Friday, July 30, 2010

Muir Woods

Patti and John Inman are visiting Napa for a few days before heading up to Lake Tahoe. Last summer we visited the giant sequoias in Yosemite. While talking about trees, it became apparent that these east coast residents thought the giant sequoias and coast redwoods were the same trees. So off we went to Muir Woods, the only old growth redwood forest remaining in the bay area.

As a well-known bird watcher, John was as interested in the fauna as the flora. Down the trail is John with his binoculars scoping out the tops of the trees.

Just over the barrier is Redwood Creek, with many spotted Salmon fry. The young salmon were abundant and healthy looking. We did not see any banana slugs thundering through the mosses. Of course this is a much dryer time of year than when I last went to Big Basin Redwoods.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Michael Pollan is rather green

This is a picture of the unripe "Michael Pollan" tomatoes from Wild Boar Farms taken this afternoon in the garden. According to the catalog, "Fruit with no BER (Blossom End Rot) developed a pointed nipple on the bottom. Taste is very different from the Green Zebra. Much less tartness, more mild with good sweetness. Very positive response at the Farmers Market. They stuck out and people really liked the flavor. As I ran out later in the season, customers kept asking about them."

As you can see, no BER on these tomatoes. The color is untouched - they are really this green. The plant (along with many others) was purchased back in April after a tomato demonstration at the "Pumpkin Patch". Most of the plants are now over six feet tall, after following the advice on how to promote top growth on indeterminate plants.

These are immature "Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye". Some day these tomatoes will be the heirloom tomatoes of our time.

I've been re-reading "Gardening for Love: The Market Bulletins" by Elizabeth Lawrence, edited by Allen Lacy - two of the great garden writers of all time. Elizabeth Lawrence was the Sunday garden writer for the "Charlotte Observer" and Allen Lacy was garden writer for the "New York Times" and the "Wall Street Journal".

According to Miss Lawrence:

"Reading the market bulletins is like walking through a country garden with sun on the flowers, in their very names: princess feather, four-o-clock, love-in-a-mist, bachelor's buttons, Joseph's coat, touch-me-not, kiss-me-at-the-garden-gate, ladyfingers, redbird bush, rainbow fairy, pink sunburst." She could just list the common names of plants and have a lyrical passage.

The market bulletins were published by the departments of agriculture of mostly southern states. Some may still be printed. Southern gardeners (mostly women) traded seeds, plants and cuttings for "pin money". Miss Lawrence tried to verify the botanical names of many of the plants - and added to her garden along the way. Eudora Welty seemed to have played a pivotal role in introducing Miss Lawrence to the market bulletins. It's comforting to know that in this homogenized United States of Generica, such places and practices persist - even in Napa and Suisun, California.

Juli's yellow french beanstalk ~ traded John's red pick-up truck for these magic beans, now about nine feet tall ~ growing in a half wine barrel ~ trellised with two large stacked tomato cages ~ pretty soon we'll be able to climb up to the sky.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Leap of Faith

I have to remind myself at times that my friend who lives in Italy is not on facebook and that she does not see things that I post in that forum.

Last Saturday was the annual Napa Home Winemakers Classic held this year in Yountville. Proceeds from the event support the Dry Creek- Lakoya Volunteer Fire Department. As we have been doing since the 90's, our home wine making group "Leap of Faith" entered a wine in the competition and poured our recently bottled 2008 Cabernet from the Oak Knoll District.

photo by John Poole

My husband John snapped this picture as we lined up with our award for the top Cabernet of the competition (no first place awarded). We tried to get him to put down the camera and join us, but to no avail. Next year we may get a group shot with everyone in it.

This wine tasted special in the barrel. After discussion and blending tests, we decided not to blend it with the Merlot/Cabernet Franc in another barrel. Usually we produce a "Bordeaux blend" with at least these three grapes and call it "Trinity" -- but this year bottled the Cabernet Sauvignon by itself. The Merlot is still in the barrel, which is now the American new oak barrel that held the Cabernet. If we go another year in the barrel, that will be a record for us.

John took lots of photos, and his son Laurence got to taste many wines as good or better than commercial wines of Napa. John as designated driver did not taste.

The sunflowers on our table were glowing from the late afternoon sun. We made some sangria (with one of our wines, of course) expecting a hot afternoon, but the weather remained sunny and warm. Near the end of the event we pulled out some of our "blue ribbon first place" 2007 Syrah Port - a big winner from last year. With chocolate.

Wine makers trade wines near the end - and we had to turn away some who wanted to trade for the port. We poured it all.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

plum cake

Today we bottled wine for the Leap of Faith home wine making group. We work now in John and Cyndi's garage (so we can call ourselves "garagistes"). They have hot and cold running water and electricity, things lacking in the old carriage house we used for years. While the carriage house has apple, fig and lemon trees - John and Cyndi's has a plum tree. On the counter were these perfectly ripe plums - asking to be eaten and to be baked in a plum cake. Cyndi asked for the recipe - so here it is. The picture above is a pluot cake from last fall and the pictures below are from today.

"Brunelleschi's Dome" by Ross King is a highly recommended book for those interested in how an enormous Renaissance dome is constructed. John read it before their trip to Italy...

Plum Cake
adapted from a recipe at "Sweet Amandine"

1 C flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
3/4 C. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 C. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
4-5 plums, pluots, or other small stone fruit (or 1-2 C. berries)
1 T. raw sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8 or 9 inch springform pan and slice fruit thinly. Mix flour, baking powder, lemon zest - add sugar, eggs, vanilla and oil. Stir till mixture forms a thick batter. Place batter in pan and arrange fruit on top. Sprinkle with raw sugar and bake for 50-60 minutes. Do not over bake - but do remove as soon as cake tester in center comes out clean.

I've made this cake with pluots and with plums - and will see tomorrow how the plum version turned out.