Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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

Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream Recipe

I love my mom for many reasons. But, I especially love it when she comes to visit and I wake up to a yummy local breakfast, and a clean stove. Apparently I do did not inherit the gene that motivates you to wipe down the stove after every meal (or the one that makes you fold laundry straight out of the dryer) I decided to demonstrate my daughterly appreciation with some limited edition Mendocino grown candy cap mushroom ice cream.

Disclaimer: Writing recipes is hard because we don’t often use them, or modify them so much at whim that we don’t exactly remember what we did, but we’re just happy it’s not totally gross. We have, however, made this ice cream so many times that we have something that closely remembers a replicable recipe. When I am less than exacting or if things don’t turn out as I hoped, know I am not withholding my secrets – just admitting a highly improvisational approach to cooking. You might finding it liberating to find out that it’s hard to screw up most things.

For those of you who are not familiar of the wondrous candy cap mushroom, welcome. They have the scent and flavor of maple syrup and grow abundantly in the woods on the Mendocino Coast. We harvested ours last winter and dried them. Sadly I am down to the bottom of the jar, because we love this ice cream so much. Good thing berry season is here.

Dried candy cap mushrooms

Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream

2 cups of milk (we like it whole and fresh). This is the right amount for my ice cream maker – depends on your machine.

about 1/4 c. dried whole candy cap mushrooms (or approximately enough to cover the bottom of the Vitamix blender…)

a few Tbsp. of local raw honey. I used wildflower honey from Lovers Lane Farm

Equipment:

An ice cream maker. This is the Cuisinart that I have and I’ve been really happy with it.

A blender or coffee grinder.

Directions:

Begin by grinding the candy caps in the blender or coffee grinder. I use my Vitamix for this, which powders them really nicely.

Candy cap mushroom powder

Heat two cups of milk in a saucepan until the edges are just starting to simmer. Don’t let the milk burn, as always.

While milk heats, beat 3-4 eggs in a bowl with 2 Tbsp+ of honey. I have started adding a bit more honey. Beat well until blended.

*Slowly* pour the warm milk into the eggs, whisking continuously.

Add candy caps to the mixture and whisk everything together.

Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan and heat on low, stirring constantly with a big spatula. You may need to lift it off the stove to control the temp – you want it to thicken, but not curdle. This is the only delicate part of the process. Stay alert. *If* it starts to curdle, take it off the heat immediately  and whisk vigorously. It’s probably thick enough once this happens.

Chill the mixture, ideally overnight, in the fridge. In an ice cream emergency, an ice bath will do. The results are much better when the ice cream mixture has cooled completely.

When ready to make ice cream, pour into the ice cream maker. Turn on and let the magic happen. I think it usually takes about 20 minutes.

Cuisinart ICe Cream Maker


2 Comments

Rhapsody in Yogurt

I’m lucky for many reasons- I’m lucky to be surrounded by beautiful friends, I’m lucky to have such vibrant soil, (I run a wildly successful worm brothel and nightclub) I’m lucky to have the best partner imaginable, the best sisterwife, the best kid, the sweetest Bucket dog. I’m so blessed. And the foundation of all these blessings and mother hen of the collective Binky experience is my mom. No one could ask for a more supportive, thoughtful, lioness of a mother. And true to form, she wrote this blog in the middle of her busy schedule while she prepared to travel for a conference because she knows how busy I am in the week of our Earth day festival. Earth Day is really just a more expanded Mother’s Day, and since my mom is the collective mother of *all* the Binkies, read her words and let some real mama love wash over you.

-Gowan

Rhapsody in Yogurt

My girls will tell you that I am terrible with names, because it is true.  Rather than prolong the awkward pause caused when my mouth has to wait for my brain to catch up, I have taken to calling all of the beloved women in my life a generic “Binky.”  As the mamma of half the Eat Mendocino team (and honorary other-mamma of the other half), I sometimes have the great good fortune to sample to locavore genius of the Binkies.  Last week, one of the Binkies gifted me with a pint of freshly-made yogurt – perhaps from the same batch referenced in her blog entry on the subject.  Chuckling and muttering greedily, I hid the prized jar under my coat and scurried home, feeling like Fagan anticipating a particularly rich haul from the day’s pick-pocketing.

My husband and I ate the yogurt for Sunday breakfast with fresh, organic strawberries.  I opened the canning jar and surveyed the coveted treat that floated in a thin veil of whey with tiny, buttery flecks of clotted cream on top. It was the color of my grandmother’s flocked cotton bedspread – antique white.  As we dug in, bliss crossed our faces, and it was clear that this yogurt was superior to any manufactured product we had ever eaten – it was another food entirely.  To eat this yogurt required a pause, a reflection, a meditation.  I would go so far as to say that reverence was required.

Creamy and tart, at once delicate and corpulent, it married the berries and clung to them without feigning a blush.  There was a faint under-current of “cow-ness” to it, but not in a bad way – more as a tribute to the warm cow that had recently given it up for the cause.  It lent richness to the dish that I have never tasted in its poor, pasteurized cousins.

The pint disappeared in one sitting, leaving us fully satisfied and at peace.  It occurred to me that several cartons apiece of Yoplait would not have done the job of this gem in an old-school canning jar, made with love in a little oven by the sea.yogurt

Now, those who know me well will not be surprised that my rhapsody on a gift of homemade yogurt contains a political coda.  The longer I live the more intrinsic politics become in everything I observe.  Politics reflect our culture even as they drive it.  Our personal decisions become group mores that inform capitalism, which in turn builds machines designed to turn out dollars – machines that create unintended byproducts that carry consequences for all of us.  As the first-world agribusiness machine chews through the mono-cropped, genetically modified feed that will be given to our dairy cows along with plenty of antibiotics and rBHT, the sun looks on in horror.  Never before in the history of mankind have we laid waste the Earth so ferociously in order to feed all of us to bursting – and leave us malnourished.  We eat, and eat, and eat – and never before have we collectively been so tired, so fat, so diabetic, so neurotic.

Of course, we are only doing what we have been trained to do – we are part of the machine we have helped to create.  Just as seeds are tortured to make them pest-resistant and unable to reproduce themselves, so have our minds and bodies been tortured in the effort to make more and more dollars for the machine.  Our own basic human needs have been used against us.  Perhaps the only lesson I took away from my college marketing course was this astonishing factoid: the largest purchasers of psychological data and research are marketers.  That particularly insidious and heartless machine is designed to know more about us and our desires than we know about ourselves.

Processed foods are carefully engineered to light up the addiction centers in our brains.  The perfect balance of salt, fat, and sweet is carefully formulated to tickle the nodes that are hardwired to never be satisfied.  “Mouth feel” is a new area of extensive research and currently is considered an essential consideration for any new food product.  Don’t even get me started on packaging – the brain-blasting graphics and colors are designed to create the same primal response within us as observed in chickens trained to peck at a bright target for a pellet.

We have built a machine to please us without caring for us and fill us without nourishing us.  Worse yet, the chronic low-grade malnutrition has left us tired, fat, achy, isolated, and sad.  We have invented something other than food – something not-food, and we have over-tipped the scale until it is all that many of us can access.  The revitalization and even worse, the community, have gone out of food.  We sit alone in our cars at the drive-through, chewing and staring.

And that, friends, is why Eat Mendocino is going to save the world, and my precious Binkies are doing it.  Eat Mendocino is not the rod thrown into the gears of the machine; it is a dusty little chamomile plant blooming modestly beside the road, waiting to be noticed.  For those who do notice, it will help to restore our connection to the earth, to each other, and to our own spirits.  It is the only thing that can, and the Binkies are showing the way.  They would never say that about themselves, but then, that’s what mammas are for.

Am I implying that we all should drop out?  Shall we dismantle this machine at the expense of those who will be crushed by what tension is left in the springs?  Maybe those of us who are capable of doing so should consider it seriously, but the machine must be allowed to wind down slowly for those who are not and never will be so privileged.  If that is so, then the best we can do is to heed the friendly invitation of these young women: to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.  We can begin to identify those small things we can do in our sphere of control – a tomato plant, a duck in our garden rows.  The yogurt recipe seems entirely approachable to me.  Maybe I will try that soon. If nothing else, we can cast a kind eye upon the chamomile plant by the roadside.  Her tiny roots are creating cracks in the asphalt.

Happy Earth Day, my friends, with all my heart.


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.