Good Fruit

October 2, 2012

Jam Classes

Recently I’ve been teaching two wonderful women, Oo Mei and Klaw Mei, how to preserve local fruit. My hope is to share some skills, some conversation and some quality time in the kitchen with these Karenni refugees from Burma.

Our test batches are currently for sale as available.  Proceeds from the jams help to buy more supplies for future classes and also provide the women a little bit of income for their labor.  If you’d like to purchase some of our jars, just contact me at betsy(at)

Current Inventory:

8oz Jars, $8/Jar
-Apple Butter
-Meyer Lemon Marmalade
-NEW! Spiced Pear & Lemon Marmalade

Donate Fruit:

We are always looking for local sources of fruit for our jams and marmalades. We especially love berries and citrus.  Sometimes we are available to harvest the fruit ourselves.  If you live in the Oakland area and would like to donate fruit to our jam classes, please email me at betsy(at)

Our labels are hand drawn on recycled paper bags.


Edible Ornaments

December 15, 2010

And now, a break from the two part Guatemala series to remind you, it’s time to make your Christmas ornaments!

And, no, I don’t mean clothespin rain-dear.  I mean completely edible, compostable, stained-glass dried citrus.  Just look at this tree:

And this dried orange wreath:

They are really easy to make and the paper thin fruit slices just seem to glow when they’re back lit.  My house smells lovely now as I’m drying oranges from a friends tree, and I have to keep reminding my husband not to eat the pretty ones!  Their sweetness is so concentrated when their dried that they taste like orange candy, he even eats the peel!

Add variety in size and color by also drying blood oranges, lemons, and different kinds of grapefruit.

Drying citrus in a dehydrator:

Slice the oranges in thin disks
Place on your drying trays and dehydrate at the “fruit” setting for 4 to 6 hours.
When they appear to have lost all their juiciness, take them out and let them cool.

Drying citrus in an oven:
(From, sugar optional)

  • 1 navel orange, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat. Top with orange slices in a single layer, and generously dust with sugar. Bake until the peels are dry and the flesh is translucent, about 2 1/2 hours.

Read more at Oven-Dried Orange Slices – Martha Stewart Recipes

To hang them on a tree:
-Pierce with a typical ornament hook, or…
-Thread with needle and thread through the rind and tie a loop, or…
-Pierce a small, vertical hole in the “stained glass” portion and lace a ribbon through it, tie a loop.

To make a wreath:
Thread the slices with needle and thread and tie to a metal wreath frame or fasten to an evergreen wreath.

Completely Compostable:
Don’t want to undo the wreath or undecorate the tree?  Use all compostable materials.  It’s ok, you’ll make new ones next year and the house will smell delicious, a new holiday tradition.  (Though you may have trouble keeping people from eating them off the tree!)

-100% cotton thread or straw twine instead of wire.  Just tie the ornaments onto the branches.
-Use popcorn and cranberry garland, thread popcorn and cranberries (dried or fresh) with a needle and thread.  Add eggnog and a movie to the evening and you have another beautiful holiday tradition.
-Pine cones of any size.  Fun to gather, easy to tie to the tree, just don’t use glue!  Loop the thread or twine around the base of the cone.
-Dry more fruit:  apples, persimmons, kiwi
-Use wooden branches for a wreath-frame instead of wire.

I admit, I do add lights and ribbons, so I have to remove those.  In fact, I still undecorate and toss the ornaments and garland in the compost and take the tree to the curb for city pick up.  (You don’t want Christmas trees in your back yard compost.)  However, if you live in a more rural area and have a place to leave the tree to dry (for fire wood, maybe?) then you can leave it decorated and the birds will take care of the ornaments before they get a chance to break down.  It is ok to throw the wreath in the compost (city green bin or backyard compost).

I know, it’s tough not to want to save those things, but think about how much fun it is to “build Christmas” each year, especially with the help of friends and hot chocolate.

Have some special ornaments you just need to hang?  Me too, we have a collection of glass blown ornaments made by a family member.  But I display them elsewhere in the house, hung decoratively from curtain rods or in a big glass bowl.  They help spread the Christmas spirit from room to room without having to put up a singing Santa Clause or glittered snowman.

So, slow down, and make some Christmas this year (and eat some too!)

Up next:  Pumpkin Butter (fall is finally over) and Fig Preserves

Chapter 1: Chicharones

November 29, 2010

Last week I watched a volcano erupt from my hammock chair on a terrace in Antigua, Guatemala.  Who says “bano compartido” has to be low-class?  Thanksgiving week was a perfect time to visit Guatemala, no tourists, beautiful weather, and bananas and coconuts are always in season.

What we didn’t know was that Thanksgiving week is also the short harvest season of the disappearing “maize negro” or black corn.  Though we were only in town for a wedding, I slipped into a small, slow-food adventure with chicharonero and his Quachiquel bride in their milpa (small corn field) in Chimaltenango, just outside of Antigua.  But first, we had to have chicharon.

When our friend insisted we stop for chicharones (fried pork fat) on our way to his house at the beach (for breakfast), I looked at my husband and cringed.  When I promised my Dr. I wouldn’t eat street food on this trip, this is exactly what I promised not to do.   We knew we had a long standing invitation with Senior Chicharon, who years ago invited us to stop by his “kitchen” on the side of the coastal highway, but we really thought we would easily dodge that bullet.  Wrong.

We were immediately served plates of hot fried pork fat and fried bits of meat along with a salad of cucumber, onion and radish and a stack of hot corn tortillas and a bowl of sliced lime.  Dona Chicharona ladled hot instant coffee from a pot over an open flame into small styrofoam cups.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the chicharones were excellent.  Cooked in an enormous kettle full of generations of bubbling pork fat, the crispy pieces of fat were tender and just salty enough.  The chef joined us at the table and told us how bus loads of tourists (from El Salvador, not the states) also stop and buy huge quantities of chicharon to take home.  He patted his fat cheeks and said, “today, we make mejia!” Darn, we just missed being treated to pork cheeks and fried ears.  Maybe next time!

Turns out this road side chef has a passion for good food and the preservation of national culture.  He told of how he collects “corte” or traditional dress from different Mayan tribes, he tries to remember all the Quachiquel his wife teaches him, and he tries to buy produce and meats from local producers. He lamented it was getting harder and harder to find black corn for black tortillas, that the cultivation was being lost among the upcoming generation.  “I tried to plant some myself, but it’s all coming up yellow and white.  I’m a business man, not a farmer, but you should come to my house and we’ll grill fresh corn from the milpa by my house!”  Boiling pigs fat I could pass on, but fresh grilled corn, count me in! We set a date for Monday afternoon.

"Don Chicharon" shows off the pig's face he will fry today.

His son stirs a boiling batch of menudo with a wooden paddle.

Romantic Food Blogging

July 29, 2010

A dramatic look at Duck and Potatoes.  Try viewing it on an i-pad, should be easy to swipe through the steps.

From NPR’s the Picture Show Blog:

“My hope,” Hereford writes on his blog, “is to develop this video to work with tablet computers so that you could “swipe” between the vignettes instead of them playing with a rigid sequence from start to end. … I like the idea of creating a moving image which runs on a loop or is shot over a long period of time so the media can be consumed and studied in ways a traditional film cannot.”

Oh, and the duck looks delicious, too.  Props to the chef for picking his vegetables from a roof top garden in New York.

Bon Appetite!


July 16, 2010

Spinach, Carrot and Apple Juice

 I know, I know, I know.  That looks disgusting.  But I’m going to apply a wine writers trick and call it “earthy with “hints of green tea and sour apple.”   What is it? Well, it’s the rest of my CSA box, that’s what!  I’ve had a large bunch of carrots and a huge bag spinach in my fridge for just too long.  These warm summer days really turn me off to cooked veggies for lunch and dinner, and just can’t do another salad.  “Grrr!”  I said, craming the bag of greens back in the cripser. “What am I gonna do with all this?” 

 “Juice it.”  Said Mr. Oakland Garden Kitchen without looking up from his lap top.  A moment of brilliance. 

 That same day, a friend mentioned her favorite “juice” is spinach, carrot and apple.  Well, lemme tell you, I have spinach and carrots comming out of my ears! And I managed to find 2 organic apples grown in the Etats Unis at the local Lucky’s.  After an “all call” to the neighbors, a dusty never-used juicer emerged from the house accross the street.  I could just feel the vitamins getting ready to juice up my system! (no pun intended…)  

  Earthy Apple Juice  

From Shooting Star CSA :
– 1 large bag of spinach (about 1/2 a lb of large leaves, not baby spinach)
– 15 medium size bright orange carrots
From Lucky’s tiny little organic produce corner:
– 2 red apples 

Just cram it all through juicer and try not to let the juice or the pulp over flow their tiny containers!  

At first I thought the spinach was just being shredded and producing no juice. But after pushing the first hand full of spinach through, I did a few carrots and out came the frothy green liquid. I kept alternating between spinach, carrots, spinach, carrots and finished it off with the apples.  All in all, it yielded about 30 ounces, or a little less than a liter of concentrated juice. I drank a glass and a half before I stopped to take a picture!  This is all I saved for Mr. OGK.  Sorry hun, it was good!   

It also yeilded about 8 cups of pulp!  This colorful bowl of fluff is headed into a carrot cake for tonight’s pot luck dinner.  Stay tuned for that report.  

Spinach, Carrot and Apple Pulp

Plum Good

July 15, 2010

Plum sauce.

Where I grew up, people use the word “plum” to add authenticity or credibility to a statement.  “Well, that’s just plum crazy.”  Or, “this pie is plum delicious.”  That is to say, “this pie is nothing but delicious; that is the only word to acurately describe this pie.”

Well after spending a good 10 hours in the kitchen with 10+ pounds of plums, I can say I’m begining to understand.  There’s just nothing like a plum.

How did I get all those plums?  Greedy smurf.  I stopped by a friends house on a visit to Monterey.  Poor friend, she was out of town while her plum tree just dropped pounds of fruit a day into her drive way.  Well, I couldn’t let her come home to a plum purple drive way!  I’ll take home a few for snacks…..

10 lbs later, I took home a “few,” and googled, “what to do with all these plums.”

Plum Jam!  Hunting the perfect youtube teacher, I found a few videos of “how to’s” for plum jam.  The first was a short film in a nice sunny kitchen including the ingredients I had on hand:  plums and sugar.  I had to laugh at her plum jam experience.  The electric mixer breaks, the jam pours over the edges of the jar.  Now that’s what my kitchen experiments usually look like.  However, when  tried her recipe, it turned into plum sauce.  I’m looking forward to plum sauce on vanilla ice cream, but I was hoping for jam.

My second youtube teacher came from Under the Tuscan Gun.  Her plum trees look just like mine, and yes it took her just as long to pit all those plums.  This batch turned about much better, thickened like a decent marmalade, and is amazing on a baguette.  I’ll let Debi’s Italian mother-in-law teach you instead of explain what I attempted to do.  I did add the juice of 2 back yard lemons to Nona’s recipe, I like my jams tart. 

Red plums, they are cherry size.

The most time intensive part is cutting up the plums!


Plum jam bubbling on the stove.

Jars of Plum Jam

Even after two batches, I still have a good pound of plums left.  They are headed for the dehydrator and future trail mix.



July 7, 2010

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Marketmore Cucumbers

Cherry tomatoes, cukes and a morsel of homemade goat cheese.  Could summer get better?

Thank you, thank you Shooting Star CSA for my nostalgic favorites!  These little cherry tomatoes are just sweet and acidic enough to make you smile when you pop one in your mouth.  And the cucumbers are cool and refreshing with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  I suppose I could have made it into a salad, but I just didn’t have the patience.  A little bit of goat cheese makes the snack more filling, otherwise I think I could eat cukes and tomatoes from lunch to dinner!

Dinner?  Black eyed peas and collard greens on the stove.  mmm…..

Summer is in full swing and so is our CSA and our travel schedule!  We just returned from Charleston, SC, where we enjoyed the bounty from two farms.  My parents are members of Pinkney’s Produce CSA, who loaded them up with extra watermelon and corn when they stopped by the farm on the way to the beach.  Our family very much appreciated their generosity!  My sister and her husband are a member of Ambrose Family Farm CSA and they came every day with loads of basil, squash, potatoes, and eggplants.  We were doing such a good job of relaxing, I didn’t have a chance to recap every meal, but here are a few highlights from our low-country kitchen.  Follow the link for the recipes: 

Katie’s Eggplant Parma, a recipe from the Joy of Cooking

Mom’s Watermelon and Feta Salad

Low Country Boil

Corn, Tomato and Black-eyed Pea Salsa 

I also have to recommend our one night out at the Brick House Kitchen

the Brick House, during renovations

  A charming restaurant on Folly Road, set in an early 19th century home under enormous live oaks behind a long red fence, this family run business features local, seasonal fare and manages their own compost in the back yard!  We loved the shrimp and angel hair pasta, the soft shell crab, and the decadent chocolate pot!  We were also assured by a fellow diner that the Wahoo was pulled out of the Atlantic that morning.  As far as I can see no website yet (they are just 3 months old) but they’re easy to find on Facebook.  

And of course, I must admit to a $0.75 chili dog form Bert’s on Folly Beach and a delicious Fallafel Crepe from Tokyo Crepes.  

We returned to Oakland just in time to pick up our own CSA box, this time full of basil, onions, garlic, spinach, potatoes, carrots, green beans and a lovely head of cabbage.  Craving something cool and crunchy, I whipped up this dependable coleslaw for a picnic lunch at Funk Town.  I could have used some of the halapenos from my sister’s box back in Charleston and it could rival Bake Sale Betty.  

Simple Summer Coleslaw: 

One medium head of cabbage, shredded (our box had Farao cabbage)
One large carrot, cut into thin strips (our box had Nelson carrots)
Three small onions (our box had mini purplettes)
3 tbs sugar
¼ cup olive oil (spicy Bear Paw EVOO, Grand Lake Farmers Market)
¼ cup vinegar (I used a combination of red wine vinegar and raw apple cider vinegar) 

Crunchy coleslaw

Toss all ingredients together in a big bowl and store in the fridge till you’re ready to serve.  It was the only thing my girlfriend, suffering from a queasy first trimester, could stomach at our picnic.  Better than 


I know that this little packet is convenient.  I’ve always kept one in my day bag incase I arrive somewhere with out breakfast.  They weigh almost nothing and can feed a hungry hiker with just a little clean, hot water.

But do we really need this convenience when we’re NOT on the go?  Do I have to tear open two little packets (one is never enough) when I’m eating breakfast at home?  I’ve intentionally avoided these little boxed treats because of all the packaging required, but I also really miss my oatmeal!

And oatmeal is GREAT for you.
An excerpt from says, “Oatmeal is considered a nutritionally-dense food.  It contains protien, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B6, iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, magnanese and trace amounts of vitamin E, folic acid and potassium.”

Let’s remember, however, how much sugar and artificial flavoring goes into some of the flavored packets.  If you ARE going to go instant, try to choose a simple flavor, like Trader Joes, “Oats and Flax.”

So, how am I going to beat the packets and still get my complete grains?  Just a little planning ahead I learned from a French neighbor years ago.  Her young son was fighting a brain tumor and she was determined to battle it and replenish his immune system from the draining chemo and surgeries with a healthy diet.  When the doctor told her to give him fruit loops for breakfast, she laughed in his face.  Knowing his need for nutrient-dense foods, she prepared steel cut oats for breakfast every morning, adding honey, cinnamon and dried fruit for flavor, and probably sneaking some flax for added nutrition.

What are Steel Cut Oats?

“Steel cut oats are exactly what their name implies: whole oat groats (the whole grain separated from the shaft and husk) that have been cut into little pieces using giant steel blades.   The oats can be chopped into different sizes, from large pieces to very fine, small pieces.  The advantage to steel cut oats is that they have a faster cooking time than whole oat groats, while maintaining all of the nutritional value of the whole grain.”  (

The disadvantage?  They take 20+ minutes to cook on the stove, instead of 3 minutes in the microwave.  Even my stay-at-home mom voisine didn’t have 20 minutes every morning to prepare oatmeal for her 3 year old.  Besides, his sleep and appetite were so off schedule, she needed to grab something edible the moment he said he was hungry, or else end up skipping a meal and handle a fussy, exhausted child.  So, she made it in large batches, in her biggest pot, and stored it in small single serving containers in the fridge and freezer.  Three minutes in the microwave (or less) and hot steel cut oats were ready to go.

Now, don’t be alarmed, no one in our household has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  But when I started to miss my oats I thought, “should only sick people be on a healthy diet?”  Absolutely not!  I decided to give her process a try and see if we could kick the packet and have our oats, too.

Steel Cut Oats, dry.

Steel Cut Oats in Oakland:
I’ve seen steel cut oats in several grocery stores.  Trader Joes sells an “Irish Porridge” which is very good and comes in nice, reusable cans.  But after my second can, I thought, I don’t need any more of these cans!  So I stopped into Lakeshore Produce (right beside Trader Joes by Peet’s Coffee) and bought several scoops of bulk steel cut oats to refill my empty container.  Sorry TJs, I just don’t need any more trash!

Oatmeal cooling on the stove, next to a jar of almond meal and Marshall's honey.

This week, my big batch recipe was:

2 cups of Steel Cut Oats (Lakeshore Produce)
8 cups of boiling water (Oakland Tap)
2 tblspoons Almond Meal (Stack House Bros Orchards)
4 tblspoons honey (Marshalls’ East Bay Wildflower)
1/4 cup whole milk/cream (Straus)
1/2 cup dried apple pieces (various winter farmers markets)

Pour the oats into the pot of boiling water.  After 5 minutes on a rapid boil, bring the temperature down to low and cover.  Stir frequently to make sure it doesn’t boil over during the next 10 minutes.  The oats will start to thicken, after which you can cover and leave mostly unattended with the heat very low (just don’t want it to burn to the bottom of the pan).  As the oats thicken, I stir the milk or cream (don’t let it boil or the dairy will curdle) then the honey and eventualy the almond flour and dried fruit.  Then I turn the heat off and leave the lid on to let it cool very slowly.  If you havn’t had breakfast, scoop out a bowl for yourself.

Single serving oatmeal containers ready for the week's breakfasts.

Once the oatmeal has cooled, you can scoop it out into smaller serving containers and store in the fridge (about a week) or freezer (months if your container is airtight).

A note about Almond Meal:
Another Farmers Market Splurge, I picked up a 16 oz bag of Almond Meal from the Stackhouse table at the Jack London Square Farmers Markets.  I understand that Stackhouse almonds are widely distributed on the west coast, but they are gown in Hickman (near Modesto).  I think Almond Meal is a new item for them, and the vendor had me at, “I like to add it to my oatmeal.”  Done!  With the amount of meat we DON’T eat, I need all the extra protien I can get!  I’m sure it’s also delicious in scones or cookies….

A note about dried apples:
I love my Excalibor dehydrator.  All winter I dry apples and citrus.  In the summer strawberries, tomatoes nectarines and apricots. In the fall, persimmons!  We always have dried fruit on hand, it’s like a little memory of the last season, so sweet it’ll spoil you!  If you want to dry fruit, try to buy fruit at it’s peak, when many vendors are offering and prices are good in large quantities.  I once got a flat of organic tomatoes at 50 cents a pound through a CSA u-pick!

More Oatmeal Ideas
I just have to add this link to an ENDLESS amount of recipes for homemade oatmeal, all the flavor combos you could imagine plus the ones you haven’t, like coconut milk or peanutbutter-chocolate chip!

An update from La Voisine:
Our formers neighbor’s sick 3-year-old recently turned 6 and started kindergarten in complete remission.  Let’s hear it for steel cut oats!

Unfortunate Oat Fact:
” …today, less than 5 percent of all oats commercially grown in the U.S. are used for human consumption — the vast majority still finds its way into livestock feed.”

I have found Massa Organics for local rice.  Any idea who’s growing Oats (for human consumption) in this country?

This weekend was the Inaugural Oakland Running Festival, featuring 5 different races, a huge festival at Ogawa Park and lots and lots of hungry runners. Our apartment was on the race path, so yours truly offered to host the watching AND after party, since Mr. Yours Truly was running the half marathon.

Breakfast was easy with scones and coffee. I thought I was going to have to make a run to Arezmendi for scones, but after a visit to Jackies Secret Garden, I learned how to make scones at home. So easy!! Really, I’m not much of a baker, but these were gone as soon as I put ’em on the table. Click here for the Alice Waters recipe that I followed, using Straus Whipping Cream, whole wheat pastry flour from Whole Foods, and a handfull of pecans (broken into pieces) from Lakeshore Produce.

First bunch of asparagus spears. I later added more to this bag, grilled them, then added more asparagus to the same bag.

The besides the marathon, the second best thing about this weekend was the second week of asparagus season in Watsonville! We scooped up several  bunches of organic asparagus at the Jack London Square Farmers Market the week before. The night before the race, I put them in a large zip lock bag with the juice of one lemon, a table spoon of salt, a table spoon of pepper and enough olive oil to coat all the spears. I zipped the bag shut, shook ’em up enough to get them evenly coated, and put them in the fridge. Becasue I was hosting breakfast AND lunch AND needed to get away to watch the finish line, I needed REALLY quick and REALLY easy on Sunday.

The next thing I prepped ahead was potatoes. I boiled 8 large russet potatoes on Saturday night and then put them in the fridge to cool over night. When I woke up the next morning the were nice and firm and easy to cut. I cut them into bite size cubes for potato salad:

Grandma’s Potato Salad:
8 russet potatoes, boiled and cooled overnight (Any farmers market in Oakland should have russet potatoes now)
5 green onions, diced to make scallions (these are really easy to grow!)
1/2 a cup of mayo (didn’t have enough eggs to make my own, so I used Spectrum Organic Mayo from Farmer Joes)
1/4 cup of spicy mustard (Sierra Nevada is the closest brand I’ve found to ‘local’)
1/4 cup of white pepper vinegar (I keep a jar of white vinegar with several little green chiles to spice it up)
1 tblspoon dried dill

Cube the cold potatoes, place in a bowl and add the scallions. Leave the skins on, that’s where all the nutrients are. If you don’t like too much

White pepper vinegar

 onion, leave off a few of the onion heads and just grill them. I promise, someone will eat them! In a separate bowl, mix “dressing” ingredients. Pour over potatoes and mix will with a spatula. With this amount, I needed to use two bowls for mixing, then I could combine them in a serving bowl.
Other great things my grandmother used to add (but that I didn’t have) are boiled eggs, chopped
green olives, chopped
pickled artichoke hearts, chopped
picked beats, chopped

Sorry I didn’t take a picture, it was so popular it went faster than I could get the camera!

Our guests brought enough other treats to fill the grill several rounds.  There were nopalitos, thin sliced zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions of all size and of course, sausage (chicken, kilbasa, lamb and port from Farmer Joe’s).  The biggest miracle is how much was eaten before 5pm!