Monday, February 27, 2006

Recipe: Squash with Pasta Shells

I made this dish at a friends house last night (I had no idea I was going to end up cooking).

1/2 of a medium-sized squash - peeled, seeded and cut in cubes
1/2 a cooking spoon of ghee
2 bulbs garlic - minced
1 can olives stuffed with anchovies - sliced crosswise
4 pieces sundried tomatoes in olive oil - chopped
fresh rosemary leaves - chopped
1 cup vegetable stock made with bouillion cube
1 pack small pasta shells (made with durum wheat/semolina)
extra-virgin olive oil

Saute squash in ghee, add garlic and rosemary. After about a minute add the stock and cover, cook until squash is done. Add olives and sundried tomatoes. Mix in cooked pasta shells. Pour in some olive oil, enough to unstick the shells but not too much that it gets oily. Use a fruity extra-virgin olive oil, it makes all the difference.

This serves a party of 6.

Fruit for Breakfast

Absolutely delicious! I'm talking about a Philippine tropical fruit called caimito or starapple in English, which just so happened to be my breakfast this morning. Plucked from the tree in my organic garden. Summer is definately coming very soon. Although with the rise in temperature this past week I would say its already here. I love summer! The colors, the unexpected breeze - during a heatwave is really quite thrilling, the spectacular sunsets, the clear blue seas and skies...

Excuse me, I'm babbling. Where was I? Oh, yes. My delicious breakfast of caimito. This really brings back some memories. I grew up on Caimito Road which actually did have several caimito trees. During the season the gardener would pick baskets full of fruit. The ones on my street were purple and smaller than the ones growing on my garden. As you can see in the pictures I took, these fruits are green and larger. Both delectible.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sunshine, Water and Compost

These are the three most important factors in growing healthy fruits and vegetables. Sunshine and water are easily determined by your geographical area. Although now-a-days, the changes in weather patterns may adversley affect the farm's produce. But nothing a bit of ingenuity can't solve. More on that later.

In sustainable organic farming, composts take on a whole new meaning. The composition of nutrients placed in the soil can make or break your seedlings. Is there too much nitrogen? Enough potassium? What about phosphates? It's all very scientific. My farmer's were taught a compost mixture that was simply not sustainable, nor purely organic, for my small farm. I want all my resources to come from natural sources, whithout the use of synthetic chemicals in any stage of the process. The problem with the compost my farmers were getting is that one of the ingredients, namely the rice hulls, were not organically grown. I didn't know this until recently. This was acceptable to my ex-consultant because OPTA's (see one of my past entries for more info) rules state that organic fertilizers or compost can use the word organic if 70% of it is organic. This is not acceptable for me.

So, as I was pondering on a new way to feed my plants, something quite unexpected happened. I was sitting in my propagation house when in walks a person I have never seen before. He introduces himself and it turns out he's my neighbor's landlord and he also happens to have a small-scale organic farming operation very close by. I went over and we discussed the finer points of compost and after-harvest production. To my surprise he told me that he came up with his farm as a byproduct of what he really does which is mining clay for a German company. The clay, he explains, contains the nutrients and the absorbing characteristic that is essential in a good compost mix. By absorbing, I mean the mix should be able to absorb and retain nutrients and water for the plant to feed on. But too much moisture is also a problem so other things must be added to make the compost mix have good drainage at the same time. It's a balancing act. Well, he has been doing this and showed me his mix and how his plants grow well with this. He came out of nowhere and now I'm buying my compost mix from him.

Another good organic source for the farm is coco dust. I will be using coco dust as a growing medium for my seeds and as mulch on my beds. Mulching is really important for keeping soil healthy. Nothing worse for the plants than dried out and exposed soil. Not to mention the aesthetic value...

We also found some "black gold" in the garbage heap in one of the empty lots in the compound. Fallen leaves were dumped there and in 3 years it decomposed to make compost. Here are my farmers collecting the valuable stuff.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gaia's Garden Produce FAIL

I just left my farmer, Ador, at the Organic Market to sneak a few hours more of sleep but now that I'm home I'm wide awake. So here I am blogging away.

I'm selling mostly herbs this time as my tomatoes, eggplant and peppers were a failure. I fired my consultant, or rather I will as soon as he finishes fixing my water pump, which should have been done weeks ago, hence the crop failure. I took all my seeds back. What was left of it. Apparently, half the seeds I had with him he seeded and was also a failure. Then he tells me he is making my farm his priority. What is he talking about?? NOW its a priority?? Good riddance.

We seem to be doing much better without him. I had the rest of my seeds planted and most are sprouting healthily. So for the meantime I have a whole bunch of herbs to offer at the Market.

purple basil
Italian parsley
curly parsley
Shinjuku chrysanthemum leaves
cherry tomatoes

These greens look gorgeous! If I do say so myself...

Friday, February 10, 2006

More Recipes Using Lemongrass

Click on title for more great recipes. Yummy!

Recipe: Iced Lemongrass Tea

1/2 cup chopped lemongrass stalks (use bottom 6-8 inches)
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups water

Bring lemongrass pieces, sugar, and 2 cups water to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat and let steep, partially covered, 20 minutes.
Put remaining 6 cups water in a pitcher. Blend lemongrass mixture in a blender until lemongrass is finely chopped (use caution when blending hot liquids), then pour through a fine-mesh sieve into water in pitcher, discarding solids. Serve over ice.

Cooks' note:
Lemongrass tea can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

This modified recipe is from Epicurious.

Bird Flu

What we've been hearing lately in the news about the likelihood that a bird flu pandemic might occur and that a few people in China and Europe have died because of it. Is anyone wondering how this happened? Why suddenly there is such a thing as bird flu? Well, I wondered and thought that it probably had something to do with the use of antibiotics in poultry. So did a bit of research and I was right. The virus that causes bird flu is a strain that developed a resistance to antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat the sick. The bird flu virus was able to develop its resistance because of the overuse of antibiotics in poultry. This isn't the first time virus or bacteria have developed a resistance to important antibiotics we use to treat deceases that would otherwise kill us. This is the very reason we support and promote organic meat as well as veggies.

At the Organic Market, we have 2 sellers of organic chicken and eggs. I tried both and there is a difference between them. One is tougher and I would use to make stock or Coque au Vin (Did I spell that right?) The other one sold by Mara is tender and can be used to make any chicken dish.

For more info on bird flu and/or "Antibiotics and Food" go to the official website of Union of Concerned Scientists.