Category Archives: edibles

Happy Val Day

Interesting, isn’t it, that one of America’s most notorious authors of books banned under then-existing obscenity laws had the middle name Valentine? All true. Henry Valentine Miller.
“The publication of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in the United States in 1961 by Grove Press led to a series of obscenity trials that tested American laws on pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Grove Press, Inc., v. Gerstein, citing Jacobellis v. Ohio (which was decided the same day in 1964), overruled the state court findings of obscenity and declared the book a work of literature…Following the trial, in 1964–65, other books of Miller’s which had also been banned in the US were published by Grove Press: Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn, Quiet Days in Clichy, Sexus, Plexus and Nexus.” from the Wiki on Henry Miller

In my teens I loved Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
I don’t think I made it through all the Tropics. But as a teenager, I generally read everything my brothers read.
Then in my early twenties, living on my own I unconsciously switched to reading books written almost solely by or about women, Woolf and Wharton, Austen and DeBeauvoir.
This Val Day, not necessarily in this order, I’m thinking of the power of love, of books, sons and brothers, a good breakfast, foggy mornings, and the power of SCOTUS too.
And I’m bringing a bouquet of sunflowers to you to celebrate the day. They arrived early this morning, all the way from Tanzania.
Mitch is traveling through East Africa with IPFRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) and in Tanzania they stopped at a sunflower oil factory. The photos are fairly self-explanatory. Enjoy!

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scenes from Lotusland; the Lemon Arbor

Since I snapped hundreds, I’ll probably be trickling out photos of my June visit to Lotusland for months to come.

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The Eureka lemon tree arbor, planted in 1988, is probably one of the more sedate and traditional features of Lotusland.
This arbor might be a good place to start, showing as it does how Ganna Walska had absorbed the principles of the many formal gardens she knew from Europe.
Disappointed in love, and knowing an allee from an arbor, she came to California in her fifties ready to create a bold, brave garden unlike any before it. Or since, for that matter.

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The garden had experienced a rare June rainstorm, receiving .6 inches just before my visit.
The buffs, tans, dark greens, bright yellows and greys were especially vivid under an overcast sky and cleansed of accumulated grime.

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I’ve delayed posting on this visit, hoping to find and read her memoir “Always Room at the Top” before I do.
Written before she made Lotusland, I’m not sure what insights the account of her six husbands and minor opera career would reveal about her character that her garden doesn’t.

This article by The Los Angeles Times from 2005 is one of the best background pieces I’ve read on her.

eat your lilies

How many times have we browsed through plant catalogue descriptions padded with chatty, ethnobotanic non sequiturs like such-and-such is an edible delicacy in its country of origin?
Impatient to discover whether the object of your desire is frost hardy, does such arcane information sometimes strike you as an insufferable display of useless erudition?

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Eat this? Don’t you dare. My only lily this year, ‘Black Charm’ cozying up to aeoniums for support.

Take lilies, for example. Catalogues would have you believe that someone, somewhere, is growing lilies not for those soul-stirring flowers and scent but to eat the bulb.

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And of course it’s all true. I was recently vividly reminded that eating some plants that we consider only as ornamentals isn’t a practice remote in time or place.
All these photos were taken last month at my favorite shopping destination when I work in Koreatown, Zion Market.
(Lily bulbs used for cooking are the “Lanzhou lily (Lilium davidii var. unicolor), which was mainly grown in the region around Lanzhou, Gansu province, Longya lily (L. brownii), which was mainly grown at Hunan and Jiangxi province, and Yixing lily (L. lancifolium), which was mainly grown in Jiangsu province,” source here.)

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I knew these leaves as Chyrsanthemum coronarium, when I tried growing them for cut flowers, now Glebionis coronaria

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Platycodon grandiflorus, the Balloon Flower, doraji in Korean. Lots of ways to go with this, including boiled and dried.

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Campanulas are typically considered the bellflowers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is platycodon as well.

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Platycodon grown as an ornamental, photo via Monrovia

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There does seem to be a Campanulaceae slant to this edible theme.
I did have a codonopsis phase once, spurred on by Heronswood’s wide selection under Dan Hinkley.
Very dainty vines with tiny, subtle bellflowers that, as far as I could tell, hated life in So. Calif. Eating it would be the perfect revenge.

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Leaving plants behind for the moment. Examples like this always make me wonder about that first pioneer who urged, “Try it! Tastes just like __________!”

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I just love that word, bracken. It’s just so, I don’t know, Wuthering Heights. (It’s a large fern.)

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Crithmum maritimum

The blurred line between edibles and ornamentals shouldn’t be such a surprise to me.
I’ve long grown two well-known edibles, the sea kale, Crambe maritima, and samphire, Crithmum maritimum, not in the vegetable plot but among agaves and grasses.

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New, powder-blue leaves of Crambe maritima in March

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And who just went through an extensive search, at no little cost, to source the rare variegated Tuscan kale? That would be me.
I still haven’t decided whether to eat it or worship it.
(Territorial Seed Company carries small plants of “Kosmic Kale” — it doesn’t come true from seed.)
Edible or ornamental? Depends on the eye, palate, and culture of the beholder, and we know those three things are in constant flux.

Zion Market is located roughly between Normandie and Vermont on Wilshire Boulevard.
It’s improbably tucked away in a new mall at the back of the Brutalist-style Equitable Plaza. The main entrance is on Sixth Street.
You could spend a half hour in the kimchee section alone.
And if you want to try your hand at home-made Korean tacos made famous by Roy Choi and his ground-breaking Kogi food truck, you can find your bulgogi marinade here.
I’d been raving about this market to Marty for some time (oh! the aisle-long, mulit-hued bags of rice display!) and finally was able to show him around recently.
It was gratifying to see Marty utterly gobsmacked too. The fresh fish section is a wonder, and the dried fish section is no slouch either.
We’re huge fans of the anchovy, especially in pasta, and there were enormous bags of dried anchovies for I know not what purpose, but we’ll have to figure something out.

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photo via The Los Angeles Times

A few blocks from Zion Market, Roy Choi opened up The Line Hotel.
I love how the greenhouse-inspired restaurant emphasizes the source of all our food, of life itself, plants.
I’ve peeked in the door, but the busy lunch crowds have scared me away so far.
Maybe the The Commissary is serving up some tasty crown daisy.

Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers

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The modest haul from my little community garden plot yesterday. I’ve got the smallest size plot available, 10X10, but so far it’s just big enough.
I am so not a serious grower of edibles. I don’t can, pickle, or freeze. There are never massive, bounteous harvests to deal with. It’s all eaten fresh.
I don’t get to this garden daily, so I plant things that crop over a long period of time, like these “Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers.” peas from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

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The vegetable garden is where I really get my fix of digging, sowing seeds, planning new things to grow. I love the whoosh of growth vegetables make in a short period of time.
Crazy as it sounds, even with vegetables I give good looks strong consideration.
The promise of blue-purple pods was all the inducement I needed to give this variety a try, and it’s proved to be a strong grower.
I dipped a few raw ones in hummus yesterday for lunch. Sooo sweet.
It’s a Dutch heirloom reputedly grown for soups, which means allowing the pods to develop peas for shelling and not eating the young pods as I’ve been doing.

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Planted in fall for winter/spring, this year I chose the cool-season vegetables kale, peas, Swiss chard, fava beans, and a few sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) for cutting.
Which is pretty much what I grew last winter too. There’s many other cool-season vegetables I don’t bother with. I could be growing lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts.
The cabbage family vegetables stay fresh for so long, market to table, that I prefer to buy them and use my plot for other things (like blue-podded peas).
The fava beans are just past the stepping stones, halfway up the trellis. (The fava beans are not climbers, but that trellis stays in place year-round.)
Fava beans are a lot of work to prepare for eating (as noted here), but the plants are great for the soil and make a good cover crop if you prefer not to sample the beans.
It’s a legume that loves the cool growing season of our mild winters and one I rarely see in stores, so a half dozen plants always make the cut for a few special meals in spring.
The tall vines in the foreground are the “Blue-Podded Blauwschokkers.

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We consume vast amounts of kale, so a row of these is essential. The last bunch of kale lived well over a year in the garden, and leaves were picked several times a week.
A few sweet peas for cutting in spring is another essential. I bought the plants late in the year, in December, so they haven’t started to climb yet.
I should have started sweet pea seeds in September. Renee Shepherd (Renee’s Garden) has a strong sweet pea listing.
In the past I’ve grown her ‘Winter Elegance’ strain, which crops in the shorter day lengths of early spring, but I don’t see it listed on her site currently.

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The Blauwschokkers pea vines (Pisum sativum) are almost as ornamental as sweet peas. Their flowers are not the typical white, but this two-tone pink/purple.
(It might be appropriate to note here that the ornamental sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus, are poisonous and should never be used in association with food, such as garnish on plates, for example.)

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During a road trip to Northern California, I bought the Blauwschokkers on site in the old bank that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has taken over for their shop in Petaluma, California.
Of course they offer mail order as well, but you really should see their “seed bank” if you’re in the area.

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I’ve noticed that a lot of my fellow growers seem inclined to take the winter off.
We’re obligated to grow year-round or forfeit our plots, so there’s always something growing in every plot, but the enthusiasm just isn’t the same as for the summer season.
But the fall/winter/spring is my very favorite time in the vegetable garden. With just a reasonable amount of winter rain, there’s usually little need for supplemental irrigation.
I love summer vegetables but hate spending time in the heat that ripens them. And lots of times during summer I mess up with crucial irrigation.

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A lot of local nurseries are discounting 2014 seeds, and maybe yours do the same.
Like my Blauwschokkers peas bought in summer 2013, many of the seeds will be perfectly viable for spring/summer 2015, so there’s some good bargains.
A search for “vegetable seeds” will bring up dozens of specialist seed companies, all with tempting lists of the tried-and-true as well as the offbeat and blue-podded.

the French Laundry’s Culinary Garden

One score and seven minutes ago our partners brought forth on this town, a new restaurant, conceived in finesse, and dedicated to the proposition that all food is served soigné.” —
Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry celebrating its 20th anniversary July 6, 2014.

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When my oldest son Mitch traveled to the Isle of Skye off of Northern Scotland just to eat at The Three Chimneys is probably when I first realized he was getting fairly serious about eating good food. For his photography services, he has been known to accept payment in the form of a meal at a favorite restaurant. That right there is a pretty good illustration of the kind of business sense that runs in my family.

Mitch visited The French Laundry over the weekend, about an hour north out of San Francisco in Napa Valley, in the town of Yountville. Mediterranean winter wet/summer dry, zone 9ish, a climate very much to a grape’s liking. I can’t even imagine the pressures involved in running a working kitchen garden that supports a world-class restaurant. You can read more about the process on their Facebook page. The French Laundry was inducted into The Culinary Hall of Fame in 2012. Jacket required.

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The menu for July 6, 2014.

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After sowing some borlotti beans late afternoon in anticipation of rain, I tracked down all the sweet peas in bloom in neighboring plots.
The results of my sweet pea safari:

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And I always stop to admire how Scarlet Flax has woven through some kale.

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A reseeding annual, Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum.’ So is this intentional or a happy accident?
One of the things I like most about reseeders is how they constantly offer new possibilities to consider, like scarlet and blue-green. Just rip it out if it’s not your taste.

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Self-sown sunflowers already in bloom. Reseeders are indifferent to planting guides and timetables.
I was going to wait until late March to start mine. (So many plans for my little 10X10 plot.)

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Sweet peas don’t reseed true to their stunning varieties, so new seed must be bought fresh every season.
Some of the best growing instructions for florist-grade sweet peas can be found at Floret.

mon petit chou

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Members of the cabbage family were especially alluring at my community garden yesterday. No wonder “my little cabbage” is a French expression of affection.

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This dry, sunny winter seems to agree with them.

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Such a good-looking family. Exquisite chartreuse florets of the Romanesco broccoli.

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All photos taken of neighboring gardens. My little patch this winter is sans petit chou.
I’m still traumatized by a run-in with the cabbage moth years ago, but seeing all these so beautifully (and organically) grown gives me courage.

a kale of two cities

America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement.” — Alexis de Tocqueville

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Unlike Dickens’ tale of London and Paris, the two cities under consideration here are yours and Paris. Because by now it’s probably safe to assume that your city, like mine, has been overrun with kale. I’m talking Tuscan kale, lacinato, dinosaur kale, black kale, cavolo nero. Brassica oleracea. In U.S. cities such as Brooklyn and San Francisco, kale is king. But the kale revolution has been having an uphill battle in Paris. Possibly because of kale’s inclusion in the cabbage family, Paris wants nothing to do with a vegetable that they associate with the malodorous boiled dinners of occupied France during WWII.

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Tuscan kale brought home from the community garden in my spiffy collapsible bucket. Sporting good stores sell fishermen a wide selection of these buckets.

Many credit the River Cafe in London for popularizing this ancient Italian green in the mid ’90s. Elizabeth Schneider’s 1986 book “Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide,” also gets credit. Since the end of the 20th century, cities have rapidly fallen under the spell of Tuscan kale, except for Paris.

I would just like to interject my theory behind kale’s stateside popularity, which has become so rampant locally that there’s even stirrings of a backlash against what some consider the tiresome ubiquity of kale on Californian menus. Apart from its undisputed nutritional bonafides, wonderful texture, taste, and versatility ranging from soup, pasta, and salads, as a home grower I have to testify that this vegetable is coming up on its winter anniversary in a couple months. It didn’t bolt, as all brassicas are well known to do, in the heat of August and September. We haven’t stopped picking leaves all spring and summer, and the flavor will only improve as the days grow colder. The return value is phenomenal, since one planting results in a year or more of greens. This amazingly prolific vegetable grows like a short-lived perennial, at least here in Southern California. So my theory is, because it’s constantly available in the garden, it’s constantly on the menu. The only ones not interested in kale in our house are the parakeets, and I haven’t given up on them yet either.

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Back to kale’s progress in Paris. Revolutions do move fast these digitally enhanced days. The charge now to bring kale to Parisian markets and restaurants is being energetically led by an expat from Brooklyn, Kristen Beddard, who blogs at the kale project. I read the article on Ms. Beddard in The New York Times when it appeared September 21, 2013, and four days later received an email from Jessica, a San Franciscan currently in Paris who blogs at Thread and Bones, recounting her adventures in the market stalls of Paris as she hunted for kale to serve dinner guests. Jessica had read the NYT article, too, so was reasonably certain that the American she was standing behind in line at the open market, the one buying up all the kale, had to be Kristen. In fact, our intrepid Jessica had already corresponded with Kristen, soliciting advice on the most likely markets to find kale, so she was able to follow up a tentative email acquaintance with a tap on the shoulder then a hearty handshake, whereupon Kristen thrust two bunches of kale in Jessica’s hands, and a gingery kale salad was back on the menu.

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C’mon, don’t be so French, Peewee. Eat your kale.

We are all kale-eaters now, or soon will be, with Americans in Paris doing their de Tocqueville-inspiring best to bring kale to the markets and tables of Paris.

anatomy of a late-summer road trip

Is there a tinge of desperation in the road trips of late summer? By the end of summer are we stuffing itineraries with an absurd number of places to see in the dwindling opportunities to experience daylight until 8 p.m.? Guilty here. I’ll give a recent example from just this last weekend. And for the similarly desperate, there will be a trail of bread crumbs to follow for potential future road trips for the fall season. By fall I’ll be reconciled to the inevitability of autumn’s shortened days, and any road trips then will undoubtedly be washed in a golden haze of acquiescence to the rhythms of the seasons.

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image courtesy of Thread and Bones

It all began with a 63-foot-long hall in an apartment in the Mission district of San Francisco that could use the services of our 9-foot-long Turkish rug. The one we can’t use at home because of the prodigious shedding capabilities of the corgi. (Even the thinnest pretense for a late-summer road trip will do.) Los Angeles to San Francisco, roughly six hours. I’ve made this trip many, many times and have lived in a couple of the trip’s stops, like Petaluma and San Francisco. Familiarity increases the speed factor, another important consideration for late-summer road trips. My workload was fairly light, so Thursday to Monday were clear. Marty has been working all summer weekends, so it would just be me and my smart phone, a formidable traveling companion that can read to me How The Irish Saved Civilization in between navigating duties. The only question left was:

Before delivering the rug, where would I like to go?

Continue reading anatomy of a late-summer road trip

the first summer dahlias and a freakish summer rain

I moved the dahlias to the community garden this year and am so very glad I did. Just as in my own small home garden last year, the plant is a sprawling mess, but now I don’t have to look at it daily anymore and can pillage the flowers for vases as much as I like. No matter how many vases I own, it’s always this lab beaker that I grab first. Wide mouth, perfect height. The dahlia is ‘Chat Noir.’ I could easily get very serious about a cutting garden and wished I’d sown some ‘Green Envy’ zinnias this year.

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So my little 10X10 plot is producing exactly three things so far this summer: dahlias, kale, and Trionfo Violetto pole beans. Plus a little basil. I’ve never felt compelled to grow every vegetable A to Z in the summer garden. In fact, I’m late this year with tomatoes, just planting a couple earlier in the week. I admit, it’s la-la land’s long growing season that makes this lackadaiscal attitude possible. The community garden’s disease control rule of thumb is no tomatoes/solanaceae crops left in the ground past December, and none of the solanaceae group (aka nightshade family, including potatoes, eggplant) makes it into the compost piles. The down side of that long growing season and lack of winter chill (and isn’t there always a down side?) is the heightened risk of soil-borne pathogens.

Oh, and it rained today, a rare occurrence in a mediterranean climate, where all the rain (all 12 inches of it!) typically comes in the winter months. On the personal water conservation front, an ongoing domestic discussion since the dishwasher broke is which consumes more resources, hand washing or a dishwasher? I’m finding lots of articles like this to support my pro-dishwasher position. All opinions welcome.