A Chainsaw Alternative for the Less Robust Amongst Us.

I am not sure how it happened, but we have a division of labor in our orchard chores and I have evolved into the head orchard pruner.  Most of the time, I prune the trees myself, using a variety of hand tools including pruning shears and loppers. When the going gets tough, I will call in my son or husband.  I am not a large, nor a strong woman, and I also have a variety of aches and pains associated with older age and overuse. At times I have carpal tunnel, shoulder pain, neck pain,.. you get the drift. After a bout of tackling some of our 150 plus citrus and orchard trees everything seems to flare up. And when the branches I want to cut are more than a few inches in diameter, there are long bouts of struggling and a few choice words as I tackle to get them cut with hand pruning saws, loppers, whatever it takes. Because I don’t like to ask for help.

When I finally break down and ask for help, eventually the guys will get out their burly chainsaws and as I stand there pointing out which branches to cut they will make short work of what I have struggled with for far too long. I have always been tempted to get myself a smaller one of those darn chainsaws but they are heavy and expensive and to be honest they scare me. So this orchard pruning struggle has gone on for over 20 years now and it has only gotten worse as I have gotten older and my trees have gotten larger. Sigh….

This week, my son found a solution to my problem that is so exciting I just have to share it. This is what he brought to me (I love that kid!).

sawzill

It is a battery-powered reciprocating saw otherwise known as a sawzall, with a pruning blade.

Check out the diameter of the cut it made in seconds.

example of a cut

This tool is fabulous! It weighs about 7 pounds with the rechargeable battery and it is very easy for me to operate. At a little over 100 bucks for the saw, and another 15 for a pack of the special Diablo pruning blades, it is less expensive than a chainsaw too. I just can’t believe I spent all these years struggling to find this tool. It really will be a lifechanger for me.

Okay, enough sharing for today. I need to go outside and cut some stuff!

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

California Summer Farro Salad

The finished saladCalifornia Summer Farro Salad

This salad showcases a unique method of preparing zucchini for salads by shaving and salting it. Every fresh ingredient in this recipe is in season right now, making this salad a showcase of healthy California summer produce.  Serve California Summer Farro Salad as a light main course for lunch, or add some grilled chicken or fish, or perhaps some cooked dried beans or other legumes for a heavier, higher protein dinner.

For the farro in this recipe I use the 10 minute farro from Trader Joe’s.  I empty the whole bag in 6 cups of boiling water with ½ teaspoon salt and cook it boiling and uncovered for 10-15 minutes until it is tender, then drain it. The whole bag makes about 4 cups, which is the right amount for this recipe.

Unprocessed farro can take a very long time to cook, whereas quick-cooking or pearled farro will take less time to cook and will be less chewy when done. Read the directions for whatever product you plan to use and cook it accordingly.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking the farro for this recipe, add the chopped kale or chard if you are planning to use it.

Ingredients for Salad

  • 4 cups warm drained cooked farro (½ teaspoon salt used in cooking water) with
  • 1 cup of washed chopped greens such as chard or kale.added to the farro during the last 5 minutes of cooking (these greens are optional but add color, flavor and nutritional value)
  • 2  Tablespoons California Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 cups (about 3-4 medium) zucchini, shaved, salted with ¼ teaspoon salt, mixed and drained according to these directions (It will be about 2-3 cups after salting, draining and pressing)
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped fresh tomato
  • 1 cup chopped red and/or green bell pepper
  • ½ cup sliced pitted Kalamata olives
  • ¼ pound low-fat feta cheese, crumbled.

 The salad dressing ingredients:

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (this is the juice of about 2 large juicy lemons)
  • ½ cup California extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large fresh cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped.
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs of fresh mint, finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

Directions:

  • Mix all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
  • Cook the farro (and kale or chard if using) and prepare the zucchini (the zucchini must sit after salting for at least ½ hour)
  •  Once the farro is cooked, drain it and immediately stir in the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Let the farro sit until it is no longer hot. Lukewarm is fine.
  •  Add all the other salad ingredients to the farro.

All the ingredients ready to mixCalifornia Summer Farro Salad Ingredients

  • Pour the salad dressing over the ingredients and mix well. Serve right away, or refrigerate for up to 2 days before serving.

zucchini and farro salad_edited-1A Healthy Sized Serving of California Summer Farro Salad

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

Preparing for the 2013 Summer Garden

For the last few weeks our dining room has been a bit of a mess. It has large south-facing windows, so this time of year it becomes a surrogate greenhouse of sorts. Seeds of our favorite garden annuals from previous years are started in these little Jiffy greenhouses.

Slide29The first plants we start are the slower growing peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Then we will move on to the squash and melons.

Last year we really overdid it with the garden. We planted 30 types of tomatoes and a boatload of eggplant, squash, peppers and melons. A lot of what we grew was just not that great, including heirloom tomatoes susceptible to disease and with poor taste, bitter eggplants, peppers with thin walls…So I made a list of my favorites at the end of the year, and I am doing my best to stick with those this year and keep things smaller.

These are the tomatoes that “made the cut” for replanting again this year :

For the best flavor and reasonable amount of disease resistance for an heirloom I chose:

Slide90For the earliest, most productive and most disease resistant tomato I chose:

Slide87

For the most flavorful, disease resistant and easy to grow hybrid tomato I liked:

Slide85However, I found out you can only buy plants of the Bonnie Original Hybrid tomato. So I planted seeds of a variety called Bonnie’s Best and we will see how that works out.

I like some color in my tomato salads so I like to plant a yellow/orange variety. Last year I had good luck with:

Slide88 I also planted Green Zebra, which has been very productive and can be used successfully as an alternative to tomatillos in green salsa.

Slide89I like to grow a few cherry tomatoes, as they are by far the most productive of any tomato variety. They also can be incredibly sweet, sweeter than any large tomatoes.  My favorites are:

Slide86

I have had a lot of problems with blossom end rot on my paste type tomatoes. Any tips on good varieties for this area are appreciated.

Last year I planted a lot of sweet peppers and only a few made the grade to be planted again this year. These were by far the winners:

Slide91Sweet lipstick is a very productive pepper with thick walls, and when roasted they are very easy to peel. I roasted, peeled and packed zip-lock bags full of them in the freezer. They are great added to pasta dishes, or pureed as a simple sauce to perk up my cooking in the winter.

I also planted this pepper, which is great eaten raw or roasted. They are very large, and have thick, sweet crispy flesh.

Slide92I planted the standard jalapenos, as well as a moderately hot chile called Ancho Gigante, which can be used fresh and green for stuffing or can be harvested when red and used in chile sauce. I use frozen chile sauce all year-long for tacos and posole soup.

We face a lot of challenges growing eggplant in our area. It seems to get bitter and seedy. Since I do not eat a lot of eggplant anyway, I have decided to only grow one type this year. I have had excellent success with:

Slide96The only other seed I have started so far this year is my favorite summer herb:

Slide93

In our garden cucumbers tend to get very bitter. I have been quite disappointed by some of the cucumber varieties we have grown over the years. Cucumbers are also one of those vegetables that you can easily over-plant. What do you do with 50 pounds of cucumbers all at one time? Adrian likes pickle relish but how much can a person eat in a year? I am planning to stick with only two varieties, which I will plant in a month or two when the soil is a bit warmer:

Slide95

Slide94

We have not planted our squash yet, but I do not like watery, seedy summer squash. I also do not want to be picking a 5 pound squash to chuck into the compost bin every few days. Therefore, I am planning to plant the one variety of summer squash I plant every year:

Slide98Romanesco has firm, creamy flesh with minimal seeds.

I have not decided on what type of melons to grow but I will be planting them along with winter squash in a month or two. Every year we grow the old favorite winter squash:

Slide100This year I am also looking forward to growing “Sweet Meat” which is a delicious large, thick-walled, meaty winter squash our friends grew successfully this year. It was so flavorful that we loved it just simply baked, and it was excellent added to soups and curry.

We have poor luck with beans, both fresh green beans and dried beans. I may simply pass on even trying to grow those this year. However, our hot climate seems to be great for growing cowpeas (also known as black-eyed peas) so we may give those another shot this year.

Slide97I was not aware until this year that there are so many different types of cowpeas available. I found a great selection at Baker Creek Seeds which is where I purchased most of my seed. I also got a few from Seed Saver’s Exchange.

I hope you will give a few of these favorites a try. If you are planning a summer garden, now is the time to get those seeds started. Do you have any favorites that you plant every year?

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

The Edible Yard

Growing your own food has so many rewards. It saves money, reduces the carbon footprint of your diet and provides you with a great form of exercise (we call it “exercise with a purpose” in our household).  And of course there is nothing that tastes as good as your own fresh produce harvested right before eating.

We live in the country on 2 acres, so we have a fairly traditional garden plot, as well as a fruit orchard, where we grow much of our own food.

A traditional garden plotOur garden plot in the spring.

Obviously, not everyone has a large plot of land to grow food, and that is not required. To survive on a planet with diminishing resources, at some point in the future, humans will need to develop local food sources. The traditional lawn in the front and back yard will need to be re-purposed. These small plots of urban land can be used to grow food where it is eaten.

An edible landscape does not need to be quite as wild as this front yard in downtown Sacramento.

berries and avo in jungle-1Bananas, avocado, berries and other edibles in a front yard in Sacramento.

Is this an “urban jungle”?

An interesting tidbit about this particular front yard is that a neighbor reported the owner to the city, and they were told that they do indeed have a right to grow edibles in their front yard and it is not a code violation. This is much better than Orlando, Florida where one couple has been told they are not allowed to grow edibles in their front yard. To really appreciate the insanity of this type of pro-lawn regulation check out this U-tube video.

I am proud to say that Sacramento has been recently designated America’s Farm to Fork Capital and a recent tour of urban edible gardens reinforced that well deserved title.

One homeowner showed that ornamental edibles can be tamed with raised beds.

front yard bedsPeppers in a front yard raised bed

For those of us who are not skilled in the carpentry trade, I love the raised beds that can be made with no nails and minimal carpentry skills by using these great recycled steel M-Braces from Art of the Garden, a local company.

art of the garden instant bedsRaised beds made with M-Braces from Art of the Garden

In this front yard, pathways and other hard-scape give an edible landscape a more civilized look.

front yard garden

Ornamental edibles can also be used as borders in a backyard. Citrus is especially attractive used this way.

lemon, mandarin landscape-1A mixed citrus tree (grafts of lemon, grapefruit and orange on one tree) and Satsuma mandarin tree used in a border surrounding a pool.

This gardener replaced their water hogging lawn with a pebble beach, complete with a fire-pit. The irrigated border areas are filled with a mix of edible and ornamental plants. The tall tree in the middle is a peach

fire pitA back-yard beach complete with fire-pit and edible and ornamental border plantings

Some gardeners can get very creative. All of these edibles are in pots, grown on an unused driveway between two houses in East Sacramento:

evelyn yardAvocado, peppers, tomatoes and herbs in an urban driveway.

Another way to conserve space is to go vertical. One of the best materials for going vertical is concrete wire. There are some great ideas for using concrete wire in this article in Mother Earth News Magazine.

My friend Rhonda uses a side yard in her Elk Grove home to garden, and concrete wire keeps her squash and cucumbers in check. She also uses string as a trellis for her “string beans”.

Rhonda's hardware-1Cucumbers and squash growing on a concrete wire and steel trellis. String beans…

Concrete wire can also get a more upscale look as seen in these garden structures at Theodore Judah School in Sacramento.

another use of concrete wire A concrete wire and wood trellis systemconcrete wire arch-1Concrete wire arbor

Bamboo can also be use to train plants vertically in an edible landscape. These tomatoes look very attractive in their planting box with a bamboo trellis support structure.

tomato wallTomatoes in a wooden planter box with bamboo trellis system.

Some gardeners just run out of space. This is a “thinking out of the box” solution.

growing onto roofYes those squash are being trained to grow up on the roof!

Anyone who has grown their own fruit or vegetables has had the experience of harvesting a bumper crop of one item, much more than they can possibly eat. For an urban gardener, sharing with the neighbors can be a solution. A really great idea is a weekly neighborhood produce swap, where everyone brings their excess produce and exchanges. Some groups, like Magowan Farm Stand in Santa Rosa, turn it into a weekly party and potluck. What a great way to socialize with the neighbors and eat locally!

How about you? Have you any great ideas to share about how to grow your own food in a non-traditional space?

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

Food Day 2012: From Garden to Table References

For Food Day this year I presented a lecture again for UC Davis Medical Center Employees and the topic was gardening. I admit, although I have a Satsuma Mandarin farm, I feel like I am still a novice when it comes to gardening. I have no advanced degrees or formal training, and everything I know about growing food is partially due to reading books and looking stuff up online, but mostly due to trial and error. However, there are a few references and resources that I go back to again and again, year after year, and I thought I would use this post to share these references with my readers and those who attended my talk yesterday.

Here is a photo of our fairly traditional garden, taken in the spring.

From the back to the front and left to right you can see raspberries, English peas, artichokes, onions and garlic, “Lacunato” kale, chard, shallots, thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill, mesclum salad mix, “Little Gem” lettuce and “Bloomsdale” spinach.

Almost all of my favorite seeds come from the following 4 companies:

Baker Creek Seed company: http://rareseeds.com/

Renee’s Garden Seed: http://www.reneesgarden.com/

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: http://www.groworganic.com/

Botanical Interests: http://botanicalinterests.com/

These are recommended sources in the Sacramento/ Northern California area for plants and seeds:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply Grass Valley: http://www.groworganic.com/

Eisley’s Nursery Auburn: http://www.eisleynursery.com/

Harmony Farm Supply Sebastopol: http://harmonyfarmsupply.com/

Orchard Supply: http://www.osh.com/

Sacramento Natural Foods Coop: http://www.sacfoodcoop.com/

Whole Foods Market: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

Talini’s nursery East Sacramento: http://www.talinisnursery.com/

Next, my favorite gardening books (I admit, these are oldies and may only be available used). When I started gardening, the web was not available, so I had to look every thing up in books. Can you imagine that?!!“How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons, “Vegetables: How to Select, Grow and Enjoy” by Derek Fell (HP Books) and The Sunset New Western Garden Book.

Of course, nowadays, most of us use the web instead. How lucky are modern beginning gardeners to have so many great online gardening resources available for free? These are some great links:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply   www.groworganic.com

Dave Wilson Nursery  http://www.davewilson.com/

UCDavis Garden Web  http://ucanr.org/sites/gardenweb/

UCDavis Home orchard  http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/

The following download is a full gardening book for beginners:

Vegetable garden handbook for beginners http://ucanr.edu/blogs/food/blogfiles/12709.pdf

This download is a vegetable planting guide. I like it because it has planting dates and harvest dates. Many guides only list planting dates:
UC Davis Plant Science Vegetable Planting Guide:
Even though I like to use the web as a primary gardening resource too now, I have found that when I am pruning fruit trees, I want to take a book out in the field that I can refer to while pruning.  The following are my well worn pruning handbooks:
The Sunset Pruning Handbook, Pruning: How to Guide for Gardeners by HP books, and my all time favorite: How to Prune Fruit Trees by R. Sanford Martin.
Years before he became famous for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” I read “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” by Michael Pollan, and it has remained on my short list of all time favorite books ever since.  It is highly recommended as an entertaining and enlightening read on the challenges and rewards and philosophical dilemmas of gardening. You might call it his “gardener’s dilemma”.
Finally, you will want to know what to do with all that beautiful food you have grown. The next step from planting and harvesting is preservation of the harvest. I highly recommend using a reputable source for preserving food, especially when canning and drying. The following are my trusted sources for food preservation:

National Center for Home Food Preservation: nchfp.uga.edu

Ball Blue Book :

http://www.freshpreservingstore.com/blue-book-guide-to-preserving/shop/229696/

Also Ball has a good website with recipes: http://www.freshpreserving.com/home.aspx

UCDavis: includes USDA Complete guide to home canning pdf download: http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/files/26457.pdf

UC Davis home food preservation and storage website:

http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/UC_PublicationsUC_Home_Preservation_and_Storage_Publications

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

Garlic culture: successes and failures of a novice

Flowers form on the stalks of hard-necked garlic.

Well, my last post clarified my opinion on the reasons why you should know where your garlic is grown. I did not know last year that much of our garlic was coming from China, I just knew that recently I had been very unhappy with the quality of garlic I had purchased in the stores. It was often very dry, sprouting, and green in the center. It seemed “old”.  It also seemed to have gotten quite expensive. I had grown garlic years ago, and remembered how juicy and fresh the cloves seemed when they were first harvested, and I wanted some more of THAT kind of garlic so I decided to plant some again.

The good news is that garlic can be grown almost anywhere. My friends in Wyoming grew garlic successfully, even with their crazy weather. It is all about choosing the right variety. Garlic also is very space efficient, so you do not need much room to grow garlic. In fact, you could probably grow the average American yearly supply of fresh garlic (about 3 pounds) in a few  good-sized pots on your deck. Hopefully, I have motivated you to think about growing your own garlic if you have not done that yet.

We planted our garlic last fall, and began our harvest in mid June.  It has been a long time since we grew garlic successfully, and as a result, there are a few things I had forgotten that I had to “learn the hard way” this year.  I thought I would share with you a few lessons I re-learned this year.

1) Garlic should be planted in the fall. Last year we tried to plant in the spring, and ended up with tiny little heads.

This is a garlic plant in our garden which I photographed this winter

Garlic is one of the crops you just plant and sort of forget about. In cold winter areas you might put a bit of a mulch over it, but for us, we just stick it in the ground, control the weeds and wait until Spring. It is easy to grow and if you pick the right variety, you can grow it almost anywhere.

2) Make sure to plant the garlic cloves with the root (flat end) down and the top (pointed end of the clove) pointing up. It seems obvious, but I gave a beginning gardener friend of mine some cloves to plant last year and she admits now she planted a few of them upside down!

3)  Don’t wait too long to harvest. This is especially important for the garlic that has a thin outer skin with large cloves such as the hard-neck type of garlic.  For example, Spanish Rojo has amazingly large, easy-to- peel cloves, but should be harvested when only a few of the lower leaves are dead.  If you wait until the majority of the top of the plant has died, the skin on the outside will become too thin and the cloves will bust out of their skin, like this:

This garlic was harvested too late and the cloves are separating from the head

A garlic like that cannot be sold, and is not going to last very long either. In general, harvest garlic when only some of the bottom leaves have turned yellow and died.

The two other types of of hard necked garlic we grew, Kilarney and Metechi, took longer to mature and we got decent heads with not as much separation of the cloves as the Spanish Rojo. However the Spanish Rojo cloves were giant and easy to peel, so they definitely are worth growing again.

4) Dig out the garlic heads carefully with a shovel.

Do not try to pull them out by their tops, even if the soil has been loosened. If there is any resistance, especially with an over-ripe head of garlic, the top will come off from the top at the base, like this:

          Top of the garlic separated from the head

This is another garlic that cannot be sold or stored.

5)  When digging the garlic, give a wide berth. Some of the heads of the Spanish Rojo garlic were monsters, much bigger than others, and I ended up nicking some cloves with the shovel.

These cloves of garlic were cut by the shovel while digging the heads out.

This is one more head of garlic that cannot be sold or stored.  I am starting to think homemade garlic powder would be a good use for all of this booboo garlic! I also will try freezing some. Even the longest lasting garlic only stores for 8-9 months max, and I think frozen home-grown garlic would be an improvement over the shriveled-up and green sprouting (Chinese?) garlic left in the the grocery stores at the end of the winter!

6)  After storing your garlic for several weeks in a shaded dry place, clean it up. Rub off the outer dirty skin leaving as much intact skin as possible to protect the cloves. Remove all the dirt from the roots and trim them up if you like. You can also clip off the top of the plant leaving just the bulb. However, I have read that the garlic stores best if you leave as much of the roots and top of the plant as possible.

7) If you grow several varieties of garlic, grow some that are good ” keepers”. When you harvest your crop, know which garlic lasts better in storage and which doesn’t. Use the most perishable garlic first. I grew 5 varieties of garlic this year.

The garlic varieties we grew (from left to right)

Back row:  Metechi, Kilarney, Spanish Rojo (all hard-neck) and not great keepers

Front Row: Silver Rose and Ichilium (both soft-neck) and good keepers

As a side note: supposedly the hard-neck varieties of garlic we grew are said to grow better in places with cold winters. We do not have cold winters here at all, with seldom even a frost, but other than the few over-ripe Spanish Rojo garlic heads, we grew beautiful large heads of garlic successfully.  Since over 80 percent of the commercial garlic grown in the US is grown in California, my guess is most varieties will grow here successfully.

One way to store soft neck garlic is to make a garlic braid. I am very proud of the braid I made with the Ichilium garlic I grew this year. It is the first time I have made a garlic braid. The directions on this website were very helpful.

Ichilium garlic braid

8) Pick out some of the best heads to save for planting in the fall for next year’s crop.  Each clove of garlic will be planted to make a new head of garlic so keep that in mind when you are deciding how much to save. If you notice ANY white fungus on the heads of garlic at harvest, do not save those cloves, and do not reuse that area for growing garlic again.

Overall, we got a good sized harvest, some of which as you can see here.  This cart contains only the Spanish Rojo, but we had 4 other varieties to harvest as well!

All of the garlic was cured in a shaded, dry spot with plenty of air circulation (ie our garage with the garage door open during the day) for several  weeks. Then we cleaned up the heads by rubbing off the dirt, tied them in bunches by variety and stored them on these racks in a cool, dry place.

Garlic bunches on racks for storage

A few nutrition notes:

The health benefits of garlic are still being clarified, but the strongest research so far suggests that garlic has natural compounds that thin the blood. Small blood clots are often the initial insult that leads to a heart attack. Garlic also seems to have anti-bacterial properties although how this works once the garlic is eaten is still unclear. In addition garlic contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects. Studies on the health benefits of garlic have focused on it’s role in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and infectious disease.

How about you? Have you grown garlic successfully? What challenges have you faced? What varieties have grown well, or not, in your area? Feel free to share your comments:

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

My Garlic culture conundrum (or why garlic is like a canary)

It has recently come to my attention that this article was snoped. Please see this link for my response to the snope article including references. While I made a few minor changes, I stand behind the content in this article as it is currently published including the information on how to look for imported (mostly Chinese) garlic when shopping. Although I support what snope is doing, and use them as a reference for truth in the internet myself, in this case I think they took a nuanced complicated subject and tried to make it simple and came up with the wrong conclusion.

photo 1, garlic wm.It started as a simple enough blog post.  This winter I grew garlic successfully for the first time in many years, but in the process of harvesting it I made some mistakes and thought I would share them with my readers.  I had a few pictures, thought it would be fun, something light and simple. I started the blog post, then figured I would look up a bit on the web about garlic culture in California, that type of thing. I walked away from my computer 3 hours later shaking my head and steaming about the degradation and outsourcing of our food supply. Thus my conundrum. Should I let it go, stay with the simple fun blog post, or should I go down the rabbit hole in this post, covering at least a bit of what I gleaned? That is my garlic culture conundrum. Should I tell you why garlic is like a canary  in a coal mine when it comes to the safety and security of our food supply? Well, if you know me by now, you know what decision I made….

Garlic is one of the most common ingredients in a traditional Mediterranean diet. It is an essential component of sauces such as pesto (Italy)  skordalia (Greece), aioli (Southern France), and alioli (Spain), and of course garlic is used liberally in a variety of recipes as a flavoring for meat, fish, poultry, vegetables. legumes, rice, pasta and casserole dishes. Besides olive oil, there is no more ubiquitous ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Throughout history, garlic has played an important culinary and medicinal role in Mediterranean culture.

California has it’s own special garlic culture. The world-famous Gilroy Garlic Festival is held this month on the coast of California, however in truth, most of California’s Garlic is now grown in the Central Valley where land is less expensive and there have been less problems with fungal disease. White rot, a fungal disease that renders soil unusable for garlic production, has been a challenge faced by California growers but much of California’s garlic culture is now threatened by economic forces as well.

Less than 15 years ago, California produced almost all of the garlic sold in the United States.   Now, China produces more than half of the garlic sold in the United States. In the late 90s China began flooding the market with inexpensive garlic, putting California growers out of business. Questions have been raised about the contamination of Chinese garlic with lead, sulfites and other unsafe compounds, as the food safety regulations in China are known to be lax.  Land in California is expensive, and California has some of the most stringent pesticide and food safety regulations in the world, so growing garlic in California is more expensive than growing garlic in China. California farmers just could not compete and in the last decade the amount of California land devoted to growing garlic has been cut in half.

The American consumer has more than doubled their intake of garlic over the same period of time. California garlic has been shown to have a higher sugar content (Brix) than Chinese garlic which is a factor associated with improved taste. I wonder if many consumers even know what good quality garlic is supposed to taste like.

Garlic powder and dehydrated garlic are another significant area of concern as over 75% of the garlic Americans eat is in this processed form. The majority of our garlic powder comes from China. The rapid expansion in our dependence on foreign foodstuffs seems to have left the FDA in the lurch and they are rushing to catch up by expanding their programs for inspection of imported foods. One of the primary reasons for their increased focus on imported foods is their recognition of pesticide and bacterial contamination of foods grown in China in general and heavy metal contamination of Chinese garlic powder in particular. Look on the shelves of your pantry. How much of your packaged food contains garlic, garlic powder or dehydrated garlic? Again, most of this garlic is from China. Even “organic” garlic is often from China, but it appears their organic certification methods are also questionable. Unfortunately, as we are all well aware, the FDA is one of those “big federal programs” slated for budget cuts whenever deficit reduction talks get going. So if you think the FDA is protecting your health in this area, even they admit they are not adequately staffed to do so at this time.

Have you noticed that over the past few years while the quality of garlic in the stores has been especially poor the prices have been very high? I did, which is why I went back to growing my own garlic again. In 2009 a drop in the world supply of garlic, increased demand for garlic in China as an herbal remedy to protect against flu and speculation in garlic by Chinese investors lead to a tripling of the wholesale price for garlic. But there were only half as many California growers to make up the gap. So now we were left with high prices AND poor quality.

What crop will it be the next time?  As more and more of our food production is outsourced to China, Mexico, Chile (and the next new frontier is Africa) due to our demand for cheaper food, regardless of the quality and safety, California farms are closing down and going out of business. California at one time was the primary source of the fruit consumed in America. Now more than half of our fruit is imported. If more and more farms close down, and we can no longer feed our country, what security will we have? We have already seen garlic fall prey to the whims of one country and the shrewd speculations of a few investors.  What will be next? And what will happen as the price of fuel continues to rise and we are dependent upon shipping our food all over the world because we have lost our local productive farms? And let’s not even get into the discussion about the carbon footprint of all of this.

Where is the garlic you eat grown? If you live in the US, hopefully it is grown locally or in California, not shipped all the way from China. One way to tell if your garlic is imported or is US grown is by the roots. American garlic usually has some of the roots left on the bottom, though they may be clipped very close to the base. Due to the agricultural import regulations of many countries exporters of garlic remove all soil (which requires removing every bit of root mass) prior to export. (here are Canada’s regulations for all imported garlic except that from the US) Here is an example of imported garlic. Notice that the root area is actually indented as the roots are carved away completely. Every head will be like this and this is not the same as a few head with roots cut away and some clipped close.

 

chinese-garlic watermarkedImported garlic: bleached white, with all root mass and dirt carved away from the bottom

Here is an example of California grown garlic with the bits of root still attached to most of the heads:California garlic watermarked


California grown garlic, with a more natural color, and root mass still visible on the bottom of most of the heads.

Unfortunately it appears you cannot trust all of the stores to be honest about where the garlic comes from. The garlic shown below was being sold at Sunflower “Farmer’s Market”  in Roseville, CA.  I have been advised by the consumer affairs department at Christopher Ranch garlic, the largest garlic company in the United States, that there are NO commerical American growers that pay the extra expense to have the roots completely removed from all of their garlic as it is not legally required for American grown products. Don’t you just love the little USA sign next to this garlic that has been processed in the way that only imported garlic is processed?

Garlic processed in a manner associated with imported garlic only (all root material removed from every head), but marked as “Product of the USA” . Photo taken at Sunflower Market in Roseville, California.

I wonder if there are other fruits and vegetables imported from China, Mexico or whatever, that are also mislabeled. With garlic one can see the difference, but what about green beans, zucchini, peppers? I did email the USDA regarding my finding at Sunflower, but I got no response, so I am curious as to whether anyone actually enforces the Country of Origin labeling laws. If you are paying extra for American or California Grown produce, it seems it is not clear that you are always getting what you are paying for. This is yet another reason to buy from a local farm, CSA or a real “farmer’s market”.

Well. now that I have gotten THAT off of my chest, I would like to get back to the subject at hand, which was originally my garlic culture successes and blunders. However, I have exceeded by far the recommended length for one blog post. Rather than overwhelm you with so much to think about at one time, today I will let you ponder all the reasons why you really should find a source of local garlic, or better yet grow your own. In a few days check here again for my next blog post about my tips on growing garlic.

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

All The Best-Dressed Apples are Wearing Pantyhose This Year

Did you know that the  Environmental Working Group lists apples as the fruit that is most contaminated with pesticide residues? Here is the link to the environmental working group dirty dozen list.

If you have ever grown apples organically, you may know why they are so contaminated with pesticides. Worms love apples, and without an ongoing spraying program many of the apples will be loaded with worms. Organic sprays are not all that effective, and because they degrade rapidly, they need to be applied almost every week to keep the worms in check. That is a challenge from both a time and cost standpoint, and even many organic sprays are nasty if you get them in your face or on your skin.  Spraying weekly is just no fun. I have never been able to keep up with it.

My favorite apple is a late harvest Granny Smith apple. When harvested in November they are big and beautiful with a delicious sweet-tart tang and a nice crispy texture. However, the longer the apple stays on the tree, the more likely it will fall prey to coddling moth worms. Often by the time I am ready to harvest the Granny Smith apples only a few are left that are free of worms.

Last year I started a more comprehensive program of bagging apples. I used Japanese apple bags that I had purchased somewhere years ago.

Late harvest Granny Smith apple with the Japanese apple bag still attached

Most of the bagged apples were worm free, and they were big and beautiful. In the past I also have used unbleached wax paper bags. I cut two slits on the bottom of them to allow for drainage and twist-tied them onto the tree. These also worked well.

Young Granny Smith apple in an unbleached wax paper bag

(note scissor cuts at the bottom for drainage)

This year I decided to bag even more apples so I looked for apple bagging options at the place where I buy all of my organic gardening supplies: Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.   This is what I found on the shelf.

Apple bags from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

When I opened up the bag, this is what I found inside.

Little pantyhose feet for my apples! Nice. I like the fact that they are very lightweight, and any water will immediately evaporate.They are less than 10 cents apiece, and I am pretty sure I can reuse them at least once or twice. They are made in America too, and since so few of us females are wearing pantyhose anymore, it is nice to know there is another use for those American pantyhose factories!

I got to work right away putting those little pantyhose on my apples. If you want to give this a try, here are a few tips. First of all, you want to get the bags on as soon as you can, but if the apples are too small they will break off the stem. It is a balancing act getting the timing right. I waited perhaps a week too long, and the apple coddling moths had already been at their dirty little job. Here is a particularly nasty example of their work: This is what the worm leaves behind after digging it’s way into my apple.

Yuck! Nasty coddling moth worm damage to my nice Granny Smith apple

Obviously, you do not want to bag an apple that already has a worm in it. Sometimes it is tricky to tell because when they go into the stem end it can be hidden. This example of an apple still has the remains of the flower attached at the end.

Apple with flower remains

Once that falls off the end will still be brown. Unfortunately if a worm goes into that area, it is hard to tell that a worm is in the apple.

Flower end after flower has dried. If you scrape this and there is sticky brown goo in it, the worm has already entered your apple. 

I have found that if the end is sticky, with any of that brown goo that was so clearly illustrated in my nasty coddling moth example above, there is likely a worm in the apple and you should skip bagging that one. You may miss a few, but if you start early enough in the season, most of the apples should be free of worms. Some growers will spray the apples once or twice early in the season before they bag them, which is a good idea but I never seem to manage to get around to that.

To bag the apples, you first must isolate one apple on each stem. This thinning will also give you huge apples, as all the energy is directed to only one large fruit, rather than multiple small apples. Here is a cluster of apples and as you can see, there is at least one fruit that is damaged already.

  This apple is the first to go

Examine the fruit carefully, and choose the most perfect apple in the bunch to bag. Carefully break off all of the other fruit at the stem. Also remove any extra foliage in the area around the apple you will be bagging.

Breaking off all except one of the apples in the cluster

If the apples have coddling moth worms in them already,  you do not want to give them a home in your compost pile. I usually put them in a plastic bag, and let them sit in the sun for a few weeks. Then I compost them. Hopefully the worms have been cooked by then.

After removing all of the excess apples, you will have one nice isolated apple on a decent sized stem, ready to bag.

Apple ready to be bagged

I like the bags to be held on tight, because I do not want earwigs making their homes inside of the bags. To make sure they are on tight, I take a roll of garden twist-ties and cut the roll in one place.This gives me a bunch of short lengths of twist tie to take out with me to use in the bagging process.

Cut twist-ties for bagging apples

Slip the little stocking over the apple carefully.

Dressing the apple

Pinch the end of the sock around a thick place in the stem, and wrap it (not too tightly, leave room for the stem to grow) with the twist-tie.

Applying the twist-tie

I like to wrap it around a few times, but that is probably not necessary.

Securely attached apple bag

The perfectly dressed apple

I have 2 apple trees, a Granny Smith and a Winesap. I have found that the Granny Smith has longer stems and more loose bunches and thus is easier to bag than the Winesap.  I will give you an update at the end of the season to let you know how the apples turned out but I am very optimistic about these fashionable new pantyhose for apples!

Update on this post:

Although bagging with the pantyhose was fairly effective, I am not sure it was any better than using the undyed (brown) wax paper sandwich baggies from natural foods store. Just make a few cuts in the end if the wax paper bag with scissors for the liquid to drain out. It seemed that some other biting type insects (probably curculio) were able to pierce through the pantyhose more easily than the wax paper bags so although there were no worms in the apples they did have other areas of damage.

Because it is so time consuming to put on the bags, and I am a lazy gardener, spraying with Kaolin Clay (brand name Surround) has become my preferred method for protecting a variety of our fruit and our olives from insect and sunburn damage. Although it is not 100 percent effective, and admittedly not as effective as bagging for the coddling moths, it works for controlling a variety of insects on many of our trees. In addition, it can be used when the fruit is still to small to bag. The combination of Surround early in the season and bagging later would be probably the most effective of all. Here is a post from the Holistic Orchard Network discussing use of Surround in apple orchards.

Have you had any experience with bagging or use of Kaolin Clay in your apple trees? Is so, please feel free to share your comments below.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

The Rocky Mountain Locavore: Gardening, Cooking, Eating and Drinking in Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming

Every gardener has their complaints about the weather and how it thwarts their best efforts to grow as much variety as possible. My sister has challenges with the weather occasionally being too cool to ripen tomatoes in her mild Sonoma County wine country climate. 100 miles away, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, we complain that the summers are often so hot in August that all of our summer vegetables stop producing for a time. However, very few gardeners face the climactic challenges that my friends Laurie and Tom faced when they moved from Sacramento, California to Cody, Wyoming. Our recent visit there was a lesson in resiliency in growing and eating locally.

Cody is in USDA zone 4, with an average annual winter extreme low temperature of minus 20 degrees. Their last frost date in the Spring is sometime in mid-May, and the first frost is sometime in mid-September, giving them a growing season of a maximum of about 4 months for any frost sensitive fruits and vegetables. Historically, freak freezing temperatures have been recorded at least once for every month of the year except July. Dry winds blow much of the time, and the humidity is extremely low. These are challenging conditions for a gardener.

This is the spot where our friends grew their outdoor garden last year. The garden was tilled and ready to plant when we arrived on May 6.

The Wyoming garden plot ready to be planted

While we were there my husband Adrian helped Tom plant some onions. The potatoes and garlic were already in the ground in another spot. The garlic had been planted in the fall where it had been growing under a thick layer of mulch.

When you are fond of Mediterranean climate foods, sometimes you get creative in an attempt to grow your favorite treats. Here is Tom in the greenhouse and yes, in addition to the tomatoes, strawberries, and artichokes, those are fig trees in the greenhouse.

Watering the plants in the greenhouse

The strawberries from the greenhouse were the sweetest strawberries I have ever eaten. So far, the indoor fig harvest has been small.  They planted just about every variety they could find, and this year the trees with the largest fruit set are: Peter’s Honey, Tarantella, Chicago Hardy, Desert King and Neverella. They will transplant the artichokes to the garden soon.

They are still debating whether to keep the tomatoes in the greenhouse all summer or try to move them out to the garden at some point. Last year, the tomatoes were in the garden when they had an early freeze in the beginning of September so they had to pull up all of the plants with the tomatoes attached, hang them in the barn, and gradually pick the tomatoes from the plants as they ripened. They also enjoyed plenty of fried green tomatoes.

You may remember my last post about my measly bean harvest shown below:

My sad little bean harvest from last year

Faced with my own bean-growing disabilities despite living in the “fruit and vegetable capitol of the United States”,  their dried bean harvest was awe-inspiring to me. This is what they had left this spring after eating their home-grown beans for much of the winter:

Wyoming heirloom bean harvest

Take a look at all the varieties of heirloom beans they were able to grow in Wyoming:

Vermont Cranberry

Tiger Eye

Scarlet Runner

Mitla

Marfax

Limelight Lima

King of the Early

Kinearly

Jacob’s Cattle

Gaucho

Cannelini

Agate Pinto

All of the beans above are bush beans. They also grew one type of pole bean successfully:

Gold of Bacau Pole Bean

Most of the bean seeds were purchased from Fedco seeds .

They also grew an unusual type of garbanzo bean that you can pop:

Hannan pop garbanzo bean

One evening we enjoyed the Pizza Tom cooked in the wood-fired brick oven.

Tom loading pizza into the brick oven.

Pizza in the wood fired brick oven

After the pizza was cooked beans were put in the still hot oven.

Laurie uses a bean pot for the beans. She covers the beans with about 2 inches of water and bakes them in the covered pot in the brick oven until the beans are tender.

Bean pot in the brick oven.

The Marfax beans were cooked simply this way, with minimal seasonings. They were delicious reheated and served the next day with tortillas and salsa.

Wood oven roasted Marfax beans

They also used the brick oven for baking bread several times while we were there.

Chickens are also being raised for both meat and eggs.

Laurie feeding the chickens

In California, I have been on mushroom hunts in the North Coast, and everyone is lusting after the elusive King Boletes, otherwise known as Porcini mushrooms. Collecting even one of these mushrooms in considered a prize. Laurie and Tom have found fields of boletes while riding or hiking in the hills of Wyoming. These were harvested and dried and stored for later use.

Dried Wyoming King Boletes mushrooms

The boletes made a great sauce for some delicious local lamb one evening for dinner. Locally grown lettuce for salad and home-grown potatoes which had been stored over the winter completed the meal. After dinner the lambs are also a source of entertainment.

“Little Richard” the baby lamb

Mama lamb thinks baby is a pillow

Prior to moving to Wyoming, Tom made some killer red wines from California Zinfandel and Barbera grapes.  Unfortunately, grapes do not grow well in Zone 4, so his grape fermentation projects were put to a halt. Adhering to the code of eating locally, he continued to ferment grains, which grow well in Wyoming. Fermented grains are beer, and Tom has made some great batches of beer over the years. However, recently he decided to take it to the next level, by opening a licensed distillery and using locally grown wheat to make spirits.

The distillery

The silos to the left of the distillery hold the locally grown wheat which is fermented in open top fermentation tanks.

Fermenting wheat

The wheat mash is then pumped into the still.

The mash inside of the still

Here is a photo of Tom with the American made still, purchased from Vendome. in Kentucky. As the mash heats, the volatilized alcohol rises up the tall distillation column in the back of the still.

Tom and the still

The condensed distillate is then separated by Tom into 3 categories, heads, hearts and tails, in the tank shown below. The decision of what constitutes the “hearts”, which is the final product, is the art and science of the master distiller.

The separation tank with the three sections for heads, hearts and tails

The final spirit is then siphoned into oak barrels for aging. Here you can see Tom topping off the barrels with a funnel. Note that the spirit is completely clear when added to the barrel. The golden color of aged distilled spirits such as whisky is imparted into the product during the barrel aging process.

Siphoning whisky into the barrel

Finally, the barrels are stored in a barrel house for aging.

The Barrel House

While we were there, some of the first batches of Single Track Spirits all wheat whisky were fermented, distilled, siphoned into oak barrels and tucked away in the barrel house.

The first 7 barrels of Single Track Spirits Wheat Whisky safely tucked into the barrel house

I returned home from Wyoming to my own gardening challenges. The branches of the apricot trees that had a promising fruit set on them looked like this when I returned.

Dead apricot branch

It looks like I will go without apricots again this year. However, our citrus trees seem to have experienced a substantial fruit set, and the lemon branch looked like this when I looked at it today.

Lemon branch: Each one of those green nubbins will eventually be a lemon

I thought of my friends in Wyoming, who have managed to eat locally despite their numerous climactic challenges. Eating locally means using what you have and using it well. In my case it reminds me of the old adage:  “When you have lemons, make lemonade.”  In the case of  the resilient Wyoming Locavore, you might substitute: “When you have wheat, make whisky” !

© 2012. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

Roasted broccoli soup with cheddar crisps

When you grow a garden it sometimes seems that all the vegetables or fruits become ripe at one time. Anyone who has grown tomatoes or zucchini in the summer is familiar with this predicament. For many of us, this is the time to can, freeze, dry, or in some other way preserve the bounty of our harvest. The winter garden can be just as singularly prolific: broccoli raab one week, kale the next, broccoli after that.

If this head of broccoli sits on the plant too long it will go to flower and will no longer be edible.

Certainly one can eat the same vegetable night after night for dinner, and believe me, we do.  We have had roasted broccoli for dinner at least 4 nights in the past week.  However, a little variety is always appreciated, and nothing uses up a windfall of vegetables like soup. Since I like the sweetness that comes to broccoli when it is roasted, I decided to try a roasted broccoli soup, and I was quite happy with the results. Admittedly the color was not quite as fresh and green as a soup made with fresh broccoli, but the subtle sweet flavor made up for the army fatigue hue and a nice crispy yellow cheddar garnish helped to brighten up the color and boost the flavor.

The broccoli can be cut up into very large pieces for this recipe. No need to be very particular about it as it will be blended up into the soup at the end.

For 4 cups of cut up broccoli which should make 4 generous servings you will also need:

¼ of a large or ½ of a small onion cut into rough chunks

2 whole cloves of garlic peeled

1 small or ½ large potato,  peeled

2 Tablespoon of California extra virgin olive oil

32 ounces of chicken broth.

For the cheddar crisps have ready 4-6 ounces of low-fat cheddar cheese for the above recipe quantities.

Start by roasting the broccoli, onion and garlic.  Pour 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a roasting dish, add the broccoli, the onion and the garlic and mix it around with your hand until it is all coated with the oil. Then bake it in a 400 degree oven, stirring once every 5 minutes, until it is lightly caramelized and browned. This should take about 20 minutes.

As you can see the broccoli, onion and garlic above have some nice caramelized color to them which will give some great flavor to the soup.

While the broccoli is roasting, chop your potatoes in some large rough chunks. No need to be too particular about it as they will also be blended up into the soup.

Once the broccoli is cooked add it to the pot along with the potato pieces and the chicken broth.

Broccoli, potatoes, onions and garlic in the pot with chicken broth.

Now bring the whole mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft.

While the soup is cooking, make the cheddar crisp garnish. Following this link to my recipe and directions for the cheddar crisps. After they are made and cooled break them into rough pieces to use as the garnish.

Crumbled Cheddar Crisps

Once the soup is cooked thoroughly, which should take about 20 minutes or more, it will need to be pureed. I did this with my new Vita-Mix Blender which was a Christmas gift from my son and my husband.

Roasted broccoli soup in my new Vita-Mix blender

Wow, did it make the soup smooth and creamy! I started the blender on a low speed, then gradually ramped up to the higher speed and it sounded like an airplane taking off!

If you use a regular blender jar, make sure to cool the soup a bit before blending it and leave an opening in the top for the air to get out or it will explode on you! Another good way to puree soup is to use and immersion blender. You just place it in the pot and puree the soup right there.

This is the soup in a bowl after being pureed.

After you puree the soup you will need to heat it back up before you serve it. You should also add salt and pepper to taste at this point. If you like a creamier soup you can add milk, or half and half or cream. However, I tried that and found that I preferred this more full flavored version without any dilutions.

Serve the soup piping hot in a bowl with the cheddar crisps crumbled over the top right before serving.

Roasted Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Crisps

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com