Social Distancing: From the Ground UP!

The new norm of social distancing has us all hunkering down at home. There are a million ways to cope with this unprecedented shift and for me this has had me ramping up  my efforts in the garden.

Ironically, I’ve always used my time in the garden as a way to get a little respite from the world around me. Digging, clipping, weeding, fertilizing, harvesting and planting go a long way towards bringing me a little peace while also keeping me busy.

I know that everyone doesn’t have a garden, particularly those folks living in apartments, condos, RVs and other dwellings. That said, with a little imagination, everyone can find a way to grow something. Just yesterday, I packed up a “Mini Garden to Go” and shipped it in a flat rate US Post Office box to my daughter, who now lives in New York.

Working on a whim, I gathered seed packets of quick growing goodies, such as micro greens, arugula, baby smoothie greens  and nasturtiums. I added some peat pellets, a few markers, a mini greenhouse (aka recycled Costco Cookie box) and  then ordered her a bag of Miracle Gro Expand and Grow Concentrated potting soil from Amazon. (NYC apartments are small so I thought the “expand and grow soil” was a very cool space saving option!)

She hasn’t received her  “Mini Garden to  Go” yet, but in the meantime, I encourage others to look out the window and explore the options. Do you have some random pots with withered plants from last year sitting on the front steps? Clear them out and give them a reboot. Have a corner of the yard that’s bare but gets some sun? Get digging! Have a sunny window in the kitchen but few other options? At the very least, maybe grow some sprouts!

For me, I’ve been expanding some of the beds I already have, adding compost and manure. I’ve also been sowing more seeds than usual. We don’t know where this will all take us, but I do know that the demand for fresh fruits and vegetables at the food bank will be off the charts this year so I’m planning ahead, digging deep and gearing up while being socially distant!

 

 

 

Don’t Worry! Dig!

Don’t Worry. Dig. That’s my new motto.

I’ve always been a homebody and a huge gardener, so naturally during these uncertain times, I’m turning to my garden for a little respite, hope, outlet, and, eventually dinner!

DSC_0256 (2)Spring is here in Seattle and although the city has come to a grinding halt, I’ve noticed that many folks are seeking a little peace and solitude in their gardens around the neighborhood. Some folks, working solo, are quietly weeding. Others are laying compost. Some are clipping and digging. When I was at  Sky Nursery last weekend, it was quite busy and I observed many customers stocking up on seeds, compost, manure, and small plants, both vegetable and houseplants. And when the  customer service guys loaded my purchase of compost and chicken manure into the car, the guy laughed and said, “We’re selling tons of compost today!”  (I’ve been shopping at  Sky for 25 years, and they’ve NEVER said THAT!)

At my P-Patch, an organic community garden, we’ve had to ditch our annual potluck and work party. The bulk compost isn’t being delivered, and I suspect many of the older gardeners, those in their 70s and 80s are worried this season.  In the food bank plot, which I’ve managed for years now, I’m already planning on increasing the yields as we know the local food banks will be swamped with an influx of demand in the coming months.

DSC_0500 (2)So, if you have a garden at home, a small plot, a front stoop, or even a sunny window or a windowsill, seriously consider planting a little something. Maybe some herbs or a packet of micro greens. If you normally grow annuals, such as marigolds or petunias, in a little corner of your yard, think about planting some herbs or a few vegetables in there as well.  (Bush zucchini and beans work great in small spaces, as do lettuces and kales.) The benefit of this, of course, it twofold. We know plants help to heal, and the bonus of growing edibles is that you can add a little something special to what might be a mundane menu lineup.

Of course, we don’t know where this will all lead, but in the meantime, dig deep, breathe, and take a little action!

I know I’ve shared this before but here are some of my favorite mail order gardening resources:

Territorial Seeds-a great selection of seeds suitable for the Pacific Northwest. There’s still plenty of time to mail order so hunt and peck through the selection. Best practice is to order seeds of only the things your family likes to eat.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds-based in Maine and offering phenomenal selection of unusual varieities, many of which are grown by farmers who sell at the farmer’s markets around the country. An incredible lineup of micro greens (great for small spaces) and awesome lettuces.

Sow Delicious! Tips for  Sowing Seeds-a post I wrote last month on how to start your own by seed.

 

In Season: Daffodils!

Daffodils! They have arrived. Strutting their cheerful ruffly flowers in gardens, parking strips and at grocery stores all over town. Without a doubt, they are a very welcome addition to the neighborhood because Seattle has been very dreary and rainy.

I have a few wayward daffodils blooming in my yard and in pots on the front steps, but for those of you who don’t, consider treating yourself to a little bunch…or two. They are generally far cheaper than the hot house tulips and they are just as lovely.

In order to get the most bang for your hard earned buck when buying a bunch of daffodils, choose those with tightly closed heads, and at home, trim the ends and plunge them in a vase of water. If you want to get the flowers to open a little faster, use warm water. If you want to slow the blooming process and make them last, use cool water. However, because daffodil stems release an oozy sap when cut, don’t combine daffodils with other flowers such as tulips because the arrangement will wilt faster due to the sticky liquid!

So, savor the season and buy some daffodils!

 

 

Sow Delicious! Tips for Starting Seeds

The days are getting brighter out here in the Pacific Northwest and that means it’s time to spring ahead. Even though we are still in the depths of winter, I use this month to start many of the plants and vegetables I want in my summer garden. Tomatoes, sweet peas, kales, lettuces, and cabbages being just a few.

Sweet Pea Flowers at P Patch
Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums and Poppies at my Certified Organic P-Patch in Seattle!

I, obviously, can’t plant them outside at this time of year, but I can sow them in my little home and indeed I do! This task, aside from satiating my green thumb, also allows me to grow a wide array of varieties and it saves me a ton of money, as flower and vegetable starts get pricier every year at the nurseries.

So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools and tips for getting your seeds off to a strong start.

Seedling Mat
Hyrdofarm Heat Mat with Jiffy Pellets Lined Up and Nestled in Lettuce Boxes!
  1. Get a Seedling Heat Mat! Seeds need heat to sprout and electric seedling heat mats are the perfect tool for the task. They come in a variety of sizes, which is very convenient for smaller households. I purchased my Hydrofarm mat years ago and it still works great, maintaining a gentle and low even heat. I’ve also used windowsill heat mats to maximize space. That worked well too!
  2. Simplify with Jiffy Pellets. Over the years I’ve experimented with seeds, pots and seedling potting mix but to be honest, I’ve found that to be messy and time consuming. So, now I simply order Jiffy Peat Soil Pellets in bulk from Amazon. The pellets rehydrate with hot water in a flash and make it super easy for me to sow some seeds in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, when it’s time to plant the seedlings, the whole plug can go right in the ground, minimizing transplant shock.
  3. Save those plastic salad and takeout boxes. When sowing seeds indoors, it’s important to create a warm somewhat moist environment for the seeds to sprout and grow. I have discovered that the large salad boxes are perfect mini greenhouses! I put the Jiffy Soil Pellets in the box, rehydrate the pellets, sow the seeds, cover with the lid, and set on the heat mat. Boom! The seeds sprout often in a few days.
  4. Get a spray bottle. Seedlings need moisture daily and the only tool for these gentle little sprouts is a spray bottle. Mist the seedlings gently daily and they’ll flourish!
  5. Let there be light! If you are lucky enough to have a sunny window with southern exposure, you might not need supplemental light. However, here in Seattle, even with some southern exposure, my seedlings still need supplemental light in order to flourish and avoid getting leggy. My favorite tools come from the Hydrofarm Jumpstart system purchased years ago at a local nursery and now available from Amazon.

    P Patch Zucchini
    Sow Delicious: My organic P Patch last summer with zucchini, flowers, and tomatoes sown from seed at home!
  6. Be Inspired…sow…what are you waiting for? Growing your own seedlings is fun, creative, thrifty and healthy. Give it a try!

January in the Garden: Organize and Order

It’s almost the end of January. Not sure how THAT happened so quickly, but I’ll take it! January can be a rough month out here in Seattle. Cold. Dark. Rainy. Yep, that’s what it’s been aside from the side order of snow we got early on in the month.

That said, this is always the the month when I start dreaming about tomatoes, zinnias, and petunias and ultimately start springing ahead to well….Spring ! My kitchen garden is pretty much dormant but I do have a crop of hardy kale that has been producing nicely so that’s a bonus. But this is the month when I really try to get organized. I take a seed inventory, gather my seed starting supplies, order some seeds, think about what I want to grow, and start planning as such.

So, for green thumbs itching to get started, I’m  sharing a few things to do during this month or in the early days of February. It will get you psyched and ready to launch for the season.

Organize!

Seed Briefcase

Pull out the seed box and ditch any packets that are more than a few years old. Determine what needs to be replenished this year and find a way to organize them so you can quickly and easily pull what you want at seed sowing time! For really nifty results, try a photo storage box like the one shown here and which I purchased at Hobby Lobby last week. It’s incredibly compact and well made and seed packets fit perfectly in each little 4 by 6 inch box. Label each box with the vegetable variety at hand and your seed system is streamlined. Plus, rely on the nifty handle to cart your “seed briefcase” to convenient locations when planting and planning!

Order!

Seeds Catalogs 2020

Once your seeds are organized, grab the seed catalogs and read up. My favorite purveyors are Territorial Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Burpee, and Botanical Interests. Over the years, I’ve had the best results from these folks. I find that their selections really help me bring a lot of diversity into my little kitchen garden and ultimately to my dinner table.

Plan Ahead

Ed Hume Almanac 2020

Planning anything can sound ridiculously boring but planning when it comes to gardening can definitely create a make or break situation. One of my favorite tools? The Ed Hume Garden Almanac. In my opinion, this pocket side resource, which sells for $1.79, flies under the radar for sure. Ed Hume Seeds, located in Puyallup WA, has been updating and printing this little gem for over 55 years and it’s a true gold mine. The booklet gives tips and action advice for every day of the year and those tidbits are offered based on the  cycles and phases of the moon. I know it sounds crazy, but I definitely have better results when I plant certain seeds during certain phases of the month. Check it out and keep it handy. I am now keeping mine in my Seed Briefcase!

So, that’s a quick set of tips for now. Enjoy and count the days til Spring!

Build a Bowl: Alaska Cod with Sesame Cauliflower Rice and Kimchee Slaw

Sunday morning inspiration: Build a Bowl!

I had some gorgeous wild Alaska cod on deck and needed to clear out some vegetables in the fridge. Last week I had been developing Quickie Kimchee recipes, so this morning I spontaneously decided to craft a Kimchee Slaw. Why wouldn’t a kimchee slaw work, I thought? I envisioned the telltale tangy spicy flavors wrapped around a fresher crunchier concoction…

Then, the cauliflower rice? Well, THAT was inspired by my preholiday trip to New York when I saw my daughter, bought her a Cuisinart Food Processor at Macy’s in Herald Square, schlepped it home and up the stairs, and then demonstrated how to use the whole thing while we chatted in her wonderful NYC apartment.

First thing on her list? Cauliflower Rice! No problem! The food processor’s metal disk and pulse button did an amazing job transforming that bulging white head into fluffy white nubbins that store great, cook in a flash, and have no carbs!

So, after all that, my convoluted concoction of fresh cod, cauliflower rice and kimchee slaw came together in a flash and was simply perfect served in big cozy bowls!

Alaska Cod with Sesame Cauliflower Rice and Kimchee Slaw
Serves 2 to 3

12 ounces Alaska cod

For the Sesame Cauliflower Rice:
1 small head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 Tablespoon sesame oil

For the Slaw:
½ small head broccoli, stem discarded, and floret cut into pieces
¼ small head red cabbage (about 1 cup shredded)
¼ small head green cabbage (1 cup finely shredded)
4 medium carrots

For the Kimchee Dressing:
½ teaspoon garlic ginger paste ( I use Shan, it’s convenient)
½ teaspoon sriracha
½ teaspoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon sweet rice vinegar

For the Garnish:
1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds for garnish
1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh coriander for garnish

Prepare the Cod
Rinse the cod and pat it dry. Cut into two or three pieces, depending on servings desired, season lightly with salt on both sides and set aside.

Prepare the Cauliflower Rice:
In a food processor fitted with the metal disk, put half the cauliflower florets and pulse four or five times to make “rice.” Transfer to a medium bowl and repeat the pulsing process with the other half of the cauliflower.

Prepare the Slaw:
Put the broccoli florets in the work bowl and pulse two or three times to finely chop. Add to a large bowl.

Remove the metal disk from the food processor bowl and insert the thinnest slicing disk. Working through the feed tube, slice the red and white cabbage, cut to fit into the feed tube, using gentle pressure. Transfer shredded cabbage to the bowl with the broccoli.

Remove slicing disk and insert shredding blade, shred carrots through the feed tube, and add to the cabbage and broccoli.

Sprinkle cabbage, carrot and broccoli mixture lightly with sea salt and toss well with tongs. Set aside to wilt slightly.

Make the Kimchee Dressing:
In a small jar combine the Kimchee dressing ingredients: garlic ginger paste, sriracha, brown sugar and sweet rice vinegar. Shake to combine well and dissolve the sugar. Pour over the shredded vegetables, tossing to combine well.

Cook the Cauliflower Rice:
Spray a medium frying pan with oil, add the cauliflower rice and cook over medium heat, stirring, for two to three minutes. Add a few splashes of water, cover and cook for another minute. Stir in the sesame oil, remove from heat and keep warm, covered.

Cook the Cod:
Spray a cast iron ridged grill pan with oil and heat over moderately high heat. Spray cod lightly with oil, and when the grill pan is preheated, place the cod gently on the pan and let cook for about three minutes on both sides, or until just cooked through.

To Serve
Divide the sesame cauliflower rice between two to three bowls, set the kimchee slaw by the rice and top the rice and slaw with a piece of cod. Garnish with black sesame seeds and fresh cilantro. Serves 2 to 3.

Preparation Tips:
Preparing the cauliflower and vegetables might seem laborious but it’s worth noting that shredding and ricing vegetables in the food processor all at once is a great way to meal prep for the week ahead. The processed vegetables are far fresher than any “prepped veg” you will get at the grocery store and once they are prepped and stashed in the fridge for the week they are a cheap, convenient and healthy source of inspiration for work week dinners!!

No Food Processor? No Problem
Buy the cauliflower rice prepared or frozen. It won’t be as fresh, and it will be pricier but that’s okay.

For the Slaw? Get a sharp knife and slice the cabbages as thinly as possible. For the carrots, get a grater and watch your fingers! Or, as a last resort, buy a bag of coleslaw or shredded broccoli and try that.

A Cheesy Taxing Reality

Ouch. My early morning news feed had a nasty eye opener this morning.

It looks like the holiday cheeseboards will get pricier this holiday season if you plan on using imported European cheeses. Seemingly overnight, a 25% tax was slapped on an array of European goods, some of which are French wines, Italian cheeses, and single malt scotch whiskey.

I haven’t gotten my hands on the full list just yet, however, my holiday cheese indulgences  did immediately spring to mind. Will I be paying 25% more for Gruyere, Stilton, Parmesan? Most likely yes. The tariffs are supposed to hit mid October, which means there’s still time to stock up.

Alas, I began to wonder,  if I do stock up, how should I store it? Keeping it in the spare fridge doesn’t always work so well due to the temptation staring back at me every time I run down to grab the spare eggs or milk.

That said, I remembered an old blog post I wrote years ago…it has a handy tip worth sharing:

In general, cheese doesn’t lend itself to being frozen, but take note that Stilton, England’s historic blue, freezes quite well! I gleaned this little tidbit years ago while I was poking around the website for the Stilton Cheese. The cheese can be cut into six ounce portions, wrapped in foil or cling wrap, and then frozen for about three months. To defrost the cheese, simply let it thaw in the fridge or the larder for about 24 hours. The slow defrost method is recommended because it prevents the cheese from becoming too crumbly!

So, let’s put the deep freeze on this cheesy taxing reality, folks!

 

 

Pears-Check the Neck

Move over Pumpkins! It’s Pear Season here in the Pacific Northwest!

Tis the season for pears. Let’s face it. Who needs pumpkins when you have pears?

That said, do you know how to choose a perfect pear? Well, if not, read on!

Because these gorgeous fruits are grown to maturity on the tree and then brought to ripeness at room temperature off the tree, it can be hard to judge whether certain varieties are ready to be eaten or not.

With a Bartlett it’s fairly straightforward, because the skin changes from green to golden, indicating ripeness. However, with others such as Bosc, Comice, and D’Anjou, it is harder to judge because the skin doesn’t change color and the flesh doesn’t soften all that much.

That’s why it’s worth mastering the “Check the Neck” technique. Developed by the USA Pears, this simple method teaches us to apply some pressure to the pear’s neck, which is also the stem end. If the pear yields to the gentle pressure, then it is sweet, ripe, and ready to eat!

It’s so worth learning quirky tips like this one, because they make grocery shopping and cooking for seasonal ingredients so much more enjoyable and successful!

Crafting Content for Main Street

Writing. Editing. Fact checking.

I’ve been at this gig for thirty years now.  Of course, I’ve learned many things over the years but one thing that really strikes me is that as much as things change, they also remain very much the same.

One of those things is without a doubt the power of the written word.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the dramatic shifts in publishing, both in platforms and in standards. To adapt to those shifts, I’ve also utilized my training in an infinite number of ways and for a variety of clients and publishers across platforms, developing recipes, writing press releases and newsletters, crafting social media content, writing blog posts for Amazon and most recently acting as a Contract Editor for Amazon here in Seattle.

One of my favorite challenges these days is helping my cadre of small business owners. Small business is a quiet but mighty economic engine here in the United States, but I believe it’s these folks who often get caught between a rock and hard place. They don’t have the resources to tap the expertise of a large media company and many of these business owners are so busy tackling the day to day operations that they simply don’t have the bandwidth or desire at the end of the day to craft content and engaging social media for their customer.

That’s where I come in.

I love working with small businesses. I find that listening to them, hearing their story, brainstorming ideas, and writing about what makes them unique is a cost-effective tool.

Basically, it’s a simple time-tested tool that brings customers OFF the sidewalk and IN the door.

So, if you have a small business, contact me to craft the content you need on Main Street!

A Quick Gingery Salmon Pho

The Emerald City is living up to its reputation this week. Cold. Rainy. Dark. Ugh.

Yesterday, I was craving a light and lean salmon lunch but I couldn’t bear to make a salad so I decided to shift gears and focus on using some king salmon in soup. Chowder was too heavy so I started to explore pho as a reasonable option.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea and began to wonder if I could devise a simple technique that would cook the salmon but simultaneously safeguard the fish’s buttery texture and telltale flavor.

Working quickly, I loaded my InstantPot with some chicken and vegetables, set it to high pressure for 25 minutes and headed to the Asian market in my neighborhood for some cilantro, Thai basil, fresh rice noodles, and Napa cabbage.

At home shortly thereafter, my soup came together in mere minutes. The hot simmering InstantPot broth was a ladled into a Le Creuset saucepan with finely shredded cabbage, a few slices of ginger, and about an ounce of rice noodles. That simmered for about two minutes and was poured into a pho bowl. I then added about two ounces of finely sliced skinless salmon into the steamy broth and let the salmon cook gently in the residual heat of the broth. I then added a final garnish of herbs and sliced jalapenos and my light and lean Gingery Salmon Pho was ready for slurping!

IMG_2763So, here is the basic and easily adaptable method for making a quick pho at home:

Step One:

Put about two cups of chicken broth into a small saucepan. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat.

Step Two:

Add about a half cup of finely sliced Napa cabbage , a few slices of fresh ginger, and about one ounce of rice noodles. Simmer for about two minutes, stirring once or twice.

Step Three:

Pour the steaming broth carefully into a  deep bowl, top with about two ounces of thinly sliced and skinned fresh salmon. Using chopsticks, gently poke the salmon into the hot broth to submerge it and to help it cook in the hot broth.

Step Four:

Garnish with finely chopped fresh cilantro, Thai basil if available, and thinly sliced jalapenos. Serve!