Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Herb Farm 6, 7, 8, Uprooting Parsnips, Salsify, the Art of Watering Plants and The Great Chicken Caper

I believe it has rained every day that I have gone to the farm, except once or twice. It is expected after all in March and maybe it's me, but it just seems to rain more in the Woodinville/Redmond area. Bill is on vacation in lovely Hawaii, and likely, the last thing on his mind is feeding pigs while he is crunching his toes in the sand.

Sally King, the Director of Ravencroft Garden is an amazing herbalist that I was fortunate enough to meet and have guide me in the greenhouse for a couple days this week. Just being around Sally for a little while and you can feel her connection to plants, it's who she is, it's in her energy. This week I learned a great deal about the art of watering plants, the proper way to plant marjoram seedlings and another lesson in chicken behavior.

For several days now, a couple of the hens have been escaping their little netted area. We have all come to the conclusion it's because of several reasons. One being that the small solar electric fence is water-logged and now broken; the hens are bored and finding ways to shimmy under the non-electric netting into greener pastures or ...someone is having fun with us and pulling a couple chickens out and letting them loose, just to see us running around with our arms and legs outstretched to try and corral the chickens back into their area...

Sally and I tied up any possible openings in the fence and added some fresh straw and a big heap of pulled weeds to their little enclosure for them to scratch and peck at. The woolly pigs enjoyed some organic olive bread and cranberry bagels from the food bank to go with their grain this week.

Sally and I pulled up some of the last remaining parsnips and salsify out of the garden for the restaurant. I have yet to eat salsify, though I am excited to try it- likely next year. The variety we were digging up were pale yellow, looking very much like parsnips and carrots, except the root of the salsify is quite a bit "hairier" (if there is a way to describe it) and often branches out into several thick roots, instead of one thick root. We tried our best to uproot as many mature salsify and parsnip roots as possible, but it's practically April and the supply is just about gone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recipe Testing, Bacon Wrapped Game Hens with Blackberry Balsamic Glaze

I hope you will forgive me for adding a game hen photo in between my blog posts about baby chickens. I'm testing a game hen wrapped in bacon with a blackberry and balsamic glaze. I am figuring out the best way to wrap the hens in bacon, and all the ways not to. This was my second attempt at the glaze and this one was much better. This is my failure at securing the bacon to the hen, but I'm looking forward to trying some different techniques. I'm feeling that I'll be adjusting the recipe a couple more times. I'm sorry I'm not posting my recipe tests-it would be a waste of both our times, as sometimes- they really don't work out.

While I test these recipes, I'm thinking of the flavors in wine while I play a blind match game with my ideas paired with imaginary varietals. Plus, this is going to be a late spring, summer book and I 'm trying to be conscientious about barbecuing, summer fruit and of course ways to make the recipe vegetarian if it isn't already- obviously this one isn't one of them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Herb Farm Day 5-6, Planting Leeks, Building a Temporary Chicken Coop, Edible Weeds

The baby chicks are not chicks anymore, their teenagers. In their awkward teenage chicken stage, they still look more like big chicks then they do hens. Their necks and legs are longer and larger feathers have grown in covering much of their downy fluff. The cutest baby combs have appeared on their heads, like little pink tiaras, our little princess chicks. Because the chickens have grown so much, we had to move them from their temporary housing in the metal trough with the heat lamp, to another temporary coop in another greenhouse. Bill had an area reserved for the chicks, a metal cage that needed some chicken wire and hay. After doing a chicken coop remodel, we moved all 20 of the chicks in. They ran back and forth chasing after one another like tag. Bill and I stood over the coop watching them scurry for a little bit. How satisfying.

Winsome, another volunteer for the HerbFarm helped me plant three different types of leeks: Pandora, Tandora and one other that is escaping me right now. I also replanted some celery seedlings into larger pots. Parsley seedlings are just coming up and the baby greens are almost doubled in size since I saw them last. Also, learned about shot weed, a little leafy weed with white flowers. A weed no one likes but apparently is edible. More to come.

Shot Weed

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Herb Farm Day 4 Baby Artichokes, Pineapple Sage

At the HerbFarm garden a hundred different smells greet you when you walk inside. Rose geranium, pineapple sage, soil, peppery nasturtiums, fertilizer and several other light scents linger in the air. On the left, when you walk in, there is a large water trough, but instead of water, it's filled with 20 baby chicks, scratching and peeping under a heat lamp. Once the chicks have mostly grown, they'll be moved outside with the other egg layers. Until then, they’re pretty fun to pet and pick up and listen peep while your in the greenhouse.

Most recently at the HerbFarm garden, we fed the woolly pigs a variety of bagels from the food bank's scraps, fed the chickens and collected eggs. I then set to work on picking pineapple sage leaves for plate liners for the restaurant. Pineapple sage smells so incredibly wonderful, sticky sweet candy-like smell- almost like Fruit Stripe Gum. And the leaves are sticky too, like double-sided tape. Perfect for holding down slippery plates. The tropical scent of the plant in the warm air in the greenhouse makes me feel like I'm in the rain forest zoo exhibit at Woodland Park and I’m just waiting for a dozen butterflies to come rushing out around me. Afterwards, my next project was transplanting purple artichoke seedlings into bigger pots. Gardening is comforting and meditational, like coloring. Nothing like digging in soil and handling seedlings in a warm green house with peeping chicks in the background.

Baby purple artichokes, Italian variety.
Pineapple sage leaves.

One of three huge 3-foot tall pots of pineapple sage.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Picnic on Phinney Ridge

Picnic, "a food and wine boutique" located on Phinney Ridge is a place you come back to.
Only opened since October, I can imagine they already have neighborhood regulars coming in to purchase bottles of wine and stacks of freshly sliced salami and cheese for personal picnics in front of Netflicks, or to take to Woodland park or to enjoy on a bench at Greenlake.

I recently stopped in for lunch to say hello to Jenny and Anson and introduce the place to my mom. We shared their beet salad with smokey Rogue blue cheese and hazelnuts, a pureed butternut squash soup and a thinly sliced salami and cheese sandwich with roasted red peppers. Everything was perfectly seasoned, made from scratch and healthy, not to mention delicious! We both had a cool glass of white wine from Washington made by a winemaker (name escapes me) who is specializing on growing vines from Spain in Eastern Washington and creating incredible wines.

Picnic is a great place for lunch and if you are running late and need to make dinner, stop by and pick up a bottle of wine and dinner to go. For example, they were offering braised short ribs and mash potatoes you re-heat at home. Or look online before you go, as they are always creating something new!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Finding Inspiration

And so it begins again. What a fitting time to start a new book than springtime? EAT & DRINK book 4- with a focus on spring, some thoughts on summer and some past reminders of winter. I've created a rough draft list of recipes that I have already started to test. It's a challenge to think about favas and fresh spring onions when snow is in the forecast. Gourmet cooking magazines, my wall of cookbooks, food blogs and farmer's markets all help to inspire me to rethink an artichoke or try a new twist on lamb. The HerbFarm garden I know will inspire me to think differently about certain vegetables and of course, challenge me to go beyond my comfort zone limit with flavors. Since it is a recipe and local wine pairing book, I often think about common flavors in wine and try to pull those flavors out of food using different combinations of ingredients. For instance, one recipe I'm excited about is ham wrapped prawns with a chorizo apricot butter. The sweetness of the apricot and prawns should draw out some great flavors in a crisp Washington Riesling or perhaps complement well with a seafood-loving sauvingnon blanc.
The real trick when writing these recipes is trying to balance my cravings for my taste preferences while at the same time keeping things in perspective with my cooking audience's taste buds. Not that I am that extreme, I just know that most people are pickier than I am, and many home cooks like to dip their toes in the water instead of plunging in. Plus, I find the most successful recipe collections offer a little something for everyone; something for the novice, something for the gourmand and probably something that just makes you say, "oh interesting." Most of all, I want to inspire people who enjoy cooking to go out into the farmer's markets and check out what's fresh and dabble in the kitchen with some lovely, local ingredients! Is there anything better then sitting around with friends over some great wine, chatting about life and goals and making great delicious memories?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

HerbFarm Day 3, Baby Greens

At the Trellis restaurant, they have a two-hour garden salad; all the ingredients in the salad are harvested two hours before service begins, at the HerbFarm, the chefs clip the baby greens from the living plants just outside the kitchen doors.
It's lovely to be offered a pair of scissors to clip baby greens with. After planting trees on Thursday and Friday before I left, Bill handed me a pair of scissors and said I could cut some greens for a salad. I clipped some chervil, baby mustard greens called Ruby Streak, miners lettuce and mache. I'll bring a camera to the garden soon and show you what they look like in the soil.

Miners Lettuce, baby Ruby Streak Mustard Greens. The miners lettuce isn't as flavorful as the others, but it's fun to eat- it reminds me of the texture of watercress but not at all spicy. The red streak adds a gorgeous color to a salad and is both nutty, bittersweet and reminiscent of garden peas.

Here is Mache leaves next to Chervil. I love Chervil, it has a light licorice flavor that adds a hint of flavor like a little minty surprise. The mache is smooth and nutty. The chervil is really delicate and almost wilts under water, the mache is heartier and can really lift up a salad that looks flat. With greens this lovely, my salad was a mixture of all four lettuces, high quality extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and sea salt, just lovely. You can find mache at larger grocery stores near the arugula and herbs. It's likely the other greens will not be in the herb section, check out your closest farmers market or plant store for the other greens. Or better yet- grow some!

Planting Oak and Hazelnut Trees HerbFarm day 2

My back is a little sore. Not in the same way one feels when they've had a great workout or from something as silly as pulling a muscle by giving someone very tall an awkward hug. I'm sore from digging holes for two oak and two hazelnut trees, each inoculated with black truffles. “Are you kidding!?” is what I squealed when Bill, the head gardener at the HerbFarm said I’d be doing on Thursday. The trees are tiny and they won’t even produce a truffle likely for five years from now, but the idea that one could even buy a tree inoculated with black truffle spores is quite cool. They bought the trees online at , straight from Eugene, OR.

Ron and Carrie Zimmerman currently own the HerbFarm and because the soil in the culinary garden doesn't have great drainage, Bill decided we should plant a couple trees in their yard, not too far from the culinary garden. "Each tree needs 250 pounds of lime." That was what Bill said when we got to the Zimmerman's house in Woodinville. For prime conditions for these trees, the Ph in the soil needed to be less acidic. The Ph scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral and below 7 being acidic. I don't know exactly where Seattle or the Eastside's soil Ph is, but I do know that there was a variety of soil types depending on where we dug. Rich potting soil type soil, rocky, clay and plain "dirt" looking soil. I'm sure that if we had a tool with which to measure the Ph, it would vary from area to area. Messing with the natural Ph can really destroy your soil unless you know what you are doing- Bill did a lot of research on the native plants in the area and how they would each react to the soil change and based the plantings on this information.

As I am pretty new to gardening- not to mention planting truffle trees! It was pretty neat to see several hundred pounds of lime up close. As we tore into the plastic bags, a child's sandbox came pouring out of each one. The lime was bright white with specks of grey and very fine. For each hole, (measuring at least 3 feet by 2 feet) we, meaning Bill, Mark, Winsome and myself, stirred the soil back in with the lime, then dug an 8 inch whole and planted a tree. If you want to see one of the trees, I believe Bill is planting one right next to the HerbFarm restaurant.