Archive for September, 2014

Meat Your Maker

Last week, I said goodbye to Bobcat Ridge Avocado Farm, but with me, I took a boatload of ideas about sustainable living and a deeper understanding of our food system. Because Bobcat Ridge is a homestead first and a business second, I felt great about my work because my work was my food.

Now, I’ve moved on to FlipJack Ranch in Bonny Doon, a small farming community about thirty miles from Santa Cruz.

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Though this, too, is an organic farm, Robin and David have a much different approach. At the moment, FlipJack is what they call a Boutique Hobby Farm. The goal is to create multiple revenue streams, so they’re brewing, canning, hosting, crafting, growing, and raising a fleet of animals for slaughter. And by ‘they,’ I mean we. It’s certainly difficult to maintain so many different aspects of farm life, but the good news is that I’m learning a lot.

Preserved San Marzanos

Saving every last bit of summer. Pictured: Preserved San Marzanos

homemade absinthe

Absinthe-to-be

1960s tractor

Probably not a good idea to learn stick shift on this thing…

Though we all help out with everything, my main responsibility is caring for the mammals. The goats, which are probably the most entertaining, are not being raised for slaughter, but for backpacking. Apparently, goats can be trained like dogs, but since they are ‘browsers,’ they eat what’s around them, so there’s no need to carry extra food.

backpacking goat

Taking the goats for a walk…

Flip, Jack, and Cricket are the definition of high maintenance. Though they don’t wear spandex assless chaps like these weirdos I saw at the Santa Cruz Country Fair, they require a lot of care.

santa cruz county fair

We take them for walks through the neighborhood, which seems to be quite entertaining for the neighbors, who have thoroughly, though not so covertly, documented our chore on multiple occasions. Cricket is the sweetest, with a calm (for a goat) and affectionate (also, for a goat) demeanor. Flip is a jerk, and is the leader of the pack. Jack is my favorite, and least favorite, depending on how teenage boy-y he’s acting at any given moment.

flipjack goat

Jack, being a dufus.

Sadly, he’s not long for this world. Since he’s difficult to train, Robin and David are going to slaughter him and make goat stew.

Sounds horrible, right? I mean, what if we just killed and ate anyone who didn’t do what we said? Well, this is exactly why this job is so friggin’ difficult. Unlike plants, animals are emotional. I feel emotionally connected to the fruits and veggies I eat because I am thankful for the interplay of nature and nurture that keeps me well fed. But at the end of the day, I can’t anthropomorphize a carrot like I can a goat. I just have more in common with a goat than I do a carrot. Carrots grow in the dirt and come from seeds. Goats have eyes, legs, and teeth, and I do too, so it’s tough to remove myself from becoming attached.

farm bonny doon

And as much as I learned that I could feel totally healthy on a vegetarian diet, we are omnivores and that’s not going to change any time soon. The Mangalista Pigs, Dorper Sheep, Narragansett Turkeys, Emden Geese, Crested Ducks, and even Jack the goat are better off than most for-meat animals being raised in America. We do what we can to keep them happy, and closely monitor their behavior so that we’re always accountable.

flipjack ranch wwoof

They don’t eat corn or soy and they spend all day in the sunshine. We play with them regularly, both for our pleasure and theirs.

sheep rodeo

Sometimes I just feel like I’m running around in circles…

But at the end of the day, or the season rather, they are a commodity – an asset. Spending so much time with them makes it easy to get attached, so how can you have any genuine interaction with them knowing that you, in turn, will be taking their life for your profit? Well, I haven’t figured that one out yet, and I don’t suppose I will. Since I am here to learn, rather than to profit, the best I can do is take excellent care of them and be thankful that not all farmers take the easy way out.

Apple & Cinnamon Granola

apple & cinnamon granola

At Bobcat Ridge, we usually start the morning with whole grains and protein. Granola with home made yogurt or rice milk and fresh raspberries is a fan favorite, and makes for a quick and easy meal before the day’s work.

Just as easy, but not so quick, is this simple Apple & Cinnamon Granola. At Bobcat Ridge, most of our food is as homemade as possible, so making this particular batch involved grinding my own oat flour, juicing a neighbor’s heirloom apples, harvesting sunflower seeds, and roasting the granola in the sun oven.

solar oven

If you can get your hands on a giant sunflower at your local farmers’ market, I encourage you to do so. But be warned, you WILL lose a few nerve endings in your index fingers and thumbs while hulling the seeds. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time I’ve spent squeezing those tiny suckers out of their shells. It’s addicting! My only recommendation – download the latest volume of This American Life podcasts and get busy. If you A. don’t have that kinda time or B. would like to keep your nerves in tact, store bought sunflower seeds will be just fine. For those of you with lengthy attention spans and/or masochistic tendencies, lay the fresh seeds out flat on a baking sheet and crack them with a rolling pin to kick start the hulling process.

sunflower seed harvest

But you didn’t come here to learn about sunflower seeds, did you? It was probably the apples and cinnamon bit that caught your attention. Or maybe you just adore my seamless integration of storytelling, recipes, and photography. Oh stop, now you’re making me blush.

Anyway, less about me, more about apples and cinnamon. These two are a match made in heaven. My first memory of this dynamic duo lies in a little brown packet of Quaker microwavable oats. Well, there’s no microwave on this farm and the only Quakers are the neighbors, but this granola is better off without nostalgia anyway. This is especially true since I never much liked granola in the first place. It was always too nutty or too crunchy or too, you know, not sugar cereal-y.

rolled oats

But after my recent trip to Napa where I sampled my cousin Deborah’s Local Eden granola, my taste buds were rocked. Upon discovering that my hosts at Bobcat Ridge were granola pros too, I’ve pretty much done a 180 as far as granola-related judgments are concerned.

healthy granola recipe

So here you have it, a delicious and simple granola recipe that, in the wise words of a golden haired antihero, is “juuuuust right.” The oat flour helps bind clumps of oats together and the apple juice sweetens things up. You can go light or heavy on the seeds and nuts, just as long as you don’t forget the cinnamon.

easy granola

Ingredients (makes enough granola to last plenty of early mornings)

  • 14 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups oat or almond flour
  • 1 cup pecans, crushed
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • Handful chia seeds
  • Handful sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups unfiltered apple juice
  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  2. Measure 14 cups of rolled oats into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add flour and toss to coat the oats.
  4. Add pecans, chia seeds, and sesame seeds.
  5. Combine liquid ingredients in a large measuring cup or small mixing bowl. Pour into dry mixture and use your hands to evenly coat oats, nuts, and seeds.
  6. Spread granola mixture onto two large baking sheets.
  7. Bake until crispy, approximately two hours. Rearrange granola occasionally to bake evenly. Store in large jars or gallon-sized Ziploc baggies.

Lemony Kale Chips

lemony kale chips

Whoever first said “everything in moderation” obviously never tasted a kale chip. Or, for that matter, anything smothered in olive oil, garlic, lemon, and salt.

Now, if you’re as into kale as I am (sooo original, I know), the chip variety has likely been on your radar for some time. You’ve probably tasted kale chips with Parmesan or soy sauce, maybe even chili pepper, if you were feeling adventurous. In my book, anything goes, because just about anything tastes great on a crunchy chip. Those of you who are not kale devotees are probably thinking, “yeah, on a crunchy potato chip,” but you are mistaken. Namely, because Lays just released Cappuccino flavored potato chips. But also, because kale chips really are better. When done right, they’re crunchier, more flavorful, not to mention healthier and very easy to make. When baked, that abhorred greenish flavor crisps away, so that most of what you taste is garlic and lemon, or whatever ingredient you used to garnish your chips.

lacinato kale

Flavor aside, Let’s discuss texture. Potato chips are dangerous. Bite down the wrong way and the roof of your mouth with never forgive you. Kale chips, though? Imagine walking through a field of autumn leaves and hearing the satisfying crunch of each one being crushed beneath your boots. Now, imagine that happening in your mouth. Isn’t that much more pleasant that chewing on a potentially hazardous material? Thought so.

apple picking new england

Ahhh, Fall in New England, how I miss you…kinda.

So there you have it, folks. Kale chips are good. Really good. In fact, I recommend that you make extra because you’ll probably end up eating half the batch before you’ve even finished cleaning up.

kale chips recipe

BUT! And, this is a big but. Kale requires a little TLC before it transforms into amazing kale chips. Here are some tips, no matter if you choose to use this recipe, or create your own.

  1. Make sure your kale is extra dry before embarking on the chip crafting process. Wet kale means that it could steam in the oven, and you didn’t sign up for soggy flaccid kale, did you?
  2. Choose your liquids wisely, and always add oil first. The oil is the key ingredient to crunchy leaves and it helps your spices and toppings stick to the surface. Add other liquids after all the leaves are completely coated with oil. Using too much other stuff will steam the kale, rather than bake it, so take that as fair warning.
  3. Let your chips rest once you’ve removed them from the oven. This will allow them to crisp up a little more. Then, move them to a flat surface and give them enough room to keep them separated from each other. Especially when still hot, the chips are still in danger of losing their crunch, so don’t stack them!
  4. Remember to share! This can be tough, considering how good they are, but do your best. I believe in you.

lacinato and curly kale

Ingredients

  • 4 cups kale (Curly is best. I used a mix of Curly and Lacinato)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt
  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  2. Rinse kale and tear into chip-sized pieces. Use a salad spinner or cloth towel to dry    completely.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine kale and olive oil. Make sure that each little crevice is coated for optimum crunch.
  4. Add garlic, lemon, and salt and toss to combine.
  5. Spread onto two large baking sheets, making sure that the kale leaves are spread out without too much overlapping. Shake the pans once or twice to make sure that the chips are baking evenly. Bake for 10-15 minutes,
  6. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer to a flat surface to rest. Again, don’t stack the chips! Enjoy right away or store in a closed container.

If There’s A Will There’s A Whey

bobcat ridge avocados

Good food is a labor of love. The fact that people get to live at eat the way I’ve been living and eating all the time made me feel pretty jealous at first. But one week in, I’m learning that this lifestyle takes work, and a lot of it.

First, there’s the planting. This weekend, we planted carrots! Not so fast…you don’t just plant carrots. First, you double dig the soil. Then, you have to smash up all the stubborn clumps of dirt, and man are they stubborn. Next, you sift out any wood chips. These suck the nitrogen out of the soil, which is no good for our carrots-to-be. In between all of that, you sprinkle granite dust over the bed. This potentially gimmicky trick is said to enrich the soil, since granite is said to have all sorts of nutrients and minerals in it. After all that’s said and done, you rake the bed, draw two double rows along the irrigation lines, and plant the seeds.

greenhouse seedlings

Then, there’s maintenance. The irrigation system feeds the plants, but some crops (like carrots) are greedy for water, so you’ve got to water those extra. Plus, the irrigation isn’t always up to snuff, so on some mornings, I look like I took a shower with my clothes on. In other words, I haven’t quite mastered how to plug the leaks.

broccoli raab

Broccoli Raab seedlings. I did that!

Speaking of maintenance, weeds are the enemy. It’s incredible how much of my day goes to extracting those suckers.

bermuda grass

Bermuda Grass Graveyard

I’ve got a Hit List all right, but unfortunately Bermuda Grass, Purslane, and Morning Glory are of the genus Zombius Weedalia. If anyone out there is a zombie-murdering expert with a green thumb, I’d very much like to hear from you. Also, who’s got splinter removal tips? I’ve lost count of mine at this point.

purslane weed

Purslane, hogging the carrot beds.

All of this pain and suffering (actually it’s pretty fun) comes to fruition when it’s time to harvest. There’s just nothing better than cashing in on all your hard work and enjoying it moments later.

lacinato kale

I’ve plucked, picked, and clipped my way through the garden a handful of times. And in addition to harvesting what seemed like zillions of tomatoes, I’ve also picked kale, berries, oranges, figs, fennel seeds, and Jerusalem Artichoke. Jerusalem Artichoke is, by the way, neither an artichoke nor of Israeli descent.

jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem Artichokes, found underneath some crazy tall sunflowers.

While much of the garden’s bounty is good au naturale, my favorite part is transforming home grown organic ingredients into something even more special. Nourishing Meals is particularly informative, but Nancy’s cookbook shelf is filled with possibilities. With such good stuff though, it’s really hard to screw up.

But alas, I think I’d get tired of veggies if that was all I ate. Does that mean we eat store bought cheese and pre-sliced bread? Guess again. Nancy and Ken get their milk from a friend’s dairy. It comes in big ol’ mason jars, is non-pasteurized, and is way way creamier than I ever knew milk could be.

non-pasteurized milk

They use it to make yogurt and cheese. The bi-product of the cheese – whey – is used to bake bread!

cream cheese whey

Cream Cheese (and whey) in the making.

Ken is a master bread baker, and taught Lucie and me how to grind our own whole wheat flour.

flour mill

Lucie, multitasking.

He says that buying bagged flour is bad news, since letting it sit causes the stuff to go rancid. I’m not sure about all that, but I do know that I’ve never had a better slice of wheat bread as long as I’ve walked this earth.

whole wheat bread dough

Dough made with local wheat.

I’m fascinated by the way Ken and Nancy reduce, reuse, and recycle almost everything they own and eat. They’ve mastered the art of minimizing waste and using every last drop of every last drop.

The trick is simple: they care. They care about their impact on the planet and they care about their own wellbeing. It takes a lot more work than it would to just pop by the grocery store every Saturday, but the results are worth it. Working here is a balancing act with all these different tasks – planting, maintaining, weeding, harvesting, cooking – but it’s all invigorating make-your-heart-smile kinda work and I’m thrilled to be getting a taste.

Yogurt

Ingredients

  • Milk
  • Plain yogurt
  1. Heat milk in a covered pot over medium heat until 180ºF.
  2. Let cool to 110ºF.
  3. Pour into small jars.
  4. Add a dollop of yogurt into each jar. Seal the jars.
  5. Place jars on a baking tray in the oven. Light a tea light candle underneath tray. Close oven and let rest for 8-ish hours. Refrigerate and enjoy!

yogurt making

Cream Cheese

Basically this recipe.

Side note – Lucie and I stopped by Mountain Feed in Ben Lomond on our way to Big Basin for a hike amongst the redwoods. We picked up mesophilic starter, which is needed to make cream cheese. Wherever you are in the world, stop what you’re doing and get your butt to Mountain Feed because it’s the most adorable farm/orchard supply store that you ever will see. Consider it an errand, since you’re obviously making cream cheese in the near future.

big basin

Rocking my new Mountain Feed swag.

redwood santa cruz

Small hand or big tree?

Onion Rolls

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon gluten flour
  • 1/2 ounce canola oil
  • 1 ounce agave
  • 2 eggs
  • Whey
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic

Special equipment: Bread machine

  1. Fill bread tin with flour, salt, and gluten flour.
  2. Pour canola oil, agave, and one egg into a medium sized measuring cup. Then fill up to the 13 ounce mark with whey.
  3. Dump contents of measuring cup into bread tin and place in the bread machine.
  4. Add yeast to the small compartment on the bread machine’s lid. Set to Whole Wheat dough and start. Come back in about 3.5 hours!
  5. Preheat oven to 350ºF and butter a baking sheet.
  6. Dice half of a small onion and finely chop a clove of garlic. Beat the remaining egg and stir in onions and garlic.
  7. Separate dough into eight equal parts. Pat into thick disks, about 4 inches in diameter and place on the cookie sheet. Brush with egg wash, making sure to get enough onion on each roll. Bake for 20-30 minutes and then dig in!

onion rolls bobcat ridge

 

Whole Wheat Lentil Samosas

whole wheat lentil samosas

I’m one week into my organic farming adventure and have somehow managed to cheerfully adopt the vegetarian lifestyle. The food my host prepares is seriously good and animal free. As a life long omnivore, I’ve always considered veggies a side dish. And when it’s the main dish? Well, then I seriously deserve a pat on the back. But alas, at Bobcat Ridge Avocado Farm, we enjoy a major spread of farm to table deliciousness night after night after night. Nancy’s cooking makes me forget that meat ever existed, and our conversations about vegetarianism almost make me want to quit eating meat altogether. Almost.

So, the other day, when Nancy asked Lucie (the other WWOOFer) and me to prepare dinner, I was a little nervous. Like an episode of Chopped, we were given our featured ingredient and the timer was set. By 6 PM, we were to have prepared a feast, with lentils as the piece de resistance. Luckily, this all went down around 8 AM, so we had plenty of time to get cooking.

Since Lucie and I are basically obsessed with grinding our own wheat flour, we decided to try crafting whole wheat samosas. A lofty goal, considering that neither of us had done this before and ordering pizza ‘in case of emergency’ would likely be frowned upon. Nevertheless, we carried on.

whole wheat flour

We worked on these suckers throughout the day, taking breaks to water our seedlings, pluck Bermuda Grass weeds, and tend to the avocado trees, as per usual. We even cooked our lentils in the sun oven.

green lentil recipe

Now, this won’t take you all day long as it did for us. We just wanted to ensure that our recipe wasn’t a total flop, so we started early and took our time.

baked samosa dough

The result was revolutionary. It was a filling, healthy, veggie-friendly meal that made me forget that deep fryers were ever even a thing. Sadly, I was reminded of their existence the next day at the Santa Cruz County Fair. Not so sadly, I discovered that fried artichokes are a genius invention.

samosa5samosa9

The outside of the samosas were crispy and rich, like a spiced pastry. Inside, the lentil mixture was soft and flavorful, with just a little kick. We each had firsts, then seconds, and somehow managed to save some for lunch the next day.

lentil samosabaked samosas

I can’t say I’ll be a vegetarian forever, but it’s recipes like this that remind me that balanced, healthy, and flavorful meals don’t always need to include something that moos, squawks, or gobbles.

baked samosa recipe

Make these Whole Wheat Lentil Samosas for your main dish or as an appetizer, and definitely save some leftovers for lunch the next day. If you can’t help but eat the whole lot, there should be some leftover filling that’ll heat up nicely.

Ingredients (makes 18 small samosas)

Samosa Dough

  • 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted, room temperature butter
  • 3 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 6 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup water

Samosa Filling

  • 2 cups cooked lentils
  • 1 medium sized potato
  • 1 small white onion (diced)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Dough:

  1. Combine flour, baking soda, turmeric, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Create a small clearing in the center. Add coconut oil and slices of butter and use your fingers to pinch the mixture together until it forms a crushed graham cracker like consistency.
  3. Add the yogurt and use your hands to form dough into a ball. Add water, if necessary.
  4. Separate dough into 18 small balls. Place on a floured cookie sheet and store in the fridge (covered), for at least an hour, or until you’re ready to prepare the samosas.

Filling:

  1. Chop potatoes and carrots into small cubes. Steam them for five minutes, or until slightly tender.
  2. Combine lentils, potato, carrot, diced onion, and spices in a mixing bowl.

Assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Remove dough balls from fridge and let sit for a few minutes.
  3. Press and shape each dough ball into a half circle. Use your fingertips to smear water around the edges of the semicircle. Fold in half to form a cone and pinch the sides to seal, leaving the top area open.
  4. Stuff with lentil filling. The dough is strong, and can hold more filling than expected. Pinch the top shut and place on the cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Store in fridge until 30 minutes before mealtime.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until dough is firm to the touch. Serve immediately.

wwoof usa

Grown By The Sun, Cooked By The Sun

watsonville ca

Though my very sore shoulders would beg to differ, I’ve successfully survived the first couple days in Farmville – I mean Watsonville. Driving here was a total trip. As I climbed the mountains into avocado heaven, I passed apple tree groves, fields of kale, and giant pumpkins galore. At the very tippy top of it all lies Bobcat Ridge Avocado Farm, my new home for the next two-ish weeks.

This place is a total organic oasis. Nancy and Ken, my hosts, have about 200 avocado trees of all different varieties as well as a humbly dubbed “garden.” It’s more like a mini-farm, filled with all the fruits and veggies needed to sustain a healthy vegetarian diet. We eat from the garden morning, day, and night, so there’s almost no need for grocery shopping.

bobcat ridge avocado farm

Some delicious farm fresh meals that stand out so far include ratatouille, Mexican quinoa, blueberry pancakes, avocado/cucumber/heirloom tomato salad, zucchini bread, and fresh pesto. Last night, we enjoyed squash soup, made with a giant Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead Squash from the garden that we cooked in a sun oven. As Nancy says, “grown by the sun, cooked by the sun.”

I have to say, it’s a pretty incredible feeling to eat this locally. Talk about the other 1%! Ken and Nancy rarely sell their produce, though sometimes they bring their harvest to farmers’ markets. Mostly, the goal is to be self-sustainable. As such, Ken drives a Leaf, we reuse water from the sinks and showers to feed the plants (Greywater), and all of our food scraps go to the chickens, who supply us with eggs. That is, if we get to them before they do. Yep, these hens eat their own eggs. Blech.

In just a few short days, I’ve learned how to grind my own flour, bake bread, can tomatoes, use a sun oven, repair irrigation leaks, identify and pull weeds, prep soil, and plant seeds (heirloom cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli raab & shiso, to name a few). I’ve also harvested tomatoes (that were later canned), loaded and unloaded more manure than I’d care to remember (remember what I said about my shoulders?), watered soon-to-be carrots and beets, and made manure tea. Mmmm, horse poop soaked in water, an avocado tree’s dream come true.

organic tomato harvestcanned tomatos

By the way, here are some things I’ve learned about avocados:

  1. Avocado trees like to be watered on their leaves.
  2. There are a bajillion varieties of avocados, not just the Haas ones we see at the grocery store. They are harvested at all different times of the year. Right now, we are harvesting Haas, Lamb Haas, and Reed avocados.
  3. Avocado trees hold their fruit way longer than most trees. Many of the trees here are speckled with big plump 2014 avos and little light green 2015 ones.

haas avocado

Bonus Fact: Horse poop looks a lot like ripe avocados to the weary farmer.

See: weary farmer

While we’re on the subject of produce, lets talk about snacks. I’m all for packing bagged lunches for work, but nothing beats picking your snacks right when hunger strikes. How lucky am I that there’s a fresh from the tree/vine/bush treat waiting for me no matter where I’m working? I’ve been munching on Candy Striped Figs, raspberries, oranges, Lemon Cucumbers, San Marzano tomatoes, Mandarin Kumquats, and Perslane all day long and I couldn’t be more satisfied. Since these crops are entirely organic, there’s no need to rinse them or anything. Name another job where you can actually eat your work. No – guy reading this from office job – Excel spreadsheets have no nutritional value.

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Speaking of organic, did you know that there is little evidence to show any health benefits to eating organic food? Eating organic simply means you’re supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices. And with all the manual labor I’ve been doing, I’m starting to understand why organic costs so much more than the ‘regular’ stuff. We’ll talk about Monsanto later…

bobcat ridge avocados

Dreams do come true!

Lucie, the other WWOOFer on the farm, told me about monocropping, which is the practice of growing a lot of the same crop on the same piece of land. This practically destroys the soil by sucking it dry of all its nutrients. Once that land has been used up, it’s near useless. That’s why Ken doesn’t plant the same crops in the same place year after year. By putting beets where the kale was last season, he’s diversifying the soil and keeping it rich.

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Speaking of soil fertility, I also learned about the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. When planted near each other, they create a trifecta for prime growing conditions. Corn provides a pole for bean plants to climb and the bean plants create stability for the corn. The beans also put nitrogen in the soil to keep it rich. Squash likes shade, so it grows under the corn and its shallow roots prevent soil moisture from evaporating, protecting all three plants against the possibility of drought.

Speaking of drought, it’s a hot subject here in Watsonville. Get it? Hot because we’re in a drought?! Forget it. Anyway, yesterday, Nancy hosted a gathering at the School Union office (Ken is a 3rd grade teacher at a bilingual school) to watch Disruption, a new film about climate change. Twenty or so people showed up, and engaged in some pretty interesting conversation about how to raise awareness about climate change here in Watsonville. The film’s main goal is to rally the troops for the People’s Climate March. If you’re in New York on September 21st, I highly encourage you to join what is expected to be the largest climate change rally in history.

But since I’ll still be working the California land then, I found the film interesting in a different way. People are wary to hop the stop-climate-change bandwagon for a few reasons. For one, seeing is believing, and there are plenty of other injustices happening right before our eyes– usually those are the causes people get hyped about. But for two, climate change is often considered an environmental issue. And environmentalists are hippies. And hippies are weird! Disruption re-framed climate change as a social justice issue. It’s not about nature so much as it is about the human existence. Big bad companies that are fracking and drilling for oil are taking away your resources. As Van Jones aptly stated in the film, if you litter, you get a fine for polluting. When oil companies deplete our natural resources and pollute the environment, they don’t have to pay anything! How fair is that? Point is, I’m re-thinking my stance on climate change. I’ve always been pretty conscious of what’s going on, but never considered that my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint were in my best interest. We can’t all live on a farm and eat only what we grow, but we can think twice about how and when we support businesses that neglect their customers’ survival.

IMG_7063

Home sweet home.

And with that, I am going to step down from my pulpit. As it turns out, farm life is not the simple life. There’s a million and two things to do on any given day, and with all the thoughts I’ve been accumulating about our food system, it can be tough to keep up. Talk about incentive though! You’d better believe that I’m going to baby the heck out of those Shiso seedlings when they sprout through. You’ve been warned, snails, you’ve been warned.

Farm Fresh Thoughts: Water, Wealth, Weird Meat & Watsonville

When I started The Pantry Raid, I didn’t know much about food and I didn’t have a pantry. As I travelled from kitchen to kitchen, I picked up recipes and stories, sharing them here along the way. In a what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg fashion, I’ve grown to love food in a manner I hardly expected. Food has become my lifestyle, and with it, I have gained a constant thirst to learn more.

napa pomegranate

Making a mess, per usual. (in Napa)

One day, a couple of months ago, I was sitting on my butt, as I had become accustomed to doing, when I realized that I didn’t much like sitting on my butt. I decided it was time to take a stand – literally – for what I cared about. I’d heard about this program called WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) where volunteers work on organic farms in exchange for food and shelter. I decided I’d go to France, where culinary expression was at its finest. I found a farm and was about to buy a plane ticket when I realized how ridiculous it all was. I was going to travel 30 hours and thousands of miles to spend two weeks on a farm when I was living – LIVING – in California! Sure, France is the stuff of dreams, but if I really wanted to explore my relationship with food, it had to happen at home, or at least close by.

So here I am, about to embark on this fairly non-traditional post-grad move. Leaving my blow dryer and leather boots in my wake, I’m taking to the land to figure out what the heck is up with food, anyway.

aztec dahlias

Aztec Dahlias from the Napa Farmer’s Market

Moments from setting sail (or rather, Volkswagen Golf) for Watsonville, here’s what’s on my mind:

  1. The Drought

Unbeknownst to many, California is suffering a major drought. For those of us who live in big fun cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, it can be difficult to remember what’s actually going on. Water comes out of our sinks and showers and the parks are as green as ever. But as I drove from Los Angeles to Silicon Valley a week ago, and from Silicon Valley to Napa a couple of days ago, I became painfully aware that this is one dry state. So I’m wondering, how are farmers addressing this?

In Napa, where I visited my cousins Deborah, Bradley, and their daughter Amira, I learned that water is being shipped in from other places, which opens up a whole other can of worms about the effects that has on the environment. How long will we be able to maintain our lifestyles and the diets we’ve become accustomed to? California is home to thousands of farms. There are 285 organic ones registered on the WWOOF website alone! This map shows that between 2007 and 2012, the US has lost 90,000 farms. That’s a lot of produce, people! And since this silly silly country doesn’t require GMO labeling, it makes you wonder what your produce is really made of.

vintage porche

Meet Amira, cutest 3 year old I ever did see.

  1. Meat

Speaking of getting the creeps about the food we eat, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about meat. I’ve always been a meat eater, but ever since my traumatic experience with a roast chicken, I’ve been skeptical about the stuff I buy at the grocery store and order at restaurants. I realized that I have little to no association between the boneless skinless chicken breast I buy at TJs and an actual clucking chicken, feathers and all. I don’t think about cows when I eat a burger, and I’m starting to think that’s not great news.

Not only am I naïve when picking up my groceries, but I’m even more in the dark when I go out to eat. We all laughed last weekend when Elizabeth asked our waitress where the salmon came from and if it was farmed or wild. Our unsuspecting server didn’t have a clue, which seemed normal enough. But think about it – you’re putting what was once a living breathing thing inside your living breathing self. Don’t you want to know what it’s made of? Don’t you want to know if the bloody patty on your plate came from one cow or ten, and if those cows grew up sharing a room with a thousand other cows or with no room at all? In the wise words of Anthony Bourdain, “I believe I should be able to treat my hamburger like food, not like infectious fucking medical waste.”

Obviously, we can’t expect our waitresses to know all this stuff, but as I started thinking about all this, I thought twice before ordering animal protein at restaurants. I had pretty much stopped all together, when I arrived in Napa to learn that Deborah and Bradley practice a mostly Paleo diet. This means lots of protein, plenty of veggies, and no bread or sugar.

napa tomatos

Heirloom Tomato Salad & Grilled Bagna Cauda Oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Napa

almond croissant bouchon

Okay, some bread & sugar. This is an almond croissant from Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, CA

Having avoided meat for the past week in Woodside, I was hesitant, but one bite of Fatted Calf charcuterie and I was a changed woman. At this point, I’m thinking less is more, some is good, and good is great. That said, my Watsonville hosts are vegetarians. Can this omnivore survive without meat? I’ll keep you posted.

  1. The 1%

On the subject of “good is great,” meaning that if I’m going to eat meat it had better be the high quality stuff, I’m also thinking about the “1%.” I’m starting to wrap my head around this idea that there are two 1%s – the wealthiest class that can afford to shop at Whole Foods and dine exclusively at farm to table restaurants. These people can consume consciously because they have the resources to afford it. But the other 1% isn’t based on money – it’s about availability. In Napa, for example, fruit and veggies are abundant because the climate is ideal for that kind of thing. I went all googly eyed looking at the tomato plants dragged down by bright bursting fruit. The vineyard fields were littered with purple grapes from the vines that couldn’t afford to keep them.

napa grapes

50 year old vines at a new friend’s vineyard

These people of Napa, I decided, are one lucky bunch. Crops thrive where they live, so with or without loads of money, they can eat what they grow and they can grow a heck of a lot.

tomato sauce

Amira & I helping Deborah make tomato sauce from their garden’s bounty. Gotta get myself a food mill!

In contrast, there’s only one 99%. It’s the people who can’t afford either lifestyle. They need to live in crowded cities to work multiple jobs or there’s not enough time to nurture a garden. In his most recent book, Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain complains about Alice Waters’ school garden initiative. The Edible Schoolyard Project seeks to bring an “edible education curriculum” into schools. Bourdain explains, eloquently as ever,

I, for one, would be very satisfied if Timmy gets a relatively balanced slab of fresh but nonorganic meatloaf with a side of competently frozen broccoli – along with reading skills and a chance at a future. Once literate, well read, and equipped with the tools to actually make his way in this world, he’ll be far better prepared to afford Chez Panisse.”

 

chez panisse

My recent meal at Chez Panisse, by the way.

At first I agreed, but now I’m not so sure. Our world’s population is growing so rapidly that there isn’t enough land, jobs, meat, you-name-it to sustain us all. At some point I believe we’re going to revert back to the old ways, so I’m hoping that Alice really is teaching these kids a thing or two about a thing or two.

alston park napa

View from Alston Park in Napa. Not too shabby!

  1. The Future!

Lastly, I’m wondering what the heck I’m going to be doing for the next month! Farming, though rustic, is a bit romanticized in my brain. I can’t even imagine what I’ll learn or how I’ll change over the course of the next four weeks. I do know that I’ll be foraging for stories along the way though, and you can bet I’ll be sharing them here. Next stop, BobCat Ridge Avocado Farm.

army surplus hollywood

Outside the Army Surplus Store in Hollywood, CA. Just call me Sergeant Farmer Sienna…or something.

 

Chocoholic Birthday Cake

chocoholic birthday cake

Something weird is happening to this blog. It’s getting all healthy all of a sudden and it’s really freaking me out. What happened to the good old days when chocolate chip pancakes were king and kale pesto was but an afterthought, if a thought at all? Things have changed, I tell ya, and while I feel great eating all this healthy stuff, something’s gotta give.

Enter, Allison and Elizabeth, my two aunts who turned 30 just a couple of days ago. In celebration of them, the women of the Mintz clan banded together for a weekend of mani/pedis, red wine, chocolate cake, and silly string. While I missed the mani/pedi because I was stuffing my face with Sriracha frog legs, there was never a dull moment all weekend long.

Allison and Elizabeth, by the way, are no ordinary 30-year-olds. Born three months premature, they’ve struggled with significant learning disabilities their entire lives. 30 years into the game, Allison is finishing up law school and Elizabeth is taking over Portlandia. Both have achieved such impressive milestones in their three decades on this earth, including, but not limited to, Allie’s two-year stint in Mongolia with the Peace Corps and Elizabeth’s transformation into a walking encyclopedia of holistic medicine.  In other words, there was no way any of us would pass up the chance to celebrate their big 3-0.

Allie, chocoholic that she is, requested – no, demanded – that I procure a chocolate birthday cake. I was happy to do so, until I arrived at Whole Foods, recipe in hand, and realized that my list included nothing but junk. A few deep breaths later and I remembered my motto, that good food = quality ingredients. If I were going to bake a chocolate-on-chocolate cake, it was going to be made of the good stuff.

100% unsweetened chocolateorganic eggs

Back at the house, I got to work measuring, pouring, melting, and mixing, all without the slightest idea what I was doing. Thanks to a couple trusty food blogs, I managed to narrowly avoid total failure.

chocolate ganache ice bathchocolate frosting

I hate to say it, but I’ve turned into one of those grandmas who is just as satisfied taking a lick of the batter as they are with cleaning the bowl. But let me tell you, this batter is outrageous. We seriously considered just sticking a couple candles in the mixing bowl, grabbing a handful of spoons, and calling it a night.

But alas, the twins’ mom, my Nana Abby, had recently retrieved this well-loved heart-shaped cake pan from her mother’s house and we had to put it to good use.

chocolate cake batter

While the cake layers were cooling, we roasted salmon and veggies and the twins got decked out in B-Day swag.

chocolate layer cake

I made this Smitten Kitchen frosting that had me majorly questioning my morals (I’m convinced that Chocolate Ganache is just a fancy word for chocolate butter), and everyone wanted a taste.

chocolate ganache smitten kitchen

The cake came together beautifully, with no layer casualties – as has been my experience in the past – and the frosting spread on without taking any crumbs with it – another serious feat.

chocolate raspberry cake

Between dinner and dessert, there may or may not have been a silly string war, if for no other reason than to work up an appetite for some birthday cake.

chocolate raspberry layer cake

It was majorly delicious, and is still being picked at from its throne in the fridge. That is, if Grandpa Arthur hasn’t gotten to it yet…

30th birthday hugs

birthday cake dana treat

Ingredients

Cake (adapted from Dana Treat’s recipe)

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

Chocolate Ganache Frosting (Smitten Kitchen’s recipe)

  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate (I used 4 bars of Ghirardelli)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ½ stick unsalted butter

For the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 9-inch pans.

2. Boil 1 inch of water in a small saucepan. Combine cocoa, chocolate, and hot water in another saucepan and place over the other. Or, use a double boiler. Stir with a heatproof spatula until combined. Then add ½ cup of sugar and stir until glossy. Set pot aside to cool.

3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and sea salt.

4. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk and vanilla.

5. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to whip eggs and egg yolks until combined. Add remaining 1 ¼ cups sugar and whip on high until fluffy.

6. Add cooled chocolate mixture to eggs and mix on medium until combined.

7. Add butter, one piece at a time, mixing until combined before adding the next piece.

8. Add flour and buttermilk in three additions, alternating between the two. Mix until everything is combined. Batter should be light and fluffy.

9. Divide the batter between two greased pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack slightly before removing from pan to avoid breaking the cakes. Let cool completely before assembling cake.

For the ganache frosting:

1. Finely chop chocolate.

2. In a small saucepan, bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved.

3. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted.

4. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting.

5. Fill a mixing bowl with ice and water and place saucepan in the ice bath. Whisk constantly over the ice bath until liquid thickens into desired frosting consistency. This took about 7 minutes of whisking.

6. Cover and set aside until frosting has reached room temperature and cakes have cooled.

Assemble the cake:

1. Place one layer of the cake on the serving dish. Use a rubber spatula to cover the top of the layer with frosting. Use only 1/3 of the frosting for this step.

2. Gently place the second layer on top. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, making sure to fill in any gaps between the layers.

3. Decorate with berries, sprinkles, candles, silly string…okay, hold the silly string.

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