How I spent my winter vacation + new year wishes

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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.

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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).

This past week has been spent in reflection. 2012 was the kind of year that felt like someone else held the reins for the majority of the time. Someone with both a cruel sense of humor and a penchant for drama. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, there was a lot of glory in 2012 — Steve opened his first play at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I got promoted, things were built, dishes were cleaned, etc. The scale just tipped an awful lot. It feels like I only recently grabbed the reins away from my deranged invisible pilot and I now have hopes for a more even keel 2013. Enough…

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Stinging nettles from Flora Bella Farm

You’d think after writing the farmers market column every week for over three years that I would have run out of material by now. I’m happy to report, not by a long shot. This past week, I found yet another crop that I hadn’t covered yet — stinging nettles — that highlights the diversity our small farmers bring to our local markets and how our view of wild edibles has undergone a fundamental shift.

Giant agro-business tries so very hard to create a farm environment that grows nothing unless it grants permission. Large swaths of freshly turned soil stay remarkably barren for weeks until someone comes along to plant something. In contrast, small organic farmers often share their property with the local wild flora and fauna. It can be a costly relationship to maintain, but there are dividends. Several farms benefit from wild patches of chanterelle mushrooms (at $25/pound, quite the unintended gold mine) that pop up during the rainy season. And the stinging nettles above love our mild winters. Local restaurants use them to torture prep cooks and highlight their local/seasonal credentials, but one local grandmother clucked at me as she passed. “My family spent lean times picking that damn weed for food so we could survive. You couldn’t get me to eat it again for all the money in the world.”

Food for thought.


Me and Mint — goats were a big part of 2012. Thanks, Steve and Gloria.

The calendar is already filling up for 2013.  Slow Food LA will be growing and adapting to a new leadership team.  I’ll be teaching food preservation classes here at the house, some to other master food preservers to help keep our skills fresh, some to local 4-H kids looking to show at the LA fair.  And I’ll be one of the teachers at the 2nd annual Nocino Festival.  Tickets sell out really fast because it’s a fantastic event — cozy, raucous and highly informative.  I love being a part of it.  Hope you can join us.

I complain a lot about the dramatic twists and turns of this past year, but if I’m honest about it all, it was also the year I learned the most about myself and the people around me. The unexpected brings insight. So my wish for you is that 2013 brings you everything you ask for, and maybe a few extras, but never more than you can handle. I’m a big fan of personal growth, but I’m not a masochist. Happy New Year, friends. Be well.

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