Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


5 Comments

Orange marmalade in the face of adversity

Its been a busy week guys.

Between emergency turkey roasting, filming with Parents and Friend’s and Art Explorers in the garden, Americorp work days, and newborn Nubians, (I promise pictures and blogging will happen when I’m more alive) it’s been a lot of work out in the cold. My household is sick. It’s been going around. Its been forever since I had a bug, but I’m all foggy and have a scratchy throat. The Kid is sick, and so is The Boyfriend.

We’ve been saving our orange peels in the fridge in a tupperware for a few weeks- since Sarah found local oranges, of all beautiful things, in Ukiah. Citrus is so precious I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. I first thought I might candy them like my grandma used to, but honey works so differently than sugar I wasn’t sure it would work, and thought it might just make napalm on my baking sheet.

Then I remembered marmalade. I had made a nice fluffy farmer cheese, and had been eating it in tiny custard cups with honey because I felt too exhausted and gross to cook. The clean, bitter citrus taste is all I ever want when I’m sick, and I was feeling up to the task of sitting and cutting peel into bits, so I did. Initially I brought my laptop and watched the Lorax, but it made me too sad, so I had to watch Wallace and Gromit instead.

Once, I was hardcore.

But anyway.

I also cubed some fruit- both a few oranges and some meyer lemons from Sarah’s parents’ tree that were getting a bit soft.

Some recipes call for the pith to be removed entirely, because it is a bit bitter, and some for the pith to be removed, wrapped in cheesecloth, and left in for the natural gelling effect it has. (its full of pectin, which occurs naturally in some fruits like quince and to a lesser extent apples, and is sold in powdered form for jelly making) I happen to like bitter marmalade, which is lucky because I was not in any way up for the removal or straining process.

I added about a cup on honey- which is a bit less than the usual amount of sugar. Sarah’s lemon sauce taught us a lot about replacing sugar with honey- its sweeter, and thinner. Hence the sauce instead of curd. Since I left the pith in I did add a fair amount.

The oranges cooked down for a long time- over an hour. I added little bits of water as I went to keep it simmering. Eventually it began to gel a bit even though it was hot, and I figured that meant it was done.

      This stuff smells amazing even when you can’t really smell anything.

Spooned over the thick rich farmer cheese, its absolutely what I want today.

Hope you and yours are warm and keeping hydrated.

Loves,

-Gowan


Leave a comment

Thanksgiving in February, Part 2

I’m still in Turkey-coma. There are gallons of soup to be made, meat to slice and freeze, (we only carved one side of the bird and still fed six people and loaded Sarah up with meat to take to Ukiah!) and a fleet of glass tupperware full of side dishes and drippings in the fridge.

It’s epic, in other words.

I left off yesterday with the bird in the oven and The Kid returning from her job to the house. Once she got home we sat in the kitchen and talked for a while, then steamed potatoes to make mashed potatoes later, chopped veggies to steam in apple juice, and made a salad.

0219132130c

All the produce grown by me and harvested the same day, potatoes grown by John.

 

 

 

0219132109

Kiwis and radishes are amazing in salads, I promise.

The kid mashed potatoes, and her boyfriend stopped by. I had run into one of my amazing garden volunteers in the store earlier when I was hunting down a roasting pan big enough for Mr. Tom. She was leaving in a week to be an intern on a farm up north, and I suggested she stop by. She did, and brought local wine, and whisked gravy like a pro. Felicia, you are a trooper and a joy wherever you happen to be, and the farm is lucky to have you!

0219132149aGravy is serious business in my family. Serious, serious business. I think we did my mom proud on this one.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though- before we could make gravy we had to get the bird out of the oven.

We don’t have pictures of this process, because we were focusing all our energy on trying not to die.

We ended up doing an odd, double pan thing, because the largest “Eco-pan” roasting pan Harvest stocks didn’t quite hold the bird, and even without adding any liquid the juices were clearly more than what the poor roasting pan could handle. We layered it with a large baking pan. The bird was hugely heavy. The Kid and I ended up each having to lift a side of the pan from the bottom. This resulted in some spilled juices and multiple superficial burns. We eventually got the thing onto the stove top only to find that the roasting pan was twisting under the weight and threatening to spill juices everywhere. Felicia saved us and stuck our cast iron underneath and I managed to hold it up and pour off the liquid.

Whew.

We had the bird out of the oven.

0219132120aTransferring it to the cutting board on the counter was another two-person job- Sarah and I bent the front of the pan into a kind of ramp, placed the cutting board in the lower level of the sink, and basically skated the turkey into place, then lifted the cutting board back onto the counter.

0219132130a

0219132139a

SUCCESS

 

We felt glorious.

0219132205b

Scooping out the stuffing was one of the singular best things I have ever done.

0219132213

Primal beast time.

I felt like a Viking Queen. This massive beast was laid out in all its unknowable, divine, infinite glory. I almost never eat meat, I was vegan for several years, and never ate commercially raised meat really ever. I rarely crave it and don’t miss it when I do without it. But this turkey made every single cell in my body vibrate. With my tiny paring knife, since I don’t even own a carving knife, I sawed off huge moist chunks.

We set the table.

With perfect timing, my poor mostly vegan boyfriend walked in from his EMT class to find a kitchen full of people and an immense turkey splayed out on every surface. Being a total champion, he took it all in stride and accepted the potatoes and greens that we refrained from dumping turkey fat on for his sake.

 

0219132226a

Glorious.

I, on the other hand, dumped turkey fat on everything.

It was amazing.

Loves,

-Gowan

 

 

 


1 Comment

Thanksgiving in February

I spent a lot of today wrestling a very large bird with the help of my gallant chef friend Matt. As I write I’m watching it’s epic, rounded back browning in my oven like a very suntanned whale, barely contained in its baking dish. Soon I have to get up and steam some broccoli and make salad so we can eat this thing like civilized people.

But Gowan, you might ask. Why are you roasting a turkey in February?

The answer, my friends, is because a drunk man crashed his car into a telephone pole, and my chickens are jerks.

….Some clarification might be needed.

On Saturday, an intoxicated man ran into a power pole, causing outages all over the coast, including my farm. Thankfully he didn’t kill anyone. We have a back-up generator, and when I got to work for a work day with an Americorps team, (after buying my first paper cup in months- containing hot water to which I added honey and citrus) the lights were on in the barn and everything seemed fine. With ten people digging strawberry beds and many many moving parts to attend to, I didn’t think anymore of it.

Americorps rocks!

Americorps rocks!

Until this morning. When my butt-face chickens came into the equation.

You might remember that a few blog posts back I mentioned that I got a handful of rare breed hens in an assortment that had proven to be difficult? That is, determined to make my life hell by flying like homing pigeons into my hoop house despite multiple wing tip cutting, bribing with treats, threats and tears? Yeah. I still catch them by the feet every morning, put them in a covered run, and let them out at dusk every night. They were reported to be good layers, which is the only reason this has gone on for so long.

This morning, one of them laid her first egg.

0219131228

Of course, this resulted in me trying to get into the low tractor coop to get it out without letting them escape. Nope.

 

We don't even care.

We don’t even care.

Cursing at the fluffy little terrorists I took the egg to put in the refrigerator in the barn. I opened the door, and the light didn’t come on. I wondered if the bulb was out, it still felt cold… and then with dawning horror I opened the freezer.

The hulking huge turkey donated by my farmer friend and market manager Julie was almost totally thawed. Still perfectly cold, but not able to be re-frozen. My plans for the day had just changed.

I called Sarah and left a message: “We have an emergency and have to cook the bigass 30lb turkey Julie gave us, today. Call me.”

I still had to harvest produce for the Bistro. As I was walking back to the garden my friend Jonah arrived. He brought me milk, I gave him veggies and kefir grains. Seeing him was steadying, and as I worked finishing my chores as quickly as possible, I thought about the kefir grains, and how everything we do in our farmer world multiplies. Life begets life, goats beget goats, kefir grains beget kefir grains, seeds beget seeds, chickens beget chickens. Unless they’re jerks in which case their eggs will not be selected for the incubator. Abundance is our way of life. With proper tending everything regenerates, there is no zero sum. But sometimes, you have to drop everything and cook a big ass turkey and roll with the slapstick sense of humor the gods seem to have.

I called my mom, then called my chef friend. Both had very sweet, warm hearted advice. And then Matt, bless his heart and may his knives never dull, actually packed up his knives and came over. I ran around the farm, thinned my baby carrots, dug Jerusalem artichokes, cut herbs, harvested broccoli, and talked with Matt on my cell about how we were going to do this. I had one last acorn squash I grew last year. He had a few local chestnuts. Neither of us had apples, or celery. My onions were tiny- I harvested some scallions, and he brought wild onions foraged from a creek. In his usual calm, cheerful, totally unruffled manner, we made it happen.

0219131319b

Everything I picked this morning, except the squash, which I picked in the fall.

This kind of magic is Matt’s specialty, he’s our chef for the Farm to Table dinner series Sarah created. He can bring together fresh ingredients on the fly and create something magical. He has none of the ego or stress of the stereotypical chef, he moves slowly, has a great time, and makes amazing food. And he’s wonderful enough to drop everything and come to my house to cook me a feast.

0219131456

Chopped wild onions, red scallions I grew, my herbs, fresh butter.

We  steamed the Jerusalem artichokes, minced the herbs and garlic, chopped the squash, chopped chestnuts, crumbled dried mushrooms, and beat duck eggs to make stuffing.

0219131346d

The gentleman in question.

In the middle of this process I got a call from work. The jerk chickens were over the fence. A volunteer was kind enough to follow my directions about how to lure them back in, even though my voice was muffled by my shoulder since I had butter hands.

0219131509a

Cooking the stuffing

Browning the stuffing made the house smell amazing.

Herb garlic butter massage.

Herb garlic butter massage.

Rosemary to the rescue!

Rosemary to the rescue!

….And of course I didn’t have twine. Never fazed, Matt sharpened some of what I did have- a burly old rosemary bush full of sharp branches. He skewered the wings down and we stitched the bird together with the twigs.

0219131613

This took some doing. Never underestimate butter hands for making simple things difficult and difficult things hilariously impossible.

Mr. Tom went in.

1361330995858

On his way to deliciousness.

And like the magical wood elf he is, Matt departed as quickly and cheerfully as he had arrived.

And so I’m sitting here. Kate Wolf is on the radio, I have work emails to answer, some stuffing prep dishes to wash, and broccoli to cut up and steam. The Kid just walked in the door. My butt-face chickens really saved us today. Funny how life works.

I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow.

Loves,

-Gowan

 


5 Comments

The Magic of Milk

I don’t think I have opened the fridge and poured myself a glass of milk since I lived in my parents’ house. And even then, I do not remember this as a familiar action. I never loved the taste of store-bought milk, nor craved it. I found it thin & tasteless and didn’t believe it provided much nutritional value for me; I usually used almond milk for things requiring a milk-like substance. Until now. This month has transformed me into the girl who excitedly awaits milk deliveries with ardent anticipation. When the jar arrives, I excitedly open the lid and skim a spoonful of cream right off the top before putting it in the fridge. Oh, the cream! What most milk drinkers have been robbed of…. In my opinion, lowfat/reduced-fat milk is a nutritional hoax and an offense to our species. Milk is meant to be whole and thick and creamy – just like it comes out of the cow.

ButterI have gone through a milk metamorphosis; my culinary clock revolves around when the next jars of milk will arrive. Originally, we thought we would each consume 1/2 gallon of milk per week. Now we pick up milk 2 or 3 times a week and have been going through a few gallons between us! We, and I mean Gowan really, also severely underestimated our butter consumption and that problem has been resolved by upping our butter order to 1 pound/week – and that may not be enough. Milk and butter are like white gold and they are literally keeping us alive during the winter months. It’s not only keeping us alive; I believe that the enzyme rich unpasteurized fresh milk helped my recent ghastly thumb wound heal at superhero speed. A friend told me today that she has been making ghee with fresh butter and using the leftover milk solids as a skin ointment, which is healing chronic skin problems. I am a believer and this shouldn’t surprise me, but the simple magic of real food is continually astonishing.

What have we done with all this milk? During the first couple weeks, I was too busy to do much more than make creamy soup and simply drink it from the glass – which was a bizarrely satisfying novelty in its own right. In Month 1 we made yogurt, steamed milk, more yogurt, farmers’ cheese, and then strained yogurt – my Greek ancestors would approve and there is no turning back to runny yogurt.  In Month 2 we have introduced kefir and custard to the milk repertoire. And someday… cheesecake! Oh boy, I am going to eat 30 local cheesecakes to celebrate my 3oth birthday this year.

0205131844My new favorite nightcap is a steamed milk latte with honey, or infused with lavender flowers. Gowan has perfected a morning version with roasted bay nuts (pictured here). Natural divisions of milk labor have arisen. I make the yogurt and deliver 2 quarts to my sister-wife every week. (Confession of a locavore: one of my greatest joys is eating the skin that forms on the milk after cooling it for inoculation; there is something straight up primal and maternal about it.) Gowan makes the farmer’s cheese and the kefir. We are starting to develop rhythms somewhat more graceful and harmonious than a frantic scramble for calories.

Processing milk is a delicate thing. I remember when my organic gardening teacher told us that asparagus is a lifestyle indicator; you have to know that you’re going to be in a place for a few years before you benefit from your crop, and it requires special conditions; it is an investment for the future. I have always thought that I’ll know I’ve reached a new level in my life when I plant asparagus. Similarly, our milk makings are short-term lifestyle indicators; milk is just as sensitive and the feedback loop is immediate. We must be present and attentive, and well – responsible.

Farmer's CheeseYogurt requires heating and cooling milk to exacting temperatures and then keeping it steadily warm while the cultures do their magic for 8-12 hours. Keeping kefir grains alive requires daily washing and babysitting. I have ruined a batch of yogurt by not coming home one night, and another because the cultures went a little funky. All this milk has sort of turned us into soccer moms; I travel with a cooler and ice packs and I have to think about how all of my decisions may impact my milk cultures, plus my ability to eat tomorrow. It’s a lot of responsibility. When leaving town for a work trip last week, I had to load my entire kitchen into the car and be on the road before 7 am; not surprised to later find out that I had left for a 5 day trip without a single pair of underwear in my suitcase. But, my milk was safely packed and chilled. I have to say, I am beginning to get mad nostalgic about the days of the milk man (even though that was way before my time). If a modern day milk man started showing up on my doorstep every morning, I would probably fall in love with him.


7 Comments

Gratitude

Today I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Partially because I’m just coming out of a couple weeks where this project was, well, hard. My roommates were moving out, and The Kid and I were transitioning to having this old sweet house to ourselves. An exciting time, but hard to be cooking three meals a day, working 7 days per week, and pull of the massive logistical challenges required to make all our lives work. Its less hectic now, and life is opening up in so many ways its beyond what I can contain in my weird little heart.

My friend Hal used to say, “the medium is the message” and I think he’s right. The work of this reveals the point, the deep quiet truths of life in an interconnected system. Yesterday was market day, and as usual our booth was packed with not only the produce I grow, but also a large number of my friend’s crafts or farm products. Our closing math is byzantine, but we all come out okay. My friend Amanda, a farmer up Pudding Creek, comes out and helps me haul tables and sell our wares. She’s the kind of friend who will come out in the freezing cold to help me cut into the intestines of a hen that died despite my attempts to save her, to make sure it was a blockage that killed her and not a disease that might affect the rest of the flock. She’s true-blue and grows the best collards on the coast. I saw some friends from Comptche who just moved to their very own farm. They don’t have a garden going yet, but they do have a cow, and they gave me milk, and I gave them a bunch of different greens. I saw my friend Matt, a local chef and chocolate maker and gave him some mustard greens. Today he contacted me and asked me to come over and try an all-local confection he made out of chestnuts, honey and brandy. After the market I drove south to hear my lioness of a mother be interviewed on the radio about her work advocating for the human rights of survivors of child abuse. I drove home stopping to hug Sarah and meet up with an amazing man, who is determined to find ways to court me despite not being able to take me out to eat. I’m surrounded by generous, talented, beautiful people, and for every little thing I give I get showered with abundance.

The Kid is home sick today. I had a class scheduled with a group of culinary students in the garden, but its pouring rain, so we’re rescheduling. My usual volunteers for Thursday are out of town, and some wonderful people came in this morning to work, but they’re home by now. The animals are fed and have deep straw to stay warm and dry. I’m scheduled for a full day this weekend and all next week, so I’m enjoying the freedom that is seemingly paradoxically contained in my non-stop work life and taking today to hang around with The Kid, watch The Goonies, and bake. And I feel like I’m grasping in a way I never understood before how loved and cared for we are, and how many people’s hands we’re resting in to be able to take this day in the warm house while the rain falls outside.

I made custards, and found myself thanking my mom. I don’t remember being taught to make these, just watching you make them every time someone was sick, or dying. Thank you for making me carry custards to Mr. Hiller every day down the street when he was dying of cancer, teaching me by example how we care for people, and that we don’t shut our eyes to pain, we respond with steadiness and solidarity.

The Kid is in her room, wrapped in a wool blanket I wove which she calls the “don’t-die blanket.” I’m in the kitchen, the radio is on, because a sweet man carried it in with one hand, balancing yogurt (thanks Sarah) and eggs from his hens in the other so we could listen to it while we cooked.0207131147 I’m cracking eggs. (thanks Jake) I’m mixing in milk.(thanks Laurel and Leu) 0207131154I’m warming butter in the oven (thanks Liz) in a ramekin that’s been in my mom’s house since before I was born, to grease the custard cups.0207131157 I don’t remember when I learned that you warm butter in a separate pan and then rub it on a cold cup to coat it evenly. I add a pinch of salt. (thanks Ryland) I drizzle in honey, (thanks Keith) and mix until the eggs start to froth. I add some more honey to the bottom of the buttered cups, pour in the egg and milk. 0207131205Sprinkle some candycap powder over the top, (thanks Melinda) then I carefully pour boiling water around the custard cups and set them in the 350 degree oven. 0207131211

I have extra egg and milk mixture, so I add half a cup of flour, (thanks Doug) and cube some kiwis, (thanks Teresa) to make clafoutis, from my grandma’s recipe book.0207131223 I butter the pan and carry it to the oven, settling it next to the custards with a tea towel. (thanks Lolli and Jacob)

 

0207131226

I feel like there’s an ocean of history here. I feel like I’m slowly, in my clumsy way, starting to get a glimpse of real connection to home, and what building that, and being able to share it, means. I’m beginning to see the fierceness inherent in domesticity. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love my hammers and anvil and shovels and mud. But this time in the kitchen has done something so deep in me, shifted some internal tectonic plate. I remember watching my great-grandma baking apple pies from apples from our tree, and understand a tiny bit more about what it meant for her. I remember pulling crab pots with my grandpa, and picking huckleberries. One day when I was about ten, (this is a story that my mom retells a lot to my new generation of nieces and nephews) we were picking huckleberries and I complained about how tiny they were, and how long it took to pick enough to do anything with, and he looked at me and said in his gruff sailor’s voice, “kid, the value of a thing is the work goes into it.”

I feel like I’m starting to understand what he meant.

For Christmas, in a symbolic gesture that, like most expression of my mom’s love, was both graceful and fiercely tribal, my mom gave The Kid her own copy of The Joy of Cooking. Taking down her old copy, which is now held together by string, and talking to The Kid about the history in the family, the old recipes about how to cook raccoon, the ways the book adapted to the Great Depression, and what there is to learn from it today. She folded The Kid into our narrative. While I sit in the warm kitchen watching the clafoutis brown and listening to Neil Young on the radio, that book is on The Kid’s shelf. Tucked into the jacket is my great-grandmother’s recipe for biscuits carefully transcribed by my mother when she was just ten years old. The blocky, carefully printed letters record our history.0207131330a

These are my people. The people I feed, the people who feed me. This amazing kid who showed up in my life, and became my blood. This community that accepts what I have to give, and returns it tenfold. 0207131305a

I think this is what we mean when we talk about a local food system. I’m in awe of how many names there are to thank for my survival, and also in awe that I can name them all. These hands are known to me. This kitchen is full of my community.

Thanks.

-Gowan