a new kind of practice

picking mulberries

i've been writing.  a little bit, each day.

it's an attempt to get through the seemingly never-ending cycle of angst in which i find myself each time i begin a new story, application, or essay.

maybe practice will get me through it.

maybe, with practice, i'll be able to work through the crippling fear i have that i'll never be able to capture the tiny bits of beauty that make me love this life, the bits for which i live, and which i want to share with all of you.

a couple of weeks ago, i found myself at sunny slope orchard with two other writers, both more experienced than me.  we were on a rescue mission, picking up apricots that had to be picked in a rush in order to save them from water damage from an unexpectedly late rainfall.

so we drove up there, with a plan to make jam over the weekend.  i'd just been to sunny slope a few days earlier, and having experienced the magic of that place, did my best to prepare my friends without spoiling the surprises that i knew waited in store for them.  you see, bill spurlock is a magician, a mechanic, and an all-around genius.  and fern, well, she's made of gold.

our morning was filled with ripe royal blenheim apricots, plucked from the branches of hundred-year old trees and eaten straight away; perfect plum popsicles in a treehouse built of dreams; tastes of fruit gently dried by sunlight; and a host of ingenious contraptions constructed to make farm life just a tiny bit easier and a dose more entertaining.

we left in a daze, with a car full of apricots and a sugar-high to remember.

a few minutes into the drive home, i started to lament that one could never capture such beauty, such magic, in mere words.  no story i could ever write would ever do that place justice.  it simply could never be done.

the most experienced writer among us looked at me as if i were nuts.  he said, "of course it could be done, as long as you concede that you'll never be able to adequately describe the taste of the apricots.  but the experience was certainly rich enough to craft a compelling portrait of a farmer and his fruit."

i didn't say it, but thought, "whatever.  maybe you could do it, but not me.  it's just not possible."

later, when i recounted the story to another friend, he pointed out how crazy i sounded.  he said, "if after eating a delicious pesto that you'd made i said, 'i could never do this, never in a million years make a pesto as good as this,' you'd look at me and say, 'of course you can,' and then walk me through the steps.  you might tell me about the history of pesto, describing the different ways it's made on the various hillside towns in liguria.  you'd tell me which farmer to seek out to get just the right variety of piccolo fino basil, and how many months the parmesan and pecorino you'd used had been aged.  and of course you'd tell me where the olive oil had come from, and why that delicate gold-label oil is so crucial for a lovely pesto.  then you'd show me just how to prepare it, step-by-step, and tell me to go home and practice until i got it right myself."

i started to see that with writing, it's no different. you just break it down into manageable chunks and then you practice.  you write, and you write, and you write some more, until you get there.  it might take a really long time, but you'll never know unless you start practicing.

so now, as painful as it might be, i'm committed to doing that hard work.  practice.  i get it.

wish me luck.
forgive me, but i need to take a little break from all of my iranicizing. not because i'm not aware of what's going on, but because i'm too aware. it's overwhelming.

i want to catch you all up on what's been going on here for the past couple of weeks:

there were 700 or so jars of apricot preserves at yes we can, which we made at la cocina, whilst ryan farr taught handfuls of laypeople how to make emulsified sausages.

there was the couscous royale at asiya's goodbye party, where i finally met jessica, the woman behind rabbits and wrinkles.

a week later, there was an educational day of canning cherries and cherry jam for green string farm, wherein i realized that cherry jam could never be a money-making enterprise. fifty pounds of pitted cherries yielded 46 8-oz jars of jam. i don't even want to think about the math involved in that.

there was the day we went over to veller's house to kill four rabbits for our dinner celebrating the release of her book. this is the least graphic photo i had. notice the fraying nylon string veller saved from her hay bales and rigged up to the tree for hanging the rabbits to skin.

but as one might imagine, the cage the rabbits were in wasn't the most secure apparatus, so one bunny had escaped two nights before the big day. he was last seen at the liquor store down the street. we searched for him for 20 minutes to no avail, so we made do with three bunnies. as soon as we left, veller said, the smart guy showed up but she couldn't catch him.

there was my lunatic idea to cook a dinner using as many backyard and urban farmed and foraged ingredients as possible to celebrate the release of novella's book, which meant that i somehow had to find dozens of backyard farmers, figure out what and how much they'd have available the week of the dinner, set up drop-off times and make time to forage and harvest, and somehow write a coherent menu around it all. it was the most involved, challenging, invigorating and fruitful experience of my cooking career.

the dinner couldn't have been more lovely:

chris cutting into the prosciutto made with novella's pigs

novella's olives (which we served with the prosciutto)

cucu sabzi, a persian frittata (my mom's is better) i made with all of the leftover foraged herbs and greens

the second prosciutto (CL got a little carried away)

CL slicing prosciutto on the beautiful berkel slicer emilio lent us for the night

the experience of seeing those rabbits on the farm over the past several months, killing, skinning and cleaning them up, then cooking with them was something i hope all cooks have at some point in their lives. chris and cedric did a fantastic job with them. we dried sunny slopes farm apricots and made a moroccan-inspired stuffing. those are little heirloom carrots from novella's farm on the outside, with fresh chickpeas from catalan farm.

all in all, it was a fantastic night, with so many of our friends and neighbors present. the sense of community was so strong that night, with nearly every table scouring the menu for the ingredients that had come from their own yards. perhaps the most special contribution was the incredible sack of mulberries from suzanne's neighbor's yard in south berkeley. thank you, everyone, for filling that night with such authenticity and love.

and finally, yesterday there was the discovery of lola's ice creams & sundaes (via aaron), a sort of beautiful ice cream version of the moro books (not much of a surprise since they come from the same publisher). i might just have to get that for myself.

dirty girl albion strawberry jam

my love of dirty girl farm is no secret.

neither is my love of albion strawberries.  

so it would only make sense that dirty girl albion strawberries would be my, uh, favorites?  

i got a couple of flats of the berries yesterday, and jo helped me hull them.  i decided to try the christine ferber method, where you macerate the berries overnight, bring them to a simmer the second day, and make the jam on the third day by cooking the syrup down and quickly throwing in the berries at the last second.  this isn't so different than the june taylor marmalade method, which has worked beautifully for me in the past, so i feel pretty good about it.  

i even got to break in my copper jam pot.  yay!

the only weird thing about the christine ferber recipe is how much sugar it calls for: 85% by weight!  yikes!  i know strawberries are low sugar and low pectin, and so you need some extra insurance, but yeesh!  85%?  i started with 20%.  let's see how that works for us.  i'll keep you posted.

bricks and blossoms at soul food farm.  march 2009.

let's see: have we all seen melissa's blog?  she's still completely ridiculous, but also totally entertaining and informative on the topic of her home garden.  melissa, my oldest friend, started gardening in pots on her patio in venice beach several years ago.  the pots have traveled with her to san diego, and the gardening is getting out of control.  it's pretty great to see how much she is doing with how little--i've seen the garden in its most recent state, and it doesn't really reach much farther than her front porch and back porch.  yet the blog posts keep on coming.  

also, check out good evening thursday at bruno's in the mission, brought to you by sam & co. of open.  a once a week pop-up restaurant in the back of a dive bar--sorta like mission street food, but a little less sketchy and slightly more consistent.

in our own kitchen, canning season is about to get underway: brandied cherries, apricots and apricot jam, and even some early b&b pickles will hopefully be happening soon.  can't wait to get back into my element.

farm updates: first basil from martin, cukes from catalan, tulare cherries from twin girls and fantastic chandler strawberries from terra firma.

forgive me for the lighting in this picture and the last--i'm still working on figuring out how to take good photos in low light situations. both of the photos are from the party i worked at on saturday. these cheeses are some of the most expensive i know of, and that stack was just one of about ten. i nearly fell over in shock when i saw so much of this particular beauty--

this cheese is called "renata," and it comes from an amazing producer in eastern washington named sally jackson. when i first heard of renata, i was kind of confused, and thought that it might be named for some sort of musical terminology, like soyoung's cheeses, but then i learned something that endeared sally and this cheese to me more than i ever thought possible:

renata is the name of one cow--a brown swiss--and all of her milk goes into making this cheese (that's why that huge stack of cheese in the photo is so impressive).

though sally jackson has been making cheese for nearly thirty years, she didn't get electricity on her farm until 14 years ago. she gets the chestnut and grape leaves she uses to wrap her cheeses from local friends, and she makes every batch of cheese herself, by hand on an antique gas stove. she and her husband roger still take all of their orders by phone or mail--to see such beauty and success on this scale in this day and age is so rare, and inspiring.

december polls: at the market

radicchio, originally uploaded by ciaosamin.

annabelle's puntarelle and crazy sqaush

terra firma and riverdog carrots

full belly chocolate persimmons

full belly spinach

star route fennel

star route nettles

catalan cauliflower

dirty girl speckled romaine

riverdog red kabocha squash

woodleaf satsumas

flatland flower farm red roma apples

riverdog chard

get well soon

Soupe de poulet? (préparation), originally uploaded by Christophe Mendes.

i love this photo, with all of the fixins for a big, beautiful pot of chicken soup. look at those chicken legs wrapped with leek tops! so lovely.

everyone i know is ill right now--i've been narrowly avoiding getting sick by eating about five thousand mandarins a day. the best ones i've had have been from riverdog, monterey market, and woodleaf farm. i can't believe citrus is so sweet already.

a friend who claims to be clairevoyant (and another who claims not to be) both told me this week that they think my big project is going to pay off big time next year. i'm trying not to think about it. (my friends are on crack, by the way).

i had the best dinner (with the sweetest of my friends) at nopa last night. gosh, it was so good. everything was seasoned so perfectly. i only wish the broccoli had been cooked a little more slowly in the wood oven, but even as it was, it was delicious. and the mural by brian barneclo is bright and blocky--i could look at it for hours. if i lived nearby (and didn't work in a restaurant), i'd probably eat there at least once a week. so, so good.

sorry for the randomness....