Orange Blossom Special

The life in my backyard is so breathtakingly alive right now. I am especially drawn to my two 60-year-old orange trees who greet me everyday with bursts of intensely perfumed orange blossoms that permeate my backyard. So heady is this fragrance, I find myself making excuses to stay home, just to linger in my garden. This heavenly smell is reminiscent of springtime in my home town of Riverside, California, where, in my earlier days, the orange trees possibly outnumbered the residents!

Not to neglect the brilliant oranges that are a part of this scene, they too deserve attention. It’s as if they are asking, “ So, what will you create with us today?” As much as I love eating them ripe off the tree, I came up with this easy recipe which also uses the prolific Swiss chard making a strong appearance in my garden right now. The flavors interact perfectly – some tang, some crunch, some sweetness. It’s colorful and delicious. I love it as a side dish or make it a main by tossing in some cannellini beans for vegetarian or sweet chicken sausage slices for a meatier meal.

Orange Blossom Special
 
Ingredients
  • 5-6 cupfuls of sliced Swiss chard, stems removed and cut into pieces separately
  • 1 large shallot, sliced into rings
  • 2 large, fresh oranges, cut into 1” cubes
  • 3 or more Tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions
  1. Saute the chard stems in 1 Tablespoon olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.
  2. In a small pan, saute the shallot in 1 Tablespoon olive oil until deep brown and almost crispy.
  3. Add the sliced chard to the chard stems and cook on medium heat, tossing frequently until just beginning to wilt. Do not overcook or it will lose its beautiful green color. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Toss in the shallots and oranges.
  5. Sprinkle in the pistachios.
  6. This is especially good when drizzled with Orange or Mandarin Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Add a splash of Fig Balsamic Vinegar to take it over the edge.

Voila! Tasty and nutritious!

“Did you ever sleep in a field of orange-trees in bloom? The air which one inhales deliciously is a quintessence of perfumes. This powerful and sweet smell, as savoury as a sweetmeat, seems to penetrate one, to impregnate, to intoxicate, to induce languor, to bring about a dreamy and somnolent torpor. It is like opium prepared by fairy hands and not by chemists.”
― Guy de Maupassant, 88 Short Stories

My feelings exactly! Take deep breaths and drink in the beauty of Spring!

P.S. I named this story Orange Blossom Special after the bluegrass song that stole my heart when I lived in Southern Illinois. Here is a fun rendition of the “Fiddle Player’s National Anthem.”

Ciao for now,
Mary




Romancing Romanesco

Fresh from my very own garden!

Romanesco. It sounds sexy, alluring, Italian. Like a tall, dark and handsome Roman God. But, in reality, it is nothing like the vision the name conjures up. Our eyes met in the produce department of a specialty food store last year. Its tall and pointy bright green clusters of organized mini Christmas trees spoke to me. “Pick me! Pick me!”

Little did I know that this newish, trending vegetable would become one of my favorites. A cross between broccoli and cauliflower and of Italian origin (I love anything Italian!), its densely packed flower buds form repeating spiral patterns that scientists have fun with. Called a “fractal” vegetable, it’s been discussed in mathematical and architectural circles as a miracle of nature.

The taste is earthier than broccoli and the body is firm with a texture more like a cauliflower. I cook it al dente so it retains its bite on the inside while having a softer first outer layer.

When I saw the seedlings in my local nursery last fall, I snatched them up, eager to have a love affair with Romanesco all spring. Watching my new garden additions grow was every bit as exciting as my fava bean experiment. Something different, a new character in my raised beds. The plants took off quickly, shooting three feet skyward, their enormous, sturdy leaves folding over one another. After four months of doting on my Romanesco, waiting for the spiky green vegetable to birth, I almost lost faith. All I had was a garden full of big leaves. Until one day, at the beginning of month five and after my daily inspection, a small chartreuse cone caught my eye, pushing up from the cuddle of her mother leaves. It was happening!

These plants are teaching me patience. Once emerged, they grow quickly. They are so gorgeous, I hated to cut the umbilical cord but I did. I shared this special gem, a la Italian, with my foodie cousin Ali and my gourmet mom.

There are so many ways to prepare Romanesco. I wanted to give it an Italian flair so I cut off each spiral, roasted them and then tossed with fried capers, olive oil, roasted red peppers, minced garlic and red pepper flakes. It does lose some of its vibrant green color in the cooking but the flavor and texture make up for it. There are four more plants in my garden in various stages awaiting for me to show my appreciation by cooking them in some creative way. I have all spring!

Ciao for now,

Mary




Garden Reformation

The cicoria edible plant, gone to seed, produces these lovely purple flowers. I have not removed them yet as they are so dainty and sweet.

The cicoria edible plant, gone to seed, produces these lovely purple flowers. I have not removed them yet as they are so dainty and sweet.

The Ops Twins (see April 2013 “The Beet Goes On”story), goddesses of agriculture, united again to trim, weed and dismember parts of my garden in need of refreshing. This year my niece Maya joined in to help celebrate Mother’s Day and to lend a hand.

A trio of generations gathers to celebrate Mom and our friendships.

A trio of generations gathers to celebrate Mom and our friendships.

I selfishly hang onto over-grown, gone to seed and wilting plants from my winter garden. I love the height and depth of colors the favas, kales and Italian greens grow into. They are a focal point in my yard, always happy with the cooler weather, requiring little attention except for the oohs and ah’s I deliver to them daily. Yes, I play favorites and my winter garden is my favorite child. So, I procrastinate, as long as possible, adding these spent greens to my compost pile.

I dug up this Rapa Toscana root. Does anyone know if you can eat this? Speak now or forever hold your peace!

I dug up this giant Rapa Toscana root. Does anyone know if you can eat this? Speak now or forever hold your peace!

A farmer's best friend. These worms will keep my soil healthy for the tomatoes.

A farmer’s best friend. These worms will keep my soil healthy for the tomatoes.

Something I did yesterday was to uproot the many volunteer tomatoes that have dug themselves into my gravel, and replant them with the other free spirits that sprouted up about two months ago in my strawberry box. It’s my experiment. All my tomatoes this year will be a surprise as to variety. Kind of like not knowing if it’s a boy or a girl.

I fashioned a tepee of old trellises to stake up my volunteer tomatoes. I think it's awesome!

I fashioned a tepee of old trellises to stake up my volunteer tomatoes. I think it’s awesome!

My box of flowering and consequently bitter greens is now vacant, awaiting another weekend inspiration. What to plant this spring? Most likely grilling veggies, as they seem to be my summer dinner – so simple and fresh.

This Italian cicoria or chicory, is my favorite plant this year. Its elegance dances a tangled tango.

This Italian cicoria or chicory, is a sculptural work of art and my favorite plant this year. Its elegance dances a tangled tango.

As I clear out and make space for new, I own this change and am re-energized at the prospect of vine-ripe tomatoes, long, skinny, deep purple Japanese eggplant, peppers of all colors, sweet and of fire, and who knows what else?

Feeling the warm dirt caress my fingers, as I dig holes for new seeds and plants, gives me a rush of joy and fills my happy heart with hope for abundance. What foods, ideas or dreams will you plant for yourself this week?

The Buddleia, or butterfly bush, is doing its job, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds galore. Since these guys are short season bloomers, I had to share their heartbeat.

The Buddleia, or butterfly bush, is doing its job, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds galore. Since these guys are short season bloomers, I had to share their heartbeat.

Leave room in your garden for the fairies to dance.

Ciao for now! Happy planting!

Mary




Garden Rx

Flourishing favas before the squall that knocked them off their feet.

Flourishing favas before the squall that knocked them off their feet.

Last evening I returned home from a stormy (for San Diego standards) day to discover my precious fava beans completely toppled over from the heavy winds. My first reaction was “is there a trauma doctor in the house?!” I have been babying these beans, planting them from seeds and watching them flourish far beyond my expectations.

Fallen angels.

Fallen angels.

Tiny green fingerling beans are even starting to lengthen and grow from their sweet white flower petals.

This little one is well on its way.

This little one is well on its way.

I quickly decided not to give up on them. I would resuscitate them! Delving through my drawers to find something to tie them to the wooden braces already in the beds, I found an ace bandage. Stretchy and soft, I cut it into quarters lengthwise then cut 15 inch pieces. In the rain with darkness closing in, I carefully gathered up sections of the tall stalks and attached them to the posts as gently as possible. By the time I finished, they were again standing tall, although many of their delicate stalks had snapped. When the weather clears, I will add more posts and re-tie the favas to give them more breathing room but for now they are out of the ICU.

Successful surgery. Patients are doing well.

Successful surgery. Patients are doing well.

A kiss to make it better.

A kiss to make it better.

My Italian garden will survive. The good news is that my chicory, Cimi di Rapa, a kind of Italian broccoli and Rapa Toscana are all healthy, thriving and getting ready for an Italian festa using all these veggies I planted from seeds I purchased in Italy. This is the greatest reward of gardening. Bringing a bit of ciao back home.

Chicory or Chicoria whose celery/fennel stalks are a springtime staple in Italy.

Chicory or Cicoria whose celery/fennel stalks are a springtime staple in Italy.

Cima di Rapa, bottom, romaine, left and kale on the right. A salad a day keeps the doctor away!

Cima di Rapa, bottom, romaine, left and kale on the right. A salad a day keeps the doctor away!

Garden freshness, just picked and ready for a dinner creation.

Garden freshness, just picked and ready for a dinner creation.

That night I celebrated my successful surgery with a sauté of my garden goodness – swiss chard, two varieties of kale, parsley, thyme, shallots and shiitake mushrooms all spooned over some soft and creamy polenta I brought back from Lucca. The perfect meal for a rainy day. It soothed my soul and reminded me how good everything tastes when it is just out of the heart of the garden. Heart to heart. Benissimo!

DSCN5578Ciao and Love for now,

Maria




Autumn Earth

Fall is a season of contrasts. Besides the obvious color change of leaves, there is a distinct softness in the air, a kind of fuzzy morning haze, with warm afternoons, cool evenings and if you’re lucky and the skies are clear, a chance of a green flash over the ocean with the setting sun. I love this time to reflect on what has grown, in my life and my garden, and the sweet anticipation of what’s to come.

My garden also is a contrast of various stages of growth. The Angel Pomegranate tree I planted last summer has gifted me five garnet red beauties. It has doubled in size and I imagine will continue to multiply its harvest next year. The Meyer Lemon is heavy with green fruit that is beginning to turn yellow for a most likely January crop. My raised bed gardens are filling up with young plants. I started chicory, kale, lettuce and beets from seeds. It’s so interesting to be able to identify the plants when they are so tiny!

Baby kale just learning its identity.

Romaine lettuce – very assertive.

Although not yet recognizable, these will be transformed into red and golden beets. So lovely.

Fava Beans started from seedlings. The anchor of my Italian garden.

Speaking of Italy, in a few days I embark on another adventure, this time to Tuscany. I’m staying on an agritourisimo (farm) for two weeks and immersing myself into the country lifestyle. This is the beginning of the olive harvest season and I am hoping to learn the craft of making olive oil with my farm family. Tune in for recipes I gather as I meet and cook with the locals and savor the foods of the season. The ancient cultures have so much wisdom to impart. I’ll keep my eyes, ears and heart open to learn from them as well as continue my search for Black Madonnas. Let the journey begin!

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Ciao for now!

Mary (Maria)




Garden of Life

Lush freshness

Lush freshness from my garden

Every person has their own garden. A garden of wishes they hope to grow into fruition. When we are young, we plant many seeds of all the things we hope to accomplish in life. As we age and have watched those seeds become living dreams, some happy and healthy, some are weeds that need to be sorted through and recycled. Some become overgrown and litter our mind. I love to weed. It gives me time to deeply contemplate what needs more attention and what needs less. As I loosen the invaders with my fingers and tug gently to release their roots, it is a form of catharsis for me. It’s like clearing my mind at the same time as cleaning up my yard. I can see things more clearly. The trees, flowers and bushes now can shine and be a focal point, their once tag-along side kicks removed. The mind relaxes; the body aches a bit but feels stronger for it. There is almost nothing I’d rather do on a sunny weekend than trim and prune and weed my yard.I am making it more beautiful and hospitable for the birds and butterflies and bees that call my garden home. How we tend and care for our “gardens” reflect how we live our lives. Infuse a little love in everything you do and watch what happens!!

One of the many hummingbirds that delight in the abundance of salvia in my yard.

One of the many hummingbirds that delight in the abundance of Salvia in my yard.

Love from my garden to yours,

Mary




Transitions

Sparky pondering his nest transition....

Sparky pondering his next transition…

The transition to spring nudges me to do things that I have had on a procrastination list – cleaning out closets, purging my computer of used emails, exercising regularly and last but not least, preparing my raised beds for summer veggies.

A clean slate with which to paint a new picture.

A clean slate with which to paint a new picture.

Why are we such creatures of habit when it comes to “spring” cleaning? What prompts us to create space especially this time of year? To me, transition is a form of new creation, a fresh outlook, and in my garden, a literal new viewpoint of colors and textures. My juvenile pomegranate tree has transitioned from a spindle of naked branches to an explosion of vibrant green leaves and sunset buds soon to become my favorite leather skinned fruits.

Pom 1Summer will tease charming blossoms into autumn fruit.

DSCN2060Such delicate beauty!

The aromatic sweet peas that have lit up two areas of my yard with cotton candy pinks, snow whites and deep velvet purples are slowly saying goodbye, much to my dismay. It’s like a good friend who is going on a long vacation. I know they will be back next year but miss them already.

Each petal has a transitional color.

Each petal has a transitional color.

delicate spHow much prettier can these pinks get? Everyday I am grateful and amazed. They are glorious!!!!

The last of my lettuce is in my refrigerator, ready to share with friends. I am grateful for such an abundant harvest that kept me fed and healthy for months. As I cleaned up the last of the broccoli, I noticed that my beets are finally ready to be released from their slumber.

new beetsNew beets so sweet. Don’t forget the green tops which are just as delectable.

DSCN2036Spring revealed! Beautiful fraise, so tiny and fragrant with the scent of French woods.

So, as nature is constantly transitioning, every day, every minute, I am learning to do the same. Little, incremental changes, that mimic nature’s rhythm, help us shift into the new, opening up space for creative forces to take hold. What will you shift today?

DSCN2042The new has arrived! Summer “fruit” is brewing!

Avec l’amour de ma maison à la vôtre, le bonheur et la bonne santé  (With love from my house to yours, happiness and good health)




Harvesting Goodness

ImageMy daily catch!

Most of you know the three things I love most (besides my dogs!). They are gardening, travel, food and cooking. I’ve decided to pull these passions together to change the flavor of my blog slightly. Because it is creating such joy in my life, I will bring my garden more into focus, sharing with you its beauty and bounty. Its influence on me is changing my life in tiny increments. Each new sprout, flower of budding fruit and even weed give pause for admiration and awe. To be able to harvest, daily if I wish, and eat this freshness of nature, is teaching me to appreciate life’s abundance.

” Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf.” Tagore

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Swiss Chard, Lactino Kale & Italian Kale – all cozy cousins!

My seeds of Italian Kale, Lactino Kale and Swiss Chard are presently producing in abundance. Every night, in order to honor their appearance, I come home and must devise a way to cook these bold greens. Here are two recipes I created. They are both delicious, filled with nutrients and gorgeous on the plate.

Walnut Kale
 
Ingredients
  • ½ Cup toasted walnuts, crumbled slightly
  • 2 Tbls. Olive oil
  • ½ Cup sliced mushrooms (or more if you love mushrooms like I do)
  • 3 Cups coarsely chopped kale or any mixture of fresh hearty greens like chard
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ Cup sliced fresh fennel, about 1”long by ⅓” wide
  • Walnut Oil

Instructions
  1. Toast walnuts over medium heat just until slightly browned.
  2. Heat olive oil to medium and add the mushrooms, sautéing just until soft.
  3. Stir in the kale and garlic and cook over medium. Kale will wilt slightly but you don’t need to overcook. If the pan seems dry, add about ¼ cup of warm water.
  4. Stir in the fennel and let it heat through.
  5. Serve as a side dish or you could mound it over brown rice – yum.
  6. Drizzle with walnut oil to finish the flavor. A sprinkling of Fleur de Sel would also be nice!

 

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I love the “cooked” flavor of toasted walnuts.

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Mise en place.

 

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Healthy and beautiful to eat!

Omelet with Kale Sauté
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Tbls. Olive oil
  • ¼ Cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Cup coarsely chopped kale or like I did, combo of kale, chard and some baby broccoli
  • 2 eggs beaten with a pinch of salt and pepper
  • Slivered basil
  • Optional: cheese of your choice

Instructions
  1. In a small sauté pan, heat the oil to medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook until soft. Place mushrooms in a small bowl to use later.
  2. Add kale to the pan and sauté gently just until wilting.
  3. Remove and place in separate bowl.
  4. Add some butter to the pan, heat to medium high and when hot, pour in the egg. Rotate the pan, lifting the cooked parts of the eggs to let the uncooked portion run underneath and cook. Put a lid on the pan for 2 minutes to finish cooking.
  5. Unmold the omelet onto a plate.  Sprinkle with cheese if you like. Pile the kale in the middle, sprinkle the basil on top. Voila! This is really tasty.

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Be creative! Add Herbs de Provence to the eggs. Add onions or shallots or green onions. The world is your oyster.

My hope is that you will be inspired to plant, even the tiniest garden or even just a few seeds and see how they influence your life. Planting seeds of goodness – isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Sparky having a zen moment in our garden.

Avec l’amour de ma maison à la vôtre avec l’amour, le bonheur et la bonne santé  (With love from my house to yours with love, happiness and good health)

Merci mille fois! (Thanks a  million!)