Saturday, August 30, 2008

Quick Pickles and Pear Butter

It really is fall now. So much canning to do! I thought I would provide our quick pickle recipe for the benefit of anyone else wanting to try them. We've had good results in terms of crunchiness with this recipe, from the Encyclopedia of Country Living.

Quick Dill Pickles

4 lbs. pickling cucumbers
14 cloves garlic
14 heads dill
28 peppercorns

3 cups water
2 3/4 cups vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup pickling salt

Wash your cucumbers. Slice the blossom end off, and slice lengthwise into spears, or leave whole (if small enough). Sterilize jars. Boil salt, water, and vinegar together. Place two cloves of garlic, two dill heads, and four peppercorns in each jar. Pack the jars with cucumber slices. Pour hot, boiling brine over the cukes, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Place lids and screw on rings, and water bath for 10 minutes. Let sit for a few weeks before opening. Yum!

We like to add to salmon fish salad, for sandwiches.

Pear Butter

Quarter your ripe pears, and place in a large kettle. Place over low heat until softened. Run through a food mill to remove stems, seeds, cores, and skins. Return to heat and cook down slowly (a flame spreader or double boiling helps prevent burning and sticking) until the butter thickens where you want it. This can take several days, and may attract yellow jackets! Pack hot into sterile jars, place lids, and water bath for 10 minutes.

Use on pancakes, waffles, as a stand alone treat, in yogurt, etc. It's sweet, thick, and yummy!

Obama: "Yes We Can"

Oh friends, the other night Drew and I listened to Obama's speech accepting the Democratic Party's nomination of candidacy for the office of US President. I think it was a remarkable speech. But what was even more remarkable to me was how inspired I felt listening to his plans for his presidency, which highlighted for me just how cynical and jaded I have become. I can honestly say that at this point in my little life, I had lost any bit of hope that a major, national politician would speak to me in a way that left me feeling hopeful for the direction of our country. Drew and I looked at each other and said, "Wow, it has been a really difficult eight years." I hadn't realized just how depressed I have felt about the landscape of our country's future until Obama said, "America, we are better than this. We are better than these last eight years."

I realize that the reality of what he can deliver, should he be elected, may differ significantly from what he is promising, but I don't care. What is important to me is the perspective he presents. He speaks to my values and mind. He is not promising that we agree, but that he will respect my point of view, and lead from a place of mutual respect for all people of this great nation. Folks, we live in a pluralistic society. There are a lot of us here, and we all have different opinions. In my view, a leader of us all should be able to appreciate and honor others and their values and viewpoints. I believe we have found such a leader in Barack Obama.

If you didn't hear the speech, check it out here:

If you have not registered to vote yet, please do so and vote in this election.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Fall

Aside from today's 90+ degree temperatures, several key changes are upon us...shorter days, a noticeably earlier twilight (before Ella's bedtime!), cooler evenings in general, and a garden producing crazy quantities of delicious foods. Oh, and the stack of fruit boxes piling up, begging for processing. Drew bought a lug of peaches last weekend, and we've been gorging on the sweet, juicy, "slurpy", delicious orange fruits ever since, and a handful met their maker as peach jam this morning. Our neighbor gave us a box of fresh, ripe Gravenstein apples, the first apple to ripen around these parts, last week, and I plan on making applesauce soon. Another neighbor called this morning to say, "Come get pears, they are starting to get ripe, and they won't wait long!" Pear butter will be their fate. And our CSA farm called to say they will have our share of pickling cucumbers this week too, so we'll make quick pickles to add to our lunchtime favorite, salmon fish salad.

As I speak, Drew is working on some salsa fresca. Here's our favorite method for making it. Note: quantities and ratios are relative and vary depending on what we have!


A few pounds ripe red tomatoes
Several sweet peppers
1 Hot Pepper of your liking
A handful or two of tomatillos
1 onion
Fresh cilantro
Lemon Juice
Garlic (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Turn on your gas burner, and sear the peppers on all sides until blackened. Place in a paper bag to steam. When cooled a little, rub the blackened skin off and top and seed. Place the roasted peppers, onion, and tomatillos, and garlic in your food processor, and puree until very finely ground. Transfer to a bowl. Put your tomatoes in your food processor, and pulse until chopped but not demolished. Add to the other mixture. Season to taste with cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Eat with lots of chips, or on burritos, scrambled eggs, zucchini pancakes, or ... you get the idea.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Locavore's Delight

Drew, Ella, and Drew's mom, Sherill enjoy a local breakfast

Zucchini Pancakes (recipe below), fresh homemade Applesauce, Garden Salsa Fresca, Peaches from Drew's aunt and uncle, Howard and Betty's place in Merced, Plum Syrup by Sherill, made from Howard and Betty's Satsuma Plums

We've arrived at the time of year when nearly all veggies and fruits are coming from either our own or someone we know's garden. Each morning and evening when I sit down to the table, I am feeling very grateful for the close, delicious bounty we are eating. I look at my plate and review what went into the meal, and usually find that maybe only two ingredients are from an unknown source.

This style of eating has recently been popularized by two books, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan, and "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", by Barbara Kingsolver. A third book by Gary Paul Nabhan, published many years ago in 2001, called "Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods", explored this topic before it was trendy. Pollan explored four different meals representing four different paradigms of eating in his book, and along the way skillfully describes the socio-political landscape of modern American eating. Kingsolver and her family endeavored to eat only what they could grow, or access within 100 miles of their Virginia homestead for an entire year. Her characteristic humor and rich vignettes about life accent recipes and the struggles of agrarian life. It is HARD to eat only what you grow, or can get close by. Our society has moved far away from this model of life. Nabhan and his family endeavored the same feat as Kingsolver, but they live in Arizona, so their task was a little harder, and Nabhan explored desert wildcrafting and seafood from the Sea of Cortez as part of their year-long project.

A new vocabulary word has arisen from this new attention to the places our food comes from: locavore. If you are a locavore, you strive to eat food that you grew, wildcrafted, or purchased from a local farmer. People are beginning to demand a re-localization of their food! This is so fantastic and amazing to me. It's something I've been looking to see for over ten years, in the shadow of my sustainable agriculture studies. Even in urban areas, people are buying farm shares, visiting farmer's markets in record numbers, and in the SF Bay Area, there is a magazine called "Edible East Bay" featuring articles, recipes, and ads, all centered around the theme of local eating.

I'm proud that we are participating in our own neighborhood, and inspiring others, and continuously creating the conversation about how to re-localize the thing that most directly connects us to this earth around us: food.

Zucchini Pancakes

1 large, oversized garden zucchini, or 2-3 med. zukes, shredded
1/2 yellow onion, shredded
1 medium potato, shredded
2-3 eggs (to taste)
approx. 1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp olive oil
chopped basil or preferred herbs
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Fry over medium-high heat in grapeseed oil or butter. Use a lid during the first side until browned, then remove lid, flip and cook the second side uncovered. Serve with some combination of: butter, sour cream, applesauce, salsa, pesto, or anything else that sounds yummy! Makes about 12-18 pancakes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Large Zucchinis

A sampling of our harvest: Peppers, Strawberries, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Tomatillos

When I left home ten days ago, the garden was on a slow and steady track toward producing all the fabulous food we've been waiting for, especially tomatoes, corn, beans, basil, eggplants, and peppers. In other words, all the delicious treats that we only get to eat fresh for a few months each year. They always seem to take forever. Each morning, I would venture out and cruise the aisles: "Nope, still no ripe tomatoes. Nope, the eggplant is still, well, egg sized."

Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the car on Wednesday, and took in the changes of the previous ten days: corn doubled in size, nearly ripe ears, ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, giant zucchinis, a large eggplant, cucumbers, a bed of black beans three times larger, unbelievable winter squash expansion, a large bowl of sweet, ripe strawberries, etc. In short, EVERYTHING just GREW and GREW and GREW, and on my return, there is just an incredible amount of food coming out of the garden. Wow. I'm floored. Our neighbors are starting to offload their surplus, too. Today, Drew came home from lunch with a box of food from Trish, filled with Gravenstein apples, a bag of beautiful beans, a bag of purple potatoes, and a bag of small, yellow tomatoes. Wow!

As if all this isn't enough, Drew's mom and I picked blackberries this morning, so we can make jam to save for winter. The berries are almost past their prime, so the time is now, in spite of everything else we have to do. I know I'll appreciate the blackberry experience come January!

I was so excited about all the delicious, voluptuous treats, I took a bunch of photos for you all to look at, to enjoy the virtual bounty...

Corn planted with Pole Beans, reaching for the sky

Mixed Heirloom cutting Lettuce, Scallions, and Spinach


Slicing Tomatoes

Winter Squash and Sweet Corn, beginning to hide the yurt

Young Butternut Squash

The Journey of A Thousand Miles....

...begins with a single step.

So they say. Two weeks ago, I was suffering from rather intense and continuous anxiety, which had been troubling me for about 6 weeks. In desperation, I decided that maybe if I left home for a little while, I might feel better. So I left, rather suddenly, which has something to do with why there haven't been any posts for a while.

Ella and I hopped on our friend's little airplane and journeyed to Quincy, in the northern Sierra Nevada, to visit our friends Jeff and Susie. Drew became friends with them many years ago when he was living out of his VW bug with his girlfriend Foobie, while they were looking for housing in the area. Jeff married Drew and I, and we consider both he and Susie to be mentors as well as dear friends. Their place is in a lovely little pine and douglas-fir forest, along Spanish and Blackhawk Creeks. It always feels wonderful to be there, and Jeff is a very talented healer and massage therapist. They very generously welcomed Ella and I to land and ground out for a while.

We stayed in a 35-foot trailer, cooked and ate, swam in the river, took walks. We went to the Plumas County Fair (Ella LOVED the animals: goats, sheep, pigs, cows, horses, etc). I received two sessions with Jeff which were tremendously helpful in dealing with my condition. We visited and played. Ella and I had a lot of great one-on-one time, especially in the evenings, when we would retire to the trailer and read a lot of stories together before bed.

I had planned on returning to the North Coast with our friend via airplane, but his plans changed, and we had to find another way home. This delayed our return by about four days, meaning that I missed our anniversary! :( I've never really travelled without my car, so this was a different kind of way to try moving around. We tried several different ways to leave Quincy, looking for rides in cars and airplanes, contemplated having Drew use his precious days off work to drive all the way there (a 7-8 hour endeavor), and in the end, Susie, bless her, drove us to Sacramento, where we caught the train to Oakland for a visit with Grandma Barbara and Grandpa Jim. Ella really enjoyed riding the train, seeing the grass, cows, bridges, BIIIIIG boats, cars, and whatnot. I enjoyed the slightly different route, especially where it rolled around the edge of the north bay and delta through Crockett and Richmond, and that Ella didn't have to be locked into a car seat for the ride.

I had planned on riding home with my friend, who is planning a visit. Turns out I was off by a week...she is coming NEXT week, so we waited until Wednesday to ride home with Drew's mom Sherill. What a trip it all was. I'm not sure about why, but I AM feeling better, and seem to be on a positive track toward a more normal day-to-day, for which I'm very thankful.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Over the Bridge and Through the Woods

Greetings, faithful readers. I've returned from an impromptu journey around California to clear my head. Another post will be forthcoming on that...

For now, I want to highlight Drew's recent work with the Mattole Salmon Group. Over the last several years, he has been planning a large restoration project involving several neighbors, agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the CA Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to remove a 12-foot tall concrete dam and replace several culverts along our own East Mill Creek to increase usable fish habitat, particularly for coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). It seems that our little creek once had coho salmon in it, as DFG observed them in the 1960's in their widespread survey of Mattole River tributaries. The habitat is the preferred type, relatively light gradient, and very cold water, usually in the 50's even in the heat of the summer. Coho are our most endangered salmon species (in the Mattole) because they are most sensitive to warmer water temperatures.

A useful habitat stretch of the creek has been inaccessible to fish for many years due to a concrete dam.

I'm not sure of the original owners intent, but it has been silted in at the top, and I don't care how high they can jump, salmon can not overcome twelve feet! Fisheries biologists also determined that two culvert crossings, one above the dam, and another below (our driveway creek crossing), were not large enough for a 100-year flood event. So a plan was hatched to remove the dam, and replace the crossings with concrete bridges. Drew is the project coordinator for this unique Mattole event, and wrote for grants to fund it. This project has a budget of over $300,000. Here is a photo of our driveway's creek crossing before the project started...

Just before I left for my trip, Kiernan Construction delivered the bridge parts for our road. Drew and Ella and I went down to look at them and the excavator one evening after dinner...

While I was away, the excavator operator removed the culvert and placed the bridge in two days! We now have a 20-foot wide by 20-foot long concrete bridge across East Mill Creek on our driveway!

This last shot is looking in the same direction as the before photo. This is pretty cool, I think. Drew and his crew have moved on to excavating out behind the dam. This is a big project, requiring a lot of mud to get relocated, and it involves a bulldozer and an excavator. I'll have to post some more photos as they become available. Once the mud is moved, the excavator operator will remove the dam, place rock armor along the banks, and the crew will mulch, seed, and plant trees to retain the soil. Then they will move on to replacing the other bridge, which is 40 feet long!

For the fish!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ella is TWO!

Yep, my lovely lil daughter made it two trips around the sun! And what did she get for her birthday? Well, aside from the view of the kitchen above, and the scarf I made her, she was the unfortunate recipient of a stomach flu. :( Poor baby! She had to miss her own birthday party because of it! And I myself have been in a bit of a tailspin about it, since those of you who know me well know that I have a stomach flu phobia. It's been firing since this bug has been going around, about a whole month now. I am exhausted and tired of it, and still it shoulders on. I am, however, working very hard to interrupt the phobia and anxiety with many different methods, but if I've been a little lax on making blog posts recently, this is why. I've had to evaluate my entire stress load, and found that, among other things, using the computer generally contributes to my stress level.

Anyhow, congratulations, Ella, I am so in love with you, and happy you joined our family. We watched our birth video all together on the birthday morning, and we all got a little teary (well, not Ella, but she did ask to watch Ella being born again a few days later )