Tag Archives: Ojai

my week in the bay, pt. 1 (in pictures, over a month later)

When I left Mano Farm, I hopped up north for about a week and a half before returning to NJ and ultimately making the move to Maine. My week in San Francisco and Berkeley was delicious and invigorating, and I was finally able to sit down and share it with all of you.

My first meal in SF: a wild boar sausage from Rosamunde with an Anchor Steam to wash it down. Also, pickles. My decision to go for the boar was undoubtedly influenced by Michael Pollan’s recount of hunting one down in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Mano Farm zucchini, tomatoes and onions travelled up the coast with me to provide this nommy breakfast, coupled with a poached egg and some toast, all consumed in the very lovely, very French apartment of my friend Rachel who had visited me in Ojai a few weeks before my northward trek.

Tomato, manchego, red onion, parsley pizza at Arizmendi, a collective bakery where they churn out tons of scones and breads and muffins and cookies, and focaccia (oh my) but only one pizza variety per day. When I went to the bathroom, I saw a huge garbage pail labeled “Compost” filled to the brim with fennel fronds for tomorrow’s ‘za. Also spotted were countless 50 pound bags of wheat grown and milled in Northern California and a very attractive staff.

My hands still encrusted with Ojai soil, here I am sharing a brew with my friend Connor on his balcony in Berkeley. I don’t remember what this particular beer was, just that we had it with hummus and tortilla chips and called it dinner.

Dinner with Kristina and Rachel was a group effort: Kristina provided the tortellini while Rachel and I threw together the sauce and salad. Topped with some goat’s milk parmesan from a farmer’s market and chased with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild, dinner was a success.

“to boil”

Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, has been a culinary inspiration here on the farm (see: sauerkraut galore, kimchi even more galore), and I just started reading his other book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements. He offers the connection between fermentation and fervor as motivation for his foray into the second book:

“Just as fermenting liquids exhibit a bubbling action similar to boiling, so do excited people, filled with passion and unrestrained. Revolutionary ideas, as they spread and mutate, ferment the culture. Agitation of fermenting liquids stimulates the process and quickens fermentation, as evidenced by increased bubbling action. Agitation similarly stimulates social ferment.”

I learned today that fervor and ferment are both derived from the latin fervere, or to boil. I was so overwhelmed by the amount of information Katz seamlessly, energetically fits into his writing that I only read about 10 pages before stopping and looking up everything he references. Let’s just say that today, Katz rose even higher on my list of “Top People I Would Like To Meet. Please. And Thank You.”

That brings me to a bit of food for thought about environmental thoughtlessness motivated by capitalist values, brought to us by ol’ Sandor himself:

“My friend, Les, who is a trucker, had a job driving between Idaho and Maine, back and forth, hauling frozen Idaho potato products to Maine and frozen Maine potato products to Idaho. Go figure. It must make business sense for whoever is paying to have it moved. I came across a news report that a Seattle-based salmon marketer is shipping Alaskan salmon and crab to China for labor-intensive processing, then shipping it back to the United States, a total of 8,000 miles. ‘Something that would cost us one dollar per pound labor here, they get it done for twenty cents in China,’ says Charles Bundrant, founder of Trident Seafoods. This is the logic of global capital and it is shortsighted because it ignores, or externalizes, the depletion of nonrenewable resources and the grave environmental costs of all these extraneous food miles.”

The same mindset that motivates salmon shipments to China and back initiates mass chemical spraying and GMO proliferation, all of which complicate and obstruct the actual nutrition of food. It also ignores the very same micro-ecosystems I mentioned in my previous post, and in most cases, prevents them from developing at all. When I was harvesting coriander seeds from a cilantro plant the other day, I was amazed at the amount of ladybugs on the plant. Quin and Justin told me that Coriandrum sativum does a fabulous job of attracting beneficial critters, like ladybugs, that then integrate into the farm ecosystem and work as natural pest control. If all the cilantro is sprayed with Roundup to prevent weeds and a mess of other things to prevent the various pests, where will all the ladybugs bone?

chicken harvest

There was a period of about 18 months when I was a vegetarian, with some months stricter than others. There was an absolutely ridiculous time when I ate meat in general but the only pork I consumed was prosciutto imported from Italy, “because they know how to treat their pigs,” I reasoned. Now, I accept that I am going to eat meat because it is delicious and nutritious, but I try to be mindful about the source of my meat.

Mano Farm is on the same property as Funny Farms, a small farm that raises pastured chickens. Quin and Justin trade vegetables for a chicken every other week, and they are truly delicious. Seizing the opportunity of this proximity to a clean, sustainable, humane chicken farm, I asked one of the farm’s owners, Paul, if I could be involved with the harvest. On Wednesday morning, I walked down to the front of the property and began my education about chicken processing.

First, we went to the pasture where the chickens were roaming around these Chicken Tractors modeled after the Joel Salatin pastured chicken practices. (Salatin is featured in Food, Inc. and mentioned in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.) We put them in these crates to transfer to the area where the killing cones, scalder, and plucker were. After disinfecting the processing tables, knives and storage coolers, Paul started the exsanguination process.

The chickens are put head first into these cones, which have a bucket placed under them to catch the blood. I was startled at first by the amount that the chickens flopped around while bleeding out, but Paul told me that it was natural and I eventually got used to it. After they stopped moving completely, they were transferred into a scalder. The water was 140° F, hot enough to loosen the feathers from the chicken but not hot enough to start cooking the meat.

After scalding, the chickens went in the plucker (above). They spun around for about 45 seconds, and when they come out, they are nearly feather-free. At the processing table, my first job was to take out any feathers that remained in the birds, or any that were not fully removed. I felt like a chicken dermatologist ridding the skin of imperfections.

Watching the others do the more intense processing (i.e., chopping feet off, chopping heads off, gutting the birds) made me want to learn how to do it. I slowly graduated to feet removal, and I removed a few oil glands from the tail end of the bird. Apparently, leaving the oil gland on gives the chicken a funky flavor. Eventually, though, I went through the step-by-step process of removing the crop (a sac where chickens store food), loosening the trachea, cutting open the bottom, and coaxing the entire inner cavity out in one fell swoop. In the process, I learned everything I need to know about chicken anatomy. I ended up processing two chickens almost entirely by myself; I did everything except for the neck removal, which was a lot harder than I was expecting.

For lunch after this mind-blowing experience, I brought home a couple of chicken hearts, pan-seared them, and tossed them with kelp noodles, lettuce from the farm, sesame seeds, shredded carrot, and a sesame oil vinaigrette. Chicken heart is delicious, especially when it was beating just a few hours before you ate it.

Despite the fairly lax tone of this post, I am pretty sure I am still suffering from PCSD (post chicken stress disorder). It is good to know the process behind getting chicken from the farm to my belly, and it motivated me to learn how to prepare offal properly. Taking the guts out and putting them on the compost pile made me want to learn how to make sausage from fresh chicken intestine, using as much of the bird as possible. I hope that I am able to go through that process one day.

zucchini glut

I have become privy to a perennial woe of summer farming: way too much zucchini. In her chapter “Zucchini Wars,” Barbara Kingsolver describes that the only time people lock her doors in her Virginia neighborhood is during zucchini season to prevent any unwelcome “gifts” of other growers’ zucchini. Steve Sprinkel, an organic farmer, author, and friend of Quin and Justin, wrote about zucchini season in Edible Ojai, mentioning that around July, he’d be at the farmer’s market with a pile of zucchini “melting” on him: “Of course you have too much zucchini. I have too much myself. Why did I grow it? Why did I yield to the siren song of summer squash yet again? After all these years, I go Groundhog Day with the zucchini and always get the same results.”

The past three Sundays, I have harvested the zucchini for the CSA. Last week and the week before that, each share was offered 3-5 zucchini, depending on size, but this week, we asked people to take as many as humanly possible. I have a feeling that we will be giving that instruction for a few more weeks to come.

Inspired by the insane amount of zucchini we have to go through this week (three leftover from last Sunday and about 20 beauties about the size of a professional wrestlers forearm), I made zucchini latkes the other day. We were not yet in the overload of Sundays zucchini harvest so I mixed the latke batter with shredded parsnip, onion, apple, and carrot (freshly harvested, archetypal carrots, no less).

Harvest Latkes
Serves 3 hungry farmers, or 6 people

finished latkes (applesauce in the background)

3 cups shredded zucchini
2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup shredded parsnip
1/2 cup shredded onion
1/4 cup shredded apple
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flax seeds, ground and soaked in 4 tablespoons water)
1 cup flour (any mixture of flours will suffice)
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together. If it is too watery, add more flour. Heat a skillet with some oil and shape the batter into latkes. Cook for four minutes on either side. Serve with homemade applesauce!

P.S. Zucchini processing to come: Hot-Cumin Zucchini Pickle, Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickle with Ginger, frozen shredded zucchini (for future zucchini bread), dehydrated zucchini (for soups and to use as chips), and zucchini in every meal.

P.P.S. When I was finishing clipping the roots and stalks off of onions for the CSA, some members were arriving to pick up their share. One member came with a friend, this lovely woman who ended up being from Sardinia, my #1 place-to-go on planet earth (yes, it beat out Iceland). She was mentioning this zucchini pizza she made, and I think I’m going to get that going at some point. Zucchini (have more than anyone needs), fresh tomato sauce (will make once tomatoes arrive), fresh mozzarella (will make once I get some raw milk), olive oil, and some fresh basil sprinkled on top after it bakes.