I consider myself a hunter and gatherer and one who loves to forage for my food. I take ridiculously long drives when I hear of a chance to find morels or porcinis sometimes with people I’ve never met before. There is no guarantee of finding those elusive organisms once you arrive either. I free dive in the rough shallows of the ocean to find abalone and sea urchin (yum!). I pick nuts of the California Bay Laurel and Oak trees dodging poison oak competing with the squirrels. In the past six years I have found a new love for edible wild plants as well as dye plants, mushrooms and lichen. I am no expert but I hope someday to be one. Last month I took a mini class on collecting seaweed at low tide. I drove to Mendocino and arrived at my campground at 1 am. It was the first time I camped alone. I dragged my futon the back of the car and slept that night in a real bed albeit in the back of a Volkswagen. Early the next morning I stopped in town for a coffee at 6:30 am and headed to a predestined spot to meet the seaweed expert. She opened a new world for me. It's good day when I find a new thing to munch on like salty seaweed or can sustainably gather my ten allotted pounds of various algae species. Then the seaweed master took the day to a new height, she showed me how to collect salt. That new skill put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. It was only 10 am.
“ Don’t forget to stop at the cannabis farmers market,” she said as she hopped in her car to head home.
So the smile continued once I met the passionate farmers of the‘flowers”. A flower refers to the "buds" now an anachronistic word from text and language of the last century. The market was revelatory, exciting and almost as good as foraging for my own food. I love farmer's markets and this was new kind of market. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.
A perfect day in California involves the forage of fish, seaweed, mushrooms, plants, snails, sea urchins, salt and now, flowers.
So when I got an email to review The Sea Foragers Guide to Northern California, by Kirk Lombard, I literally took the bait.
With the experience sea foraging fresh in my memory, reading the book was a true pleasure. It even added a new favorite word to my lexicon: the piscivore. I have decided not to use pescatarian in my kitchen anymore.
Lombard’s book is a perfect combination of playful and funny storytelling through his own experiences and sharing essential knowledge of gearing up, finding, catching and cooking sea creatures that are at our marine doorstep. And while I turned to the pages to my favorite fish of sardines and anchovies, and learned a little more, the prospect adding more creatures and techniques to my foraging and cooking schedule was a gift. Why not add a few limpets to my belt? (Because they are tough and chewy).
The book tells a harrowing story of his first abalone dive that combines all the fears and I have ever had before venturing into the water. Think Great White, think drowning. Lombard also gives the reader an option: do you pick everything you can possibly find or do take into consideration your own morals and restraints? Do you want to kill an octopus really? It’s my favorite thing to eat in Spain, yes, but the fact that their intelligence is comparable to humans might make you think twice. And that is what Lombard does really well, he helps question the motives before the catch and at the same time he tells you all the basic knowledge you need to know in your own quest to find seafood in Northern California. This is a book for locals that want to venture out of normal fishing bounds and start to explore one of the richest and abundant ecosystems of the world. No worries if you only want to read about salmon and halibut but if you buy this book it’s because you want to learn much more. For a non-fisherwoman like me, the “how to” of gear, lines, nets, skinners and rigs (delightfully illustrated by Leighton Kelly) was well beyond my knowledge. I now know the terms. That's a start. Now I even know the basics of fishing from a kayak. How exciting!
In all, The Sea Foragers Guide to Northern California is a perfect reference book for any friend or family who wants to start an informed and thoughtful foraging and fishing practice in Northern California. It’s a very Northern Californian book of which I appreciate (because I live here and love it). So go to the beach and get your fresh Bullwhip kelp ready to pickle. I know I am.
Time flies as we all know. It's already July and so much has happened at my Montalvo home. Since April I have cooked so many meals for some really interesting people who helped me understand the meaning of courage. Last month, there was that 106-pound haul from the Six River National Recreation Area of burn morels in just one day, there was the presence of music pioneer, storyteller and 2016 Pulitzer prize winner Henry Threadgill, who is the real deal in contemporary music sharing his stories of childhood growing up in Chicago with the jazz greats like Coltrane, Duke and his mother who had a cake baking business out of the house. Every surface covered in sugar. Not to mention my new favorite southerner Matt Petty who musically and visually explores visionary folk art of the South, meaning people who have visions and then dedicate their lives to a project given to them by god (building a stairway to heaven is one such project). Very southern and a world I do not know until Matt graced us with his presence. Then there was the return of Cassils, a visual and performance artist who explores sexuality, its suppression and their literal fight to expose injustice. Cassils is also a body builder and uses the body as part of their practice. Their work (pronoun meaning one transgender person which takes getting used to, at least for me in a grammatical sense) is powerful beyond most meters of power. They are kind and bright beyond most specrums of color. Cassils's wife Christy, a dominatrix by past trade and now a nurse, trainer and musician, has emmense power and humor in her own right. And to add to the creative mix is Jonas Becker, who makes sound and visual installations that are rich in simple beauty and deep ideals. Jonas also has changed his pronoun. I mention this only because it is a sign of the times where people can be free in this country to be who they want to be. It's courageous. The dark wave of violence in Orlando, Fl. or the rhetoric from the bully representing the republican party should not change that. This leads me to mention Karen Finley who was here with Bruce Yonemoto making a commentary film about the founder of Villa Montalvo Senator James Phelan, a known racist of the day who penned the Asian Exclusion Act to "Make America White Again" as to bring the subject to the present state of political affairs. So the past is the present in many ways. The film will explore that theme since that bully is using the exact same language that led 120,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps . We need to fight for a county where people can be who they want to be without discrimination of any kind. Intense times at Montalvo! Time for growth. And more good food. Here are a few images of the season:
It's been a while since I wrote on this blog and it's time to start up again. I am at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga working as a "culinary artist" a term I take with all seriousness. Time is flying and I have been cooking up so many yummy things.
Now I get to put those creative daily spurts of mine into books. I am working on two and they both connote the deep flavors of the earth.
Earthy is one word to describe my style with some salt and brine elements of the sea mixed in too. One book project is with the fabulously talented visual artist Kija Lucas who is doing all the photography for an art and nature-hungry seasonal cookbook. Many of the things are wild and foraged and all the recipes will be inspired by my intense cooking time and exploration at the artist residency at Montalvo.
The other book will be focused on food and drink of the cider house. Apples! And on that one, I get to work with another wildly talented person— my sister who is co- owner of the artisan Carr's Ciderhouse in Hadley, MA. Ever heard of switchel or cider syrup? Now you will. It's amazing stuff, old school ingredients brought to the contemporary era...artisan food at its finest and most ethical.