Keeping a Well Stocked Pantry & Buying in Bulk

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Every come home and feel like there is nothing in the house to make for dinner? Yet somehow, you pull together something totally awesome and delicious? I can’t be the only one that feels like a total kitchen rockstar when that happens to me, right?

There are plenty of nights when that doesn’t happen, but usually, I’m quite pleased with my dinner that was created without a plan, such this baked polenta topped with roasted tomatoes and cannellini beans or an arugula salad with roasted squash and beluga lentils.

two of the meals made without a plan from help of my pantry

two of the meals made without a plan from help of my pantry

And the reason that can actually happen is because I keep a well stocked pantry, from dry goods bought in bulk. Combined with some fresh ingredient from the garden, and maybe some cheese from the fridge or a jar of something I’ve preserved, I’m able to concoct a healthy and yummy meal.

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Some of my dry goods come from the garden, like dried spices, dried fruit, dried tomatoes and dried beans, but everything else gets purchased in bulk from Whole Foods. Once home, I store all the bulk dry goods in half-gallon mason jars.

If you look in the front of any well written comprehensive cookbook, there is a section on whats helpful to keep in your pantry so you can make many meals. Obviously, what you need depends on what you cook. I thought I’d share what I keep on hand in the dry goods section of in my pantry.

  • Dry Beans: cannellini, black, kidney, garbanzo, and whatever soup bean I grew that year
  • Corn Products: popcorn, cornmeal, and polenta
  • Lentils: beluga, french green, and orange
  • Rice: arbrio, long grain brown and white (either jasmine or basmati, I can’t tell the difference), and calrose/shortgrain/sushi rice
  • Seeds & Nuts: sunflower, pepitas, sesame, peanuts and peanut butter. Walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds are stored in the freezer to keep from going rancid.
  • Grains: old fashioned rolled oats, farrow, wheat berries, barley, bulgar, and quinoa
  • Dried Fruits & Veggies: tomatoes, apricots, apples, chilis, figs, & whatever else I managed to get in the dehydrator. Right now I’ve also got lemon slices from a few years ago. I buy coconut, raisins, and cranberries.
  • Kelp: kombu, nori, & whatever else I foraged for
  • Pasta Products: Isrealy couscous, normal couscous, and orzo. (Normal pasta noodles are bought in the box.)
  • Flours & Sugar: all-purpose white flour (which we get in a 50-lb bag and store in the freezer, then have a smaller container on the counter), semolina flour, white sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar

In addition to the benefit of having reduced packaging, buying in bulk is also less expensive. 10-40% of a products price is just the packaging, so if you buy in bulk, that cost is missing. As a bonus, a few times a year, Whole Foods has a 20% off everything bulk sale. I keep my eye out for this, in anticipation, and use that sale to stock up. They just had this magical sale, so a few days ago I took inventory of what I was out of or low on, and headed to the store with a billion of my reusable cloth bags.

bulk saleI’ve brought my own carry-out bag to the store for eons, but when I first started shopping in bulk, I would use smaller plastic bags to take my bulk goods home. This bothered me, because they were still single-use and not needed, so I made a bunch of cloth bags from old sheets and pillowcases. With french seams and a drawstring enclosure, they work great for both bulk goods and produce. I weighted each bag, then wrote the tare weight on either the bag itself or on a tag sewed into the seam. Now, I’m able to bring home all my groceries without having to use any plastic.

bulk bags

If you buy in bulk, consider using your own bags! Either make or buy some cloth ones, or reuse the bags you already have. To make it easier on the cashier, I write the tare on the tape next to the bin number.

Another tip when stocking up on your bulk goods- go to the store at a non-busy time, and pick a line with a cashier that looks friendly. Zero-waste style shopping may not be the norm, so its important to have a patient person. And if there is a girl behind you with only one item, let her go ahead of you. It takes a while to enter all those weights.

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I never have issues with shopping with my own bags at Whole Foods. At my local market that also has lots of bulk options, sometimes I get a cashier that is confused on how to enter the bag’s tare, but they can figure it out. I doubt Safeway or other big chains even have that option, but its worth asking if thats where you buy produce. Make sure to ask for either credit or donation for all your bags, my store gives me the discount back for EACH bag, this shopping trip earning me back $.90. Not much, but its free money!

As always, I love to hear from you! Whats an ingredient you always have in your pantry? What tips do you have to be able to pull a meal together? Do you buy in bulk?

In Season: Persimmons, and what to do with a crap-ton of them!

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I have the most beautiful persimmon tree. In spring, the glossy green leaves provide filtered shade perfect for having lunch under. In fall, the leaves turn a vibrant orange. As the year goes on, the fruit grows larger and the branches start to bow under the weight. By summer, the fruit starts to turn orange, and hang on the branches like glowing ornaments.

fruit hanging

Persimmons come in two different categories, astringent and non-astringent. The type I have here, Hachiya, is an astringent type which means if you eat before its totally ripe, it will make your month feel like you’re eating a bag of chalk. Mmmm…tasty. You need to wait until they are soft before eating. Fuyu, a common non-astriegent type, have less tannins in them and can be eaten off the tree, while still hard like an apple.

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My tree is a bountiful tree, producing bags and bags of fruit. I harvest as much as I think I can use and then offer the tree up to friends in my urban farming network. There are many types of persimmons, including one native to South region of America where the fruit is traditionally used to make pudding. My tree variety is native to China, was introduced here in the mid 19th century, and really thrives in my northern California climate.

persimmons on tree

By fall, the fruit is almost ripe. Left on the tree, the birds will either get them or the fruit will eventually fall off, making a big splatter of smashed fruit. I harvest the fruit when fully orange, but still hard. Left on trays around the house, they will ripen in a few days. When fully ripe, the fruit feel like water balloons. They also turn darker and more vibrant in color.

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not quite ripe, but time to pick off the tree

persimmon, ready to eat

persimmon, ready to eat

Once ripe, you can cut the top off and scoop out the flesh, then use the pulp in a variety of recipes. Or, if your doing a large batch, its easy to cut off the top then pass though my food mill. Stored in wide mouth pints jars, I freeze the pulp and use though out the year.

processing persimmon

Like my apricot and fig tree, this tree was likely planted when the house was build. They are a common fruit tree found in older neighborhoods, and come winter, the orange fruit hanging like ornaments are easy to spot. My guess is they were one of the staples of the homestead and victory garden of generations past. Yet it seems like planting persimmon trees has fallen out of favor, as I’ve never seen a young tree in someones garden or hear of someone putting one in.

Perhaps one of the reason? They aren’t very versatile, especially my Hachiya. Fuyu at least can be thrown in salad, turned into a relish, or eaten out of hand. But the poor Hachiya are reduced to a jelly-like goo, making exciting recipes a challenge. Out of my 60ish cookbooks, only a few feature persimmon. But that should change! Persimmons are highly nutritious, containing (but not limited to) vitamin C, potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, B-complex vitamins and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Do you have a persimmon tree bowing over with fruit or have a neighbor leaving bags of them on your porch (no, I haven’t done that, yet), but don’t know what to do with them? Look no further!

what do do with Hachiya Persimmons

I’ve spent countless hours, while simultaneously watching Star Track, of trolling the interwebs to answer this question! I’ve only made a few of these, but here is a list of tasty things for Hachiya Persimmons. Follow along my Pinterest Persimmon Board for more ideas! I’m also hoping to try out drying whole and in halves, and attempting some fruit leather.

Share the love and pass this post along! And as always I love to hear from you- what do you make out of persimmons? Do you love them or can’t stand them?

 

Matt and Melissa Family Portraits-20

under the tree last fall

The End of the Tomato Era, aka- 7 lessons learned this year

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This past weekend, our tomato season came to an end. Lets take a look at how this year went, shall we? starting tomato seeds I started seeds inside under a light and on a heat mat on February 24. Varieties seeded were Cherokee Purple, San Marzano, Principe Borghese, Chadwick Cherry, Sun Gold Cherry, Marmande, Striped German, Stupice, and the Dutchman. Most we had grown before, but a few, like the Principe Borghese, were new varieties. By March 1, most of the seeds had sprouted. On March 26, the seedlings moved up in the world and I transplanted them into 4″ pots. They came inside at night, but otherwise hung out outside during the day, hardening off. 4 inch potsJust a few weeks later, on April 13, I deemed them grown up and kicked them out of the house into their permanent bed. Surrounded by the cages we built a few years ago, one of each variety was interplanted with marigolds and a few basil plants, then mulched with alfalfa. The remaining of the starts went to neighbors or got pawned off on friends. IMG_2781 Things went well, and all the plants progressively grew. Lesson One: the cages need to be anchored to the ground, instead of just hanging out on top of the soil. The weight of the plants started to make them lean, causing me to scramble and concoct rock/rebar/stick propping concoctions to prevent the plants from tipping over and breaking. sun beam The first ripe tomato we got was on June 30, from the Stupice plant. Not a surprise, as this plant is known for being an early producer. My mom grows this variety with great success, as her growing season is only about 90 days (as opposed to the 250ish I have here). Lesson TwoNot a fan of the Stupice variety. They were smallish, oddly shaped, and generally not very great. I wasn’t impressed, and since I have a long season that accommodates the varieties that need that, I likely won’t use up the space for these and I won’t grow them again.

By mid August, I had already gotten 2 full batches of the Chadwick Cherry and Principe Borghese drying tomatoes run though the dehydrator. Lesson Three: No taste difference between the two varieties. Chadwick produced more prolifically, but the Principe Borghese held on the vine longer without cracking. They took the same amount of time to dry, and are very similar in size. I will likely grow both again. tomatoes for drying Sadly, we lost almost every single San Marzano and Cherokee Purple to Blossom End Rot. This was the first year that I had this issue, and was very sad when I went to harvest and discovered the bottom half of all my fruit had been rotted away. I watered in a calcium supplement early August, which may have saved a handful of fruit, but otherwise those plants were a total bust. Lesson FourAdd a crap ton of calcium to the soil prior to planting. I was overly confident that the new soil in our beds would be nutritious enough, but I was clearly wrong. I bought paste tomatoes from a local farm to turn into sauce. Only a few Cherokee Purple escaped the rot. It wasn’t very good, mealy with poor flavor. Lesson Five: If at first you don’t succeed, try again. I love this variety, as they make an excellent BLT or just a sliced salad. I will try again next year, but with different seed. This plant came from seed I had saved from a start from a previous year, and there is a chance it just wasn’t a good one. cherokee purpleThe Sun Golds, normally the top cherry tomato producer in a home garden, is also one of my favorites. But our plant sucked ass. It started well, but then turned into a brown, sad shriviley mess. I didn’t even bother harvesting, as the fruit had leather tough skin and had a sickingly fermented sweet flavor. This was planted on the end of the bed, which got the full strength of the sun for most of the day, which I think was just to much sun and heat. Lesson Six: create a microclimate for the tomatoes, or try planting the Sungold in the middle of the bed. I think if I plant some sunflowers or cosmos on the end of the bed, to diffuse the sun and heat, I’ll have more success. sad sungold Thankfully, our other big heirloom, the Striped German, escaped the rot and produced quite a few beautiful fruit that were great for slicing and meeting our sandwich needs. Towards the end of the season, though, they were significantly smaller in size and not as tasty. Perhaps the reduction in water, or battling the heat, resulted in less desirable fruit. I think I will try them again next year. IMG_3645 By mid-September, I had yet to get anything off the Dutchman. By mid September, I decided I was over this year’s tomato adventure. Because that was when I found the hornworms. horn wormNow I don’t consider myself a squeamish person. I regularly squish cabbage worms with my fingers. I have no fear of snakes. I took care of Madagascar hissing cockroaches at a past job with only slight disgust. I’m the designated spider killer in the family. But these things make me have chills and make me want to throw up. I thought I was immune to these have-no-right-to-be-alive creatures, as I’d never had them before. I thought they were only a pest other people had to deal with. I honestly didn’t even know they existed in our area. Clearly, I was wrong. Not familiar with the tomato horn worm? They are nasty. At about 4-5 inches long and as thick as a cigar, not even the chickens would touch it. chickens and horn wormSeriously, look at that chicken’s face. I’m pretty sure thats a “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?” look. fuck noAnd by the time I noticed these worms, they were giant. Which means they had been munching on my plants for who-the-hell knows how long. UGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG. I had no desire to continue to pick tomatoes. I was afraid to get close to the vines, in case one of these things fell off on me (highly unlikely, but a completely plausible idea in my mind). Which brings us to Lesson Seven: prevent the horn-worm. Have good integrated pest management, encourage natural predators, blah blah blah. I think the best goal for me is to plant my plants less densely, so I can see the vines better. Horn worms blend in like nobody’s business, but my 9 plants in one bed created a big tomato vine mass. I think 5 would be a more appropriate spacing, which might making inspecting the vines easier, or would at least allow me to reach in between plants to harvest without having to practically crawl INSIDE the vine (and potentially being attacked/touched by hornworms). bushy vines Luckily, most of the tomatoes were done by the time I discovered this evil, and I forced myself to do a few more harvests, at full arm length away while eye the greenery with intense paranoia. I stopped watering, and this past weekend, we called it done and I had Matt help me rip out the plants. hauling away We found no more hornworms. last harvest The last of the ripe tomatoes were harvested and turned into sauce by slow roasting with herbs and olive oil at 300 degrees foreverrrrrrrr. The green ones were turned into chutney.

As always, I love to hear from you. How are your tomatoes doing? Did you have hornworms this year? What bugs are you creeped out by?

Weekend’s Adventure to Still Water Cove

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The past few days have been hot here. Like, high 90’s, maybe 100 degrees hot. I’m from a land with an average temperature range of 55-75, so needless to say, I’m not happy with heat (or cold). So this past weekend, Matt and I did what people have been doing for centuries, we went out to the coast to escape the heat. IMG_0393 Normally when we go out, we like to go to Shell Beach- its one of the closest beaches, free parking, and they allow dogs. Because of these desirable features, it does get busy. So, knowing that about a billion other Sonoma County residents had the same brilliant idea that we had, we opted to head north to escape the crowds. While on the drive there and consulting my Regional Parks map and my Sonoma Coast State Beaches map (I am a total map hoarder, and probably the last person who still has maps in her glovebox….), we aimed for Stillwater Cove, one of the last of the Sonoma County Regional Parks that we hadn’t visited. I didn’t know anything about it, and prior to consulting my maps, had never heard of it; but because it was a regional park, we could park for free with our pass, and we knew that dogs were allowed. IMG_0373It wasn’t close, north of Fort Ross but still south of Gualala, but the drive was lovely. Once we got past Jenner, there wasn’t many cars on the road and the weather was fabulous. Stella took her banishment to the backseat with only some protesting, and spent most of the time either looking like the saddest dog in the world because she wasn’t riding shotgun, or peering over my shoulder and moving her nose as fast as she could to absorb the new smells coming in from my window. IMG_0319   The cove has no direct parking. If headed North, you come to the park’s driveway before you see signs for the cove. Once we drove into the Regional Park, past the (as we discovered) campground into the day use area, you then walk down a lovely forested path. Once crossing Hwy One, there is another short path that brings you down to the rocky cove. IMG_0327 Other than a few other beach goers and a couple of abalone divers hauling out when we got there, the beach was pretty much empty. We spent a great time wading in the water, climbing rocks, and searching for little pebbles and shells. IMG_0329 IMG_0335 IMG_0341 IMG_0347 IMG_0356   After spending the afternoon here and absorbing the perfect weather, we headed back to the car via expanding the cove trail into a 1 mile loop though the park that followed a creek (that OMG YOU GUYS, still had water in it!!!). Unlike most of the parks and the forested lands in our area, it was only logged once in the 1880’s, so many of the large trees remain. We took a 2nd detour, albeit only a few hundred feet, and checked out the Fort Ross one-room schoolhouse but in 1885. Even in the deep shade of the trees, the temperature was fabulous, and I loved being “back at home” in the redwood forest. IMG_0380 IMG_0381 IMG_0384 IMG_0385   With the pup dog tired out, the sun moving towards the horizon, and the fog bank moving in, we headed back home. Our adventure was a success, and I found a new favorite spot. IMG_0389   As always, I love to hear from you! Leave me a comment! How was your weekend? What do you do to escape the heat?

Thinning the Seedlings

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In mid-September, I sowed the seeds for the root and leaf bed. Combined with some spinach and leek starts from the nursery, I’m really happy with this bed. I have high hopes that it will get great growth done before the winter cold and dark comes, and provide me with fresh food though out the winter and into the awkward hunger-gap months of winter/spring.

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The first seeds up was the arugula, then followed by the beets. Turnips, lettuce, kale, chard, carrots and kohlrabi make up the rest of the space. Just a few days ago, the parsnips finally emerged, after taking their normal sweet-ass time.

arugula, first to sprout

Arugula, always the first to sprout

I’m not going to lie, I don’t actually enjoy the gardening task of seeding. Especially when dealing with itty bitty seeds belonging to the brassica family. Don’t even get me started on how obnoxious carrot seeds are. Because of that, I make a small trench with a stick, then haphazardly sprinkle my seeds in. I don’t take the time to carefully space the seeds out, so when they emerge, I’m left with very thick rows of seedlings.

beet rows

a dense row of beet babies

Which is why now, about 3 weeks after sowing, I’m spending time in the garden thinning the seedlings. Working with the baby plants and being surrounded by new life is much more enjoyable than the previous week’s seeds and blank dirt. For a long time, I resisted thinning, feeling horrible for killing these newly grown baby veggies. The decision on which plant to cull was ever challenging for the decision-phopia person that I am:  “What if I pull the wrong sprout, and the one I leave is actually weak and will DIE ANYWAYS!!!! What if the one I’m pulling would be the better producer. What if a bug comes along tomorrow and eats all the other ones!!!!!!!! AHHHHHHHH”. Seriously, these are the mind battles I deal with. Anyways, moving on.

beets, after thinning.

beets, after thinning.

But plants can’t grow if they are to close together, so some must be removed. Instead of just pulling them out, I use scissors to cut the stems at ground level. This leaves the roots of the surrounding plants intact, and won’t disturb the rest of the row. You can also just use your fingers to pinch the stems off, but just don’t go pulling them out! I’ve learned the hard way, no matter how careful you are, you’ll pull out some of the seedlings you wanted to leave.

A cluster of beets, pre & post thinning

A cluster of beets, pre & post thinning

These beets, for example, I thinned to about an inch apart.  This will give an opportunity for each plant to grow a delectable baby beet about an inch big, which I will then harvest about every other plant, leaving me with a decent meal and the ability for the remaining beets to reach full size.

beet thinning basket

And not wanting to waste anything that comes from the garden, I make sure to save the thinnings. Or micro-greens, if you want to be fancy and pay a crap-load for in the store. They make excellent chicken treats or additions to meals. I used the arugula sprouts in a roasted butternut squash and wheat berry salad, and the beet and kale sprouts will likely go into tonight’s chorizo and black bean burritos. One more benefit of having cut out at the roots, there is little dirt to deal with.

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bacon in bed

Bacon, being a dick so helpful, supervises my work. I keep my beds covered in bird netting, not to keep birds out, but to keep perpetually annoying cats outs.

As always, I’d love to hear from you! What’s going on in your garden? What’s your feelings on seeding and thinning? Are you cats equally as helpful in the garden?

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