Category Archives: cooking

OPEN Restaurant

amaranthFood–it’s so boring.  I mean, yes, it should be delicious, and lovingly prepared. And plucked fresh from the earth. But with the economic crisis exploding around us, all of a sudden our (my) food geek tendencies seem a little trivial. During the fat years, we all had more time and money to natter on and on about what we were eating, and making food consumption into a meta experience. I remember checking out a book called Food Is Culture at the library at UC Berkeley, and the librarian couldn’t help himself when he snarled, “No, food is just food!”

Well, that’s one way to look at it. But. There’s a group of food world folks who know how to geek out on food in a way that isn’t annoying. They are called OPEN, a group of food professionals who host awesome events in the name of food. They aren’t caterers, mind you, but more like storytellers. For instance, they did an event at SFMOMA where they deconstructed a pig before the eyes of the eaters. After what sounded like an amazing porky dinner, everyone took home a bit of pancetta to cure at home. They sometimes make donuts in parks and give them away, for free.

Now they’re hosting an event at Yerba Buena that sounds really fun. Here’s the scoop, from the YB website: “Participants will share a simple meal while chewing on the question: How can the urban landscape be productive? …enjoy dinner and a glass of wine while learning more about urban farming, foraging and gleaning from people directly involved in these practices. Entry to discussion is open to everyone.

The menu includes a stew made of white beans, greens and pork (there will also be a vegetarian stew), pork rillette, dessert (not yet determined) and a glass of wine.”

I’m going to be there–I hope some of you can make it. Here’s more info:

YBCAlive!: OPENrestaurant with Slow Food Nation
Tue, Jan 6, 7pm • Grand Lobby
Meal Ticket is: $20 General / $15 YBCA Members
Discussion is FREE
For tickets, please call our Box Office at 415.978.2787.

Teaching turkey

In 2005 I killed my first Thanksgiving turkey.

Since then I’ve killed quite a few more, written articles about it, even took part in a turkey harvesting photo shoot (I’ll never do that again, though I loved the photographer, when he asked me to step to the left just before I cut the turkey’s throat, I realized art and practice sometimes shouldn’t meet…) My experience raising a turkey takes up a whole section of my memoir about urban farming. Turkeys–because they are part of Thanksgiving and our American heritage– make great metaphors.

This year was very special in that I got to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last three years with some students. Did you know there’s an urban agriculture class at Berkeley? Lucky undergrads get to grow their own vegetables, learn about international urban ag, and visit local farms. I gave a lecture/presentation to the class one day and then had them come out for visits over the past two weekends.

The first weekend, my friend J graciously offered us three roosters. The neighbors had complained and she called me out of desperation: “can you kill these roosters?” she asked. I walked her through how to do it herself. She listened patiently and then asked again: “can you kill them?” I forget how hard it is the first time.

So she brought the handsome fellows over and the class, with my help, dispatched them. We used the loper method, which I think is fast and humane. Of course we burned a little incense and said our thanks to the birds. The students were great. None of them had ever killed an animal before (on purpose at least) but most of them ate meat and so they wanted to face it. One of the most curious and best entrail cleaner was a vegan! He wants to become a veterianarian, so this was like a lab for him. Awesome. While I showed the students how to kill, pluck, and clean a rooster, I thought of all the people before me who shared this knowledge with me. It felt great to share in an experience I find very anxiety-producing yet full of life and love at the same time.

J took one plucked and cleaned rooster home and gave me the other two. I braised mine. Delicious in a rooster pot pie made with a wee bit of leftover lard in the pie crusts.

The next weekend, just yesterday in fact, it was time to say goodbye to Archie 2 and Edith. The class came out again (different students this time) to assist. Killing a turkey is a bigger deal than the roosters. They’re big. They’re full of life-force. Their feathers are so large, their bodies are so warm. The males have some special parts like the beard and the snood which add some level of mystery to the birds. I hadn’t realized how fat Archie #2 had gotten. He must have weighed 25 pounds! Edith was much smaller, only a bit bigger than the roosters from the previous weekend.

The students gathered in the garden. I had set up workstations: the plucking table, the cleaning table, the dipping area. We stood near the killing area, which featured a pair of enormous lopers, incense, and a bucket. I retrieved Edith from the backyard first. We burned incense and I described her life, which was going on two years. She never did hatch out any baby turkey poults, and for that I was sad. But she had a good run, enjoyed bossing the chickens and Archie around. But now it was time for her to go. I gave her a kiss, then a student loped her head off. It’s nice to have someone around who didn’t *know* the turkey. We plucked her and cleaned her entrails. Her gizzard was happy and full of rocks and grains. She ate well, that’s for sure.

Next came Archie#2. Enormous. My arms ached carrying him from the backyard to the front. We usually have heritage breeds but Archie looked to be just a Standard White. He had grown so so fast. After some kind words (but not too many, he was heavy!) the Berkeley instructor held the turkey’s feet, I hugged the turkey’s wings, and a student loped the head off. As the life-force drained out of the turkey, I accidentally let go of his wings which caused (I later found out) a horrible jolt to the groin of the instructor. Oops! It’s dangerous out here on GhostTown Farm, I reckon. Sorry N! The plucking and cleaning proceeded as normal. Archie had a gizzard the size of a softball and a crop the size of a football. No wonder the chickens are always hungry competing with that guy!

The students lingered in the garden after all was said and done. It was a sunny late November day. The bees were out, the greens were so bright. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the moment, when things felt so real. I felt a little proud that I could show someone something I knew how to do. That finally, I have some knowledge that can be passed on, remembered, used, and hear stories about where that knowldege led other people once they knew too.

I brined Archie and Edith. I think I’m going to deep-fry Archie. Edith, as her age dictates, will be braised.

Late afternoon addition: Can’t find anyone to deep fry the turkey. So I’m turning to Chef Edwards and he will be smoking the turkeys all day long tomorrow!

Canning tomatoes

My friend W is taking classes to become a Waldorf teacher. It’s an amazing curriculum based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies about childhood development. For kindergartners, Waldorf teaching emphasizes learning by doing seasonal activities–this teaches the kids that life is a cycle and humans have developed rituals to connect them to the seasons. Children at that age like to feel like there is a plan, that there is a consistent thing going on.

I can’t help but to feel the same way about canning tomatoes. Going on three years now, Bill and I make our pilgrimage to the lovely Blue House Farm, where our friends Ned and Ryan grow the best dry-farmed tomatoes ever. Since the tomatoes aren’t watered during the summer, the flesh is quite sturdy and the fruit taste is concentrated. Once canned, the tomatoes remain whole and, dare I say it? taste better than the fresh fruit. It’s some kind of alchemy, canning.

This year, Bill went to Pescadero solo (I had to work) in October and picked several buckets and boxes of tomatoes. Enough to share with our friends even. And so I began the ritual, once again, of putting up a year’s worth of tomatoes (about 52 jars, one for every week). This year was different in that I used the pressure canner for about half of the jars. My friend W came over and we processed tomatoes late into the night. She even stayed up until 2am and ended up sleeping in our guest room.

Usually I do water bath canning. I sterilize the jars in the oven, then pack as many raw tomatoes into the jar as possible. I top off the jars with leftover jars of already processed tomatoes from the year before, or make a tomato juice by putting a bunch of the less than perfect tomatoes into the blender. Then I add lemon juice to the tomatoes (just to make sure they are acid enough and to retain color), screw on the lids, and process for an hour and a half. Yes, that takes forever. Even with a huge canning cauldron, I can only fit 9 jars.

Enter the pressure canner. Same exact process with the jars, except I don’t *have* to add the lemon juice. The temperature gets to 250 degrees, so any botulism is killed by this high temp. I closed the lid to the pressure canner, let it vent steam for about 10 minutes, then put on the stopper and process for 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes to let the canner lose pressure. So, effectively, the p.c. cuts the processing time in half. And it gives me peace of mind.

But how do the tomatoes taste? you ask.

Bill and I did a blind taste test and found that…drum roll…the p.c. canned tomatoes taste better, more tomatoe-y, richer, and more perky. Of course the water bath toms are great too. The canned tomatoes are wonderful pantry items to use in soups and stews, pasta sauces, pizza sauce.

But the real show-stealer this year was some slow-roasted tomatoes from our garden. I picked all those pesky cherry tomatoes–the sungolds, the currants, the volunteers–drizzled olive oil over them, then stuck them in a slow oven (230) to cook for a few hours. The result is a candy-sweet, smoky tomato paste. Some people might call it a confit. This I jarred up and canned as well. It works great to add a small jar of the oven-roasted tomatoes to a regular jar of tomatoes to make pasta sauce. As a pizza sauce, these slow-roasted cherry tomatoes are the best thing ever. Next year I plan to roast the dry-farmed tomatoes as well. Every year, the tomato canning process is being perfected. It is wonderful to learn something new while keeping the ritual intact.

Cook your goose

As promised, I unearthed the goose from the freezer…and killed the two living ones to boot.
My downstairs neighbors finally complained about the incessant honking of the geese, and like a true country bumpkin, I slaughtered them the minute after the complaint was lodged. Good relations with neighbors are more important than two slightly more fat geese come X-mas time. But I wonder if I could ask them to make their dogs shut the hell up with their infernal barking? I don’t think they’d return the favor, somehow.

Here’s what I did to the geese. After killing and some plucking, I ended up just skinning them. Getting all the feathers out requires a rubber fingered plucking machine. Those rule. But I don’t have one. So, skinning. I know–the fat? It went with the skin (into a shallow grave). There was some internal fat, though. Plus, I have pig fat.

After a day of resting in a salt brine, I deboned the geese. The meat was red and looked like beef, a bit. With the carcasses–carcassi?–made tons of stock, which eventually became gumbo and a tomato ragu (but that’s another story). Then I put the chunks in the freezer to get very cold. Meanwhile, I cubed up some pig back fat (oh, the decadence).
Then all of that went into the meat grinder. It’s called a waring “professional” meat grinder, but it sucks. Someone said a Kitchen Aid grinder works well, but I wonder. I bought casings at Taylor Sausage in Old Oakland–nice guys, lots of casings for $12.
Then I mixed everything up–the meat, the fat, herbs, wine. And fed the meat into the stuffing attachment of my wanky grinder. I think the meat and fat did something Michael Ruhlman calls “breaking”, which he says in his book Charcuterie, makes the sausage taste like paper maiche. Oh lord! They did look kind of smeary and weird. After a night in the fridge, I pulled them out for Sunday pancakes. As the sausages fried, a full-on geyser of liquid fat came streaming out of the crackling skillet-bound sausage.

As for the taste–yes, a little dry, but with maple syrup and cornmeal hotcakes, they were nothing to feed to the dogs.

Aged goat cheese

You’d think I wouldn’t have enough milk to make cheese. But the little bit I get each day from Bebe adds up and then I have to make something. I’ll toss a tablespoon of yogurt into a quart of milk, warm it up–and voila! a quart of yogurt.

Or, the other day, my postal carrier told me about something called cajeta. He often drops off the mail and then we talk about food–spit-roasted rabbits, steamed pumpkin drizzled with honey and mashed up with goat milk. Cajeta was goat milk slowly cooked with sugar until it became a caramel-y goo. The way he was drooling, I knew it had to be good. I had two cups of milk, so I decided to go for it. I had to stir the milk and sugar for an hour. Luckily, Bill was in an expansive mood so we talked and I stirred. The result was a gloppy goo–dulce de leche, great straight out of the jar.

I also made an order through Caprine Supply. Got a hobble, udder wipes, an iodine dip, and cheese molds. I tried making my own out of plastic containers drilled with holes, but they kind of sucked. Armed with these new molds, I hoarded milk and made cheese.

The fresh, triangular stuff turned out nicely. Creamy and light.

Because I had hopes to make aged cheese, I ordered some penicillin culture too. After the cheese firmed up, I started spritzing it with the white mold culture. It formed a rind after a few days left out (but covered to prevent flies).

After 10 days, Bill and I had a tasting. I secretly hoped it would taste like boucheron. Um, no. It wasn’t creamy in the middle, just firm. It kind of reminded me of the cheeses I tried in Portugal. Sturdy, nothing fancy. Definitely edible.

Sick hippie

Been sick all week with a head cold which turned into fever with chills. I’ve had to stay in bed and the farm has been neglected. The goat shed needs mucking out, the garden watered, the rabbit cages are begging for a cleaning, the buffet of yummy greens that go to all the animals has been halted and boring processed feed will have to do. The worst thing is my sinuses are so plugged up, I can’t smell anything. Hence, I can’t taste anything. Is this a life worth living? Amid these frustrating developments on a sweat-inducing break from the bed to check my email, I learned that I had been crowned Best Hippie 2008 by the East Bay’s locally owned free weekly.
You guys!!
A few years ago, maybe even a year ago, I would have scoffed at the word ‘hippie’ being used to describe me. Hippies! that’s my parents! I would say. I don’t listen to the Dead, I listen to the Dead Boys. But, if you think about it, I *have* been milking goats, making cheese and planting chard–all tell-tale signs of hippiedom. So I’ve learned to live with the moniker, and wonder why there isn’t a better word to describe my urban homesteading tendencies in a way that doesn’t reek of patcholi or come wrapped in tie-dye. Anyone got a better term?

While we contemplate that, a sauerkraut instructional.

Get some nice heads, tight ones. Half the cabbages, then chop into thin strips. Add the cabbage to a large bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt. A TB of salt per cup of cabbage is the rule of thumb. Once sprinkled with salt, pound the cabbage so that it starts to release some water. I use a pestle from a mortar and pestle that my roommate left behind. Add this point you can add caraway or coriander seeds. Once the cabbage strips look a bit wilted, pack them tightly into a large jar. Pack them tightly into the jar using your fist to press down all the cabbage. Weigh down with a bag filled with water or a rock, or as pictured, a glass bottle of water. This isn’t shown, but you should also drape a cheesecloth or piece of fabric to keep out flies and such. After an hour or so, the cabbage should be submerged under its own juices. Let sit 2-3 days on the counter. Taste after a few days and see if you like it, when tastes right, remove the weight, and put the jar in the fridge to enjoy. Happy lacto-fermenting! As a sidenote, I make a jar of this a week for the goats. It’s good for their bowels’ flora, as it is for ours.