Garden "Picks"

Lots to pick at the farm now and every week there are changes. 
The beds planted with winter squash are growing so fastwe just might 
be incorporating those varietals onto the menus 
while we are still getting creative with the summer squash. 
winter squash bed in early July 
and the same bed as August begins
Chef John recently talked to The Huffington Post about 
how the farm tells us what is in season rather than what we expect. 
He recalls: "Nature does not always work in accordance with a chef's schedule. 
You can't predict much. Normally, rhubarb means spring, 
 strawberry is spring and summer, delicata squash is fall. 
There was point last year I was harvesting all those in the same time.
Now, at the height of summer abundance, I'm hauling in tomatoes. 
Every day. We're putting them everywhere on the menu. 
Eggplant? 'Learn to love it,' I tell the sous chefs."
And with eggplant as beautiful as these Black Beauties, what's not to love?
did you know this variety of eggplant is over 100 years old?
these go directly from the farm to the kitchen to your table every day!

Sunset Magazine has a "no fail" guide for when 
to harvest the vegetables in your garden.
This is helpful with so much growing at this time of year. 
What are you harvesting now in your garden?
abundant cucumber bed
Along with our squash,cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and eggplant, 
we are also still picking chard and kale.
Here's some "super food" info on kale.

This is a delicious leafy green sautéed or in salads. 
Food writer Melissa Clark offers some delicious ideas for kale, 
including creating kale pesto and a great tip for "cheater's" blanched kale: 
"Before you add your pasta to the pot, grasp a small handful of whole kale 
by the stems, and simply dunk them into and swirl them around 
the bubbling pot for a few seconds. The stems make handles, 
which obviates the need for dropping the leaves into the pot 
and then having to drain said pot and then boil even more water to cook your pasta."

sunchoke plants loom over the squash beds
But what is really growing at the farm are our sunchokes.  
Sunchokes, also called Jerusalem artichokes, are an edible tuber 
that grows underground, much like a potato. 
They look a little bit like large knobs of ginger, and taste slightly nutty, and savory
like a cross between an artichoke heart and the best potato you've ever had.
There are reports of sunchokes growing in Cape Cod in 1605.

Since sunchokes were first cultivated by Native Americans 
and are not from Jerusalem, the reason they are also
called Jerusalem artichokes is unclear.
Does anyone know how they got that name? 

Sondra features a pan roasted black cod with roasted sunchokes in her new book, 
and served it this spring at a dinner we cooked at the James Beard House. 
photo by Phil Gross for James Beard House 
What's the best pick from your garden these days?

Farm Blossoms

Don't you just love squash blossoms?  
We agree with these musings from "The Kitchn:" 
When stuffed, battered, and fried, they are one of summer's chief delicacies. 
But we always had a slight sense of unease when buying them. 
Wasn't it quite a sacrifice for the farmer to sell each flower, 
since he was essentially sacrificing a future squash? 
Wouldn't this flower someday grow into a much larger (and more substantial) vegetable? 
It seemed almost greedy to eat a flower and deny it its future as a squash!
Well, it turns out that we were wrong. Not all squash blossoms will turn into a squash, and we can eat most of the blossoms in our own squash patch with impunity. Why?"

"The answer is really quite simple. 
Squash blossoms come in two genders: male and female. 
Only female squash blossoms mature into a squash. 
The male is just there to, well, fertilize them."

Here is a little more technical info on male and female squash blossoms.

You must be seeing the beautiful squash blossoms at Farmers Markets. 
One simple way to prepare them is to fill squash blossoms 
with a soft herbed cheese, brush with olive oil and 
bake until wilted and heated through. 
What do you like to do with squash blossoms?

summer squash bounty at our farm

Summer squash at the farm inspired Chef at the girl & the fig 
to create a grilled summer squash ratatouille to serve with day boat scallops.
And our friend Kristin Jorgensen featured a great recipe 
for Ribbon Zucchini Salad in Sonoma "Sun Eats" column. 

A lot of squash inspiration for our Chefs
What do you do with summer squash?
The sunchokes are looming over the squash rows. 
Did you know they can grow to be 10' tall?
We had so many sunchokes last season that
Chef John created sunchoke chips! Rivaled potato chips.
Nearby the fertile squash beds, our raspberries are also in full bloom. 
Besides being hard to resist, there are so many health benefits to raspberries.

so delicious right off the vine
we almost can't be sure they will make it to the bowl! 
Here are some great tips from Smart Gardener about growing berries. 
Perfect for dessert just as they are....
Or do you have a favorite recipe that showcases berries?

The farm is fertile and alluring right now.
What's growing especially beautifully in your garden?


Lush herbs and ripening "fruit"

The basil at the farm is so lush and prolific, you almost want 
to dive in and bury your face in it. 
Besides the beautiful leaves, the scent is certainly intoxicating enough to do that. 
Happy times at the restaurant as this and the other herbs 
from the farm begin to proliferate. 
Our chefs rely on fresh herbs so much that in addition to 
what we grow at the farm, we of course have planted herbs at all the restaurants,
 including our new culinary event space, Suite D

basil in herb beds at Suite D
It is so great in summer to go outside and pick fresh herbs 
or easily get them at the farmer's markets. 
We wait all year for this time and then we want to "bottle it," 
so we can have that experience year round. 
There are a lot of great tips for freezing fresh herbs so you have them 
later to enliven your cooking. 
And making herb-infused oils is another idea we recommend. 
There are tips on creating herb-infused oil in Sondra's book, 
or here's a recipe courtesy of Once Upon a Plate

The ratio of olive oil to flavoring ingredient is one cup of oil to two cups of tightly packed soft leaved green herb. Since herb infused oil should be used within a week, don't make too much— maybe use 1/2 cup of oil and one cup of herbs.

Fill a large bowl with ice water, set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the herbs, blanch for 5 seconds (make sure the leaves are submerged.) Drain into a strainer and immediately plunge the herbs into the bowl of ice water until cold. Drain the herbs well and squeeze out all liquid.
Puree in a blender with olive oil (blender works better than a food processor here.) Strain puree immediately through a fine-mesh strainer. Strain again through three or four layers of cheesecloth (rinsed in clear water and squeezed dry before straining the herbs.) Put the oil in a sterilized glass bottle, cover tightly and refrigerate. For best flavor, use within one week
This technique can be used for making infused oil whether the ingredient is basil, rosemary, oregano, garlic, chiles, chervil, chives, cilantro, mint, mushrooms or citrus fruit. 
And an important tip: It is imperative that no fresh herbs (or any other flavoring ingredient you are using) are added back into the oil before bottling because this could introduce the risk of the food borne illness, botulism.

Now that we are seeing the tomatoes starting to tease us at the farm, 
it will soon be challenging to think about doing anything with the basil 
other than tossing it with these heirlooms once they are ready, 
but we still have a little time until we are in "tomato heaven..."

heirloom tomatoes at the farm
tomato starts at the greenhouse in April
tomatoes at planting party in May

So while you wait for the tomatoes to ripen, go ahead and 
try making some herb oil this summer with herbs from your garden.
And then, in a few weeks you can drizzle the luscious oil 
over the tomatoes and basil!

Also, soon to appear on our restaurant menus is eggplant. 
We are growing several at the farm including 
Listada de Gandia, Rosa Bianca, Black Beauty and Aswad
photo by Steven Krause
first of the Black Beauty eggplants at the farm
Aswad is the Arabic word for eggplant. 
We are especially excited about planting this one.
Available from Iraq, this season is the first time 
these are available in the United States
A very heat tolerant fruit, we expect this eggplant variety to fare very well in Sonoma 
(like tomatoes, an eggplant is really a fruitin fact many vegetables 
are considered fruitscheck this out).
Aswads are dark and satiny, almost black and can weigh up to 3 pounds! 
They are perfect for grilling or baking. We wonder what the chefs will do with them?

 This Aswad eggplant will soon be over 3 lbs!
Aswad eggplants growing behind ESTATE
And, talking about proliferationin last week's post, we talked about 
preparing for Fall with our planting of winter squash in the lower beds. 
Beginning of Autumn plants side by side with our Summer bounty. 
Well, the chefs may be incorporating those squash into menus sooner than we thought: 
Look how much growth occurred in just a week!

Check back at this blog to see what is growing next week 
and what the chefs have created with the gems 
they found at the farm this week.


More than one season at the farm

At the farm, we experience more than one season at a time. 
We are certainly well past spring and into summer now
as the plantings we put in the ground 
at our May "planting party" are now taking off. 
The chefs are having fun with all the padron peppers, which are in full swing. 

first plant in the ground (a padron) 
padron plant now 
Padron peppers are one of many chile peppers. 
Check out an interesting article in the current issue of Whole Living Magazine 
(including a "Pain O Meter" to help measure chile's heat) that details a lot about 
what a key ingredient chiles are for so many cultures: 
"Consumed in larger quantities by more people around the globe than any other spice, 
it's the underpinning of virtually every cuisine. 
Where would salsa, kimchi, and curry be without it? 
But because of the chile's signature bite, it's all too easy to forget 
its other qualities -- above all, flavor. 
Each chile contains a unique blend of notes ranging from 
nut to molasses, tobacco to licorice, citrus to stone fruit. 
And then there are its not insignificant health benefits. 
The heat in chiles dilates blood vessels, stimulating circulation and perspiration 
and speeding along digestion; when applied topically,
it's been known to relieve everything from headaches to psoriasis to shingles. 
Talk about a Renaissance fruit."

It definitely feels like summer in the upper quadrants at the farm 
with thriving basil, eggplant, summer squash including zucchini, lemon 
and white scallop varieties, merlin beets and sunchokes 
along with the padron peppers in just one section. 
And right next to all this, tarragon, asparagus, swiss chard, kale, fennel, carrots, 
lemon verbena and a few of the 350 tomato plants are growing.

summer squash, padrons and eggplants

sunchoke plants are almost 5' tall already. They can grow to 8 feet

first of the heirloom tomatoes appearing
But since our farm is a year round project, we are to committed succession planting 
where we plant at different times to vary our harvesting times. 

tomatoes, cucumbers and the abundant upper quad
overlook the lower quad planted with winter squash
So, here we are in July picking carrots and beets in the morning 
for the bartender at the girl & the fig to make a truly farm-inspired "Harlot" cocktail 
with carrot and beet juice spiked with Tequila 
(a server refers to it as "an intoxicated Jack La Lanne!"), 
while the lower beds are planted with winter squash.

photo by Jerry James Stone

Talk about thinking seasonally. 
Being sure the farm is planted for the season ahead 
even while we are picking what's fresh today gives us greater flexibility, 
is better for the soil as we change what is in the ground and 
certainly guarantees that the chefs always have farm fresh produce 
to feature on the menu.

summer and fall side by side: cucumbers and winter squash
 While you are picking the fresh herbs you've planted 
on your window sill or in your backyard, it is not too early to think
 about what you can plant for fall

So, go ahead be in summer mode and 
savor blistering padron peppers now while they are in season. 
(this video shows you how easy this is to do)

While you enjoy the heat of the peppers and the season though, 
do think ahead to fall, so you will be able to continue appreciating 
your farm project during cooler times. 
As we pick our summer lemon squash, we know it won't be all that long 
before the chefs will be serving
the winter squash that is just beginning to grow. 
honey-glazed winter squash on pg. 256 of Plats du Jour cookbook
photo by Steven Krause

What's in your summer garden? 
And what do you plant for Fall? 

Best time for gardeners

This is the best time of year for anyone's farm project, no matter how big or small. 
If you haven't gotten everything you want in the ground, there is still time to plant. 
Or, if all the hard work of prepping, amending soil, tilling, 
and then the actual planting is behind you, 
now you are experiencing the daily surprises 
when a blossom appears one day, becomes fruit the next 
or you see your plantings multiply in size and height from day to day.
beams at ESTATE last week
and now!

For our farm project, which encompasses several different areas in Sonoma Valley, 
our work at the biodynamic farm at Imagery Estate Winery has been ongoing 
since March as we harvested our winter garden and 
transitioned to spring/summer plantings. 
We are looking forward to seeing how much different 
these beds look from the planting party in May. 

Stay tuned and check back here to see our progress.

But,  perhaps like many of you, we are also still in planting mode. 
There is a completely new addition to the girl & the fig farm project
we've added herb beds on the patio of our brand new culinary event space, Suite D

These herb beds are almost arms reach out the door of our catering kitchen 
so the chefs there can have the same convenience as our restaurant chefs. 
That motivated the choice of what we planted, but of course, 
the herbs are also a part of the ornamental design of the patio space. 

We are growing parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, 
rosemary, basil, chocolate mint, amaranth and pineapple sage.

Hummingbirds love pineapple sage for the beautiful red flowers. 
There is some debate as to whether that is really true, 
but one theory about why hummingbirds are attracted to plants with red flowers 
is "that since insects don't see the color red, they avoid the flowers, 
leaving more nectar for the hummingbirds." 
We aren't sure if this is true, but we do know how much we will enjoy the red flowers 
and the hummingbirds when the pineapple sage is blooming at Suite D. 
Pineapple sage are the tall plants with chives, thyme, rosemary and oregano
in the same bed is parsley and chocolate mint
Amaranth is a striking plant and has been cultivated for centuries.
According to GardenGuides.com:  "Native peoples of both North and South America
once considered amaranth a staple food crop.
First cultivated several thousand years ago, the plant peaked
in agricultural importance during the 1400s when it became a mainstay
of the Aztecs in central Mexico. In the 1970s, American researchers rediscovered
amaranth's potential, particularly as a protein-rich gluten-free grain."
Amaranth plant at Suite D

If the leaves are harvested when they are young, 
they taste like beet greens. You can also use the seeds. 
Wonder what the chefs will do with them?
With the amaranth are chives,basil, chocolate mint, oregano and rosemary in this bed

The other great thing about this time of year 
aside from the simultaneous planting and the harvesting, 
is the simultaneous "picking it fresh from the garden and eating it the same day!" 
Summer is all about these fresh herbs, vegetable and fruits, 
which we pick in the morning, bring to the chefs for them
 to transform for you to enjoy at the table later that day. 

as long as we can, we grow radishes at the farm for one of our signature salads
And of course, you can do the same at home. 
It doesn't matter how big your  farm project is, for you to have this experience. 

Gayla Trail, one of the first gardening bloggers, is called the "garden guru."  
In addition to her inspiring books, here is an interview she did about  
"small space gardening" with emphasis on herbs. 
No backyard or window sill? How about a rooftop garden

Check in and let us know if you are still planting or now beginning to harvest.
What are you growing and how are you using it?