Friday, December 10, 2010

A Smoking Bishop

Here's something for your Christmas parties right out of the pages of A Christmas Carol. A Smoking Bishop is a hot mulled wine drink which goes back to the early 1800's and was mentioned by a repentant Scrooge in a conversation with his astonished clerk Bob Crachit at the end of A Christmas Carol

"A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop"

There are many recipes which a similar and I think it is fair to same you can swap and change the citrus component based on availability and tweak the spices to taste the only constants being the wine and ruby port. I noted down this unreferenced recipe from the cover of an old cook book so if you are in the mood for some holiday cheer Dickens style have a go

  • 6 large oranges
  • 2 large lemons
  • 120g of brown sugar (demerara)
  • 1 bottle (750ml) red wine - a decent local variety
  • 1 bottle (750ml) ruby port - California has great ruby ports
  • 8 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground mace
Preheat the oven to 250F(120C). Place the oranges a lemons on a clean roasting tray and place in the oven to roast until they are pale brown (about 60-90 mins). Once baked place one clove into each of the fruits and carefully place them still hot into a large bowl, pouring any juice which had run from them during baking. Add the sugar and the spices (except the cinnamon) to the bowl and pour in the wine. Gently mix to combine then cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 24 hours. 

The next day crush the juice out of the oranges and lemons (I use a potato masher)  then strain into a saucepan and push as much liquid as possible through the sieve. Compost what is left in the sieve add the cinnamon sticks and turn up the heat to bring the wine to a high simmer for 5 mins (do not boil!). Then turn the heat down and add the port gently heat until steaming (smoking) and serve immediately.

Be sure to pour into heat proof glasses nice and hot, serve citrus slices on side and sugar so the sweet tooths can sweeten the Bishop to their own desires.

A very Merry Christmas to you all.....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking Dirt – Book Review

I have recently finished reading the book Talking Dirt by Annie Spiegelman the self appointed Dirt Diva. I found this to be a very good book for gardeners of all levels, from those starting to think of starting a garden through to seasoned green fingers. The style of the writing is witty and casual with lots of online references sprinkled through it (which makes it good as an e-book), each plant that is recommended is given a “Whaa-whaa” rating based on their merit and the dependant care required, a rating of 1 is good while plant with a Whaa-whaa rating of 10 should be avoided.talkingdirt

There is an excellent section on composting which really breaks down the theory and science of growing great soil. The text also covers both all of the topics key to planning, growing and maintaining a sustainable garden. I consider this to be an excellent book for anyone interested in the subject. I am finding myself dipping into it as I plan out my seasonal planting and preparations in my own garden.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now We’re Jamming

This is my second post on preserving the bounty of summer, this time it is that sweet favorite jam. Jam is a perfect way to preserve most summer fruits and give them a reprise during the winter months. In my last post I mentioned that i had also purchased a flat of strawberries at the farmers market, well I kept you hanging on for a while but this is the story of what I did with them. It also taught me a lesson about taking my wife to the farmers market and opening my big mouth. While walking around the market I spotted a Rose Scented Geranium plant, this is a plant I had been searching for, a quick squeeze of the leaves and the air is perfumed with rose.  ATTOFROSE2“Why do we need that?” my wife asked, and i explained that the leaves had many culinary applications including flavoring  and was especially good in strawberry Jam. I bought the geranium and a little further down we found a stall selling organic strawberries $20 per flat. Well I should say my wife found the stall and pleaded with me to make jam. Why should I have kept my mouth shut? well walking through a crowded farmers market with a flat of Strawberries and and flat of Tomatoes with a Geranium perched on top was a bit too much hard work for a hot Sunday afternoon.

Anyway back to Jam. Jam is simply softened fruit, boiled to a gel with sugar. The main problem is the pectin and acid levels of your fruit and Strawberries are low in both and need some help. You can make your own pectin stock using fruits with high pectin and acid simmered gently in water for an hour and strained however it is often easier to buy the powdered pectin and mix according to directions with your jam ingredients.

For my Strawberry Jam I used the following basic recipe

  • 1Kg Strawberries hulled with the large ones cut in half (I like good chunks of fruit in my Jam)
  • 950g Sugar
  • Pectin as instructed on box
  • 150ml lemon Juice (provides an acid boost)

Put 200g of the Strawberries into a large pan with 200g of sugar. Crush the Strawberries lightly, I use a potato masher but a fork will do. Put the pan over a gentle heat and when the fruit mixture is hot put in the rest of the Strawberries.

Heat gently stirring to agitate the fruit and bring it up to simmering point. Simmer for 5 mins then put in the rest of the sugar. Stir gently to prevent the sugar from sticking.

Add Lemon Juice then increase the heat when the mixture reaches a full boil keep it there for 8 or 9 mins. You can then test for setting point by dropping a little onto a cold plate (carefull very hot sugar mixture) and leave for a few mins, then test to see if it is setting, if you can run your finger through it and it wrinkles and leaves clean plate behind then you are good to go. If not boil for another couple of mins and try again.

Remove from the heat and stir gently until all the froth has dispersed, a little knob of butter can help this process. You are now ready to jar.

Jam needs to go into warm sterilized jars. The best way I have found is to place the clean dry jars into a low oven (150c/300f) for about 15 mins.  Put the lids in freshly boiled water.

Photo Oct 10, 1 19 00 PM It is always a good think to perk up your Strawberry jam, I put in about 5 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar into mine along with the lemon juice to make a rich deep tasting a colored jam. If you have a rose scented Geranium then chop a few leaves and throw them in with the lemon juice.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It’s time to get Saucy!

In case you thought i was about to change the viewer rating of this blog I am going to have to disappoint you. Now is a good time of year to pick to up tomatoes at the farmers market. What you might not know is that many farm stands with will sell you soft (meaning over ripe) but unblemished tomatoes quite cheaply. So why would you want to buy mushy soft tomatoes?

Well, like most vegetables Tomatoes are seasonal and although here in California the season is long it does end and you are faced with a few months of buying out tomatoes from overseas or in jar as sauce. Well you can make your own and now is a great time to do it. Yesterday I went down to the local farmers market and came back with a full flat of (over ripe) organic heirloom tomatoes (I also picked up a flat of Strawberries but more on that in another post). photo (5)

My plan was to make Passata which is essentially sieved raw tomatoes that are put in a jar and stored to make pasta sauce. I like to do things a little differently and I make version of Passata that is based on roasted tomato. It is very simple to make, so why don’t you have a go yourself.

To go with my farmers market tomatoes and sliced up 3 small onions and two heads of garlic (don’t bother to peel), also grab a handful of your favorite aromatic herb (I had some rosemary in the garden that needed a haircut).

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Slice you tomatoes in half and lay them on a baking tray
  3. Sprinkle the onion garlic and herbs on top.
  4. Drizzle over a few glugs of olive oil (just to lightly dress)
  5. Pinch or two of salt
  6. Pinch of sugar

Place the tray in the oven for 1 hour.

After an hour remove the tray and leave to cool. Finally rub everything through a sieve (or a food mill).

What you end up with is Passata which you can either use immediately or put into sterilized bottles or jars and seal until you need them. Should keep around 6-8 months or until you have the fresh local stuff again.

Use in soups and sauces as needed…..give it a try!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

For all you chocaholics

Not posted in a while but could not let this one slide by. Been reading a book by Willie Harcourt-Cooze. Willie is a cacao farmer and chocolate maker and his book is called perhaps not surprisingly Willie's chocolate factory. This is great book, very inspirational as the first half covers the path Willie has traveled to realize his dream of producing premium chocolate bean to bar.

The second half of the book has some delicious recipes which use chocolate many of them savory. I haven't tried them all but the one below is simply awesome.

Cacao Nib Muesli
200g Porridge oats
50g Cacao nibs
50g Hazelnuts lightly crushed (I have also used walnuts)
50g flakes Almonds
150g Mixed Dried fruit (your choice, mix it up, but try a little candied Ginger)

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C)

Place the oats, cacao nibs, hazelnuts, and almonds on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 8-10 mins. Shake the tray occasionally. Leave to cool

Mix in the fruit and keep in an air tight container BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Making Bacon

As you May know if you read this blog I bought a whole hog this year from Windsor Family Farms. Having so much pork may seem a little daunting but it is more than just chops, roasts and ribs. One thing is bacon!

I like to dry cure the pork belly to make what we English call Streaky bacon. This is the typical American style bacon. Dry curing bacon is quite simple and you can really experiment with flavours. I used a traditional Irish cure which consists of

For every 2lb use
1tblsp Salt
1tsp Sugar (I used organic brown)
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp finely chopped bay leaf
1tsp chopped Rosemary
1tsp chopped thyme

I also added a teaspoon of crushed juniper because I like that flavor

Rub the cure into the pork belly then place on rack in a large plastic bin. If you are doing more than one rack just stack them up. Place in the refridgerator for 2-5 days (depending how salty you like your bacon). Each day simply drain off any liquid. Once done take out of cure and wash off with clean water. Dry and then place back in refridgerator on a rack over night to dry. I took out half after too days and this made a delicious breakfast bacon. I left the rest I left in for a week and this is great for salty lardons in soups and salads.

Once cured the bacon should be good for two weeks but keep it in the refridgerator below 40. You can also freeze for longer storage.

Sourcing Local Grain

The following post isn't local to Cupertino but it highlights a general issue for a locavore. Sourcing local grain is very hard and I would interested to hear from anyone who has managed to do this in the bay area. 

I believe there are farms producing grain in California but have not been able to find a retailer. I use Seven Bridges in Santa Cruz as a local supplier for my brewing needs but would like to find local milled flour for baking


Rob Moutoux at the Dupont market last December
Rob Moutoux at the Dupont market last December
Grain is one item that determined locavores often stumble over. Typically, it's just not widely available, if grown at all. That's why we were glad back in December to report that Rob Moutoux, third generation of local farmers, was at the Dupont Circle farmers market selling several varieties of grain he was growing near the family farm in Loudon County.
At the time, Rob had about 10 acres planted and was producing some 30,000 p0unds of grain he hoped to place in local stores. But now he has written customers and friends that he will no longer be offering his grain at farmers markets or in stores but only at the family farm stand near Purcellville. Consequently, he is also reducing the amount of acreage he is planting with grain and focusing more on the family's orchard business–for which they have been famous for years–and a CSA program.
"There is certainly a business opportunity for local grains.  It wasn't so much that the market wasn't there, though I didn't really tap into it very extensively in 2009, going to three farmer's markets," Rob said in a e-mail when I asked him to explain his decision. "When we spoke, I was looking at expanding markets through selling wholesale to local food coops and health food stores, and discontinuing the farmer's markets.  I still think that's a great idea.  The reason I'm not doing it is because it's just not a project I want to take on at this time.  I've got my hands in a lot of different projects right now, and in order to do them right, something has to give. 
"I do absolutely think that growing 30-50 acres of grains, milling them, and direct marketing them to stores is a great business model and a waiting opportunity.  Just not for me," he continued. "It would take a bit to set up the milling, volume handling, and distribution properly.  I didn't have the time to dive in and I didn't want to half ass it.  Orchards, veggies, consulting, and the home farm stand take up plenty of time for me at the moment.  Who knows what will come in the future, though, and I am still growing the grains and selling them at our farm stand…
"I will say that there are several mills in PA that are on to this sort of project already, and have their organic flours in DC area stores (not sure which ones).  It's true that grains are successful on economies of scale, and so these mills that can move, clean, store, and mill more efficiently than I could are much better suited to make a go of it.  These would be Small Valley Milling, Frankferd Farms, Annville Mill, and maybe a few others."
Perhaps some readers know of these brands and where they are being sold in the D.C. area and can share that information in the comment section.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: The Way we Eat

Just finished reading "The Way we Eat: Why our food choices matter" by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. This was a very thought provoking book for me. Unlike other works on industrialized food such as Food Inc, and Omnivores dilemma this book really focused on the ethical question and how they way we eat effects others. This book provides a very detailed account of the three families with quite different lifestyles and values. It examines the food choices they make and ethical and economical assumptions that drove those choices. They also pull apart the ethics of locavore's and fair trade in similar detail.

Very interesting book which provides great information for ethical food choices and busts a number myths and plain lies around many of the stated ethical practices and badges we find today in our search for food. There is a strong, I felt too strong in places, bias towards Vegan-ism as the way to ethical nirvana. This made me want to defend my omnivorous ways, I find myself more in the Pollan/Fearnley-Whittingstall camp on the consumption of meat and the ethics of doing that, than Singer & Mason are but I respect their viewpoint.

I would recommend this book as a good complementary resource to other more popular works out there, particularly if you are concerned about the effect of your food choices on others as well as yourself.
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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Garden Update

The Snowdrops are in bloom in my garden and despite what the weather is really like this is a key indicator of the end of winter and my thoughts spring (no pun intended) to gardening tasks which set things up for the prime growing season.

In truth this area is one of the few in the world that can support the growing of food crops year round but my garden is not really set up for this. Last year I managed to clear an area down the side yard of my house. Although this area is south facing, because of the proximity of the neighboring house I have to wait for the spring before I get enough light to give plants a fighting chance. The yard itself currently has two raised beds which are about 2.5 ft x 6ft and I hope to clear out a bit more ground this year to get two more similar raised beds installed. I grow a lot of plants in containers, well buckets would be a more accurate description (Home Depot sell 5 gallon buckets for about $2)  but last year I was surprised by the success I had and the amount of food I was able to harvest out of such a small Plot. My point is, that you really don't need to have a lot of space just the right combination of plants and enough sun and water to make them grow. The only tricky part is knowing what to plant and when. I took a community class last run by the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County and they gave me a wealth of information on what, when and how to garden in our area. You can find classes in the local paper or the community college pamphlets that come twice a year.

Planning for this years planting started back at the beginning of the year when I sowed seeds for many of the summer cropping plants. My tomato, pepper and basil were started under a grow lamp and moved to a indoor windowsill once they had got a few full leaves.  Growing plants from seeds is by far the cheapest way to go and with a bit of planning up front really isn't hard. I simply sowed a few seeds in each pot then set them under the light. As the small shoots came up I thinned out each pot to one plant (just snipped the others off).

The tomato plants are already too big for the lamp box and were moved to a windowsill a couple of weeks ago they will be ready for planting out soon. The peppers and basil needed a little more time to develop but are catching up fast.

I also planted some peas, beetroot, chives and chard outside in a little polythene tented propagator. These required less heat to germinate and so could be sown outside in pots. They are also doing well and will ready for transplant into the main garden quite soon.

One new crop for this year is the potato. I decided that I missed the taste of freshly dug new potatoes just boiled in their skins and served with butter a traditional June treat in the UK. Growing them seemed the best way to get the freshest potato so I splashed out on some seed potatoes and they are currently sitting on the same windowsill as the tomato plants to enable them to sprout. A process in gardening parlance known as chitting. Potato is a great crop for growing in containers. Back home in the UK my father would grow them in garbage cans. I have some deep sturdy bags that will do the job and hopefully by June will have a bumper crop of nice new potatoes. One thing about growing from seed is that you have to hedge your bets on yield and plant sow than you will eventually plant out. This might seem a waste but I can always find people who would like a few plants for their own and so I get to pass on my labors and let others benefit.

I am planning a couple of other projects for the garden this year. Firstly I am planning to use one of my new beds to grow a "Three sisters garden" which is Native American method of planting Corn, beans and squash in a complementary manner which maximizes production in a small space. In a similar vein I am also planning a herbal garden once again influenced by Native American planting methods. In this case the garden is known as a medicine wheel and I will blog about both of these planting methods in later posts.

The absolute best way to get the freshest vegetables is to grow them yourself. Why don't you give it try, you won't be sorry there are tons of resources out there and lots of people willing to help
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bake it yourself

For some baking can be a bit of black art, indeed I was in the "I can't bake" camp for quite a while. Many feel that it is too tedious, or too hard. I grant you that it does take some practice and some patience but once you have mastered it you won't go back. Just to give you some extra incentive, next time you are in the super market picking up a loaf of sliced white (or even some of that wholewheat designer bread) take a look at the ingredients.   Baked goods is one of main places where the food labs have been having a field day. Baked goods are full of all sorts of additives and chemicals. Bread is quite basic and has the following ingredients; Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt, and optionally some oil. If your loaf  has more in it then you have some modified version of bread.

If you are dead against trying to bake your own It is worth searching around for a good baker who produces their own bread on site. Artisan bread can also be found at many farmers markets also but beware of baked good listed as artisan in supermarkets (even wholefoods) read the labels! Your other option is a bread machine, I started with one of these and you can pick one up at a reasonable price. They are simple to use and provide a great introduction to bread making. You still control what goes in your bread and I you will produce a much better loaf than you can buy.

On the other hand if you fancy trying some baking then below are my three go to recipes. I make these most weeks depending on schedule and need. I am going to start with a sweet recipe which in my opinion is fool proof and ultimately configurable to your tastes and  provisions. Unlike most baking recipes it uses a measure of volume. I use a mug, but you could use a cup or something bigger depending on the size of loaf

Fruited Bran Loaf.

I believe this recipe originates from Scotland. You need your Mug, a bowl and a baking tin (I used a medium loaf tin). Take your Mug and fill it with Bran (oat or wheat) and pour into the bowl, fill the same mug with Sugar (I use raw brown sugar but it doesn't matter) and pour into bowl. Fill the mug again with dried fruit, any combination you like or have available. Mix and match, experiment and have fun. Pour this into the bowl along with a Mug of milk. Give it a stir and leave to soak at least 4 hours. I sometimes leave over night, or put it together in the morning and complete when I come home from work.

After the mix has been soaking add a mug full of self rising flour. This might be hard to get hold of in the US but it really just a regular white flour and baking powder. I make my own (because I know it is fresh then) from stone ground white flour at a ratio of 4% baking powder to flour (100g of flour, means 4g of baking powder) in my mug this means about 1 teaspoon. Pour in your mug of self rising flour and stir to combine. Pour into your baking tin and place in a medium oven (350 deg F) a leave for at least 45 mins it can take well over an hour to cook, to test if it is cook simply press the top with your finger when it is firm (pushes back) you can pull the loaf out. Allow to cool then serve sliced with or without butter. This loaf will a week in a sealed container, but it problem will be gone quite quickly.

Soda Bread

If you have no time to make yeast leavened bread then a great quick standby is Soda Bread.  Soda bread is great with soups and stews or with a hunk of cheese and beer. It is simple to make and doesn't take much time.

Preheat your oven to 400 deg F
You will need the following ingredients

  • 250g Flour (White or Wholewheat) 
  • 5g salt
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 150ml of Buttermilk, Thin yogurt, milk or even water
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the wet and mix with your fingers to make a dough (should be quite wet if not add more liquid) don't over mix. Turn out onto cookie sheet and form into a round dust with flour and then cut a deep cross. Place in the oven and bake for 20-20mins. This bread is best eaten warm with lashings of butter.

Daily Bread

The following recipe is the one I use for my daily bread, well I make it over 2 days or so. This recipe will work with either white or wholewheat flour. Making good bread is all about technique and that is quite an involved subject which would be impossible to cover here and I think this is something that needs to be experienced visually and youtube is a great resource. I floundered for a while not able to achieve consistent results and producing my fair share of hockey pucks as well as decent bread until I encounter a book by Daniel Stevens who is the baker for River Cottage, his techniques helped me to produce a consistent loaf of bread (see Dan on Youtube). 


500g Flour (White or Wholewheat or a mix)
5g of Dried Yeast
350ml of water
10 g of salt
Tablespoon of Oil

Baking bread is done in three stages. The first stage creates the sponge where the yeast is cultivated for this particular loaf it is optional but I always do it. Mix together half of the flour with all of the water and the yeast in a bowl. This will create a very wet sloppy dough. Cover the bowl and leave overnight to ferment. 

Phase two is about kneading and proving the dough ready for baking. During the night the yeast will multiply and feed on the flour and in the morning the sponge should be formed, the mixture having risen and be frothy and light. Now add the rest of the flour along with the salt and the oil. Bring together into a sticky dough. At this point a stand mixer with a dough hook is a good idea but for those without or if you want to work those muscles then hand kneading can be done (look on youtube for technique) kneading must be done for at least 15 mins longer won't hurt. Once done the dough will loose it's initial stickiness and become stretchy as the gluten formed by the kneading binds the dough. Form kneaded dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl which has room for the bread to double in size. Cover and leave on the counter until it has doubled in size, or you can put it in the fridge go off to work and leave it rising slowly throughout the day. 

The final phase is shaping and baking. Take your risen dough and press it down knocking all the breath out of it. Turn it out onto a flat surface and shape ready for baking, place in tin if using or free form, leave to rise for an hour (2 if you brought the dough out of the fridge). If you are shaping a free form loaf then place it on a baking try. Then bring your oven up to it maximum temperature. I use a pizza stone in my oven as a baking surface but you can use a traditional baking tin. Once the oven is up to temperature, put your risen loaf in the oven and bake for 10 mins. You should cut slashes in the top of your loaf before putting it in the oven since that helps it to expand without bursting. A bread knife does a good job at slashing the bread. After 10 mins reduce the oven to 400 deg F and cook for a further 30mins. After that time remove and cool on a rack. If you are using a tin turn the bread out as soon as you can so that it doesn't sweat.

So making bread isn't for everyone, it is involved and when mastered very satisfying and it opens a whole new world to you. Donuts anyone.....well that is another post..

Friday, January 22, 2010

A pig story -

This time of year is an exciting one in my house because this is the time when our pig becomes pork!. When I say "Our Pig" I mean the one that Windsor Family Farms reared for us. This year is even more exciting in that we finally went for the whole Hog! (in past years we just had half of one!)

This post might not be for the squeamish or vegetarians, whom I have a lot of respect for, but I am, a meat eater, and I worry about where my meat comes from and how it was raised. If you haven't asked yourself these questions yet then I suggest you watch Food Inc or read Omnivores Dilemma. Where our meat comes from and how it is raised is a bit of an issue today because our typical mode of buying meat leads us to pre-packed lumps of protein sitting in a cold chest with labels to remind us which species of animal it belongs to.

When I embarked on this slow food journey sourcing local and ethically raised meat was the one part which really worried me the most. Obviously there was no way I was going to get away with starting a small farm in the back yard so I had to research. Firstly I found a good set of resources online, Niman Ranch was my first find and these guys do an awesome job and provide a great service. Secondly there are the local farmers markets where some producers sell grass fed and humanely reared meat and finally I live just down the road from a large Wholefoods who at least tell me where the meat is from. All of these sources are convenient but they can be expensive.

Then, by accident, I found Windsor Family Farms, a very small farm just 40 mins away from Cupertino in San Martin. The farm is run by Kim and Kyle Windsor (and their children) is what would be called a small holding in the UK, they rear a few animals really well with the care and respect that leads to the best possible health and eventually meat. Buying meat direct from a farm may seem like a scary deal but it actually turned out to be quite painless. It is best to do a bit research on the animal your buying and at least know the main cuts (known as the prime cuts) and preparations. You will also need a freezer, not as large as you might think but you will need one. In case you are thinking that at some point a dead animal will end up on your doorstep, or perhaps worse a live one, for you to deal with! Don't panic it isn't like this at all. When the animal is due to go to slaughter (and the exact time will depend on the how Farmer thinks the animal is doing) you get a notification to prepare yourself. This is a time to clear out all those left overs from your freezer. The next thing that happens is, you call the butcher that receives the animal (or they will call you). All local meat producers work with a local butcher who will prepare the meat how you want it (yes you can have it your way!) in the case of Windsor they use Freedom Meats in Freedom near Watsonville (an excellent butcher and curer of meat). The butcher will prepare the meat into the cuts, turn the trimmings into mince and basically do what you want. Freedom will even cured your hams, and make your bacon (assuming you are picking up a pig). They flash freeze and box it up for you to collect. That is it! Costs factored as follows, there is a live weight fee for the animal and nominal slaughter fee (goes to the producer) and then the costs of Butchering. However when you factor in everything your Pork is going to cost around $3:50 - $5.00 per pound depending on how much work you want the butcher to do (this year for grass fed beef I paid about $7.00 per pound). Which is a deal! and if you have freezer a good way to go and the meat is absolutely top notch.

The Windsors deal mainly in pigs, they do have a steer occasionally. I have also found a couple of larger local farms, well ranches in the area. Morris Grass Fed Beef in San Juan Batista and Paicines Ranch in Paicines CA. These operate in a similar fashion to Windsor but on a larger scale and they deliver the butchered meat straight from the farm.  Paicines also operate a meat CSA through Eat with the Seasons. Typically there is a minimum order for delivery and an upfront deposit. The larger farms such as Paicines will allow you buy cuts of meat ala-cart but the prices go up considerable, buying in bulk gets the best price. Going directly to the source of your meat is great experience, you get to the see the passion and care these people put into rearing they animals and you get to understand the process and most important just who is messing with your meat!! if you live in the Cupertino area I encourage you to check out the resources above, if not then do some research on local producers in your area.

Potential Gross part ahead!

So in a week of so I expect a call from Freedom telling me my hog is ready. I have them do minimal processing because I like to do my own curing and sausage making which I will post about during the year. I also enjoy the offal which isn't for everyone but I would say you haven't tasted the real stuff until you have had it fresh. Offal needs to be eaten or processed with 72 hrs of slaughter. One really nice thing about working directly with the farmer is that you can get the offal fresh. I picked up the offal from my Hog last weekend and spent a day prepping it and turning it into yummy things can be frozen without losing the quality or texture. The main parts I use is the heart, liver and kidneys.

I made two family favorites, a rich liver pâté, and a dish from back in the UK which has an unfortunate name, one that is used in a derogatory sense in the US. So here I mean it in the culinary sense, this dish is called Faggots which are savory dumplings made from the liver and the heart mixed with herbs and spices (recipes available on request) and delicious with onion gravy and peas..

So more on the pig story when rest arrives, can't wait!.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Slow Veggies

A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...Image via Wikipedia

One issue of trying to adopt a more seasonal approach to the food you eat is sourcing the raw materials. This is certainly step one and once you make it It is all down hill. A movement towards "slow food" rather than the existing industrial processed food you find in your local mega-mart is a bit of a commitment but if you are reading this then you are hopefully thinking of making a start down that path.

So this post is about Vegetables, and although some might describe veggies as the stuff that food eats!, you are spoiled for choice living in the bay area as compared to other parts of the US. There are an astonishing number of tasty veggies which grow local but never even make it to your supermarkets and as you dig into where and what you are eating you will be surprised just what you have been missing.

So on to Veggies and how to find them in season and from local producers. There are three main ways of accomplishing this depending on how much time and control you want to exert. For myself I have reached a point in my journey where I use all three but just choosing one of the following methods will get you started on your slow feed adventure.

The Veggie Box.

This option is the one requiring the least commitment but there is some up front work to set it up. Basically having someone pack up a bunch of local in-season veggies into a box or bag and dropping them on your doorstep, or to a local drop point for you to pick up. No fuss, no mess, no queuing. These schemes are called CSA's or more formally community supported agriculture. There are a number of such schemes out there and they typically require an upfront fee in order to secure the goods. These schemes vary from single farms to cooperatives working with many local producers. Many offer dairy and meat products along with the veggie boxes. The good news is that in the bay there are quite a few CSA's available for you to choose from, the trick is finding them. Well the best way I have found is to use the excellent resources of Local Harvest ( The Local Harvest website provides a simple web form where you can click to find CSA's operating in your area and get a decent overview of the kind of service they. Note that some schemes do not allow for cancellation for vacation periods, and they often don't operate year round.

My particular Food Hero in this category is Eat with the Seasons a CSA/Coopertive working in the Bay Area. I have been using this particular service for the last three years and can recommend them. They have nice features which are not found in all CSA schemes. Each week they send you by email a list of seasonal produce from which you can select what you would like. They also include local dairy products and also meat through the excellent Pacines Ranch. The other nice feature they have is that you can cancel or donate your order (should you be out of town) and finally they provide weekly recipes for the produce they are providing.

Which ever one you choose now is a good time to sign up for a CSA as they are starting out assembling their customer base for 2010

The Farmers Market

This is a step up in commitment from a CSA in that you actually have to get in your favorite means of transport and travel (on a weekly basis), then browse and shop for what you want or more accurately what is available. You have a lot more control but you have to make time to go and choose. There are a number of farmers markets in the Cupertino area and they are all fairly similar, in fact many of the same vendors go to all the local venues. To find one near you and the times of operations the previously mentioned Local Harvest comes to the rescue again, although it is best to check the local city website to double check the information as times and locations do change. A few things to consider when going to a farmers market, well it is pointless making a list! Part of the fun is discovery. Take a bag to put your produce in, and take cash rather than plastic to pay. Finally if you see something you don't recognize, ask the producer who will be only too happy to tell you what it is, give you a taste and even whip out a family recipe for you to take with you. The other fun thing about farmers markets are the samplers, I swear you eat your 5 a day there.

My favorite in the Cupertino area (is sadly not the one in Cupertino sorry guys!) is the one in Campbell. I like it because it is on the weekend and positioned right in the middle of town with good free parking. Being in town means the local shops and restaurants are also open should you need additional refreshment or retail therapy.

Grow Your Own

Obviously this is quite a commitment and realistically unless you live on a farm or have access to a significant amount of land (unlikely if you live in Cupertino) then this option is only going to enhance rather than sustain your veggie stocks though-out the year. Having said that, growing your own is excellent for those special hard to get fruits and vegetables or where having them available to hand it not only convenient but just the best way to eat them. Freshly cut/picked fruits and vegetables maintain the maximum amount of taste and nutrition value. You don't need a lot of space to set up a modest vegetable garden and for those of you in apartments it is feasible to grow quite a lot in containers and pots, both indoors and outdoors, and/or on balconies and windowsills (also as my daughters will attest under fluorescent lamps in a darkened student studio). I planted my garden in a side yard and was surprise how much produce I could grow on such a small piece of land. The great thing about having a garden is how much control you have on what you grow and the varieties, not to mention the cost effectiveness.

I will cover in future posts the setting up a vegetable garden and what to grow as this is a massive subject. But there are a number of great resources you can utilize if you are interested in setting up a garden. First thing would be to check out your local community colleges to if there a courses available. I found that the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara did a number of really good courses which can introduce you to all aspects of sustainable gardening in California. The Bay Area in particular is one of 5 areas in the world where it is possible to grow all year around. Secondly if you don't have land of your own then check to see if your city supports a community gardening program. They are to come by but many cities to have such program.

I hope what is written above is useful and will help you make choices that are right for you at this time. The most important thing is as you journey on your own personal adventure is to talk about it with your friends and help them understand the values and commitments to such a lifestyle.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: Michael Pollen "Food Rules" An Eaters Manual

Over the holidays I went to a number of social events (well you have to really) and at most of them at least one person came up and told me they had just read this book or watched that DVD about the problems with our food culture. The story I got was a familiar one, familiar because the same thing had happened to me. There are a lot books out there which tell you the many ways your industrial food system defined diet is going to kill you and there is nothing you can do about it. There are many DVD's which graphically portray the cruelty that many of the creatures that end up on your plate have endured getting there, and there is nothing you can do about it. It's the feeling of helplessness which you are left with which is the problem and was the main issue of the conversations I was having at these social gatherings (yes alcohol was served at many of them).

Luckily I had read Michael Pollan's excellent book In Defense of Food and If you have not I encourage you to pick up a copy before you open his other book Omnivores Dilemma (and others like it) or slot that Food Inc. DVD into the player. I recommend In Defense of Food because it at least gives you some support as a confused or worried eater. The three simple guidelines he outlines at the beginning of the book are really the conclusions drawn from the contents but more than that, they form a mantra which guides the educated eater, and have guided myself, they are:

Eat Food
Not Too Much
Mostly Leaves.

However this review is not about In Defense of Food, it is about Food Rules, An Eaters Guide which is Micheal's new offering. Micheal freely admits that simple as the above guidelines are they were still quite vague and clearly needed more expansion to further aid the confused eater. And so he has released this new book.

The first thing you notice about the Food Rules is that it is small, compact in size. The idea was to provide a handy reference in rule form rather than a lot of details or background. Inside the book is basically organized in chapters around the three guidelines above and presents 64 rules (although that might be too strong) which add further definition around how to detect food, how much of it is appropriate, and why you don't need to turn Vegetarian or Vegan (unless you want to) in order to satisfy the last guideline.

In short this is a handy book for the confused eater, read out of the context of other works such as In defense of food or some other resource on industrialized food it might not make much sense. In context or when, like the people I encountered, you just have questions, it makes a lot of sense, and I recommend it for your bookshelf.

I am especially pleased about rule 64: "break the rules once in a while". Mainly because while writing this review I did snack on a packet of Smoky Bacon Crisps (Chips) I had brought back from the UK and just found in the cupboard.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

If you Eat Food Please Listen to this

Ok this is a short post and I am afraid I am dragging my soapbox out for this this one. If you eat food (no matter where you live) the please listen to the first 5-10 mins of the Food and Farming awards podcast broadcast on the BBC radio 4 food programme.

I know that the UK is faraway from Cupertino but the message in the introduction is common to California and the US as well and concerns the growing issues surrounding our current food system and our food culture in general. The slow food movement in the US is in a similar situation to the UK and as mentioned in the podcast it is a series of dots that need to be joined together. Well my friends you hold the pencil that does the joining. No massive marketing campaign of TV advert is going to be coming anytime soon as this very much a grass root movement.

This whole podcast is basically an award show for slow food producers and purveyors in the UK the introduction by HRM Prince Charles (yep the guy that jilted Dianna) succinctly characterizes why this is important. The message is very much inline with the core objective of this blog.

By all means listen to the whole podcast and even though it is speaking to the UK (which is smaller than CA) try this little exercise. For each award ask yourself who you would give the same award to in your area. If you have an answer tell someone else (tell all your friends, blog, twitter, facebook etc) if not then start asking around and see if anyone else might have a candidate. This is how Slowfood happens and the dots get joined.

thanks for listening.....soapbox being put away now, for the moment

Friday, January 1, 2010

Got Lots of Cardboard?

Close up photo of a dandelion.Image via Wikipedia

This time of year you probably have just settled down to look at your gifts and sitting somewhere is a lot of cardboard. And because your recycling is probably full of other recyclables (assorted bottles and cans!!) it will sit for a bit longer. Well if you have a particularly weedy patch of ground cardboard is a great mulch/weed barrier and this is a perfect time of year to lay it down. Used along with a more decorative mulch on top it will slowly rot down over the winter and when you are ready to plant in spring you will have a mostly weed free area to plant in. I did this last year and ended up with a weed free plot for my spring plants.

To apply just cut an lay like a carpet, you can cut around established plants. Then spread over a decorative mulch and step back and admire your work. Perhaps with local craft beer or wine (from the Santa Cruz or Santa Clara valley).

Happy New Year

Well 2009 has been a tough year for me personally but I have come through it hopefully stronger, wiser and more committed. And one commitment or resolution I have made to myself for 2010 is to Blog more. I hope I can achieve what I set out to accomplish with this Blog which was to pass on information on how to source local and seasonal food, how to prepare it and when local is not possible other ethical options available.

I have been living by these tenets for the last three years and I am amazed how much better I feel in myself and also how much cheaper and satisfying it is.

This I managed two major tasks, firstly I started a garden (and an associated compost heap to maintain it). I managed to grow a lot of food and discovered that in this area growing things isn't really the problem, ensuring that you are the one that actually get to eat most of it is! I also starting to Brew beer again a craft I gave up in my twenties.

More on the above and other things in future posts.

happy new year everyone. here's to an amazing 2010