Been a while, no?
April 29, 2013
April 29, 2013
Been a while, no?
February 13, 2013
Tuscan Oliveto, a short film by Paul Bates.
Ever wondered where your olive oil comes from? This film captures the process at a unique non -profit olive grove in Tuscany. In this day and age independent manufacturing is very rare and it was refreshing to see the care put into the process with the emphasis being on quality and not quantity.
Love the shot of the olives raining down from above. And the bright green of the new oil.
January 6, 2013
Sometimes you have to escape the urban for a little of the shmurban. Los Olivos is a two-hour drive outside of LA and is home to some fine Central California wineries and, as their name suggests, olive groves. We may or may not have plans to move here some day. As much as I love the rural surrounds, the bright night sky, roosters crowing, goats frolicking, fresh air, I’d miss…actually, not that much now that I think of it. Y’all can come visit.
Wine and olives aside, Los Olivos — and Santa Ynez and Solvang and Los Alamos — are a literal breath of fresh air and full of some of California’s most interesting historical tidbits. Many of the original land grant families still farm or ranch hundreds of acres of rolling hills and at Rancho Sisquoc, you can visit the gravesite of one of our California firsts, Benjamin Foxen, a sea captain born in Norwich England in 1796 and became a naturalized Mexican (known as Don Julian or Guillermo Domingo) in the mid-1800s. The Foxen family (who run a winery of same name) tells one story of his local importance while a local historian writes another that debunks it. Only Ben knows for sure.
January 2, 2013
Everything I needed to know I learned when doing crafts in kindergarten.
This literally was a case of what’s old is new. Steve and I were doing a New Year’s Day walk when I spied a pine cone. The rest was a sticky trip toward happiness.
December 31, 2012
I think 2012 will be The Year of Contrasts.
Spent the holiday with family out in the desert. The green you see above is just one patch from one of many golf courses that dot the stark landscape around Palm Springs. The rain clouds in the background were over LA, and Steve, who was still working, let me know it was a wet Christmas back home. It made me think of the green hills to come. It was a dry 2012. Rain is a very good thing.
So in the desert, watching it rain a couple hundred miles away next to a presumably frequently watered golf course.
We visited the Salton Sea, an accidental body of water that illustrates how nature can upend human intent. On the day we visited, Christmas eve actually, it wasn’t the foul death trap (the Salton Sea is dying) it was rumored to be. There was a slight “off” aroma in the air, but it could have easily been a local farm working the field. Still, we crunched a million bones and shells underfoot — barnacles and the remains of tilapia and some birds — and found evidence of the decline of the environment everywhere we looked. Except for one beautiful surprise. The bird life. Within one patch of water that was maybe a couple of acres in size, we found over a dozen species of birds, from gigantic white pelicans with teradactyl-like wing spans to lean and graceful ibis to tiny chirpy plovers.
Steve got me a much-coveted Kilner jam pan (woo! marm for all!), a book on bitters (and cocktails!) and California olive history (this olive obsession has been a several months long obsession). I got him an N-scale train engine (not an obsession for him…yet) and a travel voucher for Amtrak (he loves trains).
November 3, 2012
NOTE: This is what happens when I can’t sleep — food history research! Sleep deprivation or no, it can be a fun journey, leading down many different, very colorful trails. California ag history is especially rich and well-documented. Should you get the bug, you have been given fair (and fun) warning.
When California was still the undisturbed home of the Chumash, Tongva and Yokuts, the local abundance of resources available to them cemented them as hunter-gatherers. Seeds like acorns were a dominant part of the diet and over thousands of years, they adapted to fit the local environment, their bodies finely tuning themselves to water scarcity and seasonal wild harvests. There were no oranges, no walnuts (actually I take that back, there is the endemic Juglans Californica, but that’s another post.), and no olives.
That changed with the arrival of the first Spanish and British explorers in the 16th century. And the Spanish, having already established a long string of church sanctuaries in South America, eventually worked their way up the coast to found the first California mission — San Diego de Acalá — in 1769. It was the first of 20 missions the Spanish would plant in California, and with them came Spanish agriculture and tastes. Wheat for bread. Cattle for dairy and meat. And pivotal, for both them and the future of California, the olive, which perhaps more than any other crop made them more self sufficient. Thanks to the olive, they had lubricant, lamp oil, soap, medicine and of course, calorie and nutritive dense food.
October 13, 2012
I spent the morning at EVO Farm out in Mar Vista today. David Rosenstein (founder, aquaponics guru, nice guy) stuck his hands into some seriously alive compost (“I can feel the dirt moving in my hand.”), posed for pictures, and made sure I left knowing why aquaponics was so incredibly important for an urban food system. I’m now eyeing my backyard with dangerously uninformed eyes, but with dreams of backyard tilapia, high density vertical gardens and the sound of water bubbling through my own, mostly self-sustaining artificial ecosystem.
October 8, 2012
Quince, a tart Asian cousin to apples and pears, is a fruit almost like Michelangelo’s women — knobby, with large, nearly muscular curves and sloping, feminine hills that cast interesting shadows across its gravid belly. A natural web of knitted cellulose gives quince its shape as well as its inedibility. At least while it’s raw, it is punishingly astringent and unpleasantly chewy, yielding nothing but a bitter pucker and confused customers. Quince’s rewards come only with time and heat.
Custom and culture make Californians (and really most Americans) fond of fresh and ready fruit over anything that requires prep. But cooking — the long slow kind — transforms quince’s white flesh into a beautifully pink fruit paste, heavily perfumed with elderflower, pear, vanilla and tropical fruit. For more on this, Emily Green beautifully details the processing of her homegrown “accidental” quince. And for where to find local varieties of quince, turn the page.
October 6, 2012
It has been a while since I’ve (we’ve) been able to spend more than just comment approval time on Urban Schmurban. So, indulge me for a moment and allow me to summarize the hurricane that has been 2012.
In the early part of 2012, my boss and mentor, Linda, became very sick with a rare disease. I’m going to talk about it here because awareness of it may save some lives down the road. It’s called psuedomyoxma peritonei. It’s diagnosed in 1 in 1,000,000 people each year and mostly women. Treatment is highly invasive, risky and life changing even if you “recover”. But that’s only if you are diagnosed early enough to be a candidate for treatment. Most aren’t. Linda was diagnosed via a fluke in a routine procedure. She got lucky. Or so we thought.
So around February/March, Linda was preparing for a second medical leave to undergo treatment and I was slowly stepping into her role at the office. Then in April, something unprecedented happened at the office. We created two new departments out of one and fundamentally reorganized a core part of how our agency serves the community (a quick Google search reveals all, but for quickness’ sake, I work for a local transit agency that provides bus service to over 14 million riders a year in the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys). That change promoted my boss into a new role and left her former director position open. I applied and was awarded the position in May, right before Linda went into surgery at City of Hope.
So most of May, June and July were spent adjusting to my new role, responsibilities and boss, working 10-12 hour days, and coming home exhausted but happy to be doing something new with my career. A career, I’ll add, that I was struggling to reconcile with the allure and demands of my “other” life as a food educator, writer and photographer. I still struggle, but now it has taken on another, more positive flavor. I’m trying to find ways to merge the work I love in transit with the work I love in food. It’s no longer a painful either/or situation and I’m finding myself coming to peace with a multi-faceted life of gifts. I’m still writing, still teaching, and very soon I’ll be pouring a lot of energy into the Slow Food LA chapter. Many big and wonderful things are yet to come. But I don’t want to jump ahead.
Linda had a few serious complications early on after the surgery but she recovered and seemed to be making slow but steady progress. She was at City of Hope for five weeks and then moved to a hospital closer to home to begin physical therapy that would hopefully allow her to go home. Initially, she had anticipated that this treatment would only have her out of the office for two to three months. Once we hit July, it was obvious that we’d be lucky to see her by Thanksgiving. Accomplishments were measured by heart breaking metrics — how many minutes she could sit upright in a chair, how many minutes could she stand on her own, or could she eat solid food today. Walking hadn’t quite come into the picture. But on Sunday, July 22nd, we received a text from her husband Nick that was very positive. She ate a full solid meal for the first time since her surgery and she was making progress in her therapy again. The next day, I pulled my assistant aside and started making plans to work with IT to set up her computer so that she could remotely access files. We both knew that if she was going to start feeling better, she’d want to jump back into work soon. It was just her way. I gathered together a few other coworkers to coordinate setting up her office for her (she moved out of her old one when she left and everything was in boxes) so that on the off chance she decided to come in on a weekend, she wouldn’t have to bend over or rifle through cardboard to find things. We knew it’d be a while until that happened, but we wanted to be ready (she always was) and it felt to all of us like a turning point.
Within 48-hours of that text, Linda was gone. An infection took hold and between a ravaged immune system and antibiotics that just wouldn’t work, she couldn’t fight it off. She passed away on Tuesday, July 24th around 11:45PM, surrounded by her family. I was told the next morning by my boss (her former boss), and together we started the long and painful process of informing the hundreds of colleagues she knew throughout our industry. I wrote her obituary for our industry trade publications and threw myself into organizing a memorial service for her.
I had worked with Linda for nearly a decade. I was in my 20′s when she recruited me. I was in my 30′s when she promoted me. And I was nearing 40 when I rose into her old position, the same summer that she died. She had been with my agency for 17 years. SEVENTEEN years. I can’t even count the number of times in the past few months that I’ve wished for her sage advice or reassurance. It happens every day. It took her death for me to realize that the challenges we faced in our own working relationship were a part of her mentorship. Good mentors don’t coddle. They push. They pull, drag if need be. And I have been a stubborn little employee. But that’s another post for another blog.
Trying to wrap my head around the fact that it is now October has been a little dizzying. Things have been calming down a little. Either that or I’m adjusting to my new normal. Blazing summer heat has started to wane (Fingers crossed. This is L.A. after all) and I’m starting to think about readdressing the homestead and jump start all those ambitious projects I listed when the year was new. The garden is a non-garden. I watered, but that’s all I could do. The fall/winter garden will be better. And things will begin to pick up here. My sister, Ana, is facing not-a-few changes herself and will probably be stepping away from contributing. So Urban Schmurban will change, too. More on that in a later post.
Thanks for reading. More to come.
February 12, 2012
As head of Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers on the Big Island, Ken Love often gets asked to talk to folk about what he does and how to do what he does. This week, he’s in L.A. and I was invited to go a gathering of neighbors at the Hollywoodland Orchard to hear him talk about fruit trees – how to propagate them, how to feed them, how to trim them, and how to love them.