What’s your baking go to resource? Who do you call when you’ve got a quandary?
Do you pull those recipes from the family recipe box and wonder what the heck Nanny was talking about with that recipe hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope yet saved for decades?
Well, much like the infamous, Butter Ball Hotline, which fields calls from harried turkey roasters around Thanksgiving, King Arthur Flour, based in Vermont, has a Baker’s Hotline. I have indeed used this resource over the years and it’s wonderful but we rarely hear much about it. In this era of Google, TikTok and Chat GPT, folks are hunting for solutions in a myriad of ways but alas, the source can sometimes be a bit dicey. Need some insights on a substitution? Having trouble scaling ingredients? Wondering how to use a different pan? The fifteen baking specialists on the King Arthur Hotline can offer great insights and guidance and it’s worth keeping the number handy as we launch into the season of pies, cookies, breads, and cinnamon rolls!
I was reminded of this today when I was sharing some Bundt pan baking tips with a young baker. I soon suggested the pros at the King Arthur Baker’s Hotline and thought it would be worthwhile sharing again as we all reach for those baking pans, recipe boxes, and very pricey baking ingredients!
Recipe reinvigoration can come in the oddest ways!
In early September my husband and I took a little retreat out in Westport on the Washington Coast. The weather was great and the Pacific Ocean had that telltale fall sparkle. The beach was quiet as all the kids were back in school and I had lots of moments to fuel my creative energy. I beachcombed. I rambled around the small fishing town. I poked around antique stores and beelined to a Church Rummage Sale.
At the sale, I found a few cookbooks and strolled by a long table filled with wine glasses, coffee mugs, drinking glasses, tall Margarita glasses and a vast selection of ice cream cups and sherbet glasses.
At that moment, I didn’t need them so off we went to lunch.
Then at the Blue Buoy, a family owned seafood restaurant, my husband casually ordered shrimp cocktail.
I didn’t think a hoot about it.
Alas, when it arrived my creative juices sprang to life. The pink baby shrimp was mounded generously into a tall chilled ice cream parlor glass. At that moment, I had found a use for those glasses at the rummage sale.
I knew those vintage glasses would be perfect for seafood cocktails made with the local crab and the shrinp harvested from the ocean!
I haven’t given much thought to shrimp cocktail over the years. My dear dad LOVED it when I was growing up but my palate had waned from it. The big farm raised shrimp simply don’t appeal to me. That said with such gorgeous wild and local baby shrimp at hand my taste buds were ready for a reboot!
With little delay I tucked into my husband’s order and seafood cocktail was BACK on my recipe radar. It was cold and perfect! The very pink and petite shrimp, which are also often called Salad Shrimp, were caught by local fishermen just off the Washington Coast. Peeled and fully cooked at the processors, they are the ultimate convenience food.
There were perfectly fresh, tender and full of mild shrimp flavor. They were nestled in the cup with coarsely chopped white cabbage and served with the horseradish laced classic cocktail sauce. I soon told Chris I’d be making that for appetizers that night. I also told him we’d better get back to the Rummage Sale to get some of those glasses because they were perfect for seafood cocktails!
Luckily when I got back to the sale, there hadn’t been a run on that army of glasses (go figure!) so I considered my options and asked the ladies at the checkout.
This is a fishing town and I figured these dedicated grannies would have an opinion on a classic like Shrimp Cocktail. And, of course, they did.
I held up the mini sherbet cup and a large, tall stemmed Margarita glass. Marked at 25 cents each I was leaning towards the thrifty Margarita option. Unanimous opinion pointed to the Margarita glasses as the ladies said they would hold the ingredients perfectly and were a good size. I grabbed the four and told them what I was doing. They cheered me on.
Next up. The Shrimp! Off to Merino’s Seafood Market we went and got two small containers. Chris also got some of their freshly shaken local Dungeness crab so that was added to our cocktail combo.
At home, the glasses got a good scrub. I hauled some white cabbage out of the fridge and chopped it very finely. (The cabbage at the restaurant was very chunky which was one aspect I thought needed refinement.) I then salted the cabbage very lightly and let it sit. The shrimp (which was cooked at the local processing plant) got rinsed with cold water and thoroughly drained in a colander. I then tossed the shrimp and crab with a dash of La Baleine French sea salt and some freshly squeezed lemon.
To arrange, I put the cabbage in the concave base of the Margarita glasses. I then topped that with a squirt of classic cocktail sauce and then dolloped the lemony shrimp and crab on top. Garnished with some lemon wedges and a bit of parsley from my home garden, they were looking great. I set them in the fridge for an hour or so to chill.
The combo was so simple yet perfect thanks to the incredible freshness of the seafood at hand. The finely chopped cabbage offered a fresh and crunchy counterpoint. It really was incomparable to anything we could have gotten at a fancy pants high end restaurant.
It reminded me that fresh, wild, local, in season and retro have NOT gone out of style!
Sourcing: Pacific Salad Shrimp can often be found fresh in season at Costco and it can also be found year round in the seafood freezer cases. Ask for it at your supermarket’s fish counter!
Honey from the Neighborhood and Tips for Sourcing in Your Area
I am very lucky to have a beekeeper in my neighborhood who has been sharing her beautiful amber golden honey with those of thus in the ‘hood for many years now. A dear friend tipped me off to the flower/honey stand down the block during COVID.
Over the years the stand grew and Monica, who owns From the Hive, is also producing some gorgeous soaps, candles, candlesticks and more. Just yesterday I was buzzing down the road and saw her handwritten sign, “Local Honey.” Of course, I took that left hand turn and was pleased to find the Spring 2023 honey proudly displayed, The labeled informed that the honey was made from Fruit trees in Northwest Seattle. How Local is THAT? Yeah!
I forked over the requested amount, dropping the cash in a secure chute, and went on my way. Another knowledgeable neighbor was there buying a container and reporting to his little daughter, “There aren’t any honey sticks today.” This was clearly a bummer to the kid in the car!
According to the USDA it is estimated that there are between 139,600 and 212,000 beekeepers in the United States and many of these beekeepers are hobbyists who tend less than 25 hives.
This is an interesting fact to me because bees have to work really hard to make even the smallest amount. Apparently to make one pound of honey, honey bees have to tap two million flowers!
Here at my house, the honey from the ‘hood often gets used very simply. On a piece of breakfast toast. Perhaps in a vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar. Sometimes stirred onto a soothing cup of tea during cold and flu season. Or, drizzled over plain nonfat Greek yogurt topped with seasonal berries!
Looking to preserve the fragrance of fresh lavender? Follow these tips for harvesting, drying and storing!
I have an abundance of lavender in my yard and garden right now and it’s one of my favorite plants to clip, dry and store for use throughout the months. I often bundle it fresh when it’s in season and share bunches with friends and neighbors as a thank you or a little pick me up. As for the flowers, once they are dried, they are great in potpourri, bath salts, and even tucked into a jar of sugar or honey to make an aromatic sweetener! I have even made lavender wreaths with it!
If you happen to have some lavender in your garden or can find it at the farmers market, consider gathering it into bundles and drying it for use throughout the year. It’s renowned for its soothing aromatic and relaxing benefits so why not harness that for busy days ahead?
Here are some tips for harvesting, bundling, drying, and storing!
Step 1: Harvesting: It’s best to harvest or purchase your lavender during a dry spell so choose a sunny morning to harvest (or purchase) your lavender. Cut the stems with sharp scissors or garden shears, leaving a few inches of the stem intact. This will ensure that the lavender bunches hold together during the drying process. (Here in Seattle, I generally harvest it in July or August shortly after full bloom.)
Step 2: Bundling: Gather 10-15 stems together and tie them at the base with a string or rubber band. Make sure the stems are facing in the same direction. Create multiple small bundles rather than one large bundle to allow for better airflow and even drying.
Step 3: Hanging: Find a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area for drying. Hang the lavender bundles upside down, ensuring they are not overcrowded and have enough space for air circulation. You can use hooks, clotheslines, or a drying rack to hang them. This is an important factor because moisture may cause the bundles to get moldy before fully dried.
Step 4: Drying Time: Allow the lavender to dry naturally for about two to four weeks. The drying time may vary depending on the humidity and temperature of your environment. The lavender is ready when the flowers feel dry and crumble easily when rubbed between your fingers.
Step 5: Removing Leaves: Once dried, gently remove the leaves from the stems by running your fingers along the stem. You can discard the leaves or use them in potpourri or sachets.
Step 6: Storing: Place the dried lavender flowers in an airtight container, such as a glass jar or a resealable bag. Make sure the container is clean and dry to prevent moisture from affecting the quality of the lavender. Store the container in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight, which can cause the flowers to fade.
Step 7: Labeling: Don’t forget to label your container with the date of drying and the type of lavender if you have different varieties. This will help you keep track of freshness and differentiate between different batches.
For additional inspiration on using lavender, check out my blog posts:
Fresh herbs are infinitely versatile and are a great way to add flavor, zing and interest to otherwise basic preparations. I have a large herb garden and the tender leaves and plants are a powerhouse of inspiration. They get used in everything from seafood dishes and savory bone broths to fresh fruit desserts and refreshing drinks.
Many folks, however, find herb preparation tedious. They tell me it’s a hassle to clean, store, and chop the leaves!
That’s usually when I suggest that they get a little herb spinner. Much like a salad spinner but smaller, herb spinners are quite handy. You can put the herbs right in the container and fill the container with cool water. You swish the herbs gently to remove any grit and you then gently lift and remove the herbs, leaving the dirty water behind. Drain the water, rinse the container, and return the herbs to the basket. Pop on the lid, give the whole thing a good spin, and you have fresh clean herbs ready for chopping and adding to a variety of dishes!
To store the whole clean herbs, wrap them in a paper towel and put them in a baggie in the fridge. They should last quite nicely for a few days.
This blog post was originally published on Amazon’s Al Dente blog on July 19, 2012. Since Seattle is having a wonderful berry year thanks to an abundance of sunshine, I decided to pull it from my archives and share again! Berries are also showing up at farmers markets and on sale at local grocery stores, so berry get busy!
Have you started making any jams, jellies, or preserves this summer? I haven’t gone whole hog just yet, but yesterday morning I was inspired to make a small batch of Darina Allen’s fabulously simple Raspberry Jam. Darina showed me how to make this jam when I attended her school, The Ballymaloe Cookery School located in Ireland, years ago.
I remember being fairly dumbfounded when she demonstrated it and within minutes presented the softly set aromatic jam to the class! Darina had learned how to make jam from her mother in law, Myrtle Allen, and to this day the recipe remains one of the cookery school’s classic recipes.
The recipe simply calls for fresh raspberries and sugar. Essentially, you warm the berries in a heavy saucepan and stir until they start to give off some juice. While the berries are cooking, you also gently warm the sugar in an ovenproof bowl in a low to moderate oven. Once the berries are bubbling you stir the warmed sugar into the berries, stir to dissolve the sugar and then continue to cook over moderate heat, stirring, for about five minutes.
The beauty of this recipe is that the jam is softly set and the raspberries retain their fresh berry patch aroma and flavor!
If you have ever made jam and cooked it and cooked it, then you have probably lost some of that amazing aromatic flavor naturally found in the berries.
I only made a half batch yesterday so I didn’t bother putting the jam into hot sterilized jars. I just poured it into a French mason jar and stashed it on the top shelf of the fridge. When I flip the lid back, the contents truly smell like a berry patch!
What’s on your plate during these dark dreary winter days?
For me, it’s been the wild and wonderful winter seafood of the Pacific Northwest.
Yes, I know that sounds a bit odd. Seafood always hits the hot button during the summer months when we naturally pair it with sunshine and sea breezes.
That said, in January and February I was drawn to the fabulous seafood counters we have here in the Emerald City. During the rare moments when I can escape my desk, I often choose to visit the supermarket and troll the produce and seafood counters, watching the sales and in store specials for inspiration.
In January, I noticed that retailers in town were featuring fresh Pacific Rockfish, a wild whitefish harvested in the cold offshore waters. On sale for less than $6 a pound, I dove in and bought a few fillets. At home, I decided to take a French inspired approach and, after pin boning the fillets, crafted a basic herb sauce to top the baked fish. A delicious success that sent me back to the fish counter.
For Round 2, I rustled up a crab stuffing which I mounded on the thin fillets and created a tidy bundle. The packages baked in the oven while I raced off to another task. This second success sent me back to the seafood counter at Shoreline’s T & C Market where I chatted with the young fishmonger who totally agreed it was a winner of a local wild fish and pointed me to the Rockfish poster nearby. Although he couldn’t tell me which species of rockfish they were featuring (there are many!), he happily wrapped up a few more pounds so I could stash them in the freezer.
Shortly thereafter, I eyed some fresh Pacific Winter King Salmon fillets, although price at $39 a pound, they looked stunning in the seafood case at the market, and were from Southeast Alaska, which is renowned for being some of the best. Back at home, a pound of that beautiful king was wrapped into French inspired medallions which I seared on my Le Creuset ridged grill pan and finished in the oven.
Oui! Oui! Bon Appetit! I was on a roll….
Next up? Local Dungeness Crab. I love this cranky crustacean but during the Pandemic the prices skyrocketed and after visiting Merino’s Seafood Market in Westport last summer, I shifted toward their spectacular canned Dungeness which I have been happily using all winter.
That said, when my local QFC, Winco, and Costco were featuring these fresh cooked beauties for less than $6 a pound, I dove in, bought a bunch, and got cracking at home! My first round was simply steamed in my Le Creuset wok, picked by my husband and me over newspaper at the kitchen table and served with a stunning Garlic Ginger Soy dipping sauce that I created. The ginger was the perfect counterpoint to the briny richness of the crab.
My husband gathered the crab shells and made a superb crab stock. I went back for more and stashed the whole crabs in the freezer.
Finally, this week, Fresh Wild Pacific Cod from Alaska is showing up. I love Pacific Cod as it’s a buttery blank slate that lends itself to being served in the most basic way over mashed potatoes with garlic green beans or chard on the side. But it’s also great turned into endless other creations. Shoreline T & C Markets is currently featuring big buttery fresh fillets of this cold-water fish and I’ve purchased two large fillets just since the sale started. A quick check to remove any pin bones and a generous salting with La Baleine sea salt, sets this fish on the path to success. Placed in an au gratin pan with some lemon slices underneath, drizzled with a reduction of fish broth, wine, and butter, and baked in a 375 oven until warmed through, It’s a very cozy preparation.
When I recently reflected on all this stunning local and wild seafood being featured at markets this winter, I began to wonder WHY. It feels different this year. I’ve lived here for over 28 years now and have trolled these counters for nearly a generation now.
When I questioned my friendly fishmonger (yet again!) if something was shifting…he looked up from the case while preparing my order and said, “You know, I think it is…I think we are seeing more this winter.”
Indeed, I do believe there is a shift and I’d like to think that more of our domestic wild and wonderful seafood is being kept here in the local American markets. With a global pandemic, disrupted supply chains, and international wars, the pivot to local and American seems stronger than ever.
It’s a big bright spot for me as we schlep through the dark days of winter, waiting for those breezy days at the beach!
Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to discover something delicious, local, and timely.
In September my husband and I headed out to the Westport, Washington, which is a small remote fishing town located on the Pacific Ocean. About three hours from Seattle, this town has long been a favorite misty destination for us. For many years we brought our kids out there and spent many a summer weekends camping at the state parks. This year, as empty nesters, we decided to head out to Westport after Labor Day. School was back in session and the weather looked to be great.
Of course, trolling the large marina which features an array of fishing and crabbing boats was on our list. Home to a large commercial fishing fleet, Westport has a decidedly salty air. The fog horn blows continuously in the distance. Seafood processing facilities dot the down town…peppered alongside bars, salt water taffy shops, and fish and chips style restaurants.
On this visit I decided to check out Merino’s Seafoods. Locally owned and operated for decades, this no frills shop features seafood and shellfish harvested in the wild from the North Pacific by local fishing vessels just miles off the Washington coast. Merino’s also does all the processing and canning in house only feet from the dock where the seafood is brought in. Local charter boats send their customers to Merino’s in order to get their catch of salmon or albacore tuna processed (filleted and vacuum packed) to their specification. Merino’s also has a full service seafood market and a great fish and chips window which is a new addition since the pandemic.
I had driven by Merino’s many times while in Westport but this year I ventured in. There was more buzz around the place. Sports fishermen were flocking there with the massive quantities of tuna they had caught that day. The fish and chips window had a steady stream of customers daily. In their compact and bustling retail market, I found a crowd of fishermen waiting to pay their processing bill. I also found a large wall featuring cans of local seafood-tuna, salmon, sturgeon, oysters, crab, razor clams and more. I have relied on canned seafood, mainly clams and salmon, in my kitchen for many years but with food inflation and security on everyone’s minds these days I decided to explore the other canned options. The canned Dungeness immediately caught my eye.
My husband and I often catch our own Dungeness crab in the Puget Sound but that’s an arduous task on many levels. I also sometimes splurge and buy the one pound plastic tubs of fresh Dungeness crab at Costco but even that has topped $50 a container in the last couple years. I soon reasoned the canned wild Dungeness crab could be a luxurious pantry item! (Most of the canned crab in the markets these days is imported from Asian and I simply never buy it.) This locally caught and processed crab seemed like the perfect solution!
When I got to the register to buy a can, the chatty gal at the counter assured me it was high quality, as she herself was “a shaker”, which is someone trained in the messy task of picking the crab. She told me she had even trained her daughter the skill cause not that many folks can do it these days! When I asked where it was processed she nodded towards the back of the building and said, “Here!” That was all I needed to know so I turned around and bought 8 more cans! It was a good investment!
Last week I finally got round to cracking a can and decided to craft a simple crab salad inspired by a recipe from a vintage 1970s Scandinavia cookbook. When I opened the can I was greeted with gorgeous crab segments and underneath found the picked flakier crab. Yes, this was a deliciously luxurious find. Tweaking the ingredients, I soon had a spectacularly fresh tasting Krabbsallad. A luxury indeed!
Do you have an itchy green thumb? A thumb that wants to get down and dirty in the garden but you don’t have a lot of space or are limited to a balcony or a strip by the driveway?
Well, fear not and dig in.
As someone who has been gardening for over thirty years now, I’ve learned that lots can be grown in small pockets and in containers. Although I have a Seattle Community P Patch plot and raised vegetable beds in my yard, I remain fascinated with what can be grown in the smallest nooks and crannies.
Over the years, I have experimented with varieties bred or appropriate for mini plots. Some of these varieties are Tumbling Tom tomatoes, Astia Zucchini, and Pixie Cabbage, all of which I have grown from seed. I even have container raspberries, Raspberry Shortcake, growing abundantly in containers in a shady corner of my yard as well as in my P Patch.
If you are just getting started, the best thing you can start with are herbs, edible flowers, and tender lettuces! Many of the tender herbs, such as dill, chives, chervil, parsley, basil and cilantro, can easily be sown by seed in a pot or planter filled with potting soil. Kept relatively moist and even with only scattered sunlight, the seeds will sprout and eventually push forth enough herbaceous material to be snipped and scattered over an egg, a pasta, a homemade pizza or into a restorative soup.
This year, I am trying the Pot and Patio lettuce blend, which I ordered last week from Territorial Seed Company. The catalogue describes the mix as: “Tailored specifically for the container gardener, this lively blend of vibrant green and deep, rich burgundy lettuces will maximize your salad green production in the tiniest of spaces.” So, of course, I wanted to try the blend after reading that description!
The seed catalogues, such as Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial Seed Company offer an abundance of herb seeds and they often offer specifics on which varieties are good for containers. That said, ordering seeds by mail can get pricey, so just head to the local nursery or garden center and troll the seed racks for inspiration. If sowing from seed isn’t your thing, buy starts and tuck them into the containers. (Organic violas, can be grown from seed, but they are a great option for buying as a start. Inexpensive and perky, the cheerful flowers make lovely garnishes on salads, platters or even perched on logs of goat cheese!) Starts, though not as economical as seeds, are a good way to jettison your way towards success. While shopping for starts, ask the specialists at the nursery if they carry varieties suited for containers, and look for icons on the plant labels, such as a mini container, which are indicative that the plants can thrive in small spaces.
Don’t fret too much, just do it.
In a few months time, you’ll be tending your own little homestead whether it’s on the driveway, the patio, the balcony or the backyard. Here is some inspiration from my little garden. Stay tuned for more inspiration on edibles in small spaces!
Every spring Washington’s fertile Skagit Valley, located about 60 miles north of Seattle, turns into a kaleidoscope of blooms, color, and incredible beauty when the tulip fields burst forth in April!
This year, despite a very cool and rainy spring, the tulips are as enchanting as ever.
On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took a little staycation daytrip up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which was started back in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and was a mere two day event back then. The festival now encompasses the full month of April and offers a wide array of events, art shows, cycling tours, displays, contests and of course fields abloom in color!
Our daytrip involved leaving Seattle early in the morning, with our $15 Roozengaarde Tulip Festival tickets in hand. Each fall I order my bulbs from Roozengaarde, which is the largest bulb grower in the United States, so I love to see their display gardens and fields at this time of year.
Indeed, they were stunning when we were there. We arrived early and the crowds and traffic grew exponentially by the time we left. (Hint: get up and arrive EARLY, especially if it’s a sunny day!) The photo opportunities were massive as the colors were amazing. The brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds was the perfect backdrop!
Thanks to the cool and rather wet weather we are having here in the Pacific Northwest, the reports are that the tulip fields will remain in full bloom through the end of the month and perhaps even into early May. So, if you are so inclined and need a dose of spring cheer, head to the picturesque Skagit Valley for a healthy dose of spring!
Think about it. They start their residency in the garden as frumpy brown orbs buried deep in the soil in October or November. They are usually planted here in Seattle on a dark rainy day and are then left to hibernate all winter. They endure snow, darkness, endless storms and in some cases marauding squirrels inclined to dig them up.
Then come mid winter, they start to peek out from the ground and slowly but surely send forth beautiful green leaves, then stalks and ultimately a burst of brilliant color! I have always loved tulips but it was during the spring of 2020, at the height of the COVID shutdowns, that I gained a renewed appreciation for them.
Clearly defying the odds, they bring so much sumptuous color and sheer joy. And, from a busy gardener’s perspective, they require very little fuss, which to me is a true mystery.
As I admire my tulip bed this year and tuck the gorgeous flowers into vases, pitchers, tea tins and jam jars around the house, I marvel at life’s littlest miracles!
Last January, I was sitting on my couch moping and wondering when things would spring back to life. The world as we knew it was shut down. The day was dark and rain was pelting the windows.
I was scrolling aimlessly through Instagram.
One simple post caught my eye. A gal in New York City (a gal who was clearly as bored as I was!) had planted a bunch of seeds in clear seltzer bottles and milk jugs and explained she was experimenting with “winter sowing.” Curious about this winter sowing thing, I went down that Instagram rabbit hole and discovered an ingenious system for sowing seeds, outside, during the winter months without the use of supplementary heat, light, or a classic greenhouse!
This was just the project I needed to push me off the couch and into action!
Developed over twenty years ago by Trudi Davidoff, a resident of Long Island, winter sowing is a system she devised when she wanted to start her plants by seed but lacked a lot of space inside. Using simple recycled materials such as translucent milk jugs, salad boxes and soda bottles, winter sowing harnesses the power of nature on many levels, and for me last year, it resulted in an incredible organic kitchen garden that brought a bountiful harvest!
At first, I was doubtful that sowing seeds in January in jugs and setting them outside in the elements would work, so rather than gambling with my expensive seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Territorial Seeds, I headed to Dollar Tree where I bought an array of packets-bachelor buttons, larkspur, kale, Parris Island Romaine lettuce, lavender and more. At 25 cents per packet, I figured my investment wasn’t huge by any means, so it was a perfect opportunity to test the task.
Wow! I planted my first seeds—Lupines, larkspur, lettuces in mid-January and by mid-February, I had growth and green sprouts coming up. Even in the midst of a massive Valentine’s Day weekend snow storm, my little plants stayed cozy enough to survive. This was the only proof I needed to go full steam ahead. Within weeks, I had sown probably more than 40 milks jugs with everything from zucchini, beans, peas, sweet peas, sunflowers, and even tomatoes!
My efforts paid off in the spring when I had tons of garden ready flowers and vegetables to plant easily from the jugs to the garden beds. Because the plants had grown outdoors, they were acclimated to the elements and didn’t need to be hardened off or coddled before going into their new homes. (A big bonus for the busy gardener!) When I transplanted them, I did make sure to cover the tender plants with the milk jugs or a clear salad box, to protect them from birds, crows and Seattle’s infamous slugs.
My garden got a huge jump start in and when the vegetables and annual flowers started appearing in the local nurseries in April and May, it was clear that I had saved myself a ton of money because the prices for basic garden vegetables had skyrocketed.
Furthermore, options were extremely limited due to the pandemic challenges at hand.
So, if you want to grow more flowers and vegetables by seed and save yourself a ton of money this spring, gear up now and get winter sowing!
The method involves harnessing supplies such as translucent one gallon milk jugs, duct tape, scissors or a sharp Exacto knife, high quality organic potting soil, a Sharpie, labels and seed packets.
I started by slitting four or five holes in the bottom of thoroughly sanitized and rinsed milk jugs, and then slicing around the milk jug equator, but leaving the milk jug intact at the handle so it can be opened up like a little cloche when weather gets warmer. The milk jug cap is discarded, as the little hole at the top will allow rain to drizzle in and maintain a moist environment. I then put about four inches of organic potting soil in the bottom of the milk jug, wet the soil thoroughly until water runs through the holes in the bottom, add a packet of seeds, label the container, and then use the duct tape to seal the equator slit. The jug is then set outside. It’s pretty much a “set it and forget it” method much like a slow cooker!
In my yard I set the jugs on a southeast side of the house where they simply hang out until they are naturally inclined to sprout. (As the season warms up, the jugs do need to be checked intermittently to make sure they don’t dry out or get too hot but that’s part of the fun and daily joy of checking the little jugs!)
I’m continually amazed by my “Milk Jugs Miracles” because they endure rain, frost, and even last year’s heavy February snow only to spring to life when the seeds are ready. This year on Martin Luther King weekend, I got started by planting leeks, Tom Thumb lettuce, Parris Island Romaine, and Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce. Incredibly, those lettuces are already springing to life! My heirloom sweet peas, planted later in the month, are now also swelling and pushing forth!
I love this simple economical method so much, I am hosting a winter sowing workshop at my Seattle P Patch in order to share the method with my fellow P Patch gardeners.
An excellent resource for further information is the Winter Sowers Facebook page, which was started by Trudi and now has over 75,000 members from all over the world.
Well, let’s make no bones about this. Inflation is indeed here. I predicted massive price hikes last January and told my kids to batten down the hatches because it was coming in all forms.
Now, even mainstream media is reporting on this nasty fiscal reality.
I realize I can’t fix inflation but there is a lot I can do to ride the wave. One of my best tactics? Cook and cook more at home, relying on basic items such as dried beans, frozen and canned vegetables, an array of dried herbs and spices and a freezer stocked with meats and seafood. With a well-stocked arsenal and a little creativity, I’m finding I can safeguard the budget to a certain degree and still enjoy a nice entrée at the end of the day.
That said, there are many kitchen items that make an inflation fighting home cook more efficient and successful. Here’s are my top five tools:
High Quality Chef’s Knife
Do NOT cut corners here, folks! A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one because it’s more likely to slip under pressure and cut you when you are trying to force that dull blade through something like a bagel or dense vegetable. I’ve had my 10-inch Dick’s Chef Knife since I purchased it at Peter Kump’s Cooking School in 1989 and I’ve used it every day since. Other great knife options? Wusthof Classic. When choosing a knife, go to the store and ask to hold it in your hand to see if it’s a good fit. Once you’ve found the knife, take care of it, and DON’T put it in the dishwasher!
Good Saucepans with Fitting Lids
Invest in a few good saucepans in varying sizes. You’ll use them for everything from steaming those frozen vegetables to cooking a box of pasta dragged out from the pantry after a long day of work. I have a few decent Farber ware pans, but admittedly I love my Le Creuset saucepans which I use daily. Yes, they are pricey and can be hard to source given the global supply chain issues, but if you can get your hands on one or two, do it. They last forever.
Le Creuset Dutch Ovens
Another versatile and indispensable piece of cookware? My Le Creuset Dutch ovens. These are the true workhorses in my house. Made in France, they come in a range of sizes and colors and work equally as well on the stovetop as they do in the oven. They are the perfect tool for stews, soups, braises, and even baking breads. An investment that will return delicious dividends for decades. There are less expensive Dutch ovens available, and they could work fine for your budget but I’m just partial to Le Creuset. They heat evenly and stand up to so much. In the end, quality and investments pay off. Plus they last for generations. Truly.
Instant Pots! Many folks shy away from these electric cookers because they find the electronic dashboard and options a bit intimidating to navigate. That said, it’s worth reading the instruction manual and giving it a shot. These versatile cookers are priceless because the pressure-cooking feature cooks foods in a fraction of the time and magically maintains pressure to handle the task with little input from the cook. I use mine, the original Duo for making bone broths, cooking economical dried beans, vegetable soups and tomato sauce. I use the pressure steam feature to cook items like potatoes, salmon and even artichokes and hard-boiled eggs. The yogurt feature is also amazing at cranking out deliciously decadent yogurt from a basic quart of milk! (The price of one quart of Chobani Greek Yogurt is now tipping $7 a quart out here in Seattle so it’s a valuable feature indeed. Do the math on that one!) So, to put it simply don’t overlook the power of this wonderful pot! If you need a little extra support or inspiration, check out the 1000 tested recipes on their website.
The Cuisinart Food Processor
Of all the items listed here, I have to say my Cuisinart Food Processors are perhaps my favorite inflation busting tool! I have three that sit on my counter and indeed they get used all the time. My mini chopper is the one that gets pulled forth nearly every day now that we are empty nesters and it’s the one that gets called into action for thrifty homemade vinaigrettes crafted from kitchen staples such as mustard, oil, vinegar, and herbs. The mini also cranks out a super cilantro chimichurri that dresses up a simple piece of Alaska cod pulled from the fish drawer in the freezer. My Cuisinart Pro Custom 11 Cup processor is the tool I use to make lemony chicken salad from leftover roast chicken or a creamy shawarma hummus. When the shredding and slicing blades are clicked into place on my Pro Custom, I process an endless array of cabbage, carrots and onions in a flash which lets me sidestep the pricey prepared veggies section in the product department. (Here in Seattle, we pay a 10% tax on prepared food items so that adds an extra layer of expense to an already pricey item!) This mid-size processor is also the one I use to make my No Rise Pizza Dough.
So, with food inflation here to stay, it’s time to gear up and act! What is your tool?
Next up? Fighting inflation one seed at a time…in my little urban kitchen garden!
Now that the holidays are over and the decorations are packed away, the house always seems a little less exciting. That said, last weekend I decided to take a lead from my mom and spruce up the space with some indoor flowering plants.
When I was growing up my mom always had amaryllis blooming in the house after the holidays and well into January. I missed the boat on planting amaryllis and narcissus this holiday season so on Saturday I strolled over to Seattle’s Swanson’s Nursery and was cheerfully greeted at the entrance with a sea of cyclamen! Small in size and featuring bright pink, red or white flowers, these little plants are the perfect antidote to the dreary weather we have been having here in the Emerald City. Priced at about $8 and long blooming, I figured they were a thrifty way to satisfy my antsy green thumb and bring cheer to the kitchen table!
A sea of cyclamen at Swanson’s Nursery
I bought two pink ones. At home I removed them from the four inch pots and nestled them in a small brass planter purchased the day before at the thrift store. My little flowering composition now sits at the breakfast table and indeed brightens the room. Easy to care for, they only require water every few days and a pinching off of any dead blooms. With a little TLC they will continue to bloom, and apparently, they will die off in spring but they will come back to life next year!
For me, this “kitchen garden” keeps my itchy thumb active until the seed packets come out…
Inspired by the cuisine of Morocco, these savory lamb burgers feature mint, coriander (fresh and dried), garlic, and cumin which results in a delicate yet intensely flavored burger that can be served over a salad, with a pita or in a traditional bun.
Back in September my husband, daughter and I took a day trip up to Christianson’s Nursery in the scenic Skagit Valley. The nursery is one of my favorite sources for unique plants but on this sunny Sunday our destination was The Skagit Valley Farmers Market held in The Vinery, a recently restored 6000 square foot historic pea vining site. This was the inaugural year for the market, which ran from May to September and on this Sunday the local artisans, farmers, ranchers, beekeepers and bakers offered an array of lovely items.
After poking around the simply stunning Vinery with my daughter, I started to hunt down my husband and eventually found him talking to Mike Donnelly of Martiny Livestock LLC, a small family ranch located in Birdsview, WA. Mike was enthusiastically showing my husband the cuts of processed and vacuum-packed lamb he had on hand. I then saw a sign on the table indicating we could purchase a whole lamb as opposed to cuts.
In short order, we arranged for pickup, and I now have an array of different lamb cuts at the ready-steaks, chops, ribs, and about 15 one pound packages of ground lamb. I’ve always loved a good lamb burger so I started to mentally fabricate flavor profiles that could work with such a treasure trove in the freezer.
Last week during a cold and dark rainy afternoon I decided to get adventurous and developed a Moroccan-inspired lamb burger. I basically added diced onion, fresh mint, and coriander, plus garlic, cumin and ground coriander with some panko and an egg. My husband formed the mixture into three five-ounce patties using a hamburger ring. Grilled outside during that horrific rain, served on a toasted brioche bun with homemade chimichurri and just picked winter lettuces, it was delicious, warming, restorative, and uplifting in each savory bite.
Here’s the recipe, which features a stovetop cooking technique on a ridged grill pan or cast iron frying pan but also offers tips for grilling outside…if you care to brave the elements!
A juicy savory grilled lamb burger with fresh mint, coriander, and cumin
Course: Main Course
ridged grill pan or cast iron frying pan
1/4 small onion, chopped
1/4cuppanko (Japanese bread crumbs)
3Tablespoonschopped fresh mint
1/4 cupchopped fresh coriander
4garlic cloves, chopped
in a medium bowl combine the lamb, onion, panko, egg, fresh mint, fresh coriander, garlic, cumin, ground coriander and salt. With a spoon or very clean hands, combine the mixture thoroughly and divide into three even patties.
Spray the patties lightly with oil on both sides. Preheat a Le Creuset ridged grill pan or cast iron frying pan over high heat. Sear the lamb burgers one minute on each side. Then reduce the heat to moderately high and cook the lamb burgers for about five minutes on each side for medium doneness. (Alternatively cook the burgers on a grill, searing them for about a minute on each side and then moving them to moderately high heat on the grill and cook for about five minutes on each side as well.)
Serve the lamb burgers with traditional buns, brioche, pita bread or on a lightly dressed salad of seasonal greens.
As a gardener I am constantly reminded that life can often be mysterious but it always comes full circle! Now that the leaves are falling here in Seattle and the winds are howling around the neighborhood, it’s always fun to do a Garden Year in Review!
Throughout the gardening season, which starts in January for me, I take photos and try to document what I did and when I did it! This proves helpful on many levels as it acts as a prompt for the next year. While perusing my photos this morning, I was reminded how this was a particularly busy (and beautiful!) year for us in the garden!
This year we added a flock of hens, a custom chicken coop, raised beds, an herb garden, multiple miniature David Austin roses, scented geraniums from Christianson’s Nursery, and an array of trellises to grow beans. I also kept my 200 square foot community garden plot and the food bank bed going at the Haller Lake P Patch near my home.
In review, the rewards were huge both in terms of produce, herbs, and flowers harvested as well as in the personal rewards of starting many things from seed and seeing them come to maturity, both in the garden and on the dinner table!
For me, gardening isn’t a chore, it’s a creative outlet that lets me experiment and dabble, hoping it all comes to some form of fruition! Some things did great. My herb garden is booming. I harvested a ton of tomatoes, cabbage, chards, kales, and lettuces.
That said, our pole beans were more challenging and I had to replant one plot three times as some evasive and annoying critter was devouring the tendrils before they could get a grasp on life. I never solved that problem in that corner of the yard, gave up on the bean plot right there and decided to plant something else. In the end the pole beans planted elsewhere in the yard did ok so that one corner of my garden world remains a mystery!
I could certainly say a lot more about all this but for now, here’s a photo tour from my Kitchen Garden 2021!
Winter? Seriously? Who’s ready to think about THAT when we are celebrating Labor Day this weekend?
Well, here in Emerald City, I’m springing ahead to winter because now is the time to plant cold-hardy greens such as kale, chard, lettuces, and spinach.
Thanks to Seattle’s wet but relatively mild winters, I have had great luck growing a motley variety of greens. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years now and it’s always a great pleasure to go out into the garden on a cold dreary December afternoon to pick lettuce, collards, and sometimes even big Savoy cabbages for dinner.
At this point in the season, it’s too late to start cabbages by seed, as those seeds need to be sown in June for best results. That said, there’s still plenty of time to start some of the chef’s favorites such as cilantro, microgreens, kales, chard, and lettuces.
In fact, it’s exactly what I’m doing this week.
I’ve pulled up many of my spent and depleted summer plants such as Costata Romanesco zucchini, Romano beans, sunflowers, Hasta La Pasta spaghetti squash, and a few spindly tomato plants. In those naked sections of the garden, I’m turning the soil and watering it heavily to reinvigorate it before I sow any seeds. The next step will be to plant quick-growing varieties so they can get established and off to the races before the darker days start to settle in around October. Some of my favorites to plant now?
All of these varieties still have time to get established enough to produce and, in many cases with a little protection like a cloche, an upside-down glass salad bowl, or a frost blanket, they will make it through the winter and spring back to life in late February and March, just when the craving for fresh greens is really hitting home.
As I said, I’ve been winter gardening for over 20 years but as we continue to travel this pandemic pathway and suffer inflation and supply chain shortages of all ilks, I really think it’s time to rediscover the joy and practicality of winter gardening!
My Raspberry Shortcake berry plants, both at home and at my P Patch, are in full production mode right now. The berries are red, plump, and juicy. Perfect little seasonal moments in time really.
So, this week I decided to pick a pint and make Raspberry Vinegar. I often make Tarragon Vinegar during the summer months as it makes a flavorful addition to homemade vinaigrettes. That said, I have never tried it with my fresh berries but this year I decided to give it a try. Using a basic Raspberry Vinegar recipe from Taste of Home as a springboard, I crafted my own version, reducing the sugar and adding fresh tarragon as a flavorful counterpoint.
The results? After straining the steeped vinegar, the finished product is a brilliant red with an aromatic raspberry flavor and a distinct tarragon note. In the kitchen, I used it in a simple Raspberry Shallot Vinaigrette destined for homegrown lettuces or perhaps even a grilled zucchini salad.
A simple seasonal vinegar made from fresh raspberries and tarragon
Ball Mason Jar
Vinegar Style jar
1pintraspberriesrinsed and drained
3cupsdistilled vinegar (I used Heinz)
Put the raspberries and the tarragon sprigs in a heat proof one quart glass Mason Jar and set aside.
In a large saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring just to a low boil. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the berries and tarragon sprigs. Let the vinegar cool slightly and then cover with the lid. Let the vinegar stand at room temperature for about two days. (The vinegar will take on a lovely red hue as it sits!)
After about two days, strain the vinegar through a sieve and into a funnel which feeds into a sterilized jar, preferably a vinegar style storage jar. Discard the raspberries and tarragon sprigs left in the sieve. Cap the raspberry vinegar and store in a cool dark place.
Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the most luxurious.
I was reminded of this last week when I decided to make Lavender Honey. I have enormous lavender bushes in full bloom on my urban lot and after I made Lavender Shortbread last week, I began to mull my other options. Lavender Vinegar? Lavender Honey Mustard? Lavender Crème Chantilly?
Then, lavender honey popped into my thoughts. I had recently read an article in Mother Earth Living and had earmarked that page. Then when my friend Marissa came by with a tub of honey made by a family in the neighborhood, I HAD to make lavender honey… it doesn’t get much more local than that, right? Lavender from the yard and honey from the neighborhood!
The process is ridiculously simple. I started with a small sterilized recycled Maille mustard jar. I then added about 1 Tablespoon of lavender flowers (picked off the stem) and poured in enough honey to cover the lavender. For good measure, I added a small branch of lavender too. The article in Mother Earth Living explained that honey is hydrophilic, which means that the honey draws the water from the plants and ultimately makes the honey even runnier. The article also instructs to simply let the lavender honey sit for a few days, during which time the honey takes on the subtle delicious lavender flavor and aroma and becomes runnier.
I left my jar on the kitchen table so I could watch it and by the end of the second day, it was runnier and very aromatic. Since I could no longer resist tasting, the next morning I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of my Lavender Honey to a couple of tablespoons of water with a dash of Penzey’s dehydrated ginger. I then microwaved the mixture in a small ramekin for about 15 seconds to infuse the flavors and poured the Lavendar Honey Ginger syrup over some diced cantaloupe and sliced local organic strawberries.
The result? It was so good that frankly it almost defied logic.
Fresh, flavorful, aromatic, and healthy it was the perfect start to a summer day!