Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


1 Comment

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

 


Leave a comment

Baking pumpkin bread from scratch with mom’s recipe

Everyone wanted to know what we would eat when the year was over. We didn’t really know how to answer that question, or what to expect. The only way you can do something like what we’ve done is to give up on the alternative and stay singularly focused on the day and the meal directly in front of you. Instead of thinking about what we couldn’t have, we directed all of our energy on what we could discover, create, and improvise. This was necessary for survival, and also for joy and creativity. So, I began this year with a fridge and pantry stuffed with local food, and I could have easily glided into another week, month, or year with the same modus operandi. Not only that, but I have actually found it difficult to transition away from our food routine – which I didn’t exactly expect. The rhythm of living and eating this way has been grounding, cozy, and private, and I am emerging from it with a sense of being an alien from another food planet. During my first trip to the grocery store, I got so overwhelmed that I left without buying anything. I don’t love to cook – I love to eat. But, now I find a profound comfort in preparing food for myself. That said, I also have a lot of other things that I want and need to do in life, and look forward to having more time for life outside of food, once I adjust.

As it turns out, most of what I’ve eaten in the first few days of 2014 is basically what I was eating last week, with a few additions. Like bubbles in my water, and cinnamon and leavening agents in my baking. Today I baked pumpkin bread, and it was not totally gross at all! That’s because I uncharacteristically used a recipe this time. When I realized we could use baking powder & soda again, I excitedly texted my mom and asked for her pumpkin bread recipe, ASAP. I guess it was on my mind since ’tis the season and I had to watch everyone else eat loaves of it during Christmas. Of course, I still improvised a few things and used mostly local ingredients, but it was a baking success! One of the hallmarks of mom’s recipe is that the bread is super moist and yummy. I think you’ll love it.

I got the pumpkin for this one from Adam and Paula Gaska at Mendocino Organics in Redwood Valley. I roasted it and then pureed the pulp in the Vitamix to get the right consistency (sometimes you need to strain it if it’s super juicy). A tip on winter squash: Most farmers are sitting on more squash than they can store right now, and are feeding it to the pigs. If you want a good deal on winter squash, approach a farmer about purchasing larger quantities directly from them. You will get a much better price than at the store or the Farmers’ Market.

Fresh pumpkin puree

Mom’s Pumpkin Bread Recipe

1.5 cup & 2 Tbsp. flour  
(I used Red Fife wheat from Mendocino Grain Project, because that’s what I had)
1.5 cup sugar or substitute  
(I used honey to taste, much less than 1.5 cups – honey is ultra sweet in baking)

1 tsp. baking soda
.5 tsp. cinnamon
.5 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup water
.5 cup oil   (I would have used local butter if I’d had enough, instead used coconut oil)
2 eggs  
(I used local duck eggs only because I’m allergic to chicken eggs, but many people swear are the best for baking due to added loft)

Sift dry ingredients together.

Sifting the flour

I have never sifted anything, ever, so I asked mom if I had to and she said she always sifts, and I didn’t want to be the one to make this recipe look bad. I remembered I had bought a tiny vintage sifter at a thrift store because I thought it was cute, so I excavated my kitchen to find it.

Hello cinnamon!

I find following a recipe more tolerable when using heart-shaped measuring spoons. I think Mom got me these, too.

Beat all other ingredients in a separate bowl and then add all together.

Adding the wet ingredients for pumpkin bread

Honey trick: I heated up the coconut oil and then stirred the honey into that to make them both easier to mix in.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Mom's pumpkin bread

Since I don’t know anything about baking with leavening agents, I didn’t want to overfill the bread pan, so I also made some little cupcakes, and then froze most of them for a rainy day (a smart thing that I never do, but my mom does it all the time and it is her recipe afterall).

Pumpkin bread cupcakes


6 Comments

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.

image

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.

image

 

1536738_251989494966207_1616794938_n

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

Loves,

Gowan


6 Comments

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.

image

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


4 Comments

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.

1226131315b

1226131316And then unfold!

1226131318

 

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

1226131319

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

1226131319a

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.

1226131343

 

Time to wrangle pumpkin.

1226131351

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

1226131352

 

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.

1226131737

 

Pie love .

1226131941

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


1 Comment

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!


2 Comments

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.