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Nasturtium, Not Just a Pretty Face

Although we don’t have severe winters here our garden does go through a semi-fallow period featuring mostly greens and browns. While I love the purplish hue of the bare-branched plum tree, I felt a little bit sad as I walked around the yard yesterday. I even started to wonder if I had imagined how beautiful and lush it looks in spring. Then I noticed the nasturtium and I began to feel a little better.

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Photo Credit: Brandon Smith, D Coop Media / TheTwentySIX Magazine

Nasturtium are often the first to bloom in our garden, their vivid yellow, red and orange faces popping up on thick vining stems with big, bright green leaves. Despite the fact that they grow like weeds here (or maybe because of it) nasturtium are, in my opinion, one of the best plants in the garden. They have a lot going for them. They are pretty, drought-tolerant, edible, and they attract pollinators. Hummingbirds regularly swoop down to drink from the blooms as do bees and occasional butterflies. They are also highly effective trap plants in the garden and, as an organic gardener, planting pretty flowers that help me control pests really appeals to me. Continue reading

Ornamental Kale

Lettuce Weather

Don’t be mad at me but apparently it is spring here in San Diego, maybe even summer. I know many of you are hunkered down by the woodstove peering wistfully out the window at your cars, roads and, most importantly, gardens covered by a foot of snow, but here in SoCal we’ve been dealing with higher than average temperatures (we broke a 75-year heat record with 86F last week! In February!). Hot, dry Santa Ana winds are blowing in from the desert. My eyes are dry and gritty, my sinuses are killing me. I hear the sound of teeny tiny violins playing for me… oh wait, that’s just you. Smart ass.

Mixed Garden Greens with peppery Nasturtium Flowers

Mixed Garden Greens with peppery Nasturtium Flowers

I know, I’m whining about too much sunshine and I’m sorry but I can’t bear it! While I can’t imagine suffering through a polar vortex the fact remains that I live here because the weather is was perfect. Mornings foggy, days sunny and 72F, cool evenings. That was the agreement. Here by the coast we’ve never seen many days higher than mid-80’s. My dad complains because it’s never “beach weather” when he visits, meaning blazing hot, not a cloud in the sky, the ocean a refreshing 80F, but more and more we are having these so-called beach days and they’re not waiting for summer.

Black Seeded Simpson

Black Seeded Simpson

While the weather here keeps getting warmer, I seem to be heading the other direction. I’ve always considered myself solar-powered but I now prefer it when there’s a little chill in the air. I still LOVE sunshine, but I don’t love heat. (The fact that this change coincided with my disinterest in galloping across the beach in a bikini is purely incidental, by the way.)
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Mamma Mia! Saucy Sausage Pizza on Homemade Dough

Oh my god, we just created a pizza so stupid delicious I decided it was even worthy of Fiesta Friday’s One Year Anniversary Extravaganza. And that is no small thing because the other guests bring such amazing food every single week it could make you weep. I actually have shed a tear or two. Follow that link above and you’ll see what I mean!

But about this party pizza – this super sausage-saucy pizza – even I can confidently claim it is a thing of beauty. Will you need an antacid before bed? Probably. But what great celebration doesn’t end with a little heartburn? Isn’t minor-to-middling digestive discomfort one of the sure signs of a hugely successful dinner party? Trust me, this pizza is worth a little pain.

saucy sausage pizza
Before I get into the details let me say that I have tried numerous times to make pizza dough at home. At best, it has been solid enough to hold toppings. At worst, well, same answer. Mostly I’ve produced varying thicknesses of a somewhat edible cardboard-like substance so I am truly excited to have found an easy recipe for perfect pizza crust. It is also exceedingly simple, even for someone like me whose only attempts to use yeast resulted in the afore-mentioned cardboard product. Continue reading

Glass Gem Corn grown in San Diego

Prettiest Popcorn I Ever Did Grow

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve heard me say this before, but I have to say it again: I cannot believe that actual edible food grows right out of the ground! And it’s so cool that even after many years of gardening I still discover new things to try. Vegetables come in so many varieties, colors, shapes, and flavors I’m not sure a person could grow them all in one lifetime. I mean, did you know there are black tomatoes? White eggplant? Purple carrots? Just pick up an heirloom seed catalog and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The options are endless and irresistible!

Glass Gem Corn Close-up

Last spring I was especially enchanted by a photo that was circulating online. There was some question amongst gardening folk as to whether it was real or photoshopped (yes, this happens – I don’t care how cool blue strawberries look, don’t buy seeds from China on Ebay). It turned out to be an heirloom popping corn bred by a man named Carl Barnes to produce an array of gemstone-colored kernels on each cob. It’s a great story and it’s told so well over at Native Seeds that I don’t want to tarnish it with a sloppy condensed version so read their blog post here. Continue reading

Roasted Pear Chutney and Cream Cheese Appetizer

Apples, Onions, and Chutney for All

Recently I cobbled together some surprisingly delicious new recipes that were so yummy and easy I thought, hey, I should share these! Both were inspired by the aging Fuji apples on my counter, though the results couldn’t have been more different. The first, a spicy apple chutney, helped me make use of my homegrown Walla Walla onions and serrano peppers, while the second was a sweet and fluffy apple pancake. Hmmmm…. I wonder if those would be good together? Okay, well before I get sidetracked, let me tell you about my new love affair with chutney.

Roasted Pear Chutney

Roasted Pear Chutney

As with most of my cooking experiments I’m sure the chutney was influenced by chefs I admire, blogs I read and maybe even a Chopped episode. Chopped makes the most sense because, if we’re being honest, apples, onions and chili peppers sound like they’d be fairly disgusting together. Yet somehow it sounded familiar… and it sounded like a good idea! Believe it or not, it was. Continue reading

My first mosaic, first day's progress

From Monarchs to Mosaics, Always Something New to Learn

Once again I seem to be having difficulty finding time to come inside, sit at the laptop and tell a story. This despite the fact I have a gazillion photos I would love to share and next year when I look back I’ll wish I’d written more! Ah well, here I am with enclosures full of Anise and Giant Swallowtail chrysalides and one caterpillar of each kind chomping their final meals. I’ve got one monarch eclosing today (whoops, eclosed, a healthy female) and one last chrysalis after that, which will bring my total released monarchs to somewhere around 40. It has certainly been a butterfly-filled summer!

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Female monarch on Pink Ice Protea

You know what’s really on my mind though? I’m learning mosaic! This is very exciting for me. I have actually had very few art classes in my life, which is weird considering I have a degree in Fine Arts and am a professional artist. Somehow though, I managed to squeak by without much proper schooling. So now my wonderful friend Irina is showing me how to mosaic and I couldn’t ask for a more amazing instructor.

Detail of Irina Charny Mosaic

Irina Charny Mosaic – Look at all this detail!

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Deformed Anise Swallowtail

The Swallowtail Who Stole My Heart

I’ve been away from my blog for a month and I have no excuse except that I have been tending to my caterpillars. I have so much to share about my recent experience raising swallowtail butterflies, but first and foremost I must share an experience that brings tears to my eyes even now. It’s a story about a swallowtail. And me. And true love. And magic.

My first healthy Anise Swallowtail!

My first healthy Anise Swallowtail!

First let me say that raising swallowtails is so much easier than raising monarchs! They don’t seem as susceptible to nasty parasites or diseases, and they eat a lot less. Less food means an easier feeding schedule and a lot less poop to clean up, both of which I appreciate. Nevertheless, there is always a chance that something can go wrong, and this story begins with a poor Anise Swallowtail who was stuck in her chrysalis.

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Scarlet Emperor Beans the perfect size for cooking and eating whole

Where Have You Bean All My Life?

Beans. I know I say this every time, but beans are possibly my new favorite vegetable to grow. How is it that I’m constantly surprised by how fun it is to grow things? I planted beans for the first time this year, throwing 5-6 varieties I’d been storing for years around my gazebo in the hopes of creating a bean-covered wonderland. Unfortunately a lot of my beans were several years old and my sprinklers weren’t yet set up, so for various reasons my first beans were unimpressive at best.

Heirloom Scarlet Emperor Beans

Heirloom Scarlet Emperor Beans

Luckily I was able to hit up a gardening friend for new beans and I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to heirloom Scarlet Emperor Pole Beans. They are beautiful, vigorous, prolific producers of gigantic beans. Not only that, the pretty red flowers attract hummingbirds, so if I’m very quiet I can hunker down in the gazebo and watch my little hummers flit from flower to flower. It’s pretty cool.

Pole beans climbing the gazebo

Pole beans climbing the gazebo

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Beautiful recently hatched Monarch Butterfly San Diego

The Monarchy Rallies On (Raising Monarchs, Part III)

When I sat down to write this post it was headed in an entirely different direction. I planned to talk about the monarchs migrating north and my little hatchery switching gears, but as I jotted down what I thought would be a couple final musings on the subject and tried to select a couple favorite photos I realized I had a lot more to say on the topic. So here it is, newly revised, an update on my monarch babies.

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So far I’ve hatched nearly thirty healthy monarchs and I’m hoping they are on their way north to overwinter before visiting us again next spring. I did unfortunately learn from experience that monarch caterpillars have many threats. I knew about their normal threats – predators such as wasps and birds, lack of food, loss of habitat – but who knew the evil tachinid fly would lay their parasitic eggs on my gorgeous stripey babies? And what the hell is oe??

Having fun growing milkweed in a box that says Monsanto. Just my way of saying "Suck it, Monsanto."

Having fun growing milkweed in a box that says Monsanto. Just my way of saying “Suck it, Monsanto.”

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First Zapotec Tomatoes

Later to ‘Maters? Maybe not just yet…

Ugh. For all my planning, swapping, hoping, reading, writing, digging, tilling and composting, this was a pretty dreadful season for tomatoes. I’ve had several crappy years in a row with tomatoes but I keep thinking things will improve if I just do things better. I started my good, strong, organic heirloom seeds back in February. I had big plans for canning San Marzanos and filling the freezer with homemade pasta sauce for winter. I imagined gorgeous, deep red homegrown Beefsteaks sliced and layered with basil leaves and fresh mozzarella. I vaguely recall visions of Baker Creek’s smoky Vorlons grilled, salted and spread generously on hunks of crusty bread. At first it looked like things might turn out. The plants were full of tomatoes! They were healthy and strong! I have evidence!!! Just look at that gorgeous green stem and those beautiful baby ‘maters:

First tomato babies of 2014, Heirloom Beefsteaks

First tomato babies of 2014, Heirloom Beefsteaks

But then the wildfires took their toll, leaving behind stressed out, wilted plants. Continue reading