Monday, March 28, 2011

First Pear Blossom

On the first fully sunny day we've had in weeks, here is the first official pear blossom of 2011. There are a few other buds partially opened. The chilly weather is supposed to warm up some this week, so the tree will soon be popping like a popcorn maker: first, just a few blossoms here and there, then a fury of bloom all at once.

Just as a reference point, here is a view of the same tree on the same day -- March 28 -- last year. Our cold, wet weather (I think it rained every single day last week!) has slowed spring down a bit, but soon things should be busting out all over. It can't happen too soon!

Back in January it seemed like spring was coming early. It was unseasonably warm and dry for several weeks. But then, going into March, we got day after day after interminable day of fog and rain and chill, sometimes breaking out into genuine tree toppling storms, complete with power outages, mudslides, and flooding. The end result of all this drama is that rainfall totals for the year are now "about average." "Average" sounds pretty good right now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kale Chips?

Am I the last one to hear about these? Have they entered the mainstream while I wasn't paying attention? Are they being sold at ballparks? Kale chips are really, really good: light, crunchy, oven-dried flakes of flavor. And so easy to make.

I first learned about them from a friend who was visiting the garden. Noticing the rather spindly stand of dinosaur kale (also known as Tuscan kale, lacinato kale, black kale, etc., etc.) she asked if I had ever made chips. When she described the simple process I resolved to try it out.

First, of course, you get your hands on some kale. (Any kind will do.) I gathered a big bunch and washed it carefully, checking for earwigs, tiny slugs, aphids -- the usual routine of the organic gardener.

A brief whirl in the salad spinner takes excess water off fast.

Stripping the leaves from the thick stem and central rib goes fast too. Pick up a leaf, hold the stem end firmly in your right hand (if you are right-handed), grasp the base of the leaf lightly with your left hand, then pull hard with your right hand. The leaf should rip right off. If some of the leaves border the stem all the way down to the base -- common for dinosaur kale -- just peel the two sides back a bit and proceed as described.

Now you have a nice pile of dark green ribbons. Cut them into smaller pieces.

Drizzle some good olive oil over the pile.

Put it all in a brown paper bag and shake gently until all the pieces are lightly coated with oil.

Coat a cookie sheet with oil and arrange the kale pieces in the pan in a single layer.

Grate up some fresh parmesan cheese and sprinkle lightly over the kale pieces.

Put the pan in a slow oven for 10 to 15 minutes. It might take some experimentation to get the temperature and timing right. I followed an online recipe that asked for 15 minutes at 375, which turned out to be too long and too hot. I pulled the pan out after seven minutes because some of the pieces were clearly overcooked and turning an unappetizing color. Nonetheless, they were crackly and delicious.

If you want to hear how crunchy kale chips can be, take a look at this charming video at Kath used a different type of kale and a slightly different approach but the general idea is the same:

"Eat your greens" has a whole new meaning.

UPDATE 5/19/11: OK, today is May 19. I was cleaning out the refrigerator and way at the back of a bottom shelf found the container of kale chips with a few left at the bottom. Two months later they are still crunchy and still tasty. Is this a way to preserve the crop?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Eat the Yard Update: A Touch of Rosemary

Our Eat the Yard Challenge began on New Year's, 2010: A resolve to eat something from the yard every day, even if only a sprig of parsley or a twig of thyme or rosemary. (Our little rosemary bush is shown above.)

I guess it has to be admitted that it's really my Challenge, since the participation of others who might be mentioned has consisted mostly of bemused tolerance. But never mind about that. At least the eating is shared, if not the fretting about what's ready to harvest and what could be part of a meal.

The Challenge was pretty successful -- in 2010 there were about ten days where the standard was not met. And it has continued successfully into 2011. So far there has been only one day when our garden did not contribute to our dinner. We got stuck in San Francisco during rush hour and had to eat out, a rare occurrence.

It's become a way of life to eat the good food of home, some of it grown by yours truly, most of it cooked by others who might be mentioned.

These roasted veggies were served March 3. Before roasting they were coated with olive oil and sprinkled with crushed rosemary leaves, gathered shortly before use. Bon appetit!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Return of the Queen

She's baaaaaaack! Well, not the same "she," of course, but I don't see any difference between the hornet queen of 2011 and her predecessors from whom I have learned a wary respect for all their kind.

Most likely she was born and raised in last year's nest under the towering Deodar Cedar in the front yard. After her mating flight in the fall she, and other fertile females, found a safe place to wait out the winter months, each in their lonely hideaway. These future queens were the only survivors from the teeming hornet metropolis dug into the sheltering roots of the big tree.

All summer long I could watch the busy comings and goings from a safe vantage point in the driveway, grateful that the nest was in a protected place where I would not stumble upon it -- unlike previous years. For instance, there was the year the nest was behind the living room wall, with buzzing hornets slowly chewing their way into the house. When we saw little feelers waving around next to the light fixture there was no choice but to call for help. We were rescued by a knight in grungy coveralls from Luck of the Irish Bee Service, who did noble battle for the better part of a day. That year the nest met an early demise but the species was unaffected because they were back again in fine form the following spring.

Now that it's spring again, here is a new queen foraging for food on her own. As yet, there is no crowd of loyal hornet subjects to meet her every need. She has to build the first small nest herself, chewing up wood into paper mache to make sculpted cells for holding larvae and graceful curving walls to keep everything together. And until the worker hornets hatch out she has to do the grocery shopping too.

She will eat nectar herself, I believe, and catch bugs for the hungry larvae back home. If the link below works, you can hear the sound that hungry larvae make scratching on the sides of their cells (a little creepy but also kind of thrilling):

This link goes to the main Web site with everything you ever wanted to know about hornets but were afraid to ask:

Hornets are great for the garden because they catch so many insects. In Europe, the European hornet is a protected species. So I am very glad to see the return of the queen. I just need to know where that nest is!