Summer in Berkeley

My month-long summer break ends this Monday morning when I start my new position as Executive Director at Fresh Approach, a non-profit working to increase healthy food access and providing nutrition education in Bay area’s underserved communities. I’m looking forward to working with our staff, volunteers and our Board of Directors to continue to grow the organization, strengthen community partnerships and promote this important work in the Bay area.

Summer produce is what I want to eat these days. Gazpacho is high on my list of seasonal favorites. I have made blueberry jam and strawberry jam, and today I found the perfectly-sized, small Kirby cucumbers to make garlic dill pickles. I bought enough to make a few quarts PLUS a small batch of crunchy mustard pickles from my book Pickled. Grandma Patton used to make these and store them in a crock in the refrigerator. I ate a lot of chilled mustard pickles at Grandma’s house when I was a kid.

This is what I picked up at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market today:

 

  • Strawberries
  • Kirby cucumbers (small)
  • Sweet peppers
  • Orange canned tomatoes (Pomodori Cotti) – for Gazpacho
  • Pluots, nectarines and peaches
  • Sprite plums
  • Sweet basil
  • Cherry tomatoes
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Cassius and Roxy with today’s farmers market finds

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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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