Freeze Your Avocados for Year Round Flavor

How to Pick the Perfect Avocado

Avocado picking is in full force at The City Farm! From our farm to markets across the US, Greatist offers great tips on how to pick the perfect avocado.  Enjoy!

1. Check the skin.

The bumpy alligator skin of a typical Hass avocado starts out dark green and ripens to eggplant color, says licensed nutritionist Monica Reinagel, author of Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet. This hue is key. If you’re looking for an avocado you can eat tonight, you want one with dark green to purple-y or brown skin. If you’re looking to stock your kitchen with a few fruits you can eat later, shop for one that’s mid to dark green. Then make sure there aren’t any deep scratches or scrapes on the outside that could affect the fruit inside.

If you spot larger, smoother, leather-y avocados that are bright Kelly green, those are the Florida variety. “These have less fat and more water, so they’re lower in calories but also not quite as creamy. Unless a recipe specifically says Florida avocado, I always assume to use ‘Hass,’” Reinagel says. The color also stays more or less the same as it ripens, so use the steps below to pick the perfect Florida fruit.

2. Give it a squeeze.

Press down on the avocado with your thumb. A good one will have a little give rather than feeling like you’re pressing against a wall. “Ripeness is best determined by pressure because softening of the fruit can happen at any rate, independent of the color,” says Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board. But don’t make the mistake of thinking more give equals more goodness. If your thumbprint stays indented or the flesh feels squishy, skip it, as it’s likely overripe, Escobedo adds.

3. Peek under the stem.

Here’s a trick that’s circulating around the Internet: If you pop the little button stem off the top end of the avocado, it’ll tell you if the avocado is a good candidate. If the skin under it is green, you’re good to go. If the skin under it is brown, it’s past its prime. But there’s a huge caveat: “When you pop off the stem, you allow air to enter into the avocado, which can cause premature oxidation and browning. So leave those stems on until you’re ready to eat the avocado,” Reinagel says. Removing the stem at the store can also create an opportunity for the avocado to rot without ripening, says Mary Dawn Wright executive research chef of the Sabra Dipping Company.

Carrot Cake

Super Carrot Cake

This easy & delicious Carrot Cake recipe is perfect for Easter. I like to bake some of this batter in mini muffin pans. Each muffin is about two bites!

Ingredients:

2 cups flour (sift first, then measure)

2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cloves

3 eggs

3/4 cup oil

3/4 cup buttermilk

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice)

2 cups grated carrots

3-1/2 oz. shredded coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts

Frosting (if desired):

2 oz soft cream cheese

3-4 Tbsp. of reserved pineapple juice

4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Super Carrot Cake 1

Directions:

Sift together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in a bowl. Set aside.

Beat together the above ingredients.

Begin by beating the eggs. Add the oil, beat well.

Add the buttermilk, beat well. Add the sugar and vanilla, beat well.

Blend the dry ingredients into this mixture.

Add the following to the batter: crushed pineapple, grated carrots, shredded coconut, and chopped walnuts.

Bake in a 9″ x 13″ pan, or bunt pan approx. 55 minutes at 350 degrees.

Frosting (if desired):

Beat the cream cheese and pineapple juice. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until fluffy.

(Photo Credit: Pinterest)

DIY: Grow Your Own Herb Garden

We are so excited about the new line of DIY kits that we just got in! Not only can you make your own jewelry or mix up some delicious cocktails, but you can also become a selfie pro!

Our very favorite kit right now is the Mason Herb Garden Kit. It’s so easy — and makes a wonderful hostess or housewarming gift.

The herb garden kits include a special blend of perlite, pea pebbles and organic soil that creates a self-watering system, all you need to do is water up to the rock line once a week and you’ll be enjoying freshly grown herbs right in your own kitchen.

Mason Herb Garden contents

Kit contents: 4-half pint mason jars, organic potting soil, organic perlite, pea pebbles, herb seeds & craft flags

Putting in all the goodies

Putting in all the goodies

Watch your garden grow!

Watch your garden grow!

Comes packaged & ready to go!

Comes packaged & ready to go!

Spring/Summer Enjoy Blog

Sneak Peek at Spring/Summer at The City Farm!

We are getting ready for the warm, sunny Spring & Summer days ahead! Here’s a peek at our latest photoshoot. All these new arrivals and more coming soon!

600_0022  600_9205 600_9355 600_9411 600_9445 Red Striped Unbleached Tablecloth600_9879 Hand Painted Stoneware Vases, Set of 3 600_9391 Slate Combo 3 600_9629

Ikebana Grow Blog

DIY As Art: Exploring Ikebana

DIY As Art: Exploring IkebanaIkebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangement, plays with the idea of nature in constant change, and the art of exploring that rhythm and order.  Considered an art-form along the lines of painting or sculpture, it was more often practiced by men, and, in the past, “was considered an appropriate pastime for even the toughest samurai.”

As we anticipate spring showers bringing up all kinds of flowers, why not take an ikebana class?  Or host one!  Have your friends over, and invite a teacher to your home?

What you’ll need, according to Ikebana International:

Containers: most ikebana artists use glass containers, to reflect and play with the light in the arrangement. Bamboo baskets are most commonly used during the warm months.
Holders:  There are a variety of holders to fix your flowers in your container.  A few:

  • a Kenzan:  Used to fix the flowers in the container, a kenzan is a heavy lead plate with erected brass needles where the stipes are fixed,
  • a gotoku-dome (tripod):  Shaped like a tripod, used to hold an iron kettle or pot over a hibachi fire.
  • akutsuwa-dome (horsebit holder) is iron, and shaped like a horse’s bit, which can be twisted into 50 different shapes, each with its own name.

Click here to find a chapter in your region!  Will you start practicing the art of floral arrangement?  Share photos with us on Facebook or over on Twitter @TheCityFarm!

(Photo Credit: My Personal MFA)

Grannys Cookies for COOK Blog

Granny’s Double Cookies

These cookies are perfect for Valentine’s Day!  You need two heart shaped cookie cutters to make this. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. salted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups flour

1 Tbsp. cream

powdered sugar

raspberry jam

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix butter and sugar well.

Stir in flour.

Stir in cream — you may need to add additional cream – make the dough usable!

Roll very thin. Covering rolling pin with wax paper helps.

Cut out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter a little larger than a silver dollar. Bake until light brown.

Sandwich 2 cookies together with jam and sprinkle with powered sugar.

Cut a heart shape out of the “top” cookie so that the jam shows through.

(Photo Credit: Pinterest)

Groundhog Shadow, Celtic Goddess, and Indoor Terrariums

Groundhog Shadow, Celtic Goddess, and Indoor Terrariums

Happy six more weeks of winter, according to our favorite, favorite groundhog, Phil.  But before we worried about more cold weather from the world’s wee, furry winter season soothsayer Punxsutawney Phil, there was the day the Celts called Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day, to determine whether the winter would continue six more weeks.  Unlike the marmot medium, the Celtic goddess of winter, Caileach, was said ensure beautiful, wood-gathering weather on February 1st in order to gather her firewood and ensure her favorite wintry weather would continue.  Monday, it appears it was a good wood-gathering day, as Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, and predicted 6 more weeks of winter.

The good news? You can plant a terrarium or air plant indoors, no matter the weather!

It’s easy to create and care for your own air plant or terrarium. What do you have in your home to house your indoor greenery?  A fish bowl?  A jelly jar?  The City Farm’s Cow Milk Glasses? A sea urchin from your last ocean dive, such as what LA-based designer Cathy Van Hoang creates, with upside down shells as planters to create indoor, aerial jellyfish? Mother Nature Network gives an easy, step-by-step guide:

  • First, rinse out your choice or terrarium with bleach water, and let it fully dry out for two days, to prevent any mold or spores that might affect your plant.
  • Because your jelly jar or sea urchin doesn’t have drainage, start your terrarium with an inch or two layer of pea gravel, and then break up some sphagnum moss or burlap on top of the gravel. (According to MNN, the moss or burlap will prevent potting soil from seeping down to the bottom of the container.)
  • Next, add a half inch layer of horticultural charcoal, to absorb unwanted odors, and then, adding approximately 2 inches of potting soil, depending on the height of your container.
  • Visit your local nursery to choose the plants you want for your terrarium – thick, leafy plants like reindeer moss and ferns are favorites.  You can also add decorative rocks, or little tchocktkes that you love – miniature unicorns? Why not?  (Sweet Digs is a fabulous shop in Yucca Valley, just outside Joshua Tree, where you can create your own!)
  • Keep your plant moist, but not wet, with misting, and placing it in indirect sunlight.  If you can’t see your plant through the condensation in the container, you’re giving it too much moisture.  And if you notice mold or fungus, you can remove bits of the plant, as well as dead flowers or leaves,  with tweezers or chopsticks.  Twice a year, feed your plants with small amounts of a granular fertilizer.

Six more weeks of winter?  Bring it, Phil.

Will you be planting a terrariums or air plant? Show us your gorgeous indoor garden on Twitter!

(Photo Credit: Air Plant Jellyfish by Petite Beast, Mother Nature Network)

Budweiser Super Bowl Commercial is Here!

Budweiser Super Bowl Commercial is Here!

I was extremely fortunate to be invited by Studio Animal Services to train the puppies again for the 2015 Budweiser Super Bowl commercial.  We trained the puppies for about three weeks, they were approximately 8 weeks old when we started, and then in the middle of December we headed up to central California to shoot the commercial on location.

Once again (and as always in past commercials) the amazing team of Budweiser Clydesdales were involved and being trained by Robin and Kate Wiltshire of Turtle Ranch in Wyoming, assisted by the ever present Budweiser ‘handlers’ – a team of great guys who make sure these horses want for nothing – who also assist Robin in the training.

I tried to take as many photos as I could, but my days were slammed with 8-10 hours of puppy training, 7 days a week right up until the shoot.  Luckily we had many people around who took some great photos as you can see in this post.

We had 8 puppies – all of which were trained to do various things that were needed for the commercial.  I was joined again by best friend and fellow trainer at SAS Deborah Dellosso – there’s nothing we enjoy more than training puppies!!

The Gang

Taking of the hill

All together

Myself and David getting the puppy muddy!Photo credit: Dianna Radermacher

Comic relief

Don Jeanes!!

Making friends

Oustanding in a field!

I LOVE these guys!!Photo credit: Dianna Radermacher

Gardening Winter To-Do List: Growing Onions From Seed

Gardening Winter To-Do List: Growing Onions From Seed

Onions get such a bad rap, those tear-jerking balls of smelly-breath-makers.  But what would a veggie pizza or tasty omelet be without them?  Though it is hard to trace to their origin due to the fact that their tissues leave very little trace, it is known, according to The National Onion Association (that is a REAL thing that I did not make up) that onions were found in Chinese gardens 5000 years ago, and that there is evidence “that the Sumerians were growing onions as early as 2500 B.C.  And even though, at my family gatherings, we paper-rock-scissors the lucky chef who gets to cry while dicing the onions for the risotto, in ancient Egypt, the vegetable was considered an object to be worshiped, symbolizing eternity in its circular layers.Want to grow your own eternity onion?  According to Urban Farmer, if you live in a warmer climate (zones 6-10), late January is a great time to start your onion seeds indoors. For those of you in zones 1-5 start your onion seeds in mid-late February.

  • Use fresh, first-year onion seeds, which, according to GrowVeg.com, germinate better than their older counterparts, which can, technically, be stored up for two years in a cool, dry space.
  • VegetableGardner.com reminds us that varieties differ in the length of daylight and the temperature required to make a bulb. Short-day types are ideal for the South, where they grow through cool southern fall and winter months. They’re triggered to bulb by the 12 hours of sunlight that come with the return of warm, early summer weather, while long-day onions are best grown in the North, where the summer daylight period is longer.
  • Using a fresh seed-starting mix, plant your seeds in flats, and choose a warm spot to encourage the seeds to germinate, such as the top of your refrigerator.  The seeds love a balmy 68 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When the seedling has three leaves, transfer to a pot at least 4 inches deep.
  • After germination, Barbara over at GrowVeg notes that a bright supplemental light is needed, such as a two-bulb florescent fixture, for 12 hours a day.  Every day, using scissors, she trims the onions back to around 3 inches.
  • When you’re ready to move your onions outdoors, after the temperatures are consistently above 46F, GrowVeg recommends creating deep planting trenches lined with rich compost and/or composted organic fertilizer.

Do you plan to grow your own onions?  Tell us over on Facebook or Twitter @TheCityFarm!

(Photo Credit: The New York Botanical Garden)

Oregano Dreams & How to Grow Your Own

Oregano Dreams & How to Grow Your Own

I’ve used this blog to confess a few of my odd habits and/or stories, my coffee cravings and how the grounds help my garden grow, my sage-smudging blunders, my jonesing for fresh-squeezed-lemon in hot water before I can greet Facebook or the sun.

And now I confess my proclivity to all things odd as I admit, though I don’t remember any of my actions, I am a night-time-showering/sweater-sorting/caller-of-911/tennis-racket-swinging sleep “walker.”  But even as … strange as my many roommates will tell you my night-time personality may be, I am stating here, I will NOT wear oregano on my head to induce psychic dreams.  At least, not tonight. Because I must also confess, after researching the folklore of the herb, I’m dying to know if oregano placed on or near the head brings about visions and prophetic dreams.  

It was also thought to be an antidote to poison, and protect one from evil.  So there’s that.

Even if you don’t ward away evil by planting oregano near your home or dream the winning Lotto digits, the herb has been linked to good lung health, due to its carvacrol and rosmarinic acid content. According to Organic Health’s Website, “both compounds are natural decongestants and histamine reducers that have direct, positive benefits on the respiratory tract and nasal passage airflow.”  And it’s a great flavorful seasoning for Italian dishes.

How to grow your own oregano:

  • Native to the Mediterranean region, oregano loves the sun, so choose a spot with full-sun to place your pot, or to plant in your garden.
  • Most oregano can tolerate a moderate freeze, but if you live in a colder climate, consider planting in a container that can be moved indoors during the worst winter cold.
  • Plant your seeds or cuttings 6 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost.
  • Oregano loves loamy, gravelly soil, and moderate water, so be sure your container drains well if planting in a pot, and water when the soil feels dry.
  • When the plant is about 8 inches tall, you can begin to harvest.  The flavor is most intense just before the plant blooms.
  • Many prefer using dried oregano in cooking, which also allows you to preserve your harvest and trim back the plant to grow more densely.  To dry, hang the harvested leaves in a bunch, upside down, and when the leaves are crisp, remove from the stems, and store in a glass container.

And check out The City Farm’s handy garden tote, to keep all your growing tools on hand!

Will you be growing your own oregano?  Tell us here, or over on Facebook or Twitter!

(Photo credit:  Todd’s BBI)
Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

Whether you are feeling under the weather or just want to warm up, this easy & delicious recipe is great for the whole family. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 chicken, cut in pieces

1 onion, cut into quarters

3 carrots, cut into two-inch lengths

3 celery stalks, cut into two-inch lengths

1 small parsnip

Generous amount of parsley sprigs

Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Put ingredients into a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 1″.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

Occasionally skim off the foam that rises to the top. Cook about 1 hour.

Discard parsley, and cool until fat rises to the surface. Skim off fat. Heat, and serve with noodles or matzo balls in these fun bowls!

(Photo Credit: Pinterest)

How To Grow Your Own Celery

How To Grow Your Own Celery

I have been living a lie. I don’t remember when I heard that celery was a “negative calorie” food, that munching on the crunchy green stalk burned more calories than it provided as food.  Looking up the history of celery on Wikipedia, I learned that is a lie. But celery is part of weight-loss diets, as it provides low-calorie dietary fiber.  And, not only great for weight loss, added crunch in your stir-fry, or as a vehicle for peanut butter, the seeds of celery plants are also often used as an oil in the perfume and pharmaceutical industries, as well as in spices (have you tried celery salt?).

Last week I wrote about greening your new year with a garden space inside.  Kick off your indoor garden by growing your own celery!  It’s quite easy, and after reading about it on RealFarmacy, the boyfriend and I decided to give it a go.  I can’t wait to cut a stalk of celery off my own plant.

  •     Simply buy a stalk of organic celery from your local farmer’s market or grocer, cut off the base, rinse it off and place it in a small saucer or bowl of warm water on or near a well-lit window — with the base side down and cut stalks facing upright.
  •     RealFarmacy notes that while leaving the celery in the water for approximately one week, the stalks begin to dry out, but “the tiny little yellow leaves from the center of the base began thickening, growing up and out from the center, and turned a dark green.”
  •     Change the water in the saucer every 2 – 3 days, and use a spray bottle to spritz the new growth directly.
  •     After 5 – 7 days, transfer the celery base into soil (I love how RealFarmacy used an oatmeal container!) covering the whole base with soil, allowing just the leaf tips to show through the dirt. If you live in a temperate climate, plant outside.
  •     Water generously, and watch your celery grow!

We (okay, *I*) named our new celery plant Cecil.  It’s day 3 in the potting soil, and he’s already growing like mad, helped along by a weekend of rain in L.A. Have you set green-growing intentions for 2015?  Will you try growing your own celery?  Tell us here in the comments, or over on Twitter @TheCityFarm.

(Photo Credits: Stoop celery: Rebecca Snavely; Celery in oatmeal tins: RealFarmacy)

How To Green Your New Year

How To Green Your New Year

How To Green Your New YearResolutions are SO 2014. So this year, instead of making new year’s resolutions, I set intentions.   It’s probably no different, but I’m hoping that by embracing a different term I might make these intentions realities, ways of life.

The dark winter days paired with the feeling of a fresh start and new intentions make this month a perfect time to create a garden nook inside, to add some green and growth to a corner of your life.  Take a look around — is there a space that is stocked with unused tchotchkes? A stack of sweaters you might take to your local shelter, or that collection of CDs you can transfer to the cloud, and create room to grow green things?  Look for a spot with natural light, or where you can connect and hide a cord to plug in some plant lights.

Search your cupboards for favorite jars or cups to create a collection of unique planters – and take a look at our City Farm collection to add a few new pieces for variety: a gum ball jar or wire bottle tote to display cut flowers? A votive cup to house a succulentA ceramic bowl?  Choose different shapes and heights to create an eclectic space that is uniquely you.

600_8141Creating a work station is part of the fun of making the most of small spaces – is there a spot to store your potting soil, a small trowel, a watering can?

With weak winter light, if you plan to start seedlings, and you’re feeling extra crafty, check out this how-to guide to transform an old bookshelf into an indoor grow light / plant stand!

 

Next week, kick off your indoor garden by growing your own celery! Until then, keep up with us on Facebook & Twitter. Happy New Year!

Growing a Zen Garden: How to Plant Bamboo

Growing a Zen Garden: How to Plant Bamboo

‘Twas the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and Portland Oregon was filled with strangers and cousins and visitors from foreign lands, looking for all that keeps Portland weird. Disgruntled teens returned gifts, tired shoppers sipped cappuccinos, a man dressed as Robin Hood in furry tights walked the downtown streets, collecting dollar bills from the rich, giving to the poor, and I was all zen-ed out walking through the Portland Japanese Garden.  I took in the perfectly placed stone path, the carefully groomed rock gardens dwarfed by the over-arching evergreen trees, the pond gardens filled with koi fish and the flash of money tossed into the water in defiance of the “coins prohibited.”

Growing a Zen Garden: How to Plant Bamboo

The Japanese garden was a respite just above the city of bedraggled holiday spirits, a quiet stroll filled with sounds of water pouring through bamboo into a shallow pool, a man-made waterfall creating a space of peace.  According to the garden’s Website, the strolling pond gardens are a model of Japan’s gardens that were “intended as recreational sites for the wealthy and were attached to the estates of aristocrats and feudal lords (daimyo) during the Edo period (1603–1867), when this style of garden was at its height. These gardens were sometimes created to be reflections of a landscape of some distant place once visited, or the place of one’s birth, or even a famous place in China.”

Do you want to recreate the serene sense of a distant place once visited? Or the place of your birth? (For me, Reno is not exactly a place I want to bring to life in my backyard, but maybe your birthplace is more idyllic than John Ascuaga’s Nugget?) Growing bamboo will work for almost everyone reading this, as it grows anywhere from East Asia to Northern Australia, sub-Saharan Africa to the mid-Atlantic United States south to Argentina and Chile.

Ian Connor, a bamboo expert based in Portland, recommends clumping bamboo such as those in the Fargesia and Thamnocalamus genera, which remain well-behaved without a barrier. Towering timber bamboo, however, provides the “exotic feel” you may expect.  “Besides a screen, it can be planted as a hedge and turn a garden into rooms with separate styles. Not all gardens, though, are big enough for rooms. For those, Connor suggests creating private seating areas by planting bamboo in curves.”

  • In mild climates, plant bamboo at any time of the year.  In colder regions, plant your bamboo early enough before your first frost to have established plants to survive the first winter.  If your summers regularly hit 100 or higher, wait until fall or spring to give your bamboo the best shot.
  • Choose a spot with good sunlight, aiming for one with around 5 hours of direct sun.
  • Digging your hole 1.5 to 2 times as big as the root mass, add compost or manure fertilizer to the bottom of the hole before planting your bamboo.
  • Space your bamboo 3 to 5 feet apart, and one foot from the edge of other planting areas.

Do you already grow bamboo, or plan to plant some soon?  Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!

Photos: Japanese Garden Waterfall and Koi – photographer David Gn, Bamboo – photographer Marv Bondarowicz)

Holiday Host Gifts that Grow

Holiday Host Gifts that Grow

It’s hour 23, you’re dressed for your boyfriend’s boss’s | sister-in-law’s | pet vet’s holiday dinner, and there’s no time for Prime to deliver a host gift.  What to take? That magnet your kid made in 2nd grade? That block of Humboldt Fog you bought to savor by yourself in quiet after hours of small-talk? That gift card for a sushi bento box from your local fish dealer?

Plants make the perfect gift, as they keep on giving and growing. If you want to keep it festive, consider picking up an Amaryllis, a Cyclamen, or a Christmas Cactus. If you have a bit more time, you could create a “grow” kit, filling a mason jar with rich, organic dirt, to package with a packet of seeds or a box of bulbs, a pretty pot and watering can, and a spade and / or gardening gloves. In your holiday card, you can include the following hand-written instructions for your host to care for her new plant!

Cyclamen are beautiful and delicate, but they’re actually hardy plants that do well in colder climates.  HGTV warns that three things will harm your cyclamen: over-watering, heat, and too much light. The coldest room in your house is the best home for your bright plant, which is much easier to grow from one in full bloom than from seed.  (But if you like a challenge, check here for tips, and google a “germination chamber.”)

Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera, a genus of cacti originally found in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil, are winter-blooming cacti that are easily cared for indoors.

  •  To propagate, cut a short Y-shaped segment from the stem tip of a healthy plant, and place it in slightly sandy soil a quarter of its length deep, according to GardeningKnowHow.com, who also  recommends an even watering, and choosing a well-lit spot for your plant to thrive, but avoid direct sunlight.
  • Cut your shoot back at the second joint, and after a few weeks, the cutting will start to show growth, which is the time to transplant it to a larger pot with a potting soil mix of compost, loam and sand.
  • Water frequently, especially in spring and summer, the cacti growth period, keeping the soil slightly moist.  The plant should not sit in water, however, or it will develop root rot.
  • Find a room where the temperature remains between 60 and 70 F.  And come fall, when your Christmas cactus has stopped flowering, encourage it to eventually rebloom by starting its dormancy cycle: reduce its light (12 – 14 hours of darkness), temperature (between 50 and 55 F), and moisture.

Do you have a last-minute holiday host to honor? A growing gift will remind them of your gratitude for their hospitality for months to come.  Take a photo of your “grow kit” gift and share it with us on Facebook or Twitter.  Happy Holidays!

(Photo Credit: Christmas Catcus: New Floridians)

Brie with Lemon Fig Jam

Brie with Lemon Fig Jam

I love making this easy recipe around the holidays. It’s a great appetizer, and my friends and family love it. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup City Farm Lemon Fig Jam

1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme

1 piece Brie cheese (about 1/2 lb.)

Thin baguette slices or water crackers

Directions:

Place Brie into microwavable dish and heat 15-20 seconds, or until warm.

Add the jam to the warm Brie, sprinkle with thyme and microwave an additional 10-15 seconds.

Scoop cheese and lemon fig sauce onto baguette slices.

**For an even easier appetizer, just spread some jam over some goat cheese and sprinkle with thyme**

Sage Smudging Confessions & How to Grow Your Own

Sage Smudging Confessions & How to Grow Your Own

Confession: I have a past of ignorant mis-smudging.  Growing up in Eugene, I am oft called a hippie here in L.A., what with my car-free ways and belief in spirit animals.  But even dropping that reference, I realize I am nowhere near knowledgeable about Native American traditions.  So though I leapt at the idea to smudge my new home when moving in to a studio that had been inhabited by the tortured soul of an artist in conflict with her landlord, I’m not surprised to learn that I didn’t really know what I was doing.

A friend came and we offered blessings on the … room. (See above reference to “studio.”) While I waved my smoky bunch of sage in the air, I spoke my intentions for each part of the space, to create meals in the kitchen to nourish both body and soul of a visitor, that my desk might be a place for creativity to brew and thoughts to be put to page, that my door might be the way to a place of peace, thoughtful conversations, and belly-laughter.

And I did it WRONG.  I mean, part of me believes there’s no wrong way to put out good intentions.  But the next time I smudge a space with sage, I’d love to follow the guidelines detailed here by Cat Criger, aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto.

Why is sage the herb of choice for purifying a place, ridding it of negative energy? Salvia officinalis, or garden sage, is a short, evergreen shrub, a member of the flowering plant Lamiaceae family, and with its grey leaves and bluish-purple flowers, is native to the Mediterranean region.

Sage’s name hints at its nature: sometimes called S. salvatrix (sage the savior), the second half of Salvia officinalis refers to its medicinal use—according to Wikipedia, the officina was the storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored.  Historically used to ward off evil, treat snakebites, increase women’s fertility, Pliny the Elder said the plant was called salvia by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, a styptic, among other uses. That plant has a lot to live up to.

Whether you want sage for smudging, to brew, make your own essential oils, or simply add flavor to your food, here’s how to grow your own.

  •        Sage thrives in USDA zones 5 – 8, and grows in almost all climates.  If you live in a region with extremely cold winters, you may want to plant in containers, to bring inside during the coldest weeks (months? Let’s say weeks).
  •         Plant your sage in full sun or slight shade.
  •          Use well-draining soil, and though it grows in a range of soil, it does best in slightly acidic soils, with a pH value of roughly 6.0 to 6.5. (SF Gate)
  •       Looking out your window, do you see snow? If so, plan to start your sage from seed 6 – 10 weeks before your last spring frost.
  •          If you choose to start your sage from cuttings, SF Gate recommends rooting it using sand and a rooting hormone before transplanting into individual pots. Either seedling or your cutting can then be transplanted to a sunny spot in your garden when your soil has reached 60F, one to two weeks before the last spring frost.  Or, if you are keeping it in the container, move to a sunny spot on your balcony or patio, and be sure that the soil drains well.

How do you use your sage?  Leave a note in the comments, or tell us on Facebook or Twitter: @Rebecca Snavely & @TheCityFarm.

(Photo Credit: Dried Sage, Joene’s Garden)

Finding Life in the Desert, Falling in Love With (and Growing) Joshua Trees

Finding Life in the Desert, Falling in Love With (and Growing) Joshua Trees

“I’m not really a “desert” girl,” I’d explain when someone asked why I had never camped out in Joshua Tree National Park.  I grew up in the lush green of Oregon’s rainy Willamette Valley.  The desert just leaves me thirsty.

“I may be a desert girl,” I said to the boyfriend while we sat on the cold wall of the patio of a Joshua Tree house, watching the sun rise over the stark mountain range, the sky slowly turning a baby blue with streaks of golden-tinged pink, quails waking to scuttle across the hard-packed dirt that is spotted with succulents whose beauty is neither flashy nor brilliant, but spare, somehow both delicate and hardy.

And then I entered Joshua Tree National Park, and I GOT IT.  It’s a magical place.Finding Life in the Desert, Falling in Love With (and Growing) Joshua Trees

Initially created as an 825,000 acre National Monument in August of 1936, Joshua Tree was designated a National Park on October 31st, 1994 by the Desert Protection Act, adding an additional 234,000 acres to the park. The rock formations look like they must come alive at night, gentle giants that stomp through the park, illuminated by moonlight, campers exhausted from a day of bouldering and hiking too deep in sleep to know. Each rock-monster step shakes the ground, witnessed only by the slow-growing, deeply rooted Joshua trees.

“Yucca brevifolia” the plant species now known to Bono fans and desert-lovers as a Joshua tree was so-nicknamed by a group of Mormons, settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. According to Wikipedia, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

Joshua trees may need more than prayer; the Wiki entry notes that conservationists are concerned that they will be eliminated from the National Park, “with ecological research suggesting a high probability that their populations will be reduced by 90 percent of their current range by the end of the 21st century, thus fundamentally transforming the ecosystem of the park.”

If you live in a similar region to the Yucca’s native Mojave desert, you could grow your own “crooked cross” from seed. SF Gate gives you the how-to, here:

  • Fill a 4-inch planting pot to within 1 inch of the rim, with a sterile seed starting mix. Avoid using any mix that contains soil or compost, you want great drainage.
  • Add water to the mix slowly until excess water drains from the bottom of the pot. Set the pot aside to drain completely so that the mix is slightly moist.
  • Place the Joshua tree seed in the center, on top of the mix.
  • Pour a handful of the potting mix into a kitchen sieve. Holding the sieve over the pot, tap the sides to sprinkle a 1/8-inch layer over the seed.
  • Using a spray bottle, mist the top layer of mix with water.
  • Place your heat mat in a west-facing window, set it to 72F, and place your pot on top.
  • Be sure to keep the soil slightly moist at all times during germination.
  • Over the following week, slowly turn down the temperature of the mat after, til you reach 65F, until the seed sprouts, usually within 30 days, but it can take much longer, so have patience.
  • When your seedling reaches 4 to 5 inches, transplant into a larger pot, filled with a gritty cactus mix. (SF Gate)

The tree is a lesson in patience, observation, and quiet, growing only 2.3 inches per year. That morning, as I sat watching the the desert day begin with the swooping of birds, the scuttling of lizards, the crowing of a neighborhood rooster, remembering the soft sound of a cotton-tail bunny’s erratic hops between brush and then, later, the howling of a pack of coyotes in the dead of night, I realize that however slow or quiet the desert seems, it teems with life.  Edward Abbey writes about desert music in his book:

“A few flies, the fluttering leaves, the trickle of water give a fine edge and scoring to the deep background of – silence? No – of stillness, peace.

…“In the desert I am reminded of something quite different – the bleak, thin-textured work of men like Berg, Schoenberg, Ernst Krenek, Webern and the American, Elliot Carter. … their music comes closer than any other I know to representing the apartness, the otherness, the strangeness of the desert. Like certain aspects of this music, the desert is also a-tonal, cruel, clear, inhuman, neither romantic nor classical, motionless and emotionless, at one and the same time – another paradox – both agonized and deeply still.

“Like death? Perhaps. And perhaps that is why life nowhere appears so brave, so bright, so full of oracle and miracle as in the desert.”

~Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”

[Photo Credit: Rebecca Snavely]