Sow: Gilroy experience

While I’m not a Native Californian, the years I spent in both Southern and Northern California have definitely shaped who I am. My love of dirt may be genetic (my paternal grandparents were farmers), but my appreciation of produce comes directly from California. Until we moved there when I was 12-ish, vegetables were mostly frozen or canned. Oranges came from nearby Florida (we lived in Savannah, Georgia). Then we moved to California, where produce was everywhere. My memories? The Irvine Ranch market. The citrus groves. Strawberries and artichokes. The lemons, grapefruit, loquats, and avocados in our various backyards. The Los Gatos farmers’ market. My mouth still waters thinking about the produce I purchased a million years ago as a new college grad—I sure could make $20 go far and provide a week’s worth of meals thanks to farmers like Dirty Girl Produce.

There really is something amazing about getting your food directly from the people that grow it. Hearing the stories of how it came to be, the trials of the weather, the experimentation with new crops and varieties, makes you feel like what you’ve been allowed to buy is a real miracle. Because it is.

I spent my teen years near the Garlic Capital of the World. Gilroy, California claims that title. Driving through there with my family and later as an adult on my own cross-California adventures, I was fascinated by the distinctive smell of millions of cloves of garlic growing in the hot inland Northern California sun. It was strong. It was pungent. It made me hungry even though it was so overwhelming.

One late summer I visited the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival with a pal from college. We tasted garlic ice cream and garlic wine (don’t bother) but also delicious aioli and artichokes and scampi. The very smell of garlic makes me think of California. Not just driving through Gilroy with the windows down, smelling that heady vampire-repelling smell, but also walking through North Beach in San Francisco. If I had to pick an official culinary scent of California, it would be garlic. Sorry oranges, strawberries, and wine. You are definitely in my top 10, just not in the coveted #1 position.

And I’ve always wondered how garlic grows.

So when Farmer Megan at Pure Land Organic posted that she needed help getting next years’s garlic harvest into the ground, I jumped at the chance and volunteered for a few hours of labor, a free lunch and a bag of amazing organic veggies (gonna need to make some roasted peppers and another batch of cowboy candy with the bounty). How cool would that be? Bruce got volun-told I’m afraid, but he was excited to help too.

It’s how we spent today:

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Farmer Allan, me, Farmer Megan taking a break • photo by Bruce

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Garlic planting volunteers • photo by Farmer Megan

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Farmer Pop’s planter • photo by Bruce

In short it was awesome! Bruce and I put around 2300 garlic cloves into the ground. And it was super easy thanks to Farmer Pop’s (Megan’s dad) handy dandy John Deere ride-on planter.

 

All Bruce and I had to do is sit side-by-side for a couple of hours and push root ends of  garlic cloves into the holes that the planter made, then pinch the soil over the holes. Easy peasy! Such a nice day to hang out outside.

And now I know how to plant garlic. I’m going to add it to the rotation at the urban farm and get some in the ground next weekend. Thanks for the planting lesson, Farmer Megan!

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day comes from last night’s surprise on Bruce—he’s got a big birthday coming up and we have a very busy next couple of months so the friends who visited us last night decided to celebrate his birthday early. Here, Gidget is helping with the birthday candles and Guinness is asleep on the sofa!

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Happy (early) birthday, Bruce!

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Sow: incarcerated fig

The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm isn’t just for veggies (or dogs). We’ve got three fruit trees too: a plum tree and a peach tree that came with the house and a very young fig tree I planted a couple of years ago.

Little fig tree is coming into its own this spring and when one of our Canadian visitors pointed out that she saw tiny little figs sprouting, I knew something had to be done STAT!

You see, we have roving bands of marauding grackles even though the 4Gs do their best to chase them from the yard. Those naughty birds spend a lot of time picking our neighbors’ three fig trees clean of any figs, so we needed to take action, quickly, before they realized that our little tree was chock full of yummy figgy goodies. And yes, they eat the baby figs green. Bastards.

Taking action was easy enough. Bruce went to the local big box home improvement/garden center store during his lunch break to pick up just two things to build the tiny tree’s prison: bamboo stakes and bird net. Now before you go all PETA on me about the bird net, it’s not for catching birds, it’s for covering plants so the birds won’t get in there. I have used it with great success for several years on my sad tomato experiments with no winged casualties (there was a deceased bird near the urban farm last year, but I suspect feline foul play, not bird net) and once it’s in place, the birds (and squirrels) stay away, mostly because the plants look different.

Here are a few figgy photos so you can see what I mean:

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figs galore! shot through the bird net.

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bird net close up — see the yummy tiny fig?

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the fig facility: yes, those are binder clips!

The stakes are around 4 feet high so the fig tree is still more petite than me. But unlike me, it still has the chance to get taller.

The bricks are an inelegant temporary solution. It was very windy during the install on Monday night so I thought it might not be prudent to cut the bird net then. I’m going to adjust the bird net when both Bruce and I are at home this weekend (he was in Boston during the install and I’m in California until Saturday) and then pin it down using landscaping pins for a better look.

As for the office supplies in use, I find that binder clips are very helpful on the urban farm. I use them during the cold months to secure the frost cloth to tomato cages, the lips of the stock tanks, the bars of the trellises, and even attach the ends of the frost cloth to itself. That’s why when I noticed that theses stakes were so thin that the bird net’s holes could slip down and touch the fig tree, I grabbed a few. I may concoct another solution that looks a little better, but for now, they’ll stay.

So now that the fig tree is all locked up, hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a few months with a nice big fig harvest. I’d settle for a few to eat with prosciutto and cheese or on top of a yummy salad, but my dream is to be able to make fig jam and give it as gifts. It just may be another few years. Sigh. A girl can dream.

If nothing else, fruit trees teach us patience, something we all can use in our fast paced world.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Gidget likes to bark at the photographer. It’s almost as good as saying “cheese”.

And a special treat for today, a gratuitous business travel shot from my current home away from home (and former stomping grounds):

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San Francisco Bay Bridge

It really was as picture postcard perfect as it looks. But don’t feel too jealous: I’m about to spend my entire day today (8:30 am – 7 pm PT)  in a dark room! But still I took a quick walk at 6:00 am in the early morning fog to pick up a Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry Building. I won’t lie, trips like these make me miss the Bay Area…

 

So: preparedness

Today’s the day in the U.S. when everyone remembers what happened on 9/11/01.

I know exactly what I was doing (getting ready for work and watching the Today show) and where I was (in our condo in downtown Toronto) when the first plane crashed. I remember going to work in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core not really knowing what was going on.  I remember getting called into a conference room and watching the tv. I remember getting told by our Managing Director to go back home, not realizing at the time that he hadn’t been able to reach anyone in our agency’s NYC headquarters.  Once I got home, I remember Bruce and I pulling our blinds shut and watching news channels all day with our bulldog Daisy snoozing on the sofa, not really knowing what was going on. I had friends and family in D.C. and PA. I had friends in NYC. I remember planes getting rerouted to various Canadian cities and people taking the frightened and passport-less Americans into their homes, giving them their bedrooms and making them part of the family without knowing when they’d be able to leave. I remember the chaos.

No one was prepared for it. How could they be?

Well, friends, one of the themes for 2013 for the Mortroski Mid-century is to be prepared. We’ve optimized and checked systems. We’ve gotten important paperwork in order for both ourselves and the 4Gs. Bruce and I attended a Pet First Aid class and now know how to do CPR on the dogs, muzzle them in an emergency and do some basic first aid.

And I’ve been building a dog first aid kit and a people first aid kit. To get it done in what I thought would be the most efficient manner, I ordered everything online from Amazon. Well, the mailroom at my office must be wondering what’s coming in all the boxes.  Amazon (and their various suppliers) have been shipping everything in bits and pieces, despite my checking of the “ship in as few boxes as possible” box.

Still, by the end of the week, I will have a very comprehensive kit for the Gs, a smaller kit to bring to work, and plenty of materials to expand our human first aid kits. Then I need to work on the emergency supplies: food, water, tools, etc.

It’s a wonder I’ve never put these emergency kits together before. Before adulthood, I lived through tornadoes in Indiana, hurricanes in Georgia, and earthquakes in California (including the big World Series earthquake in the late ’80s where the Bay Bridge and highways fell down). I remember going to the hurricane shelter and I remember being without power for a week. I remember staying with my friend Elaine as we watched San Francisco burn from across the bay in Berkeley, not knowing whether or not her dad and stepmom who lived in the Marina neighborhood were ok. She wouldn’t hear from them for full day, but luckily they were ok.

In Toronto, I should have had an emergency kit for the big eastern 1/2 of North America power grid blackout in August 2003. Instead, our bulldog Daisy and I went for a walk (Bruce was on a business trip in Quebec City and would find himself being driven back to Toronto in a day or so since it was lights out for several days). We visited with our neighbors who were all sitting outside on their stoops, drinking wine, beer and cocktails and chatting. We made our way to our friend Jeanette’s townhouse.

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Daisy and me

Glamorous Jeanette was (and still is) the hostess with the most-ess. Not only did she have a fridge full of food that she was turning into an amazing meal cooked on her BBQ for a full house of friends and neighbors, she had more wine, beer and candles than anyone I knew. It was an amazing and fun night on her back deck—a beautiful party under the stars with a huge group of fascinating people. If I remember correctly, she sent us home with plates of food, for “Daisy’s breakfast”, she said. (Her big black mutt Wade was Daisy’s pal and it was a contest to see who was the most spoiled canine.)

Daisy and I hung out with Jeanette and Wade until 1 am, going home after realizing like everyone else that the power wasn’t coming back on any time soon. Since it was August and still hot and humid outside, we slept on the sofa in our basement that night since it was the coolest place in our townhouse. And since it was so dark, we slept way past when we should have woken up.

But I didn’t make an emergency kit afterwards. Or gather up food and bottled water. Life (ok, work) got in the way and it went to the bottom of the to do list and finally just fell right off.

Maybe it’s Texas, the land of extreme weather, flash floods, tornados, lightening that burns down houses. Maybe it’s just age and realizing that with each passing year, time’s slipping away. So I’m getting prepared for the unknown.

It may not be enough. But at least I’ll have something. So if we need to help the neighbors, we can. If we need to bandage up neighborhood dogs, cats and even chickens, we can.

So on this 9/11 anniversary, I’m taking action. I’m planning ahead. Don’t worry, I’m making sure there’s wine in the kit. And candles for ambiance. Of course, there will be dogs.

And because around here, dogs are everywhere, here’s a photo from last night:

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“So, where will the 2-leggeds sleep tonight, George?”
“I don’t know, Guinness. Maybe they could both fit on the extra dog bed that Gidget and Godiva aren’t using.”

 

Sow: brussels sprouts

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Harvested purple brussels sprouts

I think I mentioned that I accidentally grew purple brussels sprouts this winter. I should have been paying closer attention while plant shopping and read the plant descriptions instead of just mindlessly grabbing. But they were lovely. Purple leaves. Purple stems. Purple-green sprouts.

Even upon cooking they remained purple. I bet a fancy 5-star restaurant chef would have loved to cook them in some decadent way. They were even probably some rare heirloom variety. However, tonight I was very happy to cook them simply in garlic infused olive oil, a tiny bit of chicken stock and a bit of salt and pepper. They were delicious and the Gs also enjoyed a tiny taste. (Yes, all of the dogs like vegetables, though only George likes them raw. Then again, George will eat pretty much anything. Hence, my need for a fence around the Urban Farm.)

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aren’t they pretty cooked?

For those of you who are wondering why in the world I’d grow, much less eat such a vegetable, I must confess that I love brussels sprouts. For those of you saying ew, you must know that they are my absolute favorite side  dish vegetable and I will have none of that. I do love avocados and artichokes more, so much that they grace the Mortroski Midcentury kitchen’s walls, in both art and avocado green paint color. If you don’t like brussels sprouts, I’d suggest you’ve never had them fresh from the field or properly cooked.

One of the best brussels sprouts dishes I have ever had was a frito mixto combined with artichokes served with a delicious aioli at the Hotel Vitale in San Francisco (it’s across from the Ferry Building where San Francisco’s best Saturday market takes place). I was there on a business trip and it was my fabulous room service dinner, eaten with a gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Not only did I wish I could recreate it, I wished that I would have had someone to share it with. Bruce loves brussels sprouts too (I converted him, he did not grow up that way) and he would have been the perfect sharer, especially since he would have given me all of the artichokes.

Brussels sprouts have been my go to vegetable of choice since I was a teenager. My brother hated them and would feed them to our family’s beagle under the table. Like George, Rex would eat pretty much anything so my brother could clear his plate pretty fast.

In Northern California where I grew up, they are practically a native plant. They are cheap. You can buy them in winter at the farmers markets on the stalk. They last much longer in your fridge if you leave them that way. From the farmers perspective they are much easier to harvest if you just have to take a machete to a stalk versus pick every little sprout off the stem. Probably much less material to compost/dispose of too. And I bet the farmers laugh a little bit when the customers try to shove them into their market bags and baskets and wind up just throwing them over their shoulders. I know I would.

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growing

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perhaps a bit past due

But I have to say, as pretty as they were, the purple brussels sprouts were an Urban Farm failure. Most of that was due to my greedy desire to maximize the harvest which actually ended up minimizing it. I planted 5 transplants and lost 2 over the winter. Of the 3 that were left, only 2 produced. If I try them again next fall, I will make sure that I fertilize them several times, not just upon planting. I will also make sure that I carefully chart their time to harvest so that I don’t end up with only a small bowlful to show for my efforts.

But it’s spring tomorrow so it’s time to focus on the newly planted and the soon-to-be-newly planted. I’ve given myself Friday off so you can pretty much count on some planting about to happen. It’s time to get the peppers in the ground and I believe it’s safe to plant some basil too.

Happy Spring Eve, y’all.

So: California

Here’s a scene from my trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.

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I lived there from 8th grade until I was 26. My parents still live in the area. Don’t make it out there as often as I’d like but I’m hoping this new business opportunity changes that. Fingers crossed!

A big thank you to Bruce (the husband) for writing yesterday’s post. He may be writing more soon based on the overwhelming response!

So: California dreaming

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palm trees and ocean. sigh.

A long weekend that feels like a vacation is a wonderful thing. Seeing loved ones, visiting beautiful places, getting out of the same-old-same old, is exhilarating.

Except in my case, it’s leading to brain freeze and procrastination. Even as I was heading for the airport yesterday, I casually remarked to Bruce that I wished I could have just stayed there for a week or so.

I kept my writing schedule while I was away. But this morning, I could not write. It’s taken me approximately 6 hours to warm up to something that resembles worthwhile writing. Luckily, I had several conference calls to wake me out of my stupor and force my protesting brain to function.

Maybe it was the Southern California weather. It so foreign to me now, but there was a time in my life that I took it for granted. Sunny and gorgeous with towering palm trees swaying ever so slightly in the breeze was just how every day went when I was 12. The twins are lucky to grow up in such a pretty place especially since their parents are outdoorsy. They’ll take full advantage of being able to do all kinds of sports—and see snow and ocean on the same day.

Or maybe it was the flight back. There was something vaguely vacation-y about it. So many people snoozing, listening to music, or working in their ever-so compact spot. They all seemed so carefree. Oh wait, they’re probably Californians, or at least others who have adopted a Californian’s attitude, despite being from somewhere else.

Unlike my recent flights to such exotic East Coast destinations as Philadelphia, LaGuardia, and Raleigh-Durham, there was no pushing. There was no line-jumping. There didn’t seem to be much stealing of extra overhead bin space. No chewing out of the flight attendants or gate staff. No exasperated looks. No snide comments. Everyone seemed pretty chilled out and ok that they were going to spend three hours doing whatever until we arrived in Dallas.

Perhaps that’s what I am longing for today. A bit of bliss. Calm serenity. Maybe that’s what my brain is fighting for. Or maybe just a view of the ocean and a palm tree or two. Methinks it’s a good day to organize my photos.

more palm trees and ocean

more palm trees and ocean

So: reading is fun

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Uncle Bruce and I read the twins 10 books yesterday before dinner. Yes, 10. You parents are probably not surprised at all by the number.

I love reading and always have. I loved hearing books read to me and still do. But I am truly amazed by the twins desire to sit still and just listen. Intently.

My brother says they turn into zombies when they watch their 30 minutes of tv per day. Yesterday that was an episode of Olivia. We had already read two Olivia books so Uncle Bruce was familiar with Olivia, Ian, Julian and Perry. Again, another time when the girls were quiet. Still. Their attention was captured.

This is important because even when they were eating, Eva and Katia were busy! They jumped from toy to toy. We built towers with block, towers with Lego, played store, played Barbie, played with ponies, played dollhouse, ran around outside, picked up seeds from pinecones, petted their dog, drew on the chalkboard, played in a tunnel, did crazy spinning on a sit and spin, danced, sang, and probably did a whole lot more but it’s a blur.

Parents of multiples, you are my heroes. And you’re much better people than I am. I don’t know how you do it. I know you’ll say that you just do, but seriously, you are on a major sleep deprivation experiment accompanied by severe overstimulation.

It was a wonderful day but I was super tired when it was time to sleep. Moms and Dads of three year olds I salute you!

So: pretty pretty princesses

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So today I’m back at DFW. Yes, I’m aware that it’s Saturday, a day normally filled with household tasks, digging in the dirt, perhaps taking a sewing or gardening class.

Not today. As you might guess from the photo, we cashed in some frequent flyer miles. We’re headed to California to hang out with two of the cutest three year olds we know. We’re going to have an action-packed weekend of playing My Lil Pony, Barbies, and tea party. Maybe we’ll color. Or finger paint.

The last time I saw my brother’s daughters was when they were under two. Yes, bad auntie hasn’t seen the twins in over a year. Well, in-person that is. My brother and sister-in-law frequently email me photos. I often print them out and hang them on my office cabinet.

Hanging the photos of Eva and Katia along with my almost 5 year old godson Ben is confusing for many people. New hires often ask me about my “kids” and I launch into stories about the 3G Network. You should see their puzzled faces!

Or, I say offhandedly “oh I don’t have any.” Those who are brave usually say something like, “but who are those children?”

And I laugh. Because the twins do look a lot like me. Duh. Their dad and I are always quickly recognized as siblings when we’re together. Even my godson looks a bit like me with his pale skin and dark hair.

But I am just the aunt to these three amazing kids. I get to play with them, spoil them with fun (perhaps noisy and messy) gifts, and then leave when they’re wound up, overtired and hopped up on sugar.

In just over three hours two little girls will shriek with joy when Uncle Bruce gives them matching pink and purple stuffed ponies. We’ll practice our princess waves. I can’t wait to see Uncle Bruce in a tiara. Apparently my brother looks quite fetching in one too.