2nd Annual Farmers Convergence

I’ve been off the grid for some time, and I have to say – it’s been nice. I let myself off the hook for writing blog posts the past few months, and although I really liked removing a layer from my complex mental stream, there were a lot of things I wish I had written about. So today I break the sabbatical to write about a special day that is also one of the anchoring events for me in this area.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to get on board as a volunteer with North Coast Opportunities – specifically, The Gardens Project – just in time to help plan a new event that was a seed in a few people’s minds: a convergence of farmers from around the North Coast. After two months of planning, the First Annual North Coast Farmers Convergence was held at Barra Winery on March 2, 2013. It was a very special day and will remain a strong early Mendocino memory for many years. Here’s an article I wrote about it.

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Last year at Barra – such a beautiful place (and the only place I buy whole cases of wine).

Our bold decision to call it a “first annual” paid off, and yesterday was the Second Annual North Coast Farmers Convergence, this time held at Ridgewood Ranch (home of Seabiscuit). This year, I was on board as a paid employee – some big news since I last posted is that I got what you might call a  “legitimate” job! After over a year of volunteering and contracting, I was hired in the first week of January to work with the Community Action team. Not being at home all day has been an interesting transition and I’m enjoying life from this altered perspective. Although my domestic and cooking projects have waned, I work with inspired people on interesting and important projects.

Back to this year’s Convergence: it was a smash. The location was perfect and turnout was exactly what we were hoping for. Everyone is so happy that it’s been raining that we called it a benediction on the day (rather than a destroyer of hair and printed materials). I was in charge of administrating the event, so for the past month I’ve been sending invites and e-mails, dealing with registration, and taking lots of calls – farmers really like to talk on the phone (vs. registering on a computer, for instance).  I had lists upon lists of variations on information – paid registrants vs invited guests vs volunteers and staff; food donors and people wanting a homestay and others needing childcare. It was a big job but as a Type A/OCD Capricorn, I was in  my element. I didn’t even have a meltdown the night before when a co-worker and I had to hand-crank 26 sheets of nametags through the industrial printer (a solution we found after an hour of fumbling with paper jams). It’s fun to reflect on how differently you respond to things at age 32 than, say, 22. Is this maturity?

In all, we were about 200 strong. The event is special because it’s ” not just another meeting” as we like to say. Everyone gets up and talks to each other, and they like it – how different from most impersonal conferences when an ice breaker is a sure way to clear people out of the room. The whole day revolves around connections and conversation, and is punctuated by really excellent food. The organizing team was a well-oiled machine, and the staff/volunteers at Ridgewood were dynamite – they were responsible for a huge part of why the day was so smooth. After the event a few of us had a drink back at our house and read the reviews, which were heart-warming and enthusiastic (with the notable exception of one tragic yet amusing outlier). “Please do it again next year!” was a common refrain, and so I’m already looking ahead to the 3rd Annual Event.

It’s so encouraging to see a group of diverse individuals across all interests and ages (though admittedly not cultures – we’re in a pretty white part of the world) come together to find out how similar we are and how much we can do for each other. I really feel blessed to have stumbled upon Mendocino, and days like yesterday remind me of that.

I didn’t take a single picture, but once they’re posted online I’ll share the link – we had a professional photographer so they should be really good this year!

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A rainbow that my friend Brook captured in Hopland (just down the road from Ukiah) a few days ago.

Sharing the joy of canning

Last Saturday I taught a canning class sponsored by North Coast Opportunities at the Willits Grange. We had 10 people come out and spent four fun hours cooking and canning 54 jars of applesauce and green tomato pickles. It was awesome.

I emphasized two things:

  1. The food we were canning would otherwise have rotted on the ground.
  2. Canning is not as scary as people think it is.

canning class 1

I wrote a two-part series for Eat Mendocino about preserving food. First I talked about making refrigerator pickles, and then I explained how to preserve them using a water bath. I’m not on Facebook, but apparently there was some outcry that I had not followed the proper steps for food safety (which, for the record, I did).

While I appreciate that people want to avoid introducing bacteria into their canned food, I also think our fear-based societal inclinations prohibit us from doing a lot of perfectly safe activities. Back in the day, people didn’t even bother with waterbathing or pressure canning! My grandma still makes shelf-stable apple butter without putting it through a waterbath, and although I personally take that extra step, she has never killed or made a single member of her family sick using this method. My mom says she has a two-year-old jar of that apple butter in her pantry, and at Christmas I won’t hesitate to open it up and spread it on a piece of toast. And if there happens to be mold on the top of it, well… that’s a bummer, but it’s easy to spot and we won’t eat it.

Use your eyes and your nose. If it looks good and smells good, it’s good. I recently invented the statistic that you’re more likely to die from a shark attack than botulism. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t go in the ocean for fear of sharks, then maybe canning isn’t for you. But for the rest of you, food preservation is a fun, easy, and relatively risk-free way to keep the flavors of summer alive in the winter months.

canning class 2

My Ukiah Anniversary and Summer Recap

Today is my one-year anniversary of being in Ukiah, and specifically of living in our cozy little house downtown (I spent last summer in Redwood Valley). I’m still just as in love with Ukiah and Mendocino county as the day I discovered this magical place.

It’s hard to believe an entire year has passed, but when I look back at all that has happened I can see that I packed a lot in to the last 12 months. Specifically, SO MANY THINGS HAPPENED THIS SUMMER. I didn’t get around to blogging about them all, so here’s a quick digest of the things I missed.

Concert in the Park Series

Every year, Ukiah hosts the most incredible concert series – six free shows in Todd Grove Park performed by outstanding groups. The entire community comes from near and far to pull up some grass, drink wine and beer, eat food, and dance our pants off. I went to five of the six concerts, missing just one because I was in Seattle. We always had a blanket, a cooler, and a good group of friends, and one day we even set up croquet. Good times.

CitP

Final Concert in the Park

Movies in the Park

Movies are shown at dusk at Alex Thomas Plaza throughout the summer, which is RIGHT by our house. I only went to one, and I went alone, but it was awesome: they showed The Sandlot, which never gets old. Just one of many examples of the great and FREE things to do all summer in Ukiah.

BBQS

There were a lot of them. We had at least one. I think Susan had two or three, as did Addison and Caitlin, the original Miles (for Natalie’s going-away party… sad), young Miles and Zach, one at our community garden, and probably another one or twelve I’m forgetting. I ate a lot of meat and drank a lot of summer bounce at these puppies.

Susan BBQ

M and Z BBQ

Friday Nights at Rivino

Every Friday night, Rivino – a local winery – has live (and free!) music in their beautiful outdoor setting. The wine is priced right, you can bring a picnic, and the misters saved us from many a sweaty night. Fridays at Rivino became a pretty standard way to kick off the summer weekends; I can always reliably find a friendly face or two if I decided to go at the last minute. These concerts last until the rains start in October, so you still have a chance to go!

Rivino friends

Rivino view

A Day at Lake Sonoma

One day in July, Susan and I decided to have an adventure. We piled into my car and drove south, stopping in Cloverdale long enough to take pictures with this strange street sculpture and get some treasures at the Methodist thrift store.

Susan Cloverdale

From there we continued on to Lake Sonoma. Neither of us had ever been and we were surprised to see on a map just how big it is. It was formed by flooding the narrow valleys between mountains, so it has tons of fingers and very steep edges. Despite its size, we figured we’d wing it.

Our first stop was the marina to rent kayaks, but after waiting 20 minutes for someone to even acknowledge us we talked ourselves out of it – there was strong wind and not many good, accessible beaches within kayak distance, plus we didn’t have waterproof bags to take with us. We’ll just find a little private beach to chill, we thought.

Turns out, no such beach exists! After many false starts, including about a mile of up-and-down walking in two different locations laden with all our gear, we threw in the towel and headed back to the public beach. There are NO other beaches accessible by roads; you have to take a boat to them, which to me seemed very elitist. (Note: if we had been on the other side of the lake apparently we could have gone to Yorty beach, which is supposed to be cool. Next time…)

Susan Lake Sonoma

Getting frustrated, but in good spirits

Eli Lake Sonoma

We were a scene straight out of the 70s in our getups

We hung out at the public beach for awhile, which was like a highway for boats and didn’t have a pleasant view or a particularly nice place to sit. After a picnic, a swim, and a sunbathe, we packed it in and headed north to a very private and wonderful river spot.

We never got upset and laughed through the whole day. It was memorable to say the least (especially since I think it was partially the lake’s fault that led to my head-to-toe hives a few days later).

Whirlwind Seattleite Invasion

My fashion designer friend Casey and his friend Katy went on a six-day kamikaze road trip to Los Angeles to buy fabric. They stopped over in Ukiah on the way down, catching the end of the final Concert in the Park after 13 hours in the car. On their way back from LA they stopped again, this time for a leisurely 36 hours. We draped ourselves in their luxurious fabric, went wine tasting at Barra, and swam at the sweet river spot that Susan and I found on that fateful Lake Sonoma day.

Casey and Katy

Casey and Katy river

No hives this time, but unfortunately the yellow jackets found us and cut our beach time short.

They were so much fun to have and I wish they could have stayed longer!

Whirlwind Seattleite Invasion, Part II

My friend Robyn and her boyfriend Gus came for a wine country and San Francisco weekend, and spent about eight hours enjoying what Mendocino has to offer. We went wine tasting at Rivino (I was there three times that week), and then spent several hours by a friend’s pool before eating tacos at Chavez Market and hitting a surprise birthday party. I gave them a driving tour of Ukiah and they agreed – of course – that it’s the cutest town ever. Hopefully next time they stay long enough for me to show them some other local gems like Anderson Valley and Montgomery Woods.

RB and Gus

En Fin, and Cucumbers

I did a lot of other things but I mostly blogged about them, I think (plus I have a few pending blogs about specific events, specifically the Kinetic Carnivale and Sharing the Bounty). If you remember anything else awesome we did that I’ve left out, please let me know.

This summer has been a pleasure from start to finish, but I’m ready for the fall to set in. Specifically, I’m ready to stop harvesting cucumbers… Carson tells me I can pull the plants but but they’re still so productive it seems like a crime. If you live near Ukiah, PLEASE COME GET CUCUMBERS. They are the tastiest and most beautiful cukes I have ever grown.

Labor Day weekend, Paul Bunyan style

For Labor Day weekend, I was invited to Sarah’s birthday dinner (where I drank a decent amount of wine and yes, licked my plate clean). She wrote about it here, and I can only add that it was a joy and an honor to participate. Also, Mendo Bistro blew me away. I will definitely be going back.

Labor Day weekend in Fort Bragg = Paul Bunyan Days. Last year I went with Sara (who has been toughing it out in Alaska all summer) and Whitney. We had a BLAST, even though I embarrassed the hell out of myself by taking a picture with Smokey (the) Bear and proudly exclaiming that my boyfriend was CalFire, only to discover that they all knew him (and his ex…). At the time we had barely been together for 3 months, and hadn’t seen each other in a month due to all those dang fires. I was sweating bullets that he’d be mad or embarrassed too, but it was his first of many opportunities to prove how good natured he truly is. It might have been the final push I needed to fall 100% in love with him (awww).

Paul Bunyan 2012

Me in 2012, before I realized just how tiny this county is (despite its massive square mileage).

Anyhoo, this year I went with Whitney and we met up with Sarah and her crew just in time to catch the last of the axe throwing competition. They put a beer in the center of the target, so bulls-eye hits are especially explosive. After that we watched sawing, chopping, choker races, and kids’ pillow fighting. There’s a girl who started competing when she was 12, and her dad has been named the all-around winner something like five or six times. I recognized a lot of the faces from last year. Also like last year, they announced that the event is “environmentally friendly” and asked us to conserve resources and recycle. I LOVE THIS EVENT AND THIS COUNTY SO MUCH.

axe throwing

 

pillow fight

Eli and Paul

I avoided Smokey this year…

Showing my favorite people my favorite places

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I have a good excuse: out of town visitors! My dear friend Katie and her son Jacob were in town. I  lived with Katie and her partner Martin when she was pregnant, and I had the privilege of being like a second mom to Jacob during his infancy and for most of his young life.

I was worried that going from seeing me daily to seeing me twice a year would affect our relationship, but Jacob was so excited to see me (and I him, of course!) and our bond was none the worse for wear.

Katie brings the rain everywhere she goes, and a freak three-day June gloom settled over us. We enjoyed ourselves despite Mother Nature, braving the weather for a wet walk through downtown and an hour at Todd Grove playground. Carson and Jacob had so much fun together.

Rainy playground

On the third day the sun decided to shine in the afternoon and we headed back to Todd Grove to hit the playground and swim in the public pool. The weather had kept most people away so we had it largely to ourselves, which was nice.  We also picked plums at Caitlin and Addison’s house.

Plum pickin

The sun finally came out in the morning on their last day here, and we took full advantage by going swimming at Cow Mountain as well as Lake Mendocino. We also ran through the sprinkler in my backyard.

Cow mountain

sprinkler

From here Katie and Jacob went to Lake Tahoe to visit more friends, and then came back a few days later to Mendocino to camp in Hendy Woods for the 4th of July. Her brother and sister-in-law and their 2-year-old met us, as well as some friends of hers and their 6-year-old, all from the Bay area. Yes- I was the only one without a kid. A few years ago that would have been torture, but I’ve cultivated patience and a slow lifestyle so it was actually pretty fun.

Campground hand holding

Jacob was so sweet with his little cousin!

Speaking of rain – a freak thunderstorm came out of NOWHERE on Wednesday night! We’d been seeing flashes of light in the trees and speculated on its origin – flash photography? fireworks? aliens?? Finally we heard some low rumbles and realized it was heat lightning (it was 111 degrees when I left Ukiah that afternoon, and still about 100 in Anderson Valley 45 minutes away). “There’s no way it’ll rain,” I assured them. Except, it did. Bright lightning and ground-shaking thunder was accompanied by a veritable DUMP of rain that lasted from 11 pm to about 6 the next morning. Yeesh. A woman told Katie that in 21 years of camping at Hendy on the 4th, it had never once rained.

Thursday morning was the 4th and we headed north to the town of Mendocino to catch the quirky parade and spend some time on the beach. Unfortunately it’s hard to wrangle three young kids so we missed most of the parade, but the weather was perfect and we spent a lot of time relaxing on the beach. Caitlin drove from Ukiah and spent the day with us.

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Dino face

Free face painting at the parade.

 

Beach kite

 

Sandy Jacob

That night everyone left but Katie, Jacob, and me, and the next day they headed north to Bend, the last stop on their road trip before heading home to Seattle. I followed them to Fort Bragg so we could stop at Glass Beach, a famous landmark that I love to visit. I will never visit the coast on the 4th weekend again! It was overrun with tourists, and what is usually a private activity was jam-packed with people filling bags of glass to take home and likely shove in a closet, which is sad because eventually Glass beach won’t have any glass left. Alas…

They managed to make it the 10 hours to Bend in one day (a feat for anyone, let alone a 4-year-old). I miss them already but we all had a wonderful time and we plan to make this an annual trip. Luckily I’ll be in Seattle for a few days in August, so I’ll get to see them again soon!

Group shot

Friends and wildflowers in Fort Bragg

This weekend’s 50 degree swing

Welcome to the North Coast, where temperatures can swing a full 40 degrees in a single day, and where you can drive 45 minutes to escape sweltering heat and arrive at a foggy coast.

Saturday: Ukiah, 109 degrees

When I woke up at 8:00 it was 70 degrees, and it shot up to 100 by noon. The only real option on a day like this is to wallow in water, and luckily we had been invited for a dip at the Magruder ranch in Potter Valley. After buttoning up the house (I drew blinds I didn’t even know we had) we poured ourselves into Carson’s sweltering truck and headed out to Potter Valley. This is the site that greeted us:

Grace

Game on! A 10 minute walk through bull-inhabited fields brought us to this sweet spot next to a small dam. After a few minutes in the water it was easy to forget how hot it was, but getting out of the water reminded you right quick.

dam swimming

After a few hours we loaded our goods back onto the ATV and then had the idyllic experience of floating rather than walking back to the house. Regal oaks framed the sky above us, and swallows dipped around us as we slowly floated by. There were a few “butts up!” sections and Susan’s tube was sacrificed to a shallow rocky outcrop. We had to convince some cows to let us pass; lots of laughter and a few wipeouts. I could have floated down that river forever.

Sunday: Mendocino Coast, 60 degrees

Although it dropped down to a manageable 90 degrees in Ukiah, we decided to spend the day on the coast. We took the 253 to the 128, stopping briefly in Boonville and driving through the campsites at Hendy Woods (I want to go back and hike!) before hitting Husch winery for a tasting and a walk through the vines. It was pretty sunny even a tiny bit inland, but as soon as we hit the coast the grey sky melted into the grey sea.

We started in the town of Mendocino, a gorgeous Stepford-esque town geared toward tourism. After a somewhat frustrating meal we rewarded ourselves with fudge from the Mendocino Chocolate Company (yum) and then fulfilled a classic coastal stereotype: we bought Mendocino sweatshirts. It was cold, ok? Our new sweatshirts happily donned, we took a short drive and then walked the 1/2 mile path to Point Cabrillo lighthouse in all our matching glory. (Carson: “You know we can never wear these at the same time again, right?”)

Point Cabrillo

This is a lovely little spot. Carson told me that east coasters like seeing west coast light houses because they’re so short. We have high cliffs so there’s no need to build a tall lighthouse, unlike the low, flat Atlantic beaches that require high structures. I’d never thought about it before but realized he was right after thinking about the lighthouses I’d seen back east.

Us Point CabrilloFor some reason Carson loves white/light colors, and somehow I let him talk me into a white sweatshirt. Rather than letting it sit untouched in the back of my closet for fear of stains, I fully plan on dyeing it once it turns grey from use.

Point Cabrillo landscapeFrom there we went to Caspar beach and watched the surfers while eating a little snack I’d packed for us – farmer’s market tomato and cucumber slices with cheese and salami (plus a beer for Carson). Then we drove home via the 20 and barbecued a flank steak I’d marinated that morning. Topped off with a garden/market salad, it was the perfect meal to end a lovely day.

Monday: Thunder and a chill

Rumbling thunder woke us at 5 am, and it was still going at 7:30. I wish it had kept up all day! Alas, I’m happy for a little rain and overcast skies since I thought we’d seen the last of days like this until the fall. I lit my new Mandarin Lavender soy candle (part of Carson’s anniversary gift to me) and I’m bundled up in my new sweatshirt, drinking coffee and procrastinating on the work I have to do before heading to San Francisco later today. I’m on the planning committee for Taste of Mendocino which is tomorrow at the Golden Gate club in the Presidio. More on that later I’m sure. And hey, if you’re in the Bay area, join us.

I hope you all had a great weekend!

Denis Johnson’s Already Dead

A friend of mine in Seattle sent me this from Denis Johnson’s novel Already Dead, sayingthe opening passage seemed very appropriate for you.” The main character is on a road trip from Seattle to Mendocino county. How familiar…

“Van Ness felt a gladness and wonder as he drove past the small isolated towns along US 101 in Northern California, a certain interest, a yearning, because he sensed they were places a person could disappear into. They felt like little naps you might never wake up from — you might throw a tire and hike to a gas station and stumble unexpectedly onto the rest of your life, the people who would finally mean something to you, a woman, an immortal friend, a saving fellowship in the religion of some obscure church.”
This passage illustrates my own sentiments beautifully, and I’m grateful that my friend thought to share it. I read Already Dead years ago and had mixed feelings. Seems like time to revisit this one with fresh eyes!