Friday, December 31, 2010

better living through chemistry

Is this really only my 15th post of the year? Holy crap I've been slacking. Wait, correct that. I've been slacking at posting anything this year, but slacking with the food projects? Hell no. For example, this picture is but a small bit of what 80 pounds of olives looks like when they are freshly harvested and temporarily residing on a sheet in my living room, awaiting sorting. Two short days later, it was time to start running some experiments. And after a few years of failed attempts with various methods (let's see: vinegar soaking, dry-brining, brine solutions, and fermenting them), it was now time to use the heavy chemicals. More specifically, sodium hydroxide.

Has anyone attempted to buy any lye lately? If you have, did you have any luck? You see, the stuff is rather hard to come by these days sitting on a shelf, as the regulations regarding the sale of it have changed. Rumor has it that quite a few meth-head chemists were purchasing the stuff for cooking up their product, which started to raise eyebrows to the folks selling the stuff, which suddenly made it harder for someone with a legal reason to have the stuff. All of which makes you seem suspect, trying to do so now. It took me about three days, and a jaunt to the next county over to get some. Luckily, it was even food grade, which was great since I had some instructions I was planning on following rather closely.

With an aforementioned large amount of olives to work with, six different experiments have been attempted, with five of them still in process. The fastest one to completion made it in time for a few x-mas gifts, and use at a few parties. So far the consensus is that it worked. They taste like real olives, have a nice texture and even still look decent. But most importantly, they fit on small fingers like real olives should. And that is no lye....

Happy New Year y'all!

(Give me a shout out to let me know you are still out there readers. You never know, it might make for one of them New Year's resolutions along the lines of me pulling it together and documenting more stuff. Which I'm planning on having more time to do so since I'm gonna start running again and I'll have to sit down for a rest eventually.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

insane in the membrane

Quince. Marmelada. The source of the "original" marmelade. However you may or may not associate quince with the candy-like confection it can be turned into, it is an insane process to get from the picked fruit to the slightly orangish to red membranous end-product. (Then again, I am insane, so this kind of task suits me perfect.) Membrillo. It involves lots of peeling, hacking, de-pip-ing, and much checking over for any bit of pithy stuff from near the middle. Then you boil it, puree it, add an equivalent amount of sugar, then cook some more. Lots of stirring. Lots of floppy ploppy, slurpy glurpy sounds. Just half a day later, with you and your entire kitchen now splattered with what I think of as confectioners napalm, it is ready to cool. Maybe another hour after that, you taste it. Next thing you know it is the following year, you have nearly forgotten about all the work involved, and you are ready to give the whole labor intensive project another try.....

Sunday, October 31, 2010


So there I was at the Tuesday market saying hi to Carl.
Whoa, WTF? That is one crazy squash!
"Yeah, everyone says that but no one is gonna buy it."

An hour and a half later*, I'm finally leaving. I hear Carl say "hey, you have your car today?"
"Then either you're taking apples or that damn squash!"
I struggled back with two grocery sacks and at least a fifteen pound marina di chioggia, all while leaving a hand free for my three-year old to hold.

I had good intentions on making some gnocchi. Then halloween hit and I found myself looking at this cucurbita and thinking it looked like some big rumply brain. Dude, brain-o-lantern!

It was a bit tough for carving. The skin wasn't so bad to get through, but the flesh was hella-thick! I sawed away at it, then cut some from the inside too, and still needed to hack some more. I managed though, and I think it turned out pretty good. The kids liked it, saying something like "daddy's pumpkin is silly!"

Yep, silly indeed. But when else am I gonna have such a crazy squash at my disposal? Besides, tomorrow, if the slugs didn't get it in the night, I just might go "recover" some of the flesh from one of the thickest spots and look up a gnocchi recipe.

Because hey, like WTF?

* I've been known to linger at the market for hours, but today I was actually working on something.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


It was all about the wild yeast collection yesterday. Little dude and I went foraging for elderberries to start another mead like the one from last year. We couldn't get many, so I'm starting small with a little over a gallon. Then, fearing that my sourdough starter is trying to die, I mixed up a fresh biga. I picked some grapes from my backyard, mashed them up, added a bit of water and bread flour and whisked it like mad. I feel like an urban yeast farmer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

finger squash

Any chance you read that last post and went: "Huh? does that say finger squash?" Well yes, it did......

I just love squash. I've grown a few different varieties in the past, my favorite being the small round zukes. But this Spring I got to try a new one, and now I have a new favorite. My friend Max gave me the finger. Now I'm giving it to you.

Giving me a start in a four inch pot, he called this crazy beast something like a "Yugoslavian finger squash" and said it's an heirloom variety. The handwritten tag said "Yugo finger." I put it in the coveted boxey space out front where there is a bunch of light and freshly amended soil. The plant took off. Climbing all around, little and fuzzy, they look delicate, but this plant seems hardy enough.

As soon as there were some for picking, I showed my sis.
Check this thing out!
"Hey, you're growing those? That's my new favorite squash!"
Yeah, my friend said they were really good and gave me one. I think it likes it here.
"What did he call it?"
Something like a finger squash.....I hunted for the tag and found it. Yup.

They are firm and what is that, "nutty?" Better flavor than most summer squash in my opinion. But the skin, oohhh the skin. Somehow robust yet thin, delicate and tough if it can be both, it squeeks fantastically. Squeaky squash. You hear a high-pitched little "errt-errt-errt" when you chew. The kids love it too:
"Daddy! Listen to my head when I chew the finger squash!"
And then my absolute favorite:
"Yeah, we're having finger squash again!"

But wait, they get even better, because unlike the two and a half foot long, seven to eight pound "medium" zucchini I came home to after a week of backpacking, these guys don't get outrageously huge. Sure, they're almost as big as the head of a three year-old, but still, I'd rather have a few of these than one of those truly huge zukes that we all know about and strive to either make something with (I made it through 2/3rds of the medium beast I came home to) or simply give away with a shrug.....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

6 year old menu

Big-girl was so impressed with the line-up that night, she documented it in a menu.......

About two weeks ago, I hauled out the deep fryer to remake some corn dog bites from a while back. Call it a re-relapse, if you will. Anyway, while the gallon of hot oil was in use, we raided the garden. We fried some zucchini and some finger squash. What didn't make the menu was the mozzarella filled squash blossoms. Hmm, come to think of it, maybe I accidentally ate all of those.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

bfm summer farm tour

Whoa, I knew I've been a slacker on posting, but damn, apparently, I've taken all of June off. Well, now I can comfortably tell you a bit about our 2010 BFM Summer Farm Tour:

So there we were, in the rain shadow of Mt. Diablo with Farmer Al out in his cherry orchard, talking about pheromone confusion tactics as a means of battling pests. Pointing out the cards in the trees, he explained how they emit female pheromones for several months time. (Sound expensive? Try $100 bucks an acre!) This means, that when the bad-boy bugs (literally) come in to mate, they home in on the female scent and before they know it whammo! find themselves spooning up next to this pretty white card. Maybe not exactly like described, but it must work here at Frog Hollow, because as their saying goes, it is home to legendary fruit.

I found myself oddly attracted to these white cards. I wanted to climb up into the tree and spoon up next to one, where I could hang out with the guys and gorge myself sick on cherries. Then I snapped out of my daydream and we had shifted gears, now talking how dwarf root stock was used. Prone to blowing over when mature, they thrive and produce a more reachable bumper crop. We moved on again, touring two "newer" varieties of early apricot (Apache and Kettleman) on our way back to command central.

Becky greeted us outside her magic kitchen. The fruit coming straight off the farm may be legendary, but it still takes an enormous amount of work to properly preserve the yummiliciousness of it all. Well, not all, as they sell the same varieties to the public. Still, certain varieties of favorites are immediately turned to jam. However, there is far too much fruit to make into jam at once, so a lot gets dipped into citric acid and frozen for a later date with this jamtastic cauldron. Have you tried their preserves? Wow! And the pastries? Oh my lord! Brilliant.

Lucero knows strawberries. Out here in the middle of the Central Valley, looking out at a second-year field of berries and listening to Ben, his quiet charm reminded me of yoda. He described past-pest problems and laughed. He mentioned that his favorite tractor, as old as he is, fires up right away. Then he turned the key for us and grinned. He pointed out how his berries still have their umbilicus. His partner Karen and son Curtis exhibited similar takes on the same light-heartedness and down-home kindness. Genuine. Hearing about their hopes of expanding, they pointed out the dire need for more available organic farmland. I wanted to somehow go get some and give it to these guys.

Walking through the oasis next to their home, they told of how depending on the time of year, you can meander through the bamboo and pick various fruit. Just at the bench here, you could reach up to a loquat, behind you to a pomegranate, take a few steps across the path to a fig. Our group wandered on, hearing something I surely missed, while I lingered another moment here, letting the serene scene pull me in. Calming indeed. Bound to help balance the work involved in nurturing, harvesting, and bringing such great produce to market.

At the first toes of the foothills, on the edge of the Central Valley, Jon and Cleizene Smit, much like their land, continue to evolve. After decades of being dairy farmers, they are now on their third decade of fruit farming. At a point in their lives where most folks are being taken care of by their own kids, these two are clearly still in charge of the family business. Having recently cleared a large plot with a ridiculously large bulldozer (a D-10 with 6 foot teeth for breaking up some of the hard-pan), we saw this little rig out digging holes. They grow a huge amount of apples here, yet they still have a need for more. And with their love and hard study, within 2 or 3 years, you'll see apples at the market from the trees that will fill these empty holes.

We made it over to the old milking parlor, and discovered it's modern usage. Converted to cold storage, and juice production, it now turns out a different liquid than milk. No animals involved, yet something is still getting squeezed inside. What you see here is a belt juicer. It "presses" apples by running them between two oppositely traveling belts. I'd love to see this baby run. Ever tried their cider? Mmmm. Fine stuff there. Treated correctly, it makes for some fine hard cider too.

We heard of trials with tree spacing, branch configuration and shape, trellising, and more of the miraculous dwarf root stock. And that was only apples. With cherries and grapes, pluots and who knows else up their sleeves, the Smits are a fine example of a couple who have divided the burden of work and knowledge evenly, and thrive. Sharp. I hope I'm half as spry and with it as these two when I reach their age. Wait, I'd be better off than now.

Leaving the farm, they offered up some paper bags and told us to go pick some cherries if we wanted. We loitered in the orchard awhile, gorging and picking. When someone mentioned they were beginning to feel greedy, we piled in the cars. The ride home went smoothly, and without delay we arrived a short pound and a half of cherries later.

Hope you enjoyed. For previous Berkeley Farmers' Market field trips, check out:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

a love of labor

Fava beans. Do you love them or hate them? Maybe you love to eat them, but couldn't imagine ever putting in the labor beforehand to do so. This is where I stood just a few years ago. I liked the idea of them, but somehow when it came to boiling, then shelling, then skinning, then cooking again, I just couldn't manage. But things are different now. Funny as it sounds, I love the labor involved.

About a month ago, I bought my first sack of favas of the season. Bringing them home and performing all the labor, I was depressed thinking of the tiny amount of beanie yield in the end. So I put them into another dish that is a labor of love. It was my first rice torte with favas in it, and I immediately thought of my grandma. Did she make something like this? The flavors went together well; she must have.

Then, last week, I was at a friend's house picking up my empty beer keg from the Ferment Change party. "Hey, you want some favas?" I think he got to the F when I blurted out "hell yeah!" We went outside and stripped his plants, yielding a bag much larger than what I would pay for at the market. I brought them home, put them in the fridge and planned for some work time the next day.

With the majority of the labor complete, I tossed some bacon and onions in a pan and started cooking. I got the water boiling for noodles. With the onions a light caramel color, and the bacon getting a touch crispy, I chucked in the favas. A few minutes later, they were ready for some sauce. I put in some more butter, a touch of flour, stirred it quickly and thoroughly, then added a cup or so of milk. I cooked it until it was thickening, then added a cup or so of grated parm. It was pointing toward the best thing I've ever made with favas.

My lord it was good! I wolfed down a few bowls AND there were lots of leftovers. Definitely, the best yet.

Then, the next day, I was out in my garden, tending my favas. They are really late, still blooming, but showing promise of having a nice harvest. I had my head down in the plants when some Jehovah's Witnesses came walking by. I stood up to say hi, and attempt to graciously turn down their literature. I was met with a broad smile and few questions:
"Hey, you like the favas? Do you know what to do with the favas?" an elderly woman named Rosa was asking me in somewhat broken english.
"Sure," I said. "You lovingly think of your grandma as you prepare the beans, then fry them up in a pan with some pancetta and onions. Then eat it right there or add some parmesan and put it on some pasta."
"Oh, I see maybe you are Italian no?"
"Sounds like enough to me. You have a good day."
"I promise," I said.
Then I went inside and had another bowl.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

tour de ferment

Hey, wanna help out? Then get on your bike because it's time to ride for our local urban-ag heros City Slicker Farms! (CSF).

This Sunday, our "Tour de Ferment" (but one event in a series of fermentation based fundraising called Ferment Change) will be taking a tasting tour of five homes in the North Oakland and South Berkeley area where the craft of home brewing is in full swing. Bring your own bike (uh, and helmet please), an unbreakable cup, stories of your own crazy ferments if you have them, and a small donation for CSF. Then take a beautiful ride on a (so far likely) gorgeous afternoon with friends and community members who enjoy helping out their hardworking friends by enjoying a few good brews.

How can you beat that?

give me a shout if this sounds like fun:
g e odylan
at that there
dot netty

Friday, March 26, 2010

pork noodle soup

With a trip down memory lane, I stumbled across this soup. I had some hot italian pork sausage in the fridge, and was wondering what to do with it. A review of the pantry revealed a can of garbanzo beans and I had a thought about a spanish soup a friend gave me a recipe for near ten years ago. Way back when, I had just made chorizo for the first time, and as the soup called for chorizo and garbanzos (which I just adore), the dish came together splendidly. Now, this many years later, with some kind of hot porkyness and garbanzos on hand, they just had to go together.

I split the sausage casings, dumped the meat in a hot pan and started stirring. After a few secs I diced up a mediumish yellow onion and added it to the fat-releasing, big meaty crumbles that were starting to form. I rooted around in a bottom fridge drawer for some mushrooms to add, but came up with a wet bag and some dank slimey ones. Hmmmm. Maybe we have.........oh yes, what do we have here that was bartered for with homebrew? Porcini linguine to the rescue! So I added a few cups of water to the pan when the onions and meat were a golden brown. It became one potent broth in a quick hurry. I dumped in my beans and let this simmer together for about half an hour, then added my mushroom pasta. It may have looked more like an asian dish with the fat noodles and all, but the flavors spoke from a mediterranean side of things. Based in the past and inspired by the present, for me, this soup was an instant classic.

Monday, March 15, 2010

tastes like chicken

Oh my.

It is a rare occasion in this world when you can out do a "best you ever had" moment in your life.

So there I was, with my second chicken from Riverdog Farms, stuffed ever so lovingly into my small cooler and transported home on my two-wheel truck. The first bird from them the week earlier was nearly the best chicken I've ever had, so my expectations were running high you might say. I prepped and baked #2 in a similar fashion, and as before the results were awesome. After carving it up and enjoying it with a side of rice and carrots, I put it in the fridge to think about later. We still had much leftovers, because running around 8 pounds, this small turkey was more like 3 meals. After something like a minute and a half, I wanted chicken salad.

The next day, I got to work. My salad was composed of diced meat, pesto (last fall I planned well and still have about 4 cups in deep freeze), chopped olives and celery, with just a dollop or three of mayo to get the right consistency. I looked around for bread, and luckily (because I have the best wife in the world) there just happened to be some biscuits laying around. I sliced one and gave it a light toasting. I heaped on some saladic green hunkiness. It looked good. I ingested it in about 4 bites. Then, with drool streaming from my face like some large breed of dog, I made another. Tilting my head a touch for the second first bite, a thought tumbled off a shelf somewhere deep in my head and came to rest in a legible spot. This is the most chickeny chicken I have ever had! If it could stand up to all that pesto and such, and still cry out roasted chicken, then it just had to be true.

The next day, chasing the spector of reliving a "best of" moment, I made another chicken in a biscuit sandwich. Granted, it wasn't as good as the first, or second, but really, because the only remaining biscuit was another day older, there wasn't the same volume of salad, and because somehow, getting closer to the subject in a photo is not always a good thing.

If you have access to the Berkeley Farmers' Markets, enjoy chicken, and don't mind hacking off the head of the tastiest bird you might ever eat, then do Trini and Tim a favor. Do our planet a favor. Support small farms and sustainability. Go buy yourself a Riverdog Farm chicken.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

best quiche ever

This is not meant to be a tease. Try to think of it as more a testament to how good it really was. You see, I meant to take a picture of this totally fantabulous quiche, but realized that none existed until the final crumbs. So here we are, looking at what might as well be a bit of scrambled eggs for all you care. Anyway, I present the last crusty remains of what is reportedly, the best savory, eggy-fluff heaven thingamagig ever made in my home: a crab, leek and crimini quiche.

(Now, I will go hide somewhere and drink a homebrew. And then I will hope and maybe even pray that someone out there will agree, that somehow, this was the best damn quiche ever.)

Oh, and remember, don't overdo it with the crab.........

crab leek crimini quiche:

5 large eggs
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 lb jack
3.12 ounces crab meat (dungeness around here)
1 biggish leek
6 medium crimini mushrooms
crust of your choice

crack, beat, pour, grate, pick, finely chop, saute, mix all together and then fill. bake at 400 for a bit, then 350. cool enough to not burn the shit out of your mouth. cut yourself a piece, enjoy.

and in case you need more crabby fun from the past, click here

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

sourdough trinity

My daughter has been saying "oh my god!" about stuff lately. It came on suddenly, as though picked up from a friend. (My guess is that this happened somewhere between 9am and 3pm last Friday; the last day of school before I first remember hearing it.) The first few times I heard her say it, I busted up a bit, then had the inkling to somehow correct her. It made me think of growing up and having my grandparents correct me, saying "you mean: oh my gosh." Not being hung up on words involving a deity, I chose not to engage in any "correction" and went back to laughing. My partner mentioned having the same response to hearing this little phrase out of her. We were witnessing a sort-of birth of irreverence. Sweet. With it now being Fat Tuesday and all, and inspired by my daughter, I thought I'd indulge myself a bit and document a bit of my own irreverent behavior. So on with it.

Never before have I made english muffins, baked a loaf of bread AND brewed, all on the same day. Three creations from the same mother. It made me think of a triptych. Then I felt myself being pulled down an irreverent road. If it were the holy trinity, just who would be the father, son and holy something-or-other then, huh?. It should be more like mother, daughter and etherial spirit if you ask me.....Then I snapped back to and posed the yeastie offspring for a group photo. If only they looked more like panels, and had hinges connecting them together, maybe then I could claim triptych.

Then, satisfied with this, I went and had myself a beer in my favorite new glass. (Thanks once again sis) Irreverent as hell, it makes me laugh heartily. I especially enjoy it when I'm having a dark beer such as this one in it, and a different "reason" becomes revealed with each new glug. Yeah, that shit busts me up you might say.

Go tie one on, get schnockered, dance all night, run around naked, whatever. Eat lots of meat, fatty sugary things and indulge. Come tomorrow, depending on your culture, you just might have to pull your shit together.
And if not, remember, it is still a school night.

Where 'yat?

Friday, January 15, 2010

hey, it's fuyu!

Tell me, what would you do if given a thousand pounds of ripe fuyus?
Inspired by last year's experiments with goo I took action.....

Take one box of the crazy-soft goo balls (between 24-36 fruit) and rip off and compost the stems and upper leaves. Toss the rest into an 8q pot and mash with a potato thingie. Chuck this into a big gauge colander and stir around with a spoon-like object. When most the pulp is through, remove most the skins and compost 'em. Pour the remaining mess into a clean 5 gallon bucket. Repeat this process 6 more times, adding a quart of orange blossom honey at the end. Stir thoroughly and you have something like this. I covered it with a nylon grain bag to keep the flies and monkeys out and took to stirring it every few hours.

By day two and a half, the froth had set in. It was getting on near that time to put this beast into a large vessel before it decides to go eat some sugar elsewhere. I got out a huge piece of glass for just such occasions, scrubbed it a bit and left it overnight to soak some more. The next morning I check on the yeastie beasties and they have shoved the nylon bag into a slight dome, stretching it some, causing it to hold tight to the bucket rim, thus keeping the foam from climbing out. I removed the bag at first sight and it released the cork a bit. A few quarts or so of foam blurbed on over the edge.

Safely behind glass, I could now judge the true character of these wild organisms. They were chewing up the persimmons pretty good, but the pulp still had the consistency of a runny flan. I added a gallon of tap water and swirled it around as well as one can when you find yourself agitating a 45 pound glass container with 5 gallons of orange snot in it. I gave it my best, then left it alone. Checking a few hours later, some separation had occurred and I finally felt like this experiment was leaning toward success.

Now, more than a week into it, I wonder if I should have made more. Maybe a lot more. Then I think, that's crazy! I couldn't post something about that, people would think I'm nuts!

Then my brew buddy gives me an update of the madness we have going in his backyard. He sends a link. So now, if you have any interest in what one might do with a mad amount of ripe persimmons........

Because, really, using seven boxes only puts a tiny dent in 170!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

poached scramble with gifted speck

It's been nearly two weeks since the last BFM. I'm going through severe withdrawal. Without fresh veggies, my skin turns ashen, the gray at the temples becomes more pronounced, and I want to sleep more. And it's not just me. The kids get cranky that the broccoli doesn't taste the same as usual. My partner points out that the store bought tofu tastes like the reason why people don't like tofu.

But then, I was rescued. I went to B's house to mix up 100 gallons of persimmon glop for the latest, crazy, fermentation based, hair-brained idea and came home with some wild collected fungus. We still had a few market eggs left over after all the holiday cookie making. Then G-dog came over with some Nueske's bacon yesterday morning and it all came together. It was a fantastic way to start the year.

Now, today, I get on my bike and ride to the market......YEAH!

Oh, and happy 2010!