Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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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.


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Corn Harvest this Past Weekend

Over the hills, through the fields, into a magical corn patch we went. The corn grew red and green and handmade fresh tortillas were served to us in the field between shucking and tossing! Thank you to our badass friends who grow real, beautiful food and invite us to partake in work parties that hardly feel like work at all. I went home with a belly full of tacos and local wine with the smell of bonfire in my hair. Another day in the good life.

 

Mendocino Meats

Many thanks to everyone who helped us harvest the Oaxacan Green dent corn in Potter Valley on Saturday! We had 15 wonderful people from all over the county join us on a beautiful fall afternoon. Everyone was extremely helpful and we harvested about half of the Oaxacan Green corn. The Abenaki Calais flint corn did not produce so great, so we didn’t bother with it.

Non-GMO-Month-2013-Logo-300x149What better way to celebrate our right to choose non-GMO food than to harvest open-pollinated heirloom corn. Corn is one of the most widely planted GMO crops in this country. We have always been passionate about promoting non-GMO food and farming. In 2003/2004, Adam was an active campaigner for the successful “Yes on Measure H” campaign to ban GMO crop cultivation in Mendocino County. He has fond memories of collecting petition signatures and organizing his first fundraiser dinner! Although, while we can petition and vote…

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Locavore Potluck on Tuesday August 13th: Eat local with us!

Today I found out that we actually got the ear of the much discussed SF Chronicle writer, and she published a response to readers regarding her story, which includes a direct link to our post. I’m not going to comment on her calculated response; I have said enough!

I do want to invite you to have dinner with us. It’s about time that we did this. We are hosting a community potluck and everyone is invited to break bread with us. We will also discuss the upcoming Farm to Table Dinner at the end of August,, so if you’d like to volunteer it would be wonderful to have you there.  Pick something up at the Farmers’ Market, or bring something from your garden. Be sure to check out the rules, so that your dish is “legal.”

We will have local sea salt, herbs, chili pepper, olive oil and apple cider vinegar on hand in case you need some help in the flavor department. This will be a casual event with good food, good people, and possibly a trouble-making baby goat. Families are welcome!

Eat Mendocino Potluck

Tuesday, August 13th, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

Location has been changed to the Mendocino Community Center on School Street in Mendocino.

What to bring? Anything and everything local!

Watercolor painting of the Noyo Food Forest


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How to open a wine bottle with a rock

What happens when a bunch of amazing women who are thought leaders in the food/farming movement get together for a weekend on a cattle ranch? For those who came from the coast and the Bay Area, we strip off our fog-proof layers and introduce the Potter Valley sun to our flesh. The inlanders greet us with and ATV loaded with ice chests and lead us to the river.

River bound!

Where we float on innertubes like kids, drink chilled wine, apply precautionary amounts of sunscreen to the places we can’t reach, and do what women do best: we bob around in the current, naturally flowing in and out of conversation with old friends and new faces as our bodies languidly salute the afternoon sun.

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We discuss things like the feasibility of a meat processing plant in Mendocino County, how to follow your passion for food systems change and also pay the bills, and setting boundaries with men – and baby piglets (which actually have quite a lot in common).

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The best way to summarize the amazing weekend we had is with this video. For nothing demonstrates the creative resourcefulness of a bunch of Type A food visionaries who are not waiting for a better world. We are picking up whatever tools we’ve got to make it happen, right now. Everyone has something to offer and we are all indispensable. In this case we would have been lost without Katherine’s primitive bottle busting know-how when we realized we’d brought everything but a wine opener…

We were invited to Magruder Ranch for a retreat with a group of women who work in food and ag as farmers or ranchers or media people, advocates and organizers. Basically, it was a locavore’s dream. We were surrounded by our people, filled with vibrant enthusiasm for creating a new agriculture future. Most of all, it was a chance to connect with other womenfolk, talk about life and work and health and joy and how to balance it all. And, of course we ate a TON of incredible food.

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… including TWO different kinds of local popsicles. Farmer Kyle made us these peach, mint & redwood tip delights!

Popsicles!

Eaten on the patio of Black Oak Coffee Roasters, where Gowan had a LOCAL LATTE, made with Lover’s Lane Honey and bee pollen. We were pretty much brimming with happy.

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And then we picked up berry-apple pops at Gowan’s Oak Tree farmstand on the way home. What a weekend, what a life. Thank you women, for a wonderful, heart-bursting getaway of goodness. We returned to the coast with toasted skin, renewed smiles, and sticky popsicle fingers. It’s so good to know that there are friends and colleagues out there, all over the state, country and the world who are working toward a food world that truly feeds people. But, it’s even better when we actually get to hang out together, gather around the cutting board and the stove and share a glass of wine. These comings-together are just as important as the work we are all doing; that truly is what it’s all about.


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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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Local wheels for local food

It has been a big, big week for Eat Mendocino.  I baked my very first loaf of bread (after 5 1/2 years of being gluten free and a lifetime of not being a baker) the same day that the owner of the big local grocery store, Harvest Market, contacted us wanting to collaborate to get more local food on the shelves! Then, Gowan’s goat Mandy delivered twins on Mother’s Day. And, the very next day, Gowan adopted a third baby goat, which we snuggled while eating our first 100% local apple pie. She has since been aptly named, “Apple.” It’s a good, full life. *sigh*

Apple, Gowan's new dwarf nigerian baby goatSarah eating sourdough rye bread. Joyful disbelief.Sourdough rye bread for breakfast!Bakemistress Jacquelyn cutting the apple pie!

But, that is not what this blog post is about. This entry is about mobility. It has been a month and a half since I totaled my darling steel tank, Mrs. Butterwheels. I still don’t love talking about it, but it’s essential to understanding how my life is changing in deep and important ways. Time has passed, but I do not like being in cars, to say the least. I try to limit most of my activity within walking radius, and ride the bus or carpool when I really need to. Usually, this works. I have swiftly and resourcefully redesigned my life so that I can do most of my work from my living room, walk or ride the bus when I must get to the doctor or visit just-born baby goats. I’m learning to slow down, in profound ways. I am rethinking how much I really “need” to go somewhere, and am exploring the wonderfully dangerous world of online shopping (my shiny new bread knife arrived today!) There are flaws in all of these systems and choices, but it’s basically working out so far and the local diet has yet to be compromised, thanks to many benevolent agents who have delivered food in clutch situations.

Ironically, the main obstacle in this locavore’s life is my new gig as manager of the Mendocino Farmers’ Market. It is located approximately 7 blocks from my house, and you would think it’s the ideal job for a localized locavore. Yet, the only thing that has forced me behind the wheel of a car is my market manager duties. I have to lug tons of heavy signs around town before market day, and then bring all the gear for my booth every Friday (table, chair, paperwork, schwag, and the machine to accept Food Stamps, etc.). Thankfully I have many wheeled friends who have been helping me thus far, but I’m feeling far from autonomous and my favors are running out.

I have been fretfully wrestling with this conundrum for the past 2 weeks. I need wheels. But, I don’t necessarily need a car. The first thought was a large red wagon, at the suggestion of some of the other market managers. Which might work, but wagons are most efficient when used at the market itself. I need to schlep signs all over town, and then pick them up after a long day at the market. I need to cover ground, and not spend my entire Friday night doing so. The solution became fairly obvious.

As my favorite bumper sticker says, I realized it was time to, “Put the fun between your legs.”

I needed to outfit my bicycle with some kind of cargo cart! After some internet research, I have found the perfect thing: the Croozer Cargo Bike Trailer. It’s probably made in China, but it’s all part of the transitional economy…Croozer Cargo Bike Trailer

My market budget cannot afford this new expense ($200), so I’m inviting you, beloved fans, to help me get back on the “horse” and fuel a pedal powered local food economy. It’s easy, just click here to donate safely and securely via Paypal. Donations of any amount are deeply appreciated, from the bottom of my shaken but mighty little heart.

The market is off to a great start, and I know the season is going to unfold in wonderful and unexpected ways. Sheriff Tom Allman drops by for a visit at the Mendocino Farmers' MarketMy goal is to use it as a platform to get as many people excited about local food as possible! Sheriff Allman dropped by during opening day and purchased an apple tree grafted by the horticulture students at Mendocino High School. He invited Gowan and I to visit the County Jail’s garden, which has introduced locally grown food into the jail kitchen, allowed inmates to get their hands in the dirt, and reduced the annual food costs by $40,000! This is what it’s all really about. Do come by and say hi to me at the Mendocino market every Friday from Noon – 2 pm. You will find Gowan and her lovely produce at the Wednesday market in Fort Bragg from 3-6 pm.

And, if you need to see more baby goat pictures (because who doesn’t?), check out our Facebook page, and our YouTube channel.

xo
Sarah


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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.


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Eat Mendocino in the Real Estate Magazine

Dear readers,

I know, it’s been awhile. Last month I used up all of my words writing this article for the Real Estate Magazine, which defies its name to feature local human interest stories. I was excited to be invited to write the cover story for last month’s issue and it’s created a real buzz around town. I can’t go anywhere now without someone mentioning the article; even my physical therapist brought it up while doing an ultrasound on my right hip last week!

Publishing this article made me realize two things: 1) The interweb is miraculous, but it’s really nice to be able to put something in someone else’s hand. Print media is so not dead. 2) We need to write, write, write. I have mega guilt about not making enough time to tell you all about our project because we are too busy doing it. And that is totally counterproductive.

The whole point of this eat local experiment is to share the journey along the way. I was recently in a gamechanging car accident and it has made me realize one thing quite clearly: it’s time to slow down. No more living the “slow food” life in the fast lane. We need to make time to live and eat local, and also time to tell you all about it. So, that is my promise. More soon. For now, if you haven’t read the article, yet, you can download it in PDF form or read the text below.

Eat well and drive safe.

So much love,
Sarah

Real Estate Magazine Cover

Eat Mendocino: An adventure in eating local in Mendocino County

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles

By Sarah Bodnar

A few weeks into this year, I found myself in the First Aid aisle at CVS, completely dumbfounded by the Band-Aid selection. A kitchen accident had resulted in a gnarly flesh wound to the thumb and I needed a protective layer between my hand and the world. I thought there were two kinds of Band-Aids: the soft fabric ones and the plastic ones. I like the soft ones. Simple, right? Not simple. Niche marketing has hit the Band-Aid shelf; the selection stunned me. They now come in every texture and shape, and in variety packs that make you question whether any one Band-Aid could possibly meet every human need. I spent over fifteen minutes studying the wide assortment of bandages that I might need for a host of unforeseeable injuries at some point in the unknowable future. Feeling defeated, I finally settled on a variety pack, sans pre-applied antibiotic cream.

This little errand exposed deep realizations about my changing relationship with “stuff.” It was less than a month into our food project, but radically modifying my decision-making process around food had recalibrated my entire life – and it couldn’t be more unlike the Band-Aid aisle.

A year of eating local

On January 1st, 2013 my friend Gowan and I embarked on a year of eating food that is grown, raised and foraged in Mendocino County. We made a choice to know where our food came from – all of it. We chose to commit to this place we live and love. We chose to feed directly from the land and sea and live by the seasons. Ultimately, we chose to make life more complicated for the sake of simplicity and signed up for a year of uncompromising limitations to open the door to abundance.

We chose to do all of these things out of graceful optimism and bull-headed stubbornness. Fundamentally, we knew we could do it. Gowan is a farmer and a maker of all sorts of things, from gorgeous compost to fine silver jewelry. I am a lover of food, professional dot-connector and a media machine. Together, we are some kind of home-grown DIY girl farmette with hundreds of online fans. Our goal is simple: to live off the land and the sea, and love it. It is also our goal to inspire a new agricultural future, celebrate abundance and build as much topsoil as possible.

Emptying the cupboards

In the weeks leading up to the New Year, I cleared out my pantry, fridge and freezer, purging anything and everything that wasn’t grown, raised, or foraged in Mendocino. This meant that there was almost nothing left. I had not been freezing, drying, canning or preserving anything in preparation for this mammoth undertaking. I only decided to join Gowan in this adventure a week before Christmas! I gave away five bags worth of groceries, all of my spices, and my entire beloved tea collection as Christmas gifts.

A few items made the cut in my pantry: seaweed and herbs I had harvested and dried last spring, locally harvested sea salt, apple cider vinegar, a bag of frozen huckleberries, dried fava beans and some local duck eggs. Otherwise, my shelves were filled with a lot of empty mason jars. Heading into the New Year, I knew we were a far cry from food security. It was the leanest time of year and my cupboards and fridge were largely barren. I’m not sure if this winter dearth was more or less terrifying for my sister-wife. On one hand, she had a few hoop houses that were still yielding tomatoes and hot peppers at the first of the year, plus lettuces and mustard greens and all the tree collards we could eat.  As a farmer, I imagine she was also acutely more aware of how much we had not planted and stored for the winter months, and how long it would be before the ground started to warm again. So, the first lesson was that you must clear out the old to make space for the new, and have faith that you will not starve in so doing. Our mantra instantly became, “Start where you are, do what you can, with what you have.”

The Rules

The first step was defining the boundaries of our project, and what “local” would mean to us. There are many different functional definitions of local food, usually based on the distance that the food has traveled. Our goal is to discover the food abundance within the borders of Mendocino County, so we are only eating food that is produced in Mendocino County. Thus, the project is aptly called, “Eat Mendocino.” This means we grow, raise, pick or catch it here, or get it from someone else who does. We don’t have any Barbara Kingsolver-variety exception foods or “get out of jail free” cards; we are 100%. We will survive without coffee, tea, chocolate, coconut water and avocados for 365 days (with smiles on our faces!). We wrote the following rules at a bar the week before the project began and they are posted on our website, so that the world may keep us accountable:

  • We eat locally produced food, not locally processed food. So, if the inputs aren’t local, we don’t eat it (coffee, tea, mustard, beer, jam, and… ice cream)
  • We are not making exceptions for staples such as grains or oils. Some of those things grow here, and those that don’t will not be staples for us.
  • We will not use spices, sauces or flavorings that made with ingredients produced outside of the County. This is where it gets real.
  • If we are traveling or happen to be outside of the county, we will be 100% committed to eating food that is locally produced in that place, as close to the farm or garden as possible.
  • Our first priority is to produce as much food for ourselves as we can and source the rest directly from the farmer, rancher, fisherman through barter and exchange. We will also support local grocers that sell locally produced food.

The hunt for local food

Food is our clock, time revolves around its procurement, processing and preparation. This involves frontier land resourcefulness and a lot of dishwashing. A couple weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, “I don’t buy food from strangers.” That’s probably the simplest way to describe the parameters of our project. Our survival now depends on knowing our community more intimately than ever before. There is a simplicity to our meals because we start with what is available and work from there. Each plate is also a complex web of relationships between people and the land. We can trace these connections item by item, meal by meal. I realized one day in January that I knew every single thing that I was putting in my body. I knew we were going to get really cozy with our food, but this is an impressive reality to live. There are no hidden sources, no unknown preservatives, nor any un-pronounceable ingredients.  Nothing but real, whole foods with a story.

There are many people to thank for our survival. We would not be alive without the one hundred and fifty pounds of potatoes we got from John Richardson at Noyo Hill Farm. John and Charline Ford’s grass-fed beef has been keeping meat on our bones. Gowan’s Oak Tree farmstand in Philo is making life much sweeter, with their well-stored apples and dried pears, peaches and persimmons. We also love the local stores that make a point of stocking local products, which are surprisingly hard to come by. For this reason, Scott Cratty is our hero. He is the owner of Ukiah’s most revolutionary corner store. He has filled the shelves with 100% local produce, and introduced us to many local treasures such as Pennyroyal Farm cheese, McFadden Farms dried herbs/spices and pistachios from Calpella! In Scott’s words, “Mendocino County is the place where your next door neighbor is doing the coolest thing that you will never know about.” Word. Never has it been more important for us to know our neighbors.

Through the process of sourcing food, strangers have become friends, and we are awed and humbled by the kindness of our community. People have shared with us so many items out of their own freezers and pantries, including goat and pork meat, dried peppers, seaweed, salt, corn, flax seed, quinoa and wheat. It truly does take a village to feed a locavore; we are always accepting donations, so let us know if you would like to feed us or show us your favorite fishing spot!

To juxtapose this with the current food system is a stark, astonishing contrast. We live in a world where food is largely divorced from source. Even for people like me who generally eat healthy and shop at the Farmers’ Market, taking it to this level is completely gamechanging. Much of what we eat has changed hands many times, is highly processed and packaged, and the production and distribution of these green-er foods is fueled by petroleum. While it may come in a recycled paper box, printed in soy ink and bears an organic and Fair Trade label, much of your food probably comes from really far away. This is inherently unsustainable, and will only prove to be more so as the cost of oil increases. As we have un-globalized our own diets, it has been fascinating to strip away the many layers of the current industrial food system and start exploring what it would take to go back to the old ways, in a new way.

Filling up

Even in the darkest of the winter months, we have been well fed. We are fortunate to live in a temperate climate, where kale grows wild on the headlands, and mushrooms spring up from the forest floor. We began the year trusting that we would survive, but without knowing exactly how. There have been rough spots – especially in the beginning. I still remember the unparalleled joy of picking up our first load of milk and butter on Day #5. I learned quickly that the local diet is inherently low-carb, and had to start eating unladylike servings of potatoes to keep weight on. My body tells me what it needs. When I need fat, I unabashedly scoop the cream off the top of the milk jar. I drown everything in butter. I drink wine when I could use some extra fruit calories. Sometimes I eat honey right out of the jar with a spoon. We have to listen to our bodies, and constantly balance our physical needs with the seasons.

We have also gotten pretty good at asking for help, and been blessed with so many acts of kindness in the form of food and fishing poles. Over the last few months our diet has included a lot of kale, meat, milk, potatoes, apples, butter, eggs and bone broth soup. Sometimes we eat meals fit for queens, and sometimes, it is, well totally gross. But, usually it’s really, really good. Often when I feed my friends, they say it is the best milk, orange, beef, cheese, etcetera that they have ever eaten. The paradox of our lives is that opulence and indulgence springs forth from scarcity and compromise. After days of eggs, potatoes, cabbage and kale, suddenly we are eating lemon meringue pie or enjoying a full Thanksgiving style feast on a Tuesday night in February because a thirty-pound turkey unexpectedly thawed due to a power outage. Other times, we are trying to figure out what to do with twenty five pounds of ripe kiwis. And sometimes I am cracking walnuts open with a hammer and sipping champagne.

Jar by jar, the pantry has filled. And emptied. And filled again. Food flows in and out of our lives in a tidal wave of bright colors and textures. We cannot afford to stockpile, and there is a newfound comfort in this rhythm. In three months, we have seen that every empty jar is an opportunity and that using things up is the best way to invite abundance – simply because there is no other option.

The fruits of our labors

I have long believed that preparing food provides nourishment beyond taste and calories. Sometimes I will spend an hour cooking a meal and by the time it’s ready, I already feel satiated. This, I believe, can be explained by the Ayurvedic perspective that we must experience our food using all five senses. When we are intimately connected with the entire process of our food chain, the rewards are unsurpassed. Case in point: I would argue that nothing can make goat cheese taste better than snuggling just born baby goats.

There is another aspect of the locavore life that has nothing to do with the food itself; it’s about money. Every time we purchase food from local farms, ranches and dairies, we are investing directly in the local economy. We are keeping money circulating here at home, rather than subsidizing international companies to feed us. It’s an efficient closed-loop system: by eating locally we actually build local food security – and the ROI is delicious! It is one of our goals to highlight all of the inspired farmers, young and old throughout this county who are committed to feeding the people, supporting biodiversity and building topsoil. This was once a county that grew enough food to be food secure. It is now a county whose two main crops are not food. Supporting these farms is supporting a new agricultural future, so you can have your local bread and your wine, too.

I have never been so involved with my food, nor so governed by the natural cycles of the seasons. The most challenging part of the locavore lifestyle has been finding balance between feeding myself and doing everything else. There is no going “back to the land.” I am living with the land, and also running my own consulting business, organizing community events and trying to rekindle my relationship with my yoga mat. Life cannot stop and the dishes must be done.  The truth is that it is extremely challenging and also naturally easy all at once. We have had to invent new efficiencies, modify our schedules and lives and remove things that simply don’t fit. There is little margin for error, no out clause when you have a busy day or didn’t have the foresight to pack food, just don’t feel like cooking, or have been taking down by a ruthless flu. Days like these, it is really good to have a sister-wife. It gets easier with every month, and as the air gets sweeter with the scents of spring the ground warms and promises much goodness to come. My skin looks great, my body feels awesome and I now do dishes as a form of meditation. It’s hard to believe that we’re almost a quarter of a way into this year. I am humbled and moved by people who tell me that this quasi-insane undertaking has made them look at their own dinner plates and think about where their food comes from. We are encouraged by all of our blog readers and Facebook followers who are learning and laughing with us. In the next episode of “It might be totally gross,” I am going to attempt to learn how to bake (without using baking powder) with our monthly shares of freshly milled wheat & rye flour from the Mendocino Grain Project – after being gluten-free for over four years.

When there is flour, you learn to bake bread. This is how it works; food determines life now. Meals are created with what is available, in the time we have. Our plates reflect our landscape and every single thing we eat can be traced back to the hands that grew it, raised it or picked it. The feeling I had in the Band-Aid aisle really had less to do with all the options, but of the alienation that we experience as normal part of everyday life. Nearly unlimited options are presented to us in the Band-Aid or cereal aisles, making us feel like we are choosing. Yet, somehow we usually end up feeling somewhat defeated by trying to find what we really want in a box. Because maybe what we’re looking for isn’t merely, but connection. This year is fundamentally about reconnecting. As we connect the dots in the local food system, we are building profound new relationships with the place we live and love and the people who are stubborn enough to farm here. We have redefined choice; by embracing limits we have opened ourselves up to an existence that is more deeply satisfying and delicious than I could have imagined.


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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.


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On the necessity of pie

After 25 full days of eating 100% local, it only now just hit me. Tonight I realized how profoundly hard this really is. I have been fueled by adrenaline, excitement, curiosity and just plain stubbornness for over three weeks which is dually reflected right back to me in Gowan’s fierce smile. But, tonight the veil slipped a bit. I joined a friend for a glass of local wine at Ukiah’s sassy new pizzeria, Saucy. And, although the menu features an impressive amount of local fare on the plate and on tap, I couldn’t partake in the almost completely local crab cakes, or the kale salad, or anything at all aside from a glass of Philips Hill Pinot. The chalkboard menu overhead proudly stated the names of the brewmasters behind the beer and the names of farms & fisheries which the food came from. My friend Cynthia, Saucy’s inspired owner, is doing a fantastic job of bringing local food and great pizza to the people. But, I couldn’t eat any of it. I knew better than to arrive hungry, so I had a pre-happy hour snack beforehand. But, being out in the dining world and discussing this project with mainstream eaters put things in perspective.

For most people, what you consume is calculated by convenience, time, price, proximity, dietary restrictions or allergies, tastes/preferences, religious beliefs or values, and a number of social factors. Or just feeling lazy and not wanting to do the dishes. This experiment is the ultimate trump card. I have been “difficult” to feed for years due to many of the previously listed reasons, and I am used to reading every ingredient on the label, picking apart menus and traveling with snacks. This project brings everything to an unprecedented new level. Our lives have to completely revolve around food, and the decision about what to eat comes down to what’s available, calories and survival. It’s intense. It’s also really wonderful, beautiful and revealing.

When I look back on my week, I tracked some serious kitchen hours: made three batches of yogurt, two batches of beef bone broth, attempted lemon curd, nearly cut my thumb off in a kitchen accident, increased the weekly butter order, secured six dozen duck eggs and 50 pounds of potatoes, hunted down local food at three different grocery stores in three different towns, traveled to two farmers markets, and prepared at least three meals a day from scratch. Oh, and all the dishes (which were hard to tackle with my right thumb bandaged and out of commission). All of this doesn’t leave a lot of time or patience to deal with things gone wrong, such as a malfunctioning washing machine and a car window that won’t roll up – which both happened this week. You still have to do all of that other stuff, plus schlep your laundry to the laundromat with a window taped up with Gorilla Tape.

When I got home tonight, I was flooded with exhaustion and didn’t even know how I was going to muster the energy to feed myself. I found Gowan online and told her about the evening’s revelation. She agreed, “It’s the hardest. And it’s the best.” I am surprised that I hadn’t consciously realized this, yet. When anyone asks how it’s going, I have always honestly said, “It’s kind of chaotic, but it’s going really well.” There is also more to the story. It is perhaps the biggest logistical challenge I have ever undertaken. I have been too stubborn and too optimistic to allow that realization to fully register. Now that it has, nothing changes. We are bull-headed enough to charge forward through the leanest months of the year, and awesome enough to pull it off. What does this have to do with pie? I didn’t know, until tonight.

Since last week, I have been obsessed with making lemon meringue pie. I like pie, but I like a lot of other things more. 2013-01-15_22-16-20_225The idea was originally inspired by a box of gorgeous meyer lemons from my dad’s tree and I soon became fixated on making it happen. I set out to source all the other necessary ingredients which included fresh-milled flour from the Mendocino Grain Project, duck eggs from Potter Valley, butter from Boonville, wildflower honey from Lovers Lane Farm in Ukiah, and salt from the sea. I also enlisted the help of my baker friends to figure out how to thicken the filling without your standard thickening agent. Also, I know nothing about real pie crust since I’ve been gluten-free for over four years. My piemaster friend Simon did the real work, but I put in some serious time on the hand-powered egg beater to whip those egg whites to soft peaks. (See full phodocumentation on our Facebook page.) The whole undertaking was a lesson and an experiment in the art of pie – and a successful one at that! But, I realize now that it was about something else.

Pie is much more than it’s aggregate parts, though its parts are noteworthy. 2013-01-22_13-18-22_885Lemon meringue is exceptional for containing three distinct textures, all in one bite. The pie was a brilliant burst of yellow against the starkness of winter. But, ultimately pie is more about feeding the soul. When you have enough butter, eggs and fresh lemon juice and time to make lemon meringue, it is a sign that there is enough in the world. You are not just surviving; you are feasting on the abundance of life. Which is exactly what we’re doing, every day – but, sometimes you have to be licking the bottom of the pie pan to recognize it.