Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress

A while ago, before embarking on my journey across the country, I decided that once I got to my destination, instead of directly looking for work, I'd spruce up all the beautiful raised beds that adorn the far side of the driveway at my father's beautiful Northern California home. Being excited at the prospect, I started telling everyone I encountered of my plans for the future.

"Oh yeah, my dad's got these great raised beds that'd be perfect for vegetables. I think he has five or six of them, maybe 4 feet by 8 feet each, and they haven't been touched for years. I'll spend a few weeks doing that and then I'll apply for jobs."

Hoo boy. I drastically overestimated the depth perception in my own memory. The beds are definitely 4 feet by 8 feet, but there are approximately 14 of them in various stages of overgrowth.

But, hey! That just means more room for delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers!

So I got some new shit-kickers.....

and started off. By the end of the first day, I was moving right along. The two little beds next to the grape arbor were to be sacrificed: the soil to other beds, the wood to a compost box, and the space to perhaps cultivate a nice spot for sitting under the grape leaves, on some sunny, far-off afternoon.

I'm glad I started out small. Getting two done in one day felt like a major accomplishment!

Before and after!

Woo! Fast forward to a week later: three of the 4x8 foot monsters had been cleared, tilled, and covered in newspaper, waiting to be planted with nature's bounty. A quick trip to the Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery in Sebastopol and I was all ready to go with mustard, kale, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, two types of garlic, shallots, and onions. After a long and exciting day of experimentation and planting, here was the result.

My fantastic handyman dad helped me out by making the lovely hogwire fence for keepin' out the critters. I wish it kept out slugs too, I understand they really like cabbage and broccoli. By the way, those two box-like things in the background were the little beds cleared out on the first day. Can't wait to get compostin'!

So here we go again! I have almost no prior gardening experience, so this should be a glorious experiment. I can already smell the shallots sizzling in olive oil, waiting to be paired with mustard, spinach, and garlic and served over polenta cakes fried in brown butter. Remind me to plant some sage. And some tomatoes. And some chardonnay.

The adventure continues! Even after this extremely satisfying day, more overgrown possibility looms on the horizon. And I just can't wait to get back!!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sarah's Focaccia

Tuesday afternoon! The most cosmic time of the week, when everything gets done, according to Dan O'Neill.

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but what with relocating, gardening, cooking, and watching TV, it's been tough, let me tell you. Since my last posting, much has happened! I've moved back to California and am living with my dad once again, back in the land of cuisine, farmers' markets, and lots and lots of good ingredaments. So much to do! So much to see! So much to eat!

On my first weekend back in Bodega, I was invited to cater a party for dinner and breakfast. 17 for dinner and 14 for breakfast. All in all, it took 20 hours of prep work, 12 of which were on the day of the party. On the menu was barbecued lamb, greek style, focaccia with red skinned potatoes, rosemary, and onion, wild rice pilaf with carmelized onion broth, salad with lemon dressing, lemon chevre, and cranberries, with apple and pecan pie for dessert topped with real whipped cream. I didn't take care of the lamb, I left that honor to my father the grillmaster, but the rest was all me! Well, me and the avid volunteers at the party who were a great help.

Everyone was fed and no one complained. I'd say it was a great success!

The focaccia is quickly becoming one of my favorite party foods. It debuted at Sarah's birthday party/my going away party in Highland Park and was based on a delightful concoction that Sarah experienced on her trip to Italy. Here, for those of you who have been asking for it, is the recipe.

SARAH'S FOCACCIA (or, Focaccia with Red Skinned Potatoes, Rosemary, and Onion)
Base dough recipe taken from "Bread" by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno, page 107, there named "Focaccia con Olive"


For Dough:
2 tsp dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
pinch sugar
3 3/4 cups flour (any combination of wheat and white, although the more white, the tastier)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or rosemary)

For the Top:
5 red skinned potatoes
1 red onion
fresh rosemary
freshly ground pepper
olive oil

1. Sprinkle the yeast into 1/2 cup of the water in a bowl, adding a bit of sugar on top. Let stand for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast.

2. Use a wooden spoon to draw enough of the flour into the dissolved yeast to form a soft paste. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let "sponge" til frothy and risen, about 20 minutes. (After the 20 minutes, the mixed portion at the center of the flour should appear spongy and will have increased in size).

3. Add the olive oil and the white wine to the well. Mix in the flour. Stir in the remaining water, as needed, to form a soft, sticky dough.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes (or, use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, kneading on low speed til smooth and elastic, while adding flour every so often). Work in the thyme or rosemary into the dough towards the end of kneading.

5. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise in a warm and relatively undisturbed spot until doubled in size, 1.5 - 2 hours.

6. Punch down and "chafe" dough: form the dough into a ball by cupping your hands gently around it. Apply a light downward pressure to the sides, while simultaneously rotating the dough continuously in a steady clockwise motion. Continue until the dough is formed into an even, round shape, for about 5 minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes.

7. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to form a circle or a rectangle, whichever your preference (I usually do a rectangle, but a circle might be quite striking), to 1/2 inch thickness. Place dough on an oiled baking sheet and cover with a dish towel. Proof until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (In my understanding, proofing is a second rise). About halfway through, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

8. Lovingly massage some olive oil onto the surface of the bread, and add thinly sliced potatoes and onion to the surface, leaving about 1-2 inches of clearance on all edges. Incorporate rosemary as desired, and drizzle the lot with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

9. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Serves 6-10, depending on how hungry you are.