Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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How to treat poison oak naturally with manzanita

I am very lucky not to get poison oak, but many people suffer miserably at this time of year. So, this blog post is a Public Service Announcement: relief from poison oak is within reach, literally.

At the Not-So-Simple Living Fair this weekend, I took a mind-blowing workshop with a native Pomo woman named Corine Pearce, whose vast knowledge about local ecology is museum-worthy. She spoke about many different local plants and their native uses with great respect and admiration, but manzanita is her favorite. Every single part of the plant has use, from the berries and the bark. I will soon share recipes for manzanita cider, “Love Tea,” and other exciting concoctions.

She also revealed the many uses of the poison oak plant itself…

Here Corine shocks the audience by wielding a branch of poison oak and discussing it's many native uses and beneficial properties.

Here Corine shocks the audience by wielding a branch of poison oak and discussing it’s many native uses and beneficial properties.

But, that is another story, too. today, I will share the simple cure for poison oak.
Manzanita
How to Treat Poison Oak Naturally with Manzanita

1. Harvest a live branch from a manzanita tree. Harvest as-is, with leaves on.

2. Boil the entire branch with leaves on in a large pot until the water turns black.

3. Pour the water from the pot into a lukewarm bath. Soak affected areas for treatment of poison oak.

For those of you who get poison oak, I would love to hear if this works. Let me know if you try it.


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How to shop at the Farmers’ Market (and why Ukiah rocks)

Today was one of those days where my butt molds into the shape of the computer chair and I wouldn’t know the temperature outside if my dog didn’t need to relieve herself. The sun broke the misty grayness that has blanketed the coast lately, and it was delightful to feel its warmth for a brief moment while my dog sniffed about. Time at the computer was well-spent, and I launched the website for the Mendocino County Farmers’ Market Association. Just after launching the site, I was asked to post some exciting news:

Ukiah is currently #2 in the entire country in a national “I love my farmers market” campaign! So, if you love the Ukiah Farmers’ Market, please go to www.LoveMyFarmersMarket.org to make a pledge for the Ukiah market each week you will be shopping there through 9/9/13. By the way, if you haven’t visited the Ukiah market in a while, you’re missing out. They are hogging all the sunshine over there, and have an incredible array of produce, meats, fresh crepes, jams and preserves, baked goods, body products, live music and the Ukiah Bicycle Kitchen, an on-site bike repair unit. It is a vibrant and wonderful event, which reminds me a lot of my hometown Saturday market in Chico.

Ukiah Bicycle Kitchen

We enjoyed our own little slice of inland summer this afternoon on my deck, when Gowan sliced open a cantaloupe she picked up from Covelo Organics today at the Fort Bragg Farmers’ Market. The first melon of the season, and holy sweetness – it was everything a melon should be. The most incredible thing about this time of year is that the food comes to us every week from all over the County. It is a major contrast to the winter months where we had to travel inland often to get staple ingredients. Now, each week, the food express arrives and basically our groceries are delivered to us directly by the farmer. How amazing is that? You don’t really appreciate this fully until you become entirely depending on the local foodshed.

Cantaloupe from Covelo Organics

Shopping at the Farmers’ Market

As Market Manager, I have noticed that most people don’t come to the farmers market with the same mindset that they bring to the grocery store. Most people are drawn to the shiny, colorful sweet things like carrots, berries, tomatoes, eggplant and of course the baked goods. People often overlook staple ingredients like potatoes, onions, garlic and even the leafy greens. That’s kind of the difference between visiting the market for subsistence vs. seasonal flare. I love the shiny sweet things like this cantaloupe as much as anyone. But, here’s a suggestion on how to experience the market more fully: this week, when you come visit me at the Mendocino Farmers’ Market on Friday, purchase a couple things that are on your shopping list that you don’t usually look for at the market – whether it be mustard greens, olive oil, spuds, onions or rhubarb. And, if you see something you don’t recognize (or have never successfully cooked), like kohlrabi, I encourage you to ask the farmer what to do with it – they are the experts. That’s the real magic of the market; your farmer grows your food, delivers it, and offers free culinary advice!

Remember to bring your reusable bags, and visit the new Mendocino County Farmers’ Market website for lots of other tips, including advice on storing produce without plastic.


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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


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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


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How to make real yogurt

In the natural division of labor in our domestic pact, I make the yogurt and Gowan makes the cheese. It’s largely based on equipment: I have a gas oven, and she has a dehydrator. But, I like my job a lot. It might have something to do with a genetic predisposition to yogurt (I am Greek after all). But, I like the many steps to yogurt making and find the process grounding and meditative. And, now I will share all my secrets with you. The thing about making yogurt, and making most things really, is that none of it is very complicated. It just requires a few simple pieces of equipment and good timing. You can’t let the milk go bad, make sure you don’t run out of starter, and make the time to get it going and also be sure that you will be available to take it out many hours later. (I have ruined yogurt due to late night escapades…) So, it is really an act of being present more akin to meditation than cooking. But, maybe they are one and the same. Making yogurt is also a lesson in freedom.

There are lots of different ways to make yogurt. I’m not an expert, this is just the way I do it and I think it reliably makes damn good yogurt. Gowan agrees. Wild FermentationI learned from the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz – which is a fantastic resource for all things cultured and fermented. I don’t have a yogurt maker, but I’m not opposed to using them – I just don’t have one and don’t seem to need it. So here it is:

Equipment:

  • A sauce pan or small/medium soup pot – sized according to how much milk you have and yogurt you want to make
  • A gas oven – this is important for this method. If you don’t have a gas oven, you will need to find another way to incubate the yogurt at a steady temp (like a yogurt maker). Some people put it in a cooler, wrapped in towels, next to bottles of hot water. The oven is just easy and the temp seems to stay steady.
  • A candy thermometer
  • Whisk or rubber spatula
  • Mason jars – I like the wide mouth quart or pint sizes for yogurt making
  • Ice and a sink or large bowl for making an ice bath

Ingredients:

  • Cow Milk. We are lucky to have fresh milk right from the udder. You can use any kind of milk – store bought, Organic, rBGH free, but we strongly recommend using whole milk – always. I have ranted about the integrity of whole milk in another post, so I will not belabor this point here. It is possible to make yogurt with other kinds of milk, but cow is what we have, so that’s what we’re using right now. It’s true that all milk is breast milk, and we recommend getting as close to the breast as possible. It really will taste better.
  • A little bit of yogurt for starter – this can be from your last batch, or from the store, or from a friend (which is my favorite place to get it). You don’t need much, but we’ll get into that later.
  • That’s it!

Directions:

  1. Pour milk into saucepan, insert the candy thermometer and begin to heat on low to medium low. Stir frequently. Do NOT let the milk burn. That is your number one priority. I post up next to the stove and try not to leave it, because I burned it once and I will never let that happen again. Burnt milk = gross yogurt.
  2. Keep stirring diligently until you raise the temp of the milk to 180 degrees. Stirring keeps it from burning and keeps the temp even throughout the pan.
  3. Prepare an ice bath. Once the milk has reached desired temp, turn off the burner. Place the pan in the ice bath and allow the milk to cool to 110 degrees, stirring occasionally so it cools evenly as well.Yogurt in an ice bath
  4. Turn the oven on to the lowest setting for a few minutes while you complete the next step.
  5. Pour the cooled milk into the mason jars and then stir in the starter. Yogurt in jarsYou need way less starter than you think – only 1 tablespoon per quart. I learned this from one of my favorite cooking quotes of all time, found in Wild Fermentation and borrowed from the Joy of Cooking. (P.S. I just added Joy to our Wish List b/c I don’t actually own a copy which is unbelievable, yet true.) Ok, so this is why yogurt is all about freedom:

    “You may wonder why so little starter is used and think that a little more will produce a better result. It won’t. The bacillus, if crowded, gives a sour, watery product. But if the culture has sufficient ‘Lebensraum’ [German for ‘room to live’], it will be rich, mild, and creamy.”

  6. Turn off oven, and then place jars on oven rack for incubation. The oven will retain warmth from pre-heating it, and the pilot light will keep it warm enough for the cultures to get happy and do their thing. Try not to move the jars at all once incubation begins – it makes the yogurt unhappy.
  7. Leave yogurt in the oven for 8-12 hours, depending on desired thickness – or when you remember to take it out! I like to do this in the evening so that there is fresh yogurt in the morning – which is the best thing ever (and so that my oven isn’t occupied during the day).
  8. Remove and enjoy straight out of the jar! If you are Greek like me, or just have really good taste, you may want to strain your yogurt to make it even thicker. To strain it, you line a colander with cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Pour in the yogurt and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The whey will separate, making your yogurt even thicker, creamier and more delicious than it already was. Save the whey for other cooking uses. This is what I do when I have the patience to not eat it right away.