Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Green Beans Win Gold!! Green Beans with Pesto Recipe

I'm writing this at night but I know what's happening in the dark garden. The beans have caught Olympic fever and having noted the outrageous zucchini performances, are vying for garden Gold. We have never had such beans. They're going to the podium for a medal!

That's home for the beans. Two rows planted on either side of a six-foot support system. 

Eight pounds of beans in one picking. Should I rejoice or hide in  the closet?

The beans were just part of that day's harvest. The bowls on the left are filled with basil leaves awaiting pesto production. There there's garlic for the pesto and strawberries for the hell of it. They just keep on making more berries.

The makings for dilly green beans with garlic and hot peppers. The dried cayennes are from last year's  garden.
The dill grows weed-like all around the garden.
The finished product—great for gifts and parties.

This is the BEST fresh green bean recipe and includes pesto and cherry tomatoes. Recipe below

I realize that most of our dinner's look the same. Dark and green. But this one is especially good because it includes BACON and PESTO.  The menu: marinated cukes and sweet onions; pickled beets; pesto green beans; and a great big stir fry of new potatoes, zucchini, chard,  and  onions, sauteed in bacon fat then topped with crumbled bacon and a bit of shaved Parmesan. I love summer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why God made cauliflower—pizza crust!

Wish you could taste this pizza, the crust of which was made without wheat.
Would you believe cheese, eggs and cauliflower? 
God made cauliflower for low-carbers, and especially for pizza crust! Who knew? Cauliflower is a hero vegetable for carb avoiders. It fills in for mashed potatoes, potatoes au gratin, and for spuds in soups and stews. Even though PK still eats a lot of rice, and we both eat potatoes when they're in season in the garden, cauliflower has taken a major role in our diet. But the cauliflower-based pizza crust came as a surprise even to me. It sounds so revolting, so not right with pepperoni. So mushy and faintly gassy. So white. None of the above! I would defy anyone who didn't know cauliflower was in the crust to call it out.

Now the question, why bother? Why not just trot out the whole wheat and yeast?

I've been a low-carb diet practitioner for a decade. Limiting carbs is part of my ordinary life.  But it was just recently that a long-ago friend introduced me to a new concept: no effing wheat. At her urging (that would be Grace McGran's urging) I read the damn book, Wheat Belly, and added another layer of complication to my life. It has been a few months, I think, since wheat was banished. I'm adjusting.
After reading Wheat Belly, it made perfect sense to eliminate sprouted grain breads and pastas and low-carb tortillas, which had been staples in my diet, and also PK's, for the past several years.  It's cold turkey time. PK even quit making his breads.

I'm not going to get all heavy about the wheat. I know I sound like a nut case to people who haven't yet tuned in to dietary undercurrents that are gaining mainstream momentum. Such as:
  • The every-calorie-counts theory is bogus. Does anyone really believe that calories in refined carbohydrates are of equal value to calories in fresh vegetables or eggs, just to mention two?
  • Dietary cholesterol is insignificant in cardiac disease. Ditch the statins.
  •  "Healthy whole grains" are a myth.
  •  Healthy fats, including many saturated fats—especially coconut oil—are actually beneficial for weight loss and overall health. 
  • Excess carbohydrate consumption is a major cause of type two diabetes and heart disease. 
After several decades of persistent conventional wisdom to the contrary, the above statements are gaining respect and scientific evidence. Take wheat for example."Modern wheat" has been modified for greater yield and profit. As a result of ongoing tinkering, two slices of whole wheat bread are equivalent to more than 2 tablespoons of sugar that slam into the bloodstream like a wave of type 2 diabetes. Doesn't matter if it's whole wheat, sprouted wheat, or white bread. Read Wheat Belly. There's much, much more to learn about why citizens of the USA have ballooned.

When following  a low-carb and wheat-free diet: you do not worry about fat (unless it is a factory generated chemical-laden bomb such as margarine or other trans fats—anything hydrogenated.). Forget about counting calories. Count carbs. There are so many good books: Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes; Life Without Bread, by Christian B. Allan, PhD and Wolfgang Lutz, MD, and Wheat Belly, a NYT bestseller by Dr. Davis, a prevention cardiologist. Here's the Wheat Belly website. Everywhere you go, you see wheat bellies (and wheat boobs and butts) all over the place. Got a wheat belly, or know someone who does? Read the book. Read the book. Read all of them.

After all my years of low-carbness, it hasn't been that shocking to give up wheat and all that that entails.

Pizza? That's another thing. I love pizza and used to make a killer crispy-thin whole wheat crust. Lately I've taken to eating pizza toppings and leaving the crust on the plate. But now I have options! One is the zucchini-based crust engineered by my friend Grace. Love it. Another is the crust I've made three times. I had to try it multiple times because we couldn't believe that it was made from cauliflower. Sheesh! Turn the page, right? But seriously. It tastes great.And, like Grace's zucchini crust, requires no more toil than a traditional wheat-based crust.

I take absolutely NO credit for developing this recipe. Versions of it are legion. It was a surprise to discover a myriad of cauliflower-based pizza crust recipes, and also to learn that great pizza does not need to ride on a sled of carb-ridden blood-sugar-boosting wheat.

I could go on. Instead, here's one version of the cauliflower/cheese/egg pizza crust. Please, just trust me.   Try it. I realize it seems so unlikely. Even PK, that picky bastard, thought it was super tasty.

Cauliflower and Cheese Pizza Crust
2 cups riced and cooked cauliflower

2 eggs
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, or a combo of mozzarella and cheddar
2 tsp dried oregano (optional)
4 tsp dried parsley (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil (optional)

Preheat the oven to 420. Cut up half of a large fresh cauliflower and  "rice" in a food processor.
First of two batches to "rice."
Ricing completed.
Place into a microwave-safe container, cover, and nuke on high for 8 minutes. When finished, quickly remove the cover and let the steam escape. Cool. You want the cauliflower to be relatively dry.
Microwaved for 8 minutes and cooled. 

Beat the eggs lightly and mix with 2 cups of cauliflower. Add the herbs and olive oil, if using. I didn't use herbs or olive oil because my toppings included oil-rich pesto and herb-heavy homemade pizza sauce.
Riced cauliflower mixed with two eggs. 

Shredded mozzarella added.

Pressed onto a greased jelly roll pan

Removed from the oven after baking in pre-heated oven at 420 for 15 minutes. 
Reduce oven to 375 and add toppings. Mine included basil pesto, homemade pizza sauce (thick) cooked Italian sausage, raw onions, and drained, chopped marinated artichoke hearts. It doesn't matter what you add so long as the meats are cooked and nothing is soupy. Almost any chopped veggie works so long as it doesn't release a lot of water. Saute ahead stuff like zucchini or mushrooms. Bake 15 minutes. Turn off oven and remove pizza. Top with your cheese of choice and return to oven for a few minutes to melt cheese. I also added strips of fresh basil.
You can actually pick it up and eat it with your hands, like "real" pizza crust.

We ate almost the whole thing!

Note: The third time I made cauliflower/cheese/egg pizza crust, I lined the pan with parchment paper. This is good if you want to avoid any sticking. However, it is bad if you prefer a crispier crust and are willing to risk a little burning around the edges. Next time, no parchment paper and a little more oil on the pan.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July garden - the big picture

A kind reader asked for more big-picture garden photos, and here's a start.  This shot encompasses about half of the garden. That big thing in the middle is a hop plant. It's a pain in the ass. The best thing about it is that it shades a bird box, which it has now swallowed. But it's OK as the birds are finished for the season. It also terrorizes the onions, the peppers, and the melons that are near by. The chard, there on the left, can hold its own against the hops.

But first, a story. We bought this 3.5 acre property in the early 1970s for $17,000. For eight years we lived in the burnt-out trailer that came with the land. It had two bedrooms, one at each end, and a kitchen with homemade cabinets and a tiny living room and not much else. You could see the ground between where the metal siding met the warped plywood flooring. The selling point: the property had 350 apple trees, and PK wanted to be a farmer. It was a dream come true. I didn't understand, but went along. 

He had to get a job, of course, and so did I. For years he worked eight hours at the paid job and another three or four a day at the orchard. He'd come home from work, throw on the pruning gear, and get out there with the shears. And then there was spraying, mowing, irrigating, fertilizing, and so on. The result of his labors? The most beautiful and delicious apples I have ever seen or tasted. 

Trouble was, gorgeous fruit or not, marketing them was painful and mostly unsuccessful. This was my job. I approached markets and grocery stores in our immediate area and got a few takers. They wanted only the most perfect fruit. One out of 10 apples, more or less, passed the perfection test. We put out a sign on the road and sold apples for several years for 20 cents a pound. We also sold tons of apples for 3 cents a pound for juice, and hauled them on our flatbed truck to Jacksonville. Picking? We mostly did it. Ditto sorting, loading, transporting. Ugh. Not much fun. 

I love this photo of Paul and Quinn, about 1980, loading an apple bin onto the flatbed truck. 

Fast forward a few decades. All but about 30 of the apple trees are gone. Quinn is 34 and Chris is 26. Our extended garden now occupies some of the former orchard. The rest of it is being prepared for pasturing animals—part of PK's next five-year plan. Now...a few more current garden views.
The main garden. One huge zucchini in front, then cukes, peppers, more zukes, corn and so on. All that yellow is volunteer dill gearing up to flower.

I can't get over how great the leeks are, or how long they last. And they hum with bees.

Flowers in front of the solarium. 

Here's what happens to asparagus after harvest season.
It is at least five feet tall.

Taken from in front of the house.

The wonderful rose is in its second bloom.

My favorite garden art, crafted by my dear friend Patty for one of my big birthdays.
It is a Celtic knot stepping stone, front and center in the flower garden. I admire it and thank her every day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mid-July Garden Madness

The perspective here is that the white surface is not a cutting board. It is a freezer top. And the largest zucchini weighs 5 pounds. All this growth occurred in two days on three plants. Bad zucchini! The striped ones are Latino variety.
The deep green is the typical Black Beauty, and the yellow one is....
well, yellow, and not as prolific this year as in the past. Thank God.
Mid-summer has somehow crept up and it is becoming dangerous to leave the premises without a guard  to beat back the garden. Spring veggies - kale, broccoli, asparagus, chard etc. - were manageable and could be left alone for several days without their attempting to overtake the neighborhood. The summer garden is another story.
We were away a couple of days for an organized weekend bike ride, and I harvested all the zukes from our three plants before leaving. But when we returned just two days later, several huge numbers were bulging obscenely beneath hip-high leaves. Ridiculous. 

All the jokes about zucchinis are warranted. Too bad their exuberant growth habits can't be replicated in grapes (more wine!) Some of the best zuke uses are low carb zucchini pizza crust, zucchini spaghetti, and smoky zucchini lasagna noodles. (Unfortunately, I can't link to this post as it has mysteriously and maddeningly disappeared from my archive. I will recreate soon as I begin to smoke large zuke slices to use as lasagna noodles. )

But wait! There's more!

Twenty-seven pounds of cabbage in five heads, ready for the sauerkraut crock.
Look for this operation in a future post. 

The first of the cucumbers with Walla Walla  onions in a simple salad. One cucumber got too big while we were gone for two whole days, and I had to scrape the seeds out and halve, hence those half-moon slices. Still tastes great.
We eat this salad all summer, which requires a tiny fraction of the cukes produced by our small
group of happy vines.  Recipe below

The first of  the tomatoes, Sun Gold cherry variety. Photo is  blurry and warranted only because this is the first "harvest."  Tomatoes were saying, We're not ready! Don't take our picture! They'll be sweet ripe in a few days. 

Volunteer cosmos, sunflowers and others are joyous in their corner.
They require little attention and are unlikely to leap the fence. 

I love the in-your-face early volunteer sunflowers. The birds are already watching,
and the bees and other insects are ecstatic about all the pollen.
The following recipe comes from my mother and her mother before her. They used real sugar, of course, while I use substitues. I've enjoyed this every summer since I can remember.

Simple Summer Cucumber/Onion Salad

2-3 small-to-medium cukes
1/2 large sweet onion, more to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or any other vinegar, non sweetened)*
1/4 cup water*
1/4 cup sugar, or sugar equivalent to taste.* I use a few tablespoons Splenda).
salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the cucumbers and onion thinly. Place into a glass bowl. Mix the vinegar, water, sugar substitute and salt and pepper and stir into the cukes and onions. Marinate for at least an hour. Adjust seasonings. Refrigerate unused portion for a week or so. It gets better by the day for up to a week.

* The proportions are the important consideration. Three equal parts. It gets tricky with sugar subs. I mix the vinegar and water then add Splenda, or whatever I'm using, to taste—in this case just a few teaspoons.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Zucchini "pasta"—a low-carb winner for dinner

This striped Latino zucchini is a favorite. We grow one Latino plant, one Black Beauty, the variety typical in produce aisles, and one golden variety. Latino is especially good for "noodles" as it retains more crunch than the others. 

The zucchini floodgate has opened, and we are dealing with up to a dozen every day from three plants. We planted six seeds in three hills, then agonized over which 15 seedlings to pull. We've learned the hard way that all you need is one plant every three feet. Otherwise it is a riot of rowdy giant leaves and aggressive bully fruits shoving one another and then you are forced to dive in to deal with them. Zucchini can get ugly.

We enter the zucchini microcosms at our own risk. Even though we give away more than we use, I learn more every year about how to use this abundance. Since bread, pasta, rice and most grains are off the table, I'm always looking for alternatives. I love marinara and other pasta sauces, but much prefer to eat them over something. I seriously do not even LIKE pasta anymore. It makes me feel crappy and bloated, as does wheat-based pizza crust and even rice. So I'm looking at zukes with a new perspective.

Zucchini works for pizza dough and lasagna. But spaghetti-type noodles? Let's try it. Of course, I'm not the first to think of this. Nothing is new under the sun, right? But here's what I did and how and wow, it was surprisingly good and will definitely be repeated.

How to make zucchini noodles—and use them for dinner

Select zucchini that is at least 10 inches long. Grate with a cheese grater lengthwise into "noodles." Put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, toss, then drain for 20 minutes or more. Squeeze liquid out before advancing to the next step, which is to saute in a bit of olive oil for a few minutes until "al dente". Don't worry about rinsing off the salt—it mostly goes away as  the liquid drains.  How much zucchini to grate? Figure on one 10-incher per person. Don't include  the inside where seeds are forming. 
Zucchini noodles ready for sauce. They're not at all mushy. These were made with the
Black Beauty variety, which is easily grown and may be purchased in almost any grocery. I sauteed them
 in olive oil and butter with a bit of minced garlic for a few minutes, until they were al dente.

 This is the last of the 2011 frozen marinara sauce, to which I added a bit of this year's basil and
some of Paul's serrano sauce for a little kick. He deserves a little kick himself. 

On the side was broccoli, basil, and sweet onions from the garden and store-bought cauliflower  tossed with a great garlic/sesame seasoning mix I purchased at the Grants Pass Growers' Market with a Candy's Farm label. Unfortunately, Candy's Farm, Salem, Oregon, doesn't appear to have a web presence. But, if you get a chance,  they make a great blend of roasted garlic, lemon grass, sesame seeds, veggie flavoring, ginger, and salt.
 I melted a little mozzarella cheese on top.
Dinner's on! Homemade marinara with a little sausage over zucchini noodles topped with grated Parmesan and a big side of broccoli, cauliflower and onions seasoned by Candy's Farm.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Road Trip Tips

After one entire week! away from home, garden, and elderly mom duties, I am ready to dispense advice. Ignore at your peril. 

1. If the weather sucks, follow the sun. Hint: it's usually south.
We'd planned a bike ride and campout in Northern California. Surly clouds gave credence to the weather forecast—rain, hail, thunderstorms. Nope. All four of us agreed to abandon that plan and head toward Redding and its sunny forecast. 
2. Let others stew in die-hard plans.
Laurie and Steve soaking in the sun near Lake Sonoma.
Some stalwart friends would have toughed it out and slogged through the rain. I love them, but I'm glad they weren't there to say, Hell, let's do it anyway! This time PK and I were with Eugenites Laurie and Steve, and Laurie is an ardent sun seeker with extreme gloom aversion. 
Whatever's happening in the sky is reflected in her face and demeanor. Why does she live in rain-drenched Eugene? She's working on that. In the meantime, she leaned south, and so we went. Happily.
3. Look for the unexpected gifts of going where you didn't intend to go and doing what you didn't intend to do.
So we ended up in Redding, where we discovered a great bike path along the Sacramento River in the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and lots of good camping, hiking, boating and swimming in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area just 10 miles out of town. We'll definitely return for the biking and also may entice grandson Noah and his parents to Redding's hot dang water park. The beautiful Sundial Bridge alone is worth the trip. 
4. If it rains/snows/spits regardless of your efforts to escape, put on your raincoat, your best attitude, and shut up. As Scarlett said, Tomorrow is another day. 
We had some sprinkles during dinner prep camping at Whiskeytown. We turned up our collars and swilled more wine. Life was good. Still is. 

5. Pack lighter than light.
Four-Wheel pop-up is a super deluxe and comfy unit but does not accommodate excess. 
 This is a constant challenge, especially since we now travel in a small pick-up camper. Small is the operative word when talking about that camper.  I confess to toting more than needed and rummaging through 15 garments when half as many would have been enough. 
6. No one cares how you look, and looking good is a big part of over-packing. That and planning for every contingency. Relax.
Everyday advice. Not just for camping. Without anyone to compare yourself to, who cares? Only the people who want to look better than you do give a rip about whether your socks match. Screw em. 
7. Carry more maps than you think you'll need.
PK and I added "Atlas" to our always-bring packing list. 
8. Carry a smart phone.
We don't have one, but we will as soon as our phone contract expires. Thanks to Steve for supplying instant information via iPhone. In the meantime, our GPS unit came in handy, and sometimes our iPad, which is pretty worthless in the sun.
9. Bring a smart person, someone who likes to drive and isn't too opinionated or set in his/her ways.
 PK and I have been married for close to 40 years, and I am so lucky that he is the smart person. True, he is opinionated. But he's a great traveler, and he prefers to drive. I'll keep him handy for the next trip. 
PK and me near the end of a happy road trip hike.

Healdsburg host and blade runner/road warrior, Lanny says, Right on. Life is SO good.
Go with the flow, baby.