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4010 Mt Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, CA, 94549

Located in the Bay Area, CA, we're a family-owned garden center offering unusual and hard-to-find plants & gifts. Established 1946.

Life is Beautiful Blog

The Story Behind our Harvest Fest Farm Animals

Lauren Brookhart

During our Harvest Festival, we always get excited about bringing in our farm animals. Sometimes it's pigs or alpacas and even one year there was an elephant! 

If you were lucky enough to stop by during October this year, then you got to meet our furry friends. This year, we got a visit from Mama goat Nutmeg and babies Nestle and Nugget, Clara the sheep (baaack for another visit!) with her baby, Noel in tow. And did you hear? Unbeknownst to us, Clara was pregnant with Noel when she was here last year! We also had a gang of chickens and a chick too!

Three years ago we met the owners of our animals, Tineke and Torsten Jacobsen. They offered to "rent" us their darling critters for our annual Harvest Festival. When it came time to settle up 2 years ago, Tineke shared that the money would be the seed money for their Rotary project in Uganda. Active members of the Concord/Clayton Sunrise Rotary, the Jacobsen's were spearheading the construction of a medical center for Antenatal, Maternity, Family Planning & HIV Counseling and Testing. The project was complete in 2017, giving the people in that area access to excellent medical care and counseling.

Last year, when we agreed to renew our arrangement we found out that Tineke and Torsten were involved in a huge undertaking in San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. Along with the San Felipe Rotary Club, in support of The San Felipe Cancer Society, they were on a mission to promote early detection and improve hospice care in the San Felipe area. Our “rent” went to the groundbreaking funds of building an annex to the San Felipe Cancer Center that would provide hospice care to patients.

This year they had another project in mind:

“In Poblado Delicias (a rural Mexican village) 8 miles from our “vacation house on the beach” several of the local fishermen families live in substandard human conditions. Two years ago, when we left for the summer, we gave all our pantry and refrigerator contents to one family on a day when the wind was howling fiercely. The family’s house had a cinder block annex with an opening for windows where the daughter, a single mother of two toddlers, had their bedroom and kitchen. I was appalled at how the wind blew through there and offered totally inadequate shelter. I swore to myself, that one day I would try to do something to better their lives. That opportunity is about to come to fruition. My husband and I have developed a relationship through the San Felipe Rotary Club with a very generous local retired US contractor, whose goal is to provide home improvement to deserving families who can’t afford it. There is already an existing program in place for this purpose in San Felipe, called “Casa Digna.” We’d like to see this program extended to include the needs of some families in Poblado Delicias.”

We are so happy that not only do we get to bring in these amazing farm animals for a month-long visit at Orchard Nursery but we also get to give to so much to Tineke and her many great causes. As she says, “It has been a total win-win privilege for me to participate in this for the past 3 years. During their stay at Orchard Nursery our animals are happy, loved and well card for by your Orchard company staff, yet enjoy by many.”

Byers' Choice Collection

Lauren Brookhart

We’re excited to announce a special collection of Byers’ Choice available in our Holiday Shop! From a pristine private collection of unique pieces including 1st editions, 1st year issues and rare limited production pieces, we’re wowed by the handiwork and details of these vintage pieces!

 7-Headed Mouse King, 1st Edition 1997. Extremely rare! The Prince, 1st Edition 1998.

7-Headed Mouse King, 1st Edition 1997. Extremely rare! The Prince, 1st Edition 1998.

Featuring hard-to-find dolls including The Lady Cookie Vendor with her candy and sweets stand, signed by Joyce herself, and the Amish Man, also signed by Joyce, that was sold only at the Chalfont, Pennsylvania studio. Both of these and many more in our collection are quite rare and made in very small numbers.

Each piece in this vintage collection is signed and dated.

 Happy Scourge, 1st Edition 1991.

Happy Scourge, 1st Edition 1991.

Add a new piece to your collection or select the perfect one as a gift for the person who has everything! Small, enchanting, easy to store and made in America with a whole lot of TLC!

Hurry in and give them a new home today!

Just caught the Byers’ bug? Read on to learn the history of where Byers’ Choice got started and how its cult following just keeps growing!

HISTORY OF BYERS’ CHOICE

The following article is from byerschoice.com

What does Christmas look like to you? It was the late 1960's and Joyce Byers, an amateur artist with a degree in fashion design, was disappointed in what she was seeing in the stores: aluminum tinsel trees with garish blue lights. She was looking for holiday decorations with warmth that showed respect for timeless traditions and her own memories of Christmas. 

The first Carolers graced the Byers' dining room table that Christmas, and they received compliments from all of the relatives. On a tight budget, Joyce knew what to make for presents the following year. A neighbor suggested taking some to a local store, where they sold quickly. The store was part of a federation of Woman's Exchanges and introduced the Carolers to other exchanges around the country. Soon a couple of dozen stores around the country were asking Joyce to supply them with Carolers. 

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Joyce pressed her husband, Bob, and their two sons into service to help produce the figures each autumn. It wasn't long before the Carolers overwhelmed the dining room table, where the family gathered to work together. "Every year the house would be a total wreck, and I'd say that we're never doing this again!" remembers Joyce. 

But when a downturn in the economy hurt his construction business, Bob looked around and saw some potential in the Carolers. He decided to devote more of his energies to the fledgling business, and in 1978, the couple hired their first employee, and turned the garage into a workshop. 

The unique appearance and handcrafted quality of the Carolers quickly gained a following. Each year, Bob & Joyce would work with their crew of trained artisans up until Christmas Eve putting the finishing touches on Carolers. 

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The two sons joined the company upon graduating from college and have played an important role in the growth of the firm, with Bob working in production and Jeff helping with marketing and design. "We always say that mom's hobby has gotten a little out of control," jokes Jeff. 

Together, the family now oversees a team of 80 artisans in Pennsylvania who handcraft those same creations that started out on the dining room table many years ago. And although the Carolers are sold in thousands of fine gift stores around the world, the company still holds to its starting roots: producing a quality product, at an affordable price, and dedicated to serving its customers and the community in the spirit of Christmas. 

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We have a huge selection of new Byers’ Choice pieces in the Holiday Shop as well! Stop in today and find your favorite!

How To: Revive Your Houseplants

Lauren Brookhart

We all want to be a good plant parent but sometimes vacation calls, or we get busy, or we get a little worried and a bit heavy-handed and our plants start looking a little sickly. No worries - it happens to all of us.

Here are the most common problems we see with houseplants and the remedies to make them happy again!

Overwatering

This is the most common problem we see. It’s a bit of “over-parenting” with the watering can in hand. No plant wants to bathe in water, let those roots breathe! The easiest way to avoid this issue is to use a pot with a hole that allows for drainage.

If you are realizing this may be occurring with your plant. It’s time to repot with new soil and trim those moldy, rotten roots for a fresh start!

 Fiddle Leaf Fig leaves will wilt a little when they’re thirsty!

Fiddle Leaf Fig leaves will wilt a little when they’re thirsty!

Remember that now that winter is approaching you will be cutting back on watering to every week and a half or so depending on the plant, size of the container and how well it drains. Note that if you’ve got a plant near a heater it might call for more hydration than others!

Underwatering

If the plant is withering - it’s time to water. For those that prolonged your vacation and are returning home to a sad looking plant - plop it into the kitchen sink or bath and give it a good, long drink. It may be a good idea to give it another long drink the day after depending on how well the soil is soaking up the water.

For those who are weary about watering Pothos and Fiddle Leaf Figs are great about telling us when they want a drink. Their leaves will slightly wilt and once hydrated, will perk right back up! Sansevieria and ZZ Plants are low-water houseplants that can go weeks without a water - really the perfect plant for the world traveler!

 This poor plant was ready for a repot weeks ago!

This poor plant was ready for a repot weeks ago!

Root Bound

Although plants often only want to move up only 2” a pot size at a time, it’s important to ensure they aren’t root bound. If you’re noticing roots emerging from the bottom of your pot - it’s probably time to repot. Visit us for soil and a new pot and let us help you get your plant a little more comfortable!

Sun Burn

If you’re noticing brown or black spots on your foliage, chances are your plant is suffering from sun burn. It’s time to back your plant up out of any direct sunlight. There’s nothing you can do for the burned leaves. If they are unsightly, trim them off and give your plant a little R&R in the shade.

The Plant Equivalent to a Vitamin D Deficiency

If your houseplant’s leaves are turning pale and/or yellow and dropping off - it may be requiring a little more light. Most houseplants besides Sansevieria and ZZ Plants require a minimum of sunlight a day to look and live their best life. When in doubt, place your houseplant in bright, indirect light - it is the most common lighting that indoor plants require.

 We’re got pots for your new and existing plants!

We’re got pots for your new and existing plants!


For more info on how to revive your houseplants, follow the link here.  

And as always, come visit us in the Atrium! We’re here to help, whether you need a repotting, a diagnosis or just help finding a new plant pal!

Cyclamen

Lauren Brookhart

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Soon Garden’s Gate will be transformed by our Bedding Department. There, you will find yourself lost amongst vibrant cyclamen, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, fragrant Paperwhites, ivy topiaries and more! 

As of now, we have Cyclamen galore! Resembling a shooting star and typically blooming in shades of white, maroon, pink, purple and red with often two-tone or ruffled petals, it’s one of our most popular flowers this season! And deer resistant too!

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Cyclamen are tubers that go dormant in the summer (if not receiving adequate amount of water) then the fall rains will bring forth new leaves. As the days shorten, the buds will begin to form.

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Adorn your table centerpiece with one of stunning cyclamen, just ensure your container has good drainage and plenty of good bright light. Remember that they like it a little bit cooler so a north-facing window or cooler part of your home is ideal.

Outdoors cyclamen like shady, woodland areas but also do well in containers. They are not particular about soil types and do not mind root competition. Therefore planting them under trees and conifers for a pop of color works wonders.

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They like to be watered well and then left to dry out. If kept too moist, cyclamen can get a fungus known as Botrytis or gray mold, and the base of the stems turn soft and mushy and the leaves fall off easily. Fertilize your cyclamen with Master Bloom 0-10-10 or E.B. Stone Organics Ultra Bloom 0-10-10 every month during the growing season.

Cyclamen are one of the few winter blooming plants that are deer resistant, and add that spark of bright color during those dreary winter days - so plant away!

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Stop in and see what color winter has to offer your garden today! 

Dorm Room Approved Plants Pt. 2

Lauren Brookhart

Heading off for school (or maybe your kids are) and looking to decorate with a little greenery? Here's our top picks for houseplants that don't require a lot of care and attention because let's face it, you're going to have a lot on your mind! 

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Aloe Vera

We love aloe vera not just for it's looks but its first aid boasting skills too! An easy-care succulent that can live in a variety of conditions with no hand-holding in sight!

Light: A lover of bright light, keep it near your window for optimal sunshine exposure!

Water: This baby doesn't want to wade in water all day, so allow it to dry out between waterings. 

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Bromeliad

Looking for a pop of color for your space? These tropical beauties are more low maintenance than you think! Check out Bromeliads 101 for more info on the care and keeping of these terrestrial plants. 

Light: Choose a spot with bright, indirect light. 

Water: Water them from the top, pouring into the “cup” at the base of its leaves. They store their moisture there, so ensure that water is always present in its cup. For small Bromeliads that means roughly an inch, for larger plants maintain a few inches.

Sansevieria

Also known as a Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law's Tongue, the Sansevieria is one the hardest of houseplants. (See the ZZ Plant for another great option!) Boasting striped foliage and available in a variegated form too, we've always got a great selection of them in the Atrium! 

Light: Tolerant of low light, this is the perfect plant for those who like to sleep late with the blinds drawn, or those dark corners that are screaming for a little greenery. 

Water: This is the plant for those underwater-ers out there! It can go weeks (and some even say months) without a drop of water but to keep it looking its best, give it a drink every week or so. When you leave on winter vacation, don't worry about watering, we recommend backing off watering in the winter months when things are a little bit cooler. 

Spider Plant

The classic "clean air plant." The Spider Plant is great for a little movement and shape in your space. And we especially love when it begins to propagate and little baby plants start raining down from the mama! 

Light: Likes bright, indirect light

Water: Give it a drink regularly, every week in summer and less frequently in winter. 

Pothos

Our favorite part about this plant is how it tells you when it's thirsty, it's leaves will begin to droop a bit and with one small watering, it's back to its happy, hydrated self! Easy as pie! It's leaf green leaves grow on winding stems that can be led up or down hooks, shelves or tables (even that mini fridge!) for easy, beautiful greenery. 

Light: Does well in bright, indirect light but if you've got a low light corner, it'll take it!

Water: Water weekly in the warmer months or if it's near a heating vent, and in winter less frequently. 

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ZZ Plant

When customers are looking for tough houseplants, the ZZ and Sansevieria are our recommendations. It's thick stem can hold water for weeks, so when you forget to water this baby still looks great! Plus breathe easy, the ZZ is a clean air plant, helping to purify the air around you! 

Light: It'll take anything you've got: bright, medium, low and that spot you thought nothing could grow in! 

Water: Water sparingly, too much is about the only way to kill this plant. 

 

Questions?

Check in with our staff in the Atrium and let us help you find the perfect houseplant today! 

Grilled Melon Salsa

Lauren Brookhart

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Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 thick slices ripe cantaloupe (half-moon shaped, seeds and rind removed)*
  • 3 thick slices ripe honeydew (half-moon shaped, seeds and rind removed)*
  • 3 thick slices ripe canary melon or other yellow-fleshed melon (half-moon shaped, seeds and rind removed)*
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus a drizzle   
  • 1 cup diced ripe red tomato
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 limes
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Small handful basil leaves, coarsely chopped

* Save the rest of the melons for another use, or double the recipe!

PREPARATION

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high. Toss the melon slices gently in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil. Using tongs, place the melon slices across grill grates. Don’t disturb them once you’ve laid them down. Let them cook for 3 to 4 minutes to brown—you’ll see the edges start to caramelize. Flip them and brown the other side. Remove from the grill and set aside to cool.
  2. Dice the grilled melon into pieces that are about the same size or slightly larger than the tomato. Toss into a bowl with the tomato, jalapeño, and shallot.
  3. Add some of the lime juice,  1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir in the cilantro and basil. Taste and add salt, pepper, and lime juice as needed.

 

This recipe was demonstrated for CUESA’s Market to Table program on August 18, 2012.

Source: Alison Mountford, Square Meals

How To: Preserving Herbs

Lauren Brookhart

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If your garden is bursting with fresh herbs now, preserve some for a time when things are not so green. By the first sign of frost this winter, it'll be time to harvest the rest of those herbs in your garden and bring them inside to dry or freeze for later use. Annual herbs can be cut off at ground level but perennial herbs should not be cut down completely, harvest only the tips of branches and tender leaves.

Before preserving, wash the herbs gently in cold water, drain thoroughly and air dry on a towel.

 Air drying herbs double as decor!

Air drying herbs double as decor!

AIR DRYING

Gather herbs in small bunches, tying the ends with twist ties or rubber bands. Hang the herbs in bunches, upside down, in a dim, airy place away from any source of heat or moisture. You could use a beamed ceiling or a drying rack, anywhere that allows circulation between the bunches of herbs. It may take 4 – 14 days to dry completely, depending on the type of herb and the warmth and humidity of your drying area.

Herbs can also be stripped from the stems and leaves dried in a single layer on mesh rack (window screen works well). Leaves are dry when they are crisp and brittle.

OVEN DRYING

The quickest way to dry herbs is in the oven. Set in single layer on mesh rack or foil lined baking sheet. Heat oven to its lowest setting. Place the herbs in the oven and leave until completely dry, which should take two to four hours depending on the herb. Cool before storing. Herbs are dry when the leaves crumble off the stem. Be care to not crush leaves until using them.

Once the herbs are dry they should be stored in airtight jars away from heat and moisture. For best flavor, use within 6 months to a year. When using dried herbs, crush between your fingers to release their flavor.

Remember that dried herbs are stronger in flavor than fresh, so when measuring in recipes use 1 part dried to 3 parts fresh.

FREEZING

Strip the herb leaves from the stems and lay on baking sheets. Freeze until firm and then pack into freezer bags. You can also chop the herbs in a food processor with a little water and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen solid, unfold and pack in freezer bags for easy use all year long! 

When cooking, use the herbs straight from the freezer as you would fresh herbs.

 Dried oregano ready for your culinary delights!

Dried oregano ready for your culinary delights!

DEHYDRATING

This can be the easiest way to dry your herbs. There are many different types of dehydrators in the market and you don’t have to spend too much. Once dried they are ready to be stored in airtight jars.

Our favorite part about dehydrating? So easy to make different herbal blends! It's recommended that you don’t fully crush the herbs up until day of use. 

Apple & Pear Picking

Lauren Brookhart

Most apples are ready to pick when they separate easily from the tree. Lift gently and rotate the apple upwards to avoid damaging the spur (in layman's terms, we call it the stem.)

If you're second guessing yourself, cut an apple open and inspect the seed color. When the seeds are dark brown, the apples are ready. Although as we all know, taste is the best indicator. Note that if you're judging ripeness by it's skin color, cool weather or low light (as in foggy weather) can affect coloring. If you're harvesting apple for root cellar storage, pick them when  firm. 

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To enjoy a range of varieties you don't normally see in store, and could possibly catch on our Bareroot Fruit Tree Availability List from Dave Wilson Nursery, visit us in the month of October and try our freshly harvest apples from Sebastopol-based Hale's Apple Farm! Stop in to try all our available varieties (there's quite a few!) and join us for Harvest Festival fun every weekend in October! 

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Now onto pear harvesting:

European pears (such as Anjou, Bosc, Comice, and Bartlett) ripen best off the tree. Beware, they can taste mealy if allowed to ripen on the tree. Wait until they are the correct size for the variety, then lift the fruit upward without twisting (a Bartlett may need a slight twist). If the fruit slips from the stem, it’s ready, if not, wait a few days and try again.

Fun fact: We were originally a pear orchard, hence our name "Orchard Nursery!" As an ode to our beginnings, we have an espalier pear tree planted in the front of our shop, to your right as you enter. Read more about our history (been here since 1946!) here!

Lookout for our Bareroot Fruit Tree Availability List in fall where you can special order varieties and receive a 20% off discount with orders placed before December 1st!

Summer Harvest: Cucumbers

Lauren Brookhart

Check your cucumbers daily and harvest early. And if you're harvesting for pickling, make that even earlier! Remember that timing and length will vary with variety but overall, cucumbers are fast growers. 

The fruit should be firm and smooth. Over-ripe cucumbers can be very bitter or pithy, even before they start to turn yellow. If you're noticing a yellowed bottom on your cucumber, it's a sign that it's over-ripe so remove immediately. When cutting off the vine, use a knife or clippers and cut above the stem. Pulling may damage the vine. 

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Harvested cucumbers keep for up to 10 days in the refrigerator but use them ASAP for best flavor. (Keep reading for the perfect 2-step recipe to incorporate your harvest in!) The more you harvest off the vine, the more fruit you'll get. So get harvesting! 

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BASIL AND GARLIC CUCUMBER SALAD

Source:  Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. This recipe was demonstrated for CUESA’s Market to Table program on July 19, 2014.


Serves 6 to 8


INGREDIENTS


6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 lemon cucumbers, quartered and sliced
1 serpent cucumber, sliced
3 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
1/8teaspoon salt
1/8teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


PREPARATION

1. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, and yogurt with the
smashed garlic.
2. Add the cucumbers, basil, salt and pepper. Toss and serve. 

 

Summer Harvest: Corn

Lauren Brookhart

Normally sweet corn is ready for harvest about 17 –24 days after the first silk strands appear. This can occur more quickly in hot weather and more slowly in cool weather.

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Harvest corn when the husks are still green, silks are dry brown, and kernels are full sized and yellow or white in color to the very tip of the ear. Experienced gardeners can feel the outside of the husk and tell when the cob has filled out. Harvest corn at the “milk stage”, use your thumbnail to puncture a kernel. If the liquid is clear, the corn is immature, if it’s milky, it’s ready, and if there is no sap, you too late.

And here's the best tip in the game: Cover unharvested ears checked by this method with a paper bag to prevent insect or bird damage! 

 Picturesque corn stalks - save them for fall decorating! 

Picturesque corn stalks - save them for fall decorating! 

For corn that you'll be storing for a day or two, pick in the cool temperatures of early morning to prevent the ears from building up an excess of field heat, which causes a more rapid conversion of sugars to starch.  

The best time to pick is just before eating the corn; country cooks say to have the pot of water coming to a boil as you are picking the corn, husking it on the way from the garden to the house! This is an exaggeration, but with standard varieties, sugar conversion to starch is rather rapid.  

For any corn picked in the midday sun - plunge the ears in cold water or put them on ice for a short time to guard against the effects of field heat. Then, just store it in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat! 

Extra-sweet varieties will also benefit from this treatment, but they are not as finicky because they have a higher sugar content and they hold their sweetness longer.  The conversion of sugars to starch is also not as rapid in the newer super sweet types.

Now that you know how to harvest your garden-fresh corn, let's get cooking...

Fresh Corn Soup with Poblano Chile

INGREDIENTS

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion minced
1 medium carrot, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 cups corn kernels, about 6 ears
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 poblano chiles, roasted, skinned, and chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
I left out the 1 ounce of queso fresco or feta cheese whisked with 1-2 tablespoons of milk.

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a large pot.  Sweat the onions covered for about 5 minutes.  Add carrots, cover, and cook another five minutes.  Add garlic, dried herbs, cayenne, and cook covered another couple minutes.  Add corn, season with salt, cover then cook another five minutes.  Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat.  Puree in a blender then strain through a fine mesh sieve.  (Be sure to have a pot under the strainer to catch the soup ---- I have made this mistake before and don't want you to).  Return soup to the big pot and season to taste.

I roasted the poblanos directly over the flame of the gas stove until they were blackened, put them in a ziploc bag to steam for awhile, then could easily remove the skins.

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Stir in the poblanos and cilantro and serve. 

This recipe is from the website of Kaiser Permanente, Food for Health, Recipes for Life.