Wednesday, July 29, 2009

greenhouse update

Things seem to be going pretty well in the greenhouse. I have quite a few idle squares and need to look into appropriate plantings.

Some of the beet roots are big enough to eat now. The basil has done well with some pinching. I think it would work to put four per square. The green onions seem very slow. The romaine has done well considering the heat.

The lemon cucumber was started from seed and has really taken off lately. It has fruit on it. I don't think I'm supposed to have it in the greenhouse with another cucumber, but they are far apart so I guess I'll take my chances. If either one starts producing something horribly mutated I guess I'll know why. This one has done far better than the one I put on the deck.

The chrysanthemum was flowering when I put it in, finished, and started again a few weeks ago. I need to get the parsnips into a permanent home. Planted more carrots, green onions, and leeks several weeks ago. Next time I should put the tomatoes behind the netting. The strawberries never did well, and most died both indoors and out. I am really displeased with that supplier.

The peppers are doing well aside from a recent blossom die-off. I think it was water stress.

I brought these strawberries indoors recently and they have been really happy. They are more vigorous than the ones I left outside. I've been picking a few now and then but until I brought them in the berries were always eaten by critters. Maybe starting them outside and bringing them in is a good approach, although I did think it would be too warm.

After fertilizing and watering more frequently it looks like the blossom end rot may not be affecting more tomatoes. We'll see.

It was already over 90 degrees outside when I took this photo so the chard is wilted, but it has been doing great. The greenhouse cucumbers have taken off and are setting fruit.


This beefsteak tomato broke in half a few weeks ago, I think from wind when both doors were open. I splinted and wrapped it and it is surviving so far.

The aphids went to town on this eggplant but it seems healthy enough.

These pots dry out completely in a single hot day.

 Next time I plant nasturtiums I'll have to give them something better to climb. They seem to do it well.

Compare to the greenhouse update from four weeks ago.

edible flowers

My mom sent this list of edible flowers that she clipped from a magazine years ago:

Begonia, tuberousorange, pink, red, yellow, whitelemon
Borageblue, lavendercucumber
Calendulaorange, yellowspicy, pepper
Carnationlavender, pink, redpepper, cloves
Chrysanthemummany colorsfaint to distinct bitterness
Daisy, Englishpastels, whitetangy lettuce
Dianthusmany colorscloves
Fuchsiamany colorstart
Geraniumpink, peach, red, whitediffers with variety
Hollyhocklavender, pink, red, whitemild lettuce
Johnny-jump-uppurple, white, yellowmild lettuce
Lavenderpurplefloral, pungent
Marigoldorange, yellowspicy, mildly bitter
Nasturtiumorange, red, yellowhorseradish
Pansymany colorssweet, mild
Rosemany colorsfloral, delicate
Rosemarylight bluepine resin
Sagemany colorssage, differs with variety
Squash blossomyellowfaintly sweet, mild lettuce
Stockpink, purple, white, yellowspicy, sweet
Thymepurple, whitethyme
Violamany colorsmild lettuce

I just wandered outside and tried:
  • Chrysanthemum, purple, which was indeed bitter. It also had an interesting chloroform flavor and slightly numbed my tongue.
  • Dianthus, and didn't really detect a clove flavor. Bitter, mostly. Perhaps it's old; certainly it's baked after today's 102 degree heat. There was something more than bitterness present, to be sure.
  • Fuchsia, which is both tart and somewhat bitter.
  • Geranium, a dark pink zonal and a bright pink ivy. Quite tart.
  • Marigold, which I thought was more than mildly bitter. I ate it after the chrysanthemum, though, with a decidedly prejudiced palate.
  • Nasturtium, which is sweet as well as spicy. The stems are delicious.
  • Rose, species unknown. Small open blossoms, not big ruffly ones. Surprisingly tart and not delicate. I've had others that fit the description better. 
  • Squash, yellow zucchini. Lettuce is a good description.
I'll have to wait on rosemary and thyme. Earlier in the season I had radish, lettuce, and bok choi flowers, all of which are good.

Monday, July 20, 2009

bolted green salad

I figured I should make what use I could of some greens that had bolted or were on the verge. That included bok choi, spinach, bibb lettuce, and something from a mesclun mix that I can't identify. The unknown green had a bit of heat. For some additional zip I added shredded basil, nasturtium blossoms, and bok choi flowers. A few fuchsia petals finished it off. 100% home grown!

I made a vinaigrette with fresh thyme and a peach vinegar. Quite a good salad. I love nasturtiums and they contributed greatly to the overall effect.

Friday, July 17, 2009

roma grape tomato

Plucked and ate the first roma grape tomato today. It was a bit early, but had really nice flavor. Slightly tart but the impending sweetness was evident.

This plant has serious blossom end rot problems. I hope the fertilizing and more vigilant watering will prevent it from happening to the fruits that are currently unscathed.

I'm not sure whether these will end up being partially edible or whether I should take them off now.

hops progress

The three hops that sprouted are doing pretty well. They aren't yet putting out much in the way of side shoots but they're all at six feet or more and climbing happily. I've continued to crush aphids on occasion but they don't seem to be a huge problem.

Here's the Cascade:

And the Centennial:

And the Golding:

sixth brew (goldenflower ale), part 2

By the morning of the 17th there was no more airlock action from the goldenflower ale. I figured I'd rack to a secondary for dry-hopping with a half ounce of Fuggles. Having done so, I now think it was a stupid thing to do. I was thinking that attenuation was complete and that I'd leave most of the yeast behind, ending up with a clearer final product. Halfway through the transfer I took a sample and measured the gravity at about 1.023. I then decided I'd better make sure to move as much yeast as possible into the secondary after all. So the net result of the whole operation is that I have a bunch of equipment that needs cleaning and a batch of beer that has had one more chance to pick up something unwanted.

I really should have waited for the krausen to disappear, but after my last batch with this American Ale yeast I didn't think it would happen. Impatient and stupid. I guess I'll let it dry-hop for at least several days and take another reading. Bah.

The Fuggles are pellets at 4% AA. I put them in a hop-boiling bag, which I hope will contain most of the goo. I'm probably not going to be in the mood to rack to another bottling bucket so will likely do it right from the secondary.

As for flavor, it is very sweet and the honey is strong. There is some bitterness, although I'm not sure I can isolate the hop contribution from the yeast, and no hop aroma. I didn't detect it when it was at room temperature, but after chilling there seemed to be a bit of phenolic flavor.

It began bubbling again almost immediately.

2009-07-20 update: It blew bubbles for a day and then stopped. As with the previous light ale, it still has a big layer of krausen. I'll give it a couple more days and check the gravity.

2009-07-24 update: Krausen dropped and gravity is 1.010. The sweetness has diminished greatly. Hint of honey still there. Phenolic flavor definitely present. Despite the dry hopping, no hop aroma. It doesn't do much for me at this point. I guess I can bottle any time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

first bok choi

I think the bok choi all bolted the instant they sprouted. Rather than producing big heads with heavy stalks they are leggy and now adorned with pretty little yellow flowers. Tonight I figured I'd try them out anyhow and snipped a couple.

The leaf flavor is about normal. The lower part of the stalk is tough, but toward the top it is startlingly sweet. And the flowers are surprisingly tasty, not bitter as I expected.

I stir fried them, flowers and all, with a few other vegetables in sesame oil and a bit of butter, including king oyster mushrooms. I discovered those recently and can't get enough of them.

Tossed with miki noodles, and finished with seasoned rice vinegar and soy sauce. Not bad at all.

grilled curried swai

I had an itch for grilled fish so I swung by the HT Oak Tree Asian market to see what looked interesting. They had really big fat fillets of basa catfish at the counter, but when I asked for a couple I was directed toward the frozen packages in a nearby cooler. English is not the first language of any HT employee I've ever spoken with, but I think the deal was that she was doing me a favor by steering me toward some that were still frozen and were two to a package. They may also have been less expensive.

Well, they weren't as nice and thick as the ones that caught my eye, but looked like they'd do fine so I grabbed them. At home, upon closer inspection, I noticed that they weren't labeled basa after all. They were swai, or Pangasius hypophthalmus. Swai is also a southeast Asian catfish, and is frequently sold as basa. Those two wikipedia links, as well as this Basa buyer's guide, have some interesting history about the "catfish wars" and fish counterfeiting.

In any event, I cut up the fillets, marinated them for 90 minutes in a curry sauce, and skewered them.

The grill wasn't as clean as it should have been so I lost some tasty bits, but they turned out decently. It's a very mild fish, of course, and I thought the combination overall was excellent.

I used a similar marinade for grilled chicken thighs the other night. Very, very good. The ingredients are:
  • mayonnaise
  • enough olive oil to thin it a bit
  • mild curry powder
  • ground cumin seed
  • minced garlic
  • cracked black pepper
  • salt
I just wing the proportions. It's good with powdered ginger, too. It doesn't have much heat, so cayenne or another hot pepper can be added for that. It stands up really well to grilling, even at high heats. I think it would be great on lamb, too.

first collard greens

I snipped a few collard greens the other night. They were considerably smaller, brighter, and less leathery than the ones I typically see in the grocery store.

Sauteed with butter, then salted and peppered. Quite nice! Just a bit of zip; I expect that the heat develops with age.

Just for fun I recently put a couple of plants in the old inverted tomato pots, since I've given up on that idea. I might try some upside-down brussels sprouts too.

potato box inspection

I took a lower board off one of the potato boxes to see whether there were any potatoes. There were plenty of fine roots, but no visible spuds. I didn't dig into the soil to be certain, though. These are late harvest varieties (Desiree and Yellow Finn), so perhaps it's not unexpected that they haven't produced anything yet. I suppose that what's happening at this point, with the vines being continually covered with more dirt as they grow, is that a continuous root system is being built and it's only later that the tubers appear.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

blossom end rot on tomatoes and zucchini

All of the tomatoes except the cherries seem to be struggling with this product of calcium deficiency. I fertilized the tomatoes with a Whitney Gardens organic product, as well as the peppers. I may add some lime as well. Here are a few references:
The deficiency can be due to inadequate calcium in the soil, insufficient water, excessive vegetative growth, competitive cations in the soil, or moisture fluctuations. I don't think it's a watering problem, but I haven't actually tested the soil. I'm not seeing inordinate foliar growth so I doubt it's a nitrogen imbalance. They are growing in the shallow square foot beds, though, so perhaps they are experiencing too much moisture variability even though I usually water every couple of days. I need to get an automatic irrigation system set up in there.

A few zucchini have shown the problem as well. I'll fertilize those. Should hit the eggplants, too.

I don't yet have any sense of what the latency is with respect to calcium availability and uptake.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

sixth brew (goldenflower ale), part 1

My starter recipe for this simple summertime pale ale was Peter Berger's Goldenflower Ale. His description:
This is an extremely estery beer...heavy on the pear and raspberry. If you want to understand the difference between ale and lager, brew this one. It is the epitome of "fruity." The slight hop aroma and very mild bitterness, tied with the lightness of the beer, really allow the esters to shine through; I suspect the honey aided them strongly.
  • 3.5 pounds Laaglander dry extra light malt
  • 1 pound fragrant clover honey
  • 8 grams Galena hops (8% alpha) (boil)
  • 1/2 ounce Fuggles hops (dry hop)
  • Wyeast American Ale yeast
The choice of American Ale yeast for something that's "extremely estery" and the "epitome of fruity" seems odd, since Wyeast's description is "Low fruitiness and mild ester production".

This is the first time I've brewed with honey.

The Laaglander malt is no longer available, as far as I can tell. It seems to have had a questionable reputation. I decided to give Brewmasters Warehouse a try for ingredients for this and my next brew. They carry Munton's extra light DME, $3.99/pound, so that's what I got.

The Galena plug hops were 14.2% AA. According to Palmer, Galena is a U.S.-grown strong, clean, bittering hop with a citrusy aroma and AA range of 12 - 14%. That makes me wonder whether the 8 grams or 8% in the recipe isn't a typo: 0.028 ounces, for 2.2 alpha acid units? (And what's with mixing metric and standard units?) I decided to use half an ounce; I don't mind if it's hoppy.

I wanted a light color, so decided to boil just a pound of the DME for the full hour and add the remainder and the honey for the final 10 minutes. Per my earlier research, having some sugars and enzymes helps with hop utilization, so you don't want to boil the hops in only water. DME yields about 44 points per pound per gallon, so the initial boil gravity was 1.015. According to this utilization calculator, that's about 33 IBUs per the Tinseth method. Adding the rest of the DME and the honey (38 PPG) brings the gravity up to 1.064, so 10 minutes of boiling at the higher gravity might reduce the IBUs by about 5. I doubt it works quite that simply, though.

The Wyeast 1056 American Ale smack pack did not inflate per my expectations. It took a cross-country trip with cold packs that had completely melted by arrival, so I wonder whether it isn't in poor health. It puffed slightly, but nothing like it usually does after four hours. This is the yeast I just used for the light ale so I am making a recent comparison.

Pitched the yeast at 76 degrees. Once again I couldn't cool the wort as quickly as I wanted. I keep forgetting how long those cold packs take to freeze. They really need to go into the freezer the day before, at the latest. I ended up using a gallon of cold water to aid in cooling from 90 degrees, and may have aerated more than desirable at that temperature. I need to turn that copper coil Joe gave me into a chiller some time soon.

There was some conversation at the last homebrew club meeting about whether hot-side aeration isn't actually a somewhat mythical effect, though. People seem to have plenty of personal experience with aerating hot wort and not experiencing any off flavors due to oxidation. Someone described an experiment in which the wort was split, with the test portion being aerated likely crazy while hot. There was apparently no difference when compared to the control. Unconvincing in a single experiment, but perhaps it's not an effect that's as likely to occur as we've been led to believe.

Original gravity is about 1.043, adjusted for temperature. The wort has is moderately bitter, quite sweet, and the honey is evident. Not much maltiness, as one would expect.

Update: Visible fermentation was a little slow to start, but by the morning of the 14th it was bubbling pretty vigorously. By evening it was continuous. Temperature was 67 degrees. I have the fermenter downstairs, where the temperature should be consistent within a couple of degrees.

Update: Still bubbling every 5 seconds the evening of the 16th.

first swiss chard

Chard seems to do very well in the greenhouse. I cut a few stalks this evening and cooked them with canned tomatoes, chickpeas, garlic, scallions, olive oil, cracked black pepper, and fines herbes. Superb!

I harvested the outermost leaves of two or three plants. I'm hoping that they will keep producing.

North Seattle Homebrew Club meeting

I attended my second North Seattle Homebrew Club meeting the other night. Good bunch of people. These meetings are great fun. Next month there probably won't be a meeting, due to Beerstock 5060 being held at Mark and Alison's place.

Andy, who was hosting, had some healthy-looking hops in their second year. He's growing them zig-zag fashion in order to maximize his vertical space at the back of the house. Looks like a workable idea. Might make sense to do that against the fence where I'm growing mine now.

I brought the light ale. I didn't catch much feedback, though Paul said he liked it a lot. It was kind of a raucous point in the meeting so I'm not sure whether it didn't get much attention or whether people were politely withholding comment. I do recall some discussion of the interesting color.

Kevin from The Cellar had a ginger molasses porter that I really liked. Some people thought it needed more body (that would make it more similar to other porters, in my experience), and more alcohol in order to better carry the spice notes, but I'm pretty sure I'd prefer it the way it was. I don't usually like a porter as a warm weather beer but this one would do. It was like an adult root beer or ginger beer.

There were a couple of strawberry wheats. One used a flavor extract and the other used fresh and frozen berries. The tartness of the real berries came through, which I enjoyed, but there was also a flavor that I associate with frozen berries and don't like much. It would be fun to make one of these, though.

beer judge certification program

While surveying the local beer clubs I saw that the Cascade Brewers Guild had a beer judge certification program (BJCP) study group last fall. Judging would be fun, but learning enough about beer characteristics to be a judge would be great. This study guide and style guidelines look like a good place to start.

radish green soup

Unfortunately, I composted four of the six radish squares that were all top, no radish, thinking that they weren't a palatable green. Turns out that there are quite a few recipes out there. The flavor and spiciness are compared to watercress.

I found several recipes online for radish green soup. I considered two in particular: radish top soup, and radish greens soup. Both use stock, potatoes, and some dairy. I ended up using a very meaty homemade chicken stock, potatoes, onions, half-and-half, butter, and lots of greens. I used a hand blender to smooth it out.

It turned out fine, though the dominant flavors were the stock and the potatoes. Whenever I make a creamy potato soup I'm always struck by how strongly it triggers a clam chowder association. If I were tasting blind I'm not sure I'd even know the radish greens were there. In the future I think I'd probably use them as stir fry or salad greens instead.

I discovered that some of the tops had small seed pods. Now those are tasty! They are like crisp edible pod peas but with a radish flavor. I wonder how close to maturity they can get before they lose their appeal. They made a nice garnish.

Bruce Frankel's grilled bread

After the success of the grilled foccacia I wanted to try another one of the grilled breads in The Barbecue Bible. This was Bruce Frankel's Grilled Bread, from his Panache restaurant.

It's one third whole wheat and has a bit of molasses, for a lightly sweet and nutty flavor. Takes a couple of hours to rise and each small bread is done in just a minute or two per side, so it can be done with little planning and is easily grilled after something else comes off and is resting.

It's topped with olive oil, cracked pepper, and fresh thyme. It was excellent with chevre. Next time I might make a smaller number of larger breads, and perhaps try for something a little thicker and softer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Seattle International Beerfest

I spent Friday afternoon and evening at the Seattle International Beerfest at the Seattle Center. There were 153 beers available, plus quite good music, and unbelievable weather for the first week of July in Seattle. I spoke to a few volunteers who seemed to be having a fine time. I might think about volunteering next year.

I tried:
  • Weinhenstephaner Hefe-Weissbier.
  • Reissdorf Kolsch.
  • Great Divide Double Wit.
  • Cascade Gold Yeller Belgian Ale. This sour ale aged in French oak wine barrels was my favorite. Totally loved it. Too bad there's no way to get it without going to the Raccoon Lodge brewpub in Beaverton. It looks like it may be a one-time creation, too. I will definitely undertake an exploration of sour ales.
  • Henney's Vintage Cider. Excellent. Really smooth, low carbonation, slightly bitter finish.
  • Ace Joker Strong Cider. Not bad. Dry and incredibly pale. I wonder how they get that color.
  • JW Lees Lagavulin. This was 6 tickets. It's an English barleywine aged in Lagavulin whisky casks. Very rich, sweet, smooth, and with a subtle Scotch flavor. I liked it but would not pay what I think the 9 ounce bottles cost.
  • Dupont Avril Table Bier. I probably should have done some palate scrubbing after the barleywine before trying this saison. Not much to it.
  • Alagash FOUR.
  • Urthel Hop-It. This is supposed to be a hoppy strong Belgian pale, but I didn't find it to be all that hoppy. I wouldn't have guessed the claimed 80 IBUs, perhaps because of the overall balance.
  • Old Lompoc LSD.
  • Cascade Jellyroll. This chick beer seemed to be very popular so I tried it. It's a raspberry wheat, deliciously pink, super clean, and probably the best fruit beer I've had.
Plus the biergarten had Peroni and Pilsner Urquell on tap, so I had a few of those. I'm not wild about either, but it was nice to have full pints while listening to the bands. And I rather enjoy rolling the many Rs in Perrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroni.

There were many others I'd have liked to try but it was getting late, I ran out of cash, and I'd had plenty of beer for one day. I could easily spend all three days tasting.

I ran into Zach, a guy I met at my first North Seattle Homebrew club meeting (his first, too), and hung out with him and his wife, Jackie, for a while. He brought a Flanders Red sour beer to the club meeting, the first I'd ever had, and I loved it. I meant to try the Duchesse de Bourgogne Flanders Red for comparison but didn't get to it.

Of the four bands I saw, I really enjoyed Curtains For You, and Knut Bell & the Blue Collars.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

broiled spice-rubbed quail

I picked up a package of quail (frozen, sadly) at the same market where I bought the rabbit. I've never eaten or cooked quail so I don't have a good basis for comparison, but I was fairly pleased with the way they turned out.

I used a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook. I really like that book. The quail are given a rub of salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and allspice.

After marinating, they are brushed with olive oil and broiled for about four or five minutes per side.

The sauce is interesting, made from chicken stock, lime juice, molasses, scallions, and butter. It's described as a contemporary version of the classic French gastrique, a reduction of sugar and red wine vinegar. I thought it was excellent. I would reduce it well beyond what the recipe called for, though, if I made it again. "Slightly thickened" did not result in something that adheres well to the birds.

The flesh was tasty if unremarkable. Perhaps a bit sweeter than chicken, and a little more robust. Isaac was much more interested in the anatomy than he ever has been about a whole chicken. I think he felt a bit of sadness for what he envisioned as a cute little bird. But it was a good chance to talk about whether it had a rib cage, whether all vertebrates have rib cages (I couldn't think of one that didn't), what kinds of internal organs had been removed from the cavity, and what had become of its head.

I'd try to crisp the skin more next time. I do suspect that fresh birds would be more flavorful and juicy. I'm pretty sure I've seen them at Central Market; I should do a comparison with the same recipe.

I also made a red lentil soup using a sturdy homemade chicken stock as a base. Nothing else but lentils, salt, and pepper, and it was very satisfying.

A side dish was zucchini sautéed in butter and garlic with wilted spinach. Excellent. Nice crunch from the squash to complement the smoothness of the baby spinach. And I'd eat my flip flops with enough butter and garlic.

first zucchini

We had our first zucchini the other night.

Tracey isn't a huge fan, but I love it and the boys like it fine. I did a pretty standard sauté of zucchini, tomato, onion, and garlic, with fresh basil from the garden. Very nice! Freshness sure counts for a lot.

At the current rate of production it's looking like we'll have two or three small ones (6 - 8 inches) every few days. I'll probably have to get creative before long.

greenhouse update

I'm still getting a feel for what works in the greenhouse and what doesn't. It's pretty clear that a number of plants would like more light. I think once I install the permanent glazing, and get closer to 90% transmission, much of that problem will be addressed. There are some areas that do get less light, so I also need to make sure that plants with the highest light requirements don't go there. The nasturtiums in the chimney corner are extremely leggy, for example.

I'm very pleased with the tomatoes. The first cherry tomatoes are showing some color (photos from 6/29) and all varieties are flowering and producing well. I've been tapping the flowers every day or two for pollination.

I lost a few peppers both indoors and out but the survivors are becoming robust and setting fruit.

The Tall Telegraph greenhouse cucumbers are beginning to accelerate. They took a very long time to get started. This is one of the darker areas of the greenhouse because of a shadow from the balcony. It may turn out that cucumbers are a bad choice for this spot.

This Japanese eggplant start is doing nicely. In the last couple of days it has grown noticeably and has at least one fruit. It was a purchased start; there are lots of others that I planted from seed that are still small.

I have lots of bok choi in various locations. They are all doing about the same, and some are beginning to flower.

Swiss chard is a little wilted in the heat here, but it perks back up when it cools and is growing rapidly.

Beets are very vigorous. I haven't checked a root yet, but the greens look great.

All geraniums are happy.

This little fuchsia is beginning to produce nicely, too.

In general the lettuces I've planted seem to think it's too hot. The romaine might be doing OK, but the mesclun is very sparse. Bibbs might be doing OK too. The supposedly heat-tolerant spinach is growing slowly but at least it hasn't bolted.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased. I'm sure that I should have waited longer to buy peppers, and of course I should grow greens mainly in the cool months. Cilantro has been a total bust, usually sprouting but dying at a small size. Outdoors it has done better. Lots of basil hasn't even germinated, and what has is growing unbelievably slowly. Leeks haven't done very well either indoors, but the he-shi-ko green onions have.