Starting Over…Again

I’ve already abandoned the whole New Year’s Diet thing. For the first week or two I documented my carb, fat, and caloric intake with military precision. But now that I’ve dropped a few pounds, I’m over it. I figure any reasonable regimen is bound to be an improvement over December’s champagne-fueled evenings and Christmas-cookie-breakfasts.

In the aftermath of holiday excess, it is comforting to sit down to a healthy meal at home…providing it’s something appealing and delicious. The good news here is that the words “healthy” and “delicious” need not cancel out each other.

I know I can’t stray far off track when I’m at the farmers’ market. With no shelves of salty snacks or candy aisle or liquor department to divert my attention, I feel quite virtuous as I shop in the open air. For me, this is about as good as it gets. So as I’m leaving the market, I reward myself with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Yup, that’s how I roll.

One of the cruel ironies in life is that the New Year begins in winter, when we are naturally inclined to hibernate in the coziness of our homes. This has the potential of becoming a danger zone, for nothing satisfies like comfort food on a chilly evening. But “comfort” doesn’t have to mean giant bowls of cheesy pasta or a small trough of ice cream. Nor does it mean a scoop of nonfat cottage cheese and a few limp lettuce leaves. Somewhere, there is a happy median.

Fellow January dieters can rejoice that sweet potatoes are one of the few starchy vegetables that ranks low on the glycemic index. They are also high in vitamins and A, B6, C and D; and a good source of potassium, calcium, folate, magnesium, iron, and beta-carotene. If you have never tasted sweet potatoes without a blanket of molten marshmallows on top, you are in for a pleasant surprise.

Sweet potatoes are born with paper-thin skin and a high ratio of starch to sugar; and they’re not terribly desirable at this stage. Only after a designated period of climate-controlled storage does the skin thicken into a protective barrier and the starch contained within convert to sugar—resulting in the creamy sweet potato we know and love.

The peak season for both sweet potatoes and apples is waning, so it’s the perfect time to indulge. The following torte makes a company-worthy side dish for roast pork or poultry; and an impressive vegetarian entrée when served alongside a warm loaf of crusty whole-grain bread and a lively green salad dotted with toasted sliced almonds and juicy orange segments. It’s also a very comforting way to ease into 2017.

SWEET POTATO TORTE WITH APPLE, GOAT CHEESE& THYME

31/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small thyme sprig, plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced or chopped, including the green tops

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste

1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled soft goat cheese

2 red-skinned sweet potatoes (yam variety), about 12 ounces each, peeled and thinly sliced*

1 large tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, halved, cored, and thinly sliced*

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Use some of the butter to generously grease an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, then place the thyme sprig in the center of the pan.
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chopped thyme, the green onions, flour, salt, sugar, and a few grindings of pepper. Toss gently to mix well. Stir in the cheese.
  1. Arrange a single layer of sweet potatoes in concentric circles over the bottom of the prepared pan, overlapping the slices slightly and taking care to not disturb the thyme sprig in the center. (This layer will be the only one visible when the torte is unmolded, so you’ll want to take the time to make it attractive.) Top with half of the apple slices spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with half of the cheese mixture; then drizzle with about 2 teaspoons of butter. Use half of the remaining sweet potatoes to make the next layer; and top with the remaining apple, the remaining cheese mixture, and 2 teaspoons of butter. Make the final layer using the remaining sweet potato slices and drizzle with the remaining butter. Press down gently to compress the mixture. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 40 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake, uncovered, until lightly browned at the edges, about 25 minutes longer. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes to 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen.To serve, invert the warm torte onto a warm serving plate and cut into pie-shaped wedges. Makes 1 (8- or 9-inch) torte, to serve 6 to 8 as a side dish.

* To simplify your life, use a mandoline or the slicing disk on a food processor to make uniform slices about 1/8-inch thick.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Berries, Sage & Seeds

Q. I’m going to replace several struggling roses. Should I plant patent or non-patent varieties? I’ve been told that the patent varieties are better performers than the non-patent?

A. The Plant Patent Act of 1930 introduced intellectual property or patent rights for plants. It allows plant breeders to recover their development costs from “asexually propagated” plants, aka roots, divisions and cuttings and not seeds. This includes fruit trees, roses, and today ornamental trees and shrubs. Nearly half of the 3,010 plant patents issued between 1930 and 1970 were for roses. Jackson & Perkins, Armstrong Roses, Weeks, and Conard-Pyle contribute to a staggering share of U.S. plant patents. Anyone who wishes to propagate and distribute the variety must purchase a patent tag for each plant from the hybridizer. Although we see new varieties every year, they are not developed over night. A new introduction is the result of many, many years of trial and error. The patent tag cost varies greatly between varieties. It could be anywhere from a quarter to several dollars. After seventeen years, the patent expires and it becomes a non-patent variety. Now, anyone can reproduce it free of charge. The rose is the same whether it’s a non-patent or patent variety. Newer rose varieties are more resistant to diseases than the old timers. Today, hybridizers are cross breeding resistant varieties from previous years for the new varieties of the 21st century. I’m always curious as to the parentage of each years’ new introductions. It gives me a clue as to how a particular variety will perform in our varied microclimates. The rose care product of today will effectively control the rose diseases so I’d use some other characteristic as my primary focus in selecting varieties.

Q. I’m going to purchase several Blackberry and Raspberry plants to grow on a fence. How much sun do they require, do I feed them when they are transplanted and will they bear fruit this coming summer or next summer.

A. Blackberry and Raspberries are a wonderful addition as long as the plants are contained; hence, they are not advisable for every garden. They require six hours of sunlight per day, April through October. However, you do not want to plant any berry vines on a fence that is also the property line. It can be an expensive nightmare dealing with a neighbor(s) disputes as the vines will intrude next door. Berry vines are aggressive growers with above and below ground stems or rhizomes. Instead, grow the vines on a separate trellis structure that is four to six feet off any fence line. This way you can head off the problems before it’s too late. If possible, I would place the trellis in a north south direction. This will allow the berries to ripen on both sides of the vines. Blackberry and Raspberry vines should produce fruit next year as the berries are produced on the second year canes. The vines are best pruned after you finish harvesting all the berries. The fruiting canes are cut off at the ground. You replace them on the trellis with the best of the new shoots growing from the base.  All the other new growth is removed. You need to be diligent with pruning off the basal shoots otherwise the vines can get out of hand. Again, the berries will only develop on the second year canes. At the time of planting, I would add Starter Fertilizer along with amending the soil with homemade compost or soil conditioner.

Q. The cold has damaged my Mexican Sage plants. Is there a right or wrong time to prune them back? I’d like to maintain them year round as they provide a colorful, feeding environment for Hummingbirds

A. It’s not unusual for Mexican Sage to turn brown from the winter cold. I’d expect this to happen every year. My pruning preference is to wait until the end of February or the beginning of March to prune them; however, it can be done at any time weather permitting. Mexican Sage produces all of its new growth from the base of the plant. It produces no lateral branches and blooms on the terminal end of each shoot. It should be back in bloom around Memorial Day and continue through the first cold night. Thus, I’d prune it off at the ground with a pair of hand or electric hedge shears. You should also clean out all of the fallen debris that has gather during the past growing season.  And in March, feed them with Doctor Earth Organic All Purpose Plant Food to encourage the new growth. This feeding should be sufficient for the entire year.