Thursday, October 31, 2013


We woke to an eerily foggy Halloween morning here in Wisconsin, followed by a fairly steady downpour-a good thing our little ghouls and goblins here in Sherwood were out last Saturday, instead of tonight like many of the surrounding communities. 

It seemed the pumpkin ravioli we picked up at Trader Joe's in Milwaukee on our way back from our trip to California would be a tasty choice for dinner on All Hallows' Eve.  William-Sonomas' suggestion to serve it with browned sage butter encouraged us to use some of our recently harvested, dried sage.

Williams-Sonoma's Pumpkin ravioli with sage butter

Here is the classic ravioli of the city of Ferrara, in Emilia-Romagna, although the city of Mantua, in Lombardy, also claims the dish. It is best served with a simple sauce of lightly browned butter and fresh sage, which heightens and contrasts with the sweetness of the pumpkin in the filling.

1 lb.        piece Cheese or Sugar Pie pumpkin, calabaza or butternut squash, seeds and strings removed
1             egg yolk, lightly beaten
2    T.     grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or grana padano cheese
1/4  t.      freshly grated nutmeg
1/4  t.      fine sea salt
1-2 T.     dried bread crumbs
1 1/4 lb.  egg pasta (see related recipe at left)
5 T.        unsalted butter, clarified (see tip below)
12 large fresh sage leaves
2 T.       kosher salt
             grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

To make the filling, preheat an oven to 400ºF.
Prick the pumpkin with a fork before roasting to help evaporate the moisture. Place the pumpkin directly on the oven rack and roast until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 45 to 50 minutes.
When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh from the peel; transfer to a food processor and process until smooth.
Transfer the pumpkin puree to a bowl. Add the egg yolk, cheese, nutmeg and sea salt. Mix well, adding the bread crumbs as needed to bind the ingredients into a cohesive mixture. Cover the filling and set aside.
Using a pasta machine or a floured rolling pin, roll out the pasta dough 1/32 inch thick, then fill and cut the ravioli (see related tip at left)
Pour the clarified butter into a small fry pan and place over low heat. Add the sage leaves and heat until the butter is saturated with the flavor of the sage, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
In a large pot over high heat, bring 5 quarts water to a rapid boil. Add the kosher salt, gently drop in half of the ravioli and cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil, uncover and cook, stirring gently occasionally and reducing the heat as needed to prevent the ravioli from knocking against one another and breaking. The total cooking time should be 3 to 5 minutes. To test for doneness, transfer a single ravioli to a cutting board and cut off a corner with a paring knife; if the pasta looks cooked through and the corner tastes tender, the pasta is done. Using a large slotted spoon, lift out the ravioli, allowing a little of the water to cling to them so they remain moist, and transfer to a warmed large, shallow serving bowl; cover the bowl to keep the ravioli warm. Repeat to cook the remaining ravioli.
Drizzle the sage butter over the ravioli and serve immediately. Pass the cheese at the table. Serves 4.
Tip: To make clarified butter, in a fry pan over low heat, melt the butter. When it stops sizzling and the solids begin to separate and rise to the surface, skim off and discard the solids. The clarified butter should be golden in color. Watch it carefully to prevent it from getting too dark, which can happen in an instant; turn off the heat if it begins to darken too much before you have removed all the solids. Pass the clarified butter through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter to extract any solids that remain.

Paula Deen's Brussels Sprouts with Hot Bacon Vinaigrette

10 slices bacon, chopped
3   lbs.    Brussels sprouts, quartered
2   T.      olive oil
1    t.      Kosher salt
1/2 c.      balsamic vinegar
2    T.     brown sugar
1    t.       Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Cook the bacon until crisp in a large skillet. Remove the bacon using a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. Reserve 1/4 cup drippings in the skillet.
Combine the Brussels sprouts, olive oil and salt in a large bowl. Place the sprouts on the prepared baking sheet and bake until tender, about 20 minutes.
Add the vinegar, brown sugar and mustard to the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is reduced by half, about 6 minutes. Pour the mixture over the sprouts, tossing gently to coat. Sprinkle with the bacon. Serve immediately.


Harvesting milkweed seeds

In hopes of continuing to increase the quantities of milkweed in the yard, I have been gathering seed this fall from the following varieties of milkweed:

Asclepias incarnata in bloom
(left lower corner)
Swamp Milkweed (aka Red Milkweed or Marsh Milkweed)
Asclepias incarnata

Bloom Time:
Red Milkweed attracts butterflies of all kinds and the leaves are a preferred food source for the Monarch Caterpillar. Asclepias incarnata thrives along ponds, streams and detention basins. It preferes moist soil but also does wel in average, well-drained garden sites. Full sun is best and some light shade is tolerated. No butterfly garden is complete without Red Milkweed, also known as Swamp Milkweed or Marsh Milkweed. Zones 3 - 9.

Asclepias tuberosa
Bloom Time:
True to its name, Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) attracts legions of butterflies, and is an important larval food source for Monarchs. Look for their beautiful chrysalises on your plants! This rugged plant thrives in dry soil to well-drained loam. Makes a fantastic cut flower! Hardy to Zones 3 - 10.

Despite having scattered common milkweed seeds in the native plant bed,  I didn't note any of the common milkweed this summer.

Common Milkweed
Asclepias syriaca
Sun: Full,Partial
Soil: Sand,Loam,Clay
Moisture: Dry,Medium
Height: 2'-4'
Bloom Time: Jun-Aug
Color: lavender
Zone: 3
Spacing: 1'
This favorite of the Monarch butterfly produces a profusion of sweet-scented lavender flowers in mid-summer. The caterpillars feast on the leaves, stocking up for the day when they will become butterflies and migrate to Mexico for the winter. Grows readily from seed, and thrives in almost any well-drained soil, even tough clay or dry sand. Spreads rapidly by rhizomes, and is best planted in large areas with other grasses and flowers. Grows two to four feet tall. Hardy to Zones 3 - 8.

Milkweed pods within a given population or production stand ripen over a period of a few to several weeks and a subset of them will likely be ready for collection each day during that time. Due to the wind-aided dispersal of milkweed seeds, the window of opportunity for harvesting mature seed from any individual pod can be narrow. Seed capture bags, made from a variety of materials, can be affixed over maturing pods and retrieved at a later date. Using these bags can give a seed collector several days of flexibility in scheduling a return visit. Also, rubber bands or cable ties can be applied to the widest part of nearly mature pods, to prevent them from fully dehiscing. As compared to seed capture bags, rubber bands and zip ties are lower cost and less conspicuous, but their use may only extend the collection window by a couple of days.

Once the pods are thoroughly dry, the seeds can be separated from the coma, or silk-like ballooning material.  Try stripping the seeds and coma from the pods into a paper bag. Shake the contents of the bag vigorously to separate the seeds from the coma and then cut a small hole in a corner of the bottom of the bag and shake out the seeds. Store dried seeds in a cool, dry place protected from mice and insects (a recloseable plastic bag or container in the refrigerator works well.)

In preparation for spring planting, seeds should be vernalized (given cold treatment) to increase the germination rate. The best way to give the required vernalization is through stratification. To stratify seeds place them in cold, moist potting soil (sterilized soil is best but is not required) in a dark place for several weeks or months. Since most people prefer not to place potting soil in their refrigerators, an alternative is to place the seeds between moist paper towels in a plastic bag where there are fewer fungi and bacteria available to attack the seeds. After a vernalization period of 3-6 weeks, the seeds can be planted in warm (70˚F), moist soil.  Even after vernalization / stratification, seeds of many plant species will not germinate. In these cases, the seed coats appear to require action by physical or chemical agents to break down or abrade the seed coat. "Scarification" with some type of physical abrasion that breaks the seed coat can be accomplished by placing the seeds in a container with coarse sand and shaking the container for a 30 seconds or so. Scarification may be required for some milkweeds (e.g., A. viridiflora and A. latifolia) and might improve the germination rates of other species.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

San Francisco's Mission District

When we arrived early in the Mission District to meet friends for dinner at Commonwealth, we searched for a coffee shop to grab a quick bite before wandering around the neighborhood. When one of the possibilities was Tartine, I struggled to remember why it sounded so familiar until I remembered the bread baking cookbook we had purchased awhile back.
When my husband decided to give bread-baking a try, Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson had been one of the books we purchased based on glowing reviews on Amazon.  

Tartine Bakery

Chad Robertson of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery & Cafe describes a starter -- a mixture of flour, water, wild yeasts, and bacteria -- as a baker's fingerprint. Making one is simple, but it does require a commitment: Count on feeding and caring for the mixture for three weeks before you start baking.
For something closer to immediate gratification, begin using the starter after five to seven days, or order a fresh starter at (Keep in mind, the flavor won't be as complex.) Another secret to baking like a pro: Weigh all the ingredients -- even the water -- using a kitchen scale that includes metric measurements.

For the Starter:
White bread flour, 1,135 grams
Whole-wheat flour, 1,135 grams
Water (lukewarm), 455 grams
Water (78 degrees), 150 grams per feeding
For the Leaven:
Water (78 degrees), 200 grams
For the Dough:
Water (80 degrees), 750 grams
Leaven, 200 grams
White bread flour, 900 grams
Whole-wheat flour, 100 grams
Salt, 20 grams

1. Make the Starter: Mix white bread flour with whole-wheat flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315 grams flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crust may form over the top. Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.
2. With each feeding, remove 75 grams; discard remainder of starter. Feed with 150 grams reserved flour blend and 150 grams warm water. Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments predictably (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it's time to make the leaven.
3. Make the Leaven: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. Feed with 200 grams reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven's readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it's ready to use.
4. Make the Dough: Pour 700 grams warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200 grams leaven. Stir to disperse. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list), and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50 grams warm water.
5. Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation), to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Robertson tries to maintain the dough at 78 degrees to 82 degrees to accomplish the bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.)
6. Instead of kneading, Robertson develops the dough through a series of "folds" in the container during bulk fermentation. Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. (If making walnut bread, add 3 cups walnuts-previously baked at 425 F for 15 minutes-after giving the bread the second turn, squeezing the nuts into the dough.)  After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.
7. Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using scraper and 1 hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.
8. Dust tops of rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the round shape. Flip rounds floured side down.
9. Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Using the dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature (75 degrees to 80 degrees), covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.
10. Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest position, and warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval Dutch oven (or a heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid).
11. Turn out 1 round into heated Dutch oven (it may stick to towel slightly). Score top twice using a razor blade or a sharp knife. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.
12. Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.
13. Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.
14. To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500 degrees, wipe out Dutch oven with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Repeat steps 11 through 13.

Latte at Tartine

Add caption

Banana passion fruit vine growing
on chain link fence

Beyond the banana passion fruit vine 
Up the street in the Mission District
gardeners were at work in the
Dearborn Community Gardens
Composter in bed of herbs
with herbs drying on the fence behind
Insect house to provide a home for pollinators

Vertical gardening expands
growing space and crop yields

Near the gate a gardener has opted for
a succulent garden
One of several benches to sit and enjoy the garden
Commonwealth is named after the early modern concept of organizing for the common good. Ten dollars from the sale of each tasting menu is donated to local charities—a way to indulge conscientiously.  They have raised more than $130,000 for the San Francisco Food Bank, Martin De Porres House of Hospitality, SF SPCA, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network,  Food Runners, St Anthony's, Project Open Hand, People's Grocery, At the Crossroads, and Kiva.  Commonwealth’s goal is to offer one of the best dining experiences in the Bay Area. Executive Chef Jason Fox’s Progressive American cuisine harmoniously combines flavor palettes from around the world, and a broad range of techniques to create food that is refined, distinctive and satisfying. Fox creates harmonious, layered dishes rather than focusing on any single ingredient or mode of preparation.

albacore tuna crudo, white soy-sesame marshmallow, tomato dashi
MÜLLER THURGAU  >  Köfererhof  >  Valle Isarco  >  ’11  Alto Adige, Italy

octopus, shelling beans, bone marrow, saffron cracker, cilantro broth
BIANCOLELLA  >  Cenatiempo  >  ’12  Ischia, Italy

carrots roasted over seaweed, avocado, quinoa, purslane, carrot top pesto
PINOT NOIR  >  Falkenstein  >  Spätburgunder Spätlese  >  ’11  Mosel, Germany

tea smoked duck, figs, anchovy, basil, chard, honeyed shallots, black olive
REFOSCO  >  Le Carline  >  Lison Pramaggiore  >  ’11  Veneto, Italy

celery sorbet, verjus soda

peanut butter semifreddo, chocolate ganache, frozen popcorn
TAWNY PORT  >  Niepoort  >  Douro, Portugal

commonwealth_dessert1 600 p509
Wow! Tastes even better than it looks!


Upon discovering low tide would arrive in late afternoon, we headed up to Fitzgerald Marine Sanctuary to explore the tide pools.  Recently designated a Marine Protected Area, the rocky shore of the reserve allows visitors to marvel at the diversity of marine life and learn more about protecting the ocean and its inhabitants. Visitors may discover sea urchins, sea stars, harbor seals, various mollusks, and even the elusive red octopus. While we saw quite a few anemones and crabs, we were unable to find any of the starfish pictured in the brochure.  I eventually encountered a naturalist who said there has been a rapid decline in the number of starfish in recent weeks for reasons they have yet to determine, causing concern among conservationists and prompting me to give some additional consideration to mans impact on the ocean.

The tidepools and their creatures are cared for by San Mateo County Parks staff. A non-profit organization called the Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (FFMR) trains volunteer naturalists who share their wealth of knowledge with students, teachers, and visitors. The California Academy of Science's intertidal citizen science volunteer group at established monitoring sites to document species over time.

More information about the Fitzgerald Reserve may be found at:

A book reviewed in their fall newsletter has been on my radar for awhile, The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea by David Helvarg.  I recently finished his memoir, Saved By the Sea: A Love Story with Fish, chronicling his growing concern about protecting the oceans.

David founded the Blue Frontier Campaign, a Washington D.C.-based ocean conservation organization to promote his cause:

On October 3, 2013, the latest International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN released findings indicating that the rate, speed and impacts of change in the global ocean are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought.  Decreasing oxygen levels in the ocean caused by climate change and nitrogen run- off, combined with other chemical pollution and rampant overfishing are undermining the ability of the ocean to withstand these so-called ‘carbon perturbations’, meaning its role as Earth’s ‘buffer’ is seriously compromised. 
  • De-oxygenation: the evidence is accumulating that the oxygen inventory of the ocean is progressively declining with predictions of a decline of between 1% and 7% by 2100. This is occurring in two ways: the broad trend of decreasing oxygen levels in tropical oceans and areas of the North Pacific over the last 50 years caused by global warming; and the dramatic increase in coastal hypoxia (low oxygen) associated with eutrophication caused by increased nutrient runoff from agriculture and sewage. 
  • Acidification: If current levels of CO2 release continue we can expect extremely serious consequences for ocean life, and in turn food and coastal protection; at CO2 concentrations of 450-500 ppm (projected in 2030-2050) erosion will exceed calcification in the coral reef building process, resulting in the extinction of some species and decline in biodiversity overall. 
  • Warming: The impacts which continued warming is projected to have in the decades to 2050 include: reduced seasonal ice zones, including the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice by ca. 2037; increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion; increased venting of the GHG methane from the Arctic seabed; and increased incidence of anoxic and hypoxic (low oxygen) events. 
  • The ‘deadly trio’ of acidification, warming and deoxygenation is seriously effecting how productive and efficient the ocean is, as temperatures, chemistry, surface stratification, nutrient and oxygen supply are all implicated, meaning that many organisms will find themselves in unsuitable environments. These impacts will have cascading consequences for marine biology, including altered food web dynamics and the expansion of pathogens. 
  • Continued overfishing is serving to further undermine the resilience of ocean systems,despite some improvements largely in developed regions, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to the ecosystems on which marine life depends. In 2012 the UN FAO determined that 70% of world fish populations are unsustainably exploited, of which 30% have biomass collapsed to less than 10% of unfished levels.

As a matter of urgency, the marine scientists say that world governments must:

  • Reduce global C02 emissions to limit temperature rise to less than 2oC, or below 450 CO2e. Current targets for carbon emission reductions are insufficient in terms of ensuring coral reef survival and other biological effects of acidification, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 and CO2 dissolved in the ocean.
  • Ensure effective implementation of community- and ecosystem-based management, favouring small-scale fisheries. 
  • Build a global infrastructure for high seas governance that is fit-for-purpose, securing a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of UNCLOS. 

San Benito Hotel in Half Moon Bay

San Benito Hotel where we spent the first night of our honeymoon 32 years ago is purported to have become fairly noisy with a boisterous bar trade, but some locals told us it now has a sandwich shop serving the best sandwiches in town on bread they've baked themselves.   So we opted for lunch there and a stay at a newer place with views of the harbor in nearby Princeton-by-the-Sea.   

San Benito House pumpkin display

We enjoyed sharing the avocado egg salad on walnut and cucumber cream cheese on wheat bread along with a cup of artichoke soup, a local favorite.    I am hunting for a recipe that will  duplicate the creamy texture (the potatoes probably helped) and mild chile flavor of the soup.


2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 lb. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges, for serving

Heat butter in 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add artichokes; cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until artichokes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer stock and vegetables to a blender; puree until smooth. Return to saucepan, add cream, and bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by a third, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Preparations were well under way for the annual Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay so we were able to enjoy the the festive fall decor without fighting the inevitable traffic jams that could only have gotten worse in the over 30 years since we last attended.  

The pumpkins had been delivered for weighing earlier in the week, so the the heaviest one weighing a whopping 1,985 pounds was already on display.  The weight of such a large pumpkin results in a rather flattened unattractive appearance which my husband likened to the rolls of skin on contestants in the Biggest Loser.   

Nursuries along Hwy 92 to Half Moon Bay in CA

We recently had the chance to travel back to northern California for my husband's college reunion.  
Traveling along 92 to Half Moon Bay the landscape becomes surprisingly green compared to the brown hills we've come to expect in California before winter rains arrive.  The fog that often rolls in from the ocean keeps conditions cooler and moister for gardening.   But as we approached the nurseries scattered along 92 outside of town, we discovered a warm, sunny day with clear blue skies was in store.  A number of greenhouses are operated by vendors offering a variety of unique plants at T & E Pastorino.

Yerba Buena Nursery specializes in native plants-an interesting collection quite different from our native plants in the Midwest being adapted for a much drier climate.

Yerba Buena Nursery 

Another greenhouse offered a spectacular array of orchids in full bloom. 

World Rare Plants Store sells carnivorous plants and a large selection of fairy garden supplies- an unlikely combination, but the owners have created numerous fairy gardens using them effectively, with seasonal Halloween decor complementing the carnivorous plants especially well.
Carnivorous plant sculptures 
Miniature garden featuring pond surrounded by
carnivorous plants

A seasonal miniature garden with pumpkins and a skeleton 
A larger display garden of carnivorous plants
A quick stop at the Blue Sky Farms on our way out of town, offered pumpkin lattes made with real pumpkin and fresh-baked savory chili cheese scones to enjoy as we wandered through their small nursery.

Fog was rolling in over the hills as we left for Palo Alto.  We were fortunate to have been able to enjoy some spectacular warm, sunny weather on our brief visit to the coast.