Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dessert me!

One of my major flaws is a fanatical fondness for anything containing sugar (sweet tooth courtesy of my Gramps). While I am pretty good at avoiding processed sweet things (except frosted animal crackers), quality desserts are a staple dietary contribution at my house, right up there with water and cheese.

An over abundant recipe collection roams my counter tops, getting wet, crinkled and covered in food splatters. Lately I have been trying different seasonal desserts from various recipe sources and have yet to hit a dud. So here is my latest sweet concoction, from Martha Stewart's cute little food publication:

Peaches with cornmeal shortcakes
Cornmeal shortcakes
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing

Homemade whipped cream - I had no idea how simple making my own whipped cream is, knowledge can be dangerous!
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Fruity filling
1 1/2 pounds peaches, halved, pitted and cut into 1/4 inch slices (5 cups)
5 ounces blueberries (3/4 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and granulated sugar. Using the large holes in a cheese grater, grate butter into flour mixture, mixing and breaking it into even smaller pieces with your fingers. With a fork, stir in buttermilk until dough just comes together. Lightly flour a rolling pin and work surface (I usually roll dough out between 2 sheets of wax paper, less of a mess) and roll out dough into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle. Cut into 6 squares (or rectangles).

Place dough squares 3 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake until shortcakes are golden and puffed, 17 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. (Store shortcakes tightly wrapped in plastic, up to 2 days).

In a medium mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream and confectioners' sugar on high until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Cut shortcakes in half horizontally. Divide peaches among bottom halves, top with whipped cream and blueberries and sandwich with top half.

Then put on a pretty plate, take a picture for your blog and chow down!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I didn't realize sheep were so flexible...

Farming requires a great deal of flexibility as I have mentioned before. A farmer can't get too attached to a place, way of doing things or a particular outcome because inevitably something uncontrollable will change everything and adjustments have to be made, sometimes very quickly.

Sheep scientists
I saw this illustrated again this weekend when I met up with Dan. We drove to Highland Farm, a tree farm in Colfax. Dan, along with Allen, the owner of the farm and Roger, the UC Davis livestock extension agent, assessed the property and vegetation to see if it would support 300 ewes through breeding season.

Dan had planned to have these ewes much closer to his home farm on an irrigated pasture. He discovered however, that the pasture was not going to be able to support his ewes, much less enable them to gain weight through breeding, so he had to find an alternative pretty quickly.

I wouldn't mind having my meals here
Highland Farm it was; Dan is friends with the owners and had previously been interested in grazing their property. After a bumpy tour up and down the ridge and about ten million 'begger's lice' later the three men decided there was enough vegetation and variety to support the ewes at least for a couple months though maybe not through the entire breeding season. I could see being forced to be flexible is not so bad if you have good friends who are willing to feed your sheep! Actually it works out well for Highland Farm as well. Instead of having to manually remove brush that is a fire hazard, the sheep will clean it up.

As I mentioned, we are preparing for breeding season. When breeding ewes, most producers want the animals to be on a rising plane of nutrition (gaining weight) because this increases the likelihood of twins. This management technique is called "flushing" and is the reason Dan keeps his ewes on rough feed (like star thistle) most of the summer. It is desirable for the ewes lose some weight during the summer because they are not producing milk for lambs and they are not breeding or pregnant. But in preparation for breeding, which will begin October 1st, they need to be on feed that will allow them to start putting weight back on (but not too much weight, a fat ewe doesn't breed well).

Lambs hip deep in pasture
The management of the ewes is opposed to the lambs, who have been on lush pasture since they were weaned in May/June. For the lambs going to market, the idea is to get them gaining as much weight as possible as fast a possible, so they can be finished and sold at the market as they are a Dan's main source of income. It turns out to be a constant test of flexibility, keeping all the sheep on the right kind of feed during different times of the year, a difficult task for someone with nearly 500 sheep who only owns 3 acres of land!

My ewe lamb (posing with her best side I guess)
And a final note, Matt's market lamb is doing well, he weighed 76 lbs at last weigh in and is gaining about a 1/4 lb per day!  And my ewe lamb has been separated from the market lambs, she gets to stick around and probably bred next year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Less Ag, More Culture

Lands End - main stage

This weekend was the long anticipated Outside Lands music, food, wine and art festival at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. This is only the festival's 4th year and it was the 3rd year we have gone. It spanned three days and included about 80 bands and DJ's and was attended by 180,000 people! It was by far the most crowded year but the crowd was surprisingly mellow (a testament to the amount of marijuana present?); most everyone was respectful of each other, the park and the neighborhood.

Crowded defined - At Sutro stage
Twin Peaks stage

Tall people are unfairly blessed when it comes to concert viewing; standing among a sea of people with no space to squeeze yourself any closer to the stage, it pays to be head and shoulders above others. The only advantage I found to being short at a concert is when the sun is beating down; sometimes you can hide in the shade of those envy inducing tall folks.

Here's my top three band countdown...

Wye Oak at the Panhandle stage
At the smallest stage that is reserved for up and coming acts you can sometimes feel like you wasted valuable time on a lame show (ie Matt & Kim circa 2009); conversely you can catch also catch a great new band. This was the case with Wye Oak, an "earnest folk-influenced indie rock band with touches of noise and dream pop." Jenn Wasner sings and plays guitar and Andy Stack plays drums and keyboard bass (at the same time!) They are worth a listen for sure and I imagine them well paired with a rainy afternoon.

The Black Keys are the soulful, hard rocking blues duo of Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums). They have been around almost 10 years but are just now getting some well deserved recognition, including 3 Grammy's this year. They rocked the crowed and drank water (instead of shots or beer) proudly. Love that voice!

Without a doubt, the highlight of the weekend was Arcade Fire. They won a 2011 Grammy for Best Album of the Year, even though they are not well known in the mainstream. Arcade Fire is a band with purpose, conscious and heart.  Frontman Win Butler has mastered the ability to make each person in the audience feel like they are his friend; that he cares about them and their city. The music was wonderful, the show lively. They were the perfect addition to the soundtrack of our lives, as Matt put it.

The undercover hit of the weekend was the food. The festival organizers specifically choose local restaurants, caterers, sweet shops and food trucks to provide tasty fare for famished concert goers; no chains or crappy fair food allowed.

Farmer's market area featuring produce from Full Belly Farms & Urban Sprouts
This provided almost as many eating opportunities as band choices, so I got dinner and dessert from different vendors each day. Quality abounded in my selections, which included a grass-fed hamburger, empanadas made in a truck and an amazing BBQ pork sandwich from Split Pea Seduction.

Desserts were abundant also, with caramel apples dunked in dark AND white chocolate, coconut macaroons and frozen yogurt sandwiched between two chewy snicker doodle cookies. It was a good thing we had to walk so much at the concert because my pants would probably be feeling pretty tight this week.

Here are a couple more sights of Outside Lands 2011...

Interactive art installations
Human wind chime
Glowing skulls in the dessert land

3 large pieces of art were created each day
Creepy sideshow
Muse's laser light show
Way to much fun

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I was recently discussing this idea revisiting with a friend; particularly revisiting a conversation or experience you had with someone if you were less than satisfied with the outcome. Kind of an obvious idea but one I had not thoughtfully considered before. This weekend (as I manned the farmer's market stall on my own) I was afforded the opportunity to revisit an experience I had with a teacher in high school.

One of my favorite teachers at Del Oro High School was Mrs. Millholen, a funny and vibrant art teacher.  I liked her so much I signed up to be a teacher's assistant (TA) for her once I reached my junior year. That year I also had a fun group of friends and quickly found I was more interested in spending time with them than being a good TA. I pretty much failed in my duties to Mrs. Millholen, was graded accordingly and have carried around a fair amount of guilt surrounding this whole experience.

Well, on Saturday, Mrs. Millholen walked by my market stall and I recognized her right away. We caught up a little (she thought it was pretty funny that I am interested in going from a CPA to a farmer). I was debating with myself whether to mention my past failings but then took a chance and apologized to her for being such a bad TA. She thought this was pretty funny too, as she didn't have any recollection of it and here I was dragging around this load of guilt all these years. She hugged me and granted me her forgivness.

None of this was really for her, it was my therapy. With the new knowledge that revisiting is an option, I was able unpack my baggage and heal an old pain. What an unexpected gift to find at the farmer's market!

Vegas the guard dog with her flock in the star thistle field

And speaking of revisiting - when there are sheep out on grazing contracts, you have to revisit them every day, to make sure they are in good health, have enough to eat and have plenty of water in the summer time.  So again on my own (I think Dan was testing my confidence and skills!), I made the rounds in the county, fed guard dogs and revisited the sheep to conclude a very satisfying day.

Boise sharing a drink with his goats