Friday, December 30, 2016

Interesting vegetables to grow this season



Mother Earth Living is one of my favorite clean living magazines.  In the winter edition on newsstands now, you’ll see my article that features a “like this, try that” approach to experimenting with new vegetables.  There is growing and cooking information about Asian vegetables, but also other interesting vegetables that would be fun for gardeners to try this season such as the Romanesco cauliflower (tasty AND mathematically perfect!).  Hope you can pick up this great magazine right now for spring gardening/cooking/living inspiration! 

Friday, December 9, 2016

My interview on the Timber Press blog



If you're a gardening friend who appreciates quality reading, you likely have some Timber Press books on your bookshelf or night table.  Did you know Timber Press maintains a great blog with lots of inspiring gardening ideas and tips from experts, staff and authors as well?  Check it out!  Here's my interview on the blog. Read it to learn about the genesis of The Chinese Kitchen Garden and hear more about what's inside as well.  You'll also find a link at the bottom to some of the many photos taken by photographer Sarah Culver.  You'll love them and you'll love all the gorgeous photos in the book as well!  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Heirloom Shantung jade squash


I won't wax poetically about heirloom seeds - mostly because some people can do it so much more passionately and expertly than I can, but in short, heirloom seeds - and the gardeners that preserve them - are quite amazing.  

This is a gigantic Chinese jade squash, sitting on top of a trellis in my father's garden. It has a while to go before it lightens in color and develops lovely green speckles/streaks. He's grown this squash for the past few years and loves the tender, mild taste. Later, he'll grate the pale yellow flesh and make fried squash patties or may finely chop the squash and combine it with minced shrimp and ground pork to make his famous dumplings.

Prior to these past few years though, my father had not tasted this squash since probably the early 1960's. Shortly after that time, my father made his way from rural China to bustling Hong Kong, then finally to the suburbs of the United States where he cultivated several different gardens in the backyards of several different homes.  He tried for the first time, and then subsequently grew many vegetables that a typical American gardener would grow such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash.

While my father was gardening in the United States, gardeners in Shandong, China, remained guardians of this very local heirloom squash, growing them season after season, saving seeds season after season so that one day, decades later, my father would meet an old friend with a handful of seeds to share. These seeds were saved from my father's favorite squash grown back home during his childhood decades ago.  While my father may now be accustomed to tasting Chinese jade squash every fall since he's been saving seeds for a few years now, I am amazed every time I see this gorgeous thing up on the trellis from a very far off place and time. 

(cross-posted at The Chinese Kitchen Garden blog - please visit this blog to learn more about growing and cooking Asian vegetables!)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mexican Bean Beetle Infestation


So the thing that happens when you neglect your much-loved garden for weeks, is when the weather cools, it stops thunderstorming, and you have a block of time to really do some work in there, you find a total, complete infestation of insect pests - in this case, the Mexican bean beetle. Most of the leaves on my sugar snaps have taken on that characteristic lacy look, created by the larvae and beetles chomping away - mostly on the undersides of the leaves. We're near the end of the bean season anyway, so after picking the last pocketful of sugar snaps, I figured the best way to take care of this problem would be to tear it all out. Almost every leaf was home to either pupating beetles, feeding larvae, clusters of eggs, or adult beetles moving around! I made a special effort to watch for the faster moving beetles that easily drop to the ground because they can burrow into the soil and overwinter.  I do NOT want this kind of problem again next year. It all - in every stage - had to go!


Clusters of 30-40 eggs, laid by adult beetles as frequently as every 2 days. Will hatch in 1-3 weeks.
Can be squished, but not by me!

Fuzzy-wuzzy was a pupa

Feeding larva with it's black-tipped spines does the most damage to leaves

Adult bean beetle. To be thrown in a bucket of soapy water till drowned. 
Now, on to remove all bean plant debris where the beetles or eggs could be hiding so my garden has the best chance of being pest-free next summer.

Then later, to research early bean plants to try next year. Most of the damage done to crops happens mid-late summer, and I can try to get most of my harvests before that time.

And mental note from here on out: be in the garden more to prevent a few beetles from taking complete control! Not only could my sugar snaps have continued to produce for a few weeks, but oh, the heebie-jeebies when cleaning up.  I don't want to go through that again.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homemade fruit leather


When my daughter goes to her ballet classes, I generally go for a long run/walk if it’s nice out, or I’ll read in my car if it’s not. However, before I developed these healthy habits, I used to while away the time at the shopping strip just through the trees from the side of the studio.  This is when I discovered the treasure trove of stuff at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Piled high from floor to ceiling is glorious household stuff – and it’s all stuff YOU REALLY NEED.  There was a point when I bought a new appliance every week – waffle iron, ice cream maker, portable heater, juicer…

Of all the appliances stored in my closet, the food dehydrator has come upon the most use.  As a gardener and frequent farmer’s market purveyor of ripe summer fruits, July/August/September means a lot of delicious drying food is working its way through those dehydrator trays.  A favorite?  Homemade fruit leather. 

You can get complicated with this, and many recipes do. You can add lemon juice to prevent the fruit leather from darkening, there are instructions for straining your mixture, you can add sugar (no!). But the recipe below is all you need to know if you’ve never made fruit leather and want to try:

Fruit Leather Recipe

1) Puree a few soft fruits like the peaches we used here.

2) Pour into the fruit leather tray – right up to the top of the fruit leather tray is fine.

3) Dry until totally leathery. You’ll know when that is (about 6-8 hours?  Food dehydrators are very forgiving and you can’t mess it up!). It won't be wet and you'll be able to lift and peel it off of the tray in one piece. 

4) Peel off the tray.  One side will be stickier than the other.  Stick that side to wax or parchment paper.  That’s it!





This flexible fruit leather tray sits on top of the slatted dehydrator below.
To make life even easier, place fruit leather tray on the rigid dehydrator tray before filling.



Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to save garlic that's been in the ground too long


I should cross title this post “How to make garlic powder” because that’s the solution.

As you see in the photo above, I had a great garlic harvest.  It just happened to be harvested a few weeks too late!  A combination of heavy rain, intense heat, mosquitoes, and a summer vacation was what did this garlic in.  By the time I was able to dig up the bulbs, the leaves had completely dried up and you can see that most of the papers surrounding the cloves and the whole bulbs, had nearly disintegrated.  I did not think this garlic would store like garlic harvested at the right time would. 

In my freezer is a container of peeled cloves ready to go, and I did not need any more to be added to the already large amount. Fortunately, a Facebook friend happened to complete a project at the exact time I needed a solution for saving this garlic. 


To make Linda’s garlic powder, I sliced the garlic*, dehydrated the slices in the oven on the lowest setting with the door cracked (my food dehydrator was being used at the time), and when fully dry, flaked some and powdered some in the food processor.  Using my oven gave the garlic a more toasted color and flavor than Linda got in a dehydrator, but with garlic, a toasted flavor is ok with me.  As you can see from the jar of Linda’s garlic chips below, her garlic retained a lighter color.  Because she wanted to avoid clumping, she will store the fully dried chips in a jar and flake or powder them in smaller batches as she needs more.


I’m so excited that all this garlic could be saved and am looking forward to using my homemade garlic powder and garlic flakes in dishes throughout the year!

*I have cut garlic many thousands times of times without an issue.  When I did this project, I learned something important – garlic burns! If you look at the amount of garlic I cut, and realize that raw garlic juice was on my hand for a very long time, it makes sense that a mild irritant could really affect the skin.  Shortly after I finished and washed my hands, my left hand started burning pretty intensely.  Intense enough to do some research on garlic burns and get to the aloe plant to use.  The whole-hand burning lasted a good 20 minutes or so, but my left pointer finger and thumb continued to feel swollen and hurt for about 2 days as if I burned them on a hot pan.  Crazy.  Next time I will definitely wear gloves!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Here's why I've been quiet - I'VE WRITTEN A BOOK!


Poor, poor neglected blog... Here's the thing, when gardening and writing are 2 of your favorite pastimes (my blog friends know what I'm talking about), the urge to blog doesn't easily disappear, but often it takes the place of something else - usually a life change - in my case, the writing of a book!  If you've been following this blog, you know that I love writing about the less mainstream vegetables my family and I grow, including all the Chinese vegetables I grew up picking from the garden.  You also know I love cooking and food.

I have been so lucky and thrilled to be able to put together these things to create a beautiful book I am so incredibly proud of! Though I got to include about 20 of my own photos, most of the photography is done by Sarah Culver, a magnificent artist whose eye is close to my own. Where I had the aesthetic but not the creativity or technical skill to produce the photos I wanted, Sarah was able to translate what was in my head to real life.  If you love beautiful photos of the garden, you will not be disappointed when you flip through this gorgeous book!

I've also created a website and a blog there that will focus strictly on growing and cooking Asian vegetables.  If you're interested, please check it out and "like" The Chinese Kitchen Garden's page on Facebook to get notifications when there are new posts (or add to your blogroll if that's easier!).

The Chinese Kitchen Garden will be published by Timber Press in February 2017, but is available for pre-order now at your favorite bookseller like Amazon.  I'm so pleased to say that it's not even out but is already doing well!  Of course for me, the main goal is not to sell books (you probably know I have a day job that pays the bills), but to share some of my family and cultural experiences with the world, to highlight some amazing vegetables you may not have tried yet, and to show off some of my mom's best authentic Chinese recipes I grew up with. I've worked really hard to make this a really rich book. Please visit my website here and learn more about this book.  I know you'll love it!
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