TGIF Cocktail Hour :: Fir-Tip Syrup Recipe

Spruce TipsI spent Easter weekend out in Skykomish and marveled at the many shades of green on the drive up. Evergreen trees stood dark and pine-y against emerald colored leaves and lime-y new growth. It is truly a magical time in the tree canopy - just look around! On a recent walk in Discovery Park, I reached up and pulled a pale chartreuse bit from a fir trees outstretched limbs and chewed whilst strolling. Good stuff. It reminded me now is the PERFECT time to used this Fir-tip Syrup recipe!  

The fir is a conifer tree (cone-bearing, woody trees & I'll be the first to admit that tree identification is not my forte) that can grow as tall as a NYC building and live several hundred years. Fir trees are in the same family with Pine and Spruce trees - the are the great giants of the forest. Tips from new needle growth can be clipped and harvested for syrups, salads or simply their herbaceous quality. Try some in place of rosemary in your next halibut dinner. Or drink it, like I recommend here.

Just as you'd suspect, this fir-tip syrup recipe is made with sugar water and fir tips. Cook them all together and let the fir greens steep, it's oils releasing into the liquid. Traditionally sugar is used for a simple syrup base, but I'll encourage you to consider some natural sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup which both work using the same technique.

Fir tips are super woodsy tasting and smacks of a pine-y forest. The resin undertone works well with a floral gin or cedar-smoky bourbon - everyone is most often fond of some fir-tip syrup in a G&T, that woodsy syrup lending an lemon-y and pleasingly astringent flavor. (Skip the squeeze of lime.) I'm betting some of you will have ideas, too - leave them here!

This recipe is officially from Jennifer Hahn - Pacific Feast | A Cook's Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine. If you haven't picked up a copy and you actually LIVE in the Northwest and eat food daily, you must get your hands on this book immediately. It's available online from Skipstone Publishing (who conveniently also published both Urban Pantry & Fresh Pantry!) and at Book Larder in Fremont - the best food lovers bookstore in Seattle.

Spruce (or Fir) Tip Syrup

4 cups spruce (or fir) tips 4 cups water 2/3 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, cover green tips with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain out green tips with a fine sieve, reserving liquid. Measure amount of liquid you have and add an equal amounts sugar. (1:1 water:sugar). Return syrup back to a boil and reduce until the consistency of syrup, about 30 minutes.

Small Plants for Small Pots

Small pots, illustrationYou might think choosing pots would be the easiest part of container gardening, but interestingly, it is not. Containers and pots come in many sizes and seemingly just as many materials. You can look at your planting vessel in one of two ways—you can choose the pot first and then pick the best-suited plant, or buy the plant and then choose the best-suited pot. Most plants need a little legroom to stretch their roots. Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need. It is better to leave a little wiggle room than to have plant roots mashing up against the container walls. If you allow for some growth, you increase the odds of your plant growing to full maturity. The end goal is for the plant to produce as much as possible.

That said, I find myself consistently drawn to the cutest little pots with the brightest colors, but they end up being fairly useless. There are lots of adorable small ceramic vessels and even compressed bamboo pots in bright and festive colors. (A nice counterpart to all that green, I say!)

In my own garden, the smallest pot I have used is about four inches deep and about that wide—I treat it as an experiment. Nothing really grows well in such a small space, and the plants are typically root-bound. Even lettuces, which are pretty tolerant, suffer in such tight confines. Their leaves never get bigger than baby lettuce size. The smallest pot I recommend is about six inches deep and about the same width.

There are a few plants that work reasonably well in small pots. Shallow-rooted plants work best, as do plants that you will not harvest from often. Lemon balm, for instance, is quite hardy and will survive the tight conditions, though its leaves will be much smaller than those of a plant given room to reach its full potential. This doesn’t matter so much for lemon balm, as it is a strong herb that you will likely use only occasionally.

Keep in mind, also, that small pots need lots of watering on hot days— likely at least twice a day.

Following is a list of some good plant options for smaller pots—as either they are shallow-rooted, or a kind of plant you will not use in large quantities and can harvest in smaller batches.

.Lemon Balm .Microgreens: arugula, radish
 or amaranth grow quickly .Mint & Scented Mints - chocolate, pineapple or apple .Strawberries - one plant per pot!

Setting Up Your Container Garden - Tips for Apartment Dwellers and Small Spaces

Many moons ago, I tried to convince a boyfriend to let me grow food in his yard, tearing out existing landscape. (He declined and now has a vegetable bed in the worst place, which I secretly love.) I have a habit of sizing up random yards searching for the perfect place to grow food because sadly, I don’t have a yard or garden of my own. I’m relegated to planting any food I want in pots. It's honestly not my preference, but still, I like to think that I’ve perfected the art of growing in my microclimate. I know I share circumstances with many of you: without some pots on a patio, balcony, or windowsill, we would be plant-less. No fun. So, here, I am covering container basics for the urbanite looking to supply their kitchen with some garden goodness. Filling pots

You should know from the onset that not all vegetables grow well in containers. By planting in a contained environment, you are inhibiting the plant’s growth to some extent. Think about it — plants can send out roots and root hairs only as far as the walls of the pot allow. Restricted by the pot, not all plants will come to full maturity and produce food. This presents the biggest challenge of growing food in small spaces.

Deciding What to Grow The ultimate goal is for your garden to be productive. I aim for a constant supply of ingredients for the kitchen, so I nurture plants that can be continually harvested. I suggest growing plants that will be used frequently, but in small amounts. This gives plants time to regrow between cuttings — no sense in planting a crop that you’ll wipe out in one go. (I figure it’s better to have something available over a long course of time.)

• I rely heavily on herbs in my garden. Herbs will single-handedly change the flavor of most recipes and are often pricey at the grocery; many are not commercially available.

• Plants that produce abundant quantities of ingredients that I know I’ll use often are also a favorite. Lettuces, for example: these are wonderful to grow at home. They take up little space, produce (and reproduce!) quickly, and offer fresh greens for salads, or for a nice leafy garnish. I use lettuce in large amounts, and their fast growing cycle makes them highly productive, economical, and worthwhile.

• Plan on mixing it up to make sure there is always something new and different to harvest. Choose plants that will run through their life cycle in one season (annuals) as well as plants that continue to come back year after year in the same pot (perennials).

• Make the most of what you grow by considering its uses beyond the kitchen. Lavender makes a subtle herb rub for seared duck breast and can also be used as a herbal stuffing for an eye pillow. Scented geranium leaves can be chopped and used in sweet recipes, infused into water for a facial toner, or steeped to make teas.

• A container garden should ebb and flow, just like a large garden. Some plants are grown for their leaves, some for their seeds, and some for their fruits. I try to round out my garden plan so there is always something ready to harvest. Today, as I write this, I have marjoram, thyme, and scented geraniums that survived the winter. Arugula and mache are just popping up, too, having reseeded themselves from last year (at the end of the season I stopped harvesting their leaves and let them "go to seed" — the matured plant grows seed pods that fall into the soil and regrow). Within three weeks, the lovage should be starting to show (the same plants I’ve had for four years) and I’ll be planting a second crop of arugula.

Soil

Getting Started To start a garden in containers, at a bare minimum you’ll need pots, soil, and a low-level organic fertilizer. A bag of compost is also a great addition. Access to water is an important consideration. In my own garden, I fill eight old water bottles and carry them back and forth from my kitchen sink. Just make sure you have some way to water your plants, as containers require a diligent watering schedule.

Most plants need a little legroom to stretch their roots. Try to plant in a pot that’s a bit bigger than the plant will actually need. It is better to leave a little wiggle room than to have plant roots mashing up against the container walls. If you allow for some growth, you increase the odds of your plant growing to full maturity.

Planting in Pots

Materials Plastic pots are the least expensive container option, so they’re great for anyone on a budget. It’s true that they are usually the least attractive option, but they hold their moisture longer than clay or ceramic pots and are lighter and easier to move around.

Clay pots are porous, so air moves easily through their walls. This is helpful in that it allows roots to breathe and keeps them out of direct water, but it’s not helpful in that the soil tends to dry out quickly. In hot weather you’ll need to closely monitor the moisture in your clay pots. They are a fairly inexpensive option for the home gardener after plastic, and they come in myriad shapes and sizes. If you choose clay pots, be sure to purchase a saucer or plate to sit under the pot. This works in two ways — to keep moisture off the surface of your deck or patio and to hold in moisture for the plant.

I won't be discussing it here, but making your own pots is super rewarding, too!

Soil You must use potting soil in your containers — soil mixes are formulated to maintain a certain level of lightness so that plants are able to breathe, drain well, and still hold in some moisture. (Air is right up there with sun and water in importance to healthy, thriving plants!) Look for organic potting soil mixes from smaller regional companies rather than the national brands you’ll find in big-box stores. Choose a potting soil that has no added fertilizer or nutrients. It is best to add those on your own as needed for the particular plants you will grow.

Remove all Roots

If you are adding new plants to previously used containers, do not rely on simply digging a small hole in the soil and stuffing in a plant start. Old soils often contain dead roots from previous plants (see above). These roots will impede the new plant’s roots and constrict air as the new plant tries to grow into the same small space. For that reason, just as you would in a garden bed, it’s best to rework your soil before planting. As on the farm, till your soil using a fork or your hands. Loosen it up, remove the root hairs, then gently work in some compost and a spoonful of a low-level organic fertilizer before adding a new plant start.

We will cover more container plant topics like feeding your plant, tending for plants, and more in upcoming articles, but for now these are the basics you need to get growing. As ever, I’m looking forward to all of your questions in the comments!

Up next, seed starting: big things come in tiny packages.

Photos by Della Chen

3 Easy Steps To Being a Better Cook

_MG_5594One of my most grateful experiences in life is that I'm surrounded by home cooks, single people who don't cook and non-foodies who aren't hip on the latest food trends. While I'm in the food business and think about food all day, it's refreshing to be surrounded by people who can honestly give less of a shit about a sauce reduction or what grape we're drinking. That said, it is also great r&d, as I get to see how every day people cook and eat at home. Here, I've compiled small, but effective cooking suggestions to institute immediately in your kitchen. They may seem innocuous, but they're game changers, I promise. Hit me with q's in the comments, if so inclined. oxo amyp

1. Blend, Baby. Blend. - When a recipe calls for you to put "x" amount of dry or wet ingredients in a bowl - blend them. So if you're making oatmeal cookies and  you have flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, stir them once or twice before adding other ingredients. This ensures your final dish will be well-blended and steers you clear from missteps like eating an entire clump of baking soda in your cookie bite.

2. Buy a Flexible Rubber Spatula - Use a rubber spatula when transferring ingredients between bowls, pots, etc. A flexible rubber spatula expertly scrapes down the sides of cooking equipment and allows for alllllllll of the ingredients to be captured. I have watched countless home cooks leave behind 1/4 cup or more of batter, dough or fillings - not good. The expression "lick the bowl" does not exist in my kitchen, nor will anyone be licking batter from beaters anytime soon. I know, I know….bah humbug.

3. Calibrate & Preheat Your Oven - When a recipe tells you to preheat the oven, you must preheat the oven. And while we're at it, you should most definitely pick up a (cheap) oven thermometer next time you're at the grocery. They are less than $5 and a fabulous investment allowing you to gauge the actual temperature your oven heats to. Often, home ovens are off a few degrees and with the aid of a thermometer, you can make allowances (up or down) to bake at appropriate temperature called for.

How to Prep Your Garden Beds

Plotting Your Way to the Garden(all pictures by Della Chen Photography)

With the basic principles covered (water, sun, and spaceseeds) and the impending approach of spring, it is officially time to break ground in the garden. Whether starting from scratch, or adding to an already growing landscape, following these general rules will help guide you through the process. And checking out some online vids for how to prepare your gardens for spring is never a bad idea.

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The next step in the great urban gardening adventure is to actually get to building and shaping your beds. First, though, you have to make sure your ground is ready to plant.

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Prepping your Plot City farmers need to start with a nice clear garden space before building or planting — you may need to kill grass or pull weeds before starting. To clear grass or sod, you can rent a sod cutter (which will include directions), or use good, old-fashioned manual labor to cut away squares of grass with a spade. Turn each dug-up patch of grass upside down — burying the grass, exposing the soil, and allowing the grass to rot over time. Instant homemade compost!

For invasive ground cover — plants that root down deep and grow back even after weeding or mowing — there really is no easy way short of getting in there and mindfully digging it out. Ground cover plants spread quickly, as is their intended habit, and so you must be careful to remove every root system. Use a shovel (I prefer my spade) and dig deep, loosening the soil a bit deeper than the roots have grown. For truly invasive plants, like ivy, you must also take care to remove all leaf matter, as even cuttings can produce new plants. Have more questions about grass removal? Post in the comments and I'll do my best to help!

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Once the area is clear, it is wise to compost and mulch it. In Erin's garden (above) we had a crew of friends over one winter Saturday morning and worked really hard for six hours to complete the task. Be sure to share your future vegetable harvest with your helpers! Here are the layers you'll need:

• An inch-thick layer of compost will add needed nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

• A layer of mulch will further aid in decay, which is good because it invites good bacteria into your soil in addition to protecting the exposed soil from erosion and compaction from rain.

• A layer of cocoa bean chaff ($10 a bag at Theo Chocolate in Seattle; you can also use wood chip mulch) to eventually break down and decay into compost. (NOTE: Cocoa bean chaff can be life-threatening to dogs, so if you're a pet owner, another form of mulch is highly recommended!)

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• Use burlap coffee bean bags (procured from Stumptown Roasters and available at other Seattle roasting houses) to cover the garden. You can also use coffee grounds and newspaper, or just cardboard — any not-too-thick material that will decompose and add organic matter to the soil is perfect. Covering the compost and soil has many benefits; it will keep sun off any left-behind plants preventing them from growing, warm up the earth, and further help the process of decomposition.

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Materials When you're ready to plant, it's time to build the garden beds themselves. Beds are essentially formed mounds of soil that are raised higher than the surrounding landscape. If you're starting with a blank slate, there are many options for building a bed outside of simply mounding up the soil.

When contemplating any space, the first two items to consider are aesthetics and budget — a happy marriage of both principles should always be your goal. You can use a variety of materials for garden beds, so long as there is support for the bed walls to hold in the containing soil. These super simple designs allow you to avoid construction if you have an aversion to tools or lack any formal toolbox or training:

• Cinderblocks are inexpensive if not free, are often salvageable from existing sites, and require no tools at all outside your physical brawn to stack them.

 Sticks and fallen branches you gather from the ground can be used to erect a bed. Create a retaining fence by pounding rebar or another sturdy stake material about 12" deep and about 1-2 inches apart into the earth in parallel rows. This acts as your frame wherein you can stack sticks horizontally between them creating a wall. You can fill in any gaps with smaller sticks or Spanish moss.

• Wood can be used to easily construct a rectangular bed — look for untreated lumber (cheap and durable) or cedar(more expensive than lumber, but longer-lasting). You can even add a ledge to sit on when you weed your garden beds.

As for the perfect size, remember not to build any bed more than 4 feet wide. Any larger and you won't be able to easily reach in to the center. Also be sure to leave a two-foot minimum of space between each bed to allow for walking between beds.

Soil Now that the garden beds are complete, you'll need to fill them. The easiest way to do this is to have a mix of topsoil and compost delivered — I recommend a 70-30 mix. Often new gardeners will their beds exclusively with compost; while it adds necessary organic matter to your soil, compost also retains water and lacks the mineral structure found in topsoil. Topsoil allows for drainage and is a necessary ingredient in any garden mix. When you fill your beds, be sure to fill them to the very top. You want the soil/compost flush with the lip of the bed, as soil will compact over time. This can create a shade ledge in the bed — not the best for sun-loving seedlings.

If you're starting the year with already-built beds, you'd do well to top them off with a bit of pure compost. I cover the topsoil with about an inch of compost and hoe it in, but any amount is better than none. Compost helps add good bacteria, organic matter, and nutrients like nitrogen to your soil. Always choose organic, and opt for a compost made close to home. Many city municipalities are turning their waste into compost, so call your city offices for details.

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Juicing at Home Without a Juicer - Clean Eating

It seems like the world is crazy for juicing just now. I had figured it for yet another American health craze for anyone hoping to drop five pounds, but recently I visited the Torvehallerne KBH in Copenhagen (essentially, a gourmet food hall) and even they had a raw juice bar. pear-ginger-collards

I love the concept of juicing - a nice clean, hit of nutrition for a mid-day pick me up or small meal seems like a smart idea. A veg-based juice or a fruit-based smoothie is a blessing for me, as I'm often on the move and don't  have time to sit for a proper meal. A hard boiled egg and some beet-kale-apple juice makes for a decent lunch when I leave my house early to get out to gardens, and they are easy to make ahead and toss in my purse. Additionally, I have never been a huge fan of breakfast - something about eating first thing in the morning never appealed to me. So, yeah……juicing has been great.

The problem is, I don't have the money or space for a home juicer. Yes, I know there are small versions and I know everyone swears by their Vitamix, but I figure that I have enough kitchen tools as it and I prefer to work with what I have. If you don't have a juicer at home, don't sweat it. Here's how to make your own with relative ease.

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Using a strong blender (or a mini-smoothie maker, like this one), add 1/4 cup of water, a handful of fresh fruit, 1-2 tablespoons peeled & chopped ginger & 3 whole leaf greens. The water helps the fruit and vegetables break up, and allows for easier straining. Process in the blender for 1 minute and turn off. Let mixture sit for one minute, before turning the machine on again and allow to blend for 2 to 3 minutes more. This will seem like an excessive amount of time, but the color will continue to change as the mixture is fully pulverized, promising to extract as much as possible from the fruits and vegetables.

Using a fine mesh strainer set over a deep bowl, pour in the juice and strain, pressing on the solids firmly to extract all moisture. This process takes about 2 minutes total. Use a rubber spatula to fold and press the pulp until it is paste-like and dry and stops releasing juice. Pour the strained juice from the bowl into a drinking class & enjoy!

It is good to note that this process will remove most of the fiber found in the plants skin, membranes and stalks. This fiber is very healthy for you, so you need not strain the juice, if you don't mind the pulp. I prefer a smoother drinking juice, though on occasion I'll add a small spoonful of the pulp back in for good measure. It's up to you!

home juicingThis is what I blended today -  pears offer a natural sweetness and clean flavor, collard greens are more gently flavored than kale leaves (and it's what I had in the pantry!) and I use ginger in my juices because of it's medicinal properties. Ginger is an excellent anti-inflammatory AND it tastes fantastic, adding a bit of a spicy kick to drinks.

Pear-Ginger-Collard Juice

1 whole pear, stem removed 2 tablespoons peeled & diced ginger 3 collard green leaves, cut into 2-inch wide ribbons 1/4 cup water

*You can add a small spoon of honey or maple syrup to sweeten slightly, if so inclined. Pears are still tasty this time of year, so you really shouldn't need it.

 

Winter Transition in the Garden - How-To

garlicHere in the Pacific NW we've had the good fortune of a relatively mild autumn, while on the east coast it snowed this week. Regionally, garden news will vary in terms of timing - I still have tomatoes in the ground in gardens here in Seattle, but everyone should (or should have!) work to transition their gardens this week or next. A winter garden transition essentially rids the beds of any lingering summer crops and any plants that will not over winter. In their place, it is best to cover and protect the soil. You can do this by ...mulching - adding a layer of autumnal leaves or a sack burlap directly over your soil. Sowing cover crop will also generate a green mulch, one that you can chop into the soil for green compost next spring. Choose a cover crop mix (often sold in bulk at small nurseries) of cereal (rye, barley), vetch and favas.

Below, I have a few bullet pointed items for winter transition. If you like them well enough, let me know in the comments and I can expand the section to include your landscape plants, trees and shrubs. (Or maybe even your rosemary and sage bushes that are out of control??)

- It's not too late to plant garlic. Plant single cloves about 6 to 8 inches apart, and push them (tips up) about 2 inches below the surface.

- Collect flower head seeds and save the seed if so inclined. Work methodically, as seeds are easily dropped and it is NO fun weeding out 100s of borage plants in February, trust me on this!

- Remove all of your annual plants and compost them.

- Cut back perennial plants like thyme, sage and oregano. As leaves dull and brown, you can trim off their woody stalks at the ground. Take care not to cut off any new shoots - those will put on slow growth through the season.

- Remove all summer crops from the beds - green tomatoes can be harvested and stored in a bucket in the garage, where they will ripen slowly. Check for ripe tomatoes daily, as they will break down and mold/rot easily if not removed.

- Mulch strawberry plants with a covering of dry hay. You can find this at Walt's Organic in Ballard, or try your local hardware store. Sprinkle a layer directly over the strawberries, but no more than a few inches deep, which can smother plants. Plan to mulch as the temperature continues to drop, so put it on your list for late November/early December.

cutting back raspberries- Cut back any dead raspberry canes. Dead canes are those that have fruited and/or have brown, brittle canes. Thin remaining canes (choosing the thickest and strongest) so there is one every 6-inches, leaving them room for them to grow in and receive sun. Lastly, you must tip or trim the canes, using sharp pruners, to about 4 or 5 feet in height.

- Mulch all overwintering vegetable garden beds with dry leaves or hay, being careful to leave a bit of space around the stem of each plant.

 

 

 

Late Summer Tomato Care

Summer is waning, and the days are getting shorter. September marks the time of year where diligent tomato care pays dividends in the shape of glossy, colorful tomato harvest. TomatoesMost importantly, you really need to start pruning the plants, allowing almost-mature fruit to ripen and discarding any very small or grossly immature green fruits. This is especially true on plants that produce larger fruits. There is not enough time in the season/day to mature a big slicing tomato or a medium-sized paste. I know you don't want to, but remove all of those green tomatoes from the plant will allow the almost-mature fruits to ripen successfully. For notes on how to prune, read this post from earlier in the summer.

Secondly, I recommend getting aggressive about harvesting tomatoes. When fruit is nearly mature, it often times cracks. Cracked tomatoes are a product of fluctuating water levels for the plant. If the plant takes in too much water, it swells the fruits which may not have enough elasticity in their skin to stretch, so the fruits crack. To minimize this, harvest mature tomatoes immediately as they are ready. Letting them sit on the vine risks a late summer rain and leads to mushy fruits. Always try and harvest fruits after a few days of dry weather - they are the sweetest then, and won't be overly saturated with moisture.

Questions?

Also, if you haven't already, please check out my new TOMATO eBook. It's $2.99 for 16 awesome tomato recipes, including a handful of preservation recipes. (It's the time to save some for winter!)

DIY Drying Racks - How to Build a Drying Rack for Food Preservation

Drying ChamomileMy friend Patric is a regular Mr. Fix-It. He taught me how to use an electric drill and build raised beds when I first starting my gardening business. He also happens to be a restaurateur, and his first restau- rant was this beautiful Italian place that he practically built by hand. One afternoon, I was in the basement where all the prep tables are for the kitchen. Behind the table where cooks were filling ravioli was an entire rack of screens used for drying the pasta. I took one look at them and immediately thought they would make awesome drying racks for leaves and seeds. 

Drying out herbs and seeds is a fairly easy process, but it takes time and is more successful when you use drying racks. Air circu- lates around all sides of the plant, so they dry out faster and more evenly. Handmade drying racks can also be used for drying out tomatoes or fruits. And in the winter, you can use racks for laying out handmade pasta.

Although Patric made me my first set of racks, they are quite simple to make, and you can gather most materials from a quick trip to the hardware store. You can also keep your eyes open for salvaged wood. You will need to purchase a small length of screen, however. A densely woven chicken wire (1⁄4-inch) or length of fine mesh screen will work well. Chicken wire works great for herbs (and pasta.), whereas a screen (because it’s woven so tightly) is best for drying out seeds. Both materials can be purchased at your local hardware store. Ask for chicken wire or window screen.

 

I like a large rack so I can spread out multiple stems simulta- neously and not have them overlap. You can, of course, adjust the dimensions to fit your space.

For this project you are basically building two picture frames and sandwiching chicken wire between them. The two frames will have opposing joints, which will offer more support to the overall construction.

drying nettlesMaterials

- Electric drill - Staple gun - Two 8-foot lengths of 1-by-2-inch furring strip—this is an untreat- ed piece of timber available at any hardware store - Eight 1.75-inch coarse-thread drywall screws - Eight 2.5-inch coarse-thread drywall screws - Chicken wire cut to 23.5 by 17.5 inches. Use a good pair of scissors and be sure that you cut rough edges from the chicken wire. You do not want any jagged edges, so cut as close as you can to the outside wire, leaving a smooth edge.

 

Directions

- Cut the following lengths from the furring strip using a handsaw or electric saw (you can also ask a salesperson at the hardware store to cut this for you):a. For the first frame, two 24-inch lengths of furring and two 16.5-inch lengths.b. For the second frame, two 22.5-inch lengths and two 18- inch lengths.

- Assemble the frames: take both 24-inch furring strips and stand them up so they are on their narrow edge and sitting tall. Fit both the 16.5-inch pieces in between the 24-inch pieces, completing a frame-like shape. The overall dimension of your frame will be 24 by 18 inches.

- Screw the frame together on all four corners, using the 13⁄4- inch screws. I recommend that you first drill a pilot hole, using a 3⁄32-inch drill bit. You should now have one completed rectangular frame.

- Repeat the same process using the 22.5-inch and 18-inch lengths. Make sure the
8-inch pieces are the outside pieces of your frame. (Slip the 22.5-inch pieces between the 18-inch pieces.) You will now have two frames of equal size.

- Lay the chicken wire on screen across the back of one of the frames and anchor to the back of the frame with a staple gun in several places.

- Sandwich the second frame on top of the chicken wire so the sides are stacked and perfectly even.

- Using the 2.5-inch screws, screw the two frames together; be sure to make pilot holes first. Evenly space the screws, using two on each side of the frame.

 

If you're not up for building anything, there are two other excellent options for a drying rack frame. One is shabby chic and will look rad. The other is the laziest version imaginable, but it will work. The shabby chic option makes use of old salvaged windows. Salvage yards have stacks of these, and they are typically pretty cheap. Choose a frame that is light and easy to lift and move around. I always opt for a brightly colored wooden frame with chipped paint. I love the look. Yes, old paint does tend to have lead in it, but you’re not collecting or using the frame in any way conducive to ingesting paint chips. If you’re genuinely concerned, it’s best to build your own. Be sure to choose a frame made of a material that can be pierced with a staple gun—no ugly metal window frames!

Über-Chic Drying Screen

You can use a salvaged window frame or a picture frame for this project. With either, remove the glass pane. (You can use as a cold frame for another garden project.) If using a picture frame, remove the cardboard backing, as well. Stretch a length of screen taut across the back of the frame, leaving an inch of overhang. Starting in one corner, staple gun the screen to the back of the frame. Be sure to continue pulling the screen taut as you work. Trim any excess screen with a pair of sturdy scissors. To use as a drying rack, set the screen on top of four blocks, bricks, books, and so on. Raising it slightly allows for proper ventilation.

Über-Lazy Drying Screen

Drying rackYou can also use an old salvaged window screen. Salvaged goods depots often have these by the truckload. They are not the prettiest things, and you will need to set them up on blocks or bricks so air circulates underneath them, but they will work. If you go this route, be sure to wash your screen very, very well in hot soapy water fol- lowed by a dip in a bleach bath. Use one capful of bleach for every gallon of water. Screens used in construction are often quite dirty and may contain trace amounts of lead or other not-good-for-you ele- ments. Know, also, that these thin screens can tear easily. Patric didn’t think I should use them at all, due to their flimsiness, but they are completely functional. Just make sure not to bang them around too much. Use blocks or bricks to prop up the four corners. This allows for proper air circulation, which aids in more even drying and helps to prevent mold growing from moisture.

How to Propagate Your herbs

apartment garden bouquetTaking a Cutting: Cloning Your PlantsSome plants root out from the stem, making them excellent candidates for cuttings. Examples include Figs -- like the one my friend Sarah clipped -- Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Scented Geraniums, Tarragon, Sage, Lemon Verbena, and Oregano. (Yes, many plants can be propagated in both ways -- use the one most convenient for you.)

As a general rule of thumb, take a cutting from new plant growth. This is best done in late spring or early summer -- cuttings prosper in warm conditions. This also allows enough time for the cutting to put on some new growth without the stress and cold of winter.

1. On some plants, new growth comes in the form of a side shoot; in others it grows from the top of the plant's branches. Choose the newest growth and cut about a five inch length just below a set of leaves.

2. Remove the lowest leaves from the cutting, as well as any buds or blossoms on the stem. (If left, these will take energy away from the plant by producing seed.)

 

3. Place the cutting directly into a small pot of potting soil (leave it unfertilized for now), being sure to bury the lowest leaf node (the node is the area below the lowest leaves that you just removed) and water well. This leaf node is where the bulk of the plant's hormones are located, and they will aid in root development. Keep the cutting watered until the plant begins to put on new growth.

You will know it's ready when the cutting does not pull out of the soil with a gentle tug, indicating the new growth is sufficient for transplanting to a bigger pot. This generally takes from four to six weeks.

There are many, many edible plants that you can propagate easily (including tomatoes!), so share in the comments if you have some great tips! For the next City Dirt, schedule some time for a weekend project. We'll be covering garden DIY – salvaged containers and clever (read: free!) materials to use in your garden, no matter the size.

All pictures (except bouquet) from Della Chen Photography and originally published on Food52.com.

Flowers are Pest Control - Nature's Aphid Repellent

I found the following information to be incredibly useful, and have since used this tactic in my gardens. They talk more about orchard management, but it works for any garden plant prone to aphids - this year I've had trouble with hops and brassica already. Bugger! The article, “Flowers Promote Aphid Suppression in Apple Orchards,” was published in the July 2013 issue of Biological Control, and is available online at http://bit.ly/165spKS. WSU entomologist William Snyder was also a co-author.

Washington State University researchers have found they can control one of fruit growers’ more severe pests -- aphids -- with a remarkably benign tool: flowers.

The researchers recently published their study in the journal Biological Control. They found that plantings of sweet alyssum, a popular annual with small, white, sweet-smelling flowers, attracted a host of spiders and predator bugs that, in turn, preyed on woolly apple aphids, a pest that growers often control with chemical sprays.

“The results were striking,” said lead researcher Lessando Gontijo, a doctoral student in the WSU Department of Entomology. “After one week aphid densities were significantly lower on trees adjacent to flowers than on control plots, and these differences were maintained for several weeks.”

To select an appropriate flower for the study, the researchers screened six candidates, including marigolds and zinnias. They chose sweet alyssum because it attracted the greatest number of hoverflies, or syrphids, which have larvae that often feed on aphids. Hoverflies and other insects are attracted to flowers because they can find food in the form of both pollen and nectar.

Alyssum attracts beneficial insects that eat and help control wooly aphids.

Researchers compared plots of apple trees with interplantings of sweet alyssum to tree plots without flowers. While the sweet alyssum attracted hoverflies as desired, Gontijo and colleagues found few hoverfly larvae, indicating that the hoverflies were not the primary biological agent of control for aphids in the test orchard.

The mystery of the disappearing aphids seemed solved when the researchers found a diverse community of spiders and predatory bugs in the plots with sweet alyssum. But was it really the flowers that attracted these aphid predators? The scientists sprayed protein markers on the sweet alyssum and later captured bugs at a distance from the flower plots. Many of the creepy-crawlies tested positive for the proteins, proving that they had visited the flowers.

Betsy Beers, WSU Research/Extension Entomologist, mentor of Gontijo and co-author on the paper, notes that “the woolly apple aphid is surprisingly damaging for an aphid, attacking tree shoots and roots. The aphids also secrete a sticky liquid called honeydew, which can coat the apples, causing much annoyance during harvest.”

The aphids were previously kept at bay when orchardists sprayed pesticides to control codling moths. Since the phase-out of organophosphate insecticides used for codling moth, the woolly apple aphid has been making a comeback in central Washington and elsewhere.

The researchers say that the use of sweet alyssum for biological control can be easily integrated with standard orchard-management practices, but should be even more appealing to organic growers who have fewer insecticide options.

 

Canning How To - Prepping & Sealing Jars

urban pantryCanning 101EXCERPTED FROM URBAN PANTRY
 BY AMY PENNINGTON (SKIPSTONE 2010)

This is a step-by-step guide to water-bath canning at home. There are a few options to choose from, but all work well. Be sure to set up your jars and workspace beforehand so you can establish a rhythm. Also, be mindful of the processing times given in each recipe.

For recipe inspiration, check out my tested recipes for Boozy Blood Orange Marmalade, Spiced Apple Chutney or Foraging & Preserving Nettles. Or here for tips on preserving fruit in alcohol.

CLEANING JARS
  Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water and set them to dry completely on a rack or on a clean dish towel.

PREPARING JARS
  Glass jars and lids do not need to be sterilized before use if your foodstuffs will be processed more than 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner. If jar-processing time is 10 minutes or less, jars must be sterilized before filling.

Do this by placing jars in a canning pot, filling with water, and bringing water to simmer. Hold jars in water until ready to use. Conversely, I always hold just-washed jars in a 225-degree oven until ready to use. This is not recommended by the USDA, but I’m still alive to give you the option.

FILLING THE JARS
  All canned goods will need headspace to allow for expansion of the food and to create a vacuum in cooling jars. As a general rule, leave 1/4-inch of headspace on all jams and jellies and 1/2-inch of headspace on all whole fruits. When using whole fruits, release air bubbles in just-filled jars by tapping the jar on the counter or by inserting a wooden chopstick or skewer into the jar and gently stirring the fruit.

Canning Peppers

When placing lids and rings on canning jars, do not overtighten the rings. Secure just until rings have tension and feel snug. Overtightening will not allow air to vent from the jars—a crucial step in canning.

HEATING THE CANNING POT
  Fill your canning pot or a deep stockpot half full of water and heat to a low boil. Hold the liquid on a very low boil until ready to use.

FILLING THE CANNING POT  
If using a canning pot, place prepared jars of food on the rack in the canner. Do not stack, as you need to allow for circulation of water for proper sealing. Lower jars into the canning pot, and add enough water to cover the jar tops by an inch or more. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil. This can take as long as 15 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on your pot and a timer nearby. 

You may also use a deep stockpot (best only in small-batch preserving) by lining the bottom of the pot with a dish towel and placing jars on top. This helps keep jars from clanging around on the bottom of the pot or tumbling over onto their sides. This form of canning is not universally recommended or endorsed by the USDA. I have seen plenty of farmers and European country folk use this old-school technique, and I’ve adapted their laissez-faire ways.

REMOVING SEALED JARS  
Using a jar lifter, or a set of kitchen tongs, remove jars from the canner when the processing time has elapsed. (Remember, processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil.) Set jars aside on a folded towel to cool. Make sure you do not press on the tops and create an artificial seal.

Knowing when jars are sealed. You’ll hear the sound of can tops popping shortly—a sign that a secure seal has been made. Once the jars are cool, check the seal by removing the outer ring and lifting the jar by holding only the lid. If it stays intact, you have successfully canned your food. If the seal is loose or broken, you may reprocess in the water bath within twenty-four hours. (Be sure to replace the lid and check the jar rim for cracks or nicks and replace if necessary.) Conversely, you can refrigerate the jar immediately and use within three weeks.

LABELING AND STORAGE
  Once cool, label all jars with date and contents. [After years of frustration with lame labels, I designed canning labels that are cute, functional & don't leave sticky glue behind.] Successfully sealed jars should be stored in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard. Officially, canned goods keep for up to a year, but I have let them go a bit longer with little effect.

preserved lemon + label

Wine Without Worry Interview - Getting Schooled by Jameson Fink

Food connects people, this is a given, and I was very fortunate years ago to meet wine blogger Jameson Fink at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle. Since that festive and booze-filled night, we've become friends. What I value most about Jameson is his wine intelligence and ability to distill a confusing world of wine down to digestible information anyone can appreciate. If you like vino, you should mos'def check out his website, JamesonFink.com, which was just nominated by Saveur Magazine as one of the best wine blogs of 2013. jameson finkI recently joined him for his fast-growing wine podcast, Wine Without Worry & you can listen here. I'm warning you now, I swear like a sailor and poke at my friends. He titled the interview "Wine Anxiety, Anti-Juiciness, and Wanton Vintage Disregard," which (like everything he writes) is pretty brilliant and on point.

Jameson says "I wouldn’t characterize my friend Amy Pennington as having wine anxiety. First of all, I’m no doctor/sommelier; it’s probably illegal for me to make such a diagnosis. But she certainly is able to articulate questions and concerns that enthusiastic, regular wine drinkers have when they are confronted with miles of shelves crammed with wine. Which is why I asked her to pilot the ship for an episode of my Wine Without Worry podcast, and grill me about wine." READ MORE....

Foraging for Nettles

 

_MG_6078Stinging Nettles (aka Nettles) are hot hot hot these days. Everyone wants to get their hands on some.Known for their superfood properties (nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, and D and loaded with calcium and even protein), raw nettles will sting you if they come in contact with your skin. The leaves and stem have tiny plant hairs that penetrate your skin and result in welts that sting and burn slightly and are sometimes itchy. Luckily, the welts don’t last for long on most people.

Nettles grow along roadsides and pathways, mostly in woods, so keep your eyes open when you’re on any urban nature walks. They come up first thing at the end of winter and are best harvested around March when they are still young, one to two feet high, but I just harvested some new growth at low elevations (like, Seattle!) last week and they were just fine.

The leaves are deeply serrated and end with a pointed tip. They grow in tiers like a Christmas tree—big leaves at the bottom of the plant and smaller leaves toward the tip. Nettles tend to grow in clusters. If you’re not sure you’ve found nettles, a light brush up against a leaf will quickly confirm any suspicions. Nettles are mildly flavored and can be used as a hearty green, a filling for pastas or roulades, or a quick pesto-like pasta sauce. Nutrient-dense nettle leaves may also be used in the garden as an all-purpose fertilizer for your plants—they are thought to pass their beneficial qualities on to other plants.

_MG_6109To harvest, wear gloves and trim only the top 6" - 12" of the stem and leaves. Clip with scissors and place in a large paper bag. When home, set a large pot over high heat and just cover the bottom with water, about 1" deep. When the water is boiling, toss in the nettles and steam for 10 to 12 minutes. This will remove the sting and leave them ready for eating. I will also often fill a pot with water and blanch nettles for 3 to 4 minutes, reserving the blanching water as nettle tea for drinking.

Nettles can be used as you would spinach or sauteed greens in recipes. You can also leave the nettles on their stalks and lay them out on drying racks or hang them upside down to dry. These dried leaves can be steeped as tea, which is thought to be rich in minerals and vitamins.

To make nettle tea for your garden, fill a large jar or jug densely with nettle leaves and cover in water. Let sit out, covered, for a little over a week. During this time, the leaves will start to ferment. The mixture will smell a bit boozy and yeasty. Spray on plants or add a cupful to each container once a week.

Garden Planning 101 - Get Started Growing Your Own Food

Gardening and growing food are two of the most intuitive things I have ever done. This is not to say that I've always had a green thumb. In fact, I've killed every houseplant I've ever owned (including a cactus) and have officially given up on keeping them. All of this is to say that anyone can garden. The only skill you need is the ability to observe. You have this, I promise. IMG_4611Here is my disclaimer - it is helpful to recognize that information often varies from source to source. It is also worth noting that gardening "experts" often use a combination of education and experience to offer advice and instruction on how to grow a bountiful garden. That doesn't necessary mean it will always work for you. I have opinions about what works and what doesn't, but there are many options for home gardeners. I also garden organically, 100%. This means no chemicals for killing slugs, adhering to a strict crop rotation schedule, and in general making decisions based on what is best for the soil, not what is best for me personally.

Additionally, gardening requires one to work with nature, and this is not an exact science. There are many variables in gardening — sun exposure, latitude, time of year, watering schedule, and more will affect the success of any planting you do. So although certain factual information having to do with nutrient requirements and plant science will not change among the information you read, strategies will. It's up to you to decide what works best for you and your garden. With City Dirt, I aim to give you enough information and tools to make informed choices. Happily, there is often more than one answer.

Garden Musts 
When starting a garden at home there are three things to consider that will immediately contribute to your success.

1. You must have sun! At least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day for leafy greens and 10 to 12 for fruiting plants (hello tomatoes, cukes, and beans). I know you hear stories about how arugula is a weed and can grow in any condition, or perhaps about a tomato that doesn't need full sun, but trust me on these numbers. In order to have a successful (i.e. fully mature) plant, you need sun. Track your sun pattern starting NOW. At what point does it hit your property? At what time? Keep a sun log that tracks the sun across your yard at various times throughout the day, so you can watch how the sun changes with each season. Remember, it is winter, so in northern states the sun is sitting low on the horizon. If it tracks across the backyard now, it may arch over the house come summer.

2. Access to water is also a must. If you have to lug gallon jugs up some stairs and across your property, the odds of you watering often are slim. Make sure you have a hose and spigot handy. Anyone installing over 60 square feet of beds may also want to consider an automated watering system (drip irrigation, soaker hose or sprinkler system) so a nearby spigot will make your life way easier.

3. And finally, your soil should be considered. Many soils can be remediated or conditioned, but if your house sits on a cement block, is deeply water logged, or is built on sand, you may need to consider container planting as your only option.

With these three key components in mind, you must choose a space for your garden. Choose the space that best encompasses all three considerations and know that this may not be where you want to put your garden. Far too often, I see clients forcing gardens to work in their linear and square back yards. Let go of landscaping "rules" and put the garden in a spot where you can expect it to be successful. If you're not starting out with your best foot forward, you're inviting frustration and problem solving into your future.

As for how much space to allow, assuming you have the option, consider both your time commitment and your eating habits. There have been a handful of surveys and studies done to estimate yield per square foot in a garden, but these are widely disparate and I find them to be only remotely useful. Instead of trying to figure out how much space you'll need, determine how often you eat at home and just what food your family consumes. Every garden I grow in has waste each season, though that is never the goal. Do yourself a favor and be honest. Are you a stay-at-home parent or green-dedicated cook who makes three meals a day with vegetables as a major component? Then you'll need a big ol' garden. If you're hoping only to start small, if you're one person, or if you have an active lifestyle that keeps you out some nights, a smaller garden will suffice. 

I suggest starting with no more than 100 square feet your first year. Beds should be no more than 4 ½ feet wide, so you can reach in to the center with ease. I like a bed length to be 6 feet long, as well. (I explain why here.)

Sketch out the space to approximate scale and leave some surrounding space for future beds and/or a bed dedicated to perennials like sage, mint, or artichokes. Hang the sketch, think about it, and contemplate the space for a few weeks. This gives you an opportunity to change things around as you watch your sun pattern.

6753665955_2b60b15c4fGarden Wish List 
To help determine the amount of space you will need, I encourage gardeners to sketch out a garden "wish list" of vegetables they'd like to grow. This should be your big garden brainstorm of the year. Get creative! Be bold! Think about vegetables, herbs or fruits that are not widely available — think like a cook. Basil can be found in grocery stores all year long, so why dedicate precious space to grow basil? Try something new like cinnamon basil for summer teas or salads, or lime basil for Asian-inspired dishes. Instead of the perfect red tomato, which a farmer will likely grow faster than you, why not try some odd shaped little tomatoes? I love White Currant tomatoes for their clear skin, pale yellow hue, and sweet acidic taste. Using this list, you will map out each of your garden beds over the course of the year, making certain to maximize your space by timing out the plantings appropriately.

How to Download Fresh Pantry on Your eReader

Here is some great information on how to download my book series to your e-Reader! You may purchase two different types of files from my site - an ePub file and a Kindle file. ePub = Flowing digital file, capable of changing to fit the screen size of your device. Before you download your file, please download Adobe Digital Editions and create an account. When you download your purchased book, a small file ending in .acsm will be saved to your computer. Open this file in Adobe Digital Editions or simply double click on the file. Your eBook will open in your ADE reader application. Once your file has opened in your ADE reader software, you will be able to bookmark, print, copy, read, and fully enjoy your new eBook purchase. To read on a iOS or Android smart phone or tablet, please download the free app, BlueFire Reader and read detailed transfer instructions here.

Kindle = A DRM free mobi file downloaded first to your computer, and then transfered to your Kindle via your Kindle USB cord. See instructions for adding mobi files to your particular Kindle here.

Can I read my eBook on a Nook?
eBooks managed with the Adobe Digital Editions software may also be installed on popular eReaders such as the Barnes & Noble Nook. For more information about installing your eBook on your eReader, please watch this nookTalk video.
Can I read my eBook on an Apple iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch or Android smart phone?
To read Mountaineers Books eBooks on your iOS or Android device, download the free app, BlueFire Reader. Once the app is installed you will be able to read any of our DRM protected eBooks—including books from other publishers, most online book stores, and leading libraries around the world. For those who have a free Dropbox account (file sharing software) you can easily move our PDF ebooks from your home computer to your Dropbox account, and then open them in iBooks on your iPad. Read the instructions here.For detailed instructions regarding transferring your eBook to your iOS or Android device, please read the excellent write-up with step-by-step instructions about transferring files to Bluefire Reader at the Dear Author website.

HOW TO :: HOMEMADE PRESERVED LEMONS

This is an awesome and easy way to stock your pantry and a super easy and affordable option for Christmas gift giving - Preserved Lemons.

What's even more fantastic is Meyer Lemons are just coming into season. They are thin-skinned lemons that cure in the salt quickly, so you can still start this project this week and pass them on for holiday gift giving. I was at the grocery yesterday and found gorgeous Meyer Lemons, 2 for $1. HALF of one lemon fits perfectly in a small 1/4 pint jar. That means for $1 + cost of a jar, you can make FOUR gifts that people will love. Not to mention, you'll be turning them on to a new ingredient that may just inspire them to get creative in the kitchen. Do it! (ALSO - if you dig those adorable & perfectly-fitting canning labels, check out my store. I designed these! I love them, and so will you. Finally a canning labels that worksAND looks amazing on the jar.)

PRESERVED LEMONS

To make preserved lemons yourself, you can use regular lemons or Meyer lemons when they are in season (in winter). Cut off the blossom end of the lemon. Slice the lemons in quarters, leaving the end intact so they are split open into fours, but still “whole” lemons. Rub each lemon in salt (about 1 tablespoon per lemon), making sure to press salt into the flesh and cover the rinds. Place the lemons in a clean glass jar, and press down to expel some juices. Cover and store on the counter to monitor progress for three days. Over the next several days, the jar should fill, covering the lemons in their own juice. If after three days the lemons are not submerged in their juices, add some fresh squeezed lemon juice to cover fully. Store in a cool, dark cupboard for three to four weeks before using. After the lemons are completely soft and preserved, store them in the fridge and use within six months.

Rinse preserved lemons thoroughly in cold water before using. You must rinse off the salt, leaving behind only the sweet skin. You can scrape out the pulp and pith and finely chop or thinly slice the skins. It is also safe to use the entire lemon, but that is best used in stews or roasts. Be sure to adjust the salt in your recipe accordingly, as the preserved fruits will give off some salt.

A NOTE ABOUT PRESERVED LEMONS:

To make, lemons are sliced and rubbed with coarse salt, the juice and salt acting as the preservative. Over a few weeks the lemon rinds, pulp, and pith become soft and velvety and can be chopped and sliced for salads, relishes, stews, and more. They are delicious.

Salt has long been a means of food preservation. When this concept is applied to simple lemons, the outcome is an intensely flavored pantry ingredient that is simple to make and stores well. Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan cuisine but can be used in most savory dishes calling for lemon. Tasting of muted lemon, with none of the sour tang, they add a subtle undertone to dishes. Replace the fresh zest in Gremolata with preserved lemon, and you’ll instantly change the dish. Preserved lemons have a flavor unto themselves, at once clean yet rich. They can be added to a compound butter or used in long braises. They also add a nice flavor note to room-temperature salads, like Apricot– Chickpea Salad and can be used as a quick garnish to simply steamed vegetables.

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PART OF THE URBAN FARM HANDBOOK CHALLENGE: Skipstone Books published my first book, Urban Pantry,  and continues to put out awesome books that support and encourage a self-sustaining lifestyle. Last fall, they published The Urban Farm Handbook to be used as "City-Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat." Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols penned the book and recently asked me to join their Urban Farm Handbook Challenge. 

With that, here is a great recipe for getting farm-y in the city. It's an awesome and easy way to stock your pantry and a super easy and affordable option for Christmas gift giving - Preserved Lemons.

 

HOW TO :: Harvesting Fennel Blossoms

It's your last chance to harvest late-blooming fennel blossoms, so if you haven't stocked up already or you've never tried before, now is the time. Now! 

Wild fennel looks very much like the fennel fronds you see in the grocery and at farmers markets, though wild fennel is not a bulbing variety. Instead, wild fennel grows tall and vigorous in the wild, offering up licorice-scented fronds nearly year-round that can be harvested and used as a fresh herb. These blossoms have a distinct fennel flavor without the sharpness that is found in both green and mature seeds.

To collect fennel blossoms, wait until the blossoms are in full bloom and open. Flower heads will be densely packed and bright yellow. Cut stems just below flower bunches—each stem will have a multitude of blossoms. Do not rinse them off! While fennel blossoms are often collected from roadsides and railroad tracks, rinsing them will remove some of the pollen that you’re trying to collect. To dry the blossoms, make a small bouquet and secure with a long piece of string or twine. When dry, pick off the blossoms with your fingertips. To do this, set up a clean workstation and, holding the stem in one hand, pull up on each individual blossom stem to release the flowers. You may also cut with a pair of scissors, being careful not to also cut the small stem. Store blossoms in a small glass jar in your spice cupboard, where they will keep for several months or longer.

Roasted Shiitakes with Fennel Blossoms

Roasted mushrooms are an easy and flavorful side dish any time of the year. Shiitakes are widely cultivated and available all year long. They don’t have much moisture, so they bake up to a chewy-crisp texture quickly. For this recipe, mushrooms are roasted until the stems just begin to brown. Fennel blossoms can be collected in summer and kept as a spice in the pantry. They impart a sweet fennel flavor and aroma to these mushrooms that is quite distinct, as well as phenomenally flavorful.

Serves 4

2 pounds shiitake mushrooms, roughly torn into pieces 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon fennel blossoms 3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F. Toss the mushrooms, salt, pepper, fennel blossoms, and oil in a large bowl, coating the mushrooms evenly. spread out on a sheet pan, in a single layer,

and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing oc- casionally, until the mushrooms are shriveled and their stems are starting to crisp. They will have re- leased most of their moisture and shrunk in size. serve immediately or hold at room temperature until serving.

More Garden Recipes: Fennel blossoms are a great herb to add to pork or a white fish like halibut. a light sprinkle of blossoms will also add a complementary flavor to vegetable soups.

 

 

URBAN FORAGE :: ROSE HIPS & Anna's Rose Hip Sherry

Rosehips are easily foraged in fall and make awesome jams, purees and tinctures. I was recently reminded rosehip season is upon us, when I read Johanna Kindvall's blog, kokblog, which I've been reading for yeeeeeears. She is a one-woman illustrative dynamo (check out my homepage illo) and I love her recipes and ideas. Her sister, Anna Kindvall (who curates electronic art), makes this amazing-sounding sherry that I think we should all attempt this year. Anna likes to use rosehips before the frost (more acidic), but I've always picked them after Seattle's first frost - in early November. Check out kokblog for the recipe and notes on making and storing your foraged sherry. And for more rosehip info, here is an earlier piece of writing on rosehips from my second book, Apartment Gardening.

"Rosehips are the seed buds that follow the rose bloom in July. Rosa Rugosa plants make hips somewhere between late July and September. They tend to grow along coast lines and water which is likely why some people call them rock roses. You can identify these bushes when in bloom by their strong rose-scented flowers which bloom in white and pinks all the way through bright fuchsia. Make note of their location and head back in four weeks to collect the rosehips. The rosehips themselves look like little tomatoes hanging off the plant. They are often orange-red and have shiny skins. They are more round than long, and are about the size of a red globe grape. Harvest rosehips by snapping the stem from the plant. They are strong enough that you can toss them in a plastic bag and then a backpack without doing too much damage. Use them within a day of bringing them home. Rosehip puree can be made and frozen and used at a later time in recipes."

What To Do In The Gardens Now

Fall is most definitely here, even if the days are still warm where you live. (Lucky you!) So, while I know you want to hang on to those tomatoes and you're just praying for them to ripen, it's time to let go of the dream and pull those plants out.....Stat! As our days shorten, there is less time for fruits to ripen, so do yourself a favor this week (that's right - THIS one, the first week of October) and pull out and compost ALL tomatoes, zucchini, peas, beans, peppers and anything that has gone to flower. Clear your soil of all root hairs and debris and plant garlic & mulch or sow thickly with cover crop so that your soil has protection this winter.