Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December Recipe Round Up: Savoy Cabbage

The ingredient of the month is cabbage, specifically savoy cabbage. This kind of cabbage is milder, sweeter, and more tender than the traditional green cabbage you will find in Irish corned beef and Korean kimchi. This has made it a favorite among chefs as a way of showcasing winter greens without overpowering the other dishes. It also lacks the sulfur-like odor that other green cabbages have when they are being cooked. Its outside leaves are a deep blue-green and turn paler green toward the heart-like center. These crinkly leaves are wonderful in hearty soups such as minestrone, in meat wraps as the wrapping material, and it is even mild enough to add uncooked to winter salads. Unlike other green and purple cabbages, it does not keep as long. After week in the refrigerator and it will need to be thrown out.

While I am usually not a big fan of cabbage, I do like the milder Savoy. It is the perfect example of the “eat your vegetables” mantra, containing fiber, vitamins and minerals, and may have cancer-fighting properties although more research is needed. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I know he approves of the lovely Savoy cabbage.

For this variation on the Asian peanut slaw, Hubby swapped the peanuts for peanut butter, giving a wonderfully creamy texture to compliment the crunch of the savoy and purple cabbage. This is one of my favorite winter vegetable recipes thus far. We went with the pork as the recipe recommended, but chicken or tofu can be an easy substitute. Forgo the meat, and this is a delicious vegetable side. We will definitely make this again when our purple cabbage is ready to eat!
Hubby loves to substitute using on hand ingredients. This time he swapped the prosciutto for spicy Italian sausage. He cooked down the chicken broth and made more of a savoy cabbage, white bean, and sausage chili as opposed to the soup - very hearty and spicy! For vegetarians, remove the meat and swap the chicken broth for vegetable - the vegetables and herbs are hearty enough to carry the dish. Perfect for a cold, dark winter night!


Happy New Year! I will be back in 2012 with more tips, (mis)adventures, and recipes. May your holidays continue to be happy and bright!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Edible Education 101

Edible Education 101 is a complete course in modern food production. Video lectures at UC Berkley are available for free online, featuring the likes of Michael Pollan himself. It's required viewing. Check it out here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Basic Poinsettia Care

Happy Holidays from the Victory Garden! We have been busy with preparations for Hanukkah and Christmas, buying and wrapping gifts, party planning and entertaining, mailing holiday cards, and generally attempting to keep the house in order.

For the first time, I have purchased a poinsettia with gorgeous red blooms. I tend to see all holiday plants as annuals, for one season only, one and done. Being a newbie, I started with a bit of research. Poinsettias like bright light, so place in the sunniest location possible if placing indoors (but do not place close to a heater; it will dry out the plant). My poinsettia is outside my front door welcoming guests, where it gets lots of lovely sunshine from the southern sky. Although a winter plant, poinsettias will not tolerate overly cold temperatures, so in the event of a frost warning, please bring it inside for the evening. Do not over-water, water logging will make for one unhappy and potentially dead plant. I recommend a light drink two to three times a week, more of a splash than deep watering. I purchased this lovely specimen from my local Armstrong Nursery; the white pansies surrounding the festive flower is a nice touch. Some people like to plant their poinsettias after the holidays. While the plant will thrive in the Southern California climate, I don't recommend it. The plant will turn tall and leggy, unattractive except for its winter blooms. If you don't have the heart to toss it, place it outside, but keep it in a pot!

Scraggly poinsettia - this is what happens when you plant them!
Rumor has it that poinsettias are poisonous to both Fido and Fluffy. The ASPCA has debunked the death by poinsettia myth as false, however, keep out of the reach of pets since ingestion of the plant will lead to upset tummies and consequent fall-out.

May Sandy Claws bring you treats not coal . . .
. . .  And may your Hanukkah be filled with sacred light!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Tis the Season (December Bloomday)

December is usually a slow time in the garden. Frost warnings have been posted for the inland valleys and it has been unseasonably cold for us near the coast. Time to curl up on the couch in a snuggie, cat on lap, and watch a football game. Nah - I am getting bored with that. Besides, I have a chrysalis, a bona fide pupa of a monarch butterfly! My first sweet little caterpillar survived! And now I find that I have a full-blown, unanticipated caterpillar nursery! I rushed off to the nursery in search of more Butterfly bush/ Butterfly milkweed, but they were all out. I had to satisfy my urge to do something by buying seeds. Will my little babies have enough food to get through their larval stage? I check on them every day. It figures that in my drive to plant nectar plants, I forgot to create a good size shelter for the babies. As soon as it warms up, I am planting those butterfly bushes in spades!

My biggest muncher so far
The nursery
There have been other good signs of the turn of the season. Life goes on and continues even through the cold months.

My nasturtiums are popping up!
Moss in between the pavers
This is what happens when you compost sunflowers
Tangerines, just in time for Christmas
Pomegranate tree turning golden
Plum leaves turning red - will we get fruit this year?
New limes

Monday, December 5, 2011

From Patriotism to Protest: A Victory Garden Retrospective

I have to admit, I am more than oblivious to most politics, most of the time. I subscribe to the theory that the further one is from the Beltway, the less one cares about it. That is certainly true for my corner of Southern California.  We tend to absorb ourselves in local matters, school and library cuts, sales and property tax rates, and ever more glaring infrastructure issues (hello potholes the size of hubcaps). However, thanks to social networking, I recently came across an article on Victory Gardening and the Occupy Movement that presented a correlation that had completely escaped me. I stopped to think, is the act of growing vegetables at home a political statement?

World War I Victory Garden Poster
Kitchen gardens were the norm rather than the exception for much of our country’s history. If one wanted it, one grew it in the appropriate season. Mass urbanization of the population in the late nineteenth century made this less feasible for many depending on their living situation, but the parallel development of commercial, industrialized farming began to meet demand for foodstuffs. War threw a monkey wrench in that process, and as early as American entry into World War I, our government advocated the home Victory Garden as a means for feeding the homeland while industrialized agriculture fed the troops overseas. World War I victory gardening resulted in the planting of 5 million gardens and produced food valued at 1.2 billion dollars! World War II victory gardening was even more impressive with a total of 20 million gardens planted and yielded a total of 9-10 million pounds of produce, equal to commercial produce farming at that time. I can only imagine this awesome feat, half of all the produce in the nation, grown locally for local consumption! It is interesting to note the U.S. Department of Agriculture feared the Victory Garden would hurt the food industry. Since it was portrayed as an act of patriotism, they could hardly protest too much.  After World War II, much of the energy and enthusiasm of the Victory Garden movement petered out and was soon eclipsed by the return to peacetime, renewed agricultural industrialization and the arrival of the baby boom generation.  Who has time to tend garden when tending lots of babies?!

World War II Victory Garden Poster
For the rest of the twentieth century, victory gardening fell by the wayside, but thanks to a dash of revolution (Environmentalism, Back to the Land Movement, and anti-Corporation advocates) and traditional heritage gardeners (grassroots seed banks, heirloom growers, and bloggers), the victory garden has experienced a popular resurgence. This grassroots movement is now so mainstream that mass media print has joined the party. There is a vegetable garden at the White House for the first time since World War II. Occupy protesters now view home gardening as an anti-corporate response the over-commercialization of food; grow local and eat local. Homeowners are killing their lawns to make room for food, fostering community, and wrecking zoning havoc in residential areas. Some see the home garden movement as a component in turning the tide of obesity in our country, providing nutritious, unprocessed, and cheap food to the masses as it did during the war years. I find myself bewildered at times with all the politics. The reasons I started victory gardening were seek a connection to my immigrant heritage and to grow good-tasting food. (I HATE CARDBOARD TOMATOES!) But all actions have consequences and perhaps we are only just beginning to see the results of our home gardening choices.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November Recipe Round-up

I love cool season vegetables. They are relatively easy to grow - just poke a hole in the garden bed, deposit a seed, cover the seed, and water (when the rain doesn't do it for you). Winter vegetables are so very delicious and so very good for you - leafy greens like arugula, Swiss chard, kale, and lettuces, pungent root vegetables such as onions, radishes, parsnips, and garlic to name a few. I have so far shared recipes for Swiss Chard & Cannellini bean soup and Basil-Arugula Pesto. As a new segment in my blog, I begin my monthly recipe round-up as an explanation of how I have been utilizing my home grown produce.

Hubby stuffed our Thanksgiving turkey with an apple, an onion, 1 sprig of sage, and 1 sprig of rosemary (sage and rosemary courtesy of my perennial herb garden). Delicious!
I made excellent use of my extra pomegranates as autumn inspired decor.
A Love Bug, a Pomegranate cocktail made with pomegranate juice, vodka, and ginger ale. The original recipe calls for pomegranate liqueur, but Hubby substituted our fresh squeezed juice for a lighter, fresher taste. For a virgin drink, simply omit the vodka. Add a fresh lime wedge (also from the garden) for a citrus tang.
Kale is a somewhat bitter, leafy green that tastes similar to broccoli with a kick! Hubby helped me make a Kale Puttanesca with canned tomatoes, garlic, and anchovy fillets. It was spicy and pungent, a more traditional Italian peasant meal that makes me hope I am finding my roots. We omitted the capers and the olives because I am not fond of either of them. But this allowed the other ingredients to shine.

Pasta and Kale Puttanesca cooking - once the pasta is done, drain, then add it to the vegetable mixture and stir.
The plating - don't forget the Parmesan cheese!
November Recipe List with Links:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New and Improved!

Hello readers! As you probably already noticed, I have been working to update my gardening blog with an improved layout and adding relevant content. I invite you to peruse my blog and give me feedback. (Please be gentle with me as my HTML skills are pathetic and I depend on the Blogger interface for formatting.)

Monthly Checklist – I will update my garden task list on a monthly basis and cross the tasks off as I complete them. I hope this will help other Southern Californian gardeners determine what to do and when to do it.

My Recipes – I created a list of the recipes that appear in my blog using links to the recipes. These links lead to pages inside and outside my blog. Be on the look out for more recipe sharing next year.

Weather Widget – Curious to see the weather in my Victory Garden? Take a look at my widget on the right had side of the page. Chances are, if it is a lovely day and a weekend, I will be out in the garden!

Gardening Bookshelf – I am now sharing my reviews on gardening books, garden themed novels, and other food related books on this bookshelf thanks to a widget. I look forward to posting more gardening book reviews in the New Year!

“You might also like:” widget – At the end of each post, this widget recommends similar posts that the reader may be interested in reading. I hope this will help share older content and pique reader interest in similar topics.

My Causes (content and cause will change periodically) – It should come as no surprise that I support Animal Welfare (thanks to for the widgets), specifically my local chapter of the Humane Society and ASPCA. I want to showcase a very special dog, Bolt, who has been looking for his forever family for over a year. I invite you to check out his profile on and the San Diego Humane Society website to learn more about him. If you are not in the position of adopting a dog, please email his profile to friends and family that may be interested in adopting him. 

I wish all my readers a Happy and Safe Holiday Season!

Best Regards,
Rosie Tomato

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations (November Bloomday)

Although it is still too early for an accurate extended weather forecast, I hope that at least part of Thanksgiving can be spent outside on the patio. Hubby and I are hosting approximately 12 this year for a potluck style dinner. Not only have we been planning out menus, grocery lists, and indoor and outdoor cleaning schedules, but we are proceeding through phase two of the renovation of our 1950s ranch. The master bath upgrade is underway; it has literally been unusable (we're talking holes in the ceiling, no electricity or water) for the past five years. Phase one of the renovation (everything else except the bathrooms) really tired us out and it took us this long to get motivated again. As well as the bathrooms, we had the exterior stucco repainted and the house numbers replaced. I love the modern colors - they bring this ranch into the twenty-first century!

With new paint, the curb appeal has vastly improved, and all we need to do in the front yard is some weeding and trimming. The new layer of mulch will help to lock in moisture (we'll hopefully run on rain water through early spring) and will minimize though not eliminate weeds. In the back yard, I have pruned the roses, mulched the flower beds, and trimmed the lavender and fuchsia. All I need to do now is clean up the patio furniture and I will have an restful outdoor room ready for Thanksgiving, far from the bustle of the kitchen. Crossing my fingers for good weather! Now, onto my next and most favorite task, making pumpkin bread!

Ornamental kale with mulch
Sweet peas are in, but I doubt I will have blooms by Solstice.
Yay! My second round of winter vegetables are poking through the soil!
Starting the soil amending process
Must cook something with the kale
What is missing? That ugly pole - this opens the vista beautifully!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Enjoy the Silence

One of my favorite places to relax, recharge, and seek inspiration is the Self Realization Fellowship Garden in Encinitas, CA. The garden overflows with tranquil beauty and multiple garden benches invite you to sit and behold the scenery. There are so many choices: watch the koi swim in the fish pond, revel in the jungle-like surroundings, view the brilliant succulents, or stare out to sea and watch the waves crash upon the shore. I like to write here and collect my thoughts. I do not shut my eyes to meditate, for I cannot shut my eyes for long in such a beautiful garden.

Stairway from lush jungle-like portion of garden to drier, succulent section
Aloe blooming against the backdrop of the Pacific. Succulents bloom from mid-winter to early spring.
Rich texture and color of lower lying succulents
Watching the surfers from the cliff's edge
Contrast of cliff, sand, and sea
 In a garden of gorgeous vistas, don't forget the lovely details!
Take a seat, be quiet, and rest.
Please keep in mind that this is religious center, and the Self Realization Fellowship generously allows public viewing. Please respect your hosts and the other guests by maintaining the quiet and meditative atmosphere as well as not disturbing the flora and fauna.

Hours: 9-5 Tuesday through Saturday, 11-5 Sunday, closed Mondays.

Directions: Take Santa Ana Freeway 5 south to Encinitas Blvd. (100 miles from Los Angeles). Turn right and go to Coast Highway 101. Turn left and continue to "I" Street, turn right. Drive one block and turn right onto Second Street. The Temple is on the right in the middle of the block.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Yes We Have No House Plants

The only indoor plants I grow are cat trees!
Since I have such great love and fascination for greenery, flowers, and vegetables, many of my friends ask me why I have no plants inside my home. I must sheepishly admit to having a black thumb when it comes to house plants. I forget to water them and I over water them. My perfectly situated garden gets the perfect amount of sun. The interior, however, not so much. The plants either get too much sun or not enough depending on where I place them. Its not like I can place them just anywhere, for I have to contend with the mischief of four playful (and often naughty) cats: Wingus, Dingus, Clingus, and Jingus.

Before adopting Wingus, I had a lovely spider plant that moved with me from apartment to apartment, then to our first home, a condo south of our current address. Once given the run of the condo, Wingus decided to make a snack of my poor plant. Thankfully, it was not poisonous. Three more cats and countless chewed petals, blooms, and leaves later convinced me that indoor plants were not a good idea. Besides, anything not nailed down or placed on a super high shelf just ended up broken on the floor anyway thanks to Dingus. Missing your keys, glasses, phone? Chances are Dingus knocked them off the counter, table, or other furniture and pushed it out of your eye's immediate gaze. I have contemplated hanging a fern from the ceiling, but thought better of it. The last thing I need is Dingus's 20 pound frame swinging from the rafters.

Why fight nature? Perhaps I could place intentionally cat friendly plants in the house for some extra greenery and texture. So, I planted some cat grass in a couple pots on the patio. Once they had gained a good five inches in height, I brought them in and placed them in a sunny spot by the sliding door. Clingus was immediately intrigued. But instead of a few bites, he ate the whole salad bowel! He barfed up a stringy mess - YUCK - and I banished the poor damaged plant to the safety of the outdoor elements.

Clingus demands catnip!
Ergo, no more plants. The kitteh hoards occasionally get some catnip when Hubby and I want to watch them go batshit crazy - always a good time! All joking aside, many household plants are very poisonous to cats, including but not limited to multiple kinds of lilies (including amaryllis and star gazers), begonias, cyclamen, hyacinth, and geraniums. For a full list of plants poisonous to cats and dogs, please go to the ASPCA website. Don't let that pretty flower kill your furry best friend!

Dingus attempts to break my camera.
Jingus in dreamland
Wingus sits on my gardening hat.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Basil and Arugula Pesto

With my sweet basil fading into the autumn and my arugula close to going to seed, I needed a recipe to incorporate and enjoy their deliciously pungent flavors. This is a variation of Mama Tomato's beloved pesto recipe, minus the pine nuts and parmesan cheese (making it vegan).

1 and 1/2 cups of sweet basil leaves
1 and 1/2 cups of arugula (use young leaves and remove tougher leaf stems)
2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/8 teaspoon of cumin
Pinch of ground red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in food processor. 
Serve on sliced bread or pasta.

We took the finished product to Mama and Papi Tomato's for dinner and it was a spicy addition to hearty minestrone soup. Hubby spread it on his bread (adding parmesan cheese of course) and drizzled it in his soup for an extra kick. Speaking of extra kick, I was worried that the pesto would be too spicy. It was spicy and strong, but wonderfully flavorful. I recommend for garlic and arugula lovers and adventurous foodies!

Arugula is on the right.
Spent basil
Tools of the trade
The final result!