I love this time of year. Or should I say, since I discovered the Petaluma Seed Bank, I love, LOVE this time of year!!!
Situated in an old corner building, one I can only assume use to actually be *a bank* (duh), is an absolute treasure trove of heirloom seeds from around the world.
Around. The. World!
I’ve seen seeds there from Afghanistan, Northern Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.
Every year, when the Seed Bank's over-sized, glossy catalog leaps out of my mailbox, and into my little wheelbarrow, my neighbor's words ring in my ear – “That book is like porn for gardeners."
And the store is even better, because unlike the catalog, where there is not room for every plant description to be accompanied by a color photograph, in the store, that’s just not an issue.
Here is what I picked up yesterday when I was in Petaluma:
More beets! I grew all of these last spring with great ease and success. We devoured every last one of them in the form of juice and salad and I can't wait to do it all again!
I wanted to try this Banana Melon SO bad last year that I planted every seed, got all starts going, and then killed them once they were transplanted outside. I have to get some of this exotic looking fruit in my garden this year.
We had surprisingly good luck with watermelon last year even though we had a mild summer. Our garden faces south and no longer has to compete with any shade during the day since we lost all our 150-year-old Oaks last year. (Mixed emotion facial expression goes here.) It's a recipe for success. However, I only planted exotic varieties of watermelon last year - albino and orangelo - you know, just to be different. Neither had very good flavor until late in the season (October), so this year I decided to go with a sweeter, more tried and true variety - red.
OK - I'm SO excited about this package of 25 Tomato Reisetomate seeds! I have seen this variety in the catalog for two years now but it's always been sold out. I just think it's terribly cool looking. They had it in stock yesterday at the store and so I grabbed one. The man at the store told me they don't taste very good (after all, they are mostly skin) but that they make good decorative pieces (ta-da!!).
And last, but not least, I spotted these great veggie markers. I've tried several different kinds of metal markers in the garden but they always fade, and never hold up. I love how these are just so simple, and a compostable product at the end of their life too. I started to grab a bunch but they didn't have all that I required, and they added up quickly. When I realized they were just simple cuts of wood with names stenciled on in ballpoint pen(!), I vowed to make my own this year.
I should have lots of extra tomato and melon starts this year. So if you are nearby us, and something looks interesting, let me know. I'd be happy to give you some!
The coolest thing happened this morning when I woke-up early, tip-toed downstairs, and did what I always do when I'm the first one up - enjoyed a cup of coffee in my favorite cup...
...while looking out at the mountain.
(In case that was confusing, no, I haven't mentioned the *cool* part yet.)
The cool part of this story - it's actually amazing, if you ask me - is that as I sat in the silence of a pre-dawn kitchen, admiring the mountain, I thought about a poem that I've thought of often through-out my life. It's a poem that I read about 30 years ago, as a young girl, in the juvenile poetry section of some children's magazine. I remember reading all these poems written by kids like me, and then there was one poem -- one incredibly beautiful poem, signed by a nine year old girl that far surpassed all of them. I remember being in awe of this girl's ability. She was about my age and had the ability to write poetry like an adult.
I tore out the poem and kept if for years, rereading it often and thinking about the nine year old girl who could write poetry like a pro. The page floated around through my childhood, making it's way from a pin board, to a desk drawer and eventually into a keepsake box. (It might even still exist somewhere deep in our basement.)
Through the years, I have forgot almost all of the words to the once-memorized poem, all but the last line:
And I'm the one who woke the sun
And kissed the stars goodnight.
I thought about the poem again this morning, while taking my coffee in front of the mountain, kissed by the rising sun. As I listed to the first clucks coming from chicken coop, I thought - what if...what if I could find that poem on the internet?
And just like that it was there in front of me. A search of the last sentence produced the entire poem of a woman who was actually not a 9 year old in 1981, but an older woman. No wonder the poem struck me as so amazing - it was written by a professional poet! And if my memory is serving me correctly it was either misprinted as the work of a young child or it was a case of undetected plagiarism. Either way, I am so excited to have it back in my life and I'm fascinated by how much its words resonated with me at a time long before I knew I loved gardens or farms. I only wish the poet was still alive so I could share with her my story and let her know how much her poem meant to my childhood.
by Karla Kuskin
When I wake in the early mist
The sun has hardly shown
And everything is still asleep
And I’m awake alone.
The stars are faint and flickering.
The sun is new and shy.
And all the world sleeps quietly
Except the sun and I.
And then the noises start,
The whirrs and huffs and hums,
The birds peep out to find a worm.
The mice squeak out for crumbs,
The calf moos out to find the cow,
And taste the morning air
And everything is wide awake
And running everywhere.
The dew has dried,
The fields are warm,
The day is loud and bright,
And I’m the one who woke the sun
And kissed the stars goodnight.
This day last year: "Japanesque" at The Legion of Honor
One of Daddy's oldest and dearest friends is giving us the most incredible gift -- he's offered to raise a heritage breed turkey, of our choice, for our 2012 Thanksgiving table.
Um, let me think abo--- YETH PWEEZ!!!
We were directed to Murray McMurray Hatchery where, together with the kids, we selected our breed, by way of a highly competitive game of drawing breeds, scribbled on Post-it notes, out of a melamine bowl. We were all sitting on the kitchen floor.
And the winner was - Bourbon Red!
I'm excited for the experience, for having the opportunity to visit our friend's hobby farm, and to see our bird grow to full-size in the best of conditions.
Here are some photos from a recent visit to their farm, right before Halloween. Unfortunately, my lens was faulty this day and these pictures are not that great, but our friend's new home and farm is beautiful so I have to share anyway.
I don't quite know what the deal is on this one, but I harvested about 50 Sun Gold and Cherry tomatoes on New Years Eve.
Did this happen for anyone else in Northern California? I ripped out most of my tomato plants months ago and only had two still planted (for no other reason than shear laziness). I had been walking past those remaining two for ages, never really allowing the visual information of colorful fruit to fully register.
And then it just sort of hit me. So I tried one and it was delicious. As I went to pull them off the vine, I hardly had to put a bit of effort into the harvest. It was as if my approaching body heat gave them cause to jump ship themselves - they were literally dripping!
I baked a large pasta dish that night and just threw them on top before finishing it all off with bread crumbs and baking. Such a treat!
This day last year: "Olive Oil Muffins"
My good friend Brian recently posted some spectacular photos on Facebook of him and his friend foraging for mushrooms in West Marin.
I was titillated by the imagery, and instantly jealous of their confidence and know-how.
When I spoke to Brian about the experience several days later, I was in the car with the kids and he was on speakerphone. We got the quick download on how to safely forage for mushrooms - the quick bit I took away is that all toxic mushrooms have white gills. This information stuck with the kids too, as they've mentioned it several times since.
So imagine my excitement today when I stumbled upon this mound of mushrooms while delivering leftover crab and half-eaten chocolate cake slices to the girls in the coop.
Woo-hoo, I thought. Let's make backyard mushroom risotto! Let's do a little research...
Now let me first say that I would NEVER eat a mushroom I just found. I know nothing about this stuff (except that when done wrong, you can die) and am too willy-nilly to even think of going there. I think it is as cool as all get out to know such stuff, but I don't. Still, I thought it would be fun to do a little online checking.
When I showed the 7 year old the underside of the mushrooms (read: white gills), he started to hyperventilate. I'm glad he was paying attention.
It turns out that that beautiful cluster of fungi out back is "the world's most dangerous mushroom."
From what I can tell, I'm thinking these are Death Cap mushrooms! They are very common here in the Bay area, often found this time of year at the base of oak and cork trees. Right now, they are growing right where an oak fell last year.
We will dig them up in the morning and dispose of them properly. But in the meantime, I've got to wonder why the heck am I so special that I get a bunch of these in my backyard? Geez...
All the presents have been opened, and we are now happily doing the things we love: playing, napping and blogging.
This Christmas was egg-ceptional in that the kids initial reactions to seeing the Christmas tree this morning were, for the first time, satisfying and rewarding. In years past, I've always found myself a bit saddened that they never seem as thrilled with their surprises as I'd hoped. "Hey, Mom. Look. It's a pink bike."
This year they were great -- thrilled, gleeful, thankful, surprisingly patient. :)
But what I really, really, really want to share is the most incredibly thoughtful, generous and creative gift my kids received from their Granny.
You may have heard of Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock to families in the third world to help improve nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways.
I've been familiar with this incredible organization for years, and have held onto their catalog as a reminder of a great gift to give. I just haven't ever done it yet, for reasons I now know to be silly.
See granny gave my kids the gift of a pig - donated to a poor family in need, and did so in their names. And to mark the gesture, she gave them several pig related gifts so that they could "remember all day the pig present" that they gave to another family in a different part of the world.
I have tears in my eyes (again) as I write this. What an incredible Christmas gift for anyone to receive, but to give it to children, in such a fun and creative way, was absolutely heart-warming. I will have to steal this idea and encourage you to as well!
Their piggy gifts included bacon gummy candy, piggy bath scrubs, piggy booties for a baby doll and piggy banks filled with chocolate coins.
Thank you, Granny Alexis!!! You are the absolute BEST! xoxo
I am a huge fan of Alexander Girard's art. We have his floor tiles in the kid's area, a friend gave me his beautiful alphabet blocks which sit on display in the living room, I covet his Madonna bike and recently released nativity scene.
So I was over the moon when I received an email from MAXIMO Design about the sale of his only-sold-in-Japan suitcases, a collaboration between his estate and the company Effy. How did they know I was in need of carry-on suitcase?!
Here is Milly standing guard over my new suitcase in what has always been my favorite Girard print - *Fruit Tree*. (Our recently planted persimmon tree stands in the background.)
Now if I could just take a vacation...
Have you ever seen the inside of a quince before?
Wait...let's back up. Do you even know what a quince looks like on the outside?
People always ask me that - "What is a quince?!"
I got lucky again last week when there *arose* the *opportunity* for me to visit a family friend's house and pick fresh, organic quince and persimmons from her picture-perfect trees. (OK, fine, I rang her up and begged). Both trees serve as stunning focal points in her front yard. Her back yard is a beach on the bay.
You are correct in allowing your jaw to drop.
Anywho...I'm guessing I grabbed close to thirty pounds of exotic fruit before heading home to make a batch of Little Miss Who's favorite jelly.
When I think of quince, or olives, totally inedible fruits in their purest, raw state, I wonder how anyone ever figured out how to make them edible.
Here's what quince looks like minutes after being cut - brown.
But after all the work is done, quince makes the prettiest colored, and most wonderful tasting jelly. (Click here for recipe.)
As for those persimmons, I took a grocery bags worth home and adorned my windowsills with them, where they could ripen enough for me to puree them for baking.
This day last year: "Getting My *Persimmon* On"
After the Picasso exhibit on Friday, we walked next door to the Japanese Tea Garden for lunch. It had been a long, long time since our last visit. Here we are in 2007:
...and here we are in 2011:
When it comes to ethnic foods, I really don't care how much fat or sugar is in any one dish. As long as my kids are willing to eat something that looks TOTALLY different than what we eat every other day of the week, I'm happy. Some of my proudest parenting moments have come while watching my kids nosh down things like fried fish butts or raw, dark greens. (pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat...)
These noodles were not even that great. They had a heavy, fishy taste to them that I personally did not care for. But he slurped them down and so I said, "Good call, Sweetie."
If you haven't seen the Ramune soda from Japan, you are missing out! Our cousins taught us all about them recently while we dined on sushi together. They are a carbonated soft drink that the kids love due to their unique packaging. To *activate* your drink, you must puncture the top of your glass bottle in order to release a glass marble down into the soda which then activates the carbonation. So gimmicky, so clever, so completely irresistible!
Go ahead, take a big, teethy bite out of that green tea mochi!
After lunch, and a bit of running around the gardens, we crossed the street and visited another set of gardens - the botanical ones.
Silly little Miss under one of my favorites - Angel's Trumpet.
Happy, happy day!
This past weekend, we celebrated the 7 year old's birthday with his friends. He wanted the theme to be *Lego Clone Trooper*....or was it *Lego Clone Wars*? I can't remember. Anyway, I focused on Legos, Clone Troopers and cake.
I purchased a couple items, like Star Wars cake plates, but turned away from the majority. There is something about the relentless branding of a theme that just gets to me. I prefer a homemade, crafty solution if possible. I can't help this, it's just in my DNA. So I purchased a Star Wars Lego book for the kid (books are always good!), and snapped shots of a bunch of figures, then printed them out. I cut them out and got some cheap and easy decorations that were super cute.
I still have a large plotter from my business, which I dusted off, plugged in and put to use, printing out 42" Lego characters for some big impact decorations. Check out the Princess Leia in the background below.
I got the idea for watermelon etched like the Death Star here. I gave it a good shot for about an hour, then I called in my arthritic artistic mother to finish the job for me. She was naturally much, much better with the detail than I was. I'm forever grateful.
The little man requested a Clone Trooper on his cake. I saw so many incredible designs online (search Google images for "Clone Trooper cake") but know better than to think I have the patience for something that time consuming. I sourced it out to Susie Cakes and they did an incredible job. I backed up the vanilla cake with lemon cupcakes and topped them with Legos.
I am pretty picky about the quality of sweets my kids eat most of the year. But when it comes to times like Easter, Christmas and birthdays, I've been known to go out on a limb and buy some crap, disgusting stuff just because I know the sight of it will make my kids happy. This time it was these marshmallow pops:
Blech! I am certain to get blackballed by the mommies for sending these home ;) Woops! (Gulp.)
Daddy taught a Lego Spaceship clinic. There were some awesome creations!
The kid really wanted a pinata. I purchased a skull one, for Halloween, and recovered it in Clone Trooper details.
Cake and some of Luke Skywalkers blue Bantha milk.
A rare, family shot - oh, wait, half of us are missing!?
Notice anything weird here?
It's a soft-shelled egg and I found our first one yesterday.
It kind of felt like a like a seamless paper bag, filled with fluid. We held it carefully and experimented with it in different positions, and its reaction to being poked with various objects. :)
I had read about these at one point, but have never seen one up close. It's apparently the result of a lack of nutrients. Hard to believe when you know how well our girls eat.
Not long ago, I had plans for all the heirloom carrots I planted from seed. Big plans.
But now Fall is here, and besides deciding that I don't even really like carrots, I haven't done much more with them. I did pickle some, and that was successful. But other than that, it's been juicing and a little roasting. These ones just cracked me up. I don't know what the secret is to growing "normal" carrots, but I've yet to uncover it. The only thing missing from this picture is a ruler - these kids were enormous!! These went into the juicer, along with the weeds shown. I don't know the name of the greens, but I do know they are high in omega-3's, they run wild in my garden, and I'm seeing them a lot at the farmer's markets.
Needless to say, the juice tasted like dirt.
Last fall, I finally made it up to the Seed Bank in Petaluma, where I stocked up on a dizzying array of heirloom seeds for the 2011 growing season. Every seed packet came with the promise of an exotic fruit or vegetable that I had never seen or heard of before. The two fruits I looked forward to most were Banana Melon and Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon.
The Banana Melon, a long banana-shaped-squash-looking-kinda-thing, never took off. Twelves seeds planted and only one sprout survived long enough to make it into the garden. We never saw it again. But my albino watermelon - that did awesome!
In fact, all my watermelons have taken off and we have lots to look forward to.
The first ones were finally ready this week! We knew because their undersides where white, and when we double-checked them with a 'knock-knock' that revealed the desired 'hollow' sound, we picked two and brought them in for our first tastes.
And so you are probably dying to know - just what does an albino watermelon taste like, right? I'll tell you...
...it tastes like cucumber. Only half of the melon's meat is seed!! :(
It was a big wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaa moment in my heirloom veggie gardening experience. I had had such hope for this unique variety, it was said to have 'great flavor', but that was not my experience.
So I took both melons, seeded them, (over the course of an hour!) and threw them in the juicer. They were very juicy. But what I found interesting is that despite my hands being covered in juice during the process, there seemed to be very little sugar content. My hands were not at all sticky.
The final juice product was quite bland and so I sweetened up a pitcher of it with a 1/4 cup of mint infused simple syrup (just one more great product I picked-up at Big John's Market).
The sweetened juice was not too sweet at all - just the right amount for a light, summer drink. The kids loved it, so did we.
I don't know if I will try the Creme of Saskatchewan Watermelon again or not. So until I decide, I have saved a handful of seeds. I am now anxiously awaiting what's next up - my Orangeglo Watermelon! :)
Right on Dry Creek Road, conveniently located between Big John’s Market and The Dry Creek General Store, is a wonderful gardening store where you can find some really unique items for outdoor living areas.
The Gardener, reveals little about itself from the road, except for its very creative and inviting signage which backs up against a large hedge.
Nestled down at the bottom of a small, slopped driveway is a treasure trove of colorful ceramic pots and wind chimes, artsy hand-build tomato cages and sculptural art, couture homesteaders furniture, and lots of ideas to steal for one’s own garden.
Here are my favorites:
An interior shot of the store showcasing this beautiful pendant lamp - one of the many products they sell that re-purposes wine barrel materials.
The baby toddler attaches himself to aluminum baskets that would be great as a laundry hamper, toy bucket or towel holder.
Here is a great design that I think I'm going to have to steal for my own garden - tall raised beds. My aching back is already feeling better! And some simple, rusty rods, secured in a grid with wire, offer a great place for vines travel up.
I just loved this over-sized, sturdy picnic table. It might not seem like much, but when I've looked online for a picnic table for our own yard, I've never found anything this solid looking. I fell in love with the yellow pot too!
Beautiful water feature.
Love, love, love this chair. It is so unique, colorful and comfortable. Unfortunately, it isn't cheap so I hugged it goodbye. ($425)
This canopy was so cool. It's a product they use to carry but do not anymore. Unlike anything I've ever seen offered for the garden at Bed, Bath and Beyond. ;)
I fell for these and bought three. They are tomato cages made of old wine barrels ($45/each)!! What's best about them is that they serve as sculptural art in your yard when tomatoes are out of season. Apparently a local man use to make them but no longer does. They have one left - grab it while you can!
More sculptural art from wine barrels.
Potted succulents serve as art!
A colorful lounge chair.
An Italian staycation is when you nail a rental that screams "Italia", just a short drive from your house.
When we first arrived at this magical spot (occupied by its owners nine months out of the year), we were immediately transported to another place and time with its funky, artistic vibe, and the way the property so effortlessly oozes old school Italian charm. The owners had the cable radio Italian station blaring (are you feeling me yet?!) and as they toured us around the property, Dean Martin came on and sang to us about Amore!
That's when I knew we'd *arrived*.
I'll be broadcasting from the Italian countryside all week.
Our car is stuffed full with kids and zucchini bread, and we are headed out to the Yosemite Valley for a weekend under the stars.
I do not fear car trips any longer, not since XM Radio came into my life and we discovered Kids Place Live. With the volume turned up, my kids sit like *well behaved children*, quietly listening to songs and stories written only for them. It's a road-trip game changer. So I thought I'd share with you one of my new favorite songs. This is one of the sweetest love songs I've ever heard and I've been humming it all day as I pack-up our little family of five and daydream about a weekend of camping, as well as all the magic that unfolded in the yard this week: purple figs, giant dahlias and curly cucumbers. While I am not blind to the fact that the man singing does, in fact, play a ukulele and sing lead in a kiddie band, I can almost forgive him when his sweet and raspy voice starts singing for me to come away with him...on his cucumber canoe...
Have a great weekend!
Me, circa 1979 with a giant, homegrown zucchini
Lil' Miss *Kangaroo Mama*, today, with a zucchini not nearly as large as the ones her grandpa could grow.
I would have let this one stay on the vine a bit longer, but it appeared to be zapping every last nutrient from the vine, as no other zucchs were growing. I'm guessing my dad always did his experiment at the end of the season.