Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Joy of Blogging

It is the last day of November and my last post of the month. I began this blog just over 3 weeks ago on November 7th. I love the new dimension that it has added to my life. Now as I am pondering a subject during my daily activities, I think, "I want to blog about that!". I now have a dedicated blog notebook where I jot down ideas. I have read that the only really "successful" blogs are those that focus, focus, focus their content. My notebook reveals anything but focus. But their definition of success (a huge following and advertising income) is not the same as mine.

I have realized that it is fruitless to attempt to write unless I am alone in the house. There are 3 mornings a week when this is the case; Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I've always looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed my alone time but now I especially cherish sitting down to create a post. It focuses my mind in an almost meditation-like way. I feel that the writing is literally waking up my brain and I have lately been feeling more of a mind-body balance than I have felt for a while. That is success enough for me!

On the backside of the blog where I am currently typing my post before it is published there are tabs where you can change the settings and design of the user interface. There is also a tab for statistical data about your blog's activity.  I admit to being fascinated by this. It shows how many pageviews your blog has in a day and you can view this data as a graph over a week, month, or year. It also has a map showing where your clicks are coming from across the globe. My blog has been opened from Russia a surprising number of times. I have no idea what that is about. The next highest number of views come from Germany. Fascinating! 

Below is a list of ideas for future posts from my notebook. I appreciate all the interest and support from friends and family thus far. Hopefully you will continue to check back periodically to see what I'm up to.
  • The Meadery
  • Solar Oven (next summer)
  • S.A.D.
  • Kindergarten Story
  • So Many Food Loving Farm Girls
  • Words
  • Caught Between Worlds
  • The Gift of Food
  • Stephan Way Chardonnay
  • Precious Nutmeat
  • When You Realize Your Kids Were Listening
  • Sweet Potato Dip
  • Children's Cultural References
  • Locavore
  • Cauliflower Soup
  • Sushi! 
  • African Groundnut Stew (Thx Candace)
  • Nigel Slater's Tender (Thx Don and Renee)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sticker Free

Here we are home again; back from a lovely traditional Thanksgiving gathering. When we travel from our place in the mountains to my parents place near the coast we cross the fertile Sacramento Valley. Between Marysville and Oroville on Highway 70 there is a succession of fruit and veggie stands that sell the produce of the region. Our favorite is Tony's. We have been stopping there for the past 8 years as we make the trek across the valley to visit family. Jerralee has watched our son grow from a baby to a boy and gifted him with honey sticks and gourds to decorate. In the summer their stand is overflowing with multiple varieties of peaches and other fruits and veggies galore. This time of year you can find winter squash, persimmons, pomegranates, mandarins, dried fruits, and nuts.

I have to say that I am partial to produce without stamps or stickers on it. At Tony's, like at most farmer's markets, there is not a sticker to be found. To me it is an indicator of low food miles. Many of the stickered fruits and veggies you find at the grocery store have traveled many miles indeed. Lately here in Quincy I have seen avocados from New Zealand in the stores. Since California and also Mexico are such big avocado producers it is hard to understand how it is economically/environmentally viable to import this fruit from a completely different part of the globe. Yes, a good deal of the food we Americans eat is much more well-traveled than the populace eating it.

It is challenging to eat sticker-free in our isolated mountain town through the long winter but our holiday trips through the valley and to Tony's are helpful in this regard. 

Seasonal, sticker-free produce 
The lemons are from my parents' place. I am fortunate in that both my parents and my in-laws have lemon trees because they certainly don't grow here. Last winter I used some of my in-laws' (they live in Calistoga, CA) Meyer lemons to make a delicious limoncello (Italian after-dinner liquor). The sugar pumpkins are good for cooking and came from a new favorite stopping place near Petaluma, CA called Green String Farm

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food Thankfuls

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. It is this farm girl's favorite holiday, a holiday that gives thanks for the bounty of the earth by gathering to eat it with loved ones. Tomorrow we drive down from the mountains to the "farm" and my parent's house. They have been hosting a large Thanksgiving gathering there for over 30 years straight.

Here are a few food thankfuls:

Last night we ate the last of the summer garden tomatoes. These were the ones that were pulled from the vine green after our first dusting of snow in early October and placed in boxes lined with newspaper to ripen. This year the tomatoes were late to ripen due to unseasonably cold weather into June. It was mid-August before we had our first sweet ones. Then followed 2 months of tomato bliss. We usually can squeeze about 3 months of garden tomato eating out of the year. And then guess what?  Nine months virtually devoid of this beloved fruit. I am thankful for garden tomatoes and the seasonality of them which makes them so precious.

Last garden tomatoes with mashed
avocado dressing, then tossed with lettuce
A lovely young couple in town recently had their first baby. When we were new parents we were lavished with baby clothes, toys, books, blankets, etc. by friends, family, and even acquaintances. It is lovely to be able to return the favor. This particular new mom is also a gardener and has generously shared some of her produce with me in thanks for the things we have passed on to her family. She paid me a visit today. Take a look.

Huge fat heads of garlic and butternuts
I am thankful for this gorgeous produce today. Food has to be my absolute favorite gift! 

For our Thanksgiving gathering I am bringing a cranberry walnut tart and a colorful broccoli salad. Last night I did a trial run on the salad. Check these colors:

So I am certainly thankful for this bright combo but extra thankful for the recipe for the almond butter-based dressing that I found in a recipe for a different salad on Heidi Swanson's lovely food blog 101 Cookbooks.

This dressing would be yummy on any type of vegetable salad.

Almond Butter Dressing

1 clove garlic
scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 c. almond butter
3 T. lemon juice
1 t. honey
2 T. olive oil
2 T. hot water

Sprinkle salt over garlic and mash and chop to make a paste. I did this with a mortar and pestle. Whisk salty garlic paste with almond butter, lemon juice, honey, and olive oil. Add hot water and whisk until light and creamy.
My last food thankful for the day is for the cranberry walnut tart I made this afternoon. I won't include the recipe here (ask if you'd like it) but the photo will give you an idea of its festive appearance.

So Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the company you have and don't forget to appreciate the colors and textures and flavors of the food before you!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Recipe Drawer

I have been collecting recipes for well over 20 years. Sometime soon after I graduated from high school my father bought me a copy of the old Joy of Cooking.  For years I shoved scraps of paper with handwritten recipes between the front cover and the first page of this book. Eventually I couldn't close the book any longer and had to move the ever-growing pile of recipes to a box.  For the past 8 years they have had their own large kitchen drawer.  A couple years ago, frustrated with the dysfunction of riffling through hundreds of recipes to find the one I was looking for, I created recipe category folders.  So there is a folder for meat-based recipes, one for veggie/side dishes, one for breads and desserts, and a separate folder for cookies. Some of the folders are so fat that they barely contain their contents but at least its something. The meat-based recipe folder is the thinnest due to those 15 years of a vegetarian diet. 

All of my favorite recipes, that get made often, hover near the tops of the folders. When I have to hunt for a buried one there is a little time commitment involved.  I bring the folder to the kitchen table and page through the pile, re-living memories and being inspired along the way.  Usually when I go in search of one recipe I end up pulling 2 or 3 to the top that are calling out to be made. 

There are recipes from my travels, restaurants, old roommates, my mother, dear friends, and almost forgotten acquaintances.  There is the recipe from the Mennonite woman who had raised 12 children that I met in Belize.  She served me lunch in her home and on the table was a heaping bowl of sweet cucumber relish that tasted unique and delicious.  I wrote the recipe on a page of pink stationary as she dictated it to me. Now as I unfold the worn page I see that there is a quote at the bottom of the stationary she gave to me.  “Love never fails…..” I Corinthians 13:8.

There is the corn chowder recipe that was dictated to me in tandem by a pair of grandmothers who won the peoples choice award at a local chowder festival I attended years ago.

There is the carrot cake recipe that I finally obtained from the cook at the restaurant that used to be behind “The Cutthroat Saloon” in Markleeville, Ca.  It is the best carrot cake I have ever tasted.  I used to drive down there from Tahoe to go to Grover Hot Springs State Park and I would always stop in for a piece.  So I finally asked for the recipe, (this is probably 15 years ago now), and it was given grudgingly.  It now lives in my recipe drawer on a lavender piece of cardstock under the title: Thee Carrot Cake.  The lavender color helps me find it when I need it.

This is where the Luddite in me comes in.  I understand completely that any tech-savvy cook today has hundreds of thousands of recipes at his or her fingertips on their smart phone or iPad.  I myself have been using Epicurious for years and my folders now contain many favorites printed from the internet.  So I do not necessarily oppose the new, I am just cautious about giving up the old.  I just made up some song lyrics!:  I’m cautious about change.  What am I giving up for what I gain?.........  (Yes, I am a total geek.  We can get that out of the way right now.)  Anyway, I’m cautious about digitizing my drawer.  It would be more convenient and fast but gone would be the colors, textures, shapes, and sizes of the pages.  Gone would be the food stains and handwritten notes and changes.  The recipes chronicle my food interests through time and the handwriting itself triggers memories that may be lost if it were all traded for generic typeface.

I'll leave it at that for today but I have more thoughts on the old vs. the new so the topic is "To Be Continued"......  I'd love to hear your thoughts too in Comments!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Ginger

It is getting cold here on the shady side of the iceberg. Living in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the wintertime requires a certain fortitude, and attitude, for that matter, that I sometimes wonder if I possess. The morning temps have been hovering between 20 and 28. Snow is on the way this weekend. And this is just the Fall. Winter sometimes lingers here until early June. It is a long haul, especially here on the shady side of the iceberg.

But on the bright side (and the warm side) there is cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Without even thinking about it I instinctually begin cooking and baking with these spices as the weather cools. How wonderful that these spices go so well with the season's produce and have the ability to warm you up on a chilly Fall day. Let me share a few of the things I've been making in the past week or two that incorporate these spices.

Carrot Gratin
Courtesy Eric Skokan, Black Cat Farm Table, Boulder, CO.

1 1/2 lb. carrots peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato peeled and thinly sliced
1  medium onion peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves peeled and minced
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or not freshly grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 sprigs of thyme

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Combine carrots, potato, onion, garlic, half-and-half, cream, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl. Toss well to combine. Transfer to a an ovenproof baking dish. Lay thyme sprigs over the top. Cover with a tight fitting lid or foil.
3. Bake about 1 hour. Remove lid and continue baking for 10 minutes to allow the gratin to brown. Let sit for 10 to 30 minutes and remove thyme sprigs before serving. Serves 6.
We grew several types (and colors!)
of carrots this year
Looks like an eye right?
And carrots enhance eye function!
The gratin straight from the oven
Butternut Squash Soup

I forgot to take pictures of this when I made it last week.  I am still getting used to this food blogging thing.  There are, of course, many variations of this simple blended style of soup.  I like this one with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, AND one of my all-time-favorite spices, cumin.

1 medium onion chopped
1 T. butter
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of butternut squash peeled and cubed
1 potato peeled and cubed
1 (or 2 if small) apples peeled and cubed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 cup apple juice
1 cup milk or half-and-half
salt and pepper

Saute onion in butter until soft then add butternut squash, potato, and apple.  Saute for a few more minutes. Add 1 to 2 cups of water and all of the spices and let simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes and butternut are tender.  Let cool a bit and then blend in food processor or blender until smooth. Return to soup pot and add apple juice and milk or half-and-half and heat through. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper. Serves 6

Chewy Ginger Raisin Cookies
I never make these in the Spring or Summer but they are a staple cookie in our house this time of year.

Combine and beat together:
2 c. dark brown sugar
1 ½ c. canola oil
2 eggs
½ c. dark molasses

Stir together:
4 c. flour
4 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
2 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cloves
½ t. salt
Optional: 1 ½ cups of raisins added to dough last

Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet one in the mixer (I highly recommend using a mixer if you have one.)  Dough should be quite stiff.  Roll into small balls with the palms of your hands and then roll the balls in granulated sugar or a courser raw sugar if you have it and place on greased cookie sheet or parchment paper.

Bake at 375 degrees.

8 or 9 minutes for chews (this is the way I do them)
10 or 11 minutes for snaps

Makes a lot (4 to 7 dozen depending on size).  I often halve this recipe if it is just for our family.

*A note about my recipes.  If there is no credit given it is either because I made it up or, it is one of the scores of recipes in my "recipe drawer" (the subject of a future post) that are hand-scrawled on anything from a napkin to an envelope and the source has been long forgotten. Like, for example, the ginger cookie recipe above comes from a photocopy of a handwritten recipe that I believe may have come from a co-worker of my father's, 20 or so years ago, when she sent cookies home with him and I requested the recipe. The tattered page now has my notes and changes on it along with vegetable oil stains. : )

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quincy Town

Today I am going to write about our small town in Plumas County. There is also a Quincy, Massachusetts and a Quincy, Illinois.  Our Quincy is a small isolated mountain town in northeastern California named after Quincy, Illinois. It was dubbed Quincy by a man named James Bradley who owned land in both places and was instrumental in the town's establishment in the 1850's. If you are interested in the history of Quincy you can check out this book by our local historian and museum director, Scott Lawson. 
Scott's book on the history of Quincy

If you like big city life, Quincy is not for you. If you like malls and fast food and traffic and chain stores and anonymity, Quincy is not for you. But there is a lot to LOVE about this town. Partially because of its isolated nature its inhabitants have learned the fine art of getting along with and supporting one another. It is one of those towns where your doctor's kid is on the same soccer team as your child and her husband used to be in your book club and the longer you live here the more the web of connections grows and overlaps. Soon you find that you are enmeshed in the community. There is a small college (Feather River College), an active artist community (Plumas Arts), a wonderful food cooperative (Quincy Natural Foods), a sweet little farmer's market, amazing and authentic community events, natural beauty, outdoor opportunities galore, a quaint historic downtown filled with local businesses, a world-class music festival (High Sierra Music Festival), art galleries, a wine bar, a local radio station (KQNY), and a laid-back small-town vibe.

Before my husband and I were married we chose Quincy as the place we would like to "settle down" and start a family. We lived in South Lake Tahoe at the time and while we loved working and playing there, something was definitely missing as far as a sense of community. The city is one long strip with no centralized downtown area and a transient population drawn by the ski hills and casinos. Our hometowns were no longer affordable and our work dictated that we choose an area with a U.S. Forest Service presence. We travelled north to Quincy on a couple of weekends and found it to be a seemingly idyllic place where the sun always shone and the children looked you in the eye and said hello. We bought a house before either of us had a job here. We went back to Tahoe, crossed our fingers and waited. Eight months later a job opened up that I was able to lateral into. That was 8 years ago.

P.S. It turns out the sun doesn't shine EVERY day, especially on our north facing property in the winter time. Subject of another post......

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Forks Over Knifes

A couple nights ago I went to a screening of the film Forks Over Knives at our local historic Town Hall Theatre.  The premise of the movie is that Americans as a whole have a wretched diet and it is causing us as a nation to become sicker and sicker.  The film asserts that a dramatic change of diet can do more to make us healthy than any medicine or surgery can.  The film advocates a plant-based, whole foods diet that ideally excludes meat and dairy altogether.  Although all the information in the movie has been out there for a while, it was still a nice pep talk on refocusing your diet with the emphasis on veggies, grains, legumes, and fruit.  It was also inspirational to see what profound effects a diet change had on the sick case studies in the film.  One guy was taking 9 different prescription meds every day but still had something like 29 different complaints such as: insomnia, headaches, shortness of breath, constipation, etc., etc.  After just 3 months of eating a healthy vegan diet AND STOPPING ALL THE PRESCRIPTION DRUGS, all but one of his issues had vanished!  All his tests showed dramatic improvement as well.

I myself was a practicing vegetarian for 15 years.  But not really.  I ate sushi sometimes that included raw fish.  I would crave it.  Especially raw salmon.  OMG.  But other than giving in to those occasional raw fish cravings I was a veg-head, a lacto-ovo-veg-head because I did eat dairy and eggs, for many years.  For the past 10 years I have incorporated meat back in.  I read a new label to describe my eating style: Flexitarian.  Whatever.  I cook dinner every night for our family of three.  An average of 4 out of 7 nights the meals don't include meat.  The other 3 nights the evening meal might include some grass-fed lamb or beef, fish, or occasionally chicken.  This is budget friendly and I feel like it is a healthy balance for our family.  We are lucky to have local sources for both grass-fed lamb (Hulsman Ranch) and beef (Thompson Valley Ranch).

Although certainly proportions of different types of foods matter, as a friend and I were discussing yesterday, it is also so much about the food QUALITY.  As I get older, I've begun to notice that I become more and more of a food snob.  My snobbiness is less about how a food is prepared or presented as it is about the quality of the ingredients.  Oh, okay mom, I know you are reading this.  Maybe it is about whether there has been care in preparing it as well.  You know, we all have those things we are particular about.  My husband likes his coffee in the morning.  As his tastes have become more defined over the years he now could be considered a coffee snob.  Together we are bread snobs.  You will never find mainstream grocery store bread in our house.  Admittedly, SNOB is not the nicest of words.  My computer gives this definition: A person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people.  Hopefully we don't feel superior, just particular and discriminating.  I think Americans as a whole would do well to adopt more discrimination about what they put into their bodies. This is the message certainly conveyed in Forks Over Knives.

Here are a few photos from last nights dinner:
Butternut squash
Butternut gratin with sage
and goat cheese

Wild caught salmon

Salmon cakes

Our simple Fall table

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Farm Girl Name

So why Farm Girl? Do I live on a farm? No. In fact, I don't typically refer to myself as a girl either. I am a woman who lives in a small isolated mountain town in northeastern California near where the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range transitions to the Cascade Range. I live in town on a large lot that backs to forest. The Farm Girl name is a nod to the profound effect that growing up in a rural setting had in shaping my values.  

When I was 10 years old my parents decided to move north from our acre in the foothills of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, CA to nearly 20 acres in the coastal hills between Bodega Bay and Sebastopol, CA. In 1978 it was a very rural and agricultural area indeed. Our property came with a house originally built in the late 1800's, a large hay barn built with huge old growth redwood beams pegged together, an animal barn, a milking barn, and even an old tractor we later named "Bumpy". I learned to drive "Bumpy" when I was 12. My parents, who were gardeners but certainly not farmers, set about educating themselves and before long had a small herd of beef cows, a pen full of chickens, and fields of vetch and alfalfa.

I remember my best Mill Valley friend, Melisa, teasing me as we prepared to make our move north. "Your'e moving to the boondocks. You're going to turn into a farm girl with big muscles." As she said this she flexed her skinny 10-year-old arms and laughed. Since that time I have been lovingly referred to as a farm girl, as in, "You are such a farm girl", by friends through the years.

My parents still live there on the same property they bought back in the late 70's. The cows are gone now and so are the chickens. In the intervening years the farm was used in a myriad of different ways (perhaps a future post?). They still grow a substantial part of their food supply, have added solar power, and heat with wood from the property. They have obtained a nice level of self-sufficiency. 

So, there is a little background. My life on the farm instilled in me an appreciation for the simple things in life. I will always choose beautiful fresh produce over fancy clothes or jewelry. A bounty of produce moves me. A closet full of clothes oppresses me. I just don't care about those things, ask anybody.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is it another food blog?!

Since I clearly put the cart before the horse (as I am wont to do when I get excited about something) when creating this blog, its mission statement is still under construction. Without a doubt there will be a focus on food. This is because I am passionate about food. I love to grow it, harvest it, process it, cook it, bake it, smell it, touch it, savor it, look at it, photograph it, indulge in it, share it, and in all these ways, and more, am nourished by it.

So yes, I guess at least for starters, it is yet another food blog. But I'm guessing it will be one of those "all over the map" types with joyous food related bits scattered throughout. And who is my audience? Perhaps there will be none. In a way it is an extremely personal project, a journal of sorts, that I'm hoping will help clarify my life's future direction for me. In the beginning there will be a lot of dusting off my brain as I haven't had occasion to write much in the last ~6 years. I am brand new to blogging and have much to learn: how to write a good post, post good photos, design a pleasing site.....etc. Off now to make honey ice cream with my son. Had roasted caulifower for lunch. Will try posting photos.

Roasted until they began to carmalize
If you haven't had cauliflower like this
you are in for a treat!
Method: Place cauliflower in a single layer on oiled baking sheet, slather with your favorite oil, sprinkle with your favorite salt and pepper and roast at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes till nicely browned. Of course, all kinds of veggies are delectable this way. A nice discovery this year was roasting fresh garden radishes in this same way, including the radish greens which became crunchy and munchable. Our family are not huge raw radish fans. My son, 5, grows them mostly to supply a favorite non-gardening, radish-loving neighbor. But roasted they were completely transformed and devoured happily.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Luddite tentatively emerges

Hello, is there anybody out there?  Am I really posting to a blog right now?  Shouldn't I think this through a little bit more before just posting out to the whole planet?  Okay, this is a test.  This is only a test!  Then I'll think this through a bit more.  But I am excited.  I am excited about the potential of sharing what inspires me and hopefully inspiring others.  I'm also hoping that giving expression to what I love will help me to discover a clearer path and perhaps a livelihood/second career for the second half of my life.