Summer Break

Recently I shared that I decided to leave my position at Airbnb and return to community food systems. I am excited to start my new position as Executive Director of Fresh Approach on July 17. The start date means that I have a few weeks off to restore and prepare for a new adventure. I’m grateful to have this summer break so I can take care of some personal business and enjoy the summer without too many obligations.

This week I ordered a “mystery box” of mixed produce, a dozen eggs, a pint of blueberries and a flat of strawberries from Mariquita Farm’s Ladybug Buying Club. Here’s what I got:

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Cassius and Roxy are impressed by this week’s colorful and abundant display of produce. I had so much that I shared the lettuces, strawberries and tomatoes with a neighbor across the street. Also spigariello is in the foreground- it’s the bunch that looks like kale.

  • Cherry tomatoes (orange and red)
  • Napolitano basil (light green ruffled leaves and very fragrant)
  • Mixed lettuces
  • Carrots
  • Spigariello
  • Garlic chives
  • Upland cress
  • Broccoli
  • Green onions
  • Formanova beets
  • Dozen chicken eggs
  • Strawberry flat
  • Blueberry pint
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An abundance of excellent lettuces, egg, basil, cress and tomatoes plus other vegetables left in the fridge from last week (and a few ounces of sauteed chicken) made a satisfying big salad for dinner.

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These organic blueberries from Fruitilicious Farm in Watsonville, CA are the best tasting berries I’ve tasted since leaving Washington. Addictive!

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Strawberry season is almost over so I took advantage and bought a flat from Sea Level Farm in Corralitos, CA.  These organic berries are big, red and super sweet. I sliced up a pint for the fridge, froze a quart and made jam with the rest. Look out for the recipe and details in tomorrow’s blog post.

 

2 Years in California

This weekend J and I are celebrating this three-day Memorial Day weekend by staying at home with the dogs while enjoying the sunshine and all things domestic (i.e. puttering). The house is filled with music and the sound of window fans to displace the stale air of a house inhabited by a working couple and two old dogs.

It’s been one year since I posted to this blog and exactly two years since we left Seattle and arrived here in Berkeley. A couple of weeks ago I decided to leave my stressful job and get back to my roots in agriculture business development and community food systems, and so my exploratory wheels are in motion and I remain optimistic.

All is well as long as I don’t pay attention to the news.  I am surrounded by the hopefulness of late spring and its been nice to begin reconnecting with acquaintances and friends.

This post holds a special treat for those who have missed the photo journal of our dogs posing next to CSA shares (check out my blog posts from 5+ years ago).  If you are new to my blog, these are my dogs Roxy (11) and Cassius (12) and here they are posing with today’s haul from the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Berkeley. Cassius has been having mobility issues due to his osteoarthritis so he wears a harness that allows us to assist him when he slips.

About the blueberries: The blueberry farmer told me that down near Fresno they are already halfway through the season. After living here for two years, I still don’t expect to see dark berries until July.

Here’s what I found today including some recipe links:

More again soon…

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Lime Oleo Saccharum

Lime oleo

A few months ago, Saveur magazine introduced me to oleo saccharum, a citrus peel-infused simple syrup. I made a batch of lime oleo saccharum and am now enjoying a very tasty mojito…. Hello? Is anyone there? I assume by you have now left your computer to start a batch of your own. I understand.

Since I just posted the Strawberry Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam recipe, I meant to delay this post for a few more days. Then I realized that wouldn’t be fair. This simple recipe is perfect for Memorial Day weekend gatherings.  But don’t wait! Make it today or tomorrow and enjoy this weekend. If you have any leftover, it stores neatly in the fridge for an extended time.

To learn how to make it, please click the link to Saveur. It includes a handy video demonstrating how it’s made. All you need is your citrus of choice, a good vegetable peeler, sugar, a Ziploc-like baggie and a vessel to put it in for storing (like a Mason jar).

Seriously folks, I’m hooked. This mojito made with lime oleo saccharum has cast a spell on me. I’m going to make orange or tangerine next and make a gussied up Old Fashioned.

 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam

Strawberry rhubarb jam

Last week I got excited and bought a full flat of strawberries from Mariquita Farm without a plan to use them. I froze two quarts and sliced and tossed the remaining berries with a couple of teaspoons of granulated sugar to make a light syrup, and refrigerated them while I thought about next steps.

The next day, I was at the grocery store and spotted some pretty darn good looking red rhubarb stalks in the produce aisle. Being rhubarb season, the store was running a special promotion. I selected two medium sized stalks and headed over to the baking goods aisle for a bag of sugar. It was time to make strawberry-rhubarb jam!

We don’t eat a lot of jam at our house, but we like having a good homemade jar around when we want a peanut butter and jam sandwich or a fruit topping for ice cream.

The best thing about this recipe, other than being delicious, is that you can pack the slightly cooled jam into a clean mason jar and refrigerate. No need to haul the canner out for one pint!

This recipe works best if you have already chilled your sliced the berries tossed with a couple of teaspoons of sugar the day before preparing the jam. The berries are still fresh but the berry’s cells have started to break down, allowing for quicker cooking time without added pectin.

We got through the case of berries without wasting them so I’m pretty happy about that.

Strawberry Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam

  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 medium stalks of chopped rhubarb
  • 2 cups plus 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pie spice or cinnamon

Combine the fruit with the berry syrup from the bowl and all of the other ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan and place it over medium-high heat. Bring the fruit to a boil and stir regularly to avoid scorching. You may need to adjust the heat to keep the fruit at a boil without letting it bubble over the side of the pot.

The jam should take about 20-30 minutes to cook, but every cook surface is different so keep a close eye and know that time will vary. The jam will be quite syrupy while it’s hot, but it will thicken as it cools. Cover with the lid and refrigerate.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Pickles

It was a beautiful fall day today here in the Bay area. After a busy week at work that included some out of state travel, I promised myself that I wouldn’t plan anything this weekend and just live it minute by minute.

This is the weekend before Thanksgiving so I had fun shopping for Thursday’s dinner. First I visited the Downtown Berkeley Ecology Center Farmers Market for a few basics – potatoes, onions, mushrooms – but I also picked up some ingredients to make pickles and kimchi because I am always hungry for pickled foods this time of year. Plus, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without a pickle plate! I visited the Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland for specialty foods including very fresh seafood from Hapuku Fish Shop, locally produced meats from Marin Sun Meats, and world class wines from Paul Marcus Wines.

Salting Napa cabbage for kimchi

Salting Napa cabbage for kimchi

I didn’t can my grandmother’s pickled beets this summer so I decided to make a “quick pickle” recipe that was shared with me by Jane Wilson Morton, the niece of the co-owners of Werth and O’Brien’s Deli in Flatbush. Brooklyn. This German deli is long gone but I was able to publish this recipe in my book Pickled (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2003). This recipe can be prepared 1-3 days before enjoying, and can be made without sealing jars in a hot water bath. It’s very simple and tasty!  Click on the image below to see the full recipe.

 

Werth and O'Brien's Pickled Beets

Werth and O’Brien’s Pickled Beets

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In addition to beets, I made a jar of pickled cherry peppers (again for the refrigerator) and I began salting two heads of Napa cabbage that I bought of the farmers market today for kimchi. I also roasted some red jalapeno peppers to make a spicy version of romesco-style sauce to accompany roasted Brussels sprouts.

Roasted red jalapeno chile peppers in oil with garlic

Roasted red jalapeno chile peppers in oil with garlic

Through the years I’ve had fun posting to this blog about Thanksgiving, including a post dedicated to family favorites like Thanksgiving dressing. If you aren’t sure how to make Thanksgiving dressing/stuffing, be sure to check out that link for inspiration. I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

What month is it?

This week I came closer to being an official Californian. I finally transferred my car registration and got my California license plates. Better late than never! I attempted to get my California driver’s license, too, but I didn’t bring one essential piece of I.D. so I had to make a new appointment with the DMV in two weeks to complete the marathon. After that I can finally get other really important tasks out of the way such as my voter I.D. card and library card. There is a “tool” library here in Berkeley that I may not use until I get the my library card. I could use a leaf blower but I’m not buying one.

I’ve been amazed at the diverse local produce offerings so close to Thanksgiving Day. I picked up some pineapple guava (feijoas) and organic kiwi yesterday. Feijoas are a tropical fruit that is about the size of a kiwi but has a tart pineapple flavor with a mango-like texture and soft edible seeds. I made a fall fruit salad with (except the Costa Rican pineapple) fruit available now at the local farmers market including Asian pears, feijoas, kiwi and pomegranate seeds. What month is it, again?

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Last week I also picked up another Mystery Thursday vegetable box from Mariquita Farm, a mixed box of pastured pork cuts from Linda’s Tasty Pork and some wild-caught salmon fillets from her son who just got back from fishing in Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay. My freezer is filling up for winter and it makes me feel productive and prepared for winter. Although I’m wondering how prepared I’ll need to be if strawberries are available farmers market in November!

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The Mystery Thursday box from Mariquita Farm included:

  • Chard
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Red jalapenos
  • Leek
  • Arugula
  • Watercress
  • Kale
  • Eggplant
  • Chinese radishes
  • tomatoes
  • Green garlic

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At the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Downtown Berkeley, I picked up the following:

  • Feijoas
  • Broccolini
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Shittake mushrooms
  • Asian pears
  • Lettuce
  • Cilantro

This is what November produce looks like in northern California.

Slowly Getting Settled in California

One year ago, I didn’t know I would be living in California. I could say our transition started in December when J signed his employment paperwork to go to work for a company that would move us to the San Francisco area, but that’s not entirely true.

In the spring of 2014, I knew my time as Founding Director of the Puget Sound Food Hub would have to end so that the project could thrive. I willed change to happen, but I didn’t know when it would be right for me to leave or how it would happen. I needed to let go slowly so that others could assume their leadership roles and continue building and shaping the project into a sustainable, farmer owned cooperative. The goal to really expand the market for small and mid-scale farmers, increasing food access and reducing emissions by taking trucks off the road through creating strong partnerships and building a coordinated grassroots supply chain was lofty, but it was working!  I was optimistic and I was tired. How would I plan to leave a vocation that had become a central part of my identity – my torch – for the last six years? Did I do enough?

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In my case there was not much advance planning. J was courted by a few companies and we decided the Bay area was the best place for both of us career-wise (me = food systems and he =  game industry) so he said yes. He drove down two weeks later and I spent the next four months wrapping up the project and passing the baton to colleagues. The weather in the Bay area would be more similar to Seattle than Los Angeles or the Midwest (yes I like clouds and rain). The decision to move was made pretty quickly but getting settled in has taken many more months and has been much more stressful than I imagined. This due to the increased cost of living, a super competitive housing market, and being a newcomer, among other things.

I am grateful to have landed a job quickly upon arriving. After living in short term housing while looking for something to buy during our first three months here, we decided to rent a home in Berkeley. We both wanted to live in Berkeley. We found a nice rental home that accepted our two dogs, and the neighborhood is comparable to our old one. We have privacy, an avocado tree and raised garden beds in the back yard. Our neighbors are all very nice. It’s an easy place to live and we are paying a fortune for it.

I often remind myself that I asked for change, and the universe answered, “OK, here ya go!” My response has been a combination of “thank you” and an 8-month long stream of expletives and resistance. I’ve been a brat many days since moving here. But I’m nearer to “letting come” or heading downward into the U.  I wish I could say I’m nearer to letting go of my former life, but that’s just not the truth. I’m working on it and have one more thing I need to accomplish (writing a white paper that tells the story of the food hub’s development). I haven’t found my next calling yet. I know I need to be patient since I’m still feeling a tad burnt-out from my last one, so I guess I should lighten up, right?

Reading the stories of refugees from Syria and Iraq on Humans of New York Facebook page this summer made me ponder the human’s ability to rapidly adjust to “the new” when faced with life or death decisions. When a person has no choice but to leave their home, they cannot afford to have a breakdown, can they? A person must simply choose to live and then put one foot in front of the other, and try to keep themselves and their loved ones intact through the transition into relative safety. I wrote a little about how people maintain their values and identity through food in my book, Pickled (2003). I read these new stories and wondered what memories will sustain these people? My guess is: a favorite tree, a familiar smell coming from the kitchen, a friendly neighbor waving hello. It’s the little mundane things, added up, that mean the most to us and make us feel like we belong. I hope and pray for their safe landing.

Memories of home can manifest in new places, but we have to be open to seeing it. Recently “home” has become a new favorite running spot, a new favorite tree, a familiar smell from my kitchen, my friendly new neighbors waving hello when they see me. I’ve been comforted at just how nice Californian’s have been to me, J and our dogs. Recently some dear friends drove up from LA to see me, and their visit lit up my home and my life with dancing and laughter.

And I’m absolutely loving the local, seasonal produce in Northern California.

The food grown in California is different, more diverse, than in Washington, Oregon, New York or Texas (the other states where I’ve lived and called home). Despite the serious drought, California’s mediterranean climate and soils provides an abundance of year-round produce that I’ve never experienced any other place. Last week I picked up a produce box from Mariquita Farm with eggplant, frying peppers, cherry peppers, pomegranate, turnips (two kinds) chard, lemongrass, green garlic, apples, tomatoes, cabbage, and arugula. I know, right? Bountiful!

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This week I picked up more tomatoes, onions, plums, eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, cucumbers (two kinds), and a pumpkin (not shown here) at the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Downtown Berkeley. Just two weeks after moving into this rental house, I got out my canner and canned tomatoes and pickles, and have since made another batch of slow roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers to have in the fridge for salads, sandwiches and easy pasta dishes. Last night I grilled a batch of eggplant to freeze for future casseroles and dips. I have found a new source for pastured, organic beef and pork (but let’s face it, Skagit River Ranch is a tough act to follow!)

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Preparing and eating good food from my new home state is a simple, familiar way that I can connect with the feeling of being at home. I did the same thing when I moved to New York, Portland and Seattle and it worked every time. New friendships will come next. Then, hopefully, in time, a new calling will emerge.

Last week I put a deposit down for our Thanksgiving turkey through a program coordinated by Slow Food Russian River to support heritage breeds, young farmers, 4H, and organic farming. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be part of supporting this effort.

J and the dogs- my immediate family – are here with me and we are well. I miss Seattle. I missed Portland and New York when I left, too. I miss my family and friends in Texas. It’s the same small world.

But I guess time will change everything.

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