Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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A tale of two breakfasts

One of the things that has shocked me the most about my week of being technically no longer bound to local food is how much everything costs. Comparatively small amounts of raw calories and products becomes so expensive when they are prepared and packaged by someone else. The price tag for a fairly normal non-local food day seems extremely high to me coming from the land of local food, where bulk goods and cooking ahead prevail.

This is in contrast to the often repeated assertion that local food, and especially organic farmer’s market food is too expensive for most people to afford. This is completely true for many people- the up-front price tag is just too high. But I would argue that when cost out on a per meal basis, local food is actually much cheaper in many circumstances. I know my food budget plummeted during the last year.

Much of this was due to the fact that I know a lot of farmers, and am one myself. Eating some of the produce I grow is a perk of my job that partially compensates me for the nature of the work- which would be all the time, no matter the weather or how long ago in the week my paid hours ran out. I have access to a lot of food, due to the nature of my life choices. I do slightly resent the implication that this privilege means I’m not qualified to speak about the ease or difficulty of local food on a budget though- I live a life of extreme food privilege, but I also had to give up everything for it. This includes not having a job that would allow me to spend more on food overall. It also includes giving up things that many people take for granted, like $1.99 for a soda or $2.00 for a coffee, which adds up fast. It also includes choosing to budget my time to account for cooking and storing food. Which I did on hot plates and without a fridge for the last three months, so it can be done. It takes some knowledge about access, and it takes some know-how, but not much of either considering I could figure it out, and I am a person who can’t braid her own hair at the age of 25.

Anyway.

In the spirit of the EM adventure, I did a little experiment. Here is the break down, in terms of time and money, for both a typical breakfast for during this last year and a typical breakfast for my college years. I used the prices for local food that I charge at the Farmer’s Market- which are my highest prices. The price of food we grow for the school district is sub-wholesale for local food. That means the true cost to me of this breakfast is much lower, because I get access to the food I grow, but factor in having to pay my student loans on a farmer’s income!

Local breakfast:

On two hot plates in the morning at work, while doing my morning chores, I heat up a small amount of water in a sauce pan on one burner and a kettle of water on the other. When the shallow pan is simmering, I crack in two eggs. They poach in about two minutes. The kettle takes slightly longer at about ten minutes to hot but not boiling, when I pour the water into a mason jar with dried mint and lavender, and add a spoon of Lover’s Lane honey. I grab an apple from my tree out of the bag I keep stashed on my shelf, and stick it in my pocket to eat as I walk around the garden checking the irrigation. I eat the two eggs while my tea steeps, then take the tea and the apple and start my rounds.

Time: About 15 minutes, including the clean up.

I did have the buy the food at the market in this scenario, which means being able to get to Franklin street before 6 on Wednesday.

Costs:

A dozen organic eggs at the market is $6. I used two, so that’s $1.

I sell bundles of herbs for tea and seasoning at the market for $1 each. There’s enough for about 4 cups of tea in one, so $00.25

A quart of Lover’s Lane honey is $18 at the market. I use big spoons of honey, so lets figure 40 spoonfuls in a quart. That comes to $00.45

Local apples from Gowan’s Oak tree sell for $1.50 lb at the market, (Though you can get better deals in bulk: 20 lbs for $16.50 and 40 lb for $28) and I figure one apple is roughly 1/4lb depending on the variety. So that’s $00.40

Total cost of the meal: $2.10

Equipment needed: a two burner electric hot plate and an outlet, a small pan, a kettle. The hot plate was free- in a box of old stuff I found in the barn. The pan and kettle were thrifted for a few dollars and can be re-used indefinitely.

Waste: None. The tools can be re-used, the egg shells, apple core and tea leaves can be composted.

How I feel afterwards: Normal. Blood sugar stable, satisfied until lunch.

Typical breakfast of days past, re-created for this experiment:

I drive to the coffee house and find parking a couple blocks away. I walk to the coffee shop, and wait in line. I order a bagel with cream cheese and a 12oz chai with honey to go. I wait for it to be made, then I drive to work, sit at my desk and unwrap the bagel, spread the cream cheese and eat it. Then I get up and start my rounds.

Time: 15-20 minutes including drive time. Could be less or more depending on the work rush.

Still need regular grocery shopping time, either at the market or store.

Costs: $5.83

Equipment needed: transportation. People can definitely walk or bike to a coffee shop, or have one immediately at their work, but I didn’t.

Waste: single use cup (can bring your own) paper bag for bagel, plastic tub of cream cheese, plastic knife.

How I feel afterwards: Okay, this is the least fair part of this, because I’m not acclimated at all, but I feel awful. Buzzy and nauseous, and hungry pretty soon afterwards. My stomach made rumbling noises noticeable to my coworkers. I feel like I’ve dumped a ton of sugar directly on my nervous system- which has to be due to the bagel, since there was no sugar in the chai.

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So delicious in the moment, so uncomfortable now.

Conclusion: even paying the higher prices at the farmer’s market, you’ll often ultimately end up paying less by buying raw ingredients and doing it yourself, which can be done quick and dirty. The time pretty much washed out, and I found the time waiting for tea to steep at work was more active time than waiting in line, where I couldn’t multitask at all.

I know this is highly variable and many people would eat very different things for breakfast- I wasn’t willing to. I went to my local coffee shop, but prices seem to be about on the same level as Starbucks or Peets. Of course, my local coffee shop carries many local items and I’m not demonizing them at all, just trying to recreate my typical pattern from high school and college without going into a chain store.

My point here is that these purchases are ones I have often seen made by people who are on very tight budgets- my fellow college students almost all ate like this and bought coffee out almost every day, almost universally. The Americorps members I’ve worked with at Noyo Food Forest often bought soft drinks or packaged food items with their tiny food budget of $5 per person per day that were the equivalent price of local meals. A lot of this is due to convenience, and that’s understandable, but the time spent, especially when you team up with a couple people and share cook and clean time, is usually the same or less. For time that isn’t “active” like crock pot cooking, meals for several days or several people can be made in about the same amount of active time as going out to buy a coffee.

Local food costs more up-front than packaged food in a lot of cases. Some things, like meat and cheese, just are straight up more expensive unless you really plan ahead and get in a bulk deal, which requires having money up front, and storage. That isn’t accessible for everyone. But the cost of local organic potatoes per pound is a hell of a lot less than the cost of processed potato chips per pound. The nickles and dimes are what gets us, pretty much always.

As a former hard-core coffee addict, (you’ll notice I got an equivalent priced alternative beverage- I don’t trust myself with coffee even once for science) I really suggest that you try putting aside the amount of money you spend every day, (or twice a day, let’s be honest) and see what it adds up to in a month, and then spend the same amount on local food and see how much you can be fed for the same price.

I’m not a big fan of exercises that say about local food “look how easy and how cheap it is!” It’s not always easy, and it’s not always cheap. What it is is a different set of choices and expenses, with different outcomes. My feeling is that the outcomes of local food can feed us better.

Loves,

Gowan

 

 

 

 

 


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Stranger in a strange land

So, we’re now at 5 days since the official completion of this project.

I’ve spent the last week moving onto the most amazing farm I can imagine, the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams, the acres that will sustain us.

Moving is crap for local food. I know this well, since I went through a move and subsequent months of being a couch-surfing urchin in the build-up to moving to the farm, trying to save my pennies for things like cows and row cover.

1224130847bIsn’t she worth it though?

Sarah also experienced this a lot while traveling for work: hauling coolers back and forth, carrying dried fruit and hard boiled eggs, and timing your kitchen access is complicated. I was sharing the moving process with my whole family, who despite being incredibly supportive of me through this project haven’t lived the way I have, and understandably aren’t in the same mind set. That meant that eating out was the obvious solution for what to do when your kitchen is still in boxes, you’ve been working for twelve hours, and everyone is exhausted.

I can’t begin to tell you how strange and disorienting it is to walk through a grocery store and think “I could eat any of this!” It doesn’t feel real. Food is everywhere, and suddenly it’s all possible, all available. Food from any culture or place in the world you could name off the top of your head. I went from living absolutely in my place, to being this little mini colonialist, able to snatch anything from anywhere I wanted in the world, without knowing those people, being familiar with those hands. It was dizzying. Truly, it felt like the floor was spinning under my feet.

I worked up my nerve. I was going to buy something. Something fantastic and sweet and so complex I couldn’t see how it had been made or begin to replicate it.

I walked through Harvest Market for thirty minutes and bought a toothbrush, because I had lost mine somewhere the night before when I was shuffling bedrooms to accommodate my sister and her husband. As I stood in line to pay for the toothbrush I stared at a basket of cookies by the register- lemon sugar cookies. I pictured the combines harvesting the grain for the flour- where? I pictured the topsoil eroding and blowing away during the tillage. Which watershed did it wash into? Where was the sugar cane grown, who are those people? The things I didn’t know and faces I couldn’t see left me stunned and reeling.

And this was our local store- a place where I know the owners and manager, where I know the employees, and where so many products are locally made, or ethically sourced if not from here. My sense of distance was with the food itself, not the people or the business. I can’t imagine what it’s like for most people when they go to a place that is responsible for feeding them and know no one at all.

I felt like an alien, barely able to even look around me, oddly furtive and embarrassed that so much was available to me, even though I honestly couldn’t see anything I really wanted. The image in my head of the dazzling, forbidden concoction didn’t even seem appealing, and its reality even less so. I walked past cookies, chips, cupcakes, produce from everywhere, and it all seemed unreal and impossible to imagine eating.

I did eat some non-local things this week, and discovered again how powerfully food connects to memory. In desperation for calories I bought the simplest thing I could find- veggie sushi from the bar, where I could see the person making it. Taking a bite was a jarring tug right back to high school, where Adrian and I drove up from Mendocino on our lunch break in our first car, a Subaru named Hubert with a piece of driftwood wired on for a bumper, and fed each other veggie sushi on the drive back. The memory was so visceral it left me weak and trembling.

My grandma brought us her ginger scones when she came to see the farm for the first time, and told me how hard she had tried to make them appealing to me: organic flour and sugar, local dried fruit, crystallized ginger from a local woman who made it. I was so grateful. I had a bite, and was immediately eight years old, and at her table in Gualala. I also couldn’t get over how strange the texture was in my mouth, and I couldn’t finish it. The flour or the sugar or both left me feeling oddly dizzy and over stimulated, and vaguely sick. I felt a sense of loss that I couldn’t seem to connect to them, like the experience was so different after this year that it’s lost forever.

Food is a connection to people and place, like it always has been for our species. I’m grateful I can experience those things again if I want to. But after this week of chaos, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming tug back to “normal.” I know I’m not going back.

I know this farm will feed me, and so many of us. And until it gets up and running, my friends will still keep me going. And if I want to, I can go out with them for a beer, and that’s perfect, the best of all worlds.

Loves,

Gowan

 


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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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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