Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pesto Da y 2009

Our pesto sign hauled out of storage waits to be placed announcing our 7th Annual Pesto Day before we got it hung out on Saturday. (The only free time I had to take photos...)

This year's Pesto Day was a success by many measures! First of all, it was the least stressful Pesto Day for everyone on my side of the serving line: we have gotten the plan down pretty well grooved and we had a superb group of volunteers manning all the different stations. We don't yet have a final tally, but we didn't go into the red - which is always the bottom line - if we make money (it IS a fundraiser!) we are very happy; but if we at least pay our way, it means we can do this again next year, which we want to do because it is FUN! And tastes great too!

A friend of mine who has been in the non-profit world once said to me, "David, you don't really have fund-raisers so much as you have friend-raisers..." Well, I hope we made a few new friends in The Learning Garden on Saturday. And I hope we see even more folks at The Learning Garden on our next adventure!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pesto Day - Excellent Yumminess On Its Way!!

It's not just basil and garlic, but that is the most important part of pesto - if you don't have spectacular basil and garlic, you won't have spectacular pesto. Our basil is Italian in origin, Genovesa Profutissimo and our garlic is an heirloom hardneck, usually Spanish Roja (if not, then we substitute Chesnok Red or Inchellium Red). Combine these ingredients with some good pine nuts, olive oil and some quality Parmesan cheese and you have a treat that is hard to beat.

Just to prove you can't make the same pesto at home that we sell at The Learning Garden, here's the Rockenwagner recipe that I started with about seven years ago. It makes a good pesto, but if you add in Genovesa and Spanish Roja, you have something to celebrate!

Always try to process as little basil as possible at one time. If you use a food processor, chill the bowl and the blade so they stay cool while you make the pesto. Make sure to cover the pesto tightly or store in an airtight container imediately after making it. The top layer will discolor faster than the rest you can keep a thin layer of oil on top to stop oxygen from getting to the pesto and causing discoloration, but this will add more oil to the pesto each time you use it. Some of us think this is not a problem.

2 cloves of garlic
1½ Tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
¾ cup plus ½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients, except the ½ teaspoon olive oil, in a food processor and process until a puree forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer to an airtight container and pour the remaining ½ teaspoon of olive oil over the pesto, covering completely. Cover and refrigerate until needed (the pesto keeps for several days, tightly covered, but loses it’s bright green color after the first day).

Come on over to The Learning Garden this Saturday, September 26th, 2-5 PM and pick up a jar of our famous pesto, or just sample it in an Italian meal on our patio in the company of our neighbors and good folks. Troop 2131 is providing the lemonade!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Last Tuesday - It's Been Busy Around Here!

Tina Gruen (curly hair on the right) and teachers gather at one of our picnic tables in The Learning Garden to go over the scheduling and plans for the first term of CASAA (Culinary Arts and Sustainable Agriculture Academy) at Venice High School. This new academy, Tina's brainchild and baby, will take students through a regular high school curriculum but will emphasis our relationship to food from the growing, preparing and getting it to the kitchen, through cooking it in a nutritional and appetizing way.

We in The Learning Garden are excited because this will be an important part of our Garden and will encourage students to see the whole food process beyond ordering a burger at McDonald's! Whatta concept!


Sunday, September 13, 2009


I'm very pleased to show this picture of corn from this year's harvest. A flat of unidentified corn plants had come to me needing the space to grow and I planted them out in June unsure of what I had on hand, except some vague mumblings from woman who gave them to me that she thought they might be some 'Indian corn.'

Like there was some other kind? But I took it to mean she thought they were a flour corn, not a 'sweet' corn. As they grew, the kernels did not look like sweet corn, some had neat rows, some were jumbled (like Country Gentleman). I never looked at all the corn, but I knew there were some different colors in the mix.

When I harvested the corn last week, I was dumbfounded pulling the shucks off the ears by the variety and beauty of the kernels! Look at the ear at the bottom of the photo, or the one on the right above the red ear! It is as if each kernel was hand painted by a meticulous painter, each one a true work of art. I am making sure I've got them dried enough to keep and I'll be planting the seeds of those two ears for certain in the coming year!


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

PTSA Teacher Welcome Back Brunch

Teachers in the Garden! It's the end of Summer for sure now - the Venice High School PTSA has their annual Back To School Brunch for the teachers out on our patio. Lot's of good food and the teachers all seem to be eager to be back. Many compliments on the Garden, like "never looked better." I am grateful to all the volunteers who have spent so many hours in this Garden over the summer months! We have sent over 900 pounds of fresh food from this Garden so far this year and more will be sent off soon.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Let Us Experiment; Post 2

It was just a couple of weeks ago I posted the cute little plants that comprise this summers' "Lettuce Experiment" tiny in their temporary six pack homes. A few weeks along and they look a lot more like lunch. Four of the five lettuces chosen for the project are happily growing on to size in our Garden

It hasn't turned out to be much of an experiment! This summer has been so darn cool that we're not getting a good look at which lettuce varieties are really heat-resistant. Smoke resistant maybe (some really bad wildfires are burning on the fringes of LA, but our skies are covered over with smoke and ash making breathing difficult, but proving which lettuces taste best growing under smoke and ash was not the point of this experiment!), but not so much heat resistant. We have had precious little heat until these last few days when it finally soared into triple digits. In this photo, green Jericho, is nestled in among the very dark red Bughatti, the vigorous Red Fire and the much more reticent Red Sails. Missing from this photo is Summertime which had very poor germination and hasn't made it out of its first six pack yet!

These photos which are making my mouth water to try, don't tell the story. A big ol' head of lettuce isn't worth the act of harvesting if it is bitter or tough. That's where the judging will really happen - by the forkful!

That's the point of growing your own.