The first rose of spring

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My wife loves roses. She is growing two plants for their flowers, especially their scent, in containers on the south side of our house in an especially warm microclimate. Roses are marginal here. She’s been putting the roses in the garage on especially cold nights for the last month. Older rose varieties, like Rugosa roses and wild rose species, handle our cold spring nights at 7,000 feet better; some have large rose hips (rose fruits) that make excellent tea and can be preserved for jelly/jam.

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Signs of spring

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The pea seedlings are coming up in our community garden plot, and fruit trees and shrubs are in the middle of flowering, like these bright yellow barberry flowers. It might be a great barberry year, like 2014 was in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ll have to decide if I’m going to make barberry juice or jam.

My new neighborhood

My neighborhood is in south Santa Fe. It has a large park-like trail system that crisscrosses the neighborhood and circles through pinyon-juniper forest. The pinyon-juniper woodlands include typical understory vegetation like the yellow-flowered rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa, commonly known as chamisa), prickly pear cacti, and agaves. The small arroyo (dry wash) pictured empties into the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe River flows west to the Rio Grande River, which joins with other regional river like the Pecos. The river flows through northeast Mexico and eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Within the developed part of the neighborhood, the landscaping is irrigated and includes many fruit trees and shrubs, including apples, apricots, plums, peaches, and barberries. I easily collected a large bowl of apples on the pictured walk. Last year, the HOA built a community garden with raised beds; I need to get on the waiting list for nest year.

At almost the identical elevation to Flagstaff (7,000 feet), Santa Fe is further away from the nearest mountain range, the Sangre de Christos to the east, than Flagstaff is from the San Francisco Peaks, so the climate is a little warmer (five to 10°F) and the monsoon rains tend to happen later in the afternoon and evening than in Flagstaff (monsoon storms begin the mountains and repeatedly re-create themselves as they move away from their origins and down in elevation). Mornings are almost always sunny. The Jemez mountains are to the west. To the south are the Sandia and Cerillos peaks. Catholic Franciscan missionaries got here before other European religious denominations and named everything they could in the Southwest, often after St. Francis De Assisi; Flagstaff’s main north-south street is San Francisco St., while Santa Fe’s is St. Francis Dr.

Across the main east-west road in southern Santa Fe is a section of the city’s wonderful fully paved urban trail system named after rabbitbrush (Arroyo De Los Chamisos Trail). The view from my bike (last photo) is what I get to see on nearly every trip to the north and east of my neighborhood. A lot of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) grows along the arroyo. The Rail Trail runs through the city alongside a commuter train track connecting Santa Fe and Albuquerque; that trail has a much more urban feel to it because it heads directly downtown. I bicycle on the roads as little as possible, mainly towards a shopping district to my west.

Solar cooking forgotten lentils in the pantry

I’m in the process of packing for our move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. One thing I’m doing is cooking remaining foods in storage so that there is less stuff to move. I found this several-year-old jar of brown lentils in the pantry. Lentils last forever, at least in terms of human lifetimes, making them good for long-term/emergency storage.

I decided to cook the entire jar. Now that the summer solstice is fast approaching, the rod at the back of my solar cooker is adjusted so that the cooker face is almost horizontal to capture the most sunlight during the middle of the day when the sun is almost directly overhead. Lentils are quick-cooking legumes and don’t need pre-soaking.

Lentils are cool season legumes that grows well at high altitudes. In hot climates like the Middle East, Ethiopia and India, where they are staples of local cuisines, they are grown during the cooler months. In my climate, however, they are grown during the summer.

A sunny, warm spring day at 7,000 feet

Well, a few days from the start of spring. I solar cooked some long grain brown rice with turmeric to eat with stir-fry leftovers. Afternoon temperatures have been in the mid-60s, so I’m putting the fig tree on the balcony for a few hours every day. I also baked another loaf of whole wheat bread and soaked soy beans for making soy milk in the evening.

Spring 2016: another early spring in the highlands of northern Arizona

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These crocuses are planted near one of my apple trees. Bulb-forming plants make excellent guild members with fruit trees because their root systems are shallow and therefore do not compete with the trees’ needs; the top-set/walking/Welsh/Egyptian onions in the same south-facing plot are up as well. The barberry shrubs have begun blooming, too. Daytime highs and nighttime lows have been higher than in the historical past, following the pattern of the past few years. We’ve even set a record or two. I have photos for a gardening/sourdough/solar cooking/soy milk/soy okara cookies post. I’ve been very busy lately. I should have that post up within a few days.

Sourdough pizza with mock tomato sauce: Part I

Part I: Making the pizza sauce

Adapted from The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally-grown, sustainably-produced and fair-trade foods and Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:

Tomatoes are a summer and early fall crop. It’s easy to home can tomato paste and tomato sauce, of course, but you can also try mock tomato sauce, a winter vegetable pizza sauce alternative to tomatoes. Beets and winter squash are excellent root cellar vegetables; choose good “keeping” varieties with tougher skins if you are growing your own for long term storage. Beets and squash can also be home canned safely in diced form only (thick low acid purees cannot be pressure canned safely at home).

Beets and deep orange winter squash are also more nutritious than tomato sauce. According to the Web site NutritionData.self.com, an ounce of ordinary pizza sauce has 1/3 as much fiber as either 1 oz beets or 1 oz squash. Pizza sauce typically has no vitamin A or C while an ounce of squash provides 29% of daily recommended Vitamin A and 4% of recommended vitamin C. Beets and deep orange winter squash (and pumpkin, which is winter squash) are high in nitrates. Nitrates (as opposed to unhealthy nitrites) boost nitric oxide in your blood, which dilates blood vessels, improving blood and oxygen flow to muscles and extremities. This also lowers blood pressure. (Dark leafy green vegetables are higher in nitrates than beets, a good reason to add beet greens, broccoli, kale, collards, etc. on top).

When I first made pizza with mock tomato sauce years ago, I didn’t tell Dan the sauce was different. He thought he hated beets, like a lot of people. I figured I’d let him eat the pizza first, see how he reacted, or if he even noticed, and then tell him what he ate. He LOVED the pizza. He kept going back for more, for a total of three slices. He kept saying, “this pizza is really good, but why is the sauce so pink?” When he found out that he had been eating beets, he was pleasantly surprised.

Solar cooking in cold winter climates

Solar cooking is an option year-round in sunny climates, even here at 7,000 feet elevation. The daytime highs have been barely above freezing, but that doesn’t matter. Air temperature has almost nothing to do with the temperature inside a solar cooker. Solar cookers are insulated. But more importantly, cooking temperatures are related to the strength of the sunlight. Clear skies = higher cooker temperatures. Snow on the ground raises cooker temperatures because snow reflects additional sunlight into the cooker! It’s even possible to solar cook at 58° north latitude in southern Norway. Solar cooking is also practiced in such high latitude places as Minnesota in January and Ontario, Canada.

This past week on a cold sunny day, I opened the solar oven at 9:45. The temperature outside was barely 30ºF. I accidentally left the oven door latch stuck in the door, so the oven door was propped open 1/8-inch, yet the oven had still managed to reach 200ºF one hour later. I put the squash in the cooker fiver minutes later, closed the oven door properly, and set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes. When the timer went off, the oven was 250ºF. I added three whole beets to the black granite ware roaster pot.

Clouds had moved in, making the sky partly cloudy, so I figured the cooking time would be longer than the one additional hour I had anticipated. Even so, the highest oven temperature reached was 325ºF. pretty good for a day that barely rose above freezing. I took the roaster out of the oven at 1:45 p.m. The beets and squash were meltingly soft.

To make the sauce, I puréed one beet with all the squash in my 40-year-old blender with a little lemon juice for acidity, to make the sauce even more like tomato sauce, and to help the blender make the purée. I sautéed whole fennel seeds and minced garlic as usual, added the beet-squash sauce and my other usual pizza herbs and spices. I put the other two beets in the freezer (you can’t buy just one beet). The recipe is included in my The Sunny Side of Cooking solar cookbook.

It’s also possible to cook pizza sauce in a solar cooker.

See Part II here.

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