Category Archives: Food

Thanking The Turkey

Yesterday was one of my favorite days. I don’t think I’m unique in loving Thanksgiving — there’s just something about the ritual of sitting around a table with people, be they friends or strangers, sharing food together. I like passing the potatoes. I like the community. I like the idea of us collectively taking a big breath in as a nation and thinking about what makes life truly rich.

Nothing says thanksgiving like a homemade sign

A great looking table for fifteen

After-dinner fiddle and folk songs

The most beautiful pie

Last year, I spent Thanksgiving fresh off the trail, having spent two weeks camping in Utah’s canyon land, and was amazed to wake up to warm toes and hashbrowns in Prescott, Arizona.

This year, I was just at the bottom of the hill at a friends’ house here in Tamworth, New Hampshire. They have a wonderful bond with their neighbors and so all were over for the good meal. Most of the food, in fact, was all grown by them in their shared garden — potatoes, beets, celeriac, squash, brussell sprouts, kale, onions. The cranberry sauce was made from berries harvested up the road (in the local bog!) and even the turkey had been raised and butchered by them.

Taking down this season’s turkey pen with gratitude and some relief

Farm stand all boarded up for winter

Cows earlier in September watching me watch them

New eating technique: get inside the trough

We’ve even got locally-grown mushrooms (these are “blue oysters”)

And locally-made biodiesel to run our farms! 

The funny thing is how normal this has become to me — to be eating what you grow and raise. I knew nothing of plants and animals when I lived in Chicago. I couldn’t tell you growing seasons for vegetables. I paid no attention to how far my blueberries had traveled to my table. I didn’t know that cucumbers are sort of spiky and I certainly had no clue how to kill a pig.

More poignantly, I can recognize a change in my relation to meat. I see what I eat as animal now — not just as a strange, never-living protein object. The fine bones in a salmon’s muscles remind me that he once fought his way upstream. The chicken once tucked her head into those buffalo wings. The fatty bacon strips were once a pig’s belly, laying lazily in the mud. Continue reading

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Goats and Oysters

What does a New Mexican hill top farm strewn with goats and an Alaskan bay filled with buoys have in common? Not much, except if you’re in the business of high end organic food.

In Alaska, it was oysters. In New Mexico, it’s been cheese. Both are businesses that got started because of one singular passion. For Mike, it’s the ocean. For Nancy, it’s rugged mountains. Both are paving a new way in their states’ organic food industry.

Pile o' oysters!

Overlooking Homer's Kachemak Bay

Oysters are not native to Alaska. I learned this within my first few days with Mike Nakada’s Northern Lights Oyster Company back in July. A lucky break had landed me there after finding Mike’s oyster farm on the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) website. I had emailed him on a whim, saying I could work for him sometime in the next week. He called me five minutes later. “Can you be here tomorrow?” and “Do you have boots?” were his only two questions. Sure, and no I didn’t have rubber boots. “That’s alright, we’ve got some somewhere around here.” We hung up and I kind of wondered what had just happened.

Christa, novice-turned-expert filleter

Can't get much better than home made smoked salmon

I arrived at his yurt in Homer the next day. His friend Bill had brought in close to 200 salmon from a recent run and the front yard was a dizzying mix of silvery bodies, knives, freezer bags, and the bright red of flesh and eggs. I dived right in and spent the afternoon learning to filet and smoke the salmon. (I was, for the record, horrible at it but the big German lab at my feet didn’t seem to mind the extra scraps.)

Setting out for the bay in the skiff

Homer likes to claim it's the halibut capital of the world, though nearby Seward says otherwise! Oh, fishing town rivalries...

The Susitna, home sweet crab boat

We set out for the farm a few days later in a small skiff that Mike kept docked on Homer’s spit. Leaving the harbor, we pass fishing boat after fishing boat coming in with their halibut catch, or what locals like to call “chickens,” the cornerstone of the Alaskan fishing industry. We pass a cruise ship (Alaska’s other cornerstone) and then hit the open water. The wind pushes the swells higher and doesn’t let up until forty minutes later when we turned into Jakolof Bay. Our bay. Our “farm.”

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Meanwhile Back At The Ranch…

Thirty miles south of Prescott, Arizona is a road called Wagoner. It’s also known as Walnut Grove and occasionally just “the dirt one after the Kirkland junction.” To get to it from Prescott, you either go up and over the Bradshaw mountains or take the Iron Springs road around them. This is the way I like. On it, you’ll find the Kirkland Bar, built as a stagecoach stop turned bordello in 1863, and the somewhat ominously named town of Skull Valley.

And that’s all before you’ve even hit the dirt.

Once you’re on Wagoner, you’ll cross cattle guard after cattle guard belonging to ranches that have existed for over a hundred years (one family claims to be the first white ranchers in all of Arizona). If you follow the road back to mile 26 up and down some grizzly ruts and canyons, you’ll find the gold mining turned ghost town of Crown King. You’ll also find the occasional junk yard, stray horse, and wild javelina.

Welcome to the ranch!

View out the back door with the Bradshaws blue in the distance

Gold Bar's 100 year-old ranch house. Front porch was a haven for cats, chickens, a very determined skunk, and an unfortunate end to a pumpkin pie.

Riding horses home on the road on Christmas evening

But more than any of that, the road is the neighborhood. It’s the place where people pass each other in their trucks, on their horses, on foot, and slow down for the latest news or maybe to show off the coyote, tomcat, and, sometimes, mountain lion pelt they’ve got in the back from the latest hunt (I’ll save the story about my own lion hunt for another day…).

I called mile 11 home for most of late November and December. There, tucked away beside a creek and cottonwoods, stands Ella and Mike’s Gold Bar Ranch. This was my second experience as a roaming farmhand through Willing Workers on Organic Farms (aka “WWOOF”), having spent November at a vineyard in southeastern Utah, and it was just as great an immersion into a different way of life.

Giving me the stare down after we loaded her friends up for auction (sorry!)

Barn in the late afternoon sun

You can't run a ranch without some good gates and...

...some good rope.

My first Tuesday at the ranch and we were off to the Chino Valley livestock auction with a bull and a calf for sale (after we had herded them through a squeeze box into the trailer). The auction sees about 1000 cattle pass through it a day (plus a cool 800 goats and sheep) and is the main one in Arizona. It’s mostly composed of a metal-sided building with a system of wooden pens, gates, and cut-throughs that stretch off into the distance behind it. Inside, there’s a front room where you can pick up your latest copy of Beef Today with article after article extolling the health benefits of beef and a small arena where you sit on cement bleachers and watch cattle come through, one by one, onto the sawdust show floor.

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Canyon Life

I’ve been living in a canyon the past three weeks that’s roughly 50 miles long, has four houses, an infinite number of cattle guards, and the occasional cowboy on horseback moving a herd of cows. It is a beautiful place.

The canyon from up top!

Cowboys moving cattle down canyon -- we'd have to race to get the gates locked to keep them from getting into the orchards!

I’ve been here long enough to learn what time it is by where the sun sits on the canyon walls. I’ve gotten used to the stillness — so quiet sometimes you can hear the flap, flap, flap of a crow’s wings. I’ve watched the cottonwood trees in the creek go from bright yellow to a now faded amber and the apple trees in the vineyard shed their fall bounty. But most of all, I’ve been here long enough to make friends, share a lot of laughs, eat delicious meals, and go on some fine adventures.

My home has been the Montezuma Canyon Ranch and Vineyards in Utah — on a canyon road unknown even to most locals and within close reach of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. My friends have been fellow “WWOOFers” or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, a network (of sorts) where people from all over the world interested in getting their hands dirty can connect with farms eager to grow great food. (There’s also the magical added bonus that you get to stay and eat said food for free.) Continue reading

Making Ice Cream

Visiting my Grandma this August, I decided it was high time I learned how to make her red raspberry ice cream. It has been a staple of our family reunions in New Hampshire for years (and the key ingredient to many late night cousin talks and general merrymaking.) It is also my absolute, hands down, favorite ice cream in the world.

The main event

Recipe book and family history bible

I knew where the raspberries came from, had spent an afternoon or two picking the bushes up the hill as a kid, but had never seen her make it before. I didn’t even know where the recipe came from. But one day I finally convince her I’m serious about making it and she plops the blue book in my hand: “Ice Cream Desserts For Every Occasion.” It is a relic from a bygone era of housewifedom. It opens: “Does ever a day go by that the homemaker doesn’t ask herself, ‘What shall I make for dessert?’, or, ‘How can I serve and dress up my frozen dessert?'”. Umm, yes, every moment of my life up until now…

Inside is a series of what used to be blank pages now covered in handwritten notes (mostly my Grandma’s) that span 70 years. An anthropologist’s gold mine.

Notations galore!

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