Family heirloom ornament
Random Thoughts

Five Things Friday

The five little things that made my week…

1. Decorating our first Christmas tree together with ornaments passed down from my husband’s family over several decades. (And yes, that’s a popcorn and cranberry garland! I hadn’t made one of those since grade school… so fun to revisit the craft during a wine and movie marathon at home.)

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The Southern California Christmas tree
Garden of Eatin', Trees & Shrubs

The Southern California Christmas Tree

Say the words “Christmas tree” and you’re probably picturing stately conifers like fir, pine, spruce, and cedar, or even the less common cypress. You might be familiar with Scotch pine, Virginia pine, and Eastern white pine, and you’ve likely never heard of Monterey pine. In fact, it doesn’t even make the list of popular Christmas trees at the National Christmas Tree Association.

But in Southern California, Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) is the de facto Christmas tree, grown on suburban tree farms spanning hundreds of acres in our Mediterranean climate. It is the quintessential Southern California Christmas tree, and only here will you find families out in the fields, hunting for that perfect Christmas tree in December while wearing shorts and flip flops. (And as you can see, I was completely overdressed in my flannel and jeans.)

Looking for the perfect Christmas tree

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Preordering The CSA Cookbook as a gift? Download a printable IOU postcard
News & Events

Preordering The CSA Cookbook as a Gift? Download a Printable IOU Postcard

If you’re pondering what to give your friends and family for the holidays this year, may I suggest a copy of The CSA Cookbook? I mean, this is on everyone’s list, right? (I kid, I kid.)

But as it turns out, the publication date for my first book has been bumped up to February 16, 2015 — this means that all preorders will be delivered shortly after, so you don’t have to wait for its arrival in stores in March.

You can preorder the book from your favorite bookseller, online or off. Here are a few places:

And if you want a signed copy — with your gift recipient’s name on it and a personal inscription, if you choose — my local bookshop, The Book Frog, has offered to take those preorders for me. As soon as The Book Frog receives their books in February, I’ll be heading down to their shop with a fresh pack of Sharpies and signing away!

This is the perfect way to add that special touch to a gift, especially if you want something more personal than a standard signed bookplate, or you live in a smaller town I might not be able to visit during my book tour.

To place a preorder for a personalized copy of The CSA Cookbook, call The Book Frog at (310) 265-2665 (you can find their hours here) or send them a message through their Facebook page.

Once you’ve placed your preorder, you can download a printable IOU postcard to let your recipient know his or her gift is on the way! Cut it out and tuck the 4×6 (A6) postcard inside a holiday card or stocking for a sweet surprise. (And hang on to your receipt; I’m cooking up something special for preorders in the coming weeks!)

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Fresh homemade pasta (using what you already have in the kitchen)
Everyday Eats & Sweets, Recipes

Fresh Homemade Pasta (Using What You Already Have in the Kitchen)

Until I started making my own pasta, I always thought homemade pasta required a special pasta maker, a lot of space to hang up curtains of noodles, and a lot of time to devote in the kitchen. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Homemade pasta can be had with the most basic of kitchen implements: a smooth surface, a rolling pin, a sharp knife, and a half-hour of hands-on time. Small appliances can shave off a few minutes if you have a mixer to knead the dough or a machine to roll it out, but once you get the hang of homemade pasta, your hands can be just as quick.

Beet pasta

Hand-cut pasta

It’s so easy that I’ll sometimes roll out a batch of dough right before dinner. My favorite is handmade linguine or fettucine. I love the rustic quality of hand-cut pasta — how each noodle is just slightly different in thickness or length. Compared to the dried boxed pasta you can buy in the store, fresh pasta is so luxurious on its own that it needs little more than a good sauce to satisfy.

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A gourmet spice growing in the backyard
Garden of Eatin', Trees & Shrubs

Pink Peppercorns: A Gourmet Spice Growing in the Backyard

Pink peppercorns are often thought of as a gourmet spice, packaged in small, expensive jars and called for in fancy cookbooks. But in California, bucketfuls of the vibrant berries litter the ground all fall and winter, sometimes considered a nuisance by the gardener who has to rake them all up.

It almost seems a food crime to let heaps of peppercorns lay forgotten when just a few miles away, they command upwards of $10 an ounce at specialty spice shops — and here in a suburban backyard, they’re free for the taking.

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Two Harbors on Catalina Island
Random Thoughts

Five Things Friday

The five little things that made my week…

1. Starting the week with a relaxing retreat to Two Harbors on Catalina Island. Sunny and warm with water we could swim in (as long as we had our spring suits on). This is November on the island, and this is why I love California.

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Bloody dock: not as macabre as it sounds
Flowers & Herbs, Garden of Eatin'

Bloody Dock: Not As Macabre As It Sounds

I am a fan of the year-round herb garden. While plants like parsley and cilantro may come and go with the seasons, I can always count on a small plot of perennials to thrive when nearly everything else is starting from seed or starting to seed.

Just outside my kitchen door I tend to the standard Mediterranean herbs (basil — the African Blue variety is a non-seeding hybrid that grows all year — rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and mint) as well as varieties you’re not likely to find in a market (mitsuba, salad burnet, True French sorrel, wild zaatar oregano, anise hyssop, lime balm, and lemon verbena).

Add bloody dock to that list of bizarre but beautiful herbs that do double duty as an edible green and an ornamental plant.

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Taking care of your urban farm while you're traveling
Garden of Eatin'

Taking Care of Your Urban Farm While You’re Traveling

One of the things I’m often asked on the blog, when readers see me take off on a road trip for days or weeks at a time, is this: Who takes care of your garden when you’re away? Or especially in the summer: How can you even leave your garden with all those tomatoes growing?!

The way we invest in and care for our plants, they’re practically our babies. And since we can’t very well pack them up in the car, many of us feel tied to the responsibilities of raising a vegetable garden the way we do with children or pets.

But with careful planning, it is entirely possible to leave your garden for a week or more, guilt-free and stress-free, and actually come back to a garden that’s even bigger and better than you remembered.

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Garden Betty's chicken feed calculator for determining your protein content
Backyard Chickens, Nutrition

Garden Betty’s Chicken Feed Calculator For Determining Your Protein Content

If you’ve been following either of my recipes for homemade chicken feed (here and here), you may have wondered how to calculate the protein content of your feed should you decide to mix things up. Perhaps you want to try some other grains and seeds for your flock, or you need to formulate a higher-protein feed for baby chicks.

I personally use a spreadsheet to calculate my figures and manage my costs, and now this spreadsheet available to you!

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