Friday, February 25, 2011

Not Dead Yet

I had to tell you that I ate the oyster mushroom. It was the topping for my pizza today.

I'm still alive, so I guess it really was an oyster mushroom, but it did not taste very good. Not everything edible is good to eat. In fact, sometimes the chasm between the two is VERY wide.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Harvest (Part 3)

The rains came back last week, and with it, the mushrooms.

When we first got back to the ranch in January, we had plenty of mushrooms, but with the warm dry weather, they'd all dried up. I had been watering the chanterelle patch near the oak swing, but something was nibbling them away, too.

"Prices are way down this year," our neighbor from down the valley told us earlier. His son had made a nice little bundle last year, but they say there's a glut of chanterelles bringing down wholesale prices. Knowing what a good mushroom hunter the son is, I got them to come look for the fungi on our ranch, promising them that I'd give them half of their haul after I dried them.

That was last month and those mushrooms are all dried and shriveled up, ready to use like dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms. (If you are interested in drying your mushrooms, it's real easy. Just wash, then spread out on a towel until they are less soggy, then onto a paper towel. Leave them out until every bit of moisture is gone before you put them away. Patience is the key. I've ruined several batches by putting them away too soon. Better if you can just forget about them for a few months.)

Now we've had several days of torrential rain and the mykos are back. A short walk through our back woods gave me a bucketful of chanterelles and a handful of what I think are oyster mushrooms.

Chanterelles are best in simple dishes, I think. You want to be able to enjoy their flavor. People around here say they saute them with garlic and butter, but I like them with just a little sprinkle of salt and pepper and a little drizzle of cream and/or a splash of white wine. If I have time, I'll make chanterelle ravioli. Serve them tossed in olive oil with freshly grated parmesan. Mmm.

Now, do I try the oyster mushroom or not???

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Winter Harvest (Part 2)

I've been seeing a lot of bees these days and the hummingbirds are starting to come out. It's as if none of us can wait for the longer days of spring. The sun's out, it's warm, so let's get busy!

And so we have. Cleaning up the mess from pruning, doing a winter burn, re-staking posts, fixing fences... While doing so, I found a patch of miner's lettuce, between the garrya (silktassel) tree and Outsider Peach (named only for its location outside the orchards, not social status.) How could I have missed it all these years?

Even now, in the winter, nature keeps giving. I've been collecting and drying early spring oregano, yerba buena, mint..... Nature's such a generous lover. Will YOU be my Valentine?

The heart-shaped leaves of miner's lettuce make it the perfect Valentine's Day salad!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter Harvest (Part 1)

There's not a whole lot of food growing on the ranch this time of year. Last year's chard is still going strong, but my new lettuces seem not to be growing at all. Other residents have a few things growing, but nothing ready to harvest, either. One exception is the riot of arugula in the middle of the Kinu Orchard where my vegetable garden used to be two summers ago. Over the months, they've self-seeded and established themselves next to the wild oregano. There's also baby chard and collards popping up, too. Nothing's been tilled, or worked, or watered. Just nature having its way. Accidental permaculture. I love it!

In fact, knowing how much arugula seems to like our land, I've been tossing arugula seeds all over the place, hoping they'll keep out some of the nastier weeds (the ones we seem to be allergic to, for example.)

Some people don't like the spiciness of arugula (also called "rocket" or "roquette") but both Big Dog and I love it. It gets mixed in with salads, sprinkled on top of pizzas, stuffed into calzones. Big Dog loves thin slices of steak on a mountain of arugula, with a simple vinaigrette and bits of shaved parmesan. Now, with the seemingly endless supply, I've been parboiling them for an o-hitashi side dish, sauteing them with garlic and olive oil, adding them to my miso soups and pastas (nice with pine nuts!) I think I'll salt-pickle them into next, after we go through our hakusai (nappa cabbage) tsukemono.

Arugula gone wild.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

And for today's work, you get...a potato

Remember Harley? He's back at The Ranch.

"Hey, can I come over and help you guys with any work you have in return for some food?" Harley emailed Big Dog a week or so ago. Harley is now on social security, but he's trying to save up for a car. It's hard to live in Southern California with only a bicycle for transportation. He still has no water or electricity in his house and still spends his entire day at the library, but with his small income, he can stay at a motel every so often to shower. Which was why when we picked him up at the San Luis Obispo train station Friday afternoon, he smelled better than the last time he was here.

But I realize now what it is about Harley that drives me crazy. He is too starved for company, for someone to talk to. And because, normally, his entire social life is a series of casual conversations with strangers, he is the King of Small Talk.

What really gets me about Harley is not that he's too used to not working and a few hours is the most he can put in. It's not even that at 3pm, he's done for the day and into his first beer. Nor that he's already gone through our entire stash of beer. Nor that he won't pick up after himself one bit.

"It's his constant yakking about nothing and sucking up all the thoughts out of my mind that tires me out!" I explained to Big Dog last night. And that brings out the worst in me. It's impossible for me to feel charitable and I wind up disliking him more for making me this way. For making me want to tell him that if we are feeding him in return for labor, then today's pay will be a potato.

Oh god, I am such a mean-spirited bitch. But maybe I will be feeling more charitable at the end of this day, after a few hours to myself while The Boys go off to T's house for Super Bowl and bowls of pozole.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New Age Redneck

Dee, the caretaker of the ranch in the hills just beyond us, came over last week to help Big Dog rebuild the greenhouse. They put in steel bars to reinforce the flimsy aluminum and turned the thrashed sliding doors into regular hinged doors. We still haven't figured out a way to latch them together, but bungees work fine for now.

"Look, Dee's brought you some venison!" Big Dog shouted out to me from the greenhouse.
"Yeah, it was a good deer season. I think we have our meat supply for a while," grinned Dee.
I cringed a little inside, wondering if he had gotten The Sisters, as I had been calling our frequent cervine visitors, but graciously accepted his vacuum sealed offering.

"My wife found a dead bear in a ravine the other day. I saw her walking up, carrying something that looked like a wadded up blanket or something and it was this bear!"
"I had no idea there were any bears left in these parts. Didn't they kill all the osos in Los Osos long ago?"
"It was the first one I'd seen around here, dead or alive."

Dee must have cut off the bear's paw because later on, over an end-of-the-day beer, he proudly brought out three bear claws from a tin can. They were giant. He told us his wife's got the rest of the bear "cooking" in a drum so she can use the bear hide. We talked about the other wild animals around here: the wild boar our nursery neighbors caught and how violent it was, the mountain lions and bobcats all the ranchers shoot around here.

"It's terrible how they'll just kill for sport. It's not even for food," Dee shook his head.

Yes, Dee is a New Age Redneck. He doesn't have much formal education, but he knows so much more than we do about the sun and moon and stars. He fells trees and chases trespassers with a loaded gun, and then the next week, he'll go and gather jade in Big Sur and craft them into delicate jewelry. He kills animals, but only for food and, like the original inhabitants of these lands, he will use every bit of his kill. I am fascinated by him and all that he knows and am plotting to be his newest good friend.

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