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This fun food brings out creativity

The finished product: Edible art.
(Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Recipe: Garden-variety focaccia decorated with whimsy

It's OK to play with your food, especially when making focaccia.

This simple Italian flatbread can be a blank canvas for garden-inspired edible "art." Use cut vegetables, tomatoes and herbs as your "paint."

Using sliced peppers, tomato, onions and more, create geometric designs or whimsical flowers. Clusters of sliced cherry tomatoes can become bouquets of appetizing blooms.

Slice toppings about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Dip parsley or cilantro in lemon juice mixed with water, so those leaves will retain their green color during baking.

Then, have fun. Garden-variety focaccia is something the whole family can help create.
A bread machine speeds up the dough-making process. The actual baking takes less than 25 minutes.

Too hot to turn on the oven? This focaccia can be "baked" on the grill.

Garden-variety focaccia
Makes one large loaf


1-1/4 cups water (room temperature)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons bread machine or quick-acting yeast
Additional olive oil as needed
Lemon juice, optional
Coarse sea salt
Parmesan cheese, optional
Decorations: Sliced peppers, tomatoes, olives, onions, scallions, mushrooms, parsley or other vegetables and herbs.

Use a variety of vegetables to "paint" a picture.

In the bowl of a bread machine, combine (in order) water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, flour, 1 tablespoon salt, sugar and yeast. Process dough in bread machine. (Dough also can be made in advance and refrigerated up to 24 hours.)

With olive oil, oil a large rimmed baking sheet. With oiled fingers, gently spread dough onto baking sheet. Don't worry if it doesn't stretch all the way; the dough will spread as it relaxes.

Set the dough and baking sheet aside in a warm place, out of drafts, and let rise until about double in size. (On a warm day, this takes about 20 minutes; on cold days, up to an hour.)

Meanwhile, prepare toppings. Slice peppers, tomatoes, onions, olives or other toppings 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Dip any green herbs such as parsley in lemon-infused water.

When ready, pat dough down evenly with your palms. Arrange decorations as desired, pressing the pieces down gently into the dough just a little.

Satisfied with the picture? Brush with olive oil, sprinkle
with salt, and pop it in the oven.
When complete, brush the entire top surface and decorations lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Bake focaccia until top is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate pan front to back in oven after half the time to assure even baking.

Remove focaccia from oven and transfer to a wire rack or bread board to cool slightly. Serve warm with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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