Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


3 Comments

Birthday Dinner at the Mendo Bistro

How August did fly! Summer’s trials are the inverse of winter’s; instead of putting all of our energy into searching for food,  you must deal with the overwhelming abundance of fruit, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. I learned how to do a bunch of new things, out of middle-of-the-night fear that anything would rot in my home. I made fruit leather, compote out of every kind of dangerously ripe fruit I could get my hands on, lots of pie, fermented pickles, fermented beets, zucchini chips, gallons of goat milk yogurt, and shoved a bunch of stuff in the freezer. Yet, things did go bad, and I feel the weight of every un-canned tomato and un-pickled cucumber in my bones. When I don’t have time to process things, I frantically try to consume everything. Waste feels sinful when I think of last winter… I’ve been eating an entire melon every day and feel like a little sugarplum fairy. We are certainly putting on our winter coats for the sparer days ahead.

On the last day of the month, I celebrated my 30th birthday in the best possible way; by someone else doing the cooking! Nicholas Petti agreed to be the chef du jour and hosted my birthday dinner party at the Mendo Bistro. This has long been my favorite place to dine out on the coast, and truly, there is no better man for the job. The event required a week of collaboration and shuttling ingredients his way, including salt, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and goat milk. We met at the Mendocino Farmers’ Market the day before to shop for the produce and make some final decisions. A few days before, I actually felt guilty about putting someone else through all this work, and wondered if I should have just cooked the meal myself. Then I realized that I don’t even have a dining table, nor enough plates to feed ten people. And, that I wouldn’t have to do the dishes. Plus, that Nicholas is a CHEF and this is what he loves to do. So I decided to let it happen and enjoy. It certainly was five courses of love.

My parents arrived that afternoon, and I wanted to put them right to work in true locavore style. My mom insisted that we open presents first, and then we moved all the wrapping paper out of the way to make two batches of fermented pickles, chop fruit for a peach-berry compote and make lavender goat milk ice-cream for birthday dessert. Of course I wore my new red apron and sassy birthday hat all the while.

Birthday Menu

Broccoli Soup, Broccoli Carpaccio

Roasted Carrots, Carrot-Honeycomb Puree, Carrot Chips, Carrot Top Agrodolce

Zucchini pasta and Meatball

Roasted Beets, Grilled Kale, Feta Dressing, Beet Top Pesto

Poached Salmon, Mashed Potatoes, Dill Aioli, Braised Greens

Turning 30 doesn’t feel particularly significant, but it was a wonderful and delicious day. Click below to view a slideshow of the day in pictures.


Leave a comment

easy summer dessert: brown butter peaches w/ chevre

Introducing our beloved sisterwife Melinda, writer of this blog entry and creator of the world’s loveliest desserts. We love it when she comes home to surround us with her love and sweetness.

i am a winter girl.  everyone who knows me well knows that i’d rather live in january than june, and i’d rather wear sweaters than sundresses.  but summer has a few perks, reasons to keep me on the rotating… and chief among these is stone fruit.  the smell of the season is wrapped in the fuzzy fur of peaches, the baby’s cheeks of apricots, the silky, sexy skin of plums.  have you ever poached a peach, to remove its skin?  it comes off in a slippery, sensual sheath… leaving behind a glowing orb of sweetness, the colour of a july sunset late – nearly bedtime.  [stone fruit are one of the worst fruits for pesticides.  if you’re unconvinced about the ickiness of conventional growing practices, try poaching an inorganic peach.  the chemical-smelling scum that rises to the top of the water will have you running for the nearest farmers market in search of sanctuary.]

anyway, this weekend was a quintessential assortment of summer days; lovely enough to mollify me with regards to the heat (yes, i think 75 degrees is ‘hot’).  on friday i spent the night with a friend who was housesitting inland, and i spent the morning perched in trees (first plum, then apricot) tossing fruit into my bag below.  ‘i should stop,’ i thought, when i had about ten pounds, but then i stood back and looked at the trees and you could barely tell that they’d been harvested.  so i went in for another ten.  the drive home was heavenly; my car blissfully redolent of sunshine and sugar.

said the woodpile to my chest, ‘at least one of us is well-stacked.’ saturday my parents and i put in the better part of the coming winter’s firewood – massive rounds of old growth fir that we loaded into, and then out of, the back of the truck.  our arms and backs and knees ached, and from finger to bicep we were covered in pitch that smelled like christmas.  when my father swung the maul over his head and brought it down on the largest rounds, my face was splattered – kissed – with fir water; not sticky yet as sap, but fresh and cool and delicately sweet.  seeing the pile that will warm you over the months to come is something to relish.  with that wood my mother will bake bread, i will mull cider, my rabbit will sleep under the stove, and our home will be warm and welcoming.  and in the broader spectrum of Eat Mendocino, our fuel source for food and warmth will be local, and its harvesting made us stronger in body and spirit both.

sunday was jam day – one of the best days of the year, ‘christmas of summertime.’  the 14 pounds of plums were ceremoniously cooked down with the last meyer lemons of the season, and safely canned into their mason jars, away from prying tongues.  if there is anything more delicious than plum jam, i haven’t yet met it.  as it is, we put by enough that all through the gray of winter we’ll have the tang and joy of summer for our hearth-baked bread.  i would like to name a daughter ‘plum,’ but erika says she’ll end up a stripper.  but then, look at me!

Peaches!

and that brings us to today.  a bus ride brought me to sarah’s door, and when gowan appeared in the afternoon she came bearing treasure:  a box of peaches that practically glowed with internal light, like souls all lined up in a row.  showing up at sarah or gowan’s is always a treat because i’m inevitably treated to a feast of epic proportions, created from colours and flavours no grocery store’s produce aisle can compile.  i rarely have anything to contribute to the meal beyond a dirty joke, since they move with the practiced dance of those who are intimately familiar with their ingredients and their purpose, but tonight i volunteered to take on dessert, since the SECOND thing people who know me well know is that i love to make dessert.  like, LOVE it.  i usually like to make it more than i like to eat it.  which is weird, i know… but in my family food is a source and sign of love, so cooking for someone is akin to making them an edible valentine.

sarah’s kitchen does not readily accept more than one cook, so i was tasked with making dessert that could be assembled while dinner (stuffed squash, purple potatoes, greek corn salad, mixed green salad…) cooked.

Sisterwife Melinda
(me)
Eat Mendocino Dinner

(dinner)

 

my grandmother had a magnet on her fridge that said ‘i love cooking with wine.  sometimes i even put it in the food.’  truer words were never written.  so it was with great fanfare that i opened a bottle of goldeneye’s jaw-dropping pinot gris, and divided it amongst the people and the pot.  i set that to simmer, reducing it until it was the colour of my favourite dark pink lipstick, and its flavours of berry and citrus had been concentrated.  at the last moment i stirred in a little honey, and then i turned to the cheese.

to some lovely Pennyroyal Farms chevre i added the zest of a meyer, as well as a squeeze of its juice, plus some honey and the chopped blossoms of some of the elegant french lavender that mendocino is so full of right now.

then came the peaches.  i heated a lovely large pat of local butter in cast iron, and when it was bubbly i put in four peach halves, cut sides down (leave the skin on or they’ll not be nearly as pretty in the end).  i fried these until the butter had browned  and the peaches were a lovely caramelized pale brown on the bottom.  i covered a serving bowl with sliced strawberries; little jewels that were almost sinfully crimson.  the peach halves rested on this bed of red, and into their pit holes (there has GOT to be a prettier word for that…) i scooped lovely little pillows of cheese.  the whole thing was bathed in the wine reduction, and garnished with lavender sprigs.  i would have liked some mint in with the berries, but the last of it had gone into the (amazingly delicious) greek salad, which was an excellent excuse.

 Brown butter peaches w/ chevre

anyway, the room was filled with mildly inappropriate moans of love as we licked our plates and wondered whether we could lick our own thighs when we dribbled nectar onto our jeans (we can’t.  oh well.).  and i am content to let summer swallow me, so long as it includes stone fruit, pink wine, and good friends.

recipe-ish:

if you’d like to recreate this magical concoction, here are some approximations:

fry 2 peaches (4 halves) in 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in cast iron, until the butter and peaches have both browned.

simmer 1.5 cups rosé until it’s reduced by half (at least.  more[which is really less] is better).  then add a spoonful of honey and stir to dissolve.

mix the zest of a meyer lemon and a generous squeeze of its juice into half a cup of soft cheese (chevre, ricotta, mascarpone…).  season with fresh chopped lavender and honey to taste.

strawberries.

and toast to the sun when you eat its glory. warning: you may find yourself inappropriately licking your plate. cheers!

Finger-lickin' good


Leave a comment

Cucumber, tomato & basil salad for when quitting is not an option

I have a lot of silverware, way more than a single girl needs. So, when I get down to using a plastic fork, things have gotten bad.

I admit it: I would really like a hot bath and take-out tonight. Instead, I will throw together some food eventually clean my kitchen and blog. Such is the glamorous life of a locavore. There is no quitting.

Today was Farmers’ Market day, so I’ve been out and about all day, talking to people. schlepping signs, loading and unloading stuff from my “market mobile.” Now I’m home and before I can deal with my disaster of a sink, I need to eat. I’ve got a bunch of goodies from the market, and decide to throw together a quick summer salad.

Chopped cucmber, onion & tomatoes

Cucumber, tomato and basil salad

* I will leave out specific amounts, because that just depends on how much you want to make.

Diced cucumber

Halved cherry tomatoes

Chopped  red onion

Minced basil

Olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Splash of apple cider vinegar

(If I had thought of this before I devoured it, I also would have added some of the chevre that I bought today from Yerba Santa Goat Dairy…)

Toss it all together and enjoy. And, yes, I will be eating this with a plastic fork. Then, I am taking that bath.

Cucumber, tomato & basil salad


1 Comment

How to make raw zucchini pasta

To me, zucchini defines summertime. Growing up in my parent’s garden in Chico (where squash could grow into baseball bats in a weekend) there was always more zucchini than we knew what to do with. Thus, I have a really hard time paying for zucchini – but here in the fogbelt, a girl has to do drastic things like wear wool socks in July and buy zucchini at the farmers’ market if she wants to believe that summer does exist, somewhere.

I love zucchini in many forms, and never really tire of it, but this has become one of my favorite ways to eat them. Zucchini pasta is the ultimate summer dish; you can use something that is abundantly available and you don’t even have to cook it. It is as fresh as it can get, super healthy, extremely easy to make and has a wonderful pasta-like texture that takes on sauce very well. Skeptics, try it before you hate on it. I have brought this to potlucks before and people didn’t even know that it wasn’t “real” pasta. I also think that this pasta would hold up well in a stir-fry if you were going for a Chinese-style noodle dish.

All you need is a veggie spiralizer like this. I purchased mine at the Living Light Culinary Institute marketplace in Fort Bragg. You can also order them through the Living Light online store.

Veggie spiralizer

It’s very simple to use. You just mount the zucchini and turn the handle to crank out the noodles. It’s easiest to use straight squash, or cut them into smaller chunks if they are crooked. This is what the spiralized zucchini noodles look like.

Zucchini pasta noodles

You can use any kind of sauce or dressing on your noodles and add other veggies, herbs/seasonings, and cheese. This time I mixed in some of Mom’s famous parsley pesto and sea salt. *Pesto lovers: using parsley is a great option when the basil isn’t growing yet.

Zucchini pasta tossed with parsley pesto

Topped off with some sungold cherry tomatoes and ready to enjoy!

Zucchini pasta w/ pesto and cherry tomatoes


3 Comments

Meatball Monday with a side of conversation

I believe a girl should eat her veggies and have her meatballs, too. This is not a post about the importance of eating local pasture-raised, grass-fed meat. This is just a post about tonight’s dinner. I had a friend visiting from out of town and we had a summer feast of meatballs, veggie stir fry, brown rice and a sunflower sprout/sauerkraut salad, followed by candy cap ice cream. The best part of this meal was sharing it with someone. It’s always good to have an “outsider” around because it reminds me how abnormal daily life is for a locavore. After my mom’s visit this weekend I was stunned by how much more garbage is produced by packaged products. Most of my waste is compost, so I rarely have to empty my trash.

Living and breathing this project every day makes it easy to lose touch with how most of the world relates to their food, and having others in the kitchen is a really good mirror to reflect on the project. After a big meal and a long thoughtful conversation about what eating local really means to me, I don’t have the energy to tackle the dishes nor share the dinnertime wisdom, so I’ll just leave you with a snapshot of a delicious meal and say goodnight for now and I hope this finds you with full bellies.

Meatball Monday


1 Comment

Jammin’ on a Sunday Night

When you are living and eating seasonally, you go from scarcity to glut in moments. My fridge is like a tidal wave of produce rather than a steady inventory. This weekend, a huge basket of very ripe yellow plums landed in my kitchen. There is no room for hesitation in these situations; it’s a delicate window from overripe to rotten. I have learned to act quickly and I immediately pulled out all the super soft ones and threw them in the freezer and left the others out to ripen. This is probably one of the most essential elements of the locavore life; the dance between time and perishability. When you get it down, you feel like a food ninja.
Stone fruit bowl

I pulled them out tonight and invited Gowan over for jam making. Which really means talking about boyz, ducks, goats and her dreams of farming on a larger scale while I stirred the pot. If anyone can do it, this girl most certainly can.

Gowan's "girl farm" fists

What I learned tonight is that it is tremendously challenging to stir a pot of jam with your right hand and simultaneously shake a jar of salad dressing in your left. Even harder than resolving some matters of the heart. By the time we had solved all of life’s problems with bowls of potatoes (which solve everything) the plums had reduced down into jammy goodness. There wasn’t a lot so we didn’t need to seal them – just put it in jars to be kept in the fridge or freezer. Plums on Friday, jam by Sunday – boom. These are the sweet little victories that keep the shelves full, and sweet.

Sarah with plum jam


2 Comments

How to cook beans (not from a can)

People often ask us what has been the hardest thing about eating locally. Most of what we do is not inherently difficult; the biggest challenge is rearranging one’s life around cooking whole foods for every single meal, every day. This requires a complete lifestyle overhaul. We must always think ahead and I rarely leave the house without some kind of food stuffed in my purse. So, the hardest thing is giving up anything premade, whether it be a box of crackers or cereal, a bag of chips, or a can of beans. Honestly, I had never cooked dry beans from scratch before this year. Speckled Bayo Beans

It took us months to track down local beans, and when we did it was tremendously exciting to have a non-animal protein source. These speckled bayo beans came to us via Westside Renaissance Market and they were grown by Guinness McFadden in Potter Valley. When I made the first batch, I ate them every day for nearly every meal for a week and it felt anything but pedestrian; it was like a bean miracle. The simple becomes the miraculous when you have gone without.

Taco salad!

Local Taco SaladHuevos rancheros!

Local Huevos Rancheros

We have said many times that the point of this project is not to get everyone to do what we have done and dive into the deep end of the local food pool. Rather, we hope that people will start looking at their own plates and think about how they might start connecting with their local food supply chain. There are lots of ways to do this – from making strawberry jam to baking bread or simply making time to pick blackberries on a lovely summer day. It all starts with getting closer to the source and cooking from scratch. The more we do this, the more we realize we are capable of.

Here is my challenge to you: take one thing that you usually buy in a box, can or bag, and try making it from scratch. Just one simple thing, like beans. And if that’s where you want to start, here’s the recipe, borrowed from Nourishing Traditions (an indispensable book to have on hand in the whole foods kitchen).

Basic Beans

Makes 8-10 cups cooked beansNourishing Traditions

2 cups black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas or white beans

warm filtered water

2 tablespoons whey or lemon juice (for black beans only)

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed (optional)

sea salt and pepper

Cover beans with warm water. (For black beans, stir in whey or lemon juice). Leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours, depending on the size of the bean. Drain, rinse, place in a large pot and add water to cover beans. Bring to a boil and skim off foam. Reduce heat and add optional garlic. Simmer, covered, for 4-8 hours. Check occasionally and add more water as necessary. Season to taste.

I have never been good at following recipes. I often throw in some other stuff when I’m cooking the beans. In this batch, I added onion, oregano, and kombu seaweed (for saltiness and trace minerals.)

Pot o' beans