Garden Mysteries: Sour Cherries and Strange Garlic

I need some help from the community on two head scratchers from around our garden. First, this cherry tree:

cherry tree

To say it’s tucked away in a corner of our yard is an understatement; we barely noticed its existence behind hay and structural refuse until it set some fruit. I imagine this poor gal has been neglected for some time.

Cherries

I’ve never had a cherry tree before. The fruit has a ripe consistency, but it’s s-o-u-r. Thoughts? Is there any chance that letting it spend more time on the tree will result in sweeter (and not just bird-pecked) fruit? And, assuming the answer to that last question is no… any suggestions on what to do with tiny, sour cherries?

In other news,  there is garlic randomly interspersed about the garden. We didn’t plant it and we’ve been here since September, so it’s pretty old. If not pulled up, does garlic come back the next year? And could its age account for these weird little growths, which I’m guessing are garlic babies?

garlic

At least one inquiring mind will be grateful for any insight you might have!

Memorial Day Drizzle and Strawberry Jam

I was supposed to be at a meditation retreat all weekend at the Mariposa Center just outside Ukiah, but a vicious cough and two sleepless nights sent me packing early Sunday morning.

Today is Memorial Day Monday, and we woke up to a gray, rainy day. I couldn’t be happier about it and I’ve tried to take full advantage of what is likely the last “indoor” day we’ll have until the fall.

drizzle

Droplets on the tomato cages and clothes line remind me how much I love the rain. (If you look closely, you can see the ring of burned grass from Carson’s awesome new fire pit – whoops.)

For breakfast I made waffles and bacon, served with strawberries and coffee. After helping Carson get his website started, I switched gears to my favorite rainy day task: canning.

I had piles of strawberries, half from the Ukiah Farmer’s Market and half from nearby Saechao strawberries off highway 101 just south of here (on the same property as Nelson Vineyards). I didn’t take a picture of these beautiful ripe berries before or during the canning process, but you know what strawberries look like.

My dad is devoted to strawberry jam. Truly, I think he could eat strawberry jam on toast every day for the rest of his life and be content. He doesn’t like fussy food, so I made a batch of straight-up strawberry jam for Father’s Day. I also made a batch of strawberry vanilla jam at Carson’s request using a recipe from Food in Jars.

jam 2

A dozen half pints and two pints for good measure. This should keep Carson, my dad, and other lucky recipients in good supply for awhile.

All the jars sealed (woohoo!) and both jams came out beautifully. Although the vanilla jam is delicious and Carson likes it better, I have to go with my dad on this one: simple strawberry jam can’t be beat.

jam 1

Marisa McClellan insists on storing canned goods without the rings, so I took them off. Does anyone else do this, and/or know why it’s recommended?

A word on jams: most recipes tell you to skim the foam off the top before ladling into jars. I think this is silly since the instant you take it off the heat and give it a good stir, the foam disappears. Side note: you can help reduce foam by adding a teaspoon of butter to the pot before bringing the jam to a boil.

waffles and jam

The regular strawberry jam wasn’t fully set but we couldn’t resist taking a waffle break for quality control.

Now that I’ve baked (are waffles technically baking?), canned, and blogged, it’s time for another favorite gloomy day activity: afternoon movie watching in sweatpants.

p.s. Both of my grandpas fought in World War II. I thought about them today, and whether or not they would like this jam. I decided they would because, you know, what’s not to like?

Downtown Ukiah: Community Acupuncture

I’ve been a fan of community acupuncture for years, and I was beside myself with joy last June when I discovered that my tiny new town has a clinic. Community Acupuncture Ukiah is right downtown on School and Church streets, just a few blocks from my house. There’s an easy online reservation system and walk-ins are welcome. The space itself is as it should be – calming, with comfortable chairs and a few massage tables/beds for those of us who like to lay flat.

Acupuncture is traditionally done in a group setting, with one or two acupuncturists treating several people at once. It’s said that the shared energy improves the efficacy of everyone’s treatment. Of course we westernized it, putting people alone in sterile rooms and charging upwards of $100/hour for a treatment that costs $20-$40 on a sliding scale in a community setting. Once the needles are in all you do is lay there for as long as you like (many people fall asleep, some read, I meditate) so it’s silly for one acupuncturist to dedicate an hour or more to a single patient. I find that the presence of others helps focus my attention on the treatment.

Then there’s Aracely. There are two women who work at Community Acupuncture Ukiah, and while I’m sure Jami is great, I fell in love with Aracely from my first treatment. I went in with severe back pain after a week of intense physical labor. “We could try cupping,” she suggested. I hadn’t ever done or even heard of this treatment, but I was game. So she suction-cupped my entire back and the cramps and knots immediately vanished.  Plus, I had awesome bruises:

cupping

I had this done the day after I met Carson. He saw them peeking out of my shirt the next day and asked, “Is that a tattoo?”

Since then I’ve gone fairly regularly for acupuncture, though I’ve been absent for a few months – it’s better when you go frequently, and I’ve done it in waves over the years. Today I decided to reintroduce it into my regular schedule and went in with a mean knot in my right shoulder that’s been shooting pain down my arm and back. “Have you tried Gua Sha?” she asked. Nope, but of course I was down!

She put me on a chair so my back was exposed and rubbed the Gua Sha tool in short, downward strokes over both my shoulders and neck. It hurt a little but felt wonderful once she was done. A serious bonus to this treatment (as well as cupping) is that you still get to lay down and have acupuncture done afterward. Once my back was good and rubbed (it looks like I have a gnarly rash, but apparently it goes away much faster than the cupping marks, which took several weeks to totally disappear) I enjoyed a relaxing hour on the table. And now my knots are gone.

If you’ve ever been curious about acupuncture, I encourage you to give Aracely or Jami a try, and if you’re not in Ukiah, odds are there is a community clinic near you.

How a frog and a goldfinch saved the day

Today was one of those blah days. Carson’s at the station; I realized I’d lost my wallet on Sunday and have given it up for gone after an exhaustive search; a bird bath I was excited to get in the mail showed up shattered to a thousand pieces; I was unable to focus on my growing mountain of work; and, to make matters worse, I watched the final episode of Downton Abbey season 3 instead of doing any one of a  number of productive tasks. Naturally, the tear-jerking episode sent me into a mood spiral for hours, which I didn’t start to recover from until Susan asked me to water some beans we planted yesterday. I said I would, and 45 minutes later (aka a full episode of West Wing) I grudgingly climbed on my bike and made the short ride over.

Once there my mood neutralized as I gazed at the other gardeners and all the progress being made, getting inspired like I always do in that garden. Perhaps sensing I was being pulled back to the positive side of things, the universe sent me a gift. A lovely little frog jumped out from under a strawberry I was watering, and the two of us communed for a calming moment before going our separate ways.

The frog encounter enlivened me to get my hands dirty in my own garden, which has received a minimum of work this past week. While cutting back unruly grape vines and rose branches, I looked up to see, not 10 feet from me, a goldfinch eating from the nyger feeder I’d put out two weeks earlier. This stopped me dead in my tracks, my jaw gaped open, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of yet another animal – one I’d been anxiously awaiting! Then I looked around and noticed a robin hopping on the grass and a hummingbird hovering overhead, and I felt a rush of connectedness and joy that wiped the last dusty remnants of my bad mood away.

The moral of this story is one that I seem to learn over and over again: bad moods are quickly cured if you can just get yourself outside.

poppy

The little poppy that could – these tenacious flowers are happy to grow in our lava rock front yard. I think there’s a lesson here, too…

Downtown Ukiah: Foot Logic Massage

I’m not sure how long it’s been open, but I believe Foot Logic Massage on the corner of School and Standley is a relatively new Ukiah fixture. Back when I was corporately employed I used to get massages twice a month, and though that is no longer a luxury I can afford I do treat myself from time to time.

I had a hankering for a massage today so I called to make sure they had someone available before walking over. As soon as I entered I was soothed by the space – new bamboo hardwoods and low, comfortable chairs line a far wall in an otherwise open room. Calming flute music played as I was talked into the 1 hour foot reflexology/back combo. English is very much a second language in this space so I wasn’t sure what I was getting for my money, but I wasn’t too worried.

I sat down in a chair and my massage therapist brought a warm tub for my feet. Everything was very clean, with fresh towels covering all surfaces and the tub lined with a thin plastic bag (which I would argue isn’t any more wasteful than the soap and water it would take to clean after every use, and a much more consistent way to keep things sanitary). While my feet soaked he massaged my shoulders, neck, arms, and hands, and then set to work on my feet for a good 25 minutes. Neither gentle nor rough, I had the sense that he was genuinely dedicated to improving my health through massage.

After 30 minutes I was moved into one of the two massage rooms and the second half hour was a full-body rub with most of the focus on my upper back (I tend to carry a lot of stress there, so I’m not sure if that’s standard or just where he found the knots). He used a lot of pressure but did ask to makes sure I was okay with it, and did some of that fist smacking against my legs and feet that I always love during a pedicure. All in all I would say it was a very good massage.

I could hear the other people in what is essentially one huge room with a few areas sectioned off, but I didn’t mind. People talked in gentle tones and everyone’s energy was very positive, similar to a community acupuncture setting.

Overall this was an excellent value. Here’s what you can get:

  • Foot reflexology: 30 min: $25; 1 hour: $35 (I think an hour would be too long, though they do rub your shoulders, arms, and hands in both the 30 min and 1 hour sessions)
  • Food/back combo, 1 hour: $45
  • Full body massage, 30 min: $40; 1 hour: $55

As an added bonus, they’re open from 10-9 every day of the week and walk-ins are happily accommodated, so you can go pretty much any time the urge strikes.

Two thumbs up!

Food in Jars (canning season is here!)

For several years I’ve been a novice canner, participating at friends’ houses and, once, helping to throw a huge canning party for the community garden I managed in Seattle.  I’ve done my own canning projects using the limited equipment I had on hand, breaking all sorts of rules such as putting jars through a water bath without a rack.

I decided this was the year to become legitimate. It’s been a slow but steady process. For Christmas I got some equipment from my parents, and a few weeks ago a book called  Food in Jars caught my eye at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. Then, last week I finally bought the huge speckled enamel canning pot I’ve had my eye on at Friedman’s, on sale for $18. The only thing missing was inspiration.

It came today. I’ve been  slowly working my way through Food in Jars and came upon a recipe for pickled cherries. Eureka! On Monday I bought about two pounds of cherries to start off a Rumpot (inspired by Amber, who has generously given me a jar from her stash the last two years running and which I maniacally hoard). I haven’t gotten around to buying any rum and the cherries were going soft, and the recipe promised me that pickled cherries taste like cherry pie. The decision made itself, really.

Out came the canning supplies, my first opportunity to use them since they became my new toys in December. I did a little happy dance when I discovered just how much good stuff I’d gotten.

Canninng supplies

Unfortunately, once I had the brine going and the jars in a sterilizing water bath, I discovered I didn’t have any new lids with which to make my seals. To the store! Canning supplies were all on sale so I bought tons of lids and a 12 pack of 1/2 pint jars, plus a gallon of apple cider vinegar.

It wasn’t long before I had the cherries packed in and the brine poured over them, but I only had enough to fill three pint jars. I looked for more things to pickle and settled on the garlic scapes Susan gave me this afternoon after I spent a few hours working in her community garden plot.

scapes

Unfortunately THOSE only filled one jar, and I still had a sterilized jar and enough brine for one more. I had pulled up a bunch of radishes today so what the heck, I pickled those, too.

RadishesThe good news is all the seals took. The bad news is, they’re all kind of ugly! Hopefully they taste better than they look. No matter what, I’m delighted to have broken the seal on the canning season.

canned goods

A new take on oven fried chicken

My low-carb life is moving forward fairly smoothly. I find it very easy to eat at home, pretty easy to eat out,  but a little tricky when I’m at someone else’s house. This is good news for my friends since I keep offering to cook dinner here. Steaming rice or whipping up some garlic bread is easy enough to serve to everyone else, and I just put meat and vegetables on my plate.

With so many local vegetables and a lot of good quality meat readily available in Ukiah, it’s mostly a pleasure to eat 60% vegetables, 35% meat, and 5% dairy. Just because I’m restricting my diet doesn’t mean I’m not eating excellent food.

Here’s a fabulous low-carb recipe my friend Casey turned me onto: oven fried chicken using pork rinds and Parmesan cheese as breading. GENIUS.

Ingredients:

  • 8 chicken pieces (we use organic thighs and drumsticks – I like skin so I leave it on)
  • 1 bag pork rinds
  • 3 or more tablespoons Parmesan cheese (the slightly creepy powdery kind works best)
  • Seasoning salt or Creole seasoning
  • Italian seasoning or a combo of oregano, basil; anything you like
  • 2 eggs
  • Butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or cover a baking sheet with tin foil. Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. For even cooking, take the chicken out of the fridge 20 minutes beforehand so it’s not so cold when it goes into the oven.

In a blender, combine a whole bag of pork rinds with 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese and whatever seasonings you like. There’s really no right combination of ingredients – these are just guidelines. I’ve done it several ways and it’s been delicious each time.

Lightly beat the eggs. Dredge each chicken piece in the egg wash and then coat in the crumbs. Arrange the coated pieces on the baking sheet and place a small pat of butter on top of each piece, or melt 3 tablespoons of butter and gently spoon on top.

Cook at 350 for 45-60 minutes (depending on the thickness of your pieces and whether they’re bone-in) until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. (Full disclosure: I actually don’t use a thermometer and base “doneness” on whether or not the juices run clear when the piece is cut into, and also by its texture and appearance.)

This chicken is crispy and flavorful. It’s in no way low fat – definitely a comfort food, but one I feel good about eating. I’ve never been anti-fat and I don’t plan to start now.

oven fried chicken

I’ve served this with different sides: sauteed greens, baked broccoli with a little cheese, mashed cauliflower. While Carson eats rice, I have sliced cucumber or turmeric marinated cauliflower. For lunch the next day I pop leftover pieces in the oven and they crisp up again nicely.

This is a new favorite for sure.

Once I get some of my friends’ pictures, I’ll post about my whimsical weekend in Fort Bragg.