Question for you: Do you like giveaways?

The more we blog, the more offers we get from people willing to provide goods for giveaways that we host–we’re talking new books, gardening tools, seeds, that sort of stuff. (Although we have been endlessly spammed by an antique replica sword company who is desperate that we share their information with you. Their marketing focus is obviously rapier sharp.)

We’re of two minds on this. We like free stuff, and are happy to be a conduit of free stuff for you. Why not? But then again, we hesitate because we don’t necessarily want to be anyone else’s marketing tool, nor do we want to subject you to marketing if you’ll all find that annoying. Yet….there’s all that free stuff. And we’d do our due diligence on the companies, of course, to make sure they pass muster.

What do you think?

Return of Bean Friday: Spicy Mayocoba Beans

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Our neighbor Teresa of Tularosa Farms gave us this recipe. She not only gave us this recipe, but a bag of beans to go with it, and a loaner dutch oven.  How’s that for neighborly? I made it a while back and really liked the results. Erik proclaimed it to be the best of all the Bean Friday dishes, though I remain partial to the Bastardized Puerto Rican beans. I’m happy to finally get a moment to share this with you.

Mayocoba beans are pretty yellow beans, the color of old ivory. We’d never had them before, but are glad to have met them, because they are mild in flavor and have a smooth, buttery texture. They’re used extensively in Latin American cooking, so you might have to visit a Latin American-flavored grocery store to find them.

The recipe after the break:

Spicy Mayocoba Beans

1 lb. beans, soaked overnight
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder*
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
7 oz. can chopped jalapenos

*I had no chili powder so used lots of paprika plus a little bit of cayenne pepper as a substitute

Put the beans in a big pot, cover them with a couple of inches of water and simmer until tender.

When the beans are getting close to done, heat some oil in a deep skillet or a heavy bottomed pot and saute the onion until translucent. Then add the garlic and the rest of the spices, reserving only the jalapenos. I like to cook everything well at this stage to bring out flavor, but am careful not to burn anything. If a crust starts to form on the bottom of the pan I deglaze it by throwing in a little water, beer or wine (depending on what I’m drinking while I cook), then loosening all that tasty goodness with a spatula.

Next, add your beans and their water to the onion mix, stir well and let them continue to simmer as long as you can, so the flavors have a chance to blend. Add more water as necessary so they don’t burn, keeping the consistency as thick or thin as you like.

Stir in the jalapenos at the end for an extra kick.

Serve with yogurt or sour cream, maybe.

These spicy beans make for amazing gourmet burritos. If cooked with more liquid, they can be served as a bean soup/chili sort of thing. They’d also make a great side dish for meats.

The binoculars are always close at hand

A typical breakfast scene: Erik surveys the neighborhood from our “hilltop aerie.” What’s he looking at? Perhaps a lithesome jogger? Actually, no. When I took this picture he was admiring something poking out of a recycling bin over on Coronado Terrace.

I’ve never quite got used to my man’s propensity to snatch up the binoculars, but I don’t really disapprove either. Erik is a peculiar peeping tom. His viewing interests fall into 3 categories:

1) Scavenge opportunities
2) Happily spotting people and/or dogs we know on the street. Sort of as a sport. (“There goes Blackie!”)
3) Foiling wrongdoers. Because he’s so nosy, he knows who lives here, and has interfered with nefarious activities in the past (casing, tagging, etc.).

Our sky, post-storm

I’m just putting this up as a memorial to winter. It’s over, and I already miss it. From now on the Southern California skies will be relentlessly azure, unmarred even by clouds, except for a brief period of chronic overcast called “June gloom.” We may not see rain again for 9 months.

Borage: It’s what’s for dinner

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Our friend Milli (Master Gardener of the Milagro Allegro community garden) stopped by today to pick up some sourdough starter. On seeing our back yard swamped abundant with borage (Borago officinalis), she mentioned that she’s been really digging borage tacos lately. This was very exciting news to us, because we’d never eaten our borage leaves–only the flowers.

So tonight I went out and cut a whole mess of stiff, prickly borage leaves. The prickles vanish on cooking. Some sources say only to use small leaves for cooking but I say fie to that. I used leaves of all sizes and after cooking there was no difference between them. Borage is actually rather delicate under all its spikes and cooks down considerably in to a very tender, spinach-like consistency.

Instead of making little tacos with it, we folded it into tortillas with a bit of goat’s milk gouda to make yummy green quesadillas–a quick, light and satisfying meal at the end of a busy day.

How did we cook it? –>


We cooked the borage as we cook all of our greens, no matter what kind. It seems we can’t be bothered to develop any variations on this theme. First we saute chopped garlic in lots of olive oil along with chile pepper flakes, then add piles of chopped wet greens–any greens– to the pan. These get tossed until they wilt to the point where we want them, which varies. If any green seems particularly tough, we put a lid over the skillet for a moment to steam them. Salt and pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon finishes them off.

I used this technique on the borage and it came out very nice. Tender, as I said, with pleasing bit of cucumber flavor. There is also the faintest hint of a mucilaginous texture, but nothing off-putting. Borage is a cooling herb, like mallow (Malva sylvestris)–which we like to eat as a green as well. Because of this cooling quality, both are refreshing to eat, especially on a hot day. I’m writing this a few minutes after dinner and this coolness lingers in my throat. It’s also supposed to be a soothing, grounding herb and now I’m wondering if I don’t feel a bit more grounded, too, post-quesadilla.

Borage is also a medicinal plant–as a compress, tea, tincture or oil extract it has different uses and effects, which will have to be covered in another post.

More people are familiar with borage’s star-like edible flowers, which can be preserved in sugar for cakes, or tossed into salads. I’ve heard of freezing them in ice cubes for fancy drinks, which is a lovely idea.

Obligatory health warning:  I’m going to quote this directly from the very useful Plants for a Future database, from their entry on borage:

The plant, but not the oil obtained from the seeds, contains small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and liver cancer[238]. These alkaloids are present in too small a quantity to be harmful unless you make borage a major part of your diet, though people with liver problems would be wise to avoid using the leaves or flowers of this plant.

Also, I’ve seen warnings regarding pregnant and nursing women eating borage here and there, too, although I don’t know the exact reasons for the warning. As per usual, check with your doctor if you have concerns.

We figure as long as we’re only eating borage a few times a week, and only for a limited period–”borage season,” as it were–these pyrrolizidine alkaloids are not going to get us down.

Poached eggs and greens on toast with wildflowers

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

This is a fancy iteration of one of our springtime go-to dishes: eggs and greens on toast. Today, Erik was inspired (perhaps by the spirit of Spring?) to sprinkle nasturtium blossoms and little arugula flowers over the plate.

It was dee-lish–so much so I had to blog it. I sincerely hope we haven’t blogged this before, but it seems like we would have, because we make this dish so often.

Anyway, it’s easy to make:


All you have to do is cook up a mess of greens of your choice: steam them, saute them, do whatever you like. The greens can be spiced up with onions, garlic, hot pepper, etc.–or absolutely plain.

At the same time, get some water going for poached eggs. While that’s heating, toast up some nice big slices of bread. Dress that toast how you like–with butter, olive oil, S&P, a rub of garlic, maybe a bit of some gourmet spread you’ve got in the fridge–whatever.

(And by the way, just because it’s not part of our plan doesn’t mean that some bacon or ham might not have a place in this scenario.)

When the water is simmering, crack the eggs in and cook until they’re poached and still runny–for us, that’s two minutes. This dish is all about runny yokes. When you carve into it, the yoke runs everywhere, coating the greens, soaking into the bread, and doing unspeakably yummy things with the cheese. If you’re no fan of yolk, this is not your dish. Without the yoke factor, it’s not half as good. (We know this because we sometimes overcook the eggs, and then there is much sadness as we pick at our dry toast.)

While the eggs are poaching, pile the greens on the toast. When the eggs are done, slide the eggs on the greens. Add some S&P.

The final stage is cheese. This time, Erik just dusted the whole thing with grated parmesean. You can go one step further and lay thin slices of the cheese of your choice over the eggs, then pop it under the broiler ’til the cheese melts.

Serve it fast, while it’s hot, and the yoke is flowing like golden lava.

Regarding the flowers: Nasturtium flowers are edible, mildly spicy to taste, and strong enough to be tossed in a salad. Arugula flowers (got by letting your arugula go to flower) are delicate white little things. They don’t keep at all–you have to deploy them as soon as you pick them–but they have a very pleasant, sweet flavor all their own. Sometimes I eat them off the bush, much to the consternation of the bees.

Thirsty bees

Did you know bees need to drink water? They seek out shallow water sources like puddles and bird baths.

Even if you don’t keep bees, you can help out our little pollinator friends (and a host of other wildlife) by keeping a bird bath or even just putting a saucer of fresh water out for them. You can do this even if you don’t have a yard–try keeping a saucer of water on, say, a balcony railing or in a window box.

If you keep it full, and in the same location, word will spread and the bees will come and belly up. It may take a couple of weeks for a worker to discover the water source, but once she does, she will take that information back to her hive and they will never forget where it is.

The benefit to you is that if bees are coming to drink in your yard, they’ll do you the return favor of pollinating your garden.

Bees are not known as good swimmers, so it really helps if you put a stone or something in your bird bath–even in a saucer–so they have somewhere safe to perch while they drink. We keep this odd calcified beach-thing in our bird bath. (Don’t worry, it’s not salty anymore.) The bees really dig the way the water rises up into the nooks and crannies.  I dare say our bath is one of the most popular bee bars in town.
One of the busiest bee hang outs we’ve ever seen is a piece of modern sculpture by Aristide Maillol at the Getty Center. It’s this massive marble block thing that is skinned with a continuous flow of water. On one nice spring day we watched as hundreds of bees used it as their drinking fountain. If you ever happen to go to the Getty, check it out. It’s down in the little garden at the base of the hill where the trams come and go. Nice to see modern sculpture is good for something. ;)

Addendum to the previous post: Nasal irrigation and pressure points

[I'm going to spare you an illustration on this one]

Mrs. Homegrown here, again:

While I credit my recovery from this nasty cold/sinus thing largely to the herbal steams of my previous post, I also used a bit of nasal irrigation and pressure point therapy, so I thought I’d cover them too, real quick.


Nasal irrigation is the practice of cleaning out the nasal cavities with a saline solution. This dislodges gunk, and feels really good on dry, inflamed, or swollen tissue. It’s a good technique to use to keep a cold from becoming worse, and to alleviate symptoms–it helps temporarily clear a clogged nose, and can ease sinuses.

These days lots of folks use neti pots, an Indian import, to do this with some semblance of dignity. I don’t own a neti pot, so can’t speak to how to use one of those. I learned to do this the messy way long ago from my stepmother, who was a nurse.

All you do is dissolve 1 teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt in 2 cups of water. The water should be close to body temperature, otherwise you’ll be uncomfortable when you snort it. Put the water in a cup or bowl big enough to get your nose into. You’ll have to play around to get the hang of this–it’s never pretty.

First, stand over a sink. Then fiddle around with the bowl and the angle of your head until manage to get your nostrils under water, plug one nostril with your fingers, and inhale with the other. The idea is to snort as much water up your nose as you can. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you taste the salt water at the back of your mouth. Then let go of your nostril and allow the water and snot to drain out into the sink. Change sides and repeat.

It is gross, but it’s worth doing because you’ll feel so much better afterward: all clean and fresh.

***

The second technique that I found helpful for sinus pain was pressure points. I don’t know much about this therapy, a friend suggested it and I just did as she said. I found it helped, or at least distracted me, when I wasn’t under my steam tent. I used two sets of points:

1) Press the tips of your index fingers on either side of your nostrils. Not on the nostrils themselves, but on the cheek right next to the nostrils. Hold firm for three or four minutes.

2) Press the tips of your index fingers on either side of the bridge of your nose, not at the corners of your eyes, but just under the corners, right beneath the squishy tear ducts. Hold for three or four minutes.

Strange brew: herbal steam for a chest cold and sinus pain

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I’ve had a bad cold for almost a week now. It’s gone through all the classic steps: the sore throat, then the snot factory, then the ghastly “productive cough” that keeps you awake at night, and on top of it all, the lost voice. Oh, the fun! I thought I was almost out of the woods, but then I seem to have hit a cul-de-sac involving the sinuses. Sinus trouble is a new malady for me–I’m just not prone to it–so it’s been a learning experience. My new best friend in this experience is my steaming pot-o-herbs.

Most folks know that you can inhale steam to ease congestion, whether that be in a hot shower, a steam room or by tenting a towel over a bowl of boiling water. What I’m going to talk about here is the bowl technique, tricked up by spiking the water with powerful healing herbs.


My inspiration came from the book by well-known herb expert, Stephen Harrod Buhner called Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria. It’s a slender, informative book profiling the actions of a short list of top antibacterial botanicals, some of which, like ginger and garlic, are quite commonplace. Highly recommended reading.

This is Buehner’s steam for upper-respiratory infections:

Get yourself a big cook pot–stainless, glass or enamel are recommended for working with herbs.

Fill it with a gallon of water

Into the cold water put:

2 oz. dried eucalyptus leaf
1 oz. dried sage
1 oz. dried juniper or crushed juniper berry

Bring to a rolling boil, then take off heat (I kept the pot covered to keep the good stuff in).

No need to transfer the liquid out of the pot into a bowl. Just put a trivet or folded towel on the table and put the pot on it. Lean over the steam with a towel over your head. Breath deep until the steam dies, or you can’t stand it any longer.

Don’t throw out the pot contents. Just put the lid back on when you’re done and heat it up when you need it again. If it seems to be losing potency, throw in another handful of herbs.

I used my pot for a night and a day before it began to look a little tired. It was also completely full of solid matter! At that point I dumped it out in the yard and started a fresh pot.

Alternative herbs:

You may not have all these ingredients, and that’s okay. You could get by with just one–e,g. only juniper. If you have access to fresh material instead of dried, that’s good, if not better. Don’t worry too much about quantity, just toss handfuls in the pot.

You can also use essential oils of the same herbs in the water if you have those on hand. Buhner says 30 drops of each–I think that’s overkill. I’d start with 2 drops of each and see how that works for you.

My first steam contained dried sage and juniper, and a few juniper berries. I had no dried eucalyptus. Eucalyptus has that nice, lung-opening menthol action which is hard to replace. Fortunately, I had some eucalyptus essential oil and would add one drop of it to the water each time I went into the tent. From now on I’m going to be sure to have eucalyptus essential oil on hand at all times.

On steam round two, I wanted to freshen the mix and had no more dried sage or juniper, so I added a big spray of fresh pine (baby cone and all) from the neighbor’s yard. Pine is considered a good substitute for juniper, followed by fir, cedar and spruce–in that order. You might not have a well stocked herb cupboard, but most neighborhoods and parks have evergreen trees. Just make sure you don’t pick the branches of the yew tree (the conifer with thimble-like red berries), because yews are toxic to consume. I don’t know if the steam would harm you, but I wouldn’t fool with it. I don’t know of any other toxic evergreen.

Remember, these particular herbs were chosen because of their strong antibacterial properties. You can also take steams with other healing herbs that may not have quite the power of these, but which have their own benefits. I’d recommend trying lavender, rosemary and mint as more gentle, but pleasing alternatives.

And failing all that, a plain water steam is better than nothing.

The results:

The idea here is that aromatics opened up my poor nose, sinuses and bronchial passages, loosening all that gunk so my body could  send it on its way. Beyond that, I believe the antibacterial steam killed, or at least inhibited, the nasty bacteria it found on the way. I steamed intensively for 24 hours (every 2 to 4 hours, I think–whenever my head hurt I went back to the tent). Today I feel a lot better, so only did a steam in the morning.

When my sinus pain was at its worst, I’d take a washcloth in the tent with me, wet it in the herb water and use it as a compress over my sore face while I was breathing the steam.

The foremost effect of steaming for me was keeping sinus pain at bay–which it did very well. Ibuprofen did nothing. (And I don’t like OTC decongestants, in case you’re wondering) Steam took care of it just fine. The secondary effect is that my nose and chest have cleared up. The third effect is that my facial pores are now remarkably refined. ;)

Tonight I am pain free, snot free, feeling chipper and happily noshing on a cupcake Erik baked I post this.