Growing by the Bay

Month: August 2016

jalapeño peppers

Jalapeño peppers in the Bay Area garden and kitchen

Jalapenos peppers at Tom's Garden.

Jalapeño peppers at Tom’s Garden.

Jalapeño peppers are an easy and rewarding plant for the garden. I grow mine in containers, and they do very well. In fact, the majority of my vegetable gardening is in containers now. This has the advantage of freeing up gardening space for ornamental perennials, and it allows moving the containers around to catch the sun as its path shifts over the growing season (or to move an ailing plant to a more sheltered location, since drought is our biggest summer threat).

The jalapeño is actually a fairly mild chile. It’s at about 5M Scoville, compared to 200M Scoville for a habañero.  About middle of the road as hot chiles go. As it reddens it gets hotter and sweeter, so you can control those elements by when you harvest. In our area it might overwinter, depending on frost and drought.

Jalapeño peppers at Tom's Garden.

Another view of jalapeño peppers at Tom’s Garden.

Some growing tips:

I think of jalapeños in the kitchen as analogous to gentian in bitters. They have a kind of generic peppery quality. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want. I have a plan for cooking mine that I haven’t seen on any of the cooking sites I’ve visited is a little like Elise Bauer’s approach at Simply Recipes. I’m going to slice them lengthwise to make sort of canoelike boats, which I will grill. These will be open-faced stuffed peppers. I’ll probably use some cotija chesse, maybe bacon, onion, cilantro, herbs —well, I’m I’m not yet sure what all. I envision the result as a sort of stuffed jalapeño tapa. I’m giving this a try this weekend, so stayed tuned for the results.

BTW, the capsaicin in hot peppers is said to increase circulation and reduce cholesterol.

Some cooking tips:

For a simple jalapeño salsa, just combine some seeded peppers with garlic, onion, and lime juice (you can figure out your own proportions, but generally one and a half to two times as many peppers as limes) and season with salt. Use pretty much anywhere you would use salsa. Accompany with a margarita enlivened with Old Tom’s Maximon Mole Bitters. Oh yeah!

Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s Mexico: The Cookbook is a great source of traditional Mexican recipes in a handsome format

Finally, a general resource that is well worth checking out is Spotlight on Chile Peppers at Science Friday (hosted by the great Ira Flatow).


Lettuce beds at French Laundry Garden

The French Laundry Garden

The French Laundry Garden, Yountville

The French Laundry Garden, Yountville.

French Laundry reservations are notoriously hard to get, and if you do get in you will pay a bundle for your good meal. But if you enjoy gardens you can still visit the restaurant’s dedicated vegetable and herb garden, which is free and open to all. It’s located right across the street from the restaurant in Yountville.

It’s a pretty no-nonsense working garden. The layout is posted on a signpost across from the restaurant on Washington Street.

You might see workers shelling beans, harvesting crops, or working in the garden.

Working the French Laundry Garden.

Working the French Laundry Garden.

Chickens are kept in a tidy pen, where they are provided with a nice secure house and a patio umbrella.

French Laundry Garden chicken pen.

French Laundry Garden chicken pen.

Bees are kept as well in a couple of locations.

French Laundry Garden beehive.

French Laundry Garden beehive.

Many crops are grown in a large but simply constructed greenhouse.

French Laundry Garden greenhouse.

French Laundry Garden greenhouse.

Among the plants grown in the greenhouse are a large number of tomatoes (many more are grown outdoors). I was interested by the French Laundry Garden technique of growing their greenhouse tomatoes, which maximizes vertical space while minimizing horizontal sprawl. (Notice the string and plastic clips at lower right in this photo.) I will discuss this in a subsequent post.

Greenhouse tomatoes.

Greenhouse tomatoes.

Spaces between the gardens are covered with grass (which I found a little odd, but must provide on-going employment for the weeders). The garden is completely flat and easy to navigate even for those with mobility issues. So have a visit. You can sit and take in the scene on one of the benches and tables provided.

Table and benches.

Table and benches.






Video: San Francisco in the late 1930s

This somewhat cheesy video from the late 1930s catalogues the tourist attractions of the city. It’s a pretty thorough survey, and there are a lot of great clips included. The Bay Bridge had only recently been built.

At least the narrator can pronounce Kearny (rhymes with “carny” not “gurney’).

Limantour Beach, Marin County

Bioregions of the San Francisco Bay Area

Clickable screenshot, Biomes of the San Francisco Bay Area

Clickable screenshot, Biomes of the San Francisco Bay Area

The screenshot above links to my page on Bay Area bioregions. The content was produced quite a while ago, but I’m gradually updating my pages to be more mobile-friendly.

I’m teaching myself Bootstrap, which allows you set different breaking points for different device sizes. It’s not too difficult in its general principles — it’s a little similar to the 960 web approach I used on some pages at — but it’s certainly a new approach compared to the old-school webwork I began with, and there are still some features I don’t fully understand.

I started the redesign with the homepage, and I’m continuing with the more popular pages on the site. Apart from the blog, this page on “Ecological Subregions of the San Francisco Bay Area” still gets the most hits.

All my texts and photos of the example biomes. Maybe later I will link the images to larger versions.

Old Tom’s Maximon Mole Bitters

Old Tom's Maximon Mole Bitters

Old Tom’s Maximon Mole Bitters.

These turned out great. Most of the mole bitters recipes I could find (there aren’t a lot) were, I felt, too simple. That goes against the spirit of what mole is, which is a complex mix of many flavors. For my mole bitters I infused cacao nibs, vanilla bean, cinnamon, ancho chile, coriander, cloves, and allspice. I was pleased that the chile calibrated exactly right: not too hot, but not too timid either.

Some of my mole bitters ingredients

Some of my mole bitters ingredients.

I’m working on a second batch now. This time I think I will try gentian rather than wormwood as the bittering agent. Or come to think of it, reduce the wormwood and combine it with gentian. I will have to ponder the portions. Fortunately, I enjoy bitter flavors—wormwood is said to be the second most bitter drink, though I don’t know how scientific that appraisal is. It’s bitter, for sure.

In making bitters I cut the grain alcohol with another spirit to reduce the proof and round out the flavor. The result should be about 50 percent ABV. (Some people do this with a watery mash cooked up from the infused solids. This is hard to fathom. I believe Mark Bitterman, who says that this water extract “tastes bland at best.”) This time I used a light rum, which I thought would be the most versatile, but I might experiment with other spirits. I’m tempted to try sake.

Old Tom's Maximon Mole Bitters woozy bottle label

Old Tom’s Maximon Mole Bitters woozy bottle label.

I’ve started using woozy bottles rather than two-ounce dropper bottles (though those are great for airline carry-on). So for these larger bottles I used Avery 5164 labels.

The macaw image was taken in Antigua, Guatemala. Maximon is a Maya folk hero/deity (he’s pretty cool). Read about Maximon here.

I endorse this recipe!

2 oz tequila (I have silver, but reposado might be better)
Some maraschino liqueur (maybe a teaspoon)
One or two dashes of Old Tom’s Maximon Mole Bitters
One or two dashes of Tom’s Citrus Bitters
Sweeten to taste with agave nectar
Shake with ice and strain.
If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with a twist of lime

BTW, I don’t sell Old Tom’s Bitters (nor does anyone else). To execute the recipe you will have to make your own.


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