Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Raspberry Picking

Raspberry-blueberry compote on waffles... an a-ok way to start a Sunday.

Raspberry-blueberry compote on waffles… an a-ok way to start a Sunday.

We woke up with a hankering to get out of the city. We planned to go on a hike, but I also wanted to tie in a trip to a fruit stand or farm. I’ve been SO busy this year and have barely had time to shop, let alone do any canning. Here I have 2 days to take on a small project or two, and I plan to take advantage!

Remlinger Farms berry picking... it was a gray day and I didn't get a great photo.

Remlinger Farms berry picking… it was a gray day and I didn’t get a great photo.

We decided to go “easy” and hit up Remlinger Farms, in Carnation, WA. It’s the big name berry farm out here, they sell berries and pies in all our grocery stores, they have a kids carnival area, and it’s pretty touristy. I was hoping they’d have flats of berries, but as we drove up saw they had raspberry picking, yay!

Picking boxes piled high... I guess it wasn't a very busy day at the farm.

Picking boxes piled high… I guess it wasn’t a very busy day at the farm.

It was kind of misty, and the berries were nearly at the end, but we found some great berries! There weren’t many easy pickins, but if you lifted branches or squatted down you could get a good selection.

There they are! Hiding...

There they are! Hiding…

Witness the bounty!

Witness the bounty!

After a half hour we had 2 pounds, which cost $4. A fun outing and cheap berries, works for me!

Here's our haul. The white bits aren't bad, just weird looking.

Here’s our haul. The white bits aren’t bad, just weird looking.

Not quite enough berries to make jam, and I’m not sure I have time to do that anyway. So instead, I froze most of them (to put on cereal, yum!)

I love my new refrigerator! It has the drawer freezer on the bottom, so I can now freeze in much larger batches than before.

I love my new refrigerator! It has the drawer freezer on the bottom, so I can now freeze in much larger batches than before.

and make a quick raspberry-blueberry compote for waffles this morning. Double yum!

Blueberries and raspberries cooked over medium heat, adding a little sugar if needed, basically until everything melts.

Blueberries and raspberries cooked over medium heat, adding a little sugar if needed, basically until everything melts. Eat on waffles!

I also got pickling cukes and late-season cherries, so I have a lot more projects to get to. Better get back to it!


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Raised beds – At last!

D and I have wanted raised beds since we started our garden 7 years ago, but we aren’t the best project people. But this winter we finally finished! We already have some plants growing, I even started some from seed!

Here’s a sort of photo essay of the building of our raised beds. We went by these instructions from Sunset. It was a really fun project, and normally shouldn’t take more than a weekend. We just got it in our heads that it would be a lot harder than it turned out to be, I think.

We built the raised beds in our garage. Teamwork, yeah!

We built the raised beds in our garage. Teamwork, yeah! D was excited to have a reason to buy a impact driver, but I think a normal drill would be just fine.

Here is the first one finished: they are both 4'x6' and are about a foot tall.

Here is the first one finished: they are both 4’x6′ and are about a foot tall.

The first raised bed installed. It took a lot of prep to get the weeds out of the soil first, so next we...

The first raised bed installed. It took a lot of prep to get the weeds out of the soil first, so after leveling the raised beds we added cardboard.

Checking to see it is level. I will admit that they seem to have settled in parts, but not too much.

Checking to see it is level. I will admit that they seem to have settled in parts, but not too much.

... added cardboard to the bottom of the raised bed, before adding soil. The hope is that this will help suppress weeds. We have morning glory in this part of the garden pretty bad.

Here we added cardboard to the bottom of the raised bed, before adding soil. This should help suppress weeds. We have morning glory in this part of the garden, it’s basically impossible to stop, the best hope is to try to slow it down.

Finally, we had soil delivered. The only access is a walk-through gate in the fence, so we had to block the alley while we brought in wheelbarrow loads.

Finally, we had soil delivered. The only access is a walk-through gate in the fence, so we had to block the alley while we brought in wheelbarrow loads.

I’ve planted a garden of basics this first year – cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, carrots, zucchini, beans, and herbs. In one bed we direct sowed seeds, the other we planted starts. Wish us luck!


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January in the Garden

This isn’t actually about what’s going on in the garden NOW, because that’s a whole lotta nothing. In keeping with my recap/resolutions last week, I’m going to run down the couple of fun things going on in our garden in the last year.

All in all, it was a low key year in the garden. My weekends weren’t spent very productively. But we spent plenty of time hanging out outside, having bbqs and dining with friends.

Thimbleberries on the shrub, in various stages of ripening. You can also see how soft and large these leaves are (I have heard them called - jokingly? - "nature's toilet paper.")

Thimbleberries on the shrub, in various stages of ripening. You can also see how soft and large these leaves are (I have heard them called – jokingly? – “nature’s toilet paper.”)

Thimbleberries galore! Thimbleberry – Rubus parviflorus – is a Northwest native shrub with sweet berries. I picked these as they ripened in July – about a handful a day – and froze them. I ended up with about a cup of frozen berries after a couple weeks. They’re so small, I couldn’t think of the best way to use them so I just ate them. This year I’ll make a plan. Sometimes it takes me a couple years to figure out how to harvest and use edibles.

Desert King figs are green with pink centers. This is the type that does the best in Seattle.

Desert King figs are green with pink centers. This is the type that does the best in Seattle.

We got our first figs off the tree! I am super proud of that. They were delicious! I hope for way more this year, and soon I’ll have enough to make fig jam. Fingers crossed! No fruit on the prune yet, but we’re hopeful for this year.

Our raised beds installed. Here we are checking the level, and adding cardboard at the bottom. We have tons of morning glory in this part of the yard, so we wanted to beat it back as much as possible.

Our raised beds installed. Here we are checking the level, and adding cardboard at the bottom. We have tons of morning glory in this part of the yard, so we wanted to beat it back as much as possible.

Also, we finally built our raised beds! They are installed, and just need soil and we’ll be ready to go this spring. We better get started soon, President’s Day is around the corner.

Saffron crocus - Crocus sativus - flower showing off some of its potential.

Saffron crocus – Crocus sativus – flower showing off some of its potential.

And saving the best for last. The Crocus sativus bloomed and gave us saffron again this year. Last year, I picked saffron but didn’t get to use any of it. I tried to shield you from this painful truth (ie, was embarrassed)… it molded! I thought it was totally dried by the time I stored it, but there was still enough moisture and it went bad. This year I am keeping it in an open container, so as not to trap any moisture. Now I just need to use it. Soon, soon… I have about 10 strands. Does anyone have any ideas for how to use it?

Check back this spring, I hope to have a lot more to report!


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New Years Resolutions and 2014 Recap

OK, it’s been a really long time since I’ve written. Not just for the blog, but anything! I’ve been at my “new” job for 9 months now, so I guess it’s time for me to stop feeling like it’s a temporary schedule. My job (see this post here) is wonderful, but my commute is making it so that I have less time at home, and less energy, to do the things I enjoy. Things like cooking, canning, seeing friends, and writing.

Well, that needs to stop. So what if I’m in the car 3 hours a day? I have time on the ferry to write, and time on the weekends for cooking projects. I need to stop spending my weekends in non-stop “catch up on sleep” mode. The New Year is a classic time to make changes and recommit to the life I want to live. My resolution is to stop letting my commute rule my life. So this post is my first in months. Soon I’ll be starting projects again, but for now I’ll just catch up on what I’ve missed.

Canning Projects

I didn’t make nearly as many canning projects this year as the last – mostly due to time constraints. The recipes I took on were mostly repeats – things I know I like and will eat.

Leeks Vinaigrette, or oil-preserved leeks. Great as a side or on salads.

Leeks Vinaigrette, or oil-preserved leeks. Great as a side or on salads.

Oil preserved Leeks (called “Leeks Vinaigrette” but it is not salad dressing, which I would actually love to make sometime) with the Ladies Preservation Society

Strawberry Jam (here’s a post on this from a couple years ago)

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam (left) and strawberry jam (right). I made these a week apart in a very productive moment last summer.

Raspberry jam (left) and strawberry jam (right). I made these a week apart in a very productive moment last summer.

Apricot Jam (this one was new – made with my friends in the Ladies Preservation Society – and was really fun. The resulting jam is a little tart for my taste, but has great apricot flavor.)

Peach Jam – we took a field trip to the Yakima farmer’s market and bought peaches there. Yakima is about 2-3 hours east, and is the heart of farm country in WA. Their farmer’s market is basically heaven.

Bread and Butter Pickles (recipe here)

Concord Grape Jelly – my neighbors have a grape vine that produces more fruit than they can use, so they put out a call to the neighborhood to come take them. 1 hour later I was washing and stemming 9 lbs in my giant sink. I made juice, and the next week made it into jelly. Next year (they say I can use their grapes again next year!) I’d like to try grape jam. I think it’ll be a little more work, but jelly is still kind of weird to me. I think I have enough photos to make this one into its own post, actually. Maybe I’ll do that soon.

Concord grapes picked moments before. These were turned into jelly.

Concord grapes picked moments before. These were turned into jelly.

Geez – is that all I did? I’m sure there were a few others, but these are the bulky items. See what I mean? I’ve really got to get back into the swing of things. I had enough jam for Christmas and hostess gifts this year, but only just.

So, onward, upward, and into the garden! Next week I’ll write about the projects going on in our little garden. Happy New Year!


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Strawberry Leather

Strawberry-apple leather, rolled up in wax paper. A great snack!

Strawberry-apple leather, rolled up in wax paper. A great snack!

When I was a kid, my dad built a solar food drier – he was a craftsman by trade for most of my childhood. It was a box made of plexi that had screens as sliding trays, and the sun would bake the box passively, drying anything inside. My parents made dried fruits, mostly apples. But my favorite favorite was the fruit leather. Mom mashed strawberries and put them on wax paper – that’s all. No store bought fruit rollup has ever come close to that flavor. So I’ve been wanting to try it myself.

Strawberries, after a few days in the fridge. Not amazing, but still worth using!

Strawberries, after a few days in the fridge. Not amazing, but still worth using!

The strawberries I had on hand weren’t actually that great – they were kind of old. I had tried to get strawberries at the farm near my work, to make jam, but sheesh. I got there 3 minutes after they opened and they had already sold out! So I bought strawberries at my grocery store. They were fine, but not as good as the ones I have had straight from farmers. Sad face.

Chop those strawberries!

Chop those strawberries!

After making jam, I had a couple pints of berries left over. So… fruit leather time!

“The Dehydrator Bible” – my resource for food drying – doesn’t have any recipes for plain strawberry leather. I took that to mean that maybe strawberries would be too runny on their own. They suggest either strawberry-apple or strawberry-banana. I went with strawberry-apple.

I realized that I needed to blend the strawberries with the apples, or the apples wouldn't blend well.

I realized that I needed to blend the strawberries with the apples, or the apples wouldn’t blend well.

After cutting out the bad parts of the strawberries, I had the perfect amount: 2 cups chopped. Then peel and chop up an apple – something firm like granny smith – and blend the two together. I also added about a quarter cup of sugar, for flavor, but don’t add much more than that. It won’t dry right and will be tacky or sticky. And if your fruit is tastier than mine, no sugar necessary.

All smooshed up. Here's where I taste tested, and realized it needed a little sugar. I added bakers sugar because it's finer and would mix in quicker.

All smooshed up. Here’s where I taste tested, and realized it needed a little sugar. I added bakers sugar because it’s finer and would mix in quicker.

Then just pour the mixture onto a leather tray (solid plastic, no holes) and put in the dehydrator at 135 for 5-8 hours. Mine was on the upper end of that range. If you don’t have a leather tray, you can try putting parchment on a jerky tray.

Pour and spread the fruit until it is about 1/8" thick. Try to make it even so it dries at the same rate. The 2 cups of mashed fruit took up 2 leather trays.

Pour and spread the fruit until it is about 1/8″ thick. Try to make it even so it dries at the same rate. The 2 cups of mashed fruit took up 2 leather trays.

Once it’s done, while still warm, pull off the tray and put right onto wax paper or saran wrap. It may not look pretty or square, but it’s all good. Then just roll it up in the paper and seal in a plastic bag. They say it’ll last for 6 months in an airtight container, but I can’t imagine how it could last 6 days. It’s far too delicious!

Dried and ready to peel!

Dried and ready to peel!

I have about 10 rollups. I’ve been taking them to work as snacks all week, and it is such a wonderful treat! I’m excited to try making other leathers throughout the summer.


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Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca

Refresh in the shade with this delicious summer drink.

Refresh in the shade with this delicious summer drink.

Oooh yeaah. Summer is here! Here in Seattle, we have had a beautiful spring, but I’m still really excited for summer. We’ve been teased with great weather just to be rained out and chilled, week after week.

Well, summer is official now! And what could be more refreshing and summery than watermelon? How about watermelon-lime agua fresca? Eh?

I feel ashamed to admit, but it never occurred to me to make my own agua fresca (which is basically juice) until we were in India last summer. Our hotel’s breakfast buffet (the most ridiculously delicious buffet ever) always had some kind of agua fresca, and watermelon was my favorite. I ignored the “don’t eat fresh fruit unless you peel it yourself” rule when it came to this refreshing drink. And it turns out it’s easy to make at home. Yay!

Last summer I made this pretty often, and combined it with lemonade to make it special. (Note, also good with vodka…). Today I tried it with straight lime juice. The watermelon I used today wasn’t the best ever, nor were the limes. But it’s still such a good drink! I have heard adding fresh basil or cucumber are great, too, and I’ll definitely be trying that as the summer moves forward.

Not the best watermelon ever, but I tell you what, that is totally ok.

A mediocre watermelon, but I tell you what, that is totally ok when you’re making juice.

To make Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca:

I used 1 medium sized watermelon and 3 limes. And no sugar!

Peel and cube a watermelon, and puree in the blender. Seeds are fine, they’ll be strained out in a minute. And even a little white part is fine, no need to be particular.

Blending the watermelon

Blending the watermelon

Pour the blended fruit into a strainer over a pitcher. Let drain, occasionally stirring to move the pulp from the bottom. I also press the solids a little with a back of a spoon, just to squeeze all the goodness out. You’ll need to empty the strainer occasionally to keep the liquid flowing.

It's a little messy, as watermelon is, so I advice doing this in the sink. Strain right into the pitcher.

It’s a little messy, as watermelon is, so I advice doing this in the sink. Strain right into the pitcher.

 

I squeezed the lime in at the end, then chilled the whole thing. Serve outside on a hot day, and pretend you’re on vacation. Enjoy!


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Carrot Coriander Relish

Here's the relish I made last year.

I’m finally posting about this relish I made last year. This is last year’s photo, but the rest of the post is from this week.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a coworker about my blog, and she asked about the orange thing in the middle of my banner photo. When I told her it was carrot relish, she wanted to read the post. Well, as it happens, I never wrote about it! It was one of my projects from early last year, before the blog. When piecing together my colorful banner photo, I had to find foods I had made and photographed, which if you can believe, wasn’t common for me back then. Oh, how times have changed.

Annabeth is a great helper in the kitchen. Here she is ensuring that I can't read the recipe. Later she stole carrots from the compost and chased them all over the house, finally eating them. This recipe is fun for the whole family!

Annabeth is a great helper in the kitchen. Here she is ensuring that I can’t read the recipe. Later she stole carrots from the compost and chased them all over the house, finally eating them. This recipe is fun for the whole family!

Anyway, I knew I had to remake this relish, because it is delicious, flavorful, and bright. It’s a great alternative to pickle relish, and goes fabulously on burgers, hotdogs, and all manner of sandwiches. It’s also a little spicy, but not too much (you could certainly add more chili to amp up the heat). This weekend (Happy Memorial Day to all!) marked our first BBQ of the season, so it was the perfect time to bust out this great recipe.

I julienned the carrots on the mandoline. I think next time I'll shred them in the food processor - this took a really long time.

I julienned the carrots on the mandoline. I think next time I’ll shred them in the food processor – this took a really long time.

I got the recipe from Salt Sugar Smoke, still one of my favorite books on food preservation. This time I didn’t toast coriander seeds and grind them, opting for pre-ground coriander. I recommend doing as the recipe suggests, the coriander flavor stood out more last year. Also, this time I subbed a jalapeño for “red chili” because I don’t know what she meant by “red chili.” Looking back, I think a dried red chili is probably a better fit. But I do like the jalapeño, so you do you and I’ll do me.

Just put everything in the pot all together. I love recipes like that!

Just put everything in the pot all together. I love recipes like that!

Recipe (makes about a pint)

8 carrots, cleaned, and shredded (or julienned)
1 ½ inch piece of ginger root, peeled and minced
8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
zest and juice of 1 lime
¼ cup apple juice
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
pinch or two of salt
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped (optional) – I have never included this, but I think it would taste great, but would probably really change the flavor.

After cooking, but not cooked all the way down (there's still a lot of liquid.) When it's done it'll be drier.

After cooking, but not cooked all the way down (there’s still a lot of liquid.) When it’s done it’ll be almost totally dry.

Mix everything except cilantro together in a pot. Stir and bring to a boil slowly over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Then increase to medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the liquid to reduce and cook off. The carrots should be soft but not mushy, and appear candied from the liquid.

The relish on a (veggie) sausage. Fantastic! This is dog is also a "Seattle dog" which is with cream cheese and caramelized onions. I urge you to try that, it's ridiculous. So freaking delish - and adding this relish really worked!

Messy, but so tasty – carrot relish on a (veggie) sausage. This dog is also a “Seattle dog” which is with cream cheese and caramelized onions. I urge you to try that, it’s ridiculous. So freaking delish – and adding this relish really worked! Just noticed, “delish” and “relish” are one letter apart… coincidence?

Remove from heat and pack into a warm sterilized jar. Store in the fridge for up to 3 months (if it lasts that long!). If you’re using cilantro, either add just before using or mix it in the jars with the relish. If you do the latter, you need to use it up within 5 days.

Enjoy!