My husband and I are lucky enough to be away on our first trip alone since having our son 2 years ago. We decided to head to Mexico as flying to Cabo is an easy flight from Seattle. We decided to come back to an amazing hotel which we have visited several times before. Rancho Pescadero, which is several miles outside of Todos Santos seems to value the concept of farm to table. They have an amazing Garden Restaurant which serves food which it seems is 100% made from scratch. They grow most of their own vegetables in a lovely garden of about 1/4-1/2 acre. They have just planted the crops that will see them through the winter. They are lucky enough to grow almost anything they need through our winter months.
I love all the various salsas that they pair with the various meals, everything has such a simple but fresh flavor. Ceviche is another delicious treat with the fish caught that day and paired with simple ingredients: lime juice, cucumber, avocado, red onion and tomatoes.
We have spent our first two days reading books, eating, drinking, swimming and playing Yahtzee of course. This time doing essentially nothing has made us ask ourselves, 'why are we waiting until 2020 to move to Italy'? The obvious answer is 'we need to have enough money' but in the last two days I have thought to myself, 'is it ever enough'? I have been conditioned to save and save and if I am honest with myself do I know when I will feel like I have 'enough'?
Doing some research on cost of living in Italy I came across this site: https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/cost-of-living-in-italy. Which clearly states that the cost is EUR 33,996 for a family of four to live in Milan (excluding rent). We are a family of 3 and plan to live in the countryside!
With this time to think things through and do a little research we have decided that 2018 is the new 2020! We will hope to leave the US in the first half of 2018, buy a car and caravan and vacation around Europe until November. We will then head to an Italian town like Todi, Spoleto or Perugia and hibernate, learn Italian and start the property search with the hope of buying a property so we can move in by the Spring/Summer 2019!
Wow, this feels great to make plans which are imminent!
As you might have read from an earlier blog post I pick my tomatoes, remove the stalks and freeze so that when I am ready I can make one big batch of tomato sauce which I will can and use throughout the winter.
We have had our first rain of the autumn here in Seattle and the temperature outside is a cool 55 degrees F so it is time to make the sauce!
This years tomato crop was not as good as in previous years so I suspect I will not get more than a few liters of sauce, darn!
Here is my process for making tomato sauce:
Canned Tomato Sauce
First I start by dumping all the frozen tomatoes in the pot, just to defrost them and getting them cooking takes 3 - 4 hours so make sure you are ready for almost a full 8 - 10 hours of cooking.
You need to reduce the total volume by 60%, crazy I know but tomatoes have so much water and you need to cook this off so you are left with tomato goodness.
Once you have cooked down the tomatoes to a thick mixture it is time for you put them through a food mill. My food mill has three options from the biggest holes to the smallest, I use the middle option. Once I am through with this process I always find that I need to cook down the mixture a little bit more. You know it is ready to can when you don't see a separation of water at the top and tomato sauce. I have included a lot of pictures to help you with this process.
When it comes to canning you need to boil a pot of water, make sure your jar are sterilized. I use quart size jars and before adding the sauce you need 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Fill the jars with the sauce leaving about ½ at the top. Put on the seal and lid and then process in the boiling water for about 45 minutes, leave them for an additional 5 minutes with the heat turned off before you remove them.
You should have a winter's supply of tomato sauce!
It is tomato glut season and I am lucky to love tomatoes! The weather is getting colder here in Seattle and we have had rain for the last 3 days. This weather makes me think about the cold rainy winter to come and that in turn makes me think about soups and stews, YUM!
With that in mind here is my recipe for an autumn treat:
Roasted Tomato Soup
Put about 2.5 pounds of tomatoes, 2 roughly chopped onions and about 6 - 8 garlic cloves (peeled) in a large bowl
Add about 6 tablespoons of olive oil and make sure that everything has a good coating. Once coated dump out the contents onto a baking tray. Cook in the oven on 450 degrees F for about 20 - 30 minutes, they are finished when the look nice and caramelized!
Once they are done in the oven dump them into a pot add about 32 ounces of stock, 2 - 3 bay leads and about 3 - 4 tablespoons of butter
Cook for 20 - 40 minutes or until the contents has reduced by ⅓, you want a thick mixture.
Remove bay leaves and then use an emersion blender to create a consistent mixture. Add cream to taste (I added about ¼ cup), salt and pepper….Enjoy!
As my tomatoes have now reached the top of the greenhouse (16 feet) I think it is a good time to review varieties I selected and how they have done. Here are the varieties I have grown and my comments on how they have done!
Apologies for the silence, I have been trying to keep up with work and all the vegetable picking in the garden. What has been most surprising this years is that my kale is still growing like crazy and it has not been attached by any of the many insects that often attach it every year. Lucky me!
I LOVE kale but I come across a lot of people who don’t love it so I am always looking to create recipes to convert people. Admittedly, I have failed more often than I have succeeded but I continue to try. I wanted to share the recipe which has created the most kale converts. Enjoy!
A good glug of olive oil
About 15-20 kale leaves
2 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
1 cup of beef stock (chicken will do but beef is better)
1 cup red wine if using beef stock, white wine if using chicken stock
1/2 cup of grated parmesan
3 tablespoons of butter
Grated nutmeg (optional)
Black pepper (optional)
Strip the kale leaves from the tough centre stalk and discard the stalk. Roll the kale leaves up into a tube and cut the tube into slices (or just chop the kale). Cut the onions into two halves, then slice each half so that the onions are in long slivers. Chop the garlic. Heat a non-stick pan and add the olive oil. Add the onions and turn pan onto a low heat. Fry the onions until they are transparent and soft. Add the garlic and keep frying until the garlic and onions are pretty soft.
Heat the pan up until its hot and add the stock. Keep the pan on high heat until the stock reduces to about 1/10th of its original volume. Add the cup of wine and reduce that until its about 1/10th its original volume. You're trying to get something which is a bit thickish, not just liquid.
Turn the heat back to low and add the kale. Keep cooking the kale until its still bright green (not pale green) - probably about 4 -5 minutes on a low heat. Stir the onion and kale around so its all mixed in together.
Add the parmesan and stir.
When it looks like the liquid is just covering the bottom of the pan - its ok if its still a bit liquidy, but you don't want it to be a half inch deep for instance - then add the 3 tablespoons of butter and stir until the butter is melted.
The butter and liquid should thicken slightly.
Turn off the heat and stir everything in the pan so that it is well mixed.
Grate more Parmesan over the top, grate some nutmeg and/ or black pepper, and serve.
I love squash and in the winter time I dream about an abundance of this stuff. In the summer my husband and I like to challenge ourselves to full 2-3 course meals that have courgettes in each course! I thought I would share some of these recipes with you. You will notice that my recipes are not terribly detailed in the sense that I don’t often give you explicit measurements.
Grilled Courgette Salad
This is a yummy option for a starter/appetizer or if you bring your lunch to work a great lunch option!
Zucchini/Summer Squash/Courgette - 2 -3
1 Garlic clove
Handful of milk
Salt and pepper
Fresh peas (handful)
Cheese (I like either goats cheese or parmesan)
First take a few zucchini and thinly slice them the long way and grill them on a griddle or on the BBQ (griddle pan is a lot easier!). Once you do this place them on a platter and don't overlap them as this will make them go soggy.
Mince the garlic and very thinly slice the chili and sprinkle over the courgettes/squash. Finely chop the mint and sprinkle over platter. Add some salt and pepper and then drop chunks of goat's cheese around the platter. If you are using parmesan you can likely skip the salt and thickly grate the cheese all over the platter. To finish drizzle a good amount of delicious Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is a variation of a lasagne without the bechamel sauce, the cheesy breadcrumb topping makes this pretty tastey!
Zucchini/Summer Squash/Courgette - 4 - 5
Jar of tomato sauce (I can my own tomato sauce from my tomato crop but you can buy a jar as well)
No bake lasagne sheets
Bread Crumbs (ideally home made)
The first thing you need to do is thinly slice the squash, then lay it in a single layer on a baking tray and make sure it is covered (top and bottom) with olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes at 450 degrees F. You want it to be fully cooked but still firm and not mushy.
While this is cook grate a large amount of cheddar and parmasan cheese, you need enough to put some in the bake as well as some on the top, mix both grated cheeses together.
Start creating the bake by placing a small amount of sauce on the bottom of the 9x13 inch dish. Then add a layer of lasagne sheets, on top of the sheets add a layer of the squash. Next lasagne sheets, some sauce, some cheese mixture and then more squash. Continue this process until you have about ½ inch at the top. You want to have the top layer be the squash. Mix at least 1 - 1.5 cups of the cheese mixture with about 1 cup to breadcrumbs and then add this to the top of the squash...this should be a thick layer so if you need more cheese/breadcrumb mixture go ahead and add it.
I bake this at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes.
Apologies for the blog silence these last couple of weeks. Life has really got the better of me since returning from Italy. It is always tough adjusting back to normal life after being on vacation but this was compounded by it being the end of the quarter (I run a sales team) and our nanny deciding to become a stay at home mom.
I will not bore you with the details but it is NOT easy to find a nanny! We survived almost a month without a nanny and it was really an all hands on deck effort with my 70 year old parents helping out daily and my husband finishing work early every day. This past month was a blur of interviews, work and stress. What really helped me get through each day (in addition to my amazing son) was my garden. Each evening after I put my son to sleep I was able to take 10 - 20 minutes to walk around in the silence of the evening. I was able to look at the zucchini’s that had doubled in size since the day before, I smelled the roses and generally took a moment to relax and forget the crap in life that had been getting me down.
An article I read on health.com said ‘A recent study in the Netherlands suggests that gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities.’ With all the distractions we have in life today being able to be outside and focus on the garden helps me remember what is really important and realize that whatever is causing me stress is temporary and, in the scheme of things, not worth worrying about. Thank you garden...
I ate my first tomato of 2017 today and WOW was it good, you cannot go wrong with a Gardeners Delight tomato! I think that this is a little later than my normal first tasting which I always remember being in June. I believe that in years past I ate my first tomato in June because we had some warm weather in April or May, not this year! The weather only really started getting nicer at the end of May. Regardless I now have tomatoes going crazy and this gets me thinking of the obvious question, ‘What am I going to do with all of these tomatoes?’.
I asked myself this question for the first few years after building the greenhouse and having literally baskets full of ripe tomatoes. I tried to start canning various things in batches when I had tomatoes and made things like salsa and tomato sauce. I found myself doing this once-twice a week from the months of July - October, it was very time consuming! A few years ago I was about to go on vacation and had so many tomatoes so I just stuck them in a bag in the freezer. When I was home from vacation, and was making my next batch of tomato sauce, I dumped them in. I use a food mill before canning my tomato sauce so these frozen tomatoes with skins did not matter.
From that day on I put tomatoes in the freezer when they are ripe and then make a couple of massive batches of tomato sauce each year. It is the same amount of effort but much less frequently. I just used my second to last jar of tomato sauce from last year so fingers crossed this will be a good summer for tomatoes!
I built raised beds about 5 years ago and have tried many different approaches and techniques for growing things most effectively. One really stuck, which I love sharing with other people with raised beds, is my approach to supporting tomatillos and ground cherries. I have always grown tomatillos and ground cherries in my raised beds. They both need a lot of support but the support they need is different for each. Ground cherries grow more laterally and tomatillos grow taller. I found that a standard tomato cage just did not cut it in terms of support. I decided to put some bamboo and cable ties to use and came up with a really stable support system that actually fits my raised beds perfectly. I thought I would make a video to show you how it works!
Check out the finished cage, this is going to be full of ground cherries in the next month or 2!
Every summer one of the favorite plants I like to watch grow are the tomatoes in my greenhouse. Everytime I walk through the greenhouse door I feel very lucky to have a greenhouse at all. It is only because of my greenhouse that I am able to grow amazing tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest. I go inside the greenhouse house every day, when possible, to give the tomatoes a little shake. This helps ensure that the tomatoes are pollinated and the fruit sets. If the tomatoes were outside a bee or even the breeze would do this but in a greenhouse they need a little help.
In the last month the tomatoes have grown several feet and have added 2 - 3 new flower clusters. In another month these tomatoes will likely be close to hitting the 14 foot roof of the greenhouse - really! Before getting the greenhouse I had no idea that tomatoes would get this big if grown in optimal conditions.
This year I decided to mostly try new varieties of indeterminate tomatoes. I am growing the following:
All of my tomatoes are doing really well aside from one of the Gardeners Delight, it seems to have had an issue which, based on my research, is from an herbicide. I grow 100% organically but I suspect something might have been blown through a roof vent on a windy day. I believe that my neighbors treated their roof with a moss control which could be the likely cause, what a shame! The rest of the plants are doing well but it is the growth at the top of the Gardeners Delight which is suffering.
I am also growing the amazing Red Robin small bush tomato. This is an amazingly prolific plant which can be grown in small pots and even hanging baskets. I cannot go a summer without this tomato, some nights I pick and pick for close to an hour from just 4 plants!