Sunday, November 20, 2011


My friend, Sarah, is hosting a Friendsgiving party this afternoon. We're all going to her house around 3pm with a course from a traditional thanksgiving dinner. Jill will bring cocktails, Cindy will bring cranberries and stuffing, etc... Isn't that a cute idea? 

I was assigned with dessert and helping the hostess make the turkey. 

For the occasion, Sarah and I made this pumpkin cheesecake tart with cranberry gelee. Isn't she a looker?
I clipped the recipe from Food and Wine magazine back in 2003. I made it once that year, and have not forgotten about it. Underneath that thin layer of cranberry gelee is pumpkin cheesecake resting within an almond tart shell. What's not to love?

Apparently the recipe has been pretty popular because you can still find it at

Have you ever hosted/been to a Friendsgiving giving celebration? What are you making for Thanksgiving this year? 

photo credit: 
Friends eating cookies: Paul Galipeau
Tart: Kate Kurtz

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fall is for trees

The foliage is spectacular, but it is also the perfect time to plant them. At least it's the perfect time to plant trees in places like Seattle, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles (3 of the cities I have been fortunate to call home). 

The rainy season is just beginning, which gives tree roots a head start on establishing before we dry up in the spring and summer.

Look at how gorgeous this native Vine Maple is. We planted it a year ago, so this is the first time we've seen its full fiery red foliage.

The City of Seattle recognizes the many environmental and social benefits of mature trees, so they provide them to residents who apply for free!

We got an Elm and an Apple two years ago. This year we got a Purple Beech, but there were lots of choices including Poplar, Cedar, and Asian Pear.

First we had to go through a tree planting and maintenance training.

This was the youngest tree planter at the training. Isn't she cute next to those cedars?

When we got home we planted the tree right away. Jacob was clever to put the excavated soil on a tarp, which kept things clean and back filling the hole pretty easy.

After planting we staked the tree on the south side, which is the direction we typically get our winds from. Doesn't Jacob look like a proud tree planter?

Here's Jacob standing next to the Elm we planted two years ago. Doesn't it have beautiful fall foliage? That baby Beech has some catching up to do.

Have you planted any trees recently? What did you put in? Suddenly I'm dreaming of putting in an Italian Plum in the back.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I've spent the summer growing them.

Pruning and training tomatoes.

Tomatillos require little to no maintenance and grow fantastically in Seattle.
 Eating them...

Tomato and zucchini gratin (recipe from Cooks Illustrated magazine).

Black Prince, Red Zebra, and Sungold were the taste winners this year.

Stupice is always yields well...

And now preserving them in jars, so I can enjoy them for a few months longer.
Simple tomato sauce, and zingy salsa verde -- made and canned this afternoon.

Today I feel satisfied with the fruits of my labor.
This is a good, very good, part of my life. Thanks for letting me share it with you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer Sunday with agua fresca

I hope everyone is enjoying this sunny summer Sunday.

Agua Fresca
2 cups cubed watermelon
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 cup crushed ice
juice of 1 lime
Agave nectar or honey for sweetness if needed

blend and serve over ice with a squeeze of lime.

p.s. The trees and shrubs all over Seattle are looking dry and crispy. Don't forget to water. Newly planted trees and shrubs need to be watered once a week during the late spring and summer, for the first three years after you put them in (even the natives).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Food tastes better when

you grow it yourself... or at least when you pick it yourself. Not much in life beats a good pacific northwest U-pick berry farm.

Anyhow, yesterday I picked this from our home garden: 

Today, while I was processing jars of cherry pie filling (more on that later), I transformed much of that harvest into dinner.

I did a play on a classic salad nicoise, but substituted chicken (what I had on hand) for the traditional tuna steak, and included the artichokes. I snipped some basil from out back, and made a basil vinaigrette to dress the protein and veggies. Perfect summer supper.

Now, before you think I've lost it and gone on a diet, remember that I was canning cherry pie filling. Mmmmmm rainier cherries. 

p.s. I used the kale by tossing it with spicy peanut dressing like I did here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And then it happened


Gardening season started in earnest with these. June was sweet and juicy -- I was smitten. 
Strawberries were followed by these:
Then it was off to the races. Lots of time in the garden, on bikes, and at parks.
Where did the summer go?
 I think a lot of the summer was spent snacking on these, and commenting on how cute they are.

I just took a little trip to the Olympic Peninsula. When I returned, this is what I found: tomato plants as big as I am. Here I am trying to train them to their stakes.

This is what I harvested today. Any suggestions on what I should do with some or all of this stuff?
Zucchini, artichokes, lacinato kale, radishes, green beans, tomatoes, and a handful of blueberries.
What are you harvesting or cooking this week?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spring porcinis

One of the really lovely things about living in the pacific northwest is the great range of the foraging opportunities we have. We can walk out into natural areas and collect mushrooms, berries of all kinds, fiddle heads, clams, oysters, and the list goes on.
The other day a friend found good spring porcinis in the Cle Elum area, and was kind enough to share the harvest. Yes, this is a good kind of friend to have.

 Porcinis are nutty, and earthy, and delicious. Their fat stems are tender and meaty.

I've learned to brown the sliced mushrooms in small batches. Mushrooms contain so much water, that if you cover the pan, they will end up boiling in their own juices, rather than browning. The difference in flavor and texture is huge.

I ended up eating most of the porcinis hot out of the pan (I couldn't help myself). The rest I tossed with pasta and a white wine and butter sauce. The dish needed something more, so I went out to the garden and picked some arugula. Then threw it in the hot pasta with mushrooms. The peppery greens wilted a bit under the heat, which was really nice. The arugula added a nice dimension to the dish. Dinner was good.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Isn't She Lovely

I wish they would bloom throughout the summer, but alas, these pink peonies only grace our yard for a few weeks in the beginning of each summer. I am thoroughly enjoying their loveliness.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Warming up

Western Washington is finally warming up. We can now put in our warm weather garden crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, basil, and green beans. With the exception of the green beans, the other crops should be planted as transplants... started from seed weeks or months ago.
If you haven't done it already, put these plants in the ground quick! Our warm weather crop growing season is short.

As we transition to this warmer weather, the cool season greens have a tendency to bolt or flower.  Once these short-lived annual crops bolt it's time to take them out and make room for something else. The greens of a bolted plant tend to get tough and slightly bitter. This may make them unsuitable for salads, but they can still taste delicious sauteed or wilted.

So far this year I have sauteed the greens and raab (flowering parts) from arugula, tatsoi, komatsuna, spinach, chard, beet greens, and kale. Where these greens were growing, is where we put in the tomatoes, squash, and other warm season crops.

Jacob picks tender lettuce for a salad.

My favorite way to eat these bolted greens is not very creative, but completely delicious. I like to slice garlic thin and brown it in a generous amount of olive oil. Once the garlic is a bit brown and bitter I add the greens, wilting them down in the oil and garlic. I add good salt. Adding a knob of butter never hurt anything.
At this point I either eat the greens on their own, as a side dish, or add them to something else.
Last week I added sauteed arugula to a farro salad, topped with poached eggs. It was delicious.

Spinach sauteed with garlic, spring onions, and butter.

I cooked the farro (aka emmer) in lots of salty water for about 25 minutes, or until tender. Then I drained the farro, and tossed it with a simple vinaigrette and the sauteed arugula. I topped with two poached eggs. We have basil growing on the kitchen window sill, so I added some of that too. Dinner was good, hearty, and healthy. We were happy.

Farro salad with wilted arugula and poached eggs

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chicken or the egg?

Our next door neighbors have 7 laying hens, and we're pet sitting this week. It's been several years since Jacob and I have had chickens, and we miss the eggs. We want hens again, and soon.

We had some family visiting from Portland last weekend, and we had a good time feeding our bolting kale to the chickens.

Maybe one of the chickens got more kale (and associated aphids) than the others... or else she's taking performance enhancing drugs. Today's egg was twice the size of her sisters'!

Oh lordy it was twins!!! I had to take a picture.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Komatsuna: a discovery worth sharing

Washed komatsuna leaves ready to be added to a salad.
This year we planted lots of asian greens at Alleycat Acres' Beacon Hill garden, including a few types I have never tasted. Daring I know, but hey, I like to live on the wild side.

Anyhow, one of these "new" types we tried out was 'Komatsuna', which, similar to bok choy, is a brassica or mustard green. After direct seeding, it was one of the first things to come up. In a spring when even the radishes have been scared to poke there cotyledons up into the chilly, wet world, komatsuna and I have been off to a good start, simply on the merrit that it has been growing. Yesterday, I tasted it for the first time and just about died with happiness. It's sweet, slightly sour, and very tender. My husband described it as tasting like a cross between spinach and bok choy, but it doesn't make your mouth feel funny like raw spinach does. I haven't been able to stop talking about it, and here I am, writing about this edible leaf to the whole interweb world. What can I say, I'm easily excited by plants. At yesterday's Alleycat work party we harvested the outer leaves of the Komatsuna plants along with some radishes (finally!) and some kale.

Komatsuna, radish, chive, and chicken salad with sesame vinaigrette.
This afternoon I prepared a nice salad of raw komatsuna leaves, sliced radish, chives, and shredded chicken with a sesame vinaigrette. Delicious.

Based on some internet browsing, it looks like komatsuna can either be eaten raw or cooked, similar to many greens like spinach, chard, and bok choy.

I think the seed we used came from Seeds of Change, but I'm not sure because earlier today I thought we got it from Territorial Seed company (great seeds for Northwest gardeners). Either way, here's a link to the Seeds of Change catalog description of komatsuna greens Seeds of Change: komatsuna

More of yesterday's harvest: radishes.
Have you discovered anything new for your garden or dinner plate this spring? Do share.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Biosolids: an intersection of public health, clean water, and sustainable ag

Wastewater treatment is designed to protect human and environmental health

Puget Sound and the Seattle city skyline.
Each day ~175 million gallons of wastewater flows to King County (Seattle) treatment plants. That’s 63 billion 875 million gallons of raw wastewater getting treated every year (!!!). To be clear, that’s anything flushed or washed down the drain. We are so privileged, for without sewers and proper sanitation water born diseases like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery would run rampant.

From left: raw sewage, treatment plant effluent, reclaimed water.
To protect both human and environmental health, raw wastewater is treated. In my opinion this feat is arguably the greatest invention of modern society! By incredible acts of engineering, raw wastewater is piped to treatment plants where solids are removed via extensive biological processes and then water is disinfected. The clean water can then be safely discharged to surface water bodies like rivers, oceans and Puget Sound, or it can be used for irrigation.
Demonstration garden irrigated with reclaimed water and amended with biosolids compost.
Now what about those solids? Prior to treatment, solids are mostly feces, t.p., and food bits from garbage disposals. To treat the raw solids, or sewage sludge, most treatment plants use anaerobic digestion technology wherein solids are pumped into large digester tanks where microorganisms chow down until they die, then other microorganisms chow down on those dead bodies and so on and on until the product is no longer feces, t.p., and bits of food but rather just the chewed-up bodies of the solids-chowing microorganisms. Voila! Now we have “biosolids” which is the industry term for treated sewage sludge that can safely be used to amend soil. Microbes are so cool!

Pure biosolids cake, straight from the digesters.
A handful of biosolids composted with sawdust to make GroCo
Sustainability of biosolids
Similar to animal manure, biosolids are rich in organic matter and nutrients. Farmers clamor for this material because the growth response is incredible. See the photograph below where the biosolids amended plots far outgrew the synthetic fertilizer plots.

Dryland winter wheat. From left: no fertilizer control, synthetic fertilizer at 50 lbs N/acre, biosolids at 50 lbs N/acre, biosolids at 100 lbs N/acre
With amazing results like these, there aren’t enough biosolids to satisfy eastern WA wheat farmers. Obviously, there are enough nutrients in biosolids to bolster growth, but the true magic is the organic matter in biosolids, which unlike synthetic fertilizer, actually helps build fertile soil over time.

Photo credit: USDA NRCS. This is a photo of the WA state soil, "Tokul". Yes I am a geek for including a picture of a soil profile, but bear with me, I'm a soil scientist. The dark color in the upper horizons is a result of organic matter accumulation. Tokul soils are mostly found in western WA, and under conifer forest canopy.
Virgin soils like those found in grasslands, forests, and marshes are full of organic matter, however, human activities like construction and tillage degrade this natural resource. In the natural world, all organic matter gets recycled in the soil, including fallen leaves, excrement, and carcasses. Organic matter, like that found in biosolids, is full of nutrients. As microbes eat the organic matter, nutrients are slowly released to plants, and they excrete sticky substances called exudates (I love that word). The sticky exudates bind soil particles together, which helps prevent erosion and preserve topsoil. All this organic matter also helps loosen up compacted soil and retain water for thirsty plants. People like me will argue that organic matter might be our nation’s greatest resource since it’s organic matter that helps to protect our arable land. But enough with the dirt on dirt, the take home message is: organic matter is good for soil.


Volunteers haul biosolids compost to garden beds at Alleycat Acres' Beacon Hill site.
Some folks balk at the idea of biosolids. I used to, so I understand this reaction quite well. No doubt, there is a serious ick factor associated with poop. From childhood we are taught waste is dirty and a cause of disease (remember this is why we have wastewater treatment systems). But then I actually saw, touched, and smelled biosolids composts (pretty innocuous), and I started to think about the sustainability factor. It became clear to me biosolids aren’t icky, but actually a wonderful, renewable, natural resource worthy of reverence. Biosolids are full of nutrients derived from our food, which are nutrients that originated from farm soils. To close the nutrient loop, we need to return these nutrients to the soil, otherwise we need to mine or manufacture more fertilizer. The decision here is easy since one choice is sustainable and the other is not. The other important question to ask is: if we don’t use biosolids as a soil conditioner and fertilizer replacement, what do we do with them?

Andy Bary, WSU soil scientist, collects GPS data points at a long-term dryland wheat study site.
Me sampling a Yakima valley hops field, with a long history of biosolids application.
Skeptics claim biosolids are unsafe, unregulated, and unstudied. This is simply untrue. No other soil amendment or fertilizer has been so thoroughly studied or regulated. University and government scientists throughout the U.S. have studied biosolids for over 35 years and have repeatedly demonstrated their safety. Scientists continue to study biosolids for safety, efficacy, and larger sustainability issues, such as carbon sequestration. Are there pollutants in biosolids? In small concentrations – yes. We live in a dirty, chemical-ridden world, so of course there are pollutants. They are everywhere! While testing shows some level of pollutants exist in all soil amendments, we should know and appreciate that given the original mission of wastewater treatment - to protect human and environmental health - biosolids are the most regulated and monitored soil amendment available. Conspiracy theorists and skeptics abound when it comes to biosolids, but before we get wrapped up in the hysteria over ickyness, I ask that we all take step back and look at the larger sustainability picture.

UW undergraduate intern and I collect soil samples from a restoration site on Vashon Island, WA, where biosolids composts were used to restore the soil.
A year later wildlife and trees are starting to come back to the Vashon Island site.
Biosolids application to soil is proven as a safe renewable way to return nutrients and organic matter back to the earth. Biosolids are a product of wastewater treatment, which is designed to protect human and environmental health.

Pretty purple Scabiosa growing in biosolids amended soil.
It’s International Compost Awareness Week (May 1-7, 2011), and it’s time to get gardening! How about trying some GroCo, Tagro, or Soundgro for yourself! These amazing soil amendments are created locally with our very own class A biosolids products.
Since I live in an urban area, I would like to send out a big thank you to the wastewater treatment operators and program managers who work in the sewers to keep me, my neighbors, and Puget Sound healthy. Thanks folks! Keep up the good work!