The first time I set eyes on Mendocino county was on Easter 2012, one year ago. I was on a three-week road trip through California, looking for farms where I could WWOOF. This road trip was the culmination of several months of life-changing decisions in which I quit my job, got rid of most of my belongings, gave up my incredible apartment in the Capitol hill neighborhood of Seattle, and decided to see if being a farmer was the fulfilling purpose of my life. I have never felt a more elated joy than on that road trip. I remember turning onto the 505 from I-5 around sunset and bursting into tears. Northern California radiated a welcome so powerful, it hurt.
Avenue of the Giants
On my trip I visited 12 different “farms” (not all of them deserve the title, but each one was a unique and often funny experience). My stop in Ukiah – Redwood Valley, actually – was the last. I had been a little desperate that I wouldn’t find a suitable fit, but my second-to-last stop at a Petaluma farm was exactly what I was looking for. I made plans to return that fall for a three-month internship. Now it was just a quick trip to an Easter party I’d been invited to at a strange little homestead in Redwood Valley, and I would be on my way back to Seattle for a spring and summer of nannying my three-year-old godson.
Those plans changed quickly.
I fell in love with Mendocino at first sight. At this Easter party, baby goats were born. A 97-year-old sheep farmer was in attendance. And all the guests brought dishes using local ingredients, some out of their own early spring gardens. I settled with my understanding friends on the nannying score, and made plans to return to Mendocino in June.
Holding my first goat
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had finally found what I was looking for, and I never made it to Petaluma.
It turns out the farm life wasn’t what I was after, but it didn’t matter. I found my home and my heart in Mendocino, and Easter will be a special reminder of that every year.
This year’s Easter booty, courtesy of my thoughtful parents. Isn’t getting unexpected packages the best?
I’m not sure I can adequately express how dear my boyfriend Carson is. He is a man of many talents – firefighter, beekeeper, farmer, animal expert, champion cuddler – but I often fail to understand how his clock ticks. Here’s a prize example.
This fall and winter he spent months drying two full grocery bags full of walnuts he collected from obliging trees (walnut trees are like weeds around here), and then days – nay, WEEKS – shelling them. The result? Two gallon-size bags of walnuts in our freezer. So far I’ve used them in salads and many batches of gluten-free banana muffins. The other day I thought I’d make a treat and baked a big batch of chocolate walnut brownies, using real flour. “There’s a surprise for you when you get home,” I texted him.
“What’s my surprise?” he asked as he walked in the door several hours later.
“I made brownies,” I said as I enthusiastically held up the tray for him to take one.
“Oh?” Silence. I pressed him. “What do you mean, oh?”
“I don’t particularly like walnuts.”
It’s possible I smacked him for this while shrieking, “Why on earth would you shell so many of them then??”
Of course he ate them anyway. After all, “The brownie part is good.”
And they were good. If you’re in the mood for a simple brownie I doubled this recipe, but I used 6 eggs instead of 8, and 1 cup butter instead of 1 1/2.
There’s a massive mustard green plant in our garden that must have been planted by the previous tenants. At first I didn’t notice it because it’s in such an odd location, but I have been harvesting from it for about a month. I shouldn’t have let it flower but as a beekeeper’s girlfriend I had a hard time cutting off the little buds, and the bees have been very happy about my decision not to. Luckily it hasn’t made the leaves inedibly bitter.
I never seem to tire of this simple braising recipe that I invented to deal with the endless supply of greens that come from a home garden or CSA box.
- One large handful of greens (today I used mustard greens and this broccolini-esque kale bud I got at the Ukiah Farmer’s Market on Saturday; I have also used kale, chard, collards, etc.)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder, or 1-2 crushed cloves
- Sprinkle of sea salt
Put a frying pan on the stove top on medium to medium-low heat. Throw everything in but the greens and mix together until they form a sort of paste.
Add the slightly-wet-from-washing greens (you’ll want that little bit of water) and stir until evenly coated. Cover for 3 minutes, stir, and cover for another 3-5 minutes until they have the texture you’re going for (I like mine to stay a little crisp).
The biggest problem is that greens cook way down, so this recipe doesn’t go very far and it’s not very filling. I combat this by 1) only making this recipe for myself, and 2) eating it as dessert after lunch.
I just took advantage of the last 30 minutes of daylight and pedaled around the west side of Ukiah. I rode past the smells of two barbecues, a group of kids playing frisbee, and a couple walking their dog with a bunch of balloons tied to his doggie backpack.
Hills facing east on Spring street. There are so many trees and shrubs in bloom!
Hills facing west on Clay street.
Westerly hills behind the Civic Center on Oak street (near my house).
Meet my latest crush in a long string of Mendocino love affairs: a cruiser bike.
I’ve had my eye on this model ever since I saw one at the Not So Simple Living Fair in Boonville last July. Dave’s Bike Shop had donated two of them for a raffle, and I was instantly jealous of the winners (having failed to buy a single raffle ticket, not yet realizing I longed for a bike).
I haven’t owned or really ridden a bike in a decade, but Ukiah’s streets are both flat and generally void of traffic – my ideal riding conditions.
The people at Dave’s are incredibly friendly and helpful. They gave me a very fair trade-in amount on Carson’s old bike, which came off the already low price of $195. I also got a coupon for a free tune-up in six months. I don’t know if that’s standard with a new bike or a result of my childlike enthusiasm. (As I took my first test drive around the parking lot I couldn’t help but exclaim, “it’s like being five again!”)
I went in thinking I’d get a red or possibly lavender bike, but this dark green beauty spoke to me. It said, “I may be a cruiser, but I’m not a wuss.”
It’s the first day of spring, and weeks of sunny weather have melted into a few days of welcome rain in my adoptive hometown of Ukiah, California. I took advantage of the last vestiges of winter weather yesterday, making a crockpot chili with the young rooster my boyfriend and roommate Carson recently slaughtered. If you’re looking for something simple and warming on a wintry day, here’s how I did it.
- 1 whole chicken or young rooster
- 1 large can pinto beans
- 1 large can diced stewed tomatoes
- 1 small can diced green chiles
- 1 ½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1-2 tablespoons jalapeno hot sauce (or any hot sauce)
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
I cut off the legs so it would fit better, put the whole rooster in the crockpot (after plucking off a few errant feathers), and covered it with the rinsed beans, stewed tomatoes, broth, green chiles, hot sauce, and spices. (Did you know that in addition to lending a great flavor, bay leaves help our bodies digest beans and legumes?)
A bough of bay leaves pruned from our tree and hung up to dry. Many Mendocino residents don’t realize they have bay trees.
I let this cook on high for 2 hours and then reduced it to low (if you were going to leave it all day, you could start on low). After the third hour I removed the chicken and let it cool, picking the meat off the legs and thighs and reserving the breast and wings for tonight’s dinner. (You could also start with chicken pieces and avoid this step.) I sliced and sautéed the onions and bell pepper and added them to the pot with the shredded meat for another hour. Total cook time: four hours (could be left longer).
Last night I served it with avocado and tortilla chips, plus cheddar cheese and sour cream for my dairy-loving man. Today for lunch I reheated a bowl on the stove top and it’s even better than yesterday. There’s a whole jar going into the freezer in the hopes we get another wintry day this spring.