Friday, April 11, 2014

Off Again

Looks like it might be another good year for apricots.

It's turned into the most satisfying month at the ranch. Oh, sure, there were days when I felt…a bit off, especially when my routine was disturbed with other work, visitors or Big Dog. But with everything looking so wonderful and healthy, I couldn't help but be Very Happy. Plus, there has been a wealth of yummy things to harvest: asparagus, artichokes, cardoons, greens, salad stuff, carrots, wild garlic, lemons, oranges, radishes, leeks… (No mushrooms, however, despite a bit more rain last week.) There's even some tobacco growing out of the ground in our greenhouse!

Big Dog was completely distracted with RV matters, trying to get the vehicle in shape, finally. Turned out it didn't have a spare tire, nor did it have a sewer connection/hose. Some lights were out. Some warning lights were on. We finally flushed out the antifreeze so we could use the water system. And he was obsessed with Where To Go Next.

He wanted to leave at the beginning of April but it's one thing to drive 6000 miles without a spare tire when you don't even know that it's not there and quite a different thing to be foolhardy enough to take off without one. The wheel had to be found online. Then there was the wait as it traveled from Minnesota or Missouri or some other far-away state.
We drove through this...
And this...
And this, all without a spare tire.
It finally arrived yesterday so it looks like we are taking off again. Today, I will go around the property, making sure everyone will be okay during our absence. I'll pick what I can of the fava beans (I'll miss the major harvest but hopefully that will give me plenty of seeds,) make sure everyone will get enough water, say goodbye to my furry friends…

New grass at the ranch!

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Food Porn

You know how much I love talking about, thinking about, and playing with food. Now, I have another venue for this passion.

The website ( where I wrote farm and ranch profiles last year is now posting my articles on different kinds of produce. The first one was on persimmons, now long gone from my orchard.

I've been busy with pieces on napa cabbage and brussels sprouts but I might have missed that season already. The fields that were packed with giant growing brussels sprouts have been cleared and are getting ready to be planted with something else.
This is the way Brussels sprouts grow.

Napa is an elegant lady...
 In between the many recent guests we've had, I experimented with different recipes, as well as food photography. I can see that I'm better at taking photos of the actual produce. Or maybe it's a problem of food styling rather than photo techniques. And I am learning that some recipes sound so good but either don't come out tasting as good as they sound, or they turn out less photogenic than desired.
I need food styling lessons.

Some bloggers are so good at food porn.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Springtime at the Ranch

We're back. Still alive and with weeks of all sorts of adventures under our belts.
Freezing in Chicago!
I'm trying to set up a blog site for our RV adventure but you can read about what I did right after the RV trip, here

Spring is here!

Great year for roses.
Now, it is back to Ranch Life. And thanks to recent rains, the hills are green again! Our creek is still dry on one side, but the trees seem to be doing alright, with peach, nectarine, plum and apple blossoms in varying degrees of bloom. No mushrooms, however, and I am suspecting we may not see any this season.

Tomato seeds I planted before we left on the Crazy Adventure have sprouted and I am getting ready to set up my summer garden while Big Dog counts the days until he can do the Big Burn of last year's clippings.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Colder Than Mars

"Yeah, I can't believe we're going into the 'polar vortex,'" I've been telling everyone. Including "Juan" at Trader Joe's yesterday who casually mentions that Chicago is "colder than Mars now."

Big Dog had just read that it was colder than the South Pole. Now it's colder than MARS?!

California's been having the most spectacular heatwave. A week or so ago, our Central Coast area was THE warmest place in the U.S. Hotter than Hawaii; hotter than Puerto Rico. I look up at the gorgeous blue cloudless skies and pray for rain. Only in my dreams are the hills changing color to their normal winter green.

So why the heck are we flying into the Deep Freeze?

I have never been in that kind of cold in my life. When my friend in Chicago tells me, "It's not that bad: temps have gone up to 9 degrees" I don't even know how to feel. What's the difference between minus 19 and just plain 9 degrees? I can't imagine anything colder than, say, 30 degrees, so anything below it is still fantasy land for me.

My father used to tell us how cold it was during the winters in Manchuria. He and his older brother loved to tell us it was so cold they had to take a hammer to the bathroom "because your pee would freeze and you'd have to knock it loose from your pecker." We believed them.

I am frightened. And when I am this scared, I am also terribly excited. As if I were getting ready to go to Mars.

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Ten Year Anniversary

I don't remember the exact date I left Japan, but I quit all of my live radio shows in December of 2003 and I did one last gig on New Year's Eve of that year. I still had a few obligations in Tokyo and I continued to do specials on radio and tv for the next several years, but my days of being trapped in Tokyo because of regular radio and television shows was over.

A few days of wrapping things up and I was off to the Philippines where Big Dog and I began our Post-Japan Adventures.
Us dogs at play!

Land of Spectacular Sunsets

Wish this was our house...

That was ten years and many adventures ago.

To commemorate our ten years of freedom, what do the Dogs do? Buy an RV! And not just any RV but one on eBay that we have never really seen, been inside or driven; one that is in Chicago, THE coldest place on the planet right now. And we're going to drive it through the ice and snow… "from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow… our only goal will be the western shore… aaaaaaaaaaah - ah!" (Better pack that Led Zeppelin CD…)


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy Year of The Horse

No, not that Neil Young movie. It's the Year of the Horse in the Chinese Zodiac, silly.

Time to run wild, run free.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Surviving Christmas with Altered Barbies

I survived another Christmas. Yay!

"Don't be such a Scrooge," Big Dog would often tell me seeing me with my brow furrowed, glaring at all the shoppers. Rampant commercialism makes me sad…and mad. I'm a terrible shopper and being pressured by custom to shop does not make me happy. Even at normal times I would prefer to do anything BUT shop, however, as we approach Christmas, the mood of materialism on steroids keeps me from even thinking about entering a store.

I make all of our gifts. I grew up around a lot of handmade things -- my mother was a terrific seamstress and knitter -- so it's all very normal for me, but I guess for some, handmade gifts feel "cheap" or "sorry." Big Dog's family is sick of my ranch-made items, for sure.

"This is all I could get you guys this year," apologized BD's nephew's mother-in-law.
"You don't need to get us anything!" we protested. I mean, really, no one needs to get holiday gifts for one's son-in-law's uncle! When I saw it was a homemade baked good, I was surprised. What does she mean "this is all"? To me, a gift that has someone's time and effort is so much better than a mass-produced-in-China-by-questionable-labor-store-bought thing. But I guess for them, it is not.

And then I hear about "plus-size Barbie."

Why not. And while we're at it, why not Menopausal Barbie, Bulimic Barbie, Anorexic Barbie, Pussy Whipper Barbie. I think we already have Gold Digger Barbie.

Years ago I drew a cartoon of Bi-polar Barbie. ("I'm sad! I'm mad!" Just like me at Christmas-time!) Yes, it's in terrible taste when you consider that real bi-polar disorder is complicated and painful, but I think a lot of women go through a bi-polar phase (like during menopause) so why not let your kids play with a real-life figure?

I'm thinking of other real-life Barbies we could but don't have: Goth Barbie, Metal Barbie, Stoner Barbie. Panhandler Barbie, Meth Lab Barbie, Convict Barbie, Welfare Barbie… Steampunk Barbie, Anarchist Barbie, Activist Barbie… 

Hmm. Looks like others have been thinking of them, too.

Metal. or Punk Barbies
Birthing Barbie!
Anorexic Barbie
Bulimic Barbie
Not sure what she is. Skank Barbie?
And, of course, Stoner Barbie
There's even a community for people who love Altered Barbies!
Check out the artwork

Love the "Pinebie," the child of Barbie and Pinecone. And someone's even got a Suicide Barbie! I'll bet there are Pedophile Barbies and Crazy Stalker Barbies, Frivolous Lawsuit Barbies… My head's starting to spin. 

Like Exorcist Barbie.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Persimmon Power

After almost all of the pommes have fallen and long after the stone fruit and berries are gone, one small tree in our orchard brings us a burst of Halloween and Christmas all at once. Giant, brilliant orange globes on a leafless tree, they are what the Greeks call "divine fruit." Diospyros. Kaki. Persimmons.

In Japan, kaki are a common fall fruit and if you visit someone's house during the season, chances are, you will be served fresh persimmons, peeled and quartered on a beautiful small plate with a rustic, rough hewn toothpick.

I hated them.

I don't use that word often with food, but no matter how I tried, I just could not like the taste of persimmons. (And I would keep trying every few years, thinking that perhaps my tastes had changed.)

"I'm so sorry. They are the one of two things I cannot eat," I would apologize. The other thing I cannot eat is offal.

One bite of our persimmon changed that forever.

Ours are an astringent seedless type and when they are fully ripe and ready, oh, boy. The soft jelly-like fruit is not only deliciously sweet, but slightly tropical in flavor, with a lovely floral note. Who knew persimmons could be this tasty!

When we came to the ranch and I saw the persimmon tree, I thought, well, at least the leaves are good for you. In Asia, the persimmon is also a medicinal tree. The calyx of the fruit is used as a hiccup remedy, as well as a cough suppressant. The leaf, with tons of vitamin C, K and B, as well as minerals and flavanoids, is a favorite ingredient in Oriental medicine. Herbalists gather leaves in May and June to make a tea which strengthens the circulatory system and acts as a general tonic. In the old days, they used to wrap food items like sushi in the leaves because of its disinfectant properties.

And now I know the wonderfully tasty fruit is also a miracle food. Along with a boatload of vitamins and minerals, it also contains high amounts of antioxidants and phytonutrients which neutralize free radicals and phytochemicals like catechin (which green tea has a lot of, too) and betulinic acid which is being used in anti-cancer research. That means it's a great preventative for things like aging, cancer, cataracts and macular degeneration.

A quick internet search brought up more benefits:
- Weight loss. The fiber rich fruit also reduces the craving for sugar and processed foods!
- Healthy eyes. Antioxidant vitamins and the phytonutrient zeaxanthin prevent retinal damage.
- Better digestive system. Yup, back to all that fiber.
- Prevention of DNA damage. If you are worried about all that radioactive contamination from Fukushima, eat more persimmons!
- Younger skin. Keep those free radicals at bay to protect yourself from aging.
- Boost immunity. The nutrients will protect you from common winter ailments like colds, flu and infections.
- Cleaner colon. It's a great detoxifier!

In Japan, there are even sayings like "When the persimmons turn red, doctors turn blue."

I don't know if persimmon health benefits had anything to do with it, but my search came up with an interesting bit of trivia, too. During the Civil War, some regiments were nicknamed "Persimmon Regiment" because they would stop to consume persimmons. The 35th Ohio Infantry lost 15 of their soldiers to the Confederate Army when they chose to pick persimmons rather than fight the Rebels. Meanwhile, the 100th Indiana Regiment who were cut off from their food supply had to live on persimmons for a while but still showed such determination on the battlefield that their nickname became a source of pride.

In Italy, during the season, you can get a perfect cachi at restaurants to end your meal. (I've often wondered why more restaurants in California don't offer fresh fruit for dessert -- it's quite common in other countries.) The waiter will remove the calyx and quarter the fruit at your table. All you need to do is scoop out the rich, flavorful fruit.

Here on the Central Coast, if you don't have your own persimmon tree, you can always find great tasting persimmons at the farmer's markets. The non-astringent types (like Fuyu) are wonderful in salads and if you have too many, you can try air-drying them like the Japanese and Chinese do. Peel them when they are still firm, string them up so that air circulates between each fruit.

I like eating ours the Italian way, but I also make a persimmon pudding which I will share with you. It has quite a lot of sugar (especially for me) but the sugar caramelizes (mmm!) during the baking and that seems to cut down the sweetness a bit. Buon appetito!

Bad Dog's Persimmon Pudding

    * 2 cups persimmon pulp
    * 1-2 cups white sugar
    * 2 eggs, beaten
    * 1 teaspoon baking soda
    * 1 cup all-purpose flour
    * 1 pinch salt
    * 1 teaspoon baking powder
    * 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    * 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
    * 1/4 cup heavy cream
    * 1 tablespoon honey
    * 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil or butter a 9x13 inch baking pan.

Mix the persimmon pulp with the 1 to 2 cups sugar in a large bowl. (The original recipe called for 2 cups but that was way too much for our super sweet persimmons.) 

Whisk together the eggs and baking soda in a separate bowl. Add the egg mixture to the persimmon mixture and beat well.

Whisk together the 1 cup flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir 1/4 of the flour mixture to the persimmon mixture. Add 1/4 of the buttermilk and mix well. Continue alternating flour and buttermilk, adding 1/4 each time, and mixing well after each addition. Stir in cream, honey, and melted butter until well combined. Pour the pudding batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven until set, about 1 hour. While baking, do not stir; Turn off the oven at the end of the baking time, but do not remove the pudding from the oven. Leave it to cool in the oven for another 20 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.

In the original recipe, they had something called "the sauce" which you poured onto the pudding after it had baked for an hour. I feel like the pudding is already so moist, it doesn't need this extra step, but if you'd like to try it, here it is:

    * 1 cup water
    * 1/2 cup white sugar
    * 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    * 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Boil the water in a small saucepan. Whisk 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon flour together, and whisk sugar mixture into the boiling water, whisking until smooth. Boil the sauce for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.
After turning the oven off, pour the sauce mixture evenly over the pudding, and leave the pudding to cool in the warm oven for 20 more minutes.

A Japanese-y presentation of our Very Californian Persimmons

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How to Not Burn Out

In the rock and roll world, we think it's "better to burn out than fade away." We love geniuses who shine bright and fast; stars who are snuffed in their prime.

We look at the really old with a mixture of dread and pity. We feel sorry for the ones who are just alive but not really living, hoping it won't be us in that chair, staring blankly at an inane TV show with dozens of other drooling, mumbling ex-human beings.

But here in this tiny beach town, we have a little enclave of octogenarians who defy common preconceptions about aging. They are fit, both physically and mentally, some more so than people half their age. And they are fearless.

"When you start to get really old, you worry about anything that will hasten your way to the end," my mother wrote. Not only does this prevent you from doing something new, it also stops you from doing some of the things you really enjoyed. In my mother's case, she stopped driving decades ago. "My eyesight is too bad," she said.

One by one, you give up something that you used to be able to do until there is precious little.

No wonder we think it's better to burn out than fade away, but watching our local octogenarians, I see that you don't have to burn out OR fade away. This is what I have learned:

- Don't use up all your fuel at once.
- Keep a steady fire going, but be sure you keep stoking it constantly with fresh fuel.

I think I've developed very slowly -- I am only now understanding things that every 30 year old seems to knows. I was a complete geek in high school but have slowly become more and more athletic as I grew up. Since leaving Japan in my mid-40's, I am constantly learning new things. I learned to drive, ride horseback, speak another language, farm, do construction work. I keep forgetting a lot, too -- like, I am no longer the Music Trivia Person nor do I know much about films anymore -- but I have gained just as much knowledge about nature, physics, history. I've learned to make my own sourdough bread, tofu and miso. I'm running and climbing trees and digging trenches and…

My fire started slow and weak. Thank god it didn't die. Thank god I learned how to stoke the flames, add more oxygen, and now, every day I am finding new fuel to not only keep that fire going but to make it burn high and bright -- without burning out.

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