Monday, April 30, 2012

Fava Bean Spring Salad


Last spring I wrote a post about eatingand growing favabeans and included three recipes: a soup, a fava puree, and fava crostini. Those are all delicious, but in that post I mentioned that my favorite way to eat fava beans is in a simple salad. Here is that recipe.

The tender spring fava beans are wonderfully buttery -  we grow them every year in our suburban garden and watch the pods swell with great anticipation. In our family, the favorite way to eat them is to make a simple but delicious warm salad by adding fresh chopped tarragon from the garden, diced red onion and cooked new potatoes. A lemony dressing (of course!) is the perfect finish.

Fava Bean Spring Salad
You Will Need:
1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (about 1 lb fava bean pods)
1 cup cubed new potatoes
¼ cup diced red onion
1-2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (or parsley or basil)

Prepare the Fava Beans:
Shell the fava beans out of the pods while you heat water and boil the potatoes until they are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add the shelled fava beans to the boiling potatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes until the fava beans are tender. The fava beans may be different sizes, so test a big one. Make sure the potatoes are also thoroughly cooked. Drain the potatoes and favas, and let them cool.

Mix and Serve:
You can serve the salad warm or chilled. To serve, mix in the diced onion and chopped tarragon, and toss with the dressing. Mound onto tender lettuce leaves or other salad greens, if desired. This salad keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Serves 2-4.

Lemon Mustard Dressing
Whisk together:
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard, such as Maille
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ; add more oil to taste as needed

Growing Fava Beans
Fava plants like cool weather and they do well grown over the winter in our temperate coastal California climate, and they tolerate frost. I plant them in October for edible beans beginning in April. In California they are also planted in early spring for a crop in the summer along the cooler coast in the north-central area.

They are very popular used as a soil-building cover crop where they are turned under into the soil after flowering, before the beans set. But we love to eat them, so we use the harvested plants as a green manure to add to our compost pile.

We also let a few pods dry on the stalks to use for next season's seed. It's a win - win. 
See my previous fava bean post for more.

This post was published on Eat Drink Better.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Your Edible Garden as Wildlife Habitat


To have a wildlife friendly garden, you don’t necessarily have to plant only native plants. And I’m not talking about the big critters, such as deer and raccoons, but the small and even tiny wildlife that really count in the garden ecosystem: bees, butterflies, wasps, and other beneficial insects, plus soil organisms, birds, lizards, and frogs. These are the “boots on the ground” for a healthy organic, pesticide and herbicide free garden.

Here are some guidelines to help make your garden a thriving ecosystem where you can harvest your veggies too.
Fremontia and pyracantha attract bees and birds, and provide habitat for nesting

Plan for Diversity: Use Edibles, Natives, and Ornamentals

In her excellent book, The Habitat Garden Book, Wildlife Landscaping for the San Francisco Bay Region, author Nancy Bauer recommends using a simple and flexible planting formula of one third each native plants, edibles, and ornamental plants. With a little research you can identify attractive flowering and fruiting plants native to your area that do well in suburban and urban landscapes, and ornamental plants that encourage pollinators and other beneficials.

In our garden (above) a Fremontia or California Flannel Bush, is a favorite with bumble bees, and the Pyracantha behind it attracts honey bees with profuse white flowers.  Birds love it for the dense cover and berries it provides in the winter.

Leveraging Your Edibles

After I learned that many culinary herbs are well loved by different types of bees, I let my herbs go to flower, including parsley, (top photo above) which attracts insect predators. You can use this to your advantage in the garden. If you prefer to harvest herbs before they flower (for better flavor) plant enough so that you can let some go to bloom. Some of the favorite flowering herbs for bees are oregano, thyme, sweet marjoram, parsley and basil.

Many edible flowers are also great for companion planting among your vegetables (below).

Edible flowers: calendula, nasturtium, chives, and borage

Create Habitat

Wildlife needs food, water, and shelter. Shrubs and trees attract birds that will control the insect population, and if you provide fresh water in birdbaths, they’ll move in almost instantly. We found that removing our lawns and replacing them with mulched areas was a huge bird magnet. They love to scratch around for bugs in the mulch, and take dust baths in the bare patches of soil. Lizards appreciate having ground cover in a rock garden or a small brush pile, and they'll eat their share of insects. Butterflies like very shallow water (a saucer with stones) or a mud puddle to drink from.

As Bauer points out, an overly tidy garden has less wildlife habitat. Leave some leaves on the ground for a natural mulch that decomposes and enriches the soil and gives small creatures a home.

Take Time to Plan

You don't have to get it done all at once, but you can gradually transform your garden into your very own wildlife sanctuary and enjoy watching nature in action, up close and personal.

This post was also published on Eat Drink Better

Photos: Patricia Larenas

Monday, April 23, 2012

Edible Garden Photo Essay

In this photo essay I want to share some special images from my ediblegarden. I spent Earth Day working in my garden and as always I was inspired by the beauty of our edible plants.

I can't think of a better way to honor our planet than to take time to appreciate and cherish its natural beauty, and that may be as nearby as our own backyards. It's worthwhile slowing down to savor the the unexpected treasures we find there waiting for us, every day.

Mourning doves built a nest in our leafy grape arbor and stayed all summer. It’s a bonus that our organic garden is safe haven that attracts wildlife.

Winter squashes always amaze with their gorgeous textures, colors, and enormous diversity. This summer I'm excited about growing GuatemalanBlue Banana and Stella Blue Hokkaido. Check heirloom seed sellers for unusual varieties to grow.

This Lemon Cucumber and Cranberry Bean both trellised up our tall Jerusalem Artichokes last summer. The trio seemed very happy growing together!

Violet artichokes (Violetto shown above) are truly dramatic and stunning, especially the first time you see them on the huge bushy plant.

Scarlet Runner Bean flowers are showy and beautiful climbing up on a trellis and can be grown in a container, as in the photo above. I love climbing beans and grow them on pole teepees or trellises every year.

May you have a happy Earth Day every day!

This post was also published on Eat Drink Better.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Conversations With the Land: A Farmer's Thoughts on Agribiz

Jim VanDerPol is a farmer- writer who writes with clarity and skill about how agribusiness has changed not only our relationship with the land and our food, but how our sense of community and connection to one another has been displaced as well.

He sums up our current state:
“Agriculture is a human endeavor. We have forgotten this, or have allowed our fascination with our crackpot economy to drive it from our minds”.
He has chosen to keep his farming operation small, graze his livestock, and to think deeply about the role of Nature in farming.

I recently reviewed his lovely book:  Conversations with the Land, Jim VanDerPol, No Bull Press, 2012.

Read my full review at Eat Drink Better

 Photo: Patricia Larenas

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Braised Artichokes in White Wine

As I wrote in my previous post, spring kicks off artichoke season, and although I love them best just boiled and served with a dipping sauce of lemon and olive oil,  this recipe I adapted from Alice Water’s book, The Art of Simple Food is quickly becoming a favorite. It’s uncomplicated and really satisfying for artichoke lovers. It's an easy recipe for delicious artichokes simply braised with white wine and a few aromatics for flavor.

For this recipe I used  my beautiful purple Violetto artichokes right out of my garden, but any type will be tasty cooked this way.

You Will Need
2 Medium or large artichokes, green globe or other type
1 Small onion, diced
2 Cloves of garlic, or 2 stalks green garlic
2 - 4 Sprigs of fresh thyme (Lemon Thyme is extra good in this)
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup water
Extra virgin olive oil
1 Lemon, cut into wedges

Makes 2 - 4 servings

Saute the Onions and Garlic
Dice the onion and trim the green garlic by removing tough outer leaves. Slice it lengthwise in quarters. Rinse the sprigs of thyme and pat dry.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wide heavy bottomed pot (you’ll use the lid later). Add the onions, garlic, and sprigs of thyme. Saute over gentle heat until they are soft, being careful not to burn, about 5 minutes.

Prepare the Artichokes
While the onions and garlic are sautéing, prepare the artichokes by rinsing well under cold water. Cut the top third of the artichokes off with a sharp knife, and remove the tough outer leaves of each artichoke by snapping them off.

How many leaves should you remove?
Here's the thing: you can leave some of the large leaves on, or remove them until you reach the tender light green leaves in the center. It's a matter of preference. The tough leaves will have to be eaten as finger food. If you prefer, use only the tender center of the artichoke, which can be eaten with a knife and fork. I can’t bear to waste perfectly edible leaves, so I don’t mind having to pick off the tough leaves with my fingers to eat the meaty base of each leaf, one by one.

Trim the stems by peeling off the stringy surface layer. Next, cut the artichoke down the middle lengthwise, and cut each half once again so it’s in wedges. For large artichokes you can cut them again (into eights).  Scrape out the choke with a spoon (or carefully cut it out with your knife) or remove it after cooking.

As you work, rub the cut sides with fresh lemon juice so that they won’t turn brown.

Braise the Artichokes
After the onions and garlic are soft, add the artichokes (cut sides down) to the pan and cook for a few minutes (3 – 5 minutes). Add the water and wine and cover the pan with the lid. Cook gently until the artichokes are tender through the thickest part at the base (about 10- 15 minutes).  Check them at 10 minutes to make sure there is still some liquid left- if needed add a bit more water or wine. They should be moist and have a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce left when done.

Serve and Enjoy
Serve the braised wedges by spooning the onions and sauce over them, and with wedge of lemon. This is wonderful as a side dish or an appetizer, either warm or cold. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Add fresh fava beans or freshly shelled peas to the sauté when adding the artichokes; use sliced leeks instead of onion.

See my recipe for spring artichoke salad.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Mystery of Artichokes


The Italians are famous for growing an incredible diversity of violet heritage artichokes, from Violetta di Chioggia and Purple of Romagna, to Romanesco Italian Purple. And they are rightfully very proud of this diversity. I’ve never seen any of these in any US market, even in California, so I decided to try growing them myself. 

Besides being tasty and tender, the purple varieties are stunningly beautiful, especially as they develop on the plant. Artichokes are commonly propagated by dividing an established plant. They are not reliably grown from seed. I learned firsthand why that is: the seeds don’t grow true to the parent plant. My mystery artichoke (photo above) came from a packet of Purple of Romagna seeds that I grew and planted in my garden. I knew that the results might vary, but I couldn't resist giving it a try from seeds.  

Some of the seeds grew into thornless Purple of Romagna, and some grew into spiny plants with very long sharp thorns on the slender, dark purple artichoke. But I'm not sorry I tried, because the spiny artichokes are visually dramatic (see photo above) and add to my collection. They are also great for eating.

I suspect my Violetto is the same as Purple of Romagna

An international symposium on the artichoke and its relatives is going on as I write this, in Viterbo Itay, organized by the International Cynares Project.  A study conducted in Italy that suggests that many of their artichokes are actually the same cultivar, they just have different names, as they are typically named for the region or city in which they are grown. This makes sense, and I suspect the Violetto I planted as a seedling from a nursery may be the same as the Purple of Romagna I grew from seed.  I'll keep researching artichoke varieties, but I also love the mystery. 

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Spring Artichoke Salad

Green Globe, my violet mystery artichoke, and Violetto

 If you can’t grow your own artichokes, look for very fresh, young artichokes to make this raw artichoke salad. It will surprise you with its delicate nutty flavor. I'm lucky that I live in a near-perfect climate for growing my favorite vegetable!

Besides abundant cheery flowers, spring brings tender artichokes and a chance to experiment with new recipes. I’m growing at least four different types: Green Globe, Violetto, Purple of Romagna, plus a mystery artichoke that is dark violet and full of long sharp thorns.

All of them are tasty and the plants are beautiful, lush, and elegant – perfect for an edible landscape.  And it’s fun to have a variety to try out in recipes. But if you can’t grow your own, look for the freshest young artichokes that you can find.

A simple salad of raw artichoke, arugula, and shaved Parmesan cheese

You Will Need
1 Medium very fresh artichoke per person, Green Globe or other type
1 Lemon
Salad greens: lettuce, arugula, or mixed baby greens
Extra virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese, shaved

Prepare the Artichokes
Prepare the artichokes by rinsing well in cold water. Remove the small leaves around the base of each artichoke by snapping them off. Cut the top of the leaves off with a sharp knife to about one and a half to two inches from the base, and remove tough outer leaves until you reach the tender light green leaves in the center.

Cut the stem off at the base, cut the peeled artichoke down the middle lengthwise, and slice each half very thinly lengthwise. Do a taste test at this point to make sure it’s not bitter (if it tastes bitter, saute in olive oil for several minutes). Toss the slices with fresh lemon juice in a bowl so that they won’t turn brown, then drizzle with olive oil.

Serve and Enjoy!
Arrange the salad greens on individual salad plates and mound the artichoke slices on top of the greens. Sprinkle with kosher salt and top with shaved Parmesan cheese, if desired. This light salad makes a great first course for a spring supper.

Read more more about how to grow artichokes.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Using a Cold Frame to Start Your Summer garden

You can build your own or buy a cold frame that is a mini-greenhouse

Using a cold frame is a fantastic low-tech way to start your seeds for a summer vegetable garden ahead of the summer/spring growing season.

I mentioned using a cold frame in my previous posts, How to Grow From Seeds and Growing and Transplanting Seedlings.  A cold frame can be used in different ways and will give you more flexibility in starting your plants for a summer vegetable garden. Even if you have a long growing season, you'll have your yummy veggies on the table earlier in the summer than if you wait to sow your seeds directly in the soil.

What is a Cold Frame?
Cold frames are a great low-tech way to create a protected mini-environment for cold sensitive plants. They can be made with wooden sides, with a glass lid using old windows, or with fiberglass or plastic (polycarbonate or acrylic) sheets to let in sunlight. Some are made entirely of plastic or glass, like a small greenhouse. The top is movable for venting, because cold frames will heat up quickly (think of how fast your car heats up with all the windows rolled up). You will need to prop the top open varying degrees, and it’s also helpful to be able to remove it. They can be set on bare ground over a planting bed, or on paved areas. They are generally small for home use, about 4 to 6 feet long, 2 to 3 feet wide, and 1-2 feet high.

My cold frame is a Juwel BioStar 1500 with polycarbonate panels, and beagle proof!

Managing the Cold Frame Environment
Place your cold frame in an area that gets the most hours of direct sunlight. On sunny days you’ll have to be very careful to prop the cold frame’s top open so that your plants (especially tender young seedlings) don’t dry out or get damaged by too much heat. You can start to acclimate your seedlings to ambient temperatures by propping the lid open just an inch or two at first on cold days, then wider as it gets warmer.

I leave it closed up at night, and prop the top open (or remove it) when the sun starts to hit the structure, depending on the air temperature. If it’s below 60° F and cloudy I leave the top on, but propped open. At 60° F and above I’ll remove the top until the sun sets, then put it back on for the night. For daytime temperatures on in the 40's and lower you may just leave it closed. High humidity could cause problems fungal diseases, but if temperatures are cool, it’s less likely.

Check your young plants for moisture at least every day, and more often if the cold frame is warm. If you are germinating seeds, remember that they have to remain evenly moist at all times.

Save $$ by Growing Your Own
If you like growing vegetables from seed I think you'll discover as I did, that a cold frame is a fantastic way to have nursery-quality seedlings ready for your summer vegetable garden when planting time rolls around.

 This post was also published on Eat Drink Better.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke

Monday, April 2, 2012

What is Good for Bees is Good for Your Garden

The Pervasive Problem of Pesticides
 I spoke recently with Mace Vaughan, the Pollinator Program Director for the Xerces Society, about the grave issue of the effect of pesticides on bees, both wild and domesticated (honey bees).  You can read that post here.  My post was mainly focused on the neonicotiniods in agriculture, but Vaughan pointed out that their use by home gardeners is a serious problem as well.

The main problem (besides using them at all) is that there is no warning label alerting the gardener to the dangers to pollinators and other beneficial organisms in your garden. Gardeners who think it's necessary to use pesticides on their roses, for example, may have no idea that they are potentially killing bees and butterflies. Furthermore, pesticides and herbicides are usually used as a preventative, even when there may be no pest problem.

My personal experience is that roses are actually very hardy plants. Our home had over 20 rose bushes when we bought it about ten years ago, and we never pampered them. Most did very well and gave us years of incredible blooms, with no sprays at all- just yearly pruning and minimal feeding. We've gradually replaced most of the roses to make room for edibles, but I kept a few to enjoy their beauty, and if I use them for eating, I know they are safe and pesticide/herbicide free. 

A Bee Friendly Garden is a Healthy Garden
I'm a big fan of lots of herbs in the garden to help create a healthy garden ecosystem, and I always let my herbs go to flower- the bees go nuts! They especially love oregano, thyme, and lavender. The Pineapple sage is popular too, and spectacular in bloom.

Pineapple Sage is a spectacular garden plant popular with pollinators

So I took the opportunity to ask Vaughan my burning question- are culinary herbs (oregano, thyme, etc,) considered good bee forage? It's great to have flowers to attract pollinators to your garden, but they have to be the right kind, nutritionally. I was very happy to learn that yes, if you see lots of bees on your flowering plants, then it's a good indication that they are what bees need.

I'll be writing more about pollinator-friendly gardening and creating a healthy garden ecosystem that you can feel good about. Please go forth and educate your family, friends and neighbors about eco-friendly gardening. They may even sleep better at night. The bees will.

See the Xerces Society Pollinator Resource Center for  information about pollinator conservation by region.

Photo: Urban Artichoke