Sow: dead peppers

The big freeze in North Texas is diminishing our chances for growing our own produce this fall and winter. The peppers are toast, but I salvaged what I could.

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The tomatoes I picked last weekend are turning red and we had a lovely roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight.

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We have the potential for snow tonight so I’m not sure exactly how everything left will do. The agaves are covered. We have the ice melter handy and our trusty snow shovel ready. It’s been raining on and off all day and things are wet so there is the potential of a frozen driveway gate, frozen alley, frozen roads.

The weather is much colder than normal. It’s a little sad for the urban farm, but it feels very eating holiday-ish. And its lending itself to cooking lots of slow cooked foods.

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The roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight was simple: a bunch of the Sweet 100s that have been ripening inside, some peppers from Pure Life Organic, some peppers from our garden, two little zucchinis, an onion, three garlic cloves, three anchovy filets, garlic olive oil, and some fresh ground pepper on a tray. Roasted it up at 400°F for 30 minutes in our Breville toaster oven, then when it was done, I tossed with a little frozen basil puree. I added some chopped up chicken sweet Italian sausage too so I threw it into the frying pan with the sausage chunks and mixed it all up, but the sausage isn’t necessary. It would still be delicious without the sausages. I added the penne directly to the sauce in the pan, tossed, added a little bit of grated parmesan and it was delicious. Most of the meal came from the urban farm or Pure Life Organic farm which makes me really happy. And there’s enough for lunch tomorrow.

The Gs are all very snuggly because it is cold. Today’s gratuitous dog photo shows you the bond between the newest Gs:

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photo by Bruce

 

The toy near George’s head is one of his mice. They are kids’ toys from IKEA and he loves them. Perfect size for his big mouth.

Sow: big chill

The frost cloths are out. I just straightened them on the agaves since it looks like the wind has been busy in our yard. The frost cloths are also on the raised beds and stock tanks, protecting the kale, chard, mustards, collards, bok choi, lettuce, spinach, and peppers.

I never got the garlic in the ground over the weekend. It may very well be too late for a 2015 harvest.

Even though tried to be strategic with my planting and where I planted each thing, I am a bit worried about the longevity of the fall plants on the urban farm. We very well may have picked the last peppers. We may not be eating bok choi next week at this time as planned. We may not get much more from the rest of the garden if the below 32°F/0°C temps keep it up for more than a few more days. I guess I’ll be spending more time and money at Trader Joe’s since it’s the cheapest place to get decent looking and tasting organic produce in this town.

Fashions have changed overnight. Sweaters and scarfs are out in full force. Turtlenecks. Tights. Blazers. Most telling is the outerwear. The people are wearing all sorts of coats that we don’t see much around these parts: puffy jackets, wool long coats, fleece. I had on my snowboarding jacket, a toque and gloves for this morning’s 5:30 am dog walk. I’ve replaced my usual yoga pants with sweats. We’ve put blankets on the bed. I’ve given the Gs their little fleece blankets on their dog beds which everyone absolutely loves. I’ve broken out the flannel pjs.

The heat is on. Unlike the air conditioner, it usually doesn’t get used all that much. Tonight it keeps clicking on.

Even Gidget is cold. She’s outgrew her old pink puffy coat—we donated it to an animal rescue group last spring. We will need to find her a new one in the next few days. Believe it or not her fur is so short that she gets very cold, even though that doesn’t ruin her love of the outdoors.

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Even though it might not sound like I’m excited, I am. It’s nice to have seasons, real seasons, extremes. And it reminds me that as this year winds down, there is so much to be excited about. But that’s a story for another day.

Sow: freeze coming

The prediction of the first really cold night in North Texas gets everyone all worked up. It’s on the way for tomorrow night supposedly. No, it’s not going to snow. Or even make icy roads. Still, already people are battening down hatches and digging out their warm coats and sweaters—boots made their fashion appearance as soon as the temperatures dipped to 80°F. Brrrr.

While I don’t necessarily mind pulling out the headlamp and the frost cloths to cover everything up once I get home from work in the pitch black that’s 6:30 pm, I realized last year that sometimes such attempts are utterly futile.

You already heard about Seymore the feral tomato plant (actually plants — I found that he created several clones of his wild armed self). He’s gone because no amount of frost cloth would protect his crazy girth (and I’ve already got cute little super red tomatoes happening on my kitchen counter. I guess they like it inside the nice warm kitchen).

The peppers may be ok but they might not be (more about that later). The kale, chard, bok choi, arugula, lettuce, collards, spinach and mustard should all be fine. The herb box close to the kitchen door will be ok since the brick walls keep their planter warm. I’ll pull the little wheeled herb garden closer to some nice warm bricks.

But there was some major picking this past weekend so that all of those plants lives would not be in vain.

First casuality: Malabar spinach. Last year, I foolishly thought covering it would keep it going. It is on a trellis so that was not a good idea and made for a nasty melting, black-leaved mess to clean up. I got a huge metal bowl worth which will last us a couple of weeks in our breakfast green drinks.

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Next was bye-bye basil. There’s a lot that grew from two little plants. So I gave away two gallon ziplocs and have another two washed and ready to be turned into pesto tonight. Just throw it in the food processor with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan and then pack it away in the freezer for eating in the cold miserable months. Brings a smile to my face just thinking about those delicious dinners.

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Peppers are a little iffy and I’m thinking about going out tonight and picking the biggest ones that remain on the plants. This morning before work I roasted several trays of poblanos and jalapeños for future meals. I’ll peel them tonight and into the freezer they go to brighten up soups, stews, Mexican dishes and more.

I fully intended to plant garlic yesterday, but as I mentioned yesterday, I really don’t know how to rest but I ran out of steam. Maybe tomorrow morning before work when I water everything that’s still alive. Farmer Megan gave me some nice bulbs just waiting to be planted and it will give some bio-diversity to Seymore’s former home (Raised Bed #4). Let’s see how cold it is in the morning.

And even though it’s not Throwback Thursday, here’s a major brown dog throwback for the gratuitous dog photo of the day:

8 week old Godiva

8 week old Godiva

Sow: green sauce

Happy July 4th and happy post-Canada Day! It’s the time for celebration! Fireworks!* Parties! Eating!

Remember when you were a kid and the summer was the fun time of year when you could do whatever you wanted to do. Every. Single. Day. Eating ice cream and watermelon (spitting the seeds when your mom wasn’t looking). Riding your bike. Swimming from dawn to dusk. Staying up late. Running around and playing outside.

Even though this grown up is mostly enjoying this summer in the over air conditioned comfort of a concrete and glass box, I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine and fun that comes with the season. Like right now: I’m sitting at the patio table (yes, we get wifi outside!), enjoying the sounds of summer (leaf blowers and birds chirping), admiring the jungly Urban Farm and watching the Gs lounge about.

It’s been fun seeing old pals (right, Helen, Christine, Fred and Chris?), meeting new ones (that’s you, Cam, Jon, and Louie), enjoying an amazing harvest on almost a daily basis, enjoying long walks with Bruce and the Gs, exploring new parts of Dallas, and yes, enjoying tasty treats. Luckily for us, lots of yummy stuff is coming directly from the Urban Farm.

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the first tomatillos with their husks still on. in the supermarket the husks are usually pretty dried out and more brown. they are also $2.99/lb at our local Albertsons.

One of those treats has to do with my tomatillo experimentation. I’ve harvested about 1 1/2 pounds of tomatillos  so far with more to come (so about $4.50 worth if you’re shopping at Albertsons). I planted them so I could make jars of homemade salsa verde (literal translation is “green sauce”.)

I’ve never really made it before—or knew how bountiful the plants could be. Usually I just pick up a jar at the grocery story.

When we got the latest issue of Bon Appetit, Bruce mentioned that he saw a simple recipe for salsa verde on one of the first pages of the issue. With almost all the required ingredients, I decided to give it a whirl, literally, as you’ll see in just a moment.

So we had tomatillos, onions, and cilantro leftover from a recipe (it’s too hot for it to grow here right now, it’s a fall/winter/spring herb). And lots of peppers.

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lots of peppers

But we didn’t have Serrano chiles. We have poblanos, jalapeños, and bell peppers. I picked jalapeños as my Serrano replacement, but I guess any spicy pepper would do.

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the recipe inspiration — thanks, Bruce!

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ready for a whirl in the Nutribullet

It was pretty easy to husk and quarter the tomatillos. I peeled and quartered the onion. Threw the cilantro in there too. And I was careful with the jalapeño since sometimes they have a big unexpected bite. I didn’t really bother to chop anything up much because Bruce’s magical green drink blender was going to do all the hard work.

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the finished product: a big jar of salsa verde in mere seconds!

If you make it, grab some tortilla chips and a bunch of friends and plow through it—this is good stuff. We also like it as a sauce on white fish (excellent on cod for example). It’s good on eggs, tacos, grilled meat, perhaps you’ll want to try it on some  veggies or as a quick alternative potato salad dressing. I made it last weekend and  we still have about 1/2 jar left but I bet it’s gone by Sunday. Let me know if you try making it. My next version will be roasting the tomatillos first because I like the smoky char taste.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day is our 4th of July boy George:

George and his trout

George and his trout (there may also be a tennis ball in his mouth)

 

* Despite my love of fireworks, they’re not allowed at the Mortroski Midcentury. Our sweet Georgie is ours as a result of a fireworks accident. Read more about his story here and here. Please keep your 4-legged pals safely inside tonight if you’re located in the U.S.of A.

So: eating okra

I’m not from around these parts, so plenty of people find it very humorous that I grow okra. Usually these native Texans tell me how much they hate okra, how it’s yucky and slimy. Maybe their moms or grandmas made them eat it, but I never ate it regularly as a kid. My grandmother put it in one of her soups and I always thought it was pretty cool since it looks a bit like a flower, but since I didn’t see my grandparents all that often, it wasn’t on the normal vegetable rotation. Still I always scoured my bowl looking for the “flowers.” She probably thought it was pretty funny that I liked it so much.

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how okra grows

Bruce definitely NEVER ate okra until we moved to Texas, at least not knowingly. In Toronto, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the grocery store except in the frozen section. And while it probably grows in California, my mom never bought it.

So here we are in a climate where it’s super hot and dry. Okra likes both of those things as does Malabar spinach, peppers of all kinds, tomatillos, and black eyed peas.Can you tell  I like being a successful gardener (remember my tomato despair)? That’s why we’re eating what grows locally. Just a few okra plants will produce several meals worth per week for two hungry adults until the killing frost comes in November. Nothing is fresher than heading out to the urban farm and picking what’s for dinner right before dinner!

We’ve already had a couple of okra meals in the past two weeks. In North Texas, most people will fry their okra. A few pickle it—I love pickled okra but it’s still too early in the season to do it. You need volume and that won’t really come until August or September. Some people now roast it or even grill okra. All four of those ways are very good, but since we’re of the age where you shouldn’t consume much fried stuff, fried’s not really on our table.

Here’s how we usually eat it:

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Sauté some chopped onions and a jalapeño or any pepper you have on hand in your favorite olive oil (I use a garlic one from Trader Joe’s).

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Chop up some okra into rounds and add to your skillet.

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Let the okra start roasting, then add some frozen corn (or fresh if you have it). 

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Add a can of diced tomatoes (or fresh if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you have nice big tomatoes) and let the whole thing cook down for a few minutes.

Now you could season it all up with hot sauce, salt and pepper and pour it over rice or pasta or quinoa and eat it as is, but we usually throw in some fish and have a one-pot meal. I’m also going to try it with chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) this summer.

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This is thawed frozen cod. I just put it on top and let it cook until done. No flipping necessary. I’ve also used tilapia and other white fish.

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The finished product served over a quinoa/rice mixture! See all the little flowers? Add hot sauce if you like — I usually do.

An easy-peasy delicious weeknight dinner that we’ll enjoy many times over the months to come. Let me know if you try it and what special touches you put on it. If I have cilantro, sometimes I add that. Or I use salsa instead of canned tomatoes. The main thing is if you are afraid of slimy okra, do something like this and cook it with something acidic like tomatoes. There’s no sliminess at all, just deliciousness. You can make it with frozen okra too—I freeze our okra whole, then thaw and slice when I’m ready to use it.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Guinness and George are snuggling together a lot more these days. Not sure what has brought this on, but Guinness doesn’t seem to mind at all. Photo by Christine Watson.

Sow: urban farm update

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Lots of amazing stuff is happening on the Urban Farm. We’ve had amazing weather and rain! June’s been cooler than normal at night, but we’re back into the 90°s during the day. Everything’s looking quite jungle-y and very green. The blackeyed peas are getting bigger. The okra is producing and we’ve had a couple of meals from it. The feral tomatoes are starting to turn red. The Malabar spinach is covering the trellises. The basil seems to grow as fast as I cut it. I’ve been picking peppers right and left. It’s a great time of year where I’m not buying produce at the store, except for fruit. And I’ve been giving it away like crazy.

Here are a few photos of what’s been going on:

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We’ve had several weeks of beets now. The Detroit reds have won for best all around flavor so they’re the only ones I’ll grow in the fall. 

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I’ve harvested about 10 of the feral Sweet 100s. After all the tomatoes are harvested I’m going to leave the plants in the ground and see if I can get a second harvest in the fall.

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The feral tomato plants covered with bird net so the birds don’t eat all of the tomatoes

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Since I didn’t know I was growing tomatoes, I had to rig up a way to keep the bird net in place. Hooks on the fence, a couple of tomato cages and some bricks were my solution.

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Okra is well underway

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Flowers on the green bean vines

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Bell peppers are going strong

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A big black and white bug seems to like green bean leaves

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This weekend our pal Fred is going to make some of his famous jalapeño poppers using these beauties. They are amazingly delicious bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed jalapeños that are grilled on the BBQ. I will harvest Friday.

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Lots of jalapeños

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The tomatillos look like patio lanterns. I can’t wait to make salsa verde. The plants are probably at least 4 ft tall. You can see poblano peppers in the background.

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This shot of the blackeyed peas is about a week old. They have doubled in since then.

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Tiny tomatoes turning red

And for today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day, here are my bathing beauties enjoying their pool:

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Sow: long weekend landscaping

It’s been a long day with a very tight deadline for work, so I’m up late and writing more as a little wind down, despite my laptop feeling like it’s overheating from the exuberant pounding I’ve been giving it all day. Whenever I am away from the office for a week, there’s usually some sort of fallout. I expected today to go exactly the way it did and I was not surprised.

On the plus side, the weekend was a long one (Memorial Day here in the USA), so today, you’re getting lots of photos. First up was our long weekend landscaping project which fortunately was not hampered by all the (much needed) rain that we’ve been getting since Sunday.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Bruce and I were very unimpressed at the high cost of the type of patio planters we were looking for so we looked to the Urban Farm for a little inspiration: Stock Tanks! These mini stock tanks from Tractor Supply Company are absolutely perfect for some patio accents. Now we just need to find some patio lanterns (ah, a wee bit of Canadian content for you hosers).

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Look at me all covered with dirt and happy as can be. We picked up two tiny stock tanks for the new patio and put blue agave and lemon coral sedum in them. I like ’em! • Photo by Bruce

And guess where they're made...

And guess where they’re made…and if you’re wondering what the blue thing is in the driveway, it’s Gidget’s and Godiva’s wading pool • photo by Bruce

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Mini stock tanks in context after the first of the weekend’s rain storms. At least all of the plants, the grass, and the Urban Farm are super happy with all the water. Our new rain gauge said we received 1/2 of an inch yesterday.

Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and more today.

The gigantic harvests are starting. Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and still more today. From left: power greens mix (spinach, chard, kale), big bag of mint, a huge head of curly lettuce, a bell pepper, a bunch of beets, two jalapeños, and a big bowl of salad greens. 

As a special treat, it’s gratuitous dog photos galore!

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George could finally relax and sleep through the night again. • Photo by Bruce

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And here’s a little update on my sweet pal Murphy: here he is with his new sister Harley. He looks pretty content, don’t you think? • photo by Debbie

Sow: signs

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Photo by Bruce

Sign of the times. Follow the signs. Here’s your sign. If you flip through my iPhoto library, you’ll see that signs frequently capture my eyes. I like ’em rusty. I like ’em slick. I LOVE them when they’re funny (at least to me). And I really love putting fun signs amongst the veggies and flowers of the Mortroski Midcentury Urban farm.

Our latest arrival is the word “Garden.” Made by a metal craftsperson, it caught Bruce’s and my eyes when we were out looking for some planters for our patio last weekend. Needless to say we never found the right pots, so the search continues. Maybe we’ll just go for some smaller format stock tanks…

Here’s the sign on the wall of the new part of the garden (Fig tree is just out of frame to the right):

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Raised bed #4 has the out of control salad greens, the power greens (kale, spinach, chard), and the rogue tomato plants. A pot of mini roses that are not doing great and a pot of mint are also in this photo. And the little wood square on the fence is a window so our little kid next door neighbors can watch the garden and the Gs. Photo by Bruce

I love how happy it is—so cheerful and fun. And the primary colors are really nice on the wood fence.

One more happy addition is our new garden owl. Not only is he a wise old welcome sign, he’s also a rain gauge (the yellow glass tube) which will be fun to see fill up during our wacky Texas downpours. Here’s hoping for rain very soon!

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Wise old rain gauge • photo by Bruce

Slowly, but surely, we’ll collect more fun stuff to brighten up the plants. I am looking forward to seeing the evolution. After all, change is the only constant, in life and in gardening.

For today’s gratuitous dog photo, I thought I’d share that Bruce informed me that the Gs are being very lazy today. Clearly Gidget needs a nap:

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So tired • photo by Bruce

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…

 

Sow: better than baking

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Ingredients for life: bok choi, mint, spinach, and salad greens


Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my neighbors. She lives in the next little town over and is another Duck Team 6 outreach volunteer (she is in charge of donation collection). And I surprised her with a big bag of produce that I picked minutes before she arrived.

Mindy and I don’t know each other. She and Bruce work more closely together so I had heard her name but never met her. But she had come by the house the night before to drop off a couple hundred pounds of donated dog food and she and her two kids had been in driveway (it’s in the backyard) and saw the Urban Farm. Bruce said the girls were really excited about the idea of growing food. He showed them how to pick a radish to take home and told Mindy that she should also throw the greens into that night’s salad (try it, it’s delicious if the greens are super fresh). He was happy that the kids showed so much interest, but didn’t think anything more of it, since our next door neighbor kids love looking at the garden too — he even cut them a window in the wood fence so they can see the garden and the Gs playing.

Well, that night, Mindy texted Bruce to say that her kids are bugging her to start a garden! They never had a vegetable so delicious! They wanted to get right to it on the weekend! Unfortunately, it’s too late for that, unless all they want to grow is Malbar spinach, okra, and black eyed peas! But they had the right idea.

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I had to do something to keep those kids loving vegetables. So I picked gallon ziplocs of bok choi, salad greens, and spinach. Threw in a bouquet of mint. And when Mindy showed up with more dog food yesterday morning, I had a nice surprise waiting for her. She was thrilled and knew the kids would be too. And I told her if she let me know when she was coming to drop off food, there was more where that came from (at least through the very hottest part of the summer).

Used to be when I wanted to make friends with a new neighbor, coworker, or volunteer, I’d bake something. I dare to say, that a big bag of just picked organic produce makes people even happier than cupcakes these days. You should see people’s faces light up when I share the bounty. I have my “regulars,” like Tracy, the lady who looks after the Gs. She also looks after the Urban Farm when we travel so it’s only fair that she gets a weekly delivery. Same with my sweet admin who makes my work life so easy and keeps me running smoothly. But dropping off a veggie treat to someone who’s not expecting it is almost more fun for me than the person receiving it. I love to hear how they enjoyed it and the recipes they made.

And now for your gratuitous dog photo of the day:

Duck Team 6 Volunteer Guinness taking guarding the donated dog food very seriously • photo by Bruce

Canine Duck Team 6 volunteer Guinness taking his job guarding donated dog food very seriously • photo by Bruce

Even if all you can grow is a tiny planter of herbs on a window sill, next time you go to dinner at a friend’s house, cut a tiny bouquet and tie it to the ubiquitous bottle of wine with a bright ribbon or rustic cord. I’ll bet you a quart of okra, you’ll get a similar reception.