Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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Day 365

The biggest feeling I have today is one of normality. Its not anti-climatic, this has been a big year with lots of small triumphs and major struggles. Its just that this year hasn’t been a process of working towards a goal or running out a clock. This isn’t the peak of a mountain, or if it is it just reveals the whole range in the distance.
This is just my life.
I’m not going to run out for chocolate and coffee, but I do look forward to being an easier dinner guest for people, and to getting to enjoy local products whose ingredient lists aren’t completely local but are almost perfect and who are excellent and strong community members.

I’m going to very very slowly drink an Old Rasputin.

That’s about it. I can’t think of a thing I want that I don’t have in my immediate vicinity, and that doesn’t come with a face and a relationship instead of a brand.
That’s been the biggest gift of this project, the people. Thank you all so much, we put our survival in your hands and here we are, alive and well fed, this whole year later. We are so fortunate.
What I hope you all take away from this is how possible what we’ve done is if you’re willing to take time and build relationships. Its not always easy or convenient, but it is possible and rewarding. Driving out to help friends harvest their corn isn’t as quick or cheap as a drive through, but it got me the best quesadilla of my life, and, you know, friends. Friends have been our by-product this year, which is a hell of a lot better than packaging. We’ve met so many people, and deepened relationships with people we already knew.
We also did this on the fly, with no sponsors, no budget, and very little kitchen. Sarah’s kitchen is too tiny to even fully extend your arms, and for the last three months I haven’t even had one. I’ve been hauling my food in a wood crate and cooking on a hot plate at work and a gas camping burner at the off the grid cabin I’ve been staying at.

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This is how I roll.

The point is, we’re not even particularly equipped for this, and we did just fine with some stubborn commitment and some willingness to try. We can’t all do everything, but if we all did the things we could do, the tide would turn so strongly it would make so much possible for so more.

That’s the point of a big stunt like this, to me anyway. You don’t have to do what we did, but if something looks accessible or fun, give it a try. Ask the people who know how, we have a deep and venerable well of curmudgeon wisdom in this county. Our elders are our best resource.

The big thing that’s been happening in the background for this whole year is my family has bought a farm, in partnership with North Coast Brewing Company. From day one Sarah told me I would have a farm by the end of the year, and I didn’t believe her. She was right. Tonight I’m picking up my sister at the airport, and the next week will be spent moving. We did it. We are so grateful to everyone involved, on every level, thank you. We are so fortunate.

Many many more details coming soon, but so you all know, I’ll be looking for CSA subscribers in the new year. And I can grow some good local food- like my life depends on it.

I’m sure Sarah will share her own take on this, more eloquently than I could, but I want to leave you guys with my deep gratitude. Thank you for witnessing this process. When it’s been hard you’ve been there, and when it’s been fun we’ve loved sharing. This year contained the weddings of both our siblings, a car accident, the death of my grandfather, and selling my childhood home and finding the perfect farm to bring all our goals and ideals to life. Thanks for being there for all of it.

Sarah, I would not have made it without you, you are the fizz in my ferments, the pop in my corn, the person who dragged me out of my shell and made this a party. I love you. Thank you.

And thank you so much to Gramps. Without his gruff, constant, warm love I wouldn’t be me. His calm, quiet work of the world and knowledge of nature is my inspiration and my comfort.

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I’ll see you all in the new year, the good stuff is just getting started.

Loves,

Gowan


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Cup of tea.

I woke up with a sore throat in Sarah’s house this morning. She’s driving in from Ukiah today, so I was solo in her kitchen and opened her cabinets to find something to make tea.
I was overwhelmed by affection, pride, and connection. I made a very strong throat coating tea with dried elderberry that Melinda and Sarah gathered and I dried for her, oregano her mom grew and dried, nettle chef Matt and I gathered and Sarah dried, lavender from my garden, a hot chili from my greenhouse, slices of lemon from Rachel, and a big dollop of raw honey from Keith.
My community is represented in a cup of herbs, water, and fruit, supporting my health like they’ve supported my physical existence for a calendar year.

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There’s a quote on Sarah’s cork board in her swirly hand writing that says:

Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea. -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In my Western brain this translates to me all too easily what this project has been about. We believe in an ethic of positive social change; rather than rail against Monsanto we want to celebrate and promote their opposite. But in my heart this whole year has been a deep sadness in knowing, as food and primal connections to people and place pull me ever deeper into my ecological womb, that most of us in this country are orphans wandering in food deserts. Its not their fault, many upper class writers might decry the laziness and ignorance of people’s consumption of processed and toxic food, but I believe that is a major injustice and cruelty. Massive systems of oppression are stacked against all of us putting up barriers between us and our own sustenance. We pay so much in taxes toward corporate subsidies for grain that arguably we’ve already paid a large amount of the cost of a processed food item whether we buy it or not. Having to bear those costs again by directing your purchases to local farmers is outside of many people’s reach. We need to do everything in our power to change this. On the ground level by sliding scale CSA, farm-to-school, and WIC at the farmers market, and on the legislative level by pushing to end grain subsidies and hold big ag responsible for their pollution. If they had to bear their own costs, the seemingly cheap flow of junk food would collapse.
At the same time these thoughts swirl in my head, my daily reality is hope and change. Farming is one of the most concrete forms of philosophy- what I believe is under my feet, in my hands, in my body. I know we can feed ourselves and each other. I’m alive and well after a year, and so is Sarah – more alive and well then I could have imagined, sore throat notwithstanding. We can reclaim this communal, ecological, animal birthright. No corporation fed me this year. My friends fed me. I fed a lot of them right back. I think this is a viable model for the survival of our species,  seeing as it’s worked just fine for untold thousands of years. We’re in a tiny blip of history where a few corporate entities want to take control of our food and therefore our lives. Its a brief experiment and I don’t believe it will last. The sun is rising while I sip my tea.

Loves,
Gowan


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How to make a pumpkin pie from scratch

Carl Sagan says if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ssV79Qi7mM

At my family’s house, (or rather, our clan of houses all clustered together) that was pretty much true. I learned pie from my Great-Grandma, from apples we picked from her trees. As a little kid looking up at the generations above me, it did seem like the genesis of each apple was infinite, and the steps to bring them together were alchemical and ancient. The recipes were an oral tradition, a creation myth with room for individual interpretation but centered around some core beliefs.

These simple rules are not flexible but allow for infinite variation. So, to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, first invent the universe. Plant, tend, fertilize, water and harvest your pumpkin. Then bake until semi soft, slice in half, and bake some more cut side down until very soft.

1226131245This particular pumpkin is a Minnesota Sweet that did very well despite our drought causing me to decide to stop watering my variety trial patch halfway through summer.

While the baking is going down, make your crust.

1226131301Add your dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. For me, this was about two cups (I have never measured, nor seen a family member measure) of Doug’s flour, grated Bay nuts for spice, and a pinch of salt. I used evaporated salt from a rice cooker because its texture is much finer than the larger sea salt we’ve gathered or made in bigger pots. For a non-local version, you can add sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg to your crust.

1226131302Grated Bay nuts! These little guys are like a combination of chocolate and nutmeg. They are my favorite spice and they are free for the taking every fall- check your local bay trees.

1226131304This is Clover Stornetta’s unsalted butter, which is processed in Sonoma County from cows raised in Mendocino and Sonoma. My folks live right next to Stornetta’s dairy, and I grew up riding bikes out on their cow paths, so while I’m visiting my folks this butter is Eat Mendocino legal.

1226131305The important thing about adding your fat, is it should be COLD. As firm as possible. Over working or warm fat makes pie dough super tough, which is extra challenging with our local, heirloom, real flour- it’s burlier and more prone to getting tough. Butter and lard work great, Crisco is the devil. Chop it into the flour with a pastry cutter if you have one, they rock- or a fork, but go for the bare minimum it takes for it to hold together.

1226131307This was my Great-Grandma’s trick- ice water. Apparently it’s a lot of other Grandma’s trick, too, and it really works. Use a spoon or fork to gently incorporate the smallest possible amount of water. Don’t overwork! Stop when dough holds together.

1226131308bThis is about the point when you can make a ball.

1226131309Ball of dough! On floured cutting board.

1226131310Make sure you flour your surfaces and pin (or wine bottle, whichever) more than you think you need to. Don’t stress about butter chunks in your crust. Ideally they’re small, maybe they’re not. It’s cool.

1226131315Okay, big moment. Transferring the crust from board to pie dish. To do this, sprinkle generous dustings of flour onto half of the crust.

1226131315aFold like a big pie quesadilla.

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1226131316And then unfold!

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Time for little decorative pinches. Or just cram the edges down.

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Poke some holes in the bottom of the crust, using a fork.

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Pretty spiral patterns are bonus points, mine never come out that way.
1226131320Pre-bake your crust for 10-15 minutes. Some people cover with foil or part of the bake time, or weigh the crust with dry beans. I never have, and it’s been fine.

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Time to wrangle pumpkin.

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Slice off the skin, or scoop out the flesh if you’re using a thick skinned squash.

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Cut up your squash and add it to a heavy stock pot.

1226131430I added tons of honey, grated bay nuts, and lemon zest to the mixture.

1226131435Once it cooked down a bit on very low heat I added a cup of heavy cream and three beaten eggs and blended it with an immersion blender.

1226131347Pre-baked crust!

1226131442Fill with the squash goop! Then bake at 375 until the center is barely set and a knife comes out clean. About 40 minutes.

1226131449In my family, the tradition is to make tiny tarts out of whatever dough is left over. When my cousins next door were little they would sneak over when my mom was making pie and make a big show of stealing the tarts, and my mom would recite the nursery rhyme and chase them around. The Knave of Hearts is now an official teenager with the beginnings of a mustache, but it’s still a fun thing to do with excess dough. You can also freeze it, it works just fine later.

1226131612aSnack sized pumpkin bites.

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Pie love .

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This is my last pie in this house, and it feels really good. For Christmas, my mom gave me my Great-Grandma’s serving bowl, to take with me to our new home. I’m also going to pull a farmer trick and cut scions from the apple trees to graft to new rootstock, planting the fruit of my family in new soils, where they will bear for generations to come.

Loves,

Gowan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Honey-poached quince & apple pie

It seems like Christmas is a time to wear ugly sweaters, celebrate the white elephant, and cook things you’ve never attempted before. I have done all of the above in the last week. In this episode of, “It might be totally gross,” I decided to bake a pie, against my better judgment. I am not a baker, and I really have no business making pie. But, I had some quince patiently waiting in my fridge forever that I had purchased from one of my favorite vendors at the Farmers’ Market and I wanted to do right by them and to honor Lillian Drinkwater’s beautiful hands. So, I set out to make pie.

Quince

I loosely followed this Honey-poached quince pie recipe, with a lot of adaptations. The main reason I am not a baker is that I categorically defy recipes, even when I’m not limited by the local parameters. In this case, I substituted honey for sugar, which was no problem, and added apples to the mix. The crust is where things didn’t exactly work out. I fear pie crust, and I decided to use some previously made tortilla dough to roll into a crust, rather than starting from scratch and dealing with diced butter, ice water and other delicate maneuvers. I don’t even own a rolling pin so I used a bottle of olive oil to roll it out.

Honey-poached quince apple pie

I think it would have worked out OK if I had had enough of the dough, but the amount was only sufficient for a very thin bottom crust, leaving the top exposed and the edges sparse. It smelled like a proper pie, but didn’t quite come out like a masterpiece. The thin crust got too crispy around the edges and I think it got too dry due to being topless.

I was planning to bring the pie to a White Elephant party, but I got too self-conscious at the last minute, so I left it in the car. It tasted pretty good based on my low baking standards, but it wasn’t anything to brag about. And then I got to eat it for breakfast for many days, topped with yogurt and honey so I guess it’s a success of sorts.

Quince & apple pie

A bigger success was the gift exchange at the party. My first gift was tiny bottles of Patron tequila (my fave) and Bulleit bourbon, and I unwrapped them with wide-eyed amazement at the existence of hard liquor and the realization that I could actually consume it in fewer days than I could count on my fingers. As white elephant parties go, this gift was of course stolen from me, despite my dramatic pleas. It was, ultimately, a happy ending. I scored some beautiful handmade beeswax candles from Carson & Bees, and then in a most un-Grinchlike act, the winner of the tequila gifted it to me!

Beeswax candles & tequila!

In the next installment I will share the wonderful adventures of making 100% local Christmas pozole in Santa Barbara with my family, with the assistance of my pug-niece, Lola.

Lola the pug-blogger

Merry merry to all!


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What my freezer looks like with 12 days to go

While most people are baking sugar cookies and singing the Twelve Days of Christmas, I am now facing the unbelievable reality that we are only twelve days away from the end of this indescribable year. Twelve. Less than two weeks to go. The thought of it is surreal. I can only wrap my mind around what is what is right in front of me, and what I’ll be eating next (which I guess is how we’ve made it this far). While staring into my freezer today, I realized that this is the well-stocked freezer of a locavore who knows what she’s doing, in stark contrast to what it held one year ago when we were about to learn what it meant to be hungry in the middle of the winter.

In preparation for the Christmas break, I spent the day wrapping up some projects for work, hastily doing my taxes so that I can apply for Obamacare, and doing various food projects. Like devouring this rockin’ quesadilla…

Homemade tortilla with flour from the Mendocino Grain Project and fresh mozzarella cheese

Dehydrating a bunch of Hachiya persimmons…

Persimmons

And, making a batch of sea salt. This jar is Gowan’s Christmas present!

sea salt

While we only have a couple weeks left (and trust me, I’m really looking forward to relaxing my life a bit when this is “over”), it’s not really about the countdown. I could survive on what’s in my cupboard and refrigerator for months. I don’t need to keep processing and putting away food. But, that is not the point. This project is as infinite as nature. It’s not really ending and it never will; the seasons will continue to cycle and the rhythm of this new food lifestyle will continue as naturally as the wind blows. I like this rhythm, no I really, really love it, and I want to follow it to the best of my ability always.

So, back to the freezer. If my kitchen were any smaller it couldn’t even be called a kitchen. But, I do have a pretty standard-sized freezer and it is completely stacked with food collected over the last twelve months. Here’s what it holds today…

Freezer Inventory:

Beef marrow bones from Magruder Ranch
The BEST peaches I’ve ever had
Elderberries
Salmon Steak from Noyo Fish Company
Three pork chops
A pig heart and other organ meat
Bone broth made from beef marrow bones and crab shells
Meyer lemon juice frozen in ice cube trays
Brown rice from Massa Organics at the Chico Farmers’ Market
Persimmons
Raw butter
Squid bait for fishing
Spicy tomato sauce
Yellow plum jam
Figs
Bean soup
Ice packs for my trusty cooler
The bowl for the ice cream maker (it’s important to always have this in the freezer in case you have a sudden need for ice cream)
Plus, a plastic bag filled with compost. Yes I keep my compost in the freezer until I dump it. It helps mitigate funky kitchen smell and flies when you cook as much as I do. Feel free to borrow this trick.

Quite a list, eh? I even impressed myself by digging out things I’d forgotten about! Two indisputable lessons from living the local life: nothing is more comforting than full cupboards and nothing is sweeter than a perfectly ripe persimmon. I am an extremely fortunate girl and I might even have subsidized health care soon, too.


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Clean slate

Our Americorp team at Noyo Food Forest is amazing. With their help, we’re totally re-organizing the farm at Fort Bragg High School and designing a system that will be streamlined and efficient enough for me to manage it part time, the way my job was always designed.

1205131617Its so cathartic and amazing to me to see the ground cleared, all the odds and ends of years and years of teenager traffic wiped away, and the possibilities laid out for us to see.

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I’m convinced Americorp members are some of the best people out there. They have without exception been intelligent, positive, scrappy, incredibly energetic and happy to jump in and do just about anything- including shovel manure. 1205131618fThe garden is looking very different- we now have nine eighty foot long beds for our main market garden, a big change from the patchwork of smaller beds and perennials we had before. This will allow me to produce food for the school cafeterias on a truly wonderful level. The wide beds carry the garden’s legacy of biointensive practices, and the deep rich soil made with composted hops and grain from North Coast Brewing Company will make for some very happy plants.

We’re starting 2014 in the perfect way.

 

Loves,

Gowan


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Gnocchi and friends

My dear friend Stephanie has been letting me crash at her place every so often- I gave up my rental house a month ago to save money… I have a big huge project in the works I need my pennies for! I’ve been staying at a beautiful friend’s farm, where another friend is helping me with my goats and letting me share the tiny, off-grid cabin.

But I work late nights too, so having friends in town is excellent.

Last night, we made gnocchi, and I was shocked by how good it was. Every other time it’s come out too dense, but it was like little potato pillows.

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First, we boiled potatoes until they were soft, shocked them in cold water and slipped off their skins. Then we mixed in about one and a half beaten eggs, and some salt, and just barely enough of Doug’s flour to hold it together. 1203131947

We rolled giant potato noodles. At this point I worried about how well it was holding together- that we’d activated the gluey starch in the potato, but it turned out great, so no worries.

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We cut the giant potato noodle into bite sized chunks, and marked them with a fork. Much debate over proper technique ensued- an actual Italian was present who said the best thing to do is roll them off a fork, leaving a deep impression in the gnocchi. He ultimately decided that while that worked great for ricotta gnocchi, the potato gnocchi might fall apart if we rolled them that hard. So we stuck to squishing with the flat of the times. 1203131953a

Once they were all squished, we dunked them in simmering water a handful at a time. When they’re done, they float to the surface of the pot and can be skimmed out with a big ladle and dunked immediately in cold water to shock them. We then smothered them in an amazing all local herb sauce my friend Leu made, some Pennyroyal Boont’s Corners, and chunks of roasted winter squash. 1203132013a

It was pretty amazing. Its so nice to have friends on cold nights.

Loves,

-Gowan