Who figured out a beaver’s behind tastes like raspberry?

By now you may have heard, thanks to Jamie Oliver and Dr. Oz, that castoreum is a natural flavor behind some of the products we consume. I use the word “behind” literally, since castoreum is the product of a beaver’s anal glands. Castoreum is totally unique, chemically speaking, to the beaver – not to be confused with that stinky defensive spray that comes from a skunk’s anal glands, or reason dogs walk in circles sniffing each other’s rear ends. Same place, different thing. Urban myth or no?

Ancient Aztec superfood!

Ancient Aztec superfood!

I saw this yesterday walking down the bread aisle yesterday and actually did laugh out loud. Other people smiled, but that was probably because of the crazy lady taking photos of bread with her cell phone. But look – what’s your first thought? Chia bread? No way – I thought Chia Head! SNL’s Chia Head skit was the first time I’d ever heard of chia (ok, I didn’t watch a lot of TV in the ’80’s), and it was a few months before I understood that there really was a chia head, and chia pets, and it was a whole . . . thing. A thing I just snickered at. Turns out, though, chia bread isn’t made from recycling your old chia Sponge Bob. Proud owners of Chia pets are having the last laugh. The seeds of the chia plant or salvia hispanica, are packed with protein, calcium, and antioxidants, stabilize blood sugar, cause no allergic reaction, and – wait, there’s more! – they contain HUGE amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Imagine heart health without fish burps. Sprout the seeds, grind them for flour, mix with dried fruit for a crunchy trail mix – you name it, chia goes with everything. First flax, then hemp, now chia – chia is poised to become this year’s culinary equivalent of the new black. I’m a closet ethnobotany nerd and have discovered that chia isn’t a joke at all – it’s a quite fascinating plant. Native to Mexico and Central America, it was well-documented in both the Mendoza Codex and the Florentine Codex, texts created in the mid-16th century by Spanish explorers intent on...
How to stuff a wild zucchini

How to stuff a wild zucchini

The zucchini have gone completely wild this year. It didn’t start out that way; they were actually slow to grow. I planted the 4″ starts the second week of May; by the third week of June they’d barely doubled in size. So I worked a handful of Dr. Earth into the soil and got the drip irrigation going. Drip, drop, drip, drop, 1 gallon psi for 30 minutes every other day. With a week 3 foot high stems sporting dinner plate-sized leaves waved high in the air. One day I found a monstrous 3 pound zucchini I swear hadn’t existed the day before. I went away the second week of July and, returning home, discovered the zucchini had gone completely wild. They’d snuck out of their raised bed, crowded out the cucumber and spinach, and sported platter-sized leaves. Hidden underneath were dozens of tastefully-sized baby zucchini . . . dinner! I’d just been reading the Southwest Airlines flight magazine featuring this recipe for zucchini carpaccio recipe, so we were on. I didn’t worry too much about arranging the thinly sliced squash in lovely pattern on the plate, just sliced, sprinkled drizzled, and ate – and it was so good! Dinner from the garden – a fantasy coming true. We’ve made it several time since, occasionally using white balsamic vinegar and leaving out the olive oil and lemon, depending on what’s handy. Then we started harvesting zucchini blossoms – they’ve starred in over a dozen meals over the last 8 weeks – and they really are the best part of the plant.  We’ve eaten them stuffed with mozzarella and chives, dredged in...
Vacation photos and lunch

Vacation photos and lunch

It’s happened a couple of time this summer that we’ve been hanging out on rocks in the Big Sur River gorge, or kayaking in the harbor surrounded by diving pelicans, and I’ve been caught with an uncharged camera battery. I’ve grown accustomed to documenting many of these moments in our lives, and it felt strange each time to be forced into a simple enjoyment of the moment. My favorite Corita Kent quote had sudden real meaning: “Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.” Then I found this poem: The Vacation by Wendell Berry Once there was a man who filmed his vacation. He went flying down the river in his boat with his video camera to his eye, making a moving picture of the moving river upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly toward the end of his vacation. He showed his vacation to his camera, which pictured it, preserving it forever: the river, the trees, the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat behind which he stood with his camera preserving his vacation even as he was living it so that after he had had it he would still have it. It would be there. With a flick of a switch, there it would be. But he would not be in it. He would never be in it. And I worried. About living through my camera instead of in the moment. I’ve taken thousands of photos on hundreds of hikes trying to capture the loveliness of the world as I see it, and the innocence and joy of the boys...

Battle skunk

It’s 3AM and the puppy got sprayed by a skunk. Looks like grandma and grandma won’t be coming over for brunch after all. Here’s what happened . . .

First fruit

First fruit

Tons of rock. Yards of soil. Comparing the relative values of heirloom seeds vs. organic starts. Six trips to the nursery to puzzle together a jigsaw of drip irrigation. Finally my garden fantasies are starting to bear fruit.

How does your summer vegetable garden grow? | Daily Dish | Los Angeles Times

A timely article. I’ve spent the past two weeks coordinating – and trying to do some of the hard work – of tearing out the non-edible parts of the landscaping in our 4000 square foot lot by the sea and planting to eat. Inspired by Novella Carpenter’s Farm City, I swapped the yucca and curly willow in the front yard for a Mutsu apple and an Aprium, tucking yerba buena, thyme, and oregano between stepping stones of fossil rock scavenged from the beach. Sod beneath the no-longer enjoyed play structure made way for raised beds filled with (local) chicken manure and vegetable planting mix, my mind dancing all the while with fantasies of freshly picked frisee salads and zucchini blossoms stuffed with goat cheese on the grill. I’ll let you know how it goes; I’ve really only dabbled in growing veggies before. This latest fancy of mine is a big investment in time, energy, and money, so I want to make sure I do this right. I only know enough to realize it’s hard to grow food when you live next to the sea, where summer mornings are doused in fog and the average temperature isn’t even high enough to successfully grow basil. So far I’ve got an assortment of Oregon Spring and SunGold tomatoes, organic starts from the farmer’s market. Zucchini, summer squash, and three types of cucumber, just to see what grows. Spinach, sweet peas, and lettuce. Lots and lots of lettuce. If I do this right, I’ll never have to buy a bag of greens at the store again. Here is the yard before my garden...

Urban farming

Novella Carpenter is my newest heroine. I’ve just finished reading her book Farm City: Confessions of an Urban Farmer, in which she moves into a ramshackle apartment on a dead-end street in a dead-end Oakland, CA neighborhood and hesitantly plants a garden in the empty lot next door. This quickly grows to a full-scale, tenth of an acre, urban farm, complete with beehive, egg-laying chickens, “meat birds” (ducks, turkeys, and more chickens) and rabbits, all successful experiments is loony locavorism that leads to, by the book’s close, her careful cultivation of two Red Duroc pigs for future meals. Carpenter lives the intersections of food with community and environment in a high crime, low income, politically weak area, and her observations become the backdrop to her story. She does such an excellent job at demonstrating a way of life instead of evangelizing it, and made me think about abundance and waste in different terms. She’s also a completely engaging writer, open and funny in telling her story. I laughed out loud several times, especially when she describes feeding her pigs their first meal scavenged from a Chinatown dumpster. The key to Farm City, however, is that although its premise of two white kids growing vegetables and butchering rabbits in the inner city sounds like it could be the teaser of a doomed Hollywood movie, she is genuinely honest and passionate about her avocation; there is nothing precious, pretentious, self-righteous, or gimmicky in her tale. This book came along at a perfect time for me. We took down the play structure just as winter started and have been thinking about how best...
Eat more kale! (a field trip)

Eat more kale! (a field trip)

Water connects a favorite summer pastime to the ingredients I buy and prepare for our meals. Here’s a drive past some of the farms, fields, and food lining the roads to Highway 101, taking us to play in fresh, clear lakes and rivers of summer.