Monster mutsu apples, homegrown

Monster mutsu apples, homegrown

I bought my apple tree in a 5-gallon pot near the end of summer 2011. It was a skinny 5-footer with three marble-sized apples growing on the branches. Kid Two dug a big-enough hole in the only available spot in our small front yard, right next to the front walk where it’s shaded most mornings by an enormous Ponderosa lemon tree we planted 21 years ago after buying this house. If Novella Carpenter could grow fruit trees close together up in Oakland, I thought, with enough compost and loving care I could, too. The existing apples dropped off soon after the transplant, and within a couple of weeks the leaves began to curl and brown. I pulled out the digital microscope and discovered our baby tree was a host for happy aphids and this tiny insect that I later found out is a white apple leafhopper: Aargh. I’m a laissez-faire kind of gardener, so I really wanted to give the tree all the tools it needed to help itself. No pesticides. After some research and with high hopes, I set two bags of ladybugs free to feast on the aphids, planted several bunches of chives around the trunk. and worked a cupful of fruit tree fertilizer into the soil every month. Winter set in and I crossed my fingers. Spring brought pale pink and white blossoms along with fresh green leaves. I set another bag of ladybugs free and enjoyed the apple tree chives. By May tiny apples were growing, and the leaves looked green and healthy. By mid-summer the tree had filled out nicely, shielding the growing apples. I stopped paying...
Sweet on sauerkraut

Sweet on sauerkraut

Every couple of Saturday mornings we go to the Cabrillo Farmer’s Market, where the Kids breakfast on loaded baked potatoes and sample the offerings from local cheesemongers and I make a beeline for a shot of Farmhouse Culture’s kraut juice. More often than not come home with a bottle. This is the real thing, the original superfood, boldly flavored and so loaded with goodness you can actually feel you blood cells dancing for hours afterward. Especially the kimchi juice – cabbagegingergarlicradish all condensed in a tiny cup. My notion of sauerkraut used to be clear mushy sweetly tangy ribbons of precooked cabbage that came packaged in plastic bags. The ones my mom used to buy and heat up with Polish sausage and boiled potatoes. You too? Then toss that idea out the window. It’s so . . .  last century. Or at least mid-last century. Real sauerkraut is the stuff of tradition, of home preservation, of real foods – crunchy and aromatic, and, because it’s fermented, not boiled it’s a raw food, loaded with healthy microbes and micronutrients. Plus, and most importantly, it tastes great. I was awakened to this new-old wave of sauerkraut after reading Burkhard Bilger’s profile of “fermentation fetishist” and raw food activist Sandor Katz, AKA Sandorkraut. He’s quite a passionate and fascinating guy, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, The Art of Fermentation, and Wild Fermentation. He argues that we’re killing ourselves with cleanliness: pasteurization, processing, packaged prepared consumables. He’s onto something; quite a bit of recent research points to our gut microbes acting as an 11th organ system. So fermented sauerkraut is something I’d want to...

Should You Choose Glass or Plastic Bottles In The Kitchen?

The debate over which type of bottles to use for your kitchen needs has long raged. Should you choose glass bottles for keeping your condiments, preserves and grains, or should you choose plastic bottles for a lighter-weight alternative? In reality, both types of bottle can be used in the home for kitchen storage, and both have their particular advantages over the other. Much of the decision whether to use glass or plastic bottles for your kitchen purposes will swing on what you are looking to store, and the duration of storage you envisage. Image source: http://www.astylishdesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/GreenGlassBottles.jpg Glass bottles can be used for storing a variety of liquids and powders. Glass bottles tend to be more robust than plastic bottles, and they tend to be much heavier pieces of home ware. This means that glass bottles invariably last longer than their plastic counterparts. If you are storing preserves, for example, glass is the best type of container in which to house these contents. This ensures your jar or bottle can be stored in a cupboard for as long as necessary, with no concern about the contents going off. However, glass bottles do have a few obvious drawbacks. Firstly, glass bottles can and do smash from time to time, which can be dangerous (not to mention fatal for the contents). The fact that glass bottles are weighty in the first instance makes them heavier to lift, and move, and more bulky to store. In these circumstances, it is also an option to choose plastic bottles, which offer similar storage properties in a softer, smash-resistant container. Any storage container or utensil that...
Midnight in Juneau

Midnight in Juneau

Downtown Tom and Grandma Juju, and my sister’s family just got home from an Alaskan cruise, what sounds like a fabulous, relaxing time during which they waved at grizzly bears on the beach, watched whale flukes on Glacier Bay, hunted for John Brown’s grave, and saw Victoria in a horse-drawn carriage. The ship off from Seattle – a town they all agreed seemed fabulous and worth it’s own trip. They have wanted to revisit their old homes in Sitka and Juneau for as long as I can remember, and my sister’s college graduation along with a couple of significant birthdays was the catalyst to carpe diem. Sitka is where my sister and I went to kindergarten and first grade way before there was tourism or wifi or even much fresh fruit, where we learned to ride bikes while careening down Mt. Edgecumbe, where we picked blueberries while looking fearfully for bears, and where we screamed with delight as we slid around on glaciers and solidified our love for the out-of-doors. So the trip was bittersweet for my parents – their old government homes had been razed, there were coffee shops and that cruise ship port – their memories flowed but the glacier had ebbed. Their daughters are grown and it was all good but  just . . . different. Except for the sunset. Here’s a photo Grandpa Tom took . . sunset doesn’t last all evening, unless you’re in Alaska in the summer:   To end, George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”   embedded by Embedded VideoYouTube...
Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Each summer flocks of sooty shearwaters fly low over the Monterey Bay, diving and squawking as they feed on masses of bait fish – anchovies, sardines, squid, and krill – that school just below the water’s glistening surface. You see them coming in the distance, an impressive mass a mile or more in length; thousands of birds flying low over the water forming a cacophony of feathered missiles plunging headfirst for food.

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

Don’t let the prospect of purchasing 9 or 12 or 15 pounds of salmon ever keep you away from buying a whole fish – although you do need a dependable freezer. Surprisingly, it goes faster than you imagine. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve picked up from my fishy friends for preserving that fresh sea flavor: Get it home as quickly as possible while keeping it cold. Fisherman Frank assures me that temperature fluctuation hastens that “fishy smell.” Exposure to air also makes your fish smell fishy instead of like the sea, so if you have access to a vacuum sealer, fantastic. Just vacuum pack individual portions and then freeze. No worries if you don’t, though – you’ll have to just MacGyver it. Put individual portions into freezer-friendly zip-lock bags. Seal almost all the way, and then suck the air out yourself. You know, with your mouth. Like in the old days when you smoked. Do it right and the baggie collapses around the fish, and you can breath freely again. Finish zip-locking it and freeze. Now you have freshly frozen pieces of salmon to defrost and cook at your leisure. Your first meal with that super-fresh salmon could be little sashimi. You don’t have to be a sushi chef to do this, just use a super-sharp blade and respect the fish. Slice thinly. Layer with a little avocado, while you eat close your eyes and imagine the sea:   I don’t like to use any sauce or marinade on salmon that is this fresh – I just toss it on a super-hot barbecue dressed with a little lemon, salt,...
Can you print me out a burger, mom?

Can you print me out a burger, mom?

I am completely flabbergasted at this Jetsons-meets-Chickienobs notion that one day in the not-so-distant future we’ll most likely have the ability to push a button on a kitchen device and be delivered a steak or burger. It’s called “bioprinting,” and people are actually working to figure out ways to let us have our cows and eat them too. Check it out.

The mystery of the Humboldt squid

The mystery of the Humboldt squid

6:00 AM. They hadn’t yet beached when my neighbor took Daisy Duke out for her morning constitutional. He noticed something odd, though, what he reported to be an enormous forest of kelp drifting just outside the swells. He assumed it had probably been torn up from the previous week’s rain and was drifting in on the high tide. 8:00 AM. The tide was ebbing when my friend Jen showed up for her beach walk. There was no fresh kelp, only the drying mounds that had been deposited several days several days earlier. But she DID see – piled on top of those briny vines – squid. Fresh, fat, 2-3 foot long squid with the clear black pupils of VERY fresh fish. Some beachgoers tried to drag them back to sea to save their lives, but the squid insisted on wriggling out of the water and breathing their last. Freaky. 2:00 PM. I hadn’t heard any of the above yet. When I showed up with Koah for our own walk, I was shocked to stumble across the enormous calamari littering the sand for miles. Kid One happened to call me on his break from work, and I described the scene. Beach-raised Kid that he is, he ID’d them as Humboldt squid. Neither dogs nor seagulls knew what to make of them, the fish too fresh and new to nibble on (the gulls) or to roll in (the dogs). We walked along the high tide line from Rio Del Mar to New Brighton and estimated there had to be thousands. People passing by were mildly freaked out. Did I know kind of...
Paradise and Lunch in Big Sur

Paradise and Lunch in Big Sur

The Sierra Mar restaurant at Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn occupies one corner of paradise; an expanse of hewn wood and plate glass expertly cantilevered over the crystalline azure Pacific Ocean. It’s the kind of place where you might run into Jon Hamm at dinner or Lucinda Williams and Lucy Wainwright at lunch, as we did, or have afternoon cocktails with the owners of Springfield’s best tattoo and piercing parlor, as we also did. Where you enjoy your meal at a table overlooking whales spouting in in the sea below. Click to see the food.

Farm Fresh vegetables at my door

Farm Fresh vegetables at my door

We’ve gotten to the point that a phone call or a knock on the door usually signals an intrusion; there’s rarely a friend or neighbor on the other end. People asking my opinion on politics and desalination, robots offering to reduce my credit card rate, Greenpeace canvassers, Mormon missionaries, door-to-door magazine salespersons . . . once a man in a refrigerated truck with an out-of-state license plate even knocked to ask if I’d like to buy some meat. I would love to see a Girl Scout or local kids raising money for their schools, but it’s not to be. I think all these type of sales must happen by their parents at the office. So last week when the door knocked and the dog barked, I rolled my eyes, pasted on a smile, and got ready to say no. But I was in for a surprise – the dog wagged his tail at the man. And he was a neighbor in a sense, a representative from Farm Fresh To You looking for new home delivery customers for their seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s something I’ve always thought about doing, but not seriously. Now a farm found me, and the timing is great; I’ve been making baby steps toward planning our meals in advance and streamlining my grocery shopping. It seemed to be a good experiment to get a box of produce and plan a week of meals around it. I went for it. We received our first delivery yesterday morning, a box of fresh vegetables and fruits at my door before 8AM. Here’s a happy gorgeous way to start a morning:...
Lest we forget: a visual ode to the invisible faces of farm-to-table

Lest we forget: a visual ode to the invisible faces of farm-to-table

Sustainable, mixed-use, fresh, local, seasonal, sustainable, organic, value, community, nutrition . . . any litany of adjectives describing the farm-to-table concept seems to leave out an essential element: the human one. Because food doesn’t actually come from farmer’s markets, it comes from farms, invariably a much less glamorous reality than the rosy Alice Water-esque farmer’s market experience.     The work of farming is an in-your-face reality driving south on Highway 101 through Steinbeck country – the Salad Bowl of the World – Salinas, Gonzales, Soledad, and all those carefully planted acres in between. Mornings are rife with human activity: the highway filled with flatbeds transporting tractors or cases of lettuce and berries, irrigation rigs spraying newly planted fields to the east and palettes of recently harvested produce piled on acreage to the west.     Lest we forget, it’s ultimately people who grow, harvest, and transport our food to the markets and grocers, the most invisible of which are the human faces who are transported to work in long white busses trailing porta-potties and potable water sinks:   People who wear wide-brimmed hats and scarves even on hot days to protect themselves from road dust and sunburn:   People who put in an honest day’s work bent over picking strawberries, brussels sprouts, and artichokes, largely unseen by those traveling less than a hundred yards away:...
Calf nursing by the lake (everything eats)

Calf nursing by the lake (everything eats)

We squeezed in one last late-summer day at Lake San Antonio this week, slowly cruising the perimeter in a rented ski boat. School is back in session and the lake was empty; better for the animals who call the lake home. In the course of an afternoon we saw the expected deer and cows come near the shoreline to graze and were also fortunate enough to witness some unexpected wildlife: a family of wild boar lumbering back into the forest after a cooling sip of water and a lone coyote skittishly running up a rocky hill to the shade of a live oak tree, away from the drone of our engine. Here’s a calf checking us out as it nurses. Udderly delicious, I’m sure he’s thinking....