Eat Mendocino is kind of like that game where you try to make a meal out of the random stuff left in your pantry when you’ve been procrastinating going to the grocery store.
It’s also like when you’re backpacking and every bagged dehydrated cup of noodles meal is the best thing ever because you’re hungry and it’s what you have, but you also spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about cheeseburgers.
It’s also like when you have a favorite blackberry patch that fruits on your birthday and you look forward to it all year only to feel bittersweet about the last fruits shriveling on the vine two weeks later.
The truth is that we live in this ephemeral world where plants grow and die and are subject to the seasons and climate. The truth is that it’s all about the plants. We are dependent on them and the farmers who know how to coax seeds into sprouting, a magic unbeknownst to me.
My skills are in looking under leaves to find the biggest fruits, saying thank you and yes to the abundance growing in wild places and in between the cultivated rows. My boots are wet from mushrooming and my hands are stained purple from huckleberries. I keep calendars and google maps full of labels to my uncultivated pantry.
But this is new territory for me. Both geographically, and on scale. I’m not used to putting things away with such fervor. It’s usually enough to enjoy the thing in its season, as a supplement, as spiritual practice, as communion; but not as staples.
Harvesting is trivial, it’s the processing and storing of food that contains much of the work and the reward. The white noise of the dehydrator has become our bedtime stories, and the cycle of the canner is no longer something I need to google each time.
It feels extravagant to spend time this way, as if it’s cheap, as if feeding our bodies is the only thing that matters. I suppose, in a way, it is.
I’ve never had to meal plan so much in advance. I’ve never cooked so much consistently. It’s common at a meal we spend half the conversation complimenting the chef and the plants and animals who went into the bowls… and the other half taking about what we are going to eat tomorrow.
I’ve always been the kind of person who squirrels away. A saver. I’ve never had such permission to actually use the good stuff.
And y’all, the stuff is really good.
I’ve learned that if you want to have pizza in January, it’s going to cost you oil or freezer space or propane burner time to seal your jars of late summer tomatoes. It’s a luxury.
I’ve learned that quail roosters sounds like tiny velociraptors. I’ve learned how to cook dried beans and how to appreciate goats milk and I’m slowly figuring out how to keep my pet sourdough culture happy.
I’ve learned that it’s always worth it to pull over one more time to harvest just a few more bay nuts. You don’t know when it will be your last chance.
I’ve learned that the reason I think jars of food are beautiful is not just aesthetic; it’s a promise of safety and a time capsule of a season’s abundance.
It’s also a representation of a value, harkening back to a time when single use plastics were not as ubiquitous. I am passionate about not producing a ton of waste in the same way Gowan is passionate about local food. It turns out, the two go together really well.
I used to sometimes buy things in plastic and put them into glass jars, the convenience of better storage and the aesthetic without the reality of living closer to your food. There always ended up a pantry of shame where I hid the open cellophane bags with the rest of the pecans that would never quite fit in the jar.
Now, food goes straight from waxed cardboard produce baskets or our gathering buckets and bags, or 25lb brown paper bags with the pull tabs on top. It feels good. It feels right.
I believe in the power of beauty. Sometimes aesthetics are a sign post to values.
What’s delighted me most —other than the fresh, complicated, delicious, unexpected food that goes in my mouth— is having a partner just as enthusiastic as I am. I feel endlessly lucky and enchanted to be on this unexpected journey with them.
It feels too good to be true, to be met by someone just as enthusiastic about roadside acorns as I am.