Seeing Red

Most farmers’ markets are only getting started this month, “setting up shop” in asphalt parking lots across the United States. But here in Danville, where our farmers’ market thrives year ‘round, we’re merely picking up speed. Tender young veggies abound, along with a seasonal kaleidoscope of locally-grown sweeties: look for plump apricots, luscious cherries, and juicy cantaloupe. And strawberries. O, those beautiful berries!

Some foods are so perfect in their natural state that it’s a shame to mess with them too much. Take farm-fresh strawberries, for instance. Oh sure, you can boil them up for jam or jelly. Or toss them with rhubarb for a rosy pie filling that tastes of spring. You can bake them into an airy soufflé or freeze them into icy sorbets. All very nice. Or you can just grab one by its little green cap and pop it into in your mouth…and the taste sensation probably won’t be any less spectacular.

But this month ushers in times—like a Memorial Day cookout, a bridal shower, or graduation party—when you feel the urge to gild the lily and showcase spring’s perfect strawberries in an original way… without spending hours in the kitchen. The following recipe could be the answer.

This two-part spread is a study in contrasts: warm, oozy cheese topped with cool, sweet-tart strawberries, made even more irresistible with the bite of fresh ginger, the mild heat of jalapeño, and the refreshing sensation of lime and mint. Best of all, it’s a snap to make, and feeds a crowd.

Instead of baking the cheese as directed in the recipe, you may choose to make your life easier still by simply spooning the salsa over a room-temperature wheel of brie or a log of California goat cheese.

Alternatively, double the salsa recipe and serve it as a dip for pita or tortilla chips, or alongside a plain omelet or cheese quesadilla. It also makes a tasty condiment for grilled or roasted pork or poultry. More adventurous souls will spoon it over chocolate ice cream for dessert. It’s all good.

There’s no need to wait for a special occasion to make this, however. This versatile, low-cal salsa is equally delish served over plain yogurt or cottage cheese.

Baked Brie with Fresh Strawberry Salsa

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon local honey

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 small jalapeño chili pepper

1 1/4 cups hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries (about half of a 1-pint basket)

1 or 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

1 (5-inch) wheel of brie (about 15 ounces)

  1. In a bowl, mix together the lime zest, lime juice, ginger, honey, and salt.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, remove the stem, seeds, and ribs from the chili pepper and chop finely. Add to the lime mixture; then gently stir in the strawberries, green onion(s), and mint to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes (or as long as 6 hours) to blend flavors. This makes a generous 1-cup of salsa.
  3. About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cheese on a heatproof serving dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the wheel of cheese is soft when touched in the center but still holds its shape. Spoon the chilled salsa over the hot cheese and serve with plain unsalted crackers (water biscuits), wheat biscuits, or baguette slices. Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer.

Berry Good Things to Know

–A shiny berry is a fresh berry. Once picked, strawberries lose their natural sheen in a matter of days.

–Locally-grown berries are inevitably more flavorful and have a more succulent texture than varieties grown for shipping.

–Fresh green caps, intense perfume, and vibrant, uniform color are other qualities to look for in strawberries. Avoid those “white shoulders” that mean the berries were picked before their prime. Also remember that bigger is not always better!

–When stored properly, farm-fresh strawberries can last 1 week or longer in the refrigerator. Here’s the secret: Line a plastic container with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Gently pile in the unwashed strawberries with their green caps intact. Top with another paper towel, seal with an airtight lid, and store in the lowest part of the refrigerator. 

–Do not rinse strawberries or remove their green caps until just before using.  Rinsing berries removes their naturally protective outer layer; and their caps prevent water from soaking into the strawberries, diluting the flavor and altering their texture.

–To clean strawberries, place in a colander or large sieve and rinse quickly under a gentle spray of cold water. Pat dry with towels; then remove the green caps, if desired.

–To hull strawberries (i.e., remove the green caps), use the sharp tip of a paring knife; the pointed end of a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler; or a strawberry huller—an inexpensive tweezer-like gadget available at most cookware shops. This removes not only the leafy green cap, but also the tough little core beneath it.

–For best flavor, eat strawberries at cool room temperature.

–1 cup of halved raw strawberries weighs in at around 49 calories. They are a good source of vitamin C, and also contain potassium, iron, and folic acid.

The  Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterflies, Christmas Trees & Wisteria

Q. I would like to attract more butterflies to our garden. What plants can I plant to encourage them into taking up residence in our neck of the woods?

A. Attracting butterflies to your garden can be a rewarding venture. A Butterfly Garden is a mixture of perennials and annuals plants along with some ornamentals. They can be rewarding as it can also attract hummingbirds and bees. But for all their benefits, it may not be ideal for everyone. The plants that attract butterflies are divided into two types, the host and nectar food plants. Host plants are used by the adult butterfly to lays its eggs on while the nectar plants attract the mature adult butterflies. The eggs hatch into caterpillars (ugh) that feeds on the host plant so be prepared for lots of leaves that have been chewed on. Baby caterpillars eat quite a lot and will make your plants look as if they are being destroyed, but don’t worry about that, this is necessary for their survival. The young caterpillars feed on the host plants until they form their cocoons and emerge later as an adult. If you don’t want to look at the eaten plants, simply plant them in the center or the back of your butterfly garden or in areas that are not highly visible. But, don’t plant your host plants too far away from the nectar plants. It’s best to plant them right next to each other or in close proximity, as the tiny caterpillars cannot travel far to find their own food. Most species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants they eat. If the eggs are not laid on the correct plant(s), the new caterpillars will not survive. Hence it’s not advisable to plant a Butterfly Garden over a large area. If you choose not to provide any host plants, you will have fewer butterflies. Ceanothus, Penstemon and Aster are a few of the host plants while nectar plants include Toyon, Lantana, Marigolds Verbena, and Milkweed. For a more complete list, check your favorite garden centers for a handout. And finally, here is an online resource. http://www.gardenswithwings.com/what-is-a-butterfly-garden/host-plants.html

Q. We bought a five-gallon pine tree last Christmas. We now want to transplant it into a larger container or should we wait? Also, how might we keep it from getting too big?

A. There is no need to waiting as they can be transplanted now. You should select a large container, about the size of a half a wine barrel or twenty-four by eighteen inch lightweight plastic pot. Most of the pine trees used as living Christmas trees are not small trees by nature. When mature, these rapidly growing evergreen trees can reach a height of fifty to eighty feet with a wide spread. The young growth of the plant is groomed or sheared to have that “Christmas Tree” shape. However, they will lose this shape quickly as they mature. Their natural shape is more oval or round. You can control the size by trimming the new growth or “candle growth.” The candle growth is the long, very upright shoot that is visible in the spring. They will extend above the mature needles at the end of the branches. With a pair of hand shears, I’d cut the new growth off where the new growth meets the old. Eventually, your tree will need to be planted in the ground but it may be too big for most of today’s smaller yards.

Q. I have a Wisteria that’s fifteen years old. It grows by leaps and bounds every year but blooms only in the spring. My neighbor’s Wisteria blooms and re blooms for months every year. What do I need to do to get mine to bloom and bloom again?

A. The simple answer is that there is not a thing you can do to extend the blooming season. With Wisterias, Mother Nature is in control of the entire repeat blooming cycles. It’s more likely to happen when temperatures go from mild to hot then back to mild. This type of change is the trigger for a flowering cycle. This is more likely to occur where there is a strong marine influence and unlikely in the warmer, inland areas. On a personal note, my blue Wisteria is in bloom for Easter while the pink one blooms around Mother’s Day. Also, the blue Wisteria always has a repeat blooming cycle, while the pink one re-blooms periodically. However, this year, it has finished blooming.

MacLeod Ale Brewing Company

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, I had the good luck to discover a little gem of a place off the flashy, beaten track of movie stars and studio executives, tucked away in an industrial district of Van Nuys, California. Every community seems to have a neighborhood favorite that locals cherish exactly because it’s not trendy and it’s not competing to be the hottest spot in the ‘hood. These are places like the bar in “Cheers” where everyone knows your name and you’re always warmly welcomed. That place is definitely MacLeod Ale Brewing Company.

MacLeod Ale Brewing Company is a taproom and brewery all rolled into one. Authentic British ales—some from historic, original recipes—are carefully crafted in the back and served with a smile up front. MacLeod’s only serves their own products and are, in fact, prohibited by law from serving anything but their own brew. So if you’re craving a pink Cosmopolitan, this is not the place for you. But if you love a good Pale Ale chock full of character or a flavorful Brown Ale with an impossibly creamy froth, by all means, come one, come all.

In a quarter full of warehouses and auto repair shops, MacLeod’s is the unlikely favorite haunt of everyone from blue to white collar, tow truck drivers to film directors. Why? Because the beer is excellent and the vibe is friendly. MacLeod’s hosts special events on a regular basis as well as weekly Game Nights and Story Slams. This year, MacLeod’s has even organized a 12-day tour of Scotland, including whisky tasting in the Scottish Highlands, for a few of its loyal patrons

MacLeod Ale Brewing Company is not a fancy place. That’s part of its charm. It has a cool, NYC warehouse style. Pull up a barstool and stay a while. You just might make a friend or two. Fancy a game of darts? Check. Prefer to play a board game with your mates? They’ve got plenty. Craving a light meal? Macleod’s provides free peanuts for all and there is always a food truck parked out front, ready to serve up a savory snack.

Owners Jennifer Febre Boase, a native Californian who plays a mean bagpipe, and Alastair Boase, a native Scotsman, complete with charming accent and quick wit, started producing their own ales in 2014 in this location. Beer making is a serious endeavor and MacLeod’s maintains the highest standards of production. They’ve even earned a “Cask Marque” plaque from The United Kingdom for passing two very thorough (and unannounced!) examinations with flying colors. Not a surprise. It’s a classy joint.

Reverse osmosis is used to purify the water. By stripping everything out of the water and then adding minerals back in, MacLeod’s is able to recreate the waters of Dublin and London, in terms of flavor and mineral content, to accurately reproduce the true flavor of beers brewed in those international cities. British and Irish patrons often get emotional upon tasting MacLeod’s ales, so authentic are they.

Most of their malt is imported from the UK, which adds to the expense of production, but is well worth it, in terms of flavor and quality. Both carbon dioxide and nitrogen are used to add liveliness and to carbonate the beers. General Manager, Kevin Pratt, explains that nitrogen adds a “subtle sweetness and a creamy quality” like Guinness, to the ales while carbon dioxide gives them “crispness and a slight bite.”

All of MacLeod Ale Brewing Company’s ales are named after bagpipe tunes so the names are as memorable as the flavors. Go ahead and try “The King’s Taxes” Scottish Brown Ale with a rich, malty character or “Deal with the Devil” IPA with classic, strong hoppy notes.

Brews are served at two different temperatures, adding to their authenticity. Their authentic cask ales are served at the cellar temperature of 50 degrees while draft beer is served at 38 degrees for an icy, cold quality. Accurate temperature control is key. Over-chilling can remove flavor and delicate aromas won’t shine through. Try one or try them all. You won’t be disappointed.

If you’re coming down to Los Angeles on business, skip the Sky Bar and The Whiskey-A-Go-Go and head for MacLeod’s. You may be lucky enough to catch one of their famous Pig Roasts, Jennifer practicing those bagpipes, or Alastair doing a dramatic recitation of Robert Burns’ “Ode to a Haggis”. There’s never a dull moment at MacLeod Ale Brewing Company. You may just opt for a later flight home.

Macleod Ale Brewing Company can be found at 14741 Calvert Street in Van Nuys, 91411. (818) 631-1963. www.macleodale.com. Open weekdays from 5pm to 10pm and weekends from noon to 10pm.

See you there!