Monday, November 30, 2009

silurian turkey

Turkey day. I guess it just wouldn't be complete without turkey and ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, ratatouille and a bun. Now add to this a backdrop of some ancient Precambrian, Ordovician and Devonian marine beds, often overturned and interspersed with implied angular unconformities between, served with a side of Pleistocene volcanics and THEN I'm truly satisfied. Like this year. Our family spent the holiday taking in the stunning scenery with a full plate of thanksgiving fare while either eating calmly beside our lovely daughter and her six-dollar smile, or chasing our toddler around a series of gravelly paths hemmed with cactus. Not quite the "norm" for a turkey day celebration in most folks' heads, but with two of these desert middle-of-nowhere kind under our belts, one without kids about ten years ago and one with kids this year, I'm looking forward to more in the future.

But that was just the warm-up. There is more adventure involved, albeit not so gastronomically inclined. You can impress your pink-loving little girl and bring her to find canyons with rocks her favorite color. Then you can witness how nimble her limbs are, climbing about the dry falls and exhibiting her momma's sharp skills. Canyons are rather ubiquitous out here, and many contain areas requiring technical climbing skills. Don't go alone. Keep little ones safe and check out some park info for a nice place to start.

So remember, if you find yourself in the Death Valley region* during the turkey time of year, don't miss out on some bird, drop by Panamint Springs Resort for a nice plate! Then take your family to explore a few of the flash-flood carved water courses, within innumerable canyons, containing a whole palette of earthly colors imaginable. Whew! I really love Death Valley.

Where were you this turkey day?

* put on some geography goggles and you'll realize that this is something akin to saying "if you're ever in Connecticut..."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

cabra delicata

Fearing milk allergies and mucus production, my folks experimented with feeding me goat milk as a child. In rural Sonoma County back in the seventies, this was no way out of the norm. Although I don't remember much of the early diet shift (as it was pre-5 for me; my elder sister was the one who really had to deal with it) I have a long standing love/hate thing with goat products. Okay now, I'll back up just a touch and say overall, I like them, especially the meaty kind. However, pretty much straight across the board, nope on the milk form. Curdle it or age it though and like, wow. Some are simply divine. But cook the creamy products, and for me, all bets are off.

Funny how things happen. I got a package of goat cheese recently, brought it home and noticed it had a cut in the package, likely from a box cutter. The seal was broken. I was looking forward to this on crackers and olive bread but now I doubted serving it to my family. I thought: bring it back, or just cook it? Now, cook it with what? I had some delicata squash about to be cut and roasted in the oven. I started thinking about how dark caramel flavors from the roasted goodness would probably be strong enough to deal with a pound of goat cheese, if in the right form. Maybe add sugar and eggs for safe measure. Time for a cheesecake.

It turned out pretty and all, almost good enough to get into the colorful holiday cheesecake repertoire. Then I took a bite. It was nice and creamy, and the caramel squashiness was perfect. But the overtones of goat were just too damn much for me. I struggled through about half the cake before admitting defeat though. I mean, it was cheesecake after all. Reflecting on it now, I realize this is the second time I've attempted such a thing. Now with two strikes, I'll say with confidence that goaty cheesecake just ain't for me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

hood harvest

Despite the lack of posting, activity around the monkey ranch has continued.

Back near the beginnings of September I went out and harvested some elderberries. Not wanting to repeat my recent bout with poison oak I opted to collect the berries along a well traveled paved road in the Oaktown Hills not far from my house. A gallon of them to be exact. They were easy pickings and just loaded with yeast. Mead was on my mind. I had near a gallon of local honey. Visualize mashing, mixing and much dissolving. Now, after a good month and a half of fermenting, it is reaching the teens in alcohol and tasting much like a big rich port. Patience, is a blessing.

My local hop obsession continues. This year's harvest sure looked good. Not quite as prolific as last year, but better quality and way less bugs. (Although, in this picture there is at least a noticeable spider web lower right, a ladybug lava mid level, and multiple small white fly-ish things near the top of the hop cones.) The cascade variety (pictured) made it from the plant to the kettle in less than an hour. Now in a bottle, carbonation is the operative word. Once again, this involves much patience.

I was riding my truck to the market. It had rained a few days earlier and the first true fall leaves had collected here and there. Brown and crisp, they went crunch under the tires. Paying attention to the road, I looked down and saw a bright green leaf. As my brain registered "not a leaf" I swerved. Keeping my eyes on a spot a few inches to the side, I missed the mantid. Circling back, I fished out a food container and put my friend in the safety of my keeping. Beat up ever so slightly by the monkeys until being let loose in the garden, he made it out there at least 10 days before "moving on." I look forward to "harvesting" more mantids in the future. With patience I'm sure.

Two years ago, I gave my neighbor a hop rhizome. Now, healthy and two stories tall, they required a big ladder and teamwork to pick. While harvesting, another neighbor a few doors further down walks buy and says "dude, you harvesting your hops, you gotta come pick mine." Less than half an hour later I had at least a few ounces. Not knowing what variety I was dealing with, I cracked open a homebrew for some inspiration on how to proceed. The unknowns were somewhat garlicky smelling with red vines. I brewed up a small batch of beer, keeping it firmly on the red side of things to stay with the color scheme and used the house yeast for keeping it local. The patience pays off now, as the carbonation is good. More importantly, the garlic smell is gone and the beer is good. It's all good. Apparently my neighbor four doors down was this year's hop angel.

After dealing with various harvestables, it was time for another kind of food collection. I'd been hearing much about a famed fried chicken sandwich here in the hood that causes folks to form a long line every day come lunchtime. Being a local with a flexible schedule, I made sure to be early. Little monkey and I snarfed down some pumpkin bread on the way and opened this bad boy at home. One glance and shit damn, was I happy. Two honking bigtastic deep fried chicken breasts served on a sweet roll with some screaming yummylicious slaw. People weren't kidding when they said it was good.

The harvest is not over. Squash are still coming in. The tomatillos are still giving fruit. More beers with more hops are on the way. It keeps me busy with all the harvesting and fermenting, but I just love it when the picking is easy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

pressing cider

When these beauties hit the kitchen counter, the cider making season began. My neighbor Professor Evil gave me a grocery sack filled with apples. He called them "drops" from his boss who lives here in the east bay. Before I even saw what variety they were, my nose told me I was in familiar territory. I opened the bag and got hit with the smell of my childhood summers in Sebastopol: Gravensteins.

I immediately ate one. I whacked up a few and dehydrated them for snacks later. Then I gave the rest a pass through the juicer. With a yield near a quart and a half, I poured it into an empty glass milk jug. I added about 3/4 cup of blackberry blossom honey. Shaking vigorously to dissolve the bee love, I put it on the counter and began waiting for the magic to happen. The next day bubbles arrived.

With one little experiment up and running I began thinking about doing a bigger batch. It wasn't looking like Reedley was going to happen this year, so no free Granny Smiths to juice up. That's okay I thought, my friend P told me that "your apples" were looking good and ready any time I wanted to come over and pick.

At the next market my favorite peach farmer Carl asked me "hey, you have any use for hundreds of pounds of apples this year? Like for cider?"
Uhh, sure, like how many?
"Oh, at least 20 boxes, so about 400 pounds or so, but easily more if you think you could use them."
You talking like giving me the apples and I give you cider back?
"We could work it out that way......"
I was already considering renting a press. So, 34 boxes later, it looked like the best idea I'll have all year.

The press came apart somewhat and managed to fit into the back of my wagon. Over at B's (my pressing pal) house reassembled, it looked like something straight out of the middle ages but with an electrical cord at one end. Plug it in, start tossing the apples into the hopper on the upper right, and then keep them coming until the press basket below it is full of pulp. (Make sure to place the basket under it when actually performing this task.) Fold the mesh bag lining the basket over itself on top and insert the pressing plate (not easy to see but being used under the auger press on the left). Crank away and watch nearly a gallon per basket flow down and into your carefully positioned, non-breakable vessel.

The juice from this ancient technology was clear and pretty much pulp free. Five gallons into it and I was impressed. At 10 gallons I was considering a way to build one. Nearing 15 gallons and I wanted to go buy one. By 20 gallons I thought it the best invention since liquid soap. 25 gallons and I was convinced a genius designed it. 30 gallons and I was glad we ran out of glass carboys to fill before we ran out of apples.

Now, what did we do with 30 some odd gallons of cider? We decided to split up the fermenting task and each claimed responsibility for roughly half. Then we used different yeasts in different containers and let the microrganisms get to work. Three short weeks later and I have now completed the first racking of my portion. Rumor has it B is working on his. I bottled a sample of each of the three kinds I have going.

Now, I'd write more, but after sampling a touch while performing the aforementioned tasks, I'm feeling rather spent. Also, I'll have to wait a week or two and try the bottled samples before deciding on how to proceed. Still or sparkling? Blended or not? Only time can tell. I'll give a bottling update when it happens.

Go press some juice, would you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The month of September should be renamed Picktober. It is high season for harvesting and preserving. This year, I'm working on a new (to me) method though. With cucumbers hitting the market in force, I have turned into a pickling fool.

I started with the batch on the left. Straight forward, lacto-fermented pickles. They smelled so good after the first week that I went ahead and pickled some more stuff, starting with okra. Yep, okra. I'd had some about two years ago from a market vendor and they just floored me. With only the barest hint of slime, but crunchy and spiced oh so nice, I made a mental note: make these. So, here we are, one big half gallon of it later. Oh, and the last jar is what happens when you trade stuff, come home with various cucumber varieties and chuck them all together. I haven't sampled these yet, but I suspect they'll be just fine.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the main body of the post, right. Time for tomatillo talk. Last year, I planted tomatillos, and as suspected many sprouts poked their heads out of the ground and reported for duty this year. Elder monkey watered them often early in the season, convinced she had planted them. They flourished. For comparison, I was given two tomatillo plants this year that when I transplanted, were much larger than the volunteers. They are puny compared to these robust creatures now.

Speaking of now, these plants are producing fruit like mad. Little dude and I went ouside and picked ourselves a nice bowl full. I was lacking any onions or peppers from the yard this year, so I was not thinking about sauce. Then it hit me: pickle them! Hell yeah, that's gotta be good right? I hit the bookshelf for a pickled tomatillo recipe for guidance. None. Damn. Not fazed by the lack of instruction, I consulted my own senses and went on.

The first batch of cucumber pickles were done and came out great. I used some of the leftover brine to start the tomatillos going. I added a few whole jalapeƱos, a few teeth of garlic and a sprig of epazote. While I was at it, in another bowl I hacked up some carrots and peeled more garlic, got out some more jalapeƱos, then collected some oregano twigs from the yard. The pickling sickness was really setting in about this point.

One short week later, everything was no longer bubbling and the brine was nice and cloudy. I tasted a few tillos and was stoked by their taste, but not really their texture. No worries though, as blending them up was now the plan. I drained everything and then dumped it in the food processor. Hitting blend for a while, it needed a tad more moisture so I gave it a splash or two of the brine. Getting nearer the consistency I was looking for, I gave it another little splish. Just by the fumes, my nose could tell it was going to be hot as hell.

Tangy from the ferment, not too salty, and indeed hot, but not unpleasantly so. Now, it goes on everything. I start my morning with a dash on the eggs. At lunch, leftover rice sure is nice. For dinner, anything. As long as it can go with some mind-bendingly easy to make, love that I ran this kind of experiment, pickled salsa verde.
(fade to the sound of a bag of chips being popped, mild diabolical laughter, then enthusiastic cookie monster-esque noshing......)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

pick-up truck

My pick-up truck. I can haul all sorts of stuff home on it. In particular, I enjoy pedaling home with the bartered bounty from the farmers' market. I bring various fermented goods (english muffins, beer, cider) and as was the case here (August '08), came home with not only food but also building materials. I was in need of bamboo (at least, in theory) for my garden projects. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd get the bundle of eight foot lengths on my truck, but some careful bungee work made for a solid haul. Not wanting to challenge other bikes to a jousting contest, I made my way slowly home among quieter streets. I was so proud arriving, I asked for a photo.

The following month, there was a clearance sale on soybeans. They were cheap! With a beer involved, I think they were a buck a plant. I brought ten home. It was not unlike lurking behind a hunting blind. (The perspective is bad here, but riding home at 5+ feet in width, I made sure to ride way out in the middle of the lanes.) Testing my camouflage, I took busier streets. It was a breezy day and the plant stems blew all this way and that. It brought back thoughts of having a sling-shot as a kid. It was so much fun, I took a picture when I got home.

The beginning of August this year found the farmers' market once again overflowing with fruit and veggies. Well, it was overflowing before that, but by August, the seems burst and if you are around when things close up at the end of the night, you might find yourself coming home with 20 pounds of tomatoes, 20 pounds of peaches, a cooler with a few pounds of tofu, cheese, leftover thai food, and a canvas bag of various veggies. Overall haul was near 80 pounds, including a backpack not pictured.

Then, this load. Damn. I think it took me twenty minutes just to get it strapped on my truck. Requiring no less than five bungee cords, two panniers, two plastic milk crates, and one small wooden crate. 60+ pounds at least, but fluffier than the last load. I made sure to check all the bolts on my racks before taking off. Making it home, safely, yet again, I took a moment to be thankful for my able-bodied-ness in regularly bringing such stuff to it's temporary home, where it will be ingested and recycled, turning into fuel to pump my legs back to the market.

I love my truck.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

oak nuts

Did I ever tell you about the time I went foraging for oak nuts?


Well, this story gets a bit graphic, so cover your earballs, or pray, or whatever you need to. Maybe stop reading now. Alright?

Here goes:

There I was, on a familiar trail in a familiar east bay park, picking many types of sometimes edible berries. Aware of the rampant poison oak all about, I'm being very cautious about where I step and how I stretch my hands into the plants I'm inspecting immediately next to the trail. While reaching into a plant with small bell shaped, white berries, I notice a few somewhat similar shaped ones and inexplicably disengage my brain. I reach for these, and pluck two from the eight or ten in the cluster. My senses make a brief return back and I notice that these berries aren't soft at all, but have little papery husks over small hard seeds. As my brian returns to normal, I find myself rubbing the coverings off, backing away from the plant and smelling the little nuts in my left hand.

These aren't from THAT plant....

What kind of seeds are.......

Hey, that plant has a branch growing up through that other one....

Ooohhhhh, F@%* ME!!!!

I throw the seeds down, think about what I have touched and immediately head back home, touching nothing with my contaminated hand. I've had training concerning contaminated environmental work sites and how to work in them safely. Having done this professionally in the past, I knew that my number one mistake was not wearing any form of protection on my hands. A barrier between yourself and the contamination is key. Remember this grasshopper.

So, I get home, rush into the bathroom and start washing my hand with some real expensive solvent we have for just such occasions. I disrobe, and then take a nice thorough shower making sure to wash everything with copious amounts of lather and do it twice. Thinking that I have been diligent with my decontamination, I congratulate myself for having summoned formerly critical information when it was needed most. This was a sunday morning.

On monday all is well and I'm feeling even better about how I reacted to my poison oak encounter.

By tuesday morning: Is that a zit on my nose? WTF? By evening time: Oh shit, there are a few clear looking blisters...

Wednesday morning: Definite small blisters on the bottom between my nostrils, and creeping up the edge of the right one. Some swelling feeling on my top lip in the center. Seems to be spreading slowly. Sounds like sweating to death in hot summer weather is the last thing I should do today. I call my BIL and cancel the kayaking we had planned for the day. I get off the phone and want to cry, but then my nose will run and complicate things. On top of this, I'm feeling a bit stuffy. I call my doctor. If it gets any worse I can see someone tomorrow, if not, I wait until friday.

Thursday morning: Not significantly worse; doesn't seem to be spreading or fluffing up any more. Weeping from the rash is constant and profuse. Every time I move my nose a bit, which happens every time I talk, some dry crust splits and more leaking occurs. With two children running about, it is impossible to not talk. Constantly. In a matter of an hour or so, a stalactite of sorts forms. With regularity, chunks come off, but more weeping oozes out and dries and a new drip structure forms. (In this picture, about ten minutes earlier, I had accidently scraped everything off of my nose after blowing it and was experiencing the "building phase.") I think to myself: This sucks and quite bad.

Friday morning, bright and early, but certainly not feeling chipper, I see my doc. He takes one look at my nose and then writes a script for some heavy medication. Time for hormones and fast. I call a few pharmacies to find the shortest waiting time and then drag the kids on a bike ride. With the meds back home, I eat some lunch, take the first dose and read the literature. Phwew! No adverse interactions with alcohol, so I'll have to crack open a homebrew later.....

By saturday morning, my nose is looking better. The weeping has stopped and a touch of the redness is subsiding. I still don't want to have a nose on my face yet, but at least I've stopped fantasizing about plucking it off and using a prosthetic. The end of this experience is dimly on the horizon.

Sunday morning, things are waaaay better on my face and it doesn't itch anymore. The medication makes me feel a little funny, but by the third day the dosage is tapered enough that I'm feeling more or less normal. Good. Because after dinner, tonight, we're busily prepping lunch for the elder monkey's first day of kindergarten. Tomorrow!

My nose is still a touch red, but at least I can blow it and wipe it now without disturbing any drip structures. Which is good, because no matter how excited I am for my big girl and her big day, and my reduction in work load for a few hours each day, I'm bound to shed a few tears tomorrow. You know, even though I'm a man, being the mommy blogger type that I am.

Happy first day of school big girl! I am extremely proud of you!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

new word: engmuffpusa

Words are not enough. The ineffable rules. As a result, sometimes, you just gotta make shit up in order to make it "fit." With this in mind, I introduce a new food word: engmuffpusa.

It all started here. I get to the end of cutting out the muffins and contemplate the fate of the scraps or "negative." Usually, I gather this into a ball, give it a gentle squeeze and roll it out again, then cut a few more muffins. The second round of scrap has too much gluten development to properly be called an english muffin, so what to do? Pull a Biggles. Say "just add pork."

With some yummy smoked bits around the house, I diced up the end hunk. I fished around in the cheesey drawer for something smallish and came up with some swissy thing. Pressing these it into the dough ball, I folded it in on itself a few times and then gave it a cornmeal dusting. Griddling it up same as the others, it turns into one divine hunk of muffin love.

My two year old grabs one from the counter while still hot and says "dat engmuff (then pausing to correct himself) meat cupcake is HOT!" I bust up laughing then try to give him credit for calling it two things at once.
"It's kinda like an english muffin and a pupusa sweetie."
"ENG-MUFF-PUSA?" His little nose gets all in a crinkle. Then he breaks his face with a smile, and saunters off, stuffing the engmuffpusa into his face and repeating the word over and over.

Next time scraps were around, my mind drifted to the topic of universal dark matter. For one thing, without it, orbits would not be the same. Kitchen orbits. It got me thinking how the "negative" leftover from muffin cutting is a form of dark matter. Unwitnessed (for the most part), but certainly part of the overall accounting and trajectory of things. More importantly though, it is wasted food if not used. Luckily, sometimes, serendipitous use yields amazing results. Besides, adding chocolate chips to just about anything is superb, no? Well, that and the fact that they are another form of dark matter.

Breaking it open, it reminded me of having the best mom in the world. When my sis and I were kids, occasionally, ma would bust out with chocolate chip studded pancakes. Pure decadence to some; for others, addressing the ravenous sweet-tooth genes that were handed down. Fond, fond memories. I just know these thoughts were loitering around the synapses when this experiment fell out of my head.

Whether using up kitchen dark matter, or acting as receptacle for meat and cheese trimmings. Maybe serendipity or deep seated culinary memory, savory or sweet, the engmuffpusa is the bomb. Try one. Or six.

Now repeat after me:



Thursday, July 23, 2009

one hot perspective (BFM summer farm tour 2009)

I live in such a mild climate, my home is completely devoid of insulation or air conditioning. When it hits the eighties we're feeling rather toasty. Nineties, oh my, where is that damned fog? One hundred plus? Are you kidding? That must be somewhere else. (Can you even breathe at those temps?) Well, a few weeks ago I had the fortune of surviving just such heat, while touring three of my favorite farms as part of the BFM Community Advisory Committee. The forecast high for the day was 109....

First stop: Full Belly (well into the nineties already)

Paul (one of four farm owners) greeted us and discussed many facets of keeping such a large organic farm operating. With over 200 acres in cultivation, this is an immense task that requires over fifty full-time, year-round employees. Diversity is the key here. It keeps pests in check, encourages native wildlife to thrive, enables a healthy population of natural pollinators (no hives are imported onto the farm) and means that there is never so much of a single crop that it has to be sold at a deep discount just to get rid of it before it rots. We began walking to see his words in action.

Passing the flower garden, we saw a youth group here for summer camp picking bouquets to take to market. Community involvement plays a large role on this farm and their CSA boxes reach a huge audience. Paul mentioned that a senior group comes and gets seconds from their storage. Then moving onto speaking about planning a fruit orchard, his words began drifting up and away from my ears with the heat. Sampling apricots, Paul pointed out that the day before was even hotter (about 115) and that some apricot pits get so hot that they scald the fruit. (Resulting in an internal bruise that is only witnessed by opening one up.) Stopping by a compost pile, discussing soil fertility and fauna, I was sure that my own pit was beginning to scald my cranial fruit. We made our way back to the shade, tanked up on water and headed down the road for a lunch date.

Second stop: Guru Ram Das Orchards (100+ at this point)

After turning down the wrong road, twice, we finally arrived at Didar's place. Collecting ourselves in his living room, enjoying the delicious air blowing from his swamp cooler, Didar told us about the early days of caring for his land. 20+ years ago he commuted from Reno every week to tend things, but nurturing was not how to describe it. He said it was more like just keeping things barely alive. But, despite the rough start and poor soils, his farm thrives. You see, orchards that have to struggle some, reward you with immense flavor and hardiness not ever seen otherwise. (As the finest grape growers in the world will tell you time and time again.) Should you then add copious quantities of love to the hardy, leafy creatures around you, you get fruit that is unparalleled.

After a delicious soup prepared for us, we took a brief tour before the promise of a dip in the pool. Didar pointed out that his orchard is designed on what has worked over the years and as older trees die or are damaged by wildlife (marauding deer wreak havoc on the nectarines as witnessed by this branch breakage) he often replaces them with a pomegranate that can withstand a few years of under watering. When it hits a few years old though, it shows off the hard earned deep roots and begins exuding health, fitting in nicely with the others. We ambled up and down a few more rows until it was obvious no one was concentrating on anything but getting in the pool. Walking the gentle hill back to the house, my brain felt as though it were beginning to melt it was so damn hot. Worried it might run out of my ear should I get in the pool, I opted to get supine in the shade beneath streamers of wingnuts. As what little breeze there was tickled my face, I heard laughs and hoots from the pool as folks took respite from the 105+ heat. The splashing water reminded me that I was getting dehydrated despite having consumed nearly a gallon of water already.

Third Stop: Riverdog (nearing 110?)

Using our puckered brains for guidance, we managed to find our final destination without getting lost. Trini greeted us with a smile and said she had to go get her dog. A fire had started up the valley a ways and as though Tim doesn't have enough to do already, he volunteers to contain and fight such things. He had the dog. A few minutes later, collected in the "cool" (mid 90's) packing area, we listened to future plans for a freezer on site and ventures into animal products. Getting to help scrub a few eggs with the new machine for such things, we learned about the chickens that rotate around the farm, adding pest control, fertilizer and about the yummiest eggs to be found. Seeing the mobile hen coups in a field of alfalfa, I was happy for these chickens, but convinced that the plume of smoke on the horizon was getting larger. Walking back to the shed, spontaneous combustion came to mind.

We piled into cars and drove down the road to go see one of Riverdog's newer ventures: pork. With shady pasture down by the creek amongst the oaks, these pigs have it good. (Well, until you kill them and eat them I suppose.) Seeing the veggie culls and seconds strewn around made me realize that these pigs eat the very same veggies I do. Literally. Add a diet rich in acorns and walnuts and these pigs are about as delectable as it gets. These "Riverhog" are showing up at local butcher shops with rave reviews. (Ask around or check out their Hog Blog.) This is some damn fine swine.

Somewhere before the pigs but after the melon field, my brain became so shriveled it fell out of my head. I managed to pick it up and put it in a zippered pocket though, and as we drove home (I should clarify, I was not driving) it began plumping up with fresh water and the cool air conditioning it would experience for the rest of the day. When we got back to Berkeley, it was at least 45 degrees cooler than our last stop. I could think better now.

With a new perspective on summer farming I wonder: How do they do it? Capay Valley farmers deal with extreme heat (bitter frosts as well) and having to get past the drunk gamblers attempting to pull into or stumblingly leaving the monstrosity on their way to market. These folks deserve our help.
Shop your local farmers' market.

For other years, check out:
BFM summer farm tour 2008
BFM summer farm tour 2007

Thursday, July 02, 2009

damn, this schinken is good!

Let me tell you: having German friends is good. Especially if you like pork products. Take this treat for example. Recently smuggled into the states, deep within checked baggage, it landed safely. (clearing throat) Ahem, uh, I mean my friends arrived safely with presents. Now, I share and enjoy my first true black forest ham.

It slices kinda like meaty butter that was left out near a camp fire. So, that doesn't exactly sound good, but it's the best I could come up with on the spot. Don't get me wrong here, this stuff is the bomb, the shit, the schinken. (Now, if I only had a speck of respect here.) This is about the best porky thing I have ever tasted. Really. Like, double-good oinktacular at least.

After eating who knows how many slices, I wound up putting it on some pizza for the family. I fired up the pseudo-version 2.0 cob oven that I've been working on recently. It has some big advantages over the last model, but so far the damn thing ain't drafting right, doesn't hold enough heat yet, and smokes out the neighbors. It still turned out a decent pie or two. Then again, with schinken this good on top, you could just about undercook it, drop it on the ground and accidently step on it, then serve it half frozen and folks would still think it about the best damn pizza they ever had. I much prefer mine hot though, with a touch of peach wood smoke, sourdough crust, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, and the all important smuggled pork.

Thanks G-man and K! You guys are the best.

Friday, June 19, 2009

pb and j

"Can I make my own PB and J daddy?"
"Okay." She runs off into the kitchen.
It takes me a minute (when I realize how quiet she is being) to really appreciate this request. Big girl can do it all by herself. I'm stricken with a Universal Parenting Moment (UPM for short).
When did my baby get so big?

I made this last year from incredibly ripe fruit, so, lacking in some pectin, and me failing to think of this, it is really more of a thick syrup than a jam. The monkey could care less. It is lip smacking good, and favorite pancake fare. This gets dolloped on first, then seeing me salivating the sticky spoon is offered to me.
"Mmm, hmm."

"Daddy, is this the hard peanut butter or the normal kind?"
The normal stuff sweetie.
"Good, 'cuz that other stuff is stupid and disgusting. It tears the bread, but this kind is smmoooooth!"
What's your real opinion on that honey?
"What daddy?"
You'll understand in a few more years hon. Just keep spreading the smooth stuff.

"Now we cut it! I can cut it all by myself, with a sharp knife and everything, because I know how to do it, like how to hold the handle, because I do the dishes and sometimes, you let me dry the knife, right daddy, right?
Uh, yeah. Ummm.......yes, correct, sorry, that took me a minute to digest sweetie.
"But we haven't even eaten it daddy, that's silly!"

I oversee the cutting, sharp knife and all. It presents another dilemma though. Do I strive to encourage proper ergonomics as well and have her stand on a foot stool where she doesn't have to cut with her hands up near her shoulders? But she could fall off of this while holding a sharp knife? Another UPM.

Fingers intact, there are sixteen pieces to reassemble. Granted, jigsaw puzzles are a fun thing at any age, but this reconstruction speaks volumes to me. Of me. It makes me think that the mapping gene, the need for constantly orienting oneself and having a general grip on your spatial relationships, runs strong in this one. Things like legos and tetris appeal to her. Time will only tell, but so far, this monkey has a knack for directions.

At the table, the sandwich went fast. Unbelievably, there was near silence while it was snarfed down. This is a rare thing around here. With her constant chatter and little dude's learning about sentences and practicing incessantly, it is oh so rare. I reflected on the quiet. Enjoying all minute and 23 seconds of it. Then I thought about how carefully the sandwich was prepared. How mindfully the sharp knife was used. How much the reconstruction spoke of her character. Then again, how big, my little girl is.

I laughed out loud.
How was your UPM sandwich honey?
"My what? This is a PBJ. You're silly daddy!"
Then cocking her head to the side and sporting a growing smirk she says "hey, maybe I can make one for you?"
Anytime, my darling. Anytime.
"How about now daddy? I can make one for you right now, because I just made one and ate it and it was really good. You should have one with this apricot jam daddy, it is ever so delicious. It's a bit runny but if you are a really good PBJ builder like I am then you can easily do it and, like no worries on cutting it because I can use a really sharp knife all by myself and cut it into as many pieces as you want, like eight or nine or ten or eleven or twelve or maybe even fifty...................

Saturday, May 30, 2009

3-minute post

Halfway through my eggs yesterday morning I thought why haven't I ever done a post about this? Now, it is true that chopped up runny eggs are not the most photogenic lot, but the point ain't how it looks. Taste, my friends, is the point with these eggs. Truly free-range, fried to gooey perfection, then tossed in with mangled hunks of toasted english muffin love. I eat this whenever possible, which if I bother to think, is about once a week.

Watering the yard after the scrum-diddle-dee-umptious breakfast, I looked up and saw this beauty. On top of it's charming looks, it's a volunteer that popped up a few months back. I just love volunteers. Their tough, easy to plant, and in this case, the purtiest damn thing in the whole yard.

Putting the yummy eggs and dandy flower experience together, it was one hell of a nice start to a friday morning. We finished watering, then came back inside and plugged the kids into their favorite video from the library. Then I did one of my favorite things, and started making red sauce.

Life, is good.

Monday, May 25, 2009

strawberry pie

A comment on a post two years old reminded me of something; strawberry crack sauce season is upon us. Lo and behold, we've got a bunch of berries out front as the calendar predicts, so I whipped up a dough and chucked it in the fridge. Then I wrangled up the monkeys and put them to work. Giving them each an unbreakable container to collect with, we went out front and each chose a spot to start.

Asking the monkeys to show me what they picked revealed no big surprises. At 2 years, little dude is getting the hang of picking the ripe ones, yet still manages to eat the red ones first, while at 5.5 years big girl is just about an expert. Luckily for him, he seems to have an iron gut when it comes to eating well over a dozen strawberries. Red or not. For her, the years more experience means she has a touch of patience and a sense of delayed gratification. Or more simply put, she understands that just about any fruit is better with some sugar and dough wrapped around it.

I looked at the bounty, considered what I tasted while picking, and made a few mental notes. These don't seem as sweet as in the past, nor as big. I've heard that farmers plant fresh each year, since the young, new plants give the most robust, tastiest berries. Maybe, just maybe after 4 years or so, it is time to plant anew like the professionals do. I brought them inside, gave them a gentle wash and got out some in-gree-junts.

I tossed the berries with a touch of sugar and some runny rhubarb marmalade that I made sometime last year and canned. I rolled the dough out and put it in a tart pan. Plop goes the berry glop, then a little bakey-bake and voila! Nothing too fancy here, but damn satisfying. Yard fruit, 1/2 whole wheat crust, legal child labor and a new name. You see, when I put it on the rack to cool, little dude pulled at my leg and said "up peas." Then he took a look at the pie and said "peet-zuh." I laughed, gave him a little tickle and said it was some funny pizza then. He smiled, pointed at it, started nodding slowly and said "drawberry pizza Dada."

There you have it. Strawberry pizza. Well, technically, a strawberry tart with a touch of rhubarb and orange marmalade, but hey, who really cares. It tasted great, used an old canned good, and gave me a new food category.

Just think, dessert pizza!

Monday, May 11, 2009

stinging nettles 23, me 1

Ha stinging nettles! It is time I begin to even the score. For years now you have brushed my bare legs while hiking, leaving me with a not so pleasant burning sensation. Well, your ass is mine now. I've implemented a plan to use some fermentation to put your poison to work.
For me.
Yeah, you heard it.

Going on a few years now, I've wanted to harvest nettles in the spring and make some pasta with it. They grow all over the place around here (if you look in the right places that is) and thanks to a yearly ritual of camping out for Mother's Day, I know where to find them. Finally, this year, I'm doing something with them. It ain't pasta though.
It's beer. (Is this really a surprise?)

I bought a book a while back called Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. (With a title like that, what's not to like?) But really, I bought it to have some mead recipes and guidance for fermentation experimentation. Well, I was reading about nettles healing properties toward arthritic and rheumatic conditions and thinking about collecting them, when I ran across a few beer recipes. Sweet! Then I remembered that my wife has been having a bothersome hip that the doctor chalked up to "getting older." Hell, if at our age aches and pains don't just mean cure them anymore, but more like just deal with it, then sheeeeiiittt, it couldn't hurt putting a little hand gathered medicine into some beer and using it as a curative tonic now, could it?

Gathered and washed, they weren't so tough looking. More like fuzzy and maybe even working toward approachable. It took me a few versions of latex and gardening gloves in conjunction with some fresh burning and mild swearing before I figured out my technique, but, hey, I like learning things the hard way sometimes. With the ouchie part over, now I'll tend to the brew by keeping it in the "happy range" of yeastie beastie temperatures. Then I'll bottle it. Then I'll drink it. Whether it works for my sweetie's hip or not, only time will tell. What I know for sure is that the tide has turned for the nettles. I've scored my first point of my life against them. And when that first sip of the curative brew hits my lips, I'll give myself another point. Then I'll take another sip. Then I'll give myself another point and soon there after, probably forget all about any aches and pains.

Already, the stings don't seem so bad.........

Mid-June Update:

Oooooh, Maaah, Gaaaah, this stuff is nuts! And crazy. Crazy, but like, good. Part brown ale, part root beer, with a strong yeast profile, definite hoppy-ness and that vegetal something or other from the nettles, it somehow still manages to fall firmly within the beery camp. The first sip tried was loaded with anticipation, but we jumped the gun and tried a touch too early. It wasn't quite carbonated right and the flavors still seemed a bit separate. Kinda like chili the first day sometimes. Then a week later, while enjoying this deliciousness of super beefy burger on homemade buns with thyme sauteed summer squash, we tried it again. It was just right. All the crazy flavors working together.
Nettles, your days are numbered.