Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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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.


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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


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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.