Thursday, December 8, 2011

transforming front yards

Two weeks ago my friend and design partner Laura and I got our first job installing a garden in an Oakland home. Our job was to clear out and plant three beds in our clients' front yard. They wanted a mix of natives, grasses, flowers and primarily easy to care for colorful plants. They also wanted a flowering vine to trellis up their entrance way. Here are a few photos of the design before and after planting. 

The main bed, with lots of "weeds" coming up, a bare fence and existing tree. 

After a good weeding we laid out our plants and stones. Our designed was centered around a repeating theme of grasses and succulents. The bed is lined with California poppies. An evergreen Clematis vine is what we chose for the entrance.

Here's a close up of our planting groups. We got the stones from American Soil and Stone. The colorful grasses are Phormium 'jester.' In the background along the fence you'll see a CA native grape that we chose to line the wall. 

One focal counterpoint to the existing tree is the addition of a beautiful dwarf Japanese maple 'pixie.' Japanese blood grass provides colorful foliage to the left. 

The view from their porch. We mulched the bed nicely to keep out weeds and pull the design together

The far planting bed along the house, overflowing with weeds and with a well established jasmine and camelia plant. 

We cleared the bermuda grass, and piled in ground covers, and CA native sticky monkey flowers and poppies. 

Designing and installing the garden was great fun. If you know of anyone who needs a little nudge to transform an empty garden space into a thriving native, colorful or edible garden, please get in touch.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Food Rules!

This semester I've been attending the Chez Panisse Foundation/UC Berkeley class called Edible Education 101, co-taught by Michael Pollan and Nikki Henderson.  We had some great speakers including the inspiring Peter Sellars:

With the weather changing and book season in full swing, I've decided to spend a few posts reviewing some of the recent botanical books I've been reading.  Books make great holiday gifts, and there's nothing like spending time in your favorite local bookstore, especially one like  Diesel Bookstore who recently had a fun customer appreciation pie & wine party with every book 20% off.  They also gave away these pins as party favors:

I decided to pick up a copy of Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" with beautiful illustrations by Maira Kalman.  The book outlines some basic food rules we ll should abide by, with the pivotal one being:
" When You Eat Real Food, You Don't Need Rules"

My most favorite rule is certainly:

"Place a Bouquet of Flowers on the Table and Everything Will Taste Twice as Good"  

I admit, I felt a little dorky asking MP to sign my copy at our last class, but I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wicked Plants

I've finally gotten around to reading "Wicked Plants" by Amy Stewart; and what a terrific book! The book describes notorious members of the plant world known to allure and kill, poison and possess their victims. It's like a horror story for botanists. And believe me it is creepy! Not only are the usual suspects listed - wormwood, mandrake, deadly nightshade, but also some familiar names on the dinner table: corn, kidney, beans and elderberries all have a dark side.

A few fascinating factoids to share (but for the full story you'll have to read the book!): 
  • Coca-cola may still be flavored with the benign agents of coca (Erythrosylum coca) and kola nut (Cola spp.).
  • Betel leafs (Piper betle) come from a totally unrelated plant from the Betel nut (Areca catechu).
  • Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are not as poisonous as they are made out to be. 
  • The mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) is another member of the infamous nightshade family.
  • Poison hemlock (Conium maulatum) killed Socrates and Plato witnessed his death.
  • In 1961, An unexpected bloom of (I know its not a plant) Blue-green Algae (Cyanobacteria) poisoned anchovies that seagulls in Santa Cruz ate and caused their strange and alarming behaviour. This caught the attention of Hitchcock and gave him the final push to make his film based on the Daphne du Maurier story "The Birds."
It would make a wonderful holiday present for that special someone!  Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

south indian cookery class

Last weekend I had the good fortune to lead a group of wonderful people in cooking a classic South Indian meal. I have been wanting to do this since returning from our stay in Chidambaram, where i would cook each day in a very traditional fashion - Sambar, Rasam, curry for brunch, Idly/Dosa for Tiffin, Homemade yogurt and rice for dinner. 

We had about 11 folks in the inaugural class, and I think it went well!! I wanted to be ambitious, so the core part of the class was preparing our own homemade Sambar powder. This became quite time consuming to grind all the spices that we bought for each participant to take home a small batch, so in the end we ground enough to use for the class and sent every one home with whole spices in the right proportions for their sambar podi. 

We made sambar, rasam, beetroot curry, carrot salad, and yogurt rice. 

Spices required for South Indian cookery: fresh coconut, channa dal, mustard seeds, dried red chilis, black peppercorns, fresh curry leaves, cumin, fenugreek, urad dal, green chilis. (asoefetida not pictured)

The "Anjala Potti" every householder's box of offerings to the kitchen. Mine has urad dal (black gram), methi (fenugreek), (kadugu) black mustard seeds, dhania (coriander seeds), jeera (cumin seeds), somph (fennel seeds), and a little tamarind.

We started out by making our own sambar powder! The key ingredient for good sambar and rasam.  Turned out great, but smaller batches are much easier to handle. I would recommend using a smaller spice grinder,  rather than food processor. 

We made kabocha squash sambar with coconut and tomato rasam with fresh black pepper and cumin. You can tell that the sambar is thicker and more stew like, while the rasam is thinner and more broth like. 

Spluttering mustard seeds, the key final ingredient to most South Indian dishes. We made a big batch and added them to the Sambar, the Rasam, the Thayir Sadam, and the carrot salad. Every dish has mustard seeds!! 

Our final feast, complete with a few celebratory harvest ales that went nicely with the kabocha sambar! Thank you to our hosts and to all who participated. And to Gautam for taking the photos! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Re-Skilling with Natural Dyes

Last weekend I went on a road trip to Santa Cruz for the Permacouture Institute. We were asked to present at the Re-Skilling Expo, a day long event dedicated to education around all sorts of "lost" arts (think- beekeeping, making home remedies, fermenting, dehydration, natural building, etc...)
It was a great event and so fun to teach natural dyes with Sierra Reading, a textile student at CCA. 

Just a sampling of our brilliant show & tell: onion skins and avocado pits ready for the dye pot, red sandal wood dye & a homemade iron bath. Sierra's beautiful samples of onion skin, safflower and olive dyes.

Sierra showing off our colorful table display. Turmeric dyed prayer flags, Sierra's masterpiece of natural dye screenprinting using purple cabbage. And our dye vats for the afternoon workshop beginning to simmer...

nasturtium presses, black bean dye, and samples from colors made in India earlier this year.

Apple Leaves and Eucalyptus leaves, both harvested from the Permaculture Garden at Merritt College (Was able to take the leaves after a pruning demo)

We had to modify the schedule to give ourselves a 15 minute breather in between sessions!

The spectacular color of Fall's eucalyptus.

                                                                   Hanging up our colors.

          I loved the passers- by who peeked through the window to amaze at these colors from nature!

                                                      Fig leaves offering a golden yellow

It was a wonderful day in Santa Cruz. Had to make a visit  to the beach while we were there for a quick hello! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slow Food Sangati

On Saturday, September 17 The Sangati Center participated in the $5 Slow Food Challenge - A national event encouraging folks to prepare a healthy, local and organic meal to prove that good food does not have to be expensive.

All of our ingredients came from the Berkeley Farmer's Market. We served 50 dinners at a $5 donation/plate

Our all organic menu:

Market Salad - Happy Boy Farms greens - wild arugula, baby spinach, little gems, and salad mix, Purple Cherokee heirloom tomatoes, Kashiwase Orchards 'September Sno' peaches, Frog Hollow Farm cold press extra virgin olive oil, home grown meyer lemon, Tercera Farms shallots.

Main - Massa Organics California brown rice, freshly shelled Tercera Farms heirloom cranberry beans, oyster and shitake with garlic, Full belly farm walnuts

Sweet- Rose Geranium scented strawberries from Lucero farms with black mission figs.

After the meal, of course, there was a beautiful concert presented by the Sangati Center and performed by Mohanrangan Govindraj on the bamboo flute. We had over 75 guests at the concert.

What a perfect evening.

Thanks to the Subterranean Art House in Berkeley for hosting our event and my loyal friends and event volunteers - Josh & Jaia, Zarah and Christine.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

every now and then opportunity arises.

As one of our wedding gifts we were given a juicer, an amazing juicer! This thing has become G's soulmate. When we packed all of our things into storage and headed off to India, he made sure that the juicer was clearly labelled and easily accessible so that whenever we came back it would be front and center in our kitchen. And it is. In our tiny kitchen with just two counters, the juicer has one all to itself. But I cannot complain. Having fresh juice daily is truly invigorating and nourishing! Carrot, Apple, Ginger is the house special, but every now and then we add celery and beets to the mix. The other day we made beet juice and when we went to clean out the juicer (by the way the fiber left over from the juicing process is wonderful in quick breads and muffins!) we found this perfectly carved beet just waiting to be stamped. The natural color of the beet transfered beautifully to my envelopes. Luckily I had just picked up a stack of lovely envelopes (10 for $.25) at my neighbor's garage sale. Beets are often mistaken for natural dye, when in fact, they are a stain. The color rests only on the top layer of fabrics and does not bind to the fiber as a whole, resulting in a color that fades to brown over time. But, the beet with its deep deep magenta hue makes a perfect candidate for stamping.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Amaranth: Stacking Functions Left and Right.

You may have read an earlier short post I published on the wonder grain amaranth. But I thought I would post again, as I've discovered an absolutely wonderful use of the grain... in sushi:

Homemade sushi: amaranth, cucumber, carrots, fresh ginger, tempeh and shitaake.

You can prepare the amaranth by simply boiling 1 part amaranth to 1.5 parts water. I let the grain boil for about 10 minutes, then I keep stirring until finished to acheive a creamy texture. For the sushi "rice," I added a bit of rice wine vineger and a touch of demerara sugar to the cooked grain for a bit of added flavor. Rolling your own sushi is incredibly easy. It was my first attempt, and I am now a complete convert. Never again a sushi out at a restaurant! I always have either cooked rice in the fridge or amaranth in the pantry. We stock carrots because we love making fresh carrot juice in the juicer. And just about any vegetables work for the filling. And one packet of Nori (seaweed sheets) has about 10 sheets, so the packet I purchased yesterday should last for a while.

Amaranth growing prolifically in the UCBG Crops of the World Garden

Amaranth (Amaranthus sp. ) is truly a wonder plant. It has been grown and used as a food source for some 7,000 years! The seeds have been used all around the world as a grain that serves as a complete protein, a source of fiber and minerals. When we were in India it was available and we used the grains to replace rice, to make chapattis and to make more wholesome dosas and idlies. The grains are gluten-free. They were a staple food of the Incas, who called it "kiwicha" and who also popped the small grains and mixed them with honey to make a sweet candy called "Alegria," which by the way means "joy" in Spanish. Amaranth was also eaten by the Aztecs who called it "huautli"

The plant itself is easy to grow, provides thousands of seeds/grains per plant, and the seeds themselves are easy to cook requiring little water, and not much fuel to do so.

The leaves are also highly nutritious and are consumed across many cultures in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In North America, amaranth was used by the Hopi as a natural dye as a brilliant source of deep red. This particular species of amaranth now carries that name, 'Hopi Red Dye' (Amaranthus cruentus or Amaranthus cruentus x A. powellii)

Amaranth is easily grown in our Bay Area climate. The grains are also available at most grocery stores or natural food stores. For my friends across the country and in between, Whole Foods is a reliable source of Amaranth grains. I encourage you all to try it out! And if you already have, try it in a new way, replacing rice, adding loosely cooked grains to salads, making Alegria, or....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

oh how i love when you get to eat flowers!

today i got inspired at the temescal farmer's market when i saw some beautiful squash blossoms at happy boy farms. i've always wanted to make stuffed squash blossoms, but just felt like they were too complicated and hard for me.

so i just went for it and decided today was the day. the nice woman at the stand gave me the encouragement i needed. (it didn't hurt that the organic blossoms were 10 for $1.00!!)

i hopped over a few stalls and visited cowgirl creamery where i picked up some delicious fromage blanc to stuff them with.

the whole process was so simple. i washed the blossoms and allowed them to fully dry on a paper towel. then i stuffed each little blossom with about a spoonful of fromage blanc, while i heated some olive oil in a skillet (i didn't do a deep fry, but rather a pan fry). i prepared a batter using flour, water and seasalt.

i also roasted some padron peppers to go along with. these are my favorite summer find. simply delicious broiled with a lil olive oil and sea salt.

another happy boy find was the Piel de Sapos melon. mmm mmm mmm so sweet!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

DIY Indian weddings are possible.

I'm just back from two weeks in Findlay, Ohio, The place where my sister and I grew up. She got married there last week. I was asked to do the arrangements for the centerpieces as well as make the flower garlands that are used ceremoniously for the hindu wedding ceremony. It was a bit of a challenge to find local, organic flowers, but I did my best. I worked with a local florist and we were able to find some local options to mix in with the not-s0-local. My sister's good friends also grew some of the flowers and foraged locally for wildflowers to mix in as well.

Another important aspect of the ceremony is the Mandapam. This is the 4 postered structure that the ceremony takes place in. It is meant to represent the couples' first home. I constructed the mandapam from black bamboo and adorned it with the traditional mango leaves, banana plants, and handmade fabric vilva garlands.

I'm thinking I might get into the business of Handmade South Indian weddings, any takers?

Here are a few pics of the arrangements and the garlands!

Mum, carnation and rose garlands.

Goldenrod, Aster, Alstroemaria, Sunflowers and Red Roses. For the vases I collected old tin cans and wrapped then in hand stamped kraft paper with twine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

what's growing in findlay ohio

ornamental cabbages


floriforous jasmine!

brightly colored coleus