Wednesday, July 25, 2007

California Dreaming

We had an amazing, wonderful trip to California. I'd never been and it was so lovely - every note was just perfect. We arrived and stayed 5 days with our dear friends who left our home city over two years ago to live in Santa Cruz. They have an almost 5 year old dd, and a ds who is 2 years old, the same as our ds. First of all, the climate is amazing: cool in the morning and evening, clear, sunny and warm *every* day. The scenery is breathtaking - mountains on one side and beaches on the other. That this is perhaps one of the loveliest places you could ever live is obviously no secret - we saw two bedroom, 1 bath cottages for over $700K. So a VERY nice place to visit, but we *couldn't* live there.

Our days with our friends were filled with so many sweet moments - from time just being in community, cooking and eating delicious food - and every bit of produce local! - watching the kiddos play, going to the tide pools to delight in the sea life - sea stars, hermit crabs, anemones, sea urchins - all so close up, every night long "moony moon" walks (named by their dd, because she is on a first name basis with the moon, her special friend), and one my greatest dreams fulfilled, getting to walk in an ancient redwood forest. I can't possibly describe what a pleasure it was to experience even one of these moments, but suffice to say they were all magical.

The next 5 days were spent on the opposite end of the bay, in Monterey for a family centered maternity care conference. It was a great conference with many interesting and informative lectures, and then some great day trips on the side. The most spectacular was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur. The rocky cliffs drop precipitously right into the most beautiful blue-green waters of the ocean. You could smell the sun warmed rosemary growing wild in the craggy outposts. It was, for me, very reminiscent of the shores of the Italian Mediterranean Sea. Dh and ds spent a few hours of every day at the spectacular Monterey Aquarium (thanks to the generous gift of guest passes from our friends), where I got to go on our last day. It was my first trip to an aquarium, but I understand that I was seeing the best. They have *everything* there. Much to ds's delight there was a whole tank of "Dory and Nemo" fish, and my favorite was a 3 story high tank with millions of gallons of water highlighting the "outer bay" sea life - sharks and sea turtles, and giant yellow fin tuna, and a bizarre creature called a sun fish, and brilliant schools of sardines, and much, much more. Ds fell asleep in my arms when we took a little break and dh and I ended up sitting on some balcony seats quietly watching this amazing other worldly place for almost an hour.

Me and DF

My G and her A, BFF

My G and her I, after a moony-moon walk

One of the most magical places, an ancient redwood forest

Preparing a meal where *everything* is local, even the wine

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Weekly Share

I really need to take my camera to the Farmer's Market next time I go. Full Sun Farm's stand is just SO gorgeous with the stacks and stacks of vegetables just picked from the ground. This is what I came home with today:

Summer Squash 2#
Cucumbers 2#
Tomatoes 2#
Bell Pepper
Onions 2#

I was at a bit of a loss for what to do with all of it when I got home because we are leaving Friday for California. (Where my friend R also promises abundance from her farm share - with, gasp, fresh berries! We were hit by a hard frost in April that decimated all of our flowering plants - so very few local berries and apples for us this season.) I realized I could make a wonderful ratatouille with most of the list, and made so much that there was plenty to share with a friend who just had a baby. I plan to bring the carrots and cucumbers as an antidote to the stale confines of airports and planes that await us on Friday.

I am equally sad and excited about taking off this Friday. Sad that I will miss more of the tomatoes ripening on my vines, and the promise of fresh corn from my CSA next week, but also SO excited about my first trip to CA, and a bit of a break from my kitchen, where I have spent at least 2 hours a day preparing and storing all of our local bounty. Except for the tomatoes that I just slice, salt and eat, this is NOT fast food.

Here are pictures of some of the dishes I prepared this week. The ratatouille, gingered beets, and red cabbage cole slaw. Gorgeous, aren't they?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Happy Plans

I know, I should have taken a picture, but I didn't even think about it until it was gone. I was at the tomato bushes last night, training the vines up the netting, when I spied the first, perfectly ripe, Sun Gold tomato. Even though I have been at the plants day and night, willing them to ripen before we take a long trip to California at the end of the week, I was surprised by the sight of it. And my first thought was, "Oh my gosh, so soon?" The next thought only involved popping it into my mouth. Sun Golds are a tiny cherry tomato, and a lovely golden red when they are ripe. Still warm from the setting sun, the skin was taut and offered a bit of satisfying crunch before it yielded to the silky fruit with a tart-sweet flavor. Only one. Truly an amuse-bouche. When I can sit down to a plate of them with my own home-grown basil *and* homemade mozarella, it will be heaven.

Wait, you say, *homemade* mozarella? Yes! I just ordered the supplies (a thermometer and rennett) this morning from New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. Barbara Kingsolver sings the praises of homemade cheese and says it really is not that hard -only 30 minutes from milk, to curds and whey, to voila!, the perfect caprese.

I also ordered the book Putting Food By and have a date with T and anyone else who is interested (anyone?) to come to my house and can tomatoes. (A, V, and M also offers one recipe that, slightly altered, makes enough barbeque sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and chutney to make quick meals for the rest of the year.) We plan to hit the farmer's market in mid-August and clean them out of tomatoes and cucumbers - at least 30 pounds of each. Oh, that will be a happy day.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Scenes from Our Garden and Table

I'm still very excited about what I am reading in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and am going to try to document my own experience with eating locally as much as possible. Here are some pictures to illustrate.

Back in early May, ds used our new raised bed planter as his favorite hang-out. I was afraid he wouldn't give it up, so we built him a similarly sized sand box in the back yard and he has spent many happy days digging in it and leaving the box in the front yard for vegetable appreciation. Before I planted the box, though, ds got in to help turn over the soil. I couldn't imagine a more enthusiastic helpmate.

Here is the garden in its happy adolescence, the picture taken earlier this week. The lettuce had already started to bolt - we have been getting so many salad greens from Full Sun Farm (our CSA) that I left our lettuce in till the last minute, just so I could enjoy its pale green beauty next to the vibrant green and reds of the chard. Both got fully harvested a few days ago to become multiple salads and a delicious dinner of Eggs in a Nest - a recipe from Camille Kingsolver in A, V, M.

Tonight my parents came over for dinner and I prepared a chilled Patty Pan, Leek, and Buttermilk soup from Butter Beans to Blackberries, a cookbook written by Ronni Lundy, my former next-door neighbor, and an incredible resource for using up the bounty from Southern gardens. We've been getting patty pans from our CSA almost every week since mid-June. The squash has a delicate yellow skin, pale white flesh and looks like a flying saucer - who wouldn't love them? We also got the leeks from a neighboring farm featured at our farmer's market. The soup was delicious - cool, light and tangy - just perfect for a hot, humid July evening. Ds loved getting into the act by ladling it up and ate every drop from his bowl.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Summer Pleasures

Gosh, where to start? The chickens are fat and happy, the garden is blooming, and my ds sees it all with these new eyes, not missing a trick and helping me to take it all in. Every morning he wants to go to the tomato plants with me and point out the new growth: "baby 'mato, mommy 'mato, daddy 'mato" for the small, medium, and large fruits on the vine. He loves our evening walks when he spots the first firefly and encourages me to catch it. He then holds it on his little finger and lets it go. Then he looks at me and says, "More fireflies, mama!" and off I go to capture the next one.

We went to New York City last week and had a lovely time. We sublet a small apartment in the East Village which made a perfect jumping off point for many wonderful adventures. Mostly we appreciated the perfect microcosm of the city within a 4 block radius, where we spent most of our time shopping at the market for food, eating at restaurants and, best of all, playing in the Sesame Street-style, circa 1970's, playground. Seriously, we think we recognize it from one of ds's Sesame Street musical dvds. And there were none of the safeguards you see in modern playgrounds - the ground was hard asphalt, the juggle gyms consisted of towering metal ladders leading to slides with no protective covering. Ds insisted on climbing all by himself and standing *on top* of the small metal railing on the side of the slide. The swings seemed to go impossibly high and he would be happy only if we gave him a "Big Swing!" like the much older children. One of the best parts was a sprinkler, more like a fire hydrant spray, that all the kids would circle around. Ds would then quickly strip and join in the revelry - the perfect antidote for a hot, sunny day. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the other mamas at the park talked of plans this Fall for a complete tearing down and "renovation" of the park. I think we will come back next year to find a park that is safe, but perhaps not so fun.

One of our express intentions was to get to see and just hang out with family (my younger brother and the adored uncle) and friends. It was wonderful to have so much unstructured time in such a vital and enchanting city. Our big excursion out of our adopted neighborhood was a trip to the Bronx Zoo. Ds delighted in the camels (and even got to ride one!), lions, monkeys, and giraffes. We also got to ride the "bug carosel," and with many different insects to choose from, he chose, of course, the Pennsylvania Firefly. And that is the picture you see here.

In the last week I have been fairly obsessed with Barbara Kingsolver's new book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," in which she documents a year of her family's adventure in eating only local food. Each family member chose one "luxury" from outside their community: coffee, dried spices and fruit, and chocolate. I think those would be my choices, as well. For dh it would be tea. For ds? He is not at all picky. And loves vegetables, especially those just-picked-from-the-farm. He would probably want more fresh fruit. Especially shudder-to-think-of-the-farm-workers-conditions grapes. Because, again, "organic" just means not-chemically-produced, and says nothing of the conditions on the farm. And because profit is always king for these producers, the conditions are probably pretty grim for workers and livestock.

As the zeitgeist would have it, earlier this Spring I already had begun to form my own closer relationship with the food I eat. The chickens arrived in March, I planted my vegetable garden in May, and we started to receive our weekly share from local, organic Full Sun Farm in June. After reading this book I've become practically evangelical. My first official conversion: no more apples from New Zealand (I love their Pink Ladys!) when I live next door to one of the apple capitals of the world. The case of the apple is an interesting one, I think. I would buy them from our local "whole foods" grocery and choose the organic variety I liked, not thinking much about from where they came. Barbara Kingsolver points out that eating organically grown produce is all fine and well, but if it comes from half way around the world, with the necessity of petroleum for transportation and refrigeration, it is like drinking a quart of motor oil with every bite. Yikes. Looking more closely at where my food comes from is very sobering. It seems that the emphasis in my store is very much on the organic, and not at all on the local. Again, we are not talking bananas here, but apples - and on my most recent visit there was not one local choice among the 6 varieties on display. Most were from Chile and New Zealand. There was only one domestic variety - from Washington! From now on I will *at least* choose local apples, acquired from our local farmers market. They will not be "certified organic" and mostly likely the best they could be is "low spray", but I am going to bank on them as, truly, the healthiest option for my diet and my planet. I'm not quite half-way through with the book. I'll let you know about any other future conversions.