Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Mushroom Hunt of This Season

dirty wild mushrooms

The rain season has started. It rained all day last Saturday and Sunday evening. Last night, Chef Pauly invited me to go hunt for some wild mushrooms. He has gone out during the weekend and already picked a bunch. This morning I picked him up and drove to one of our regular spots. Shortly after we got on the trail, Chef spotted a few white puffballs. I was very excited because I had never found puffballs before. Even though Chef saw them first, at least now I know what to look for.

We passed by our regular candy caps spots, but they weren't out yet. It usually takes about a full week of soaking rain for the candy caps to come out. We continued on and went off the trail to look for golden chanterelle. We started going down some pretty steep hill. Chef started to see the chanterelle. I was still trying to adjust my eyes and mind to see what I needed to see. It didn't take long for me to started seeing them, too. As usually, I screamed with joy then reminded myself not to be so loud. Both of us started picking and filling our bags. It was quite a work out as we worked out way down and up the steep hills, but I felt refreshed as we got back on the trail finally with out bags of mushrooms.

cleaned chanterelle and puffballs

Cleaning chanterelle is a lot of work as they are covered in dirt. I trimmed off the dirtiest parts and cleaned each one carefully. It is perfectly okay to ingest some dirt, but I just prefer not to have dirt in my food if all possible.

I cooked some of the chanterelle tonight for dinner. I dry sauteed the chanterelle expecting a lot of liquid coming out of them. To my surprise, only a little liquid came out and it was soon evaporated. I didn't have to transfer the mushroom liquid into a bowl. I think that's because these chanterelle were picked so early in the season, and they have not overgrown and pack up much liquid. Unlike the ones I picked in previous years, these chanterelle felt firm instead of plump. Even though these chanterelle are not as big as some others I have picked, I like the firm texture a lot better. I can't wait to eat the rest of them and pick some more soon.

cleaned wild mushrooms drying in the sun

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sharing My First Passion Fruit

Ready to eat my first passion fruit

A friend of mine came by the other day to visit. As we sipped on our coffee talking about the upcoming holidays, she asked me how my lilikoi was doing. She lived in Hawaii for many years before moving to El Cerrito, so we both love and miss tropical fruits. I told her that I have quite a few fruits but they didn't seem to be ready yet. My passion vines started to bloom in June, and I discovered the fruits in early July. It is now November. I started to wonder whether they would ever be ripe.

We stepped out to the farm, and I lifted up the green bean vines over the passion fruit vines to show her the hanging fruits. One of the dark purple ones fell on the ground as I was pulling the vines. Since it was dark purple, perhaps it was ready although I thought it had to be wrinkly. I picked it up, and we went inside to cut it open. As I cut the smooth hard purple shell open, we immediately smelled the distinctive fragrance of passion fruit. Both of us cheered in excitement and took our cameras out to record this historical moment. We were both amazed that we could a fresh passion fruit right here in El Cerrito in the middle of November.

It took me two years to grow the cuttings indoors until they established roots. I planted them outside in November 2010. A year later, I have fruits. If it survives the winter, I am sure I'll have a lot more fruits next summer. My friend looked at the passion fruit with envy. I handed her a spoon and half of the fruit. "Let's try it!" I said.

It was sweet, and both of us savored it with fond memories. Passion fruit always reminds me of sharing them with my grandfather when I was a kid back in Taiwan. My memory of passion fruit was bigger. I am not sure whether they were bigger in the subtropical climate or perhaps everything looked bigger to a 5-year-old.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Baking 2

Melting butter and chocolate chips together

For the evening Halloween party last night, the host of the party had asked me whether I could make the "gluten free chocolate cake" again. "Gluten free chocolate cake"???? I couldn't remember making anything like that. It seems that in recent years, many people have discovered that they are wheat sensitive. Many people are getting on the gluten free diet. I love bread, and I just love wheat products in general, so I couldn't think when I had bake a gluten free cake. Suddenly I realized that he had to be talking about one of those mochi cakes that I often bake. I grew up with mochi. Mochi is made of rice, so it is naturally wheat and gluten free. Any mochi dish I bring to potluck these days becomes an instant hit.

Baking 2 mochi brownies

Most people love brownies. I have never been a big fan of it because it is usually too sweet and rich for me. These days, wheat sensitive people are saddened by the fact that they can't eat regular brownies. I baked 2 trays of mochi brownies last night. It's super easy and you can adjust the amount of sugar and chocolate to your liking. I don't make it super sweet or rich, and people seem to love it just fine.

I get just about all of my mochi recipes from Jenn, so I am not going to repeat the recipe here. Just click on Chocolate Mochi Brownies and follow Jenn's step by step instructions. Check out other recipes while you are there.

They are done!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Baking

Two balls of pie crust dough and my "Pi" plate

I have been taking a class on Saturdays for the last 10 weeks in order to become a certified tax preparer. Today is the last day of the class, and we planned to have a potluck. I volunteered to bring a pie. You know me, I have to make everything from scratch unless I have no other choice.

I knew that I wanted to bake an apple pie since I haven't baked one with the homegrown apples this year. Last night I made the pie crust dough, separated it into two balls, wrapped each one of them in saran wrap and stuck them in the fridge. This morning, I got up around 7 A.M. and started slicing apples. I cut up about 12 apples since they are smaller than commercial apples, and I have plenty of them. I like to make my apple pies with extra apples.

I rolled out the pie dough. One ball was to line the pie plate, and the other one was to cut into stripes for the lattice top. I let the pie bake in 400 degree oven for 25 minutes, then brush on egg wash all over the lattice top and let it bake for 25 more minutes until it was golden brown on top. The house smelled so good with the freshly baked apple pie. I wish that I could bottle this scent so my house could smell like a bakery all the time.

Here's the my apple pie recipe:

Pie crust:
2 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter
6 tablespoons of cold milk (or water), plus 5 tablespoons of cold milk (or water) as needed

A bunch of homegrown apples (or 6 Jona gold apples). I don't peel my apples but you may peel them. Cored and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
To prepare the pie crust, combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or plastic knife until the pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of milk over the flour and gently toss with a fork. Push the flour to the side of the bowl to form a well. Add the remaining cold milk and mix until all is moistened and combined. Divide the dough in half, and form each half into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Note: try not to overly handle the dough with your warm hands. The pie crust will bake like flaky pastry with all the butter pieces embedded in it; however, if you handle the dough too much, the butter will melt then it doesn't come out as flaky.

In a large bowl, mixing the apples with sugar, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set it aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball into a 12-inch circle and place it into a 9-inch pie plate.

Transfer the apple mixture into the pastry lined pie plate. For the top crust, roll out remaining dough, cut it into stripes and weave them  (as shown in the photos). Alternatively, you can just place an entire sheet on top, seal and flute the edge. Cut slits on top crust to allow steam to escape.

To make the egg wash, crack egg in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt, whisk with a fork, and brush on top of the pie after it's been baked for 25 minutes. After egg wash is brushed on, bake it for 25 more minutes or until it's golden brown on top and apples are tender. To prevent the top from over browning, you can place a sheet of foil on top if it needs to be baked longer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Harvest Time

Fresh from the farm - oyster mushrooms, mandarin oranges, fig, tomatoes, and green beans

I have been under the weather since October 2nd. I started out as a sore throat, then a fever, then a week of bed rest, then another week of constant coughing. Today is the first day that I woke up feeling all better. I went out to the farm to collect some fresh produce. I gathered a bunch of tomatoes, green beans, and oyster mushrooms! I also picked a couple Mandarin oranges and a fig that had not been chewed on by the squirrels.

The oyster mushrooms were doing extremely well for a few days when it rained. The temperature however got a lot warmer, and we seem to have an Indian summer after the few days of rain. The unusual warm temperature was good for the tomatoes but not so good for the mushrooms. A lot of the pins on the mushroom kits dried up, but I still managed to harvest many large plump mushrooms twice!

Self propagated dinosaur kale

The rain we had for a few days helped many vegetables on the farm especially since I was not able to go out there and check on them. There are many self propagated dinosaur kale and broccoli DeCicco. The potatoes are all green and lush.

Now that I am feeling a lot better, I'll be getting back on my healthy organic diet again with lots of exercise.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Got Oyster Mushrooms!

September 26, 2011

On September 23, I picked up a couple oyster mushroom kits from The Mushroom Maestros. I hang up the kits in my garage that night, and on September 26, I saw white mycelia spreading all over the straws. That was a very good sign. However, on October 3, I also noticed some greenish areas in the kits. That was a bad sign. The green spots were likely to be getting moldy. When you see green mold growing on your mushroom kits, you can try to cut the green parts off. That's easier to do if you have a block mushroom kit. Since I have a straw kit, I just hoped that oyster mushroom mycelia would be able to fight the mold off. There were certainly a lot of good white mushroom mycelia, so I just let nature took its course.

October 3, 2011

Last week the weather had dramatically changed. We had 2 days of heavy rain, which was somewhat rare for the Bay Area to have rain so early in the (mushroom) season. This morning I checked on the kits again, and one of them is pinning (see photo below). I filled up a water bottle and misted both of them. It is raining again today, and that should further help the pins and mycelia to grow. This is definitely the farthest I have gotten with this type of mushroom kit! I will be checking on the kits on a daily basis from here on.

October 10, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Making Amazake

Earlier this year, someone brought a jar of white liquid content to Master Ken's lunch potluck. As usual I was curious and eager to try something new. The guy who brought the jar of white content explained to me that it was Amazake, a Japanese rice drink. He warned me that it might be an acquired taste for some people. I took a spoonful to try and was immediately in love with the drink. It's sweet and made of rice. What's not to like? I started asking the guy how he made Amazake so that I can make my own.

Amazake (甘酒, [amazake]) is a traditional sweet, low-alcoholic Japanese drink made from fermented rice. Amazake dates from the Kofun period, and it is mentioned in the Nihon Shoki. It is part of the family of traditional Japanese foods made using Aspergillus oryzae ( kōji?) that includes miso, soy sauce, and sake. (Wikipedia)

A few days later, I stopped by Tokyo Fish Market to get some Koji rice. The Koji rice has an expiration date in 2012, so I left it in the fridge for the time being. Today I thought it would be a good day to make some Amazake, so I looked over the instructions that came with Koji rice and started cooking a cup of white rice. After about 50 minutes, I let the cooked rice cool down to 140 degrees (F) and stirred in 2 cups of Koji rice. The mixture was then packed into a clean wide-mouthed glass jar. I will now incubate the jar of Koji rice mixture at 131 to 140 degrees (F) for 10-14 hours.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mushroom Maestros in Oakland

(from left to right) Juliette, Patty, and Ray

A week ago, my neighbor casually mentioned that he saw a posting on Craigslist about free mushroom kits since he knows that I am an amateur mycologist. I searched for the posting that night and sent the poster an email to express my interest in picking up a mushroom kit. A few days later, I got a nice email from Ray offering me a tour of their mushroom farm in Oakland and a kit.  I looked up the link that's included in the email, It looks like a new establishment, and they use the straw and grain method.

On Friday evening, I took a short drive to Oakland where the farm is located. I was greeted by a very friendly girl named Juliette, who was extremely enthusiastic about mushrooms. Patty and Ray were excited to show me around and explain how they put the mushroom kits together with sterilized hay, cooked bird seeds or mixed grains and oyster spawns.  After a quick tour of their work area and seeing some large kits with white mycelia growing in them, I left the farm with 2 mushroom kits.

Juliette playing with cooked grains

My previous experience with straw mushroom kits have always been failures. I would leave them in the laundry room where it is cooler and shadier, but they always became moldy. This time I am hanging them in the garage where it is shady, airy, and cooler. I am hoping that I'll have better luck this time. If I can figure out a good spot to successfully grow mushrooms on Sand Village Farm with straw kits, then I can have fresh home grown mushrooms on a regular basis. I would also love to see The Mushroom Maestros' business grow in Oakland. It seems that Oakland is becoming a hot spot for urban farming, and I hope that may slowly change Oakland's negative reputation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Giant Dog Kite at Berkeley Maria

I went to walk around Berkeley Maria this morning with a friend. As we were walking back to the car, we saw 3 men trying to get a huge kite to float in the air. In the beginning, we just saw this black and white sack lying on the grass. We couldn't really tell what it was. As more air filled it, I thought maybe it was a cat. We asked the men what it was, they told us it was a dog! Of course! Berkeley Maria is popular with dog owners and their dogs.

People were getting excited as the dog started to take its shape. A lot of people fly their kites there because of the slopes and wind. The men set up the dog and later a frog and a kid that looks like a South Park character (but it's not). The dog was the biggest kite, and many people and kids stopped to take pictures with it. It was a good day to hang out next to the bay just enjoy the view and sun. The men actually run a kite business out of a large truck, so if you are looking for a kite, just stop at Berkeley Maria and look for Highline Kites of Berkeley truck.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Home Grower's Dilemma

Every year I hope to have a good harvest. At the same time I have to try to be creative with all the fruits and vegetables I grow. Besides giving them away to neighbors, I make desserts and preserves with the fruits. I also dehydrate them to eat later. I just picked my first basket of apples. I will give Dusty a piece first and eat the first one and then bring a bag to a friend down the street.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sweden's Conservation Efforts

(from left to right) Clear glass, Colored glass, Paper, Garbage

One of the biggest impressions Scandinavia made on me during my trip is their conservation efforts. Both Copenhagen and Stockholm are extremely aggressive in recycling, reducing waste, and promoting bicycling as a mainstream transportation. In the Bay Area, we are more progress than most of the country, but I am embarrassed seeing what they are doing here. All of their "garbage" cans are categorized. In most of supermarkets, you either bring your own bags or you pay for the bags. I remember seeing that proposal in not too long ago, and many people were angry at the idea of having to pay for shopping bags. Their public transit system is rapid, on time, and extremely reliable. I took public transit everywhere during my two weeks here. Outside of many train stations, self serve bicycle rentals are available. Bicyclists have their own wide lanes and traffic signals with little concern of colliding with cars. Needless to say, I see very few obsess or overweight people here.

Air and Water quality indicators

Right next to the waterfront of Copenhagen, there are these two indicators (above photo) showing Air and Water quality. They also explain what the government is doing to clean the water and air and the importance of doing so. At many supermarkets, I see self serve recycling stations. People just bring their plastic and glass bottles to feed into the machine and get cash for recycling them. They don't need to make an extra trip to some recycling facility.

Plastic and glass recycling station right inside of a large super market. It pays to recycle.

As I walked  by their Culture Festival, I noticed another banner, "Good Planets Are Hard to Find. Don't Blow It." That shall be a constant reminder to all of us. Conservation efforts aren't something we should wait for our government to take actions. It starts with individuals like you and me. For the last few years, I have felt like an oddity at times for growing my own food, composting, recycling, and hardly ever driving my car. After seeing what they are doing here, I don't feel so odd anymore.

"Good Planets are hard to find. Don't blow it."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Copenhagen Botanical Garden

I am traveling in Scandinavia this month for a couple of weeks. For a long time I have heard how progress Scandinavia countries are in their environmental programs. Everywhere I go around Copenhagen and Stockholm, I am reminded that people here have adapted conservation into their daily lives to reduce waste into their environment. One of the examples is their public transit system. I never had to wait for more than 5 minutes for their metro trains. Bicycles are also a popular form of transportation. I walked everyday since I got here since Copenhagen is extremely pedestrian friendly, and most attractions are accessible by foot.


I came upon the entrance of the Botanical Garden as I was walking around. You know I'll never miss an opportunity to check out a botanical garden especially when it is free of charge. The botanical garden is located on the other side of Rosenborg Castle and is a part of University of Copenhagen. All the plants are labeled with scientific names and place of origin. 

a variety of passiflora

Inside of the green house, I recognized many tropical plants including several species of passiflora, bamboo, banana, and other plants that I frequently see in California.There are several green houses, but only the two-story one shown in the top photo is open to the public. The other ones are strictly for research and educational purposes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Green Beans

The beans are finally ready! Similar to tomatoes, the beans are growing slower than previous years due to the unusual cool summer we are having.

The new arbor is perfect for the beans to climb. I grow many of the vegetables from seeds that I gather from previous year's crop. All the green beans are from the beans of last year.

Green beans are good regardless how you prepare them - steam, blanch, saute in olive oil, bake, pan fry, and deep fry, are some common ways to cook them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brushing Dusty

Dusty disapproves brushing

I don't brush Dusty as much as I should. Over time, his long fluffy hair gets matted. Sometimes I just have to cut parts of the hair off. When I do brush his hair, I have to take a couple puffs of my inhaler before proceeding because all that hair and dust tend to trigger my asthma.

Today I decided it was time to brush that big hair ball of Dusty. I grabbed him and put him on my lap to give him a good brush. As you can see, a lot of hair came off. My cloths were covered in bunny hair.

Dusty would tolerate the brushing for as long as he could then he'd try to get away. I held him down from a few escape attempts and kept on brushing. Similar to cats, after he gets handled, he cleans himself.

He looks much better than before the brushing. After he cleaned himself, he went over to the shady cool part of the room next to the bricks to relax. When you see a bunny laying down with legs all stretched out, you know it is in relaxed mode.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Foraging Blackberries

Blackberry bushes are extremely invasive. Once you have them in your yard, it's almost impossible to get ride of them. They constantly pop up at various spots on Sand Village Farm. Although I love perfectly ripe blackberries, I have to keep cutting the berry branches off. They are just too thorny! So, instead of growing my own blackberries, I go pick them just like I would with wild mushrooms. They grow abundantly in the neighborhood and are free for the picking. As you can see in the picture above, it grows on someone's fence. In addition to providing berries, the bushes also act as a barrier against critters and burglars. Believe me, you would not want to fall into these bushes.

I took a walk this afternoon and picked a bunch of blackberries. There were a few other people picking them, too. Some areas obviously have been picked over. It would be a shame to let these wild blackberries go to waste.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Red Tomatoes Finally!

The East Bay Area is experiencing another heatless summer.  On average we are having mid-60 temperatures. I have plenty of tomatoes on my 10+ tomato plants scattering all over the farm, but they are taking painfully long to ripe. I refuse to buy tomatoes from stores ever since I started growing my own 3 years ago. The tomatoes in the top photo are the first ones to turn red.

Historically, the squirrels also eat my tomatoes. Recently a neighbor adopted a very friendly outdoor cat, who's been patrolling Sand Village Farm. I haven't seen the cat chasing any squirrel yet, but Dusty has been quite upset at the sight of the cat. The cat seems mildly curious about Dusty but shows no aggression. Dusty on the other hand would thump his large hind feet and make a loud noise whenever he sees the cat. I saw the cat got startled and jumped up at the loud thumping sound. Hopefully I can get a video clip of that funny scene sometime soon.

Friday, July 8, 2011


The only one cherry

On April 4th, I discovered one successfully grafted cherry scion; unfortunately, that section ended up dying. To my surprise, I discovered another success on the opposite side of the tree! This one has actually grew a couple new branches and one single cherry!

For weeks, I watched the cherry in fear that any second it would be taken by a bird or a squirrel. Although it was not completely ripe, I ended up picking it and ate it. Next year, this grafted new section should grow more cherries.

The tape on the right is where the scion was grafted on

I also discovered a passion flora in full bloom on June 16th. Today, I was surprised to see two passion fruits growing at where two flowers were previously. I can't believe that I didn't notice them before. It's starting to look like I will have a few passion fruits this year since the vine is full of flower buds.