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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Recipe for “This Pizza”

Oh yeah. This Pizza. Skagit River Ranch uncured bacon, Yukon gold potato, and a mix of Gruyere and Cougar Gold cheeses with caramelized onions, garlic sautéed broccoli – all placed over a heavy cream base. Incredibly warm, rich and filling this pizza is best served with a green salad and an ice cold beverage. I was sipping a negroni cocktail while making it.

This Pizza

This Pizza

Pizza dough is very easy to make – it’s just flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and water – but there are grab and go options for those who don’t want to bother with mixing dough at home. Mark Bittman has a reliable homemade dough recipe and local bakeries Grand Central Baking Co. and Essential Baking Co have reliably good pizza dough, as Whole Foods Market also sells pizza dough made with organic flour. Regardless of the origin of your dough, prepare your pizza dough hours before cooking to allow it to thaw and rise. There are gluten free options that would work really well, too. Check out this recipe at The Art of Gluten Free Baking.

Most of the fresh toppings I used were organic and sourced locally from farmers markets here in Seattle but can be found in most grocery stores that sell fresh foods. Gruyere cheese, cream and Yukon Gold potatoes can also be found at just about any grocery store these days. For those who live outside Washington state, you can order a tin of Cougar Gold Cheese and have it shipped. Skagit River Ranch bacon is available to locals only. While I believe that their bacon is far superior than anything I’ve ever tasted, you may substitute it with another uncured slab bacon or Canadian style uncured bacon. I strongly encourage sourcing your meat from local farms if possible. You’ll get a cleaner product and you’ll have the opportunity to learn how the animal was raised, slaughtered, etc. Farm direct meat is typically more expensive (because small farms are not subsidized by the government, you pay the real cost of production) but if you eat less meat in your overall diet, the quality of life will improve and the impact on your budget should balance out. I made This Pizza is a Friday night treat to celebrate the end of my summer vacation. Please don’t eat like this every day. It will kill you.

The recipe makes one 12 inch pizza and serves 4 adults (cut into 8 slices). I use a very worn 15 inch pizza stone to bake pizza but a regular cookie sheet can work just fine.

This Pizza

  • 1 prepared pizza dough (16 oz.)
  • 5 slices uncured Skagit River Ranch bacon
  • 1 large Yukon gold potato, boiled and sliced into wedges and lightly oiled and salted
  • 1/2 yellow or purple onion, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 5 broccoli spears, sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1 lb. Cougar Gold cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tablespoon heavy whipping cream (I used Organic Valley)

Preheat your oven to 500 F.

In large frying pan or saute pan, fry the bacon on medium heat until cooked through but not too brown. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside. Add the onion slices to the pan with the reserved bacon grease and saute on medium heat until caramelized. Transfer onions to a small bowl and set aside. In the same pan, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil and then add the sliced broccoli spears, a pinch of salt, red pepper flakes and minced garlic. Saute on medium heat until the broccoli begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Grate the cheeses using a food processor or cheese grater. Mix with your hand to combine and set aside. Arrange all of the toppings in a central work area in your kitchen where you will assemble your pizza.  This is your mis en place of boiled sliced potato, sauteed broccoli, caramelized onion, cooked bacon strips, shredded cheese and cream.)

Assuming you have prepared your dough according to instructions, it’s time to roll it out. On a hard flat surface (a wooden pastry cutting board works great), roll out your dough with a rolling pin or flatten using your hands. Once the dough is flattened out to about 15 inches round (or rectangle if using a cookie sheet), fold the dough in half, and then fold in half again and then transfer it to your pizza stone or cookie sheet. Unfold the dough carefully, pinching together any holes that may have been created during transfer. Use your rolling pin or hands to flatten again and reshape.

Now the fun part!  Assemble This Pizza.

Pour the cream into the center of the raw crust and then smear it thoroughly using the back of the spoon to coat. This is your base. Next sprinkle the cheese mixture to thoroughly cover the crust. Then place the salted oiled potato wedges in a spiral or circle around the pizza. Then sprinkle the caramelized onions over the top of the potatoes. Place the bacon strips on the pizza in the shape of a tire spoke. Lastly sprinkle the sauteed broccoli and remaining bits of garlic and red pepper flakes left in the pan, over the top. Finish the pizza preparation by pulling in about one inch of dough around the whole pizza to create an edge. This edge makes the pizza easy to handle for eating out of hand, and also helps prevent cheese leakage while cooking. This Pizza is not a very wet pizza so this last step is not required.

Using pot holders on both hands, place the raw pizza in the center of the hot oven and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Turn down the heat to 350 F and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the edges are dark golden brown and the broccoli and bacon are singed but not too burnt.  Carefully remove from the oven and set aside on a bread board or the pizza stone foundation.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes to cool and set before slicing. Slice with a sharp pizza cutter and serve warm.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

Farmers Market Finds: Best of the Summer Season

Yesterday I visited the Ballard Farmers Market to collect fresh groceries after returning from a weeklong visit to Texas. Last week was also National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 3-9) and the Farmers Market Coalition created this clever infographic showing the ways farmers market contribute to a healthy, local food economy. In my view August is the most exciting month to witness the diversity of summer produce from Washington state. With my lengthy shopping list in hand, here is what I ended up buying:

Cassius and Roxy stand with this week's farmers market finds.

Cassius and Roxy stand with this week’s farmers market finds.

Growing Things Farm (Carnation, WA)

  • Scallions
  • Squash Blossoms
  • Green Beans

Alvarez Organic Farm (Mabton, WA)

  • Peppers (padron, poblano chile and sweet yellow)
  • Sweet Corn
  • Watermelon
  • Eggplant

Gaia’s Harmony Farm (Snohomish, WA)

  • Raspberries

Collins Family Orchard (Selah, WA)

  • Peaches

Skagit River Ranch (Sedro-Woolley, WA)

  • Uncured Bacon

Stokesberry Farm (Olympia, WA)

  • Chicken Eggs

Marcel at Collins Family Orchard said this year’s peach harvest is the best it’s been in a long time, so I bought 12 pounds with no plan in mind. These are truly spectacular peaches. Some will be enjoyed out of hand, some will go into a fruit tart or pie, and the rest will be sliced and frozen. I’m glad I have another week of vacation to put them up!

This morning I made squash blossom and onion frittata and bacon for breakfast. This is similar to the quiche recipe I posted in 2010. This week’s meals will primarily be vegetarian in order to enjoy this seasonal harvest at it’s best. I’m really looking forward to sitting outside with a big, cold slice of watermelon.

It’s pretty hot in Seattle this week, so my homegrown tomatoes are finally bearing fruit. They’re sweet like candy.

Homegrown tomatoes picked yesterday

Homegrown tomatoes picked yesterday

 

I’m thankful to live near such an abundant food growing region. My life’s work is to help preserve farming close to home so that future generations can enjoy it. Wherever you live, go out and search for good food like this at your local farmers market. Support your local farms and enjoy.

CSA Week 20: Pan Fried Fennel Patties

I picked up my last organic produce share of the 2011 season from Growing Things Farm at Ballard Farmers Market.

Roxy and Cassius are content with the last CSA share of the season

Although more abundant than the first share in late June, the dominant color of produce is green—which I’m happy to see.  In our house we eat a lot of greens. From salads to sautes, green vegetables are part of almost every meal.  This week’s share included:

  • 1 bunch green kale
  • 1 bunch turnip greens
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1 lb salad mix
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts (freshly cut from stalk)
  • 1 yellow winter squash
  • 1 large bunch tiny fennel bulbs with fronds
  • half dozen eggs
Last night I roasted the Brussels sprouts and served it with baked, wild rocksole and carrot and herbed couscous.  Meals have been built around the contents of the weekly CSA shares.  When it’s time to cook, I look at what we already have, and then build a meal around it.  It takes creative thinking sometimes, but at least the outcome is always fresh.
I have a recipe for panfried fennel cakes that I got from Alice Waters, who at the time was visiting the French Culinary Academy in New York City. It’s a really simple recipe – one that I transcribed in my notebook, that I haven’t seen in her books or online. It’s a really great way to showcase a bunch of tender fennel bulbs, like the ones I got in my CSA share yesterday.
Pan Fried Fennel Patties
  • 5-6 small fennel bulbs, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (preferably crushed in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of coarse sea salt)
  • 2 medium eggs (beaten)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika (whatever you prefer though smoked may overpower the fennel)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or good quality domestic parmesan cheese
  • olive oil
  • coarse sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • lemon
Combine the first six ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until evenly incorporated.  In a frying pan, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil and wait until it just starts to glisten.  Take a heaping tablespoon-size mound of fennel mixture and make a small patty with your hands.  Place the patty into the hot oiled pan and cook for about 2 minutes on each side until light golden brown.  Depending on the size of the pan, you can cook a few at a time, but be careful not to overcrowd the pan or the patties will be soggy.  As each one is done, lift each patty gently with a spatula and place on clean chefs paper or a smooth towel to drain excess fat.  Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Serve right away.  Can be reheated but they won’t be crispy.

CSA Week 19: Fresh Shell Bean Gratin

I think it’s exciting to work with vegetables that aren’t commonly found in the produce department.  Take shelling beans.  Typically these little gems are only available dry or canned unless you grow your own. Canned and dried beans are what I grew up with and it’a also what I often use, but to have access to fresh beans is pretty luxurious in my opinion.  In the last two CSA shares Farmer Michaele has included green flagelot shelling beans

Organic Green Flagelot Shelling Bean Pod

and tonight I’m putting them to use before they go bad in a delicious sounding Fresh Shell Bean Gratin recipe from Alice Waters’ Vegetables cookbook that I’ve held onto for years. I found an adaptation of the recipe that I used tonight on Michael Ableman’s Website, Fields of Plenty.

It’s been chilly and wet in Seattle lately and so I had lowered my expectations for this week’s CSA share #19. But I was pleasantly surprised because this is shelling bean season, and fresh cannellini beans– one of my very favorites– were included in my share along with huge orange carrots for roasting or to throw into homemade chile tomorrow night.

When I picked up my Growing Things Farm CSA share today from the Ballard Farmers Market, I was reminded that next week was the last week of our CSA season. Here’s what the nineteenth CSA share included:

Roxy and Cassius are happy with CSA Share #19

  • half dozen eggs
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 lbs. yellow potatoes
  • 1 bunch large orange carrots
  • 1 lb. fresh cannellini beans (in pods)
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1 acorn squash

Using last week's turnip greens in the Fresh Shell Bean Gratin from Alice Waters' Vegetables.

Ready for breadcrumb topping: cooked flagelot beans, turnip greens, home-canned yellow tomatoes, onion, garlic and sage.

Fresh Shell Bean Gratin with a salad (by the way those are some of the pickled beets I made this summer)

CSA Week 18 and Growing Garlic at Home

The produce I saw today at the Ballard Farmers Market represents summer (peppers, eggplant and even peaches!), but fall is definitely here and on full display. Today I picked up the eighteenth CSA share from Growing Things Farm and I’m pretty excited about the green flagelot shelling beans that, by the way, I’ve never seen in an American grocery store.  Last week I even mistook them for regular green beans, but Farmer Michaele set me straight.  This week’s box included:

Roxy and Cassius enjoy looking at Week 18 CSA Share from Growing Things Farm

  • 1 lb. green flagelot shelling beans
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 bunch turnip greens (these are excellent sauteed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes)
  • 1 bunch radishes
  • half dozen eggs
  • 1 lb. purple potatoes
  • 1 lb. yellow onions

Growing Garlic at Home

Killarney Red Garlic Seed

I’m growing garlic for the first time ever. The variety I chose is hard neck Killarney Red–which is both delicious and tolerant of the Pacific Northwest’s soggy winter soil.  Fall is the time to plant garlic for next spring’s harvest.  We consume a lot of garlic around here and I figured it was worth a try.  My one bulb of seed garlic will yield  many plants.  I spoke with someone at the Garden Hotline yesterday (a free service operated by gardening experts who can answer any home gardening question) who said that I should plant the garlic as soon as possible. So that’s what I’m going to do today.  You can learn more about obtaining organic seed garlic in your area at the Garlic Seed Foundation website.

CSA Week 17: Carrots!

It’s the countdown to the end of the 2011 CSA season with Growing Things Farm.  Just three weeks to go!  Among other things, this week’s CSA share included some gorgeous white carrots that I will put into a beef stew with red wine tomorrow night.   Here’s what this week’s share included:

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1 lb flageolet shelling beans
  • 1 lb tomatoes
  • 1 bunch white carrots
  • 1 bunch kale
  • half dozen eggs

Roxy and Cassius pose with colorful vegetables from this week's (#17) CSA share

After I make the stew, I’ll post photos and a recipe.