Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happiness factor? Limitless. It's so nice to see a garden this vibrant with color and it's even better to taste the results of nature. I have to thank Eddie because I left this lovely garden to go on vacation and literally came back to Eden! For the past two weeks, we been living off the yields and loving it! THIS is why we produce food in our backyard-I get it now and am very grateful to my friend Eddie and Mother Nature for the experience.     

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Months have passed. We've planned, built, tilled, hauled, composted, seeded, planted, watered, and hauled, composted, tilled, seeded, and planted some more until our backs and arms ached and finally grew strong--at least strong enough to lose the memory of the ache and regain a longing to do it all over again. Spend a long morning in a huddle with crabgrass and a soaker and yet another group of muscles make themselves known. Lettuce, cabbage, arugula, spinach and Swiss chard are ready for a dowsing of balsamic and olive oil. Rows of younger plants have been lined up for the march toward the salad bowls. 
Snow peas are hanging from pink-flowered vines in sweet, electric transluscence; a handful of the crunchy green crescents graced a stir-fry and shared a few intimate moments with radishes, walnuts, and apples earlier this week. A pea arbor took shape from Black Walnut saplings and a roll of elastic banding, remnants from last year's tutu sewing fest. Soft white flowers are appearing on the pea vines and yellow blossoms are just showing their heads on the dozen tomato plants, themselves fragrant of sour apple earthiness. Lacy carrot tops wave beneath the afternoon shade of the spring-happy leafiness of the persimmon tree. They'll be harvested long before Fall, before the persimmons begin tumbling into the beds. Beets are poking the tops of their scarlet heads above the soft earth and beneath the green fête of leaves. Impatience for their bleeding heads is soothed by summoning a few of the beet leaves to the table.

The radishes are in full party mode, spicy, crisp--bite into one and know the taste of a Spring fiesta. Pásame el guacamole, por favor! An army of squash--winter, summer, yellow, acorn, butternut, pumpkin and the venerable foot soldier, zucchini, are vigorously conquering their northwestern patch of the garden, intent on the invasion of the entire yard. The peppers, egg plant and melons are petulant, peevishly waiting for summer, for the fog to dissipate and the heat to coax them into sweetness.

Dozens of seedlings are growing restive and rangy in starter beds, waiting for us to tuck them into the beds. The borders of the yard have been amended, too. A phalanx of vines growing on the fences have been put at bay, at least momentarily. Time to get to work, to scratch a few more furrows, to sow a few more seeds, appease the seedlings, water, weed...plant some more.

A garden party is in the planning stages. We beta-tested last Sunday with sons and girlfriends, celebrating Luke's MFA and Mark's MRED acceptance. The sun was warm, the kids lounged under the persimmon's shade, we picked herbs and limes to dress the meal with, tossed garden greens into a salad, munched radishes and peas, and savored chocolate love cakes with rasberries and ice cream. Life is good.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

From the earth; buying dirt Where do you buy good organic compost in Ventura? After an exhaustive internet search and several e-mail pleas for help we went back to Agromin's OMRI certified compost. OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) is a non-profit organization who reviews products against National Organic Standards set by the USDA. The compost is "clean green" waste that exemplified the odorless "black gold" lore I have been reading about in organic gardening pages and posts. It costs @$35 and can be picked upon a pick up or delivered for $75. We decided to pick up a truck load full at their site in Hueneme at the bitter end of the Oxnard plain. After dodging tractors, we finally located the office and were greeted by a very friendly, Isabel who arranged our order. Our truck takes 1 1/2 cubic yard but we're now ready to go and get more to mix in to the rest of the garden. I was pleased to hear that Agromin is family owned and operated and treat their employees well. Even buying dirt means a conscious choice and for the foundation of our harvest, it was well worth the effort (and possible shock absorber replacement)!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Garden Work

From the garden:  now we have to plant those little seedlings in the dirt. Welcome to Phase 1 of the raised bed project. We bought good dirt, found organic compost (Agromin) and bought the lumber for the beds. In saying this , it doesn't seem like a lot of work, but with busy schedules, other projects, deadlines etc., the garden sat for a week in this shape. However, the underlying committment is still there to work on it even if  only those few moments during the week  can be spared. While it is a long time from this moment to harvest, it will be worth it-at least that's what I keep telling myself when overwhelm and dread creep in.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Brewhouse; simply delicious

One of my favorite places to go in SB is the Brewhouse. This out-of-the-way locals haunt features non-chic decor including plastic chairs on the patio to 1979 restaurant issue bistro chairs and tables indoors. There are heat lamps outdoors, a treat on a nice wind-free evening like last night. The noise level can be unbearable inside, menu too vast to decide in a reasonable and wayward cigarette smoke on the patio annoying, but it's my first choice for good food. Why? The enchiladas.
I get the same thing every time because I can't imagine my dining experience without them. I have been more adventerous in the past and recommend many things on the vast menu, of late, I find my order to remain consistant mignon enchiladas

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Cherimoyas and Passion fruit from local growers is such a decadent treat to me, that I am transported to springtime 1994 and my Sunday outdoor market fruit and vegetable experiences in Frigiliana, Spain. I was living in nearby, Nerja and would hike the 15 km (@9+miles) to this quaint "Casa Blanca" village to do discover new tastes and flavors of the Mediterranean. The Cherymoya was the strangest of fruit I had ever seen, but like most sub and tropical fruit, they're not always appealing from the outside like an apple or a grape. What I found inside was sweetness and a texture similar to papaya. With lemon or lime drizzed on top, it became perfume-like; a unique flavor I have not forgotten.

I love that food can transport you to far-a-way places like another country or your grandmother's kitchen. I often recall a "food event" or menu that was so over-top good in such detail to friends, family and co-workers that
I'm sure their polite nods and smiles signal their boredom with my alacrity. Only another foodie gets it and when we meet up, can we both enjoy such simple pleasures as a spoonful of mouthwatering and fragrant Passionfruit.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green Pizza Day!!

St. Patrick's Day pizza with whole wheat crust from Taffy's in Santa Barbara. Now all we need are Shamrock shakes from McConnell's!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is it Spring yet?

I'm percolating. That's the best I can do while stewing with the flu. Of course, what I'm percolating in my body wouldn't look pretty on a petri dish.  Perhaps my mental percolations might be prettier. Let's see...the view from my bed is gorgeous. The grass is a brilliant green, matched only by the slopes rolling beneath the blue, blue (did I say, 'blue'?) sky behind it. I'm imaging the grass in roto-tilled glory before the end of next week, the soil amended and the rows hoed into soft, compliant geometric beds, just waiting for the seedlings that are now busting out of their containers on the back patio. (Someone needs to send in a posse with hoes and a good bag of horse manure to stop them!) I'm imaging the blowzy heads of roses, perfuming the air, pink, crimson and white petals confetti-ing the yard (can you tell I'm a Kurosawa fan?), butterflies, bees and hummingbirds busily doing whatever it is butterflies, bees and hummingbirds do best. I'm imagining a jewel box of purple and crimson berries on vines and trellises. I'm not imagining vegetables, though, because...well, there's the flu and...lettuce, turnips and beets...oh, my! Today, I'm going to find a source for hay, horse manure and help.  Even though what I really need is straw and relief from this flu, you gotta love how those alliteratives work in the garden, too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Magic! True, less legerdemain (we crudely dumped dirt and sifted seeds) than bio-wonder of sunlight, rain, and earth, but still...magic! How easy it is to take sunlight, water and dirt for granted, that is until you need a harmonious marriage to produce the edible fourth bio-wonder that is food, in this case, Mesclun! It had been three days since we put the seeds into ground when these little ladies began peering from their cozy beds. I first noticed a sprinkle of green knots on Monday afternoon, but was too busy cooking for company (a warm and savory squash and red rice salad) to give them my full attention. Yesterday shreds of dark clouds teased but didn't deliver rain, so I recruited the watering can and gave the girls a bath (Yet more magic--the magic of the tap!). Today, the shoots have multiplied and all three pots are promising salad days ahead. The radish seeds and two hardy green bean seeds are also working their way to the salad bowl. I feel somewhat rapacious talking about mini-miracles as dinner...I'll have to rely on forgiveness through a heartfelt and thankful grace. Please pass the salad dressing!

On a sober note, because the Catholic in me has to balance the pagan, we will have to address "the magic of the tap" in future posts. There is only so much hubris a belly can host without getting completely bloated. For today, I'll thank the water gods and the city of Ventura's Environmental and Water Resources agency and the city's water sources. According to information on the city's public works page
there are five water sources that provide water to the City water system:
1. Ventura River surface and subsurface water intakes and four shallow wells (Foster Park)
2. Casitas Municipal Water District (Casitas)
3. Mound Groundwater Basin
4. Oxnard Plain Groundwater Basin (Fox Canyon Aquifer)
5. Santa Paula Groundwater Basin
6. Saticoy Yard Well

Perhaps Belly First could go on a pilgrimage to pay homage to the source!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Food is art

...is food art? I've had this conversation with my brother. Well, if art is beauty and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then there is no definitive answer. Either you love the beauty of a crisp apple or a savory lasagne, or  you don't. For some, food is just energy--a necessary component of being alive.   I'm a foody...really, I love food. I've even considered that the few extra pounds that I wear are completely worth my passion for food. I've tried to sacrifice food for waist line, but the food always wins. And the real culprit is that I love to cook. The only redeeming factor is that I also have a passion for cycling and for being outdoors, hiking, walking and, most recently, running.  I do not understand food fetishes or pickiness, although I do appreciate a discerning palate. My brother is picky. He does not love food like I love food. He has a trim waistline, drinks non-fat milk and I don't believe he's eaten butter since the last time I prepared this wicked sweet potato, pecan and brown sugar dish for Thanksgiving a few years ago. (His request, by the way.) He's an architect with a discerning eye and a linear, clear-the-clutter approach to life. Food is not linear, cooking is messy and many good cooks prefer to toss out the measurements in favor of adventure. I love the noise, the smells, the mess, and the sheer energy of cooking and I love the focus; when I'm in the kitchen the rest of the world disappears. When my brother and I had the conversation about food, he said, "I'd never understood your passion for cooking, until I saw you cook. Now I know why you think food is art." I love that he said this and gave reason to my passion.

I prepared dinner in a rush last night having spent most of the day in the garden with Mary.  Larry was engrossed in fixing a computer virus and I didn't want to change out of my cozy sweats to go out to eat. So, I rummaged some shrimp out of the freezer and foraged through the vegetable bins. I tossed together the following shrimp stir fry in a little over thirty minutes. It was tasty and beautiful--purple cabbage, red pepper, green beans, orange carrots and shrimp on a bed of rice. Lovely (and a piece of visual art). http://www.bellyfirst.com/p/recipes.html

Friday, February 26, 2010


Today was a gardening day. The weather is warm today and tomorrow it will rain, so the timing is perfect for starting a garden. Four hours in the dirt, with seeds, raised beds, pots, weeds, snails, worms and a few hideous grubs we dubbed Hannibal's Hordes. We pruned, cleared out dead leaves, re-potted, started a compost pile, fertilized the citrus trees, soaked the rosemary hedge and planted seeds. The lettuce, spinach, basil and oregano have gone into pots outside the kitchen door. A cornucopia of seeds have gone into starter sets on the planting table. We planted what seeds we had--beets, radishes, carrots, peas, snow peas, cucumbers and even a few old tomato seeds. The tomatoes are likely to be an experiment in wishful thinking but, like good earth goddesses, we'll sprinkle with water, petition the light, and visualize a miracle. Gardening with an enthusiastic friend is the best way to make miracles out of hard work. The morning flew by. We shared what little gardening experience we have, philosophized about dirt and sustainable living, and pontificated about beneficial plants and bugs in between picking cactus needles from our fingers and my butt (I backed into the gorgeous monster) and dumping out the green waste barrel onto the lawn to salvage the grass clippings for the new compost pile. The grass has been in the bin since Monday but it was already warm and smelled of ammonia when we rescued it for compost.   I should have taken a picture of Hannibal's Hordes for someone to identify--we're wondering if our pest is really a prince--but I tossed the little soldiers in the dumpster instead. I'm sure there will other photo opps when we begin amending the soil in the beds. Next week we plan the backyard beds and begin digging! We need a garden plan for our little space and haven't yet found something fun, funky and beautiful although we're not averse to garden metamorphoses. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It all starts with the garden

We're starting a garden! We've figured it's all about the garden when it comes to Belly First. Mary bought a starter flat today, to fill with the seedling soil that has been sitting in bags in my front yard for the past few months. What's first, to dig or plant? We've decided to plant, just because it is irresistible to get those seedlings started! We want to see the little green sprouts waving at us from their rich little soil beds. We have a hodge-podge of seeds--lettuce, basil, beets, carrots, cucumbers, green beans--some of our favorite veggies to toss into a salad or grill in the oven or over a few hot coals--but we've also included a few others that are experimental, at least for us. We are curious to know what brussel sprouts look like on a plant or how artichokes look when a few are left to flower. Tuesday night is planting night. We'll get the seeds into their respective cubicles to begin germination. Then  Friday we'll spend time planning the design of our garden. Mary has a Victory Garden bug which I'm sure she'll pass on to me, though I'm not yet exactly certain what that means. Lots of bending over and getting dirt under my nails, I'm sure. Dirt! It's going to smell and feel so good under our hands.

One of the many goals we have is to satisfy our curiosity about sustainable gardening: how is it done, how can we do it inexpensively, using local resources and beneficial plants and insects? Of course we'll compost but how do we do that without using plastic bins or purchasing goods that have to be shipped from miles away? We're excited because we've just begun to discover a rich community of gardeners in Ventura and know that this region has a deep history devoted to farming. Another goal that we have is to make this blog a place where others can learn from our gardening experiment. We hope you learn from our efforts and from our mistakes...hopefully, there won't be too many of those. Along with growing our food, we'll be preparing it and posting recipes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I've got the Post-Thanksgiving Carbohydrate, Butter Blues

I was listening to NPR recently, mining for new recipes prior to our Thanksgiving feast. The interviewer was sprinkling guilt all over the table "But all those carbs!" she seasoned, "where are the vegetables?" This one decadent, carb-laden, fat glistening day isn't wrong.  It's all in the portions, or proportions, so to speak. The interviewer was complaining about the rest of year, when one too many pieces of syrup and butter soaked french toast, was just that...one too many. I say, bring on the bread and butter! I want an inch of pecan, brown sugar and butter crust on my sweet potatoe casserole.  Whip the mashed potatoes with a half-pound of butter and whole cream, please. You can skip the sausage in the stuffing but please don't stint on the gravy. And pie, never trust a person who would take the veggies over pie! At least not on Thanksgiving.