sorry squirrels

I've written before about the old walnut tree in my yard and how I usually leave all the nuts for the squirrels to enjoy. That was until I discovered a recipe for Nocino, an Italian liqueur made from green (unripe) walnuts on Elise Bauer's blog, "Simply Recipes."

Since I recently bottled my spring batch of limoncello, all my glass canisters were empty and ready to be filled up with a new cooking project. It was either this or a big batch of pickles (which frankly would not have been a bad idea either since I'm drowning in cucumbers.) But of course I never can pass up trying something new.

So this weekend I harvested several buckets of walnuts (I actually did leave quite a few on the upper branches to ripen for the squirrels) and set up a Nocino work station outside on my garden table. I love any opportunity to prepare (or eat!) food outdoors.

In Italy, Nocino is typically made in late June when the nuts are still very soft and easy to cut. But like everything in my garden this year, I seem to be running almost a month behind. My walnuts were starting to develop a bit of a shell inside, but luckily it was thin enough that I could still cut and quarter them with my cleaver. It was actually quite a bit easier than zesting all those lemons for the limoncello!

After they were all cut up I put them into my glass canisters with vodka, sugar and spices. I followed Elise's recipe (which she had originally gotten from David Lebovitz' book Room For Dessert) but varied the spices slightly and added in a little star anise for fun.

Almost immediately the green color started to leach out of the walnut skins and into the vodka. Fun science! Apparently it will continue to get darker and darker over the next six weeks until it's a very dark brown.

When I was researching Nocino I also came across recipes for French green walnut liqueurs, green walnut wine as well as pickled green walnuts. Has anyone tried any of these?

I hope I like the outcome of this experiment because the preparation was unbelievably quick and easy. If it's really good, the squirrels are going to be in big trouble next year!

living in the moment

“Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.”¬† —Peace Pilgrim

Those were the first words I read today and I wanted to pass them along. I’ve mentioned before that I subscribe to a daily inspirational Word for the Day from A¬†Network for Grateful Living. The above was today’s quote. Even if the message is something we all know, it’s amazing how much we (well, at least I) need to be regularly reminded of it. I couldn’t have started the day with better marching orders.

And as for the photo above…after months of effort I’ve finally completed my newest addition to the garden–a small pond. I’ll be writing more about this in days to come, but in the meantime I just wanted to share a moment of the serenity.

chicken with basil

I’m posting this (deliberately misleading-ly titled!) photo solely because I haven’t been giving the pullets much press as of late. There just hasn’t been much to say since I’ve worked out the details of their diet (here and here) and they are not laying yet (though I suspect Tuesday, the Plymouth Rock is getting very close.)

This past weekend I made my first big batch of pesto from the garden (for the recipe, see my pesto post from last summer) and gave all the basil stalks (with the small leaves I couldn’t bother to pull) to the girls. I was fantasizing about how wonderful their eggs would taste if I could get them eating basil all the time. Unfortunately it wasn’t a big hit. They pecked at it a bit and did eat some, but not the way they do other greens. Maybe I need to add some Italian chicken breeds (like the Ancona) to the flock!

stuffed mystery squash

I notice in the winter I tend to write a lot about food and cooking and in the summer more about gardening and the outdoors. Most of the reasons for that are fairly obvious–when it’s cold we stay indoors, around the hearth and our bodies crave more calories. In the summer we’re outdoors, there’s more gardening to do and less time to be fussing over a hot stove.

But that’s not to say my interest in food or cooking wanes in the summer (far from it!) It’s just that I find I have less to say about it. The produce of summer really requires so little culinary intervention in order to be wonderful. A simple sliced tomato with fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of good olive oil needs no grand preparation to be sublime.

In the past few weeks I’ve been eating many delicious meals straight from the garden, but most have involved so little actual cooking it seems silly to write about them. But occasionally I have a new insight or twist on something that I want to make a note of.

This past weekend I was trying to get a grip on the squash overload again (it’s gotten to the point where anyone who visits me is not allowed to leave without taking at least one squash home) but didn’t have much time to cook and wanted to whip up something quick and easy with ingredients I had on hand. I’ve been making a lot of stuffed zucchini lately because the kids love them and they are so versatile–great served hot or cold, at a picnic or at the dinner table. So I decided to make a variant on that using my cute round grapefruit-size squash instead.

A digression about these squash. Sometimes I’m a very meticulous gardener–carefully documenting what, when, where, how I’m planting. Other times I get impulsive and whimsical, planting this and that here and there and thinking, “Oh, I don’t need to make a note of this, I’ll remember what I did.” And then of course I inevitably forget and as seeds start sprouting I find myself staring quizzically at the leaf shapes trying to discern what these plants are. This year I’ve had a couple instances of this, including with these squash. I’m almost positive I planted the “Rond de Nice” variety. But as far as I know these squash are always green. Yes, most green squash will mature to orange but these are starting out that way. Any thoughts on this out there? Is there an orange “Rond de Nice” or is it something else?

Anyway, back to cooking…I started with my typical stuffed zucchini formula (saute onions with the squash interior then add bread crumbs, grated parmesan, herbs and eggs) but because the size of these squash made a larger portion, I decided to make it more of a hearty main course by also adding a little of my homemade breakfast sausage which I had in the freezer from this past March. Then I roasted them for about 40 minutes.

I thought the results were very tasty and the presentation looked cute too. The only thing I didn’t like was that unlike zucchini, the skin on these was a little too tough and strong-tasting to eat. But there was still plenty to enjoy with just the filling. Now if only I could identify what squash these actually are!

corn on the 4th of july

When I was little I remember my father (who grew up in Ohio) saying corn should be "knee high by the 4th of July." But once I started growing my own corn I realized that unless he was talking about the knee height of a giant, that saying certainly didn't match my experience.

Case in point, today my corn is eight feet high! Granted, we have a long growing season here in California, but corn shoots up so fast I don't know how late you'd have to plant for it to be only knee high by this date. (Can anyone comment on this old adage?)

In my garden this week the corn tassels emerged followed by the first beginnings of a few ears of corn. It's always so exciting to see the tall grassy stalks suddenly transformed by the protruding ears. And I love seeing the beautiful corn silk in the sun.

Last year, I harvested a small crop of corn in the middle of August. This year, I'm growing about twice as much and I think it the harvest will be earlier. Looking forward to it! But in the meantime, today I'm celebrating my independence from factory farming by enjoying the rest of all my homegrown produce!

garden grab bag

I usually try to write about single topics here but since I've fallen way behind in documenting what's happening in the garden, this post is going to be a bit of a catch-all (though by no means comprehensive!) In my printed gardening journals this is when I would just scribble a list of disconnected notes without much description.

As shown in the photo above, my walnut tree is covered with nuts. I actually don't like walnuts (the tree was here long before I was) so I usually just let the squirrels enjoy the bounty. But I do appreciate so many other aspects of the tree–it's visual beauty throughout the seasons (even in winter), the shade it provides in the heat of summer, and the food it offers to the woodpeckers who frequent it. There's something about this tree that draws me to it and almost every day I have a moment where I just stand and stare up into its branches.

At the beginning of last month we harvested the very last of our spring carrots. This was actually one of the kids' gardening projects. I always get a "kaleidoscope" seed mix of red, purple, yellow and orange carrots for them to plant. They aren't necessarily the sweetest or best tasting carrots I've ever had, but the kids love being surprised by what color is going to come out of the ground. And they do look so pretty cut up in a salad together. (Unless of course it's a freak carrot like the one we picked in April!)

Most of our summer crops are going full tilt now, and I'm getting almost frightened by the "Little Shop of Horrors"-like pumpkin plant that has grown out of the garden and across the patio. This is the second year the kids are trying their luck at growing giant
(Dill's Atlantic) pumpkins. This variety supposedly can
produce up to 800 lb. pumpkins. Yikes! You could take Cinderella to the ball in one of those.

Last year we had some relatively big pumpkins (in the 50 lb range) but lost a few right at the end to rot and squirrels. Hopefully we'll do better this year. There's no scale reference in these photos, so please note that each of these leaves is 22" across! Scary!


And while we're seeing the last of the spring crops (though we're still eating peas like crazy) and enjoying the peaking summer crops, it's comforting to see the start of some of our late summer and fall crops, like kale. For years I really only planted a summer garden, but I feel so much more in sync with the cycles of nature when I grow food year round. Which reminds me, I better get some broccoli planted soon!