Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How to ~ Hydrangeas




This spring, I posted photos on Instagram of freshly cut hydrangeas from my garden and received a lot of questions about how to care and grow them.  I originally planted 12 Nico Blue hydrangeas nine years ago in the front garden bed.  At the time the bed was about half the width as it is now and it didn't have anything but a small palm that I removed when I widened the bed before planting.  I purchased the hydrengeas at Target, back when Target had a garden center, and they had one bloom on a stem per plant with a couple of leaves and cost $2.99 per plant.  At the time I planted these, my front yard was full sun that was a little too intense and the first few years the bushes did get burned but over time the front of my house has become more shaded as the trees around my house have grown in size and I now have more of desirable area for them and they do much better throughout the hot summer months.  In the nine years since I've planted them they have grown from one blossom and 8" high to hundreds of blooms to close to 6 feet tall! Here are my tips for growing hydrangeas ~
  • Water every other day.  Water the roots only, I don't water the leaves or the blooms as that can set the plant get burnt by the sun.  I flood the front bed with water and let the water seep into the roots of the plant.  I think this might be why my plants have done so well and have grown so tall.  
  • When cutting blooms for vases, cut 12"-15" below the bloom and clip above a leaf cluster and use clippers that are sturdy and made for woodier stems.  Do not use scissors since that will not result in a clean cut.  I clip as many blooms as I like, it doesn't seem to effect the amount of blooms the next year.  
  • In the late fall, you'll need to tend to and clean up the plants.  Clip off all dead blooms and remove any leaves that may still be on the plant, leaving the bare canes long.  Clean up the base of the plant by removing leaves and debris that may have collected at the root of the plant.   With garden clippers remove canes that are old, dead or diseased.  Don't clip off all canes, only those that aren't healthy anymore.  
  • After pruning and cleaning up the plants, fertilize with a fertilizer that is specific for hydrangeas and high in acidity.  If the colors of the blooms aren't the color that you desire, you can change that with the acidity of the soil.  
That's it!  I keep it as simple as I can and it's payed off with prolific blooms and tall lush hydrangea plants.  

{Earlier this spring when the hydrangeas were still in the early stages of blooming, I took a lot of better photos with my good camera but in an effort to be organized and efficient with my photo storage, I deleted them (!!!).  These photos are from my iPhone and still show their color and scale but the blooms were much more colorful in person. I'll hopefully capture them next year.}

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Delta Drives and Summer Fruit Stands



 








Most Sunday's I go for a Sunday drive along the Sacramento Delta river roads.  I love driving past the old river homes, the small sleepy towns, vineyards and farm after family farm.  I usually stop on my way out of town and pick up my favorite latte, turn up my radio, put my cell phone on airplane mode and relish in not needing to rush off anywhere and just enjoying the drive.  Sometimes it can just be an ordinary day where I need a break and other times I use my time to think about and make big decisions.  I have made every major life decision, big and small, along these river roads.  I'll leave home feeling jumbled and confused and when I return, I feel clearheaded and free.  I love where I live and I love being so connected to the cycle of food and life that we get to experience living so close to the fields where some of the best strawberries, blueberries, peaches and pears are grown.  I love hearing how a local farmer took a boat down the river to pick up a daily harvest of asparagus that will grace my dinner plate.  I love picking up jars of jams, preserves and olive oils that are made and produced right here in my back yard.  This is what fuels me and what makes me want to stay and raise my family here in this beautiful part of Northern California.  Most Sunday's I follow the river road to the intersection of Highway 12 and California State Route 160 to my favorite homegrown farm stand where my friend Susan greets me with a smile and offers me the gorgeous fruits of her and her husband's labor.  They pick strawberries in the cool summer mornings, and clip the most fragrant sweet peas from their cutting garden towards the back of their property.  They sell the most delicious cherries, apricots, blueberries and asparagus.  They also sell beets, cabbage, squash and other seasonal veggies.  The prices are low and the quality is exceptional.  Susan and her husband, Choy, are open 7 days a week from 9am-6pm.  They are some of my favorite people on the planet and I hope if you are local that you are able to take the beautiful drive to see Susan and purchase some of the most delicious produce that our area has to offer.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Peach and Mixed Berry Pie



Sunday's are my favorite days.  I generally don't take many design appointments on Sunday so they are days that I can run to the Farmer's Market, Target, pick up my favorite latte, go for a drive along the levee, and have the boys over.

This past Sunday, Luke and William joined me at the local Farmer's Market that is held under the freeway from 8am-12pm every Sunday morning.  I like to get there early when the crowds are less and the produce is abundant.  However, this past Sunday it was more of a spur of the moment decision to go and we ended up getting to the market around 11:30.  We were a little miserable as we walked around since the heat was climbing to a high of 106 degrees and many of the stalls were closing up since they had sold all of their goods.  However, we quickly saw the beauty of shopping at this hour is that farmer's are ready to be done from a long morning of selling and they have special deals on very ripe produce and vendors are giving away bottled water that they were once selling but now giving away so they don't have to carry back with them.  One of the amazing deals we found was a huge bag of very ripe white and yellow peaches for $3.  I picked them up thinking that I could freeze them for morning smoothies.  William on the other hand had a different plan and while handing the money to one of my favorite famers asked if I would make him a peach pie since I was the "best baker he's ever known".  How do you say no to that?  You don't and that's how you find yourself making a peach pie on one of the hottest days of the season.

I hadn't planned to bake but since I make up this very easy recipe for pie crust and store it in the freezer for occasions like this or to quickly make quiches, tarts and seasonal galettes, I had all the ingredients on hand.  I used both the yellow and white peaches along with the ends of the fresh blueberry and raspberry half pints that we had also purchased earlier that morning.  

Peach and Mixed Berry Pie

3 lbs. peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup vanilla sugar, sugar that I left a vanilla bean pod in
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons lemon juice, from one lemon
A pinch of salt
Assorted berries, totaling approximately 1 cup

1 egg yolk combined with a splash of water or heavy cream to make an egg wash
Dusting sugar, or a pinch of vanilla sugar to sprinkle over egg wash before baking

One double pie crust or one package of all natural pre made pie crust, I like the crust that you can find in the freezer section of Trader Joe's.  I usually make crust from this recipe and freeze it until needed or stock up on the Trader Joe's version when I can find it, usually around holidays.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine vanilla sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt.  Prep peaches by peeling and slicing thinly and combine with vanilla sugar, cornstarch and salt mixture along with the berries you are using; let sit for 15 minutes.  If using your own pie crust, lightly flour a rolling pin and work surface and roll out half the dough to a 12-inch round.  Place in a 9-inch glass pie plate and brush with egg wash.  Pour in fruit filling.

Roll out remaining dough to a 12-inch round and place over fruit filling.  Trim excess and crimp edges to seal.  Brush egg wash over the top of dough and dust with sugar.  With pairing knife, cut several small slits on top to vent.  Set on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until crust is deep golden brown and juices are bubbling, about an hour.  (Tent loosely with foil if crust browns too quickly.  Let pie cool completely on a wire rack, about 3 hours.

{In between posts, you can find me on Instagram, documenting my daily life in photos.}

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Peonies




Peonies are my hands down favorite flower, right above garden roses, and it's season is coming to an end. I plan on stopping by my local Trader Joe's tomorrow to pick up my final bunch of the season, I love purchasing my peonies at Trader Joe's since they tend to be very fresh and affordable.  These are some of the blooms I've been lucky enough to have grace my nightstand this season.

I'm also picking up a couple of bottles of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint soap.  It's my go to all natural soap and household cleaner.  I've used it my entire life and love it's crisp scent and it's all natural ingredient list.  

{In between posts, you can find me on Instagram, documenting my daily life in photos.}

Monday, June 9, 2014

Watermelon Slushies


It's been a million degrees around here, not really but it's been over 100 degrees for the past three days which is way too hot for me.  It's always a challenge for me to stay hydrated during the heat waves that make up Sacramento summers but this year I've found a new way for me to stay cool and stay hydrated.  Enter in watermelon slushies.

If I buy a watermelon during the summer months, I like to cut it up right when I get home.  For some strange reason if I don't do it right when I get home, I tend to forget about it until it gets bad and I end up wasting a lot of watermelon.  Once I cut the watermelon up into cubes, I freeze it on a parchment lined cookie sheet until frozen solid and then store in gallon ziplock bags until I'm ready to use (this is also how I freeze and store all my fruits for morning smoothies).  I put 3 cups of watermelon, 2 cups of filtered water and one packet of Stevia (you can also substitute a tablespoon of simple syrup for the Stevia) into my VitaMix and blend on low and then medium until very well blended and slushy-like.

That's it.  Super simple and I'm sure this will be my go to drink this summer.

ps.  How do you cut a watermelon?  I cut mine like this.  I've never thought much about it until someone watched me cut it up a couple of years back and commented on it.  I find it to be the easiest way to cube the watermelon and remove the rind.

{In between posts, you can find me on Instagram, documenting my daily life in photos.}

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Cookies


Happy Valentine's Day!  I don't put too much stock into today.  I try to love the ones I love everyday, not just on days where it's expected.  I don't do anything too special today but I do make cookies.  I use this basic recipe for the dough and sometimes I frost them and sometimes I leave them plain.  They are pretty delicious either way.  What do you love most about today?

{In between posts, you can find me on Instagram, documenting my daily life in photos.}


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guest Blogger Susan Brown on Choosing a Great Bottle of Wine

If you are anything like me, you turn down the wine aisle at your local grocery store and suddenly get overwhelmed, sidetracked and end up choosing a bottle of wine by the label.  I know there are amazing wines down these aisles but I've always just been too embarrassed to ask for help selecting a bottle out of fear that the person that I'll ask might have the most expensive bottle of wine as their personal favorite or that I'll have to drive all around town finding just the right bottle, and really who has time for that!?.  This year as the holiday season swung into gear I turned to my friend and Certified Specialist of Wine, Susan Brown for help. Susan put together an amazing list of wines to use as a guide to find the perfect bottle at any price range and at any location, including my favorite one stop shop, Costco.  Here are her tips and selections... 


On the 1st Day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Chardonnay under the tree!  I don’t know about you guys, but I blinked sometime in early November and the next thing I knew it was the holiday season.  All of this shopping, wrapping, cooking, feasting and plenty of merrymaking are cause for some tasty wine in my book!

Wine is always the perfect beverage, especially at this time of year.  Whether it is sparkling, red or white, this elixir of the vine is the perfect accompaniment to most of our typical holiday meals.   I’ve got so many things to think about right now, the last thing I am worrying about is which specific wine goes with which food; this month I’m shooting for tasty and reasonably priced!   What I like about wine over other holiday drinks is that it’s easier on my fragile constitution than copious amounts of stuff like bourbon and eggnog.  Seriously, a simple glass of champagne is completely festive and leaves you feeling fine in the morning.  Even a glass of luscious red sipped fireside can put you in the spirit. 

Another great plus when it comes to wine is that there is a bottle at everyone’s price point.  Better yet, plenty of decent bottles are readily available at your neighborhood grocery.  During the hustle and bustle of these last few weeks before the New Year, it is certainly helpful to multi-task;  doing your wine shopping when you’re on one of those 80-million trips you’ll take to Safeway, SaveMart, Nugget or Costco, can be a godsend.

Rather than knowing exactly which store is selling which wine at any given time, I go armed with a list in my head of the wines I know I am likely to find at most grocery stores.  I don’t pay attention to which vintage from which maker is best.  When it comes to big label, mass distributed, grocery store wine, most of the time you’ll have good luck with reliable labels, year after year.  I save my over analysis for specialty and boutique wines.

Below I have listed some of my “go-to” wines when it comes to a stop at the supermarket.  It takes quite a bit of work to navigate 5-high shelves on your own, so use these names as a guideline.   If you don’t see the exact wine, try one by the same maker or one from the same region.  If you do, you are likely to have success!  Give something new a try this season; it may end up being one of your favorites.

Cheers and Best Wishes!  xoSB

Under $10
Segura Viudas Brut Riserva Cava (Spanish sparkling)
Juame Serra Cristalino Cava (Spanish sparkling)
Hangtown Lot 46 Red Blend (made by Boeger)
Folie a Deux, Menage a Trois Red Blend
Smoking Loon Cabernet
Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay
Kirkland, Sonoma County, Chardonnay

$10-15
La Marca Prosecco
Chandon, Brut or Brut Rose
Mumm Napa Valley, Cuvee M (*when on sale—now!)
Frei Brothers,  Russian River,  Pinot Noir
La Crema Pinot Noir
J Lohr, 7 Oaks, Paso Robles, Cabernet
Louis M. Martini, Sonoma County, Cabernet
Bogle Petit Sirah
Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Fess Parker, Santa Barbara County, Chardonnay

$15-20
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma County Brut
Catena  Malbec, Argentina
Chateau Souverain, Cabernet
Napa Cellars Cabernet
Napa Cellars Merlot
Talbott, Monterey County, Chardonnay
La Crema Chardonnay

Over $25
Rombauer Chardonnay
Talbott, Santa Lucia Highlands Estate, Chardonnay
Provenance, Rutherford, Cabernet
Frank Family, Napa Valley Cabernet
BV Tapestry Cabernet Blend

Guest blogger Susan Brown is a Certified Specialist of Wine living in Sacramento.  She is a frequent contributor to Edible Sacramento Magazine and teaches Wine Appreciation classes at the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op.  You can read reviews, anecdotes and recommendations on her blog at www.susanbrownuncorked.com.  You can also follow her on Twitter @susanbrownsac.