In the last few years there have been a growing number of food events in the Bay Area focusing on butchery and whole animal utilization. I actually don’t eat much meat but in an ongoing effort to be a more responsible and informed omnivore I’ve been closely following this trend. (Also see my post on Goat Butchery back in February.)

Last night I went to one of these meat events called “Primal” that also added wood fired cooking into the mix. It was held under the stars amidst the vineyards at Chase Cellars in Napa Valley. Some of the best meat-oriented chefs and butchers in the area (Chris Cosentino of Incanto and Boccalone, Staffan Terje of Perbacco, Taylor Boetticher of Fatted Calf and many others) demonstrated breaking down a pig, goat, cow, and lamb and cooked up the end products on raging wood bonfires.

As the fires burned into the night, the chefs served course after course of meat, from goat tail to beef heart. Refreshingly, Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu was also cooking up fire-roasted vegetarian fare. Meanwhile guests were sampling wine and beer from a wide variety of boutique vintners and brewers.

As captivating as it was to see (and taste) whole animals cooking in the most pure and basic way, my overall impression of the evening was that a lot of people were simply drawn in by the decadence of the all-you-can-eat parade of meat. A handful of others seemed genuinely interested in either the cooking techniques and/or issues related to the whole animal. But the people who seemed to be having the most fun were actually the chefs who were relishing the opportunity to do what they do best and do it outside over an open fire.

For those interested I have more photos from the night on my Flickr photostream and there’s another Primal event happening in Atlanta on November 21.

the hunter’s moon

After last week’s sunrise excursion, it seemed only fitting that we should bookend the experience by watching a moonrise. And in perfect timing the full moon, specifically the Hunter’s Moon, fell on Monday. This time we took a picnic dinner and arrived just as the faintest trace of the moon was showing against the blue sky. Then the sun set, the moon rose and the hazy sky was thick with intense pinks, blues and lavender. So much color it was almost sickening!

There’s something about a new moon that always makes me want to take a moment, stare at the sky and contemplate my place in the universe. According to Stephanie Gailing at Planetary Apothecary this particular Scorpio/Taurus Full Moon was supposed to be a time to evaluate what makes us feel good–mentally, emotionally and physically. Even before I read her words I happened to be having these same thoughts. I guess it’s always good to reflect on what makes us feel safe, secure and affirmed but it’s nice to have the moon to remind us!

the first sunrise

I recently realized my children had never seen the sun rise. Of course they are always up early enough (!) but from our house we can't see the horizon. So earlier this week we planned a sunrise expedition–a speedy early departure from home and hot cocoas in the car as we drove in the dark to a good vantage point. It was wonderful to see their surprise and amazement as the sky went through the spectrum of colors. Afterward we went to a local "greasy spoon" for breakfast and then off to school. It was a special and adventurous way to start the day, and a good reminder about the importance of taking time to celebrate the simple joys in life.

Later when I got back to my desk I read the quote of the day that I get by email from It said:

"May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being." –Apache Blessing

I've been carrying those words and the feeling from the sunrise morning with me and now I'm passing them along. Celebrate a sunrise the next chance you have!

silently growing

“The trees, the flowers, the plants grow in silence. The stars, the sun, the moon move in silence. Silence gives us a new perspective.” —Blessed Mother Teresa

a summer in flowers

For many years my gardening philosophy was basically "If I can't eat it, why would I want to grow it?" Which is not to say I don't also deeply appreciate the aesthetics of plants. It's just that my favorite garden is primarily vegetables and fruits landscaped with edible flowers and herbs–punctuated by native plants and grasses. Because of this (and unlike a lot of gardeners) I've never really developed a strong interest in flowers.

But in the last few years, just to push myself out of my gardening rut I started dedicating a small area to cutting flowers. It's nice to have fresh flowers in the house all summer long plus plenty to give away. And even though I prefer the subtle tonal range of a primarily all-green garden I've realized it's also fun to go wild with color just in the flower patch.

Since I'm not a flower expert I usually stick to really easy things like zinnias, but each year I also add in something new. This year was my first foray into dahlias, which I must say were amazing–so huge and showy. And with a wide variety of color and shape, I can see why these flowers have an almost cult-like following of obsessed growers.

So now as summer is winding down and with it the last of the color in my garden, I wanted to celebrate the cheerful, whimsical, and frankly unlikely members of my garden. They've provided me with many moments of unexpected beauty when I was out weeding or harvesting my vegetables. Flowers, I salute you! 


cherry tomato bonanza

There are two varieties of cherry tomatoes I plant in my garden every year–Sun Gold and Sweet 100. They are both so sweet and tasty, fun to snack on right off the vine and wonderful tossed into pasta. The one thing they are not so good for is making sauce (too sweet, too seedy). So at the end of summer when they are growing faster than we can eat them, I’ve found the best way to preserve their delicious flavor is to slow roast them and then store in olive oil.

Last week I tackled the surplus of just the Sun Golds (I’m hoping to get to the Sweet 100s this week). After picking several baskets full I sliced them all in half, spread them out on trays lined with parchment paper (until I ran out and switched to foil), misted them with good olive oil and sprinkled (very lightly) with salt. Some people like to add in herbs or garlic too, but I like mine plain and simple.

Then I put them in the oven at 220F for a couple hours until they were shriveled up but still had a little juice left inside (chewy as opposed to crispy). Then I crammed them into jars and covered in olive oil.

Now when we’re in the dark days of winter we’ll still have memories of the fresh taste of summer.

no words today

reflecting on the autumnal equinox

Anyone who gardens or farms tends to have a pretty close relationship with the seasons. Besides planning when things are going in and out of the earth, there is also cyclical reflection–thinking back (and studying) the same time in prior years. At the end of the season you can always find growers saying things like "Last year was a bad year for tomatoes. Much better crop this year." 

Sometimes this historical reference provides useful information for the future, like when you see how doing something differently (a change of fertilizer or method of irrigating) produces better or worse results. But even when the changes from year to year are beyond human control and can't be planned for or addressed in any way–like crazy weather or other "acts of God"–gardeners take note anyway. Somehow it still feels worthwhile and important to think about what happened and try to reach some kind of understanding. You might not be able to learn from the experience in an overtly practical or tactical way (for instance, knowing that an unexpected storm wiped out all the blossoms on your fruit trees won't give you any advantage should it happen again) but at least you will acquire more wisdom and knowledge.

As always, I find the lessons I learn in the garden apply to life in general. Sometimes we experience things we can learn from in a practical way ("now that I see what happened I can do things differently next time…") but other times the lessons are more abstract and philosophical. Even when things happen that we could never have prepared for or when there's really "nothing to be done about it" there's still an opportunity for reflection and gaining insight.

Today's autumnal equinox is a turning point I feel both in the garden and in my life. As the season changes I think back to everything I grew this summer and how it compares to last summer's crops. I also compare what I'm planting in my winter garden to what I planted last year. I think about what worked and what didn't work.

At the same time I also reflect on what was happening in my life at this time last year. The autumnal equinox stands out as an iconic moment because I remember how happy and immensely hopeful I felt about my future at that time. The memory is particularly poignant because shortly afterward I had some bitter disappointments in my personal life that made me realize so many of my plans and dreams–the seeds I had been sowing for a long time–would never be reaped.

So now one year later, after going through a lot of sadness and loss, when I think back to the autumnal equinox there's a dark silhouette somewhat obscuring that brighter time. Even though some might say there's no practical benefit from reflecting on these old wounds, I still feel compelled to think about them. I guess it's my unswerving attachment to the Socratic principle that "“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Like the farmer who can't change the storm but still wants to understand what it did to her crops, I feel the need to have some sense of where I am in the universe and how all the elements of my life fit together, even when it's difficult and painful.

So today as we turn into autumn I take the opportunity to look backwards to where I've been (in the garden and in life) but also forward to the path that lies ahead.

(Note: Photo above taken on the trail from Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore.)

strawberry fields

A few weeks ago a friend told me her favorite local strawberry grower, “Sally Strawberry” was going out of business and selling off frozen strawberry crowns bulk-ordered from a commercial nursery. Within minutes I was emailing Sally to place an order. Besides being a great bargain, this was also a unique opportunity to get the popular and very tasty ‘Chandler’ variety that’s difficult to find at the retail level, especially at this time of year.

Around here gardeners usually buy strawberry starters at garden centers in late winter/early spring, but for our Northern California climate, Sally believes this is the worst possible planting strategy. She says plants bought at this time are freshly dug and will grow, but only have limited fruit production. Instead, she recommends using a summer planting system and transplanting in early September.

So last Friday I prepped my berry beds with fresh compost and drove out to Sally’s stand to pick up my order. I had never seen frozen strawberry crowns before, but they reminded me of bare root trees–gnarly, dried up root balls that looked like something to be tossed out with the yard waste. Within days of planting them though all the crowns already had their first set of vibrant green leaves opening and expanding. Nature is so amazing.

According to Sally, in our area the Chandler berries will blossom in
March and ripen in late April or early May.  They should produce for
about 5 weeks (until mid June) and then again in August through early September. The question now is how I’m going to wait a seven or eight months to taste the results! I’ve actually had pretty decent crops of strawberries the past few years (using the conventional spring planting method) so I’m very excited to see what I’ll be able to achieve with this new variety and planting system. Looking forward to lots of spring strawberry desserts and more of my delicious sun-dried strawberry preserves.

(Photo taken in July of this summer’s crop.)

eat real

I haven't been able to post much here lately despite quite a few things I'd actually like to write about. I'm really feeling frustrated by that old "not enough hours" thing. If only I could have one full life dedicated to the garden, another to cooking, another to the kids, another to work, another to art etc. etc. But who doesn't feel that way, right?

Anyway, one of the things that's been on my overly full plate these days was producing some guerilla-style video clips for the upcoming Eat Real festival. Anya Fernald and the crew who brought us Slow Food Nation in San Francisco last year (you can see my v-blogs from that here, here and here) are back in action with this new festival focused on sustainable street food. Unlike Slow Food Nation (which was amazing but also criticized for being elitist) this festival is free to attend and all about inexpensive, accessible foods.

Last year my foodie compadre, Carla B. of Local Forage, and I had a great time blogging Slow Food Nation so we were happy to accept when Anya asked us back to work on the Eat Real festival. The event is being held this weekend (Aug 28-30) in Oakland, and I'd encourage those of you in the Bay Area to stop by. Besides all the great street food there will also be a farmer's market, music, cooking demonstrations, a canning swap, a butchery contest and a lot more. 

In the meantime, here are a couple video clips of Pizza Politana and 4505 Meats–two of the many food purveyors who will be there. Yum!