Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rancho Rewind: Beet Pizza

One of the things that I'm most looking forward to in the winter garden are all of the beets.  Last year Jeremy and I made beet pizza a couple of times, and flipping through photos, I came across one of our creations that got me excited for this years crop.

We used the regular pizza dough from Trader Joe's for this one.  (We need to start making our own, I know it's easy, but not as easy as buying it from TJs!)  We usually brush a little olive oil onto the sheet pan and then sprinkle that with some yellow corn meal. (Nope, we don't gots a pizza stone.)  After a couple of initial versions, we decided that with a beet pizza we need to pre-bake the crust before adding the toppings (the beets and beet greens have so much moisture that it makes it hard for the crust to crisp up if you don't). So we bake the plain crust for 8 minutes or so, pull it out and dress it up.

Dressing it up:
  • sauteed beet greens
    • I just chop them up and through them into a hot cast iron pan with a little olive oil, salt and crushed red pepper.  Cook until wilted and just tender.
  • roasted beets
    • I scrub them, cut the tops off, and put them into a roasting pan or pyrex.
    • larger beets I might cut in half, but otherwise I leave them whole.
    • sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of water into the pan, cover tight with aluminum foil, and roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until fork tender.
    • let the beets cool, then peel the skins off with your fingers.  (it's a little messy, but the skins come off really easily.)
    • cut the cooled beets into thick slices.
  • walnuts , rough chopped
  • goat cheese
  • parmesean cheese
  • fresh parsley, chopped
Spread the goat cheese on the pre-baked crust.  Distribute the greens and the sliced beets over the cheese.  Sprinkle walnuts and parmesean over the top.  Bake for another 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle parsley on the finished pie.

We kept it pretty basic, but you could easily add other flavors that would be great.  Maybe some balsamic vinegar or flavored olive oil or walnut oil drizzled over the top when it comes out of the oven?  Chives, onions or shallots?  Pickled onions or shallots?  Pine nuts?  Blue cheese?  No cheese?  However it is modified, I am looking forward to recreating it with at least a part of the new season's crop.  Hurry up beets!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Winter Vegetable Garden

Three weeks ago now, I got the lower bed seeded with the winter veg.  This is the first season that we haven't planted both beds at the same time; we are officially "experimenting"  - in the effort to learn to stagger our crops, to know more about which perennials we can leave in the ground from season to season, and to figure out just what we can do in the space we have. So the eggplants and peppers stayed put in the upper bed and I planted bits and pieces around them.  The lower bed got the full-on, seed sowing treatment.  Mainly, I used standard row planting - short rows that cut vertically along the long bed.  I did break a little from the seed-packet recommendations though, and set my rows closer together - about 12 inches apart, as opposed to 24 to 32 inches.  I could just be shooting my cabbages in the foot (or is it shooting my cabbages in the head?) trying to squeeze more out of the space.  We'll see.

Here's what I sowed:
  • Upper Bed
    • 1 row Butter lettuce  (Renee's Garden)
    • 1 small patch Common arugula  (Seed Savers)
  • Along the length of the lower bed
    • 4 Copenhagen Market cabbages  (Seed Savers)
    • 4 Mammoth Red Rock cabbages  (Seed Savers)
    • 4 Early Snowball cauliflower  (Seed Savers)
  • Starting from the north end of the lower bed
    • 1 row heirloom shelling peas  (Renee's Garden)
    • 1 row Tonda di Parigi carrots  (Renee's Garden) & French Breakfast radishes  (Seed Savers)
    • 1 row De Cicco broccoli  (Seed Savers)
    • 1 row Cosmic Purple carrots  (Renee's Garden) & Watermelon radishes  (Renee's Garden)
    • 1 row Chef's Choice cauliflower, mixed colors  (Renee's Garden)
    • 1 row Purplette mini onions  (Huntington)
    • 1 row Purple Top White Globe turnips  (Seed Savers)
    • 1 row Romanesco broccoli  (Seed Savers)
    • 1 row Cipollini onions  (Huntington)
    • 1 row Cylindria beets & Burpee's Golden beets  (both Seed Savers)
    • 1 row Five Color silverbeet  (Seed Savers)
    • 1 row Bull's Blood beets & Chioggia beets  (both Seed Savers)
    • 1 row Sunshine carrots  (Renee's Garden)
    • 1 row Pigeon peas  (from Irma)
  • Herb Garden
    • Italian Large Leaf Basil  (Armstrong's seedling)
    • Coriander  (Armstrong's seedling)
    • Curled Chervil  (Armstrong's seedling)
    • Italian Parsley  (Armstrong's seedling)
    • Florence fennel  (Renee's Garden)
    • Nasturtium  (Burpee's)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bulbs: Part One

Along with the edibles, it has always been a part of the plan to have a cutting garden at Rancho Garbonzo as well.  Natives they are not, but a vase of dahlias or tulips or peonies on the mantle is hard to beat.  So, last weekend I got started by planting 100 daffodil bulbs on the slope under our pepper tree.  (Daffodils remind me of my Grams.)

The area is really shady, with only a little dappled light here and there throughout the day.  Unlike the rest of our yard, this slope has been covered with a thick layer of mulch for the last few years - partly just leaves and twigs that have fallen from the huge tree above, and partly a deliberately placed load of chipped yard waste that the tree trimmer dropped off a couple of years back. Also unlike the rest of the yard, the soil that I uncovered beneath the mulchy top layer was lovely! Not a clumpy ball of reddish clay in sight! Now is that just the mulch working its magic over time on our crummy soil or was there completely different soil in this section of our yard to begin with?  I think the former makes the most sense.  Three cheers for the mulch!  So, bone meal and bulbs into the ground and fingers crossed; I'm hoping that we'll see some of these babies popping up by the start of Spring.


(Unfortunately not my yard, the pics are scanned from the bulb bags.  I bought them at Costco.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Berry Patch

Last weekend we planted our berry patch.  We dug out the crusty lump of earth, just below the herb garden, removing the fine clay soil about a foot deep.

 Into the hole went a mass of alfalfa that will eventually rot and give the spot a boost of organic matter (we hope).

The alfalfa was topped with many bags of new, loamy, composty garden soil.  And nine new strawberry plants were planted.  Woot woot!  We planted Alpine Strawberries or Fragaria vesca - they are much smaller than the garden strawberries we are used to but are supposed to be super sweet, flavory, and delicious.  Here's hoping that we get enough of a crop to make some jam!

Marty watched.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Woodenware Care

In a fit of inspiration I decided to breakout a gifted and never used "woodenware care and repair kit" we had amongst our cleaning supplies.  I had been wanting or needing to condition some cool 1960s stainless serving utensils with hardwood handles and decided to give it a try.  I ended up oiling almost every wooden kitchen utensil in our possession.  I am now a convert - I never realized what a difference it could make.

The product I used is Tree Spirit  (although any pure mineral oil will do) and is designed for use on wood items that come in contact with food.  You just apply the oil using a rag and then lightly sand with 600 grit sandpaper.  Reapply as needed and wipe clean after 30 min.  This removes the raised/ rough wood to a smooth finish.  Our wooden spoons look and feel amazing.  Our knife block never looked so good and our cutting boards are protected from the ravages of cutting and washing.  If you got some time I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

crawly creepy

Last weekend, when I was sorting out the lower vegetable bed, I came across a large, spotted brown spider in the tomatoes.  Feeling a bit more courageous than I might have without my thick garden gloves on, I decided to cut the branch she was on and move her to a new home among the eggplants.

 After moving her to the bed above, I noticed a couple things:

1) three white, spikey egg sacks that had been hidden behind the leaves I'd cut away on the tomato plant.

2) when the spider crawled to the top of the eggplant leaf, I spied a neon orange hour glass on the underside of her belly.

It was pretty easy to identify.  I typed "brown widow" into Google and found a bunch of  info.  If I'd had any doubt, the egg sacks sealed the deal of our spider being a Latrodectus geometricus - commonly known as the brown widow, a close cousin to the black widow.  After reading last weeks post on Ramshackle Solid about black widows, I felt a certain camaraderie in knowing that it wasn't just us - other people are sharing their yards and homes with these scary creatures too. But now we have kin whose poison is supposedly twice as toxic? 

I'm beginning to rethink our "catch and release" policy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Changing Over

Over the past weekend we said goodbye to the tomatoes.  It was less of an emotional farewell than it was last fall - the tomatoes just weren't the same.  They were delicious, just not prolific.  We had a few rounds of bruschetta.  We have three measly jars of frozen sauce. Salsa a couple of times.  You know, just not the bounty that we had last year.  The tomatoes shared the bed this summer with four different varieties of cucumber and several types of bean that also never really sprung into action. Oh well, bring on the cool weather and the winter garden.  Brassicas here we come!

After removing all the plants, except for the spindly family of asparagus that live at one end of the bed, we added some home made amendments to the soil.  Very exciting.  This is really the first time we added a load of our own composts - worm and regular.  Though I think we could have used twice as much of both, we were kind of proud to see the efforts of tightening our waste management system go right into the garden in the form of dark, rich organic matter.  Pretty cool.  We also added some drip irrigation.

We are hoping that the new drip will do for our vegetables what it has done for the herb bed - super happy plants.  We covered the bed with a new coat of alfalfa and are looking forward to planting seed next weekend.  The upper bed, on the other hand, got only a small editing. The peppers, eggplants, and zucchini are still growing strong.  So, fingers crossed, we will have a smooth transition into the new season - some remaining summer/fall veg to use as the winter/spring things get on with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yard Shoes

After my last backpacking trip I've decided to retire my hiking shoes. They will now take the place of my trusty (and barely holding together) yard shoes.
Sad to see them go. We've shared some great times together.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Since even before we got our first seeds into the ground several seasons ago, it has been a goal of ours to home grow all the vegetables it takes to make a hearty pot of ratatouille. For those who are more familiar with the film than the dish, ratatouille, simply, is a French vegetable stew. People seem to agree that it can be served either as a side dish or on its own with some crusty bread; however, that seems to be the end of what people agree on. Some recipes call for all the ingredients to be sauteed together in one big pot. Some recipes, including Julia Child's, call for the ingredients to be layered in a casserole and baked. To me, the best ratatouille is a summation of each vegetable's individual expression layered into an intricate (and delicious!) whole. This means that each veggie is cooked on its own, in the method that suits it best, and then combined. Whatever your method, ratatouille piled on a piece of crusty bread with a good glass of wine is the perfect bookend to Summer and transition to Fall. It is good, simple food at its best.

This year we have gotten closer to our goal than ever before! Though we didn't have much luck with the onions, we did have a bumper crop of gorgeous eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Our tomatoes kind of pooped out by the time the rest of the veg was ready t
o go, what with the two major heat spells we had, but we still manged to get a usable crop. All the herbs, the basil, sage, and thyme, were also ready to go in from the herb garden.

This recipe is not difficult, though it does take some time and is definitely not for those looking for the easiest route. But, if you can set aside an evening, it is a wonderful way to spend some time together - plus your efforts will provide additional meals for the rest of the week. We ate a quick dinner before we started and worked throughout the evening over a bottle of wine.

Rachel's Ratatouille

  • eggplants, 2 or 3 big ones (or enough little ones to add up to 2 or 3 big ones)
  • zucchini, 4 or 5
  • bell peppers, 3, 4, 5 (whatcha got?)
  • tomatoes, 12ish
  • onions, 2 medium
  • garlic, 5 or 6 cloves
  • basil, a grip (about 1 cup of fresh leaves)
  • sage, thyme, parsley
  • good olive oil
  • salt, pepper

Clearly, as you have just read the ingredients, there is no need to be exact here. The trick is for each ingredient to be prepared independently to develop its own unique flavors, then gradually layer these flavors on top of each other.

Eggplant and Zucchini:
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Cut the stem off your eggplants and then cut them into cubes, roughly 3/4 inch. Pay more attention to keeping them about the same size, as opposed to exactly 3/4 inch cubes. Put them into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Do the same thing with the zucchini, but make the cubes a bit smaller than the eggplant, about 1/2 inch. Put in a separate bowl.
  4. Drizzle each bowl of veg with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. You know, just enough oil to coat the cubes, 2ish tablespoons. More is fine if you want to go there. And a big, hearty pinch of salt. Toss to coat.
  5. Pour the eggplant out onto one sheet pan. The zucchini onto another. Spread them each out into a single layer and stick them into the oven. Pull them out after 20 minutes and turn them about with a spatula. Stick them back in the oven for another 20 minutes.
  6. The eggplant is done when is goes golden and soft. The squash should also begin to get lightly brown, but should hold its shape, don't let it get too soft.
  7. You can shut the oven off when these guys are done, you won't need it again.
  1. As the eggplant and zucchini are cooking, put up a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Fill a large bowl with water and ice. Set aside.
  3. Take the stems off all the tomatoes and, using a sharp or serrated knife, cut an "X" into the bottom of each fruit.
  4. When the water on the stove begins to boil, carefully drop the tomatoes into the pot. Wait 60-90 seconds (90 for large tomatoes, less for smaller ones). Pull the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and put immediately into the ice bath.
  5. When all the tomatoes are in the ice water, pull one out at a time and the skin should peel away very easily. Peel all the tomatoes.
  6. Quarter the peeled tomatoes, remove the seeds, and set aside. If you're using larger tomatoes, larger than plum, cut them into eighths.
  1. Ummm, where are we? Ahh, peppers. I roast my peppers right in the fire on my stove top. Get them all black and charred. You can do this in the oven as well, but at this point my oven always has eggplant and zucchini in it.
  2. However you have done it, when the peppers are roasted up, stick them into a paper sack, roll the top up, and leave them steam for about 15 minutes.
  3. After 15 minutes, take them out of the sack and the skins should peel away without too much trouble. When peeled, cut them open, remove the seeds, and cut them into 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
Odds and ends:
  1. Cut the ends off of your onions, cut them in half, and peel them. Then cut each half into half-moon slices about 1/8 inch thick.
  2. Peel your garlic cloves and slice thinly.
Putting it together:
  1. Now, finally, get your big old pot on the stove. (I use a big 10 quart Le Creuset cast-iron and enamel pot.) Over a medium-high heat, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of your pot. 3ish tablespoons? (4ish?) Let it heat up for a minute or so.
  2. Add the onions and garlic, a big pinch of salt, and saute until they begin to turn golden. You don't want them to caramelize, just to get soft and begin to color.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the tomatoes and the sliced peppers. Stir to combine. Add another pinch of salt and a big pinch of fresh black pepper. Turn the heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Add the roasted eggplant and zucchini. Stir to combine. Add half of your herbs. Basil and parsley can be roughly chopped. Thicker, stronger herbs like sage, thyme, etc. can be more finely chopped.

  5. Stir and cook on low for 45-60 minutes. Stir occasionally
  6. Add more basil and/or parsley. Taste. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add more olive oil if you like. Your finished product should be think and unctuous, but still chunky, with all the ingredients still identifiable.
Seems like a complicated recipe but honestly, this dish is super rustic and does not need to be exact. I have added roasted mushrooms, yellow crook-necks, raisins, kind of whatever you're feeling. We have eaten it with the crusty bread mentioned above, but also tossed with pasta and cheese, over creamy polenta, inside an omelette, on toast with a fried egg on top...be creative!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Since our first crop of cucumbers and cabbage last year I have become increasingly interested in home pickling. While I have always liked a good half-dill from a Jewish deli or finely shredded German style sauerkraut with a grilled Bratwurst, making your own is a different business.

Back in March of 2008 I found myself captivated by a discussion on KCRW's
Good Food between the show's host Evan Kleiman and Local Forage co-editor Steven Fineberg about lacto-fermentation: a method of pickling vegetables that uses neither heat nor vinegar but rather natural fermentation processes. This method produces food that not only tastes delicious, but is also full of living microorganisms that are supposed to promote digestion, health, and overall well being. Plus it is simple and easy.

While Steve Fineberg uses whey from yogurt as a starter for his version, I did some additional reading and settled on a method given by Sandor Katz, self proclaimed "fermentation fetishist":

  • 1 head of cabbage (preferably from your garden)
  • Salt
  • medium size crock
  • plate (slightly smaller than the crock)
  • weight ( I used a mason jar filled with water and capped)
  • clean kitchen towel to cover the crock.
  1. Get a good chef's knife or mandolin and shred the cabbage as fine as you can get it.
  2. Take a handful of the cabbage and toss it in to your crock.
  3. Add a few pinches of salt and mash the cabbage with a potato masher or drink muddler.
  4. Repeat until all your cabbage is in the crock. Taste a piece. It should be briny but not overwhelming.
  5. Pack your cabbage well and place your plate down inside the crock on top of the cabbage. Place your weight on top of the plate and then cover the your crock with a towel. Place somewhere out of the way on your kitchen counter.
  6. Now this next point is critical: check your crock after 24 hours. The salt should pull enough moisture out of the cabbage to completely cover the cabbage and plate. If not mix some water and salt and add to the crock to cover the cabbage and plate by an inch or two. Check occasionally and skim any "blooms" off the surface. Don't worry, this is a natural part of the process.
  7. Wait a few weeks. Take some out to try - the flavors will continue to develop over time. You can take a little bit out at a time and place in a separate jar in the refrigerator.
That's it. It took me about 3 weeks of fermenting before I started to taste the unique properties of my sauerkraut. It is a bit sweet and sour and tangy and has an ineffable flavor unlike any store bought sauerkraut. This is simple rustic food at its best.

Additional resources:

Monday, August 3, 2009

A New Beginning

After five years living a quasi-urban loft experience in downtown LA - five years of fun, excitement, being part of something new, and living over an alley - we decided we needed to get some elbow room, a yard, and eventually a pet for that yard. We looked for a year. Starting our search in Echo Park, we slowly shifted to North East LA after every house we put an offer on went unreasonably over asking price. Ultimately we landed in Highland Park, more specifically Garvanza, on the Western edge of Pasadena. That was 2004.

The home we purchased was a 2 bedroom 1957 stucco on a 8250sf steeply sloping lot that was an unruly mess. The land was raw, weed strewn, overgrown, with collapsing terraces, rotting trees, and what seemed to be an old burn pile. But the bones were good and the yard had tons of potential and we set out to (slowly) make the house and yard into our home. Five years of blood, sweat, and tears. (No, seriously, there were tears.)

Fast forward five years. We have made a ton of progress: we now have a functioning vegetable garden; we have planted the first batch of fruit trees; we have an actual patio that we can hang out on. It is encouraging to see how far we've come and sometimes depressing to see how far we have to go...we still have half of our yard to plant....and then there is the house itself. Rancho Garbonzo can be a mixed bag. We're keeping our chins up!

We had always planned to start a blog to document our experiences but could never get it together. Mainly we couldn't think of a name. Well here's to a new beginning. We hope that this blog will serve as an inspiration to some (maybe to turn that weed patch into some juicy tomatoes?), perhaps an education to others (we are FULL of the what-not-to-dos!), a way to keep up with what we are up to, and a fun way for us to document our own progress. Stay tuned.