Foraging in Santa Barbara, CA

5am wake up calls are made less sucky if it means you get to forage in Santa Barbara all day. Having lived in Santa Barbara for almost 10 years, I have a pretty good lay of the land.

My first foraged item of the day were these beautiful apple succulent tips. These tiny little guys are just as their namesake; crisp, tart, and refreshing!

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Next up were these wild radish blossoms. Not only pretty, they add a nice spice as a garnish!

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There is a sloping hillside on the ranch that I foraged on, it is shaded and cool. Everything that grows in this area is lush and green. I was so excited to find these little fiddle head ferns along the base of the hillside!

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The climate couldn’t have been better, a mild 70 degrees in February. As the light shone through the canopy of trees, I came across a beautiful field of wild nasturtium.

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And adjacent to that was another field, full of wild New Zealand spinach (also known as Tetragonia tetragonioides). This is a beautiful field green, that is tender and crisp.

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Next stop was the top of the hill, overlooking the Pacific. Just a half mile up the road and the climate changed drastically from the shaded hillside. It was much warmer, and there was wild mustard everywhere!

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Even my dog Moo was getting in on the foraging action! Except I think he was trying to forage lizards :p

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We headed back down the hill to the Cherimoya orchards to look for some Santa Barbara snails!

Cerimoya are a beautiful fruit with white, candy-like flesh. They soften as they ripen, just like a banana.

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We also came across these almond blossoms. They smell sweet and almondy, just as you would expect the flower from this tree to be =]

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And finally…JACKPOT! We found our Santa Barbara escargot, fed off of organic cherimoya trees. Hopefully these guys will like their new digs in Venice.

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My car was packed to the brim with all of my foraged treasures. I’m so excited to share a piece of this beautiful place with diners in LA!…but not excited to get back to the traffic =-/

radishflower traffic

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

~Jawaharlal Nehru

Flower Ave Garden Project: Dammit Janet

This is Janet, and she’s totally awesome:

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Janet is a business owner who has a shop up the street from the garden, and goes for regular walks around the neighborhood. She was so excited and curious about the Flower Ave Garden; asking questions about everything I had planted. She was very supportive and encouraging, and told me how Korean cuisine uses amazing vegetables (I totally agree). I gave Janet some sugar snap peas as a thanks for all of the kindness =] Love ya Janet!

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
~Saint Basil

Flower Ave Garden Project: The Cover Up

Ground cover can be a gardeners best friend. It helps keep the soil warm and keeps pests away. And one of the biggest benefits to a culinary gardener is that it can keep the green tops of things like radishes nice and tender. This will make them a beautiful addition to a plate.

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One perk of being a culinary farmer is that you get hooked up with some seriously yummy food! I dropped off some Red Russian Kale to Chef Fox at Rustic Canyon, and came back with fresh ceviche and tortilla chips! YUM, thanks guys.

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I have been in Venice for about 6 weeks and am settling in nicely =]

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“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

~Paine

 

Flower Ave Garden Project: Good Fences Make Good…Trellises!

I’m closing in on the home stretch for completing construction in the front yard of the Flower Ave Garden. I was able to get fencing up around the perimeter of the yard. It will double as the perfect trellis for peas and cucumbers that will be planted soon.

building fence

fence done

I was also able to plant one of the beds with ice lettuce. The scientific name for ice lettuce  is Ficoide glaciale. Native to the southern hemisphere, it has fleshy, lightly acidic leaves that are covered with shimmering silvery dots that give them a frosty appearance. The leaves are crunchy and refreshing in salads, and may also be cooked like spinach

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ice lettuce planted2

Up next, irrigation =]

Flower Ave Garden Project: Fava Beans And A Nice Chianti (fuhfuhfuh)

Ok, so maybe no cannibalism took place, but yesterday was a landmark day for the Flower Ave Garden…I was able, after a lot of blood sweat tears and splinters, to get some things planted!!

We began to fill the beds with soil. The first layer was the soil brought down from the ranch in SB; it contained more sand and will help with drainage.

Beds Half Filled

The second layer is of the native soil. One of the neighbors told me that this area used to be bean fields before being developed into the residential area it is today. That explains why the soil is so rich and fertile! It’s funny because LA is very much an urban city so it’s easy to forget that at one time, before all of the cars and smog and traffic and people, that this land was wide open. I loved to learn that it was old farmland… I’m hoping that this soil remembers its roots and is happy to help grow vegetables again.

SB Venice Soil

After the native soil went in, I topped it off with compost, and blended it all the best I could.

Beds Filled

I usually like to direct sow (which means planting a seed directly in the ground) fava beans, but I needed to get them started and didn’t have the beds out front ready, so I seeded them in pots. You can see the root structure already beginning.

Potted Favas

All of my favas are in the beds, tucked in tight!

Row Of Favas

Rows Of Favas

It makes me have to stop and enjoy this moment. So much planning and groundwork went in to getting the garden to this point and I am so thankful for all of the help I had; there is NO WAY I could have done it alone! I’m looking forward to seeing the changes spring will bring to this quiet little garden…good things on the horizon!

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“What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.”
~Margret Thatcher

Quail Hunting In The Sisquoc

I have to begin this post with saying as a person who eats 90% of their meals vegetarian, and 85% of those meals vegan, I am sensitive to those who do not agree with hunting. In fact, for many years I would have included myself as one of those people. I mainly choose to eat this way for two reasons. First, I listen to my body. And I simply feel better not eating much meat or dairy. Second, it is my way of boycotting the way the majority of meat and dairy is produced in this country. I know I am just one person, but hopefully I can make some small difference by voting with my dollar.

So how did I come to the point where I wanted to explore what hunting was all about? Well, recently I read the Faviken cookbook, and it helped me to understand that we can have a symbiotic and beautiful relationship with the natural world around us. It was inspiring to learn that age old traditions are still upheld in today’s culinary world, in every detail imaginable. This includes hunting, foraging, and farming for many things on your menu.

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I was lucky enough to live on a ranch in Santa Barbara. And it was here that I met Tony, the owner of the ranch. I knew he hunted on a regular basis, and asked if I could join him on his next outing. He told me that he and Graham (owner of Los Padres Outfitters who runs horseback tours and excursions) were going to the Sisquoc to go quail hunting for three days and I was welcome to join; I quickly accepted his invitation!

There was a group of six of us that headed on horseback into the San Rafael wilderness. We unloaded the horses and gear at the Nira trailhead, and started off the Manzana trail. Our final destination was about 8 miles into the wilderness, to a small cabin owned by a friend of Tony’s. The region is so remote that only a few inhabitants live on the trail.

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The cabin we were staying at was located in between Dabney Cabin and the Manzana school house (as shown below)

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The trail was long and winding. Full of beautiful scenery, and rugged terrain.

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After about 2 hours of riding, we finally came upon the cabin. The billowing of smoke from the chimney was a welcome sight as it was quite chilly out.

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Luckily the owner of the cabin was a skilled craftsman and had welded an old buoy into a fireplace. This thing was AMAZING, and heated the entire cabin. The outside temp the evening we got in read 18 degrees!

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   We unpacked the horses and our gear, and settled in for the night. There were no phones, no computers, no hot water, a few hours of light from a gas powered generator, and some good whisky to keep us warm.  Spirits were high as we tucked in for an early morning wake up call for the hunt.

As dawn broke, the horses began to stir and the dogs at our feet started to whine with excitement for the new day. I was in charge of breakfast for the morning , and made some Johnny Cakes with a spiced apple topping. Johnny Cakes are like pancakes but made with cornmeal. The apples were picked fresh from Tony’s ranch the day before we left and the cakes were cooked to crisp perfection in the cast iron skillet.

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Here’s the simple recipe that was a perfect fit for the rustic setting:

1/2 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup hot milk

1 tablespoon shortening

Combine the ingredients, heat oil in the skillet. Drop batter in hot skillet, and flip after golden brown

For the apple topping:

2 lbs apples, diced

1T cinnamon

3T brown sugar

1t nutmeg

.5t salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Heat in large sauce pot until apples soften. Serve warm.

After breakfast we packed up the horses and headed to the Sisquoc riverbed, just a short ride from our cabin. Along the way we picked up three friends; donkeys that were living in the area. As natural pack animals, they were happy to join our posse for the day.

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I felt very luck to be joining such skilled huntsmen. Dave, Graham, and Tony had been hunting most of their lives, and were excellent trackers. They were able to teach me a lot about how to read animal tracks, what to look for on the hunt, and gun safety.

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One of the most surprising things I learned from the hunt, was how many parallels it shared with being an athlete. To be a successful hunter you have to operate in the moment and rely on all of your senses. It can be physically demanding, and when hunting in a group it is imperative to communicate, and work together towards a common goal…these are also parallels I draw to working in a kitchen.

In the end, the hunt was a success!

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I’m looking forward to the next time I can go out with Graham and Tony. They shared many stories of living off of the land, and being closely connected with the natural world around them. It was refreshing and energizing being able to get off the grid for a few days, and I feel I have a closer understanding of what it is to have an active role in my food system. I have the utmost respect for the quail that we caught, and no part of the beautiful bird went to waste.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
~John Muir

Flower Ave Garden Project: The Stakeout

I was able to get a good look at what the garden will be like once the raised beds are in. All of the beds were measured and marked, then outlined with twine

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Some of my first seeding projects took place as well. I soaked my fava seeds before I seeded them, to increase the rate of germination.

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I discovered that my old toques from culinary school make the perfect lining for my seeding trays! They are lightweight and breathable, and will let moisture pass through without falling apart. An education from the Culinary Institute of America, the gift that keeps on giving 😉

toque seeder

I was also able to get my chalkboard wall with my 2013 garden calendar up! Next step is to find someone who can bedazzle the wall with cool chalk art…currently accepting submissions from muralists :p

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