Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles

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Start where you are

We are two days away from the New Year and I am relatively unprepared. The last two weeks have given me just enough time to clean out my pantry  and binge on a bunch of things that I don’t normally eat anyway, just for the sake of it. In between ice cream sundaes, corn chips and bananas with peanut butter, I have been doing mental pushups to get ready for the year ahead because it’s too late to do all the things I wish I had done months ago. It is most inconvenient to start a project like this in the middle of winter. But, I’ve got daffodils blooming in my front yard right now and a lot of other things are growing right now, too. Still, I cannot help regretting all of the summer & fall fruits and roots that I have not stored or fermented, all the mushrooms I have not picked & dried, and the salt that I have not been collecting. Oh, god. Salt. It’s going to be like gold this year.

Sarah's pantrySarah's Tea Collection

I snapped these pictures of my well-stocked cupboard and beloved tea collection before I gave everything away for Christmas. As I empty my shelves and my refrigerator, I am acutely aware of all that we could have done. But the truth is, I’m not worried. No matter how much we prep, we are never ready for the unpredictability of life. There are always a million reasons not to do something, and more time doesn’t mean I would ever feel that I had done enough. To me it all comes down to the simple fact that we have to start where we are, with what we have.

“You cannot manifest what you want. You can only manifest what you already have.” – Eckhart Tolle

When I heard this the other day, I felt it in my bones. I know that we already have everything we need. In the coming year, we will make visible the abundance that already exists. All of the pieces are here, and there is no place for fear.

The Great Depression Cookbook

Recipes for acorn cookies to fried squirrel, plus instructions on “things to do if you don’t want to get hired.”

I keep this in mind as I look around my cozy little apartment and take inventory of what I do have: an impossible kitchen that is no larger than two bathtubs, a jillion mason jars of various sizes, two crock pots, two Cuisinarts, a Champion juicer and a VitaMix blender and a bunch of “homesteady” cookbooks. I have cheesecloth, a bunch of freezer storage bags, sprouting screens and a big jug for storing fresh water that I collect from a local spring. I also have a pathological distaste for washing dishes, which I will have to conquer this year.

I look outside and I find myself in one of the most magnificent places in the world. I look at the Pacific Ocean from my window, and I trust that she will feed us. I am going to have to establish a better relationship with her first. I love walking on the beach, harvesting shells and driftwood and seaweed and watching the waves change color, but I have a thing about cold water, and so does Gowan. I told her that we need to begin this year with a symbolic polar bear swim, as sort of a peace offering. As soon as the winter waves calm down, we’re plunging. Also, we need wetsuits.

We are surrounded by the forest, and we have rivers, mountains, valleys and lakes. We also have shovels and lot of chutzpah. We live in an incredibly biodiverse region which has historically produced enough food to be food-secure, and still could. We live in an GMO-free county, with a number of inspired farmers and ranchers – young and young at heart – who know how to do this. We have plenty.

Last night while we were making dinner with the mushrooms we foraged, two friends surprised us with gifts of blackberry honey wine, perfectly ripened persimmons and roasted bay nuts and… sea salt! This is how the pantry will be filled – little by little, day by day, with the help of others. The land alone is not enough. And I know that this is not “our” project; we’re just doing one little piece. The great mycelium that connects us all is what will make this possible – and our survival literally depends on you. And you. And you. So, get ready to learn/cook/laugh with us!

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The Big Idea

Two days ago, Gowan stopped by my house to pick up my lemon tree to keep it safe from the winter frost. She mentioned that it was only a couple of weeks away from the New Year – a year of eating local. I said, “Oh, are you still doing that?” She replied, “I want to.”  In the midst of baking chocolate brownies, I said, almost automatically,

“Maybe I should do it with you.”

One day later, my head is exploding with how this experiment in eating locally could connect so many of the dots that we’ve been working on for a long time, and bring the conversation about local food in Mendocino County to the next level. By the time we speak that afternoon, I have brainstormed a full media plan and I am already starting to think about what I won’t be able to eat. We talk. We talk some more. She likes my ideas, I love hers. She’s a farmer and an artist and I am an idea mill, connector and media lover. This could be big. It will be big, based on the feat alone. Perhaps it could also be big for other people, and makes some big things happen here in Mendocino County. I’m in.

As soon as I get off the phone, I go for a walk and head directly to Frankie’s Ice Cream Ice Creamfor a scoop of Candy Cap Mushroom goodness.  Because now that it’s real, I will start doing all of the things that I won’t be able to do in less than two weeks (the mushrooms are local and so is the milk, and it’s made locally, but… it’s not 100% local). I take my ice cream and head toward the beach. Along the way, a homeless guy shouts from the bus stop, “Has anyone told you that you’re beautiful today?” Nope. “Well, you are.” I take this as a good sign. Compliments from strangers are always a good sign. It’s way too cold for ice cream and I can hardly taste it, but I am really happy. Walking along the headlands, with the winter waves crashing against the rocks I am feeling this great convergence.

Anything is possible here. I have always believed that. This project (yet to be named) would be living, vibrant proof of the abundance that exists in the world. I am liking what this will look like – how the days will be spent, the people that will be involved, and – yes – the food that will be eaten. As I head home, I pick some Portuguese kale that grows wild on the headlands – it’s time to start.

In some ways this will be life as usual, and it will also involve some major changes. This excites me, and I spread my arms out like wings, walking into the chill wind. Also, I’m not at all worried about the ice cream, we can make as much of that as we want.