First Foray into Edible Landscaping

Edible landscaping is a term made famous especially by the writings of Rosalind Creasy in her book, Edible Landscaping.  She starts from the premise that we can have a beautifully landscaped yard that also provides food.  In other words, we don’t have to limit ourselves to grass, roses and the like for our yard.  Vegetable plants, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers are just as beautiful and have the added benefit of providing deliciousness.

Our new house came in the “classically” 1950s landscaped grassy front yard with a wall of roses around the perimeter.  Don’t get me wrong, the roses are beautiful, and a couple of them actually smell divine as well, but I want a yard that is both beautiful and bountiful, so I’ve become a follower of the edible landscaping movement, the no-front-lawn revolution.  While we still have a front lawn, getting rid of it a post for another day, we are slowly making progress on parts of our yard.

First of all, after being abandoned for several years, the yard was completely overrun, wild, a suburban jungle.  We’ve been working on clearing the neglected yard, and this weekend, I worked on clearing out a front flowerbed to prepare a space for 3 blueberry bushes.

The bed contained iris plants that had developed a bulbous root system where each plant that I dug out had an underground body of bulbs connected to each other.  The hoe proved useless, the plants’ rhizome root systems were the size of my face, sometimes larger, so I got out a shovel and worked on finding the elusive bottom of these monstrosities.

Some older bulbs had been completely eviscerated, leaving a crumbling, leathery carcass full of holes, attached to the newer leech-like bulbs.  As beautiful as these flowers are, their rhizome-bulb-root system is a hydra, expanding exponentially, sucking the guts out of the previous year’s growth, growing 3 or 4 new plants from each one.  A little research helped me to understand that the irises must have been attacked by iris borers, worm-like voracious insects that eat away at the rhizome (the bulb/root system).   Left naked, marked up with dozens of small holes, the rhizome rotted and the plant died, but not before it let out one last attempt at prolonging its DNA, in the form of several bulbs connected to the disintegrated one.  These plants are hearty and have a will of steal.

However, they were no match for my shovel, and my own will of landscape transformation.  So, bed cleared of old irises, a few cyclamens also, I added an acidic soil preparation, since that’s what blueberry plants prefer.   Two bags worth of soil helped put back what I’d taken out via the irises.  Then, randomly out of nowhere, the sunny sky starts to rain on me.   A light sprinkle at first, and looking at the half sunny sky, I thought the rain would pass in a few minutes.  Ten minutes later, my sweatshirt soaked, the sky ambushed by rain clouds, my attempts at planting the blueberries were thwarted.  I place the three containers in their respective spots above ground for the sake of imagination, clean up, and go back inside for a late lunch.

My first foray into edible landscaping has been postponed for now, but the area is ready, the soil prepped, all that’s missing is putting in the plants, oh, and three years of waiting for the plants to heartily produce.


Triple-Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies: the recipe

There’s a great story that goes along with these cookies.

This recipe comes courtesy of Ms. Crescent Dragonwagon‘s book, The Passionate Vegetarian, a book that has completely transformed my life.  Think of this recipe in stages: melt Chocolate Round #1; create “the caress,” the wet ingredients; prepare the dry ingredients/Chocolate Round #2; combine wet and dry ingredients; mix in nuts and Chocolate Round #3.

4 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 vegetable shortening, like Crisco
2 large eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee crystals (Dragonwagon recommends decaf, but we always use regular)
1 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened American-style cocoa powder (NOT Dutch processed)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate chips (we use Ghiradelli)
6-8 ounces pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped (I prefer pecans)
Parchment Paper for baking stones

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.  When the oven is hot, toast pecans on a baking sheet for about 8-10 minutes.  Chop up the nuts with a mortar and pestle or a knife.
3.  Prepare 2 baking stones with parchment paper and set aside.
4.  Chocolate Round #1: In a small saucepan, combine semi-sweet or dark chocolate, butter, and shortening.  Stir occasionally until all ingredients melt uniformly.  Cool to room temperature.
5.  The Caress (AKA the wet ingredients): While the chocolate and butter/shortening melt, beat the eggs and both sugars at medium high speed with an electric mixer for 5-7 minutes.
6.  In a small bowl, stir the instant coffee in the boiling water until fully dissolved.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add to the egg/sugar mixture.  Also add the cooled melted chocolate/butter/shortening to the mixer.  Beat for 2-4 minutes.

7.  Chocolate Round #2 (AKA the dry ingredients): In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together: flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, salt.  Whisk to combine.

8.  Add the wet ingredients from the mixer to your dry ingredients.  Make sure to use a rubber spatula to get every last drop of wet ingredients.  Combine with a wooden spoon until a dough forms.
9.  Chocolate Round #3: Add toasted pecans and chocolate chips.  Stir lightly to combine.  Don’t over stir the dough, when it looks “just barely” combined you’re good.

10.  Using a spoon, drop cookie dough onto the parchment covered baking stones.  Press the form into a circle, the cookies do not expand; the shape you put in is the shape you will take out of the oven.  We fit about 20 on 1 baking stone.
11.  Bake 12.5 to 13 minutes, slide off the parchment, and cool the cookies on wire racks.  Enjoy with milk…you’ll need it.

This recipe according to Ms. Dragonwagon makes 33 small cookies.  We doubled the recipe and got about 80 cookies.

Triple-Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies: the story

It’s like kindergarten

Triple-Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip cookies.  You heard that right.  Chocolate 3 ways with a hint of coffee flavor and rich, whipped silky goodness.  I can’t take any credit for the recipe, so,  thank you Crescent Dragonwagon for helping me to be the high school teacher that reminds kids of kindergarten.

We all remember those days, naptime, recess, finger painting, and of course, the cookies and milk.  Well,  a few days ago, I brought a taste of the good ol’ days back for my 9th grade Puente students.

Last night, for the second time, my husband made Cresent Dragonwagon’s decadent Triple-Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies, courtesy of The Passionate Vegetarian.  I helped, if you define helping as reading the recipe and making minor needed interventions, also known as managerial oversight. Then, standing side by side, my husband and I created the little brown circles of sin.

Kris originally intended to make a single batch for his work’s cookie exchange.  The previous cookie exchange, Kris made some hazelnut cookies with nuts that can only be described as rancid.  They were utterly disgusting, but I kept eating them (a total of 4 cookies), hoping that the inherent fact that because they were cookies, some goodness would shine through.  Obviously we were both disappointed.  Lesson learned: always taste nuts before using them in a recipe.

This time, everything was fresh, and we knew this recipe was a winner, since he’d already tried it out once.  First is melting the butter, chocolate addition #1, and vegetable shortening in a saucepan.  Along with Chocolate Round #1 came Needed Intervention #1.  “Honey, that’s not a saucepan,” I say, as delicately as possible; Kris can be kind of sensitive when I intervene while he cook-creates.  He’s already got a medium sauté pan, heating up on the burner and is taking the paper off the butter.  Luckily, I tell him the saucepan is the one with the tall sides.  Not that it matters in the long run, ultimately it all melts down to chocolate and buttery Crisco goodness.  With the first round of chocolate melting down beautifully, Kris starts on part two.

I believe that the primary reason Ms. Dragonwagon calls these cookies a caress cookie is the absolute velvety smoothness of the whipped eggs and sugar.  5 minutes she writes, of sugars and proteins beating themselves into silk.  Then he adds the vanilla and instant coffee.  The instant coffee provides a heavy coffee infusion with a scant amount of ingredient.  We, from previous unmentionable drinking habits, had some instant coffee lying around.  All we needed, 1.5 teaspoons, 3 since we doubled, and the taste transforms into the mocha hint.

Enter chocolate round #2, American-processed unsweetened cocoa, along with flour, baking powder, salt.  Kris looks at me, smiles in his little boy mischief, “Time for chocolate round #2.”

We start to prepare the pecans.  Kris wanted to chop them up first, then toast them in the oven, and I knew an intervention was needed.   “We don’t want smaller pieces getting burnt while larger pieces still needed to toast up.  It’s better to toast them whole and all a uniform shape, then chop them up, plus all the nutty oils will stay in the nut and release once we chop them. “ Kris agreed; if only he agreed this heartily with all my ideas.

With the wet ingredients whipped, flavor added in the forms of vanilla, instant coffee infusion, and melted chocolate-butter-shortening, the dry ingredients prepped, all that was left was the combination moment and the labor of love, turning wet and dry into a workable dough, then adding chopped pecans, and Chocolate Round #3, semi sweet chocolate chips.  Absolutely delicious, even the raw dough was stunningly dark in color, smooth and shiny in its fat content.

Then I join the picture in a less managerial position.  Now comes the dirty work, touching the dough, shaping it into balls and smashing them into neat circles.  This dough does not spread at all, so what we shaped became the shape of our finished cookies.  We started with balls, then realized we needed to flatten them to create a cookie shape rather than a ball shape.   We arranged them on our baking stones for an even heat distribution.

12.5 to 13 minutes later…the chocolate chips pop they are so ready to melt and fall apart, ripe with delectable mixes of chocolate and hints of coffee.   The taste test confirms the need for a small cup of milk with each cookie, that’s how rich they are, Triple-Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Oh Ms. Dragonwagon, you just made me the coolest teacher ever.

Welcome to life delicious

Welcome to life delicious, a blog about living the abundant life and finding everyday joys.  This blog came about for several reasons.  Obviously the primary reason is to write, to have a regular practice of writing and sharing it in a public forum.  Secondly to share the delicious and joyful experiences of life through fabulous recipes that I try out, refine, or randomly invent.  My husband Kris and I just bought our first home, so this blog is also a trace of our journey to transform our house into a home.  Given the fact that I now have a yard,  I have become a cook who gardens, an apprentice to seasonal eating and edible landscaping, so this is the fourth purpose of this blog.  All in all, it’s mostly about celebrating and enjoying the life delicious.