Pest Control Plants and Flowers

There are so many beautiful flowers that can enhance the beauty of your garden. Besides adding color and beauty many also have beneficial qualities such as being a natural pest control – some act as a trap plant for pests and thereby save your vegetables and herbs from being devoured. I plant Marigolds in areas that are prone to earwigs and snails to keep them away from the plants I want to protect. Below are a couple of links that have great information about flowers that have natural pest control qualities. And many are also edible.

Be aware some of these, such as Borage and Calendula, are prolific seeders and will volunteer year after year. They are a friendly ‘weed’ that I welcome and they add great color to the garden.




Summer in Full Swing


The early signs of an abundant garden harvest are evident. It is beginning of June and there are already ripe tomatoes (cherry type), lots of green larger variety tomatoes, plenty of squash, peppers and lettuces. What a joy to walk to the garden and select items for dinner.

Even after removing thousands of volunteer tomatillos there is still an over-abundance. They will be transformed to Salsa Verde when they’re ripe (recipe will be on the Gourmet Retreats site soon).

Check out the garden photos on the Facebook page –

Fruit trees are loaded too. Apricots are almost ready to harvest, Santa Rosa plums will be soon after. Students will soon be able to harvest to use in class recipes. Harvested blueberries this morning to use for breakfast – they are so sweet right off the bush, many don’t make it to the kitchen. Finally I have kiwi on the vines I’ve had planted for years. I have 2 female and 1 male. Seems they finally decided they like each other and made some babies.

The Golden Delicious apple tree is heavy with fruit. Looks like it will time for Apple Butter and / or Chutney. Also easy to slice and dehydrate. Check out the Alton Brown dehydrator and recipe on Food Network. Easy to make, perfect for preserving the flavors of summer.



Culinary Adventures in Peru

I traveled to Peru in June 2012 to experience the incredible Inca ruins, the rich culture and of course the cuisine. It was a truly memorable trip of a lifetime. I returned home with great respect for the food and traditions of the Peruvian culture. I’ve always loved quinoa and amaranth. Seeing the colorful, abundant crops in Peru, the difficult terracing on the steep Andes terrain and the hand-harvesting gave me even more appreciation of the grains. These ancient grains truly are ‘super-food’.

Quinoa is a great source of protein and a good alternative to high carb foods like potatoes, rice and pasta. The liquid to grain ratio is the same as rice (2 parts liquid; 1 part grain). I rinse it before cooking so it will be less starchy. The quinoa basically absorbs whatever flavors you add to it which makes it versatile enough to use for breakfast, savory sides, salad and even dessert. Quinoa is often on the menu in classes at CasaLana Gourmet Retreats as a side dish or salad.

I like to make it as a hot breakfast cereal in place of oatmeal. Cook it in milk (or for non-dairy use coconut milk – the beverage type). I add some chopped dates, or other dried fruits, for sweetness and some chopped crystallized ginger. You can use the same approach in cooking it to make it as a dessert – cook it in a sweetened liquid, add vanilla, cinnamon and other flavors of your choice. Serve it as you would serve rice pudding or topped with fresh fruit. It’s delicious, satisfying and a healthy alternative to sugar-laden desserts. You won’t need to feel guilty about indulging!

Abundance of Harvest

July 2012 marked 13 years since I opened CasaLana. Part of my attraction ot the property was the grove of fruit trees – apricot, apple (5), fig (6), peach, pear, plum and cherry. I’ve noticed over the years that the trees have a really abundant yield every other year. Well, this year the Santa Rosa plum tree has given more than I can ever remember. There must have been literally hundreds of pounds of plums.

The dilemma is what to do with so many plums that ripen within a 3 – 4 week period. I can’t bear to see it go to waste so I turn it into everything imaginable – jam, conserves, compote, syrup and chutney which you can find in the Culinary Essentials on-line store. I also puree the fruit and strain the raw, unsweetened pulp. I freeze that to use as a base for sorbet, sauces, glazes, syrups, etc. And of course, the CasaLana breakfasts and class menus feature whatever is currently available from the garden and orchard. So plums will find there way into relishes, glazes, compotes and more. There are some great ‘harvest’ classes coming up at CasaLana Gourmet Retreats. We’ll use plums or the plum conserves in desserts like the crostata recipe on the website.

Since it takes a lot of time to process hundreds of pounds of plums, I’ve been donating the surplus to some local restaurants. You’ll find dishes with the plums on the menus at Solbar, Brannans Grill  and All Seasons Bistro in both savory and sweet dishes.

Next up in the orchard – apples and figs, YUM!


Signs of Summer – Early Figs

All of the fruit trees at CasaLana are loaded with fruit – cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, pears, apples – but the crop that excites me the most is the abundance of figs I see.  There are two harvests of figs each year – the first , called a breba, is usually a lighter crop. It is from the growth of branches that sprouted the prior year. I first learned about this from my friend Marie Simmons when she was teaching a ‘Fig Heaven’ class at CasaLana Gourmet Retreats. With 6 fig trees on the property, it truly is a fig heaven. The figs from this ‘breba crop’ are what you will be seeing in markets very soon and they will be available for a few weeks. The second more abundant harvest is in late summer and early fall.

One of my favorite things to do with figs (besides eating them right off the tree) is to grill them and glaze with a balsamic reduction. If you love proscuitto or pancetta, you can also wrap the figs with it before you grill them. I like to use these to top a salad of just harvested baby greens tossed with a light balsamic vinaigrette. The finishing touch is some crumbled blue cheese. These flavor profiles – figs, balsamic and blue cheese – have a great affinity for each other and are just meant to be together. I’ll be adding a recipe on the website soon for Grilled Figs and Balsamic Glaze. They will also be featured in many dishes we make in the hands-on classes over the summer. Maybe I’ll do another ‘Fig Heaven’ themed class in the fall. Look for the recipe and class updates at Gourmet Retreats.

I anxiously await the full harvest in late summer so I can replenish the supply of Spiced Fig Preserves and Apple-Fig Chutney that is available at CasaLana and in the on-line store Culinary Essentials.