Alice Waters:
Eggplant and Tomato Pizza
Grill 1/4 inch slices of eggplant, or oven-roast them, brushed with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Roll out or shape a disk of pizza dough, and brush with olive oil mixed with garlic chopped very fine.  Make an even layer of thin red onion slices, place a few thin round slices of fresh mozzarella on the onions, and arrange the grilled eggplant slices and large slices of tomato on top, in a single layer.  keep the layers light or the crust will be soggy.  Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and bake in a preheated 450-500 degree oven for 4 to 10 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden brown.  Scatter basil leaves over the pizza and serve.

And then there's: Cucumber, Mango and Red Onion Salad
This is a good salad to serve with spicy Mexican food. Peel and thinly slice cucumbers, mango, and sweet red onion - about the same amount of each, but exact proportions do not matter at all.  Season to taste with freshly squeezed lime juice and salt, and garnish generously with cilantro leaves. (Wow!)

Or: Chilled Tomato Soup
4 pounds ripe tomatoes                       2 stalks celery (or some cutting celery)
2 Tablespoons salt                               3 shallots
1 small cucumber                                White wine vinegar (or balsamic)

Cut the tomatoes into quarters, put them in a bowl, add all the salt, and mix well.  Peel and seed the cucumber, clean the celery, and peel the shallots.  Cut them all into a fine dice, put the shallots in a small bowl, add just enough of the vinegar to cover, and set aside.
            After about half an hour the salt will have softened the tomatoes.  Mash them with a wooden spatula and work them through a food mill to obtain a thick tomato juice.  Add the shallots, celery, and cucumber.  Season to taste with salt and vinegar.  Use balsamic vinegar if the tomatoes need a little sweetness.  Refrigerate over ice and serve well chilled.

If any of you put up food - I have new canning lids for you.  Conventional canning lids (Ball, Kerr, and Golden Harvest are all owned by the same mega corporation) contain BPA in their sticky interiors.  The safety claim is that the BPA doesn't get in the food unless the food touches the BPA coated surface, but the more we learn about BPA, the more we want to keep it very far away from our children's food.  So, we researched and learned about Tattler lids.  Tattler is a small American company that makes these re-usable, BPA free canning lids.  They are notably more expensive than ordinary lids, but indefinitely reusable, so they get "cheaper" by the year.  We put in a large order with the bulk food co-op we order with, and have some left over to offer to anyone who wants to try them out.  You can learn more about them at:  We have regular mouth lids available for $7/dozen (great price since we were part of a really large order).  Just let us know if you want to try them out and we'll pack them along. 

Next week, we won't have lettuce (GASP!). It will be back, we're just in a gap. There will be more green beans, most likely sweet corn, cantaloupes, and peppers. There won't be eggplant again for a couple more weeks, so make the most of these. There will still be beautiful basil, probably some cilantro, and of course, there will be tomatoes.

We hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Paul, Coree, Lulah and Levon

A poem this week, dedicated to the logging operation going on in our adjacent woods:

In a Country Once Forested, by Wendell Berry

The young woodland remembers the old, a dreamer dreaming
of an old holy book, an old set of instructions,
and the soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest,
and under the pavement the soil, is dreaming of grass.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

week 9

corn and squash sisters

Lettuce Onions Garlic
Carrots Summer Squash Tomatoes
Green and Wax Beans Cucumber Eggplant
Parsley Sorrel Dill Basil
You cannot lose your land and remain free; if you keep your land, you cannot be enslaved.”
~Wendell Berry's “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey”

And after the rain, came the MONSOON! Low growing herbs are muddy – our apologies. It was a great rain, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The garden didn't puddle at all, but the playground and drive way did, and Lulah took her bicycle “mudding” through every bit of standing water she could find, sporting spattered soil with absolute glee. Now as we watch the corn tassle, and the vegetables and weeds sprout and grow, we are coming to accept that there are certain portions of the garden that will need a weed-eater, not a hoe, to tame.

Last week's light thinning of the eggplant, plus rain, paid dividends in their size and quality this week. Enjoy. The tomatoes even held up well. We were anticipating a field full of exploding red water balloons, and have been pleasantly surprised to find well mannered and beautiful ripe tomatoes instead. (“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” ~Lewis Grizzard ) Cantaloupes are coming along beautifully too – not quite ready, but it won't be long now. We're still hotter than seems reasonable during our time spent up on the hill garden. I don't understand exactly how it works, but 95 degrees with 75% humidity feels about the same at 110 degrees at 15% humidity. The main difference is that the plants are no long suffering in the soil, and THAT makes a big difference in farmer morale.

Did anyone try the drop biscuit recipe last week? We did and it was GOOD. We grew a lot of onions this year. The wet weather is proving a challenge to our ability to harvest, cure and store them all, so we're going to hand them out heavily for awhile here.

We love interesting cucumbers. This year we trialed a new one, Shintokiwa, which sounded so promising. It's a lovely cuke, but doesn't hold a candle to our favorite Suhyo long, which will hopefully be along after awhile. The white orb-shaped ones are called Dragon's Egg. They are an heirloom. We've saved the seed for a couple years now and enjoy their crisp white flesh and tender skin. Marketmores are the market standard cucumber – but we think of phasing them out of our production plan, given that there are so many better tasting cukes available.

The rain seems to have knocked back the Japanese beetle population, which means that our basil is finally over its bad hair phase – the leaves are looking lush and not so raggedy now. If it's difficult to think anything unpleasant while eating tomatoes, it's nearly impossible to think anything but good while PICKING basil – oh divine scent!

Food blogs are one of my favorite uses of the internet. I've leaned on them for this week's recipe selection. It's amazing what's out there. Enjoy...

Fresh and Savory Tomato Pie
9 inch pastry crust                                                   teaspoon kosher or sea salt
teaspoon freshly ground black pepper               2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh basil leaves
4 ripe tomatoes, cut in half and sliced                2 cups yellow tomatoes, cut and sliced
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar                                     1 cup fine bread crumbs
1 cup coarsely grated fresh mozzarella or white cheddar
1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place all of the tomatoes in a medium sized bowl.
2) Add the salt, pepper, garlic, balsamic and basil. Lightly toss and let sit for 10 minutes.
3) Line 9 inch pie pan with pie crust.
4) Prick the crust all over with a fork and bake until lightly browned (8-10 minutes; check frequently after 8 minutes so it does not brown too much). Remove the crust from the oven.
5) Mix the bread crumbs with the cheeses. Layer half of the combination on top of the pre-cooked crust. Gently layer the tomato mixture into the pastry shell. Finish with the remainder of the bread crumbs and cheeses.
6) Bake until warmed through, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Let cool slightly; serve warm.

And: Easy Stir Fried Eggplant Recipe
1/2 cooking onion                                         6 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 red chillies (including seeds), depending on how spicy you like it
1 Chinese (large, with dark purple skin) eggplant, or 2 Japanese(thinner, with light purple skin)
1/4 cup water for stir-frying                      2-3 Tbsp. oil for stir-frying
roughly 1/2 cup (or more) fresh basil      2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. fish sauce OR 1+1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce (these are salty sauces – use less and adjust to taste)
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce OR vegetarian oyster sauce                           1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp. water (mix until cornstarch is dissolved) (or arrowroot)

1 - First, prepare sauce by mixing together all sauce ingredients except cornstarch. Prepare the cornstarch and water mixture in a separate cup or bowl. Set both aside.
2 - Chop the eggplant up into bite-size pieces (leave the peel on if using long skinny eggplant)
3 - Place 2-3 Tbsp. oil to a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, half of the garlic, chilli, and eggplant.
4 - Stir-fry for 5 minutes. When the wok or frying pan becomes dry, add a little of the water (a few Tbsp. at a time) - enough to keep the ingredients frying nicely.
5 - Add 2 Tbsp. soy sauce and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, or until the eggplant is soft and the white flesh is almost translucent. Add a little more water when the pan becomes too dry (up to 1/4 cup).
6 - When the eggplant is soft, add the rest of the garlic plus the sauce. Stir fry to incorporate.
7 - Lastly, add the cornstarch/water mixture. Stir well so that the sauce thickens uniformly (this will only take a minute or less). Remove from heat.
Taste test the eggplant for salt. If not salty enough, add a little more fish sauce. If too salty, add 1 Tbsp. lime juice (or substitute 1 Tbsp. lemon juice). Now add 3/4 of the fresh basil, stirring briefly to incorporate. Slide onto a serving platter and sprinkle the rest of the basil over top. Serve with jasmine rice. Enjoy!

Yours truly, The Entwistles

Thursday, July 12, 2012

tired field hand during a harvest

Lettuce                        Onions                       Garlic
Carrots            Beets                            Summer Squash
Green and Wax Beans                Cucumber              Tomatoes       
Parsley                        Sorrel             Dill     Basil   
All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,

the trees towering and the walls built low.

And in the valleys, people as strong and varied as the land.                                 
Yes, we finally got some rain.  It started early Tuesday and made a drizzly wonderful grey inch and a little more.  We’re hopeful that there’s more to come.  The garden and the gardeners alike breathe a great sigh of relief.  I hardly have anything to say in the newsletter except that we’re so happy that it rained.  With luck, the summer will proceed in this sticky humid, reasonable fashion, and we’ll be able to salvage the plants that suffered, and stop pumping so much water!  Please join us in being grateful for the bit of mud present on today’s basket.

All the tomatoes are getting colorful now, and the eggplant are small, but needing to be thinned for better growth.  We will pick all the sun burnt peppers from the plants and let them get another start.  Cantaloupes are green and swelling to size quite rapidly.  The beets are small, they can’t grow without their leaves, which have been defoliated by the blister beetles, which are present in what would seem a horrifying quantity.  However, upon researching the bugs, we discovered that their larvae feed on grasshopper larvae.  Grasshoppers are a formidable late summer pest, so we’re trying to tolerate the blister beetles in the hopes that they take a toll on the grasshopper population in the near future.  There’s always more to learn about life in its many amazing, sometimes lovely and sometimes disgusting forms. 

The kids and I took a great long weekend to Florida.  It was an unthinkable sort of trip, leaving just when the tomatoes are beginning to ripen, but an old friend’s wedding….  it was so wonderful to go.  We’re grateful to Paul for staying home and fending off groundhogs and grasshoppers, keeping the water flowing, and the tomatoes and beans picked, and the chickens and kitty fed while we were gone.  We couldn’t have pulled it off without the whole family’s involvement (Thank you Family!).  Momo came along to kid-wrangle (no small task), and we all enjoyed the gentle clear water of the Gulf of Mexico, three consecutive beach sunsets, and a beautiful wedding.  We got home after a grueling day on the road, fell into deep sleep, and woke to thunder and rain.  The next afternoon, an old friend from college brought her two growing children for an overnight visit while they passed through the state.  The kids helped harvest the tomatoes and onions and had a great time testing the electric fence and chasing chickens.  It’s been a diverse week with plenty of work, and plenty of fun.  Summer is FULL.

We grew more onions this year than ever before.  Use them up.  The ones we’re giving now may not store so well.  You can either try to cure them in a warm, dry, but not sunny place, then store them with your garlic (but not with potatoes!) for the long run, OR you can keep them in a plastic bag in the fridge, and eat them within a week or two.

Onion Poppy Seed Drop Biscuits
Oil or butter for greasing the baking sheets             2 large eggs
½ cup canola (or other) oil                                        2 large onions grated, liquid reserved
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour                         ½ cup poppy seeds (or sesame)
2 Tbsp water                                                              2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt                                                                 1 tsp sugar

1) Preheat oven to 400F.  Lightly coat 2 baking sheets with oil or butter.
2) Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Stir in the oil and the grated onions with their liquid.  Sift in the flour, then add the poppy seeds, water, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Stir the ingredients just until they are moistened but not completely smooth.  Do not overmix the batter or it will become stretchy and your biscuits will be tough. 
3) Drop the mixture by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.  Serve warm.

Grated Raw Beet Salad with Fresh Dill and Mustard Vinaigrette
3-4 cups Beets (I would use carrots too!), peeled, coarsely grated                 ½ cup olive oil
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar                                        1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 tsp prepared Dijon mustard                                               1 small clove garlic minced or pressed
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste                                   1-2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill

1) Put the grated beets in a large salad bowl.
2) Combine the olive oil, vinegar, shallot, mustard, and garlic in a large jar.  With the lid tightly screwed on, shake the jar vigorously until the oil and vinegar are thickened.
3) Pour the dressing over the beets and toss until well coated.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer beet mixture to the refrigerator to marinate for at least 1 hour (or overnight).
4) Add the fresh dill, toss again, and serve chilled.

The squash are threatening to overrun the garden.  If we miss a day picking them, and even if we don’t, they grow into monsters.  I use the yellow squash just like I would a zucchini in this sweet bread:
3 cups all-purpose flour                     1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda                     1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon          3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil                             2 1/4 cups white sugar (or a substitute)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract                2 cups grated zucchini (at least)
1 cup chopped walnuts                     raisins if you like them (soak them before adding)

1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.

Next week, there will be more carrots, beans and cucumbers, hopefully more eggplant, possibly tomatillos or some small peppers. 

Eat well, be well, and thanks for your support!                               Paul, Coree, Lulah and Levon

Thursday, July 5, 2012

week 7

Lettuce Onions Fresh Garlic
Carrots Beets Summer Squash
Fennel Chard Tomatoes!
Parsley Sorrel Cilantro or Dill Basil

The life of the soul is truth and the awareness of the soul is love.”
~Saint Bernard

We hope you all had a safe and fun Independence Day – free of excessive sparks! If the tomatoes didn't look so good, we'd have the raggedy blues this week. It's reached triple digits in the sun every day for the last several. It's too hot to walk barefoot in the garden, and definitely too hot to work in the sun for a good part of the day. The humidity has increased in the last couple days, and it looks like there's been rain in the area – but none in our valley. Surely, it will rain on us eventually. Bugs seem to love the heat, there are blister beetles, and japanese beetles all over the basil, sorrel, and chard. Wash well.

The orange tomatoes with green shoulders are our favorite heirloom variety by a long shot. They go by the name Paul Robeson, for the African American opera singer and athlete. They have a complex and smoky flavor different from your standard red slicer. We hope you enjoy them. They've come on early this year, and hopefully, they will stay late too, though they are making it clear by the condition of their leaves that they would appreciate some rain soon. Early Girls are the other main tomato this week. I remember being so skeptical when seeing them at a friend's farm – all so uniform, so firm and red – I couldn't imagine they would have much flavor, but I was wrong. They perform well and turn out buckets of tasty firm red slicing tomatoes. We love heirlooms, but we still grow Early Girls, too.

We just heard on NPR, verified by America's Test Kitchen – tomatoes keep better resting with the stem end DOWN. So, take some that are ripe, and some not so ripe, and keep them all with the belly buttons facing down until you eat them up. Our favorite tomato salad is so simple: cube or slice tomatoes, mince a clove of garlic and a sprig of basil, maybe some red onion sliced thin, salt and pepper, oil and balsamic vinegar. Crumbled feta cheese is a great addition, though Parmesan will do well, and nutritional yeast is great if you're not into cheese. Toss it all together and eat at room temperature.

Here's this year's fennel crop. We haven't irrigated it at all, and this is the first time we've seen it actually reach toward blooming. Usually it gets some kind of rot in the blooming sprout. I suppose the drought has made it happy enough to want to set fruit. Fennel grows wild in coastal California. We've remarked a few times this season that this must be what it feels like to farm in southern California – everything will be alright as long as we go on irrigating! Strange season, this one.

Fennel is an interesting vegetable. Any part of it that is tender enough to slice is good to eat. We recently enjoyed it sliced and sauteed with summer squash. First, we sliced and gently browned an onion and some garlic, then cranked up the heat again and threw in the sliced fennel and squash. Grated Parmesan on top once it was done. Use the long stalks like you would celery or carrot sticks. You could have one festive looking and sweet tasting raw platter with this week's basket – beets, carrots, and fennel sticks. Fennel can be served raw, as they do in Italy – brush raw slices with olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve as an appetizer. Try it grilled, braised or roasted. It likes Parmesan, basil, coriander, paprika, parsley, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and tomatoes. Play. Enjoy.

The Chard is being devoured by blister beetles. They skeletonize the leaves - we've really never seen anything like it. So we're cutting what's left and seeing what happens next! This might be the last of the Chard for awhile. In the top garden, the melons continue to grow unhindered by hot sun and drought. Peppers and eggplant are loaded with very small fruit. They're looking sun-burnt. We're working on irrigation plans, but rain would be a much simpler solution.

Here's a solid salsa recipe:
1 1/2 pounds firm, ripe tomatoes , cut into 3/8-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1 large jalapeño chile seeded (seeds reserved and minced), flesh minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup minced red onion                  1 small clove garlic , minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro            1/2 teaspoon table salt
  Pinch ground black pepper                2 - 6 teaspoons lime juice from 1 to 2 limes
  Granulated sugar to taste (up to 1 teaspoon)

1. Set large colander in large bowl. Place tomatoes in colander and let drain 30 minutes. As tomatoes drain, layer jalapeño, onion, garlic, and cilantro on top. Shake colander to drain off excess tomato juice. Discard juice; wipe out bowl.
2. Transfer contents of colander to now-empty bowl. Add salt, pepper, and 2 teaspoons lime juice; toss to combine. Taste and add minced jalapeño seeds, sugar, and additional lime to taste.

Tomato Fennel Pasta Sauce
(says blogger: You could use any pasta, but ideally it should be long pasta, like spaghetti. This is a thick sauce, so don’t go with any pasta shape that is too delicate, like angel hair. Once you make the sauce, it will store in the fridge for 10 days or so. You can also freeze it.) Serve 6-8, and can be doubled
4 tablespoons olive oil                                     1 cup fennel, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped                              1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur    1 quart tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey                                         1 tblspoon mint or lemon verbena, chopped
Salt to taste                                                       Parmigiano or pecorino cheese to garnish

1) Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide, deep pan or a large pot. When the oil is hot, add the fennel and onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, until translucent. Sprinkle some salt over everything while they are cooking. Don’t let the veggies brown — turn down the heat if needed. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two.
2)Pour in the ouzo and let this boil until it is reduced by half.
3)Add the crushed tomatoes, honey and mint and mix well. Taste for salt and add some if needed. Let this simmer gently for 30 minutes.
4)If you are going to serve this sauce with short pasta, like penne or bowties, you don’t need this step: Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor and buzz to puree all the bits of onion and fennel. Pour the blended sauce back into the pot and bring to a simmer. You’re ready to serve.
This is a powerful sauce, so use less than you think you need at first. Serve with a light red wine like a Sangiovese or a Grenache.

Next week – no more chard or fennel, but add some more tomatoes and green beans to the mix.  Maybe cucumbers too.

Remember to send in your blueberry orders asap.
Stay hydrated and eat well. The Entwistles