Monthly Archives: August 2012

Wordless Wednesday: smoke makes pretty sunsets

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Welcome to the World Baby Alice

Welcome to the world baby Alice. It was a pleasure to meet you! I even broke my own cardinal rule and touched you before you are potty trained (new babies are scary, I don’t want to break you)! I just couldn’t help it; you are so cute and obviously deeply intellectually gifted.

New babies scare me so bad. But I sucked it up, because Alice is perfect and amazing and beautiful.

I’ve been friends with your Mom since we were 12 years old – since she is one of my oldest friends, I’m adopting you as my niece. I apologize in advance for the embarrassment I will cause you as a teenager.

Jen – you’re a Mom now! Doesn’t it seem like we were just in high school?

However, I promise to always be there for you and your Parents. I promise to teach you how to cuss properly (when you are 18, of course), open a wine bottle without an opener (when you are 21, of course) and give you your first riding lesson (with a helmet, of course).

I also promise to do everything in my power to leave this community, this country and this world a better place for you, your gender and your generation. Just promise me you’ll carry on that legacy.

I’m not going to lie. Alice made my ovaries hurt. She is so perfect! Karen and Jen! How can you stand it?

I love you baby Alice, I can’t wait to watch you grow up! Congratulations Jennifer and Karen, I’m so proud of you and honored that you are including me in Alice’s life.

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Recipe: Salsa Verde

I tweeted this picture to my farmer followers, most of them had never seen this before…

When I was in my late teens/early twenties I went to Mexico a lot. In typical Megan fashion I became somewhat obsessed with all things Mexican. At one point I convinced myself I was going to move down there and immerse myself in the culture until I became fluent in both Spanish and Mexican cooking. I never ended up moving there, but I did take a lot of cooking classes and learned a lot about the food.

One of my favorite things about Mexico is all the salsa. Most restaurants and taco stands have at least 3 different salsas at your table and they are breathtakingly good. It was very disappointing to come home and have salsa out of a jar. Even worse, is the almost complete lack a salsa verde.

Salsa verda is green salsa made from tomatillos. Tomatillos are those green tomoto-ey looking things in that part of the produce section you never go to.

Tomatillos, still in their husks.

de-husked…

Since so many of my followers had never seen or heard of a tomatillo before I thought this would be a perfect blog post! And since my goal for my garden this year was to grow my own salsa (if the deer would have left my garden alone, I would have accomplished this goal), I get to show off some of my produce!

Husked and washed, fresh from my garden.

My recipe for salsa verde (this is to taste, please adjust according to your preference):

1 1/2 lbs of tomatillos (husked and washed)

1/2 white onion, chopped

1/2 bunch of cilantro leaves (about 1/2 -3/4 cup)

3 jalapenos (de-seed those suckers unless you like the HEAT)

Juice from 3 limes (I love limes – you could probably use less)

1 Tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

Slice and broil your tomatillos. About 5 minutes or until they are soft and have pretty black marks.

They should look like this. I use foil because I am lazy and I don’t like to clean up after myself.

I use a glove when handling peppers. Because I always forget I handled peppers and rub my eyes. Then I get sad/mad at myself when I’m in pain for the rest of the day.

Put everything in your cuisinart and blend till it’s smooth.

Get some chips and an ice cold corona and sit in a corner where you don’t have to share.

The good news is the deer don’t eat tomatillo plants. This made me very happy.  However when you plant tomatillos make sure you plant several plants because they are self-incompatible, that means they need two or more plants for proper pollination. I really enjoyed growing tomatillos this year and plan keeping the deer away from my limes and cilantro so my salsa next year will be completely ranch made (I think the salsa will compliment venison very nicely, don’ you?).

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Hey! Hay for Sale!

It was a huge week for me. Two big things happened. The first big thing has taken years of me begging, planning and cajoling. My Parents gave me their blessing to raise pigs again. That’s right, I am going to get some weaner pigs to finish and eat! There is nothing like home grown pork, nothing! I’m in the beginning stages of my pig plan, so you’ll be reading a lot more about the process soon.

The second big thing, and this is rare, actually now that I think about this, this is the first time this has ever happened. My Dad gave ME some hay. To sell. To the public. I feel important!

MY hay! Mine, mine, mine!

I know, I know, I couldn’t believe it either. Usually my Dad has a handful of people that he will sell hay to, but these are inner circle of Brown Family friends. Most of our hay is saved for our cattle and horses in the winter.

So imagine my surprise when my Dad showed up on the winter ranch with a loaded trailer of fancy Indian Valley hay and told me if I could sell it, it was mine! It’s like Christmas!

Fancy pants, laser leveled, irrigated, non-sprayed hay field. I’m not even allowed to change the water in this field, yet. Or drive in it.

If you are not familiar with Indian Valley, California, it’s famous for two things, the Silver Buckle Rodeo and its hay. And this hay lives up to its reputation.

Indian Valley hay field. Makes me feel like a little kid again!

This hay is second cutting mammoth red clover, Dutch red clover, rye grass, orchard grass with a whisper of vetch, horse hay quality. It’s all natural, no sprays, fertilized with last year’s cow poo. Joe, Leo and Sue get a flake every night and they love it. Our horses all tend to live well into their late 20’s – I firmly believe it’s because they get super good nutrition – this hay being part of that.

Joe says “where is my hay?”

The hay is $12 a bale or $11 if you buy more than 20 bales. I only have a flatbed of this stuff, so I’m anticipating it will go fast (although it was mentioned that there MIGHT be one more load, maybe). If you are interested let me know at megrbrown@gmail.com. Thanks!

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Wordless Wednesday: Hey You Guys!

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Snake Attack! And Stuff.

Normally I don’t blog about my day-to-day activities but yesterday was such an odd day, I feel the need to share.

First I had bum fights outside my office, all day. Usually bum fights kinda amuse me because I learn new cuss words (always handy on the Ranch – sometimes I have to out foul the truck drivers to get make sure I have their full attention and respect). But the bum fights yesterday were more like bums yelling at me, which I don’t like.

The bums have turned me into a jaded and bad human (for the day).

About the time the cops and fire department showed up and broke up the bum fights, my Mom sent me this.

My Mom stumbled upon pickling recipes on pinterest and she’s been obsessed with pickling things. While pickling peppers and onions yesterday, she sliced her finger with her infamous Wusthof knife (it’s been responsible for several accidents). She drove herself into town, got extra tough stitches (she will be working cattle this weekend, so they needed to be extra sturdy) and drove home. Once she got home, the pain caught up with her. She took her pain pills and I did my best to keep her from pickling more vegetables.

This was my Mom’s second trip to the hospital this summer. It’s becoming the family joke.

While I was covering Mom’s chores for her, my cat, Jack, found a baby rattlesnake on my Mom’s back porch. Of course, I wasn’t really expecting a snake to appear at that moment – I had flip-flops and PJ’s on (hey I work in a fancy office from 8-5, when I get home I make it my job to look as socially unacceptable and to be as comfortable as I can).

My rattlesnake hunting super cat, Jack.

Since it was a baby snake (they are the most dangerous) and I had cats and dogs trying to help me get this snake I had to abort my first kill attempt and get some back up. I felt super bad getting my Mom involved, in her, um pain pill condition, but safety first!

I ran (in my flip flops!) to my Mom’s house, sounded the rattlesnake alarm, put the dogs away, shooed Jack away from the snake and found my trusty snake gig and sharp shovel. My Mom staggered behind with her shotgun (her preferred killing tool).

Some people try and give me a bad time for killing theses snakes. I understand that. My policy is I only kill house rattlesnakes. We have far too many animals around our houses and it’s just not safe for them if we ignore the snakes. It’s ranchlife.

This snake was absolutely terrifying. I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him. I didn’t have enough time to find my snake killing boots, so I was still in my flip flops. My Mom was behind me, on painkillers, with a loaded gun and to make matters worse, Simon heard all the screaming and decided he was going to come say hi.

Simon, he’s not a pet, he’s not really tame, he just shows up sometimes and says hi. And eats my garden.

I used my shovel to move the weeds and hay the snake was in, finally I saw him. Our snake gig is really a frog gig, it’s about the best thing we have found to immobilize the snakes. Once you have the snake pinned down, you remove his head with the shovel. Once you’ve done it a couple a times you get really good at it. The most important part is the snake disposal.

A few old timers always told us that you must keep the head (with the venom sacks), away from the meat bees because the bees will eat it and then, if they sting you the venom can transfer. Or even worse, an animal could eat the head and get sick. That is why we always remove the head, wrap it up and throw it in our dumpster.

Who gets photobombed by a deer while holding a dead rattlesnake? Really?

Everything ended up ok. One less rattlesnake on the ranch, no one got snake bit, and Simon made an appearance. Actually kind of an average day on the ranch.

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Wordless Wednesday: And the Smoke Rolls in

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Guest Post: Eat Retreat 2012

While I was at California State University, Chico, earning my degree, I had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of different people from various ag backgrounds. I managed to keep in touch with several friends from college, and it’s been pretty fun to watch them go out into the world. I met my friend Emily through our membership in Alpha Zeta (that is a smart kid club, FYI), she is the epitome of going out into the world and changing it. Unfortunately, while I cannot attend this event, hopefully some of you in internet land can have the pleasure (if you do please consider doing a guest post for me!)

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Eat Retreat is back on for its 2nd year! Food community leaders from around the country will come together for a weekend long burn-out-cure full of the kind food and lifestyle that we all want to share with the world.

Courtyard party Photo credit: James Collier

Last year, we stayed on a 12,000 acre mountain ranch in Mendocino County. This year, we are upping the stakes with a sustainable farm and ranch in the beautiful Los Altos Hills, just south of San Francisco. Picture 48 hours of cooking collaboration, showing off your skills in food demonstrations, and most importantly sitting back with a good snack and new friends.
On the farm, we’ll learn about sustainable farming and ranching in California, and be able to create meals out of the farm’s produce.

Pig breakdown Photo credit: James Collier

In our first year, Eat Retreaters included brewers, coffee roasters, jammers, food photographers, chefs, food health advocates, writers, journalists, farmers market organizers and more! Since that glorious weekend, Retreaters have collaborated together for new food and cooking projects, and simply made new friends to lean on for creative inspiration.

Food lesson 1 Photo credit: James Collier

My favorite story of collaboration involves Bruce Cole, the fantastic editor of Edible San Francisco and Anna Larson, founder of Siren CSA. Anna came to Eat Retreat with a background in seafood working for a wholesale and distribution company. After our weekend ended, he started encouraging her to begin a seafood CSA. With her seafood background, and his entrepreneurial know-how, along with the talent of 2 food photographers, and a web designer, all from Eat Retreat, she created the Bay Area’s first seafood CSA, Siren CSA. Five people, who had never met before Eat Retreat, all came together from their various backgrounds to help start a new business bringing better food to everyone!

Applications are open now until August 24th. Below is some other critical information.

Location: Hidden Villa, Los Altos Hills
Date: October 26-28

Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for reading!

Emily Morgan can be reached at emorgan707@gmail.com.

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Field Trip: Monsanto and Tomatoes

Tomatoes have a special place in my heart. I’m not a huge fan of the actual fruit anymore (the reason why is coming up), but I love all things derived from tomatoes – sauces, salsas, ketchup. And I love to grow the plant. I think I love them because one of my most cherished childhood memories is about garden fresh tomatoes. My grandfather, or Papa, had a pretty amazing green thumb; his garden remains legendary in my mind.

Pretty heirlooms!

When I was little, it was a big deal to spend the night at my town Grandparents. Grandma and Papa spoiled us with Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes in the morning and cable (we didn’t get more than four channels until I was in high school, country livin!). After dinner, it was a big deal for Papa and me to head out to his garden to water, harvest his vegetables and pick tomato worms.

As little five-year old me was searching for those awful tomato worms, I remember telling Papa that I didn’t like tomatoes because “they were gross”. At some point during my little life I must have eaten off-season, store tomatoes and decided all tomatoes were like that. Papa gently picked some ripe cherry tomatoes off his vines and told me to eat one. Surprisingly, I did. And it was glorious. I remember shoving those little jewels in my mouth as fast as I could, being totally surprised at the sweet, warm burst in my mouth, it was like candy. I did that until I threw up. What can I say; I’ve never been good with moderation.

Every time I see a tomato plant, I remember my Papa and his warm cherry tomatoes. It’s a very happy memory. I think that memory is why my favorite part of my Monsanto tour was learning about tomatoes.

The tomato rows at Monsanto's farm. I wanted to frolic through them. But I restrained myself. Barely

The tomato rows at Monsanto’s farm. I wanted to frolic through them. But I restrained myself. Barely.

My field trip to Monsanto left me overwhelmed, I think I caught a really bad case of agnerditis while I was there. Monsanto was fascinating, it was like taking a plant science, a sociology, and a economics class all in one day. I loved it! Unfortunately, I have a mild case of writer’s block when it comes to writing about our day there, I learned so much! However, I am fighting it! Because I think it is important to talk about GMO’s, technology and Monsanto with an open mind.

Talking plant breeding with the actual plant breeders. No big deal or anything. Nope, not at all.

Learning about tomato breeding from actual tomato breeders! Nope, not a big deal. Not at all. (OMG IT WAS SO COOL)

Doug the Tomato Dude was our tour guide for the tomato portion of our tour. He was passionate about his tomatoes! By the time he left us, I wanted to start researching tomatoes too. He made it sound so interesting, and it is! He told us his passion for growing things came early (something I totally identify with), he grew garden peas as a kid. His fresh garden peas tasted nothing like canned peas – and there you go – inspiration comes from the simplest things!

Learning from the master....

Learning from the expert!

Doug is working on a breeding project where he is using various naturally-occurring genes to improve heirloom tomatoes! He explained that there are three natural color mutations in the heirloom realm, tiger stripe, purple and a bi-color (like Rainbow). Working with these three mutations he can breed tomatoes with different levels of acidity, sugars, and volatiles (what you smell) . Something for everyone!

Doug’s goal is to make tomatoes that taste as good or better than existing heirlooms while having the level of fruit setting and disease resistance of modern tomatoes. And he wants to find ways so we can have heirloom quality taste much longer than the current seasonal window. In addition to making tomatoes taste better for us consumers he is also using tools from his genetic toolbox to help the farmer by eliminating cracking in the fruit (less waste!) and increased setting of the fruit (more product with less resources!). Doug is using genetic material that is over 60 years old along with some of the new great things he’s found! I think it is amazing that Doug and Monsanto are keeping these old genes alive and in production. Notice that is something you never hear about from the media. This germplasm dates back many decades and is responsible for long-time home garden favorites such as Better Boy, Big Boy, and Early Girl. By combining the past and the present some great things can happen that both preserve flavor for the consumer and add value to the grower.

Grow babies, grow!

Grow babies, grow!

Doug’s tomatoes are fresh market tomatoes, you know, the tomatoes you buy at the store. As I mentioned above, I think many of us are scarred from the tasteless, pretty tomatoes that dominated the store shelves for years. But Doug is changing that! Doug wants to see more heirlooms on the shelves; he wants more variety, more diversity so consumers can have a choice. (Isn’t that just music to your foodie ears? It was to mine!)

Doug mentioned that he loves to eat his own tomatoes, and his family does too. In fact he said he was making his family BLT’s with seedless tomatoes that very night for dinner doesn’t that sound fabulous?

Look at the pretty heirlooms!

More heirlooms, so pretty!!!

The most exciting thing I learned during this portion of my tour was about the seedless tomatoes that have been developed, the Sweet Seedless. My Grandma has diverticulitis, so foods with little seeds, (like tomatoes), hurt her, she actually cannot eat them. This is unfortunate for people like my Grandma, because it can affect her nutrition. I plan on going to over to my Grandma’s house next spring and planting some Sweet Seedless in Papa’s old garden plot, so my Grandma can eat something she loves again. I think my Papa would be super proud of me.

Meeting Doug the Tomato Dude and learning about his work in tomatoes was marvelous. Being an animal science person, it is wonderful for me to learn more about plant science. I was able to make the connection in my head that like cattle, plants often benefit from different breeding techniques. These techniques and technologies are changing agriculture for us farmers and ranchers in the best possible way – we can produce more with less, we can increase the nutritional content of some foods, we can increase diversity, and we can give our consumers more choice! What an amazing time to be involved in agriculture!

If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend checking this blog out http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7076455123022001652&postID=5115683617599271132. Dr. Folta is one of my favorite experts.

*Also thank you to Janice Person for a couple of the photos in this post!

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Wordless Wednesday: Jack the Mighty Hunter and Protector of Gardens

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