How to Get Rid of Snails Organically

When I was in elementary school, I used to collect snails from the wall at the back of the playground.  My friend Angela and I would put them in empty baby food containers with poked holes in the lid for air.  We created a habitat out of pebbles, lettuce leaves, and a thin layer of water on the bottom.  I thought snails were cute with their wandering antennae and spiral shell.  They were my first pets.

Gardening has since opened my eyes to the reality of snails and slugs.  They are the devil’s army, sent to devour and destroy.  After much research, I have discovered the best ways to organically combat the insatiable appetite of slugs and snails is to kill them.

Here are several well received methods.

1.  Use beer.  Come on, who wouldn’t fall for free beer?  I always do.  Fill an empty tuna can half full of (cheap) beer.  Bury the can near your plants so that the edge of the tin lines up with the level of the ground.  This way,  the snails just have to slide their way into the bacchanal.

2.  For raised beds or potted plants, use copper wire to shock the animals.  Though this will not kill them; it will cause them to make an immediate U-turn.

3.  Use an organic snail bait pellet.  These usually contain some form of iron phosphate.  By far, the most practical method.

4.  Early in the morning or at twilight, walk around your garden and pick them off using cheap chopsticks from Chinese takeout.  Don’t use your hand, unless you want a slimy mess.  Make escargot.  Just kidding, these are not the right snails for that dish.

Click here for the most comprehensive snailicide manual.


Beginning Gardener Mistake #1

A month ago, I planted 5 sugar snap pea seedlings in my raised bed.  For a few days, they thrived, vibrant, aching to expand.  A few holes and some baby leaves entirely eaten whole started to perplex me.  After a little research, I determine, this is incontrovertible evidence of snails or slugs.

The damage didn’t seem that bad, after all, I naively thought, there are plenty of leaves for the plants to expand.  Here is beginning gardener mistake #1: underestimating the power and voracious appetite of snails/slugs, especially for pea sprouts.

I did nothing to combat these night-time mollusks.  My faith in sugar snap peas believed that it was just a little damage.  Prevented from checking on them for a few days due to a busy schedule, I return one late Saturday morning to find in the place of my once lush, green plants, 5 ravaged stalks left naked.  The culprit, vanished.

It was a classic eat-and-run.A tragic eat-and-run.

Half Marathon Music Vol 6

After that 3 mile mark, I need to switch to my “Pump it” playlist. Sometimes this worries me, after all, how will I get to 13.1? This song, like my volume 5 song, connects to my internal monologue as I jog.  Usually it just repeats, “Oh my God.  Oh my God.”  However, this song’s chorus keeps me moving by telling me to go “Harder, better, faster stronger.” I just put one foot in front of the other and somehow I make it to the end.  For previous music finds check out Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, and Vol 4.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Crostini with Pea Puree

Crostini is really just a fancy Italian way of saying little toasts.  If you want an infinite food canvas, crostini is a fabulous appetizer finger food.  What you top the little toast with is entirely up to you: tomato bruschetta, mushrooms, pesto, roasted eggplant, the possibilities are endless.  This recipe comes courtesy of the cookbook The Best of Food & Wine The Italian Collection.

To make crostini, simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then slice up a baguette (the long, skinny bread) into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Bake for about 5-6 minutes, until they are your desired crispiness.

For our Celebrate Spring Dinner, (other recipes from this dinner include To-Die-For Hot Fudge Sundae Sauce, Spring Salad with shaved asparagus, Chicken in a Fennel Mushroom sauce, and Spinach with Raisins and Pine nuts) I decided to try my hand at a pea puree, and, for the first time ever, try to actually shell my own peas.  Sure, you could just use a 10 ounce bag of frozen peas, but it’s more fun to get your hands dirty and play with your food.Plus, peas are actually quite beautiful when you reveal them like treasure from their protective shell.  The alive green color, the dew-like water droplets that you find on some of the round globes; peas are just playful vegetables.You’ll need about 2 cups of fresh peas, or 1 10-ounce bag of frozen peas, 5 cloves of garlic DON’T PEEL THEM (if you feel daring, like me, use 1 entire small head), and about 1/3 pound thinly sliced pancetta (about 5 ounces; just get it from the deli counter), plus some extra virgin olive oli, salt, and pepper.1.  Chop up 2-3 slices of the pancetta, enough to get 1/2 cup.  Cook this 1/2 cup of pancetta over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.
2.  Remove cooked pancetta and place in a side bowl. “Roast” the garlic cloves by putting them, skin and all, in the pancetta juices (alright, fat).  Cook until well browned.  Remove skins and place in a food processor.
3.  Add remaining pancetta to the garlic in the food processor.  Puree.
4.  Place puree back in your saute pan with about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Add fresh peas and about 1/4 cup of water, enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Cover and allow peas to steam for about 20 minutes.  (Frozen peas will not need any water and will only take 10 minutes max)  If you have it, you can add a couple of springs of fresh parsley at this point, completely optional.
5.  Place everything back in the food processor and puree until smooth and creamy.  Add salt and pepper to your taste.  You could also add some lemon juice at this point to give the puree a tang.
6.  Spread on top of crostini and sprinkle the cooked pancetta on top.

According to this cookbook, peas are a classic Easter ingredient for Italian cooking.  Usually served whole, they are part of the first spring vegetables representing new life.  This recipe twists tradition in a tasty way.

Celebrate Spring Salad with Shaved asparagus

Inspired by a night out at the restaurant Corso in Berkeley, we replicated their quintessential spring salad of shaved asparagus, fresh arugula, pickled red onions, toasted almonds, and Parmesan shavings.

Start with arugula. So fresh from the farmer’s market in Berkeley.  So raw, I even had to trim it off of its stems and remove the flowers.Arugula is a firecracker on your tongue: spicy and unashamed.

Next, shave raw asparagus using a potato peeler.Because the pieces are so thin, the tender asparagus balances the spicy arugula.

Next, add some pickled red onions.  They take 10 minutes.  We made them the night before the dinner so the flavors would melt.  Recipe comes courtesy of David Lebovitz.

In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup white vinegar, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 bay leaf, 5 all spice berries, 5 whole cloves, crushed red pepper.  Bring to a boil. Add slices of red onion and simmer for a few minutes.  Voila, you’re done.Toast some slivered almonds in a pan until they turn a beautiful tan shade and give off a wholesome nutty smell.  Shave some fresh Parmesan cheese on top.  Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar; sprinkle salt and pepper.  You’re done.
So easy.  So good.  So fresh.  My favorite salad to celebrate spring.

Chicken in a Fennel Mushroom Sauce

This dinner entree is hearty, more of a winter feel to it due to the predominance of the mushroom flavor.  It is a bit of preparation, and you will need kitchen twine to tie the rolled, stuffed chicken tightly for cooking.  Kitchen twine has more of a cloth-like feel to it, so I don’t think you can substitute regular twine.  I had forgotten about the twine, and Kris had to wildly rush out to find it, going to 3 different stores.  Finally he was successful at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

(not pictured: 1 cup dry white wine, lemon zest, salt and pepper)
-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-3 small fennel bulbs
-1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (or any other dried mushroom mix)
-2 Tablespoons fresh sage
-2 sweet Italian sausages
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Basic Prep:
1.  Make sure you have kitchen twine.  🙂
2.  In 1 cup of hot water, add the dried mushrooms to rehydrate.  Mine are in the glass bowl in the back of the ingredients.  They’ll need about 30 minutes.
3.  Place one chicken breast into large gallon size zip-lock plastic bag so that none of the juices or bits and pieces will fly out.  Pound the chicken breast until flattened, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  If you have one of the food mallets use that.  We used a hammer and an iron skillet.3.  Repeat step 2 with remaining 5 breasts.  This is a good time to get out any anxiety or frustration.
4.  Prep any remaining ingredients for the assembly line: chop up the sage, zest the lemon, take out the mushrooms and squeeze any excess water from them (SAVE YOUR WATER FOR THE SAUCE), remove the casings from the sausage and divide into 6 chunks.  Make everything an arm’s distance away from your work space.  You will be arranging and rolling each flattened chicken breast  in an assembly line.

Here’s what you need: flattened breasts, salt and pepper for flavor, sausage, lemon zest, chopped sage, Parmesan cheese, rehydrated mushrooms (REMEMBER TO SAVE YOUR WATER FOR THE SAUCE), and a glass dish to set the completed roll-ups in.

I’m sorry I do not have photos, Kris was out getting me cooking twine.

5.  Take a flattened chicken breast and set on a plastic cutting board.  Sprinkle pepper if you so choose.  (If you like salt you can add salt too.  I found the sausage has enough salt)
6.  Take 1/6 of your sausage mixture and spread all over the flat breast.  Try to cover the entire area.
7.  Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of Parmesan cheese.
8.  Sprinkle with lemon zest and chopped fresh sage.
9.  Finally, add some rehydrated mushrooms.
10.  Roll the chicken breast as compactly as you can, from one side to the other.  The end you start with is the most flimsy end because you want it rolled into itself to keep the ingredients inside.  End on the side that is better flattened.
11.  This moment in time, you should take 3 small pieces of kitchen twine and secure the chicken roll tightly, however, Kris hadn’t come back yet, so I kept going.
12.  Repeat with the remaining 5 breasts.  Be mindful of how much of an ingredient you take since you have to spread it out over 6 chicken breasts.  (I had to chop more sage and zest more lemon.  Maybe I’ll try to have more than I think before I start.)
Here’s the twine process.

Start with 3 small pieces of twine that run the length of the chicken roll.

Rolling and Securing Chicken

Tie up each piece and make a double knot to secure.

Rolling and securing chicken

After you’ve finished securing each breast, clip off the excess twine.

You will have to brown the chicken breasts in 2 batches, then cook them all together.
13.  In a large dutch oven, melt 2 1/2 Tablespoons of butter.  Wait for it to get lightly browned and start to smoke a little.  This is butter’s signal that it’s hot.  Hot butter=beautifully browned chicken.
14.  Using tongs, add 3 of the chicken breasts to the pot.  Let brown on each side, 5-6 minutes per side.  Remove the breasts.
15.  Add remaining butter, and repeat the same browning process for the other 3 breasts.  Set these aside when well-browned.
16.  Add 1 cup of dry white wine and scrape up the flavor-bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Then add all the chicken rolls to the pot.  It’s OK if you need 2 layers.  Cover.  Cook over simmering heat for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, make your mushroom fennel sauce.
1.  Slice fennel.  Remove the fronds so all you have is the bulb.
2.  Cut it in half.3.  Carefully cut out the core.4.  Now go wash out the sandy soil.  I got mine at the farmer’s market, so you have to wash extra well.
5.  Slice fennel into strips.6.  Place fennel and leftover mushroom water (it will be brown at this point) into a medium sauce pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes.
7.  Remove from heat and place fennel and water in a food processor.  Process until smooth.  Then return to the saucepan.
8.  Cook over high heat to reduce the sauce to the consistency you desire.  This took me about 10 minutes.
9.  Serve sauce on the side, so each person can add how much they want.
Servings: 6 or 12, depending on how many side dishes you have.  If you have lots more side dishes, you could cut the breasts in half and serve each person 1/2.  I just gave everyone their own.  Remember to cut the strings before you serve.  I didn’t, so we passed a knife at the table; remember how I said our friends are forgiving.

Simple decor for a dinner party

We enjoy having people over, and I love to cook for them, but we are by no means fancy in our decor.  Consider our table, bought solo from a furniture store in an attempt to match the four chairs my godmother had given us.  Supplementing these four chairs are 6 folding chairs, two different styles, which get used quite often.  Using folding chairs, or our office chairs if we are really desperate for sitting space is actually quite common for our home.

Dinner Party recruits

At first I felt embarrassed.  Here we were, inviting guests over and making them feel celebrated, and we make them sit on folding chairs, eating on a card table extension.  Our friends, all graduate students or young working professionals, like us, luckily don’t care.  They come for the food.

On top of the table were simple yet sentimental pieces.  Our candle holders were forged by our friend Jocelyn whose hobby is blacksmithing.  The milk glass came from my late mother-like friend, Michele.  The roses were the first 2 that have come out this year.  Everything on the table had a story to tell which made for great conversation, especially when the woman who made the candle holders was a guest.  I came across a quote once: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  To eliminate the double negatives (I am an English teacher), think of it this way: everything in your house must be useful or beautiful.

To-Die-For Hot Fudge Sundae Sauce

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first,” said American writer Ernestine Ulmer.  I suppose writing about dessert before discussing the dinner is comparable.

As part of our 2011 New Year’s Resolution, Kris and I have agreed to host a dinner party feast once a month.  Of course we didn’t really start until our March going away dinner for Monica and Mattias, and we’ve only had 2 months of consistency, but every new goal needs a little wiggle room to become habit.

For April, the idea was to celebrate early spring using new fresh veggies that come out this time of year: asparagus, peas, spinach, arugula, and strawberries (alright, not a vegetable, but who’s keeping track?).

The menu:
Appetizers: Crostini with Pea Puree
Crostini with Beef and Balsamic
Goat’s milk triple creme brie cheese
Salad: Shaved Asparagus with Arugula and Toasted Almonds
Main Course: Chicken in a Fennel Mushroom Sauce
Wilted Spinach with raisins and pine nuts
Dessert: Make your own hot fudge sundae, recipe follows
Let’s not forget the flowing wine and beer throughout the evening as well.

Make your own hot fudge sundae was so much fun, so it’s clearly the best place to start.

To-Die-For Hot Fudge Sauce, expanded from Crescent Dragonwagon’s “The Very Best Hot fudge Sauce” in The Passionate Vegetarian.

Printable PDF recipe: To die for hot fudge sundae sauce

1 14-ounce can evaporated milk (or soy milk, feeling indulgent? go with cream)
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (aim for 60% or higher cacao)
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (if you’re feeling adventurous, try a liqueur like Frangelico, amaretto, creme de menthe)

1.  SHAKE evaporated can of milk VERY WELL, to break up the solids.
2.  Create a cheap “double boiler” by placing a glass (or stainless steel) bowl over the edges of a simmering pot of water.
3.  Combine evaporated milk with chocolates, sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt in the glass bowl.  Let chocolates melt and mix from time to time.  Cook for about 5 minutes until all ingredients have dissolved into one another.
4.  When everything has combined into a sauce, cook for another 10 minutes and DO NOT stir.  The sauce will thicken and become very smooth.
5.  Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.  Then stir in the vanilla.
The sauce will last up to four months…if you can make it that long.

Hot fudge sundae toppings

Kris and I prepped various toppings: cut strawberries, toasted slivered almonds, chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups, chopped Skor toffee bars, and homemade hazelnut-spiked whipped cream.  Guests chose from either coffee or vanilla ice cream (most chose both, myself included).  And to top everything off, hot fudge sauce.

It’s funny how everyone’s personality came out in their finished sundae masterpieces.

My sundae was all messy and thrown together, zero structure.

My sundae, all messy and thrown together

Jocelyn was the only one brave enough to be photographed with her work of art.She made a very playful sundae.

Jocelyns playful sundae

Mike, her fiance, a software engineer, made a structural masterpiece.  Kris says it looks like the entrance to the Temple of Doom, and he made me write that, Mike.

Mikes structural masterpiece

Kris’ friend from back in the undergrad days, Loren, made a pure sundae, straight and to the point, letting the strawberries take center stage.

Lorens pure sundae

Loren’s fiance, Yvette, a chemical engineer, created a sundae with an efficient use of ingredients, hers was the best portion-controlled. Go Yvette!  Wish I could have said the same for mine.

Yvettes well-portioned sundae

Kris’ was of course, intense, full of as much as he could possibly fit in his bowl, while still maintaining structure.

Kris everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-and-then-some sundae

Everyone should be able to make a homemade hot fudge sauce.  It makes sundae making that much more fun.

It was still good the next day, when we used it as fondue for bananas and apples.

And it’s still delicious two weeks later when we use it to top a blackberry sundae.

Delicious blackberry sundae...two weeks later

Poetry that renders you awe-struck

Sometimes, you come across a poem or a story and it changes your entire perspective.  Upon reading it, an idea fastens to your mind and for better or worse, settles like a cat circling its napping spot.

Recently, a poem by Mary Oliver has been concentrically rippling in my mind.  I had never heard of her or read any of her poetry, but in the April 2011 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, her poem, “The Journey” stunned me.  A work like this leaves you asking questions.  It makes you challenge your most base beliefs.  As any true work of art, it changes how you see color in the world.

“The Journey” by Mary Oliver, from her Pulitzer-prize winning book, Dreamwork.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations-
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Starting the Spring Garden

It’s Spring…the bees are buzzing, the birds are fluffing their feathers, flowers are displaying everything they have for the insect world to pollinate.  I love Spring for its sense of wonder and expectancy, and this year, I wanted to join the party in the form of planting a few cold season crops.  Of course here in Northern California, Zone 8-9 for all you garden buffs (don’t judge, I have no idea really what the zones means), we don’t have a “real” Winter, so technically speaking, I could have done as one of my neighbors did and planted a Winter garden of peas and lettuces, maybe next year.  After my first ever long run, I went to my favorite nursery, Alden Lane, to pick up a few plants.  I was only supposed to get a couple of strawberry plants, but left with ranaculus, anemone, and sugar snap peas.

OK, yes I cheated with a few plants, buying small cell packs of sugar snap peas and strawberries, but the rest have been planted from seeds.

Here’s what I put in my raised bed so far…

My first time ever having these perennials.  After several weeks of debating, I decided to plant them in my raised bed.  At first I was afraid of making a commitment to them; each plant will probably last for 4-6 years in that one spot.

Strawberries...cant wait for these

Sugar Snap Peas
Some of my all time favorite snacks.  What’s not to love about their crisp snappiness and bright green shell.

Sugar Snap Peas

Wild Arugula
Also called rocket for how fast it grows.  Love this stuff in salads, on top of pizzas, lightly wilted in pasta dishes, as something to just bathe in regularly (just kidding, for the record, I don’t think arugula has any beauty benefits).

Arugula spouts came out in a week

Mesclun Mix
Actually, I planted this last year, and the mixed lettuces came out delicious.  These are fun because the seed mix includes 3-4 different types, textures, and shapes.

Mesclun mix also came out in about 1 week

I also planted 3 nasturtium plants, maybe 2.  I don’t remember and I didn’t mark the places where I put the seeds.  I’m also not 100% sure if my arugula picture is arugula; it may be my mesclun mix.  Note to self: label what gets planted.