A few weekends ago, we had the pleasure of heading out to Vacaville to help Soul Food Farm rebuild some of the chicken houses that were destroyed in their fire last month. We spent the day in an open-air workshop under the big oaks, working with a dozen or so other volunteers, wielding powertools and hefting coop components to and fro. At lunchtime, we gathered around the farmhouse table and refueled with Soul Food Farm chicken (naturally) and a plethora of side-dishes contributed by friends and neighbors. It felt great to do an honest day’s work out in the fresh air — it felt very poignant to be working so hard in the shadow of the blackened hills you see above.
The farm did have insurance, but a high deductible with a lot of exclusions (no coverage for lost income from the chicks that died, nor for the lost pasture, for example) means that Soul Food Farm still desperately needs our help.
I know it’s hard in this financial atmosphere to send money off to strangers, however touching their story. So here are some ways to help this weekend that give you something delicious in exchange for your money:
Eat Dinner at Il Cane Rosso: Michelin-star chef Daniel Patterson is holding a fundraiser to benefit the farm at his restaurant Il Cane Rosso on Sunday, October 11. The cost of the three-course menu (served family-style), is $50 per person, including wine but exclusive of tax and gratuity. For reservations, call (415) 391-7599.
Come Party at Pizzaiolo: Tickets for the party this Sunday are sold out, but you can still get in the door — with a complimentary ticket — if you win one of the silent auction prizes (see below). And you want to bid on these great items.
Bid at the Online Auction: I know everyone says their charity auction has great prizes, but seriously folks. Check this out:
- Five baby chicks from Soul Food Farm — you want eggs, you’ll get ‘em!
- Tickets to the sold-out City Arts Lecture with Michael Pollan & Wendell Berry,
plus signed copies of all of Pollan’s books
- A chance to pitch your manuscript to Chronicle Books editorial director
- A cheese master-class with Janet Fletcher, author of The Cheese Course
- Dinner for two in the kitchen at world-renowned Chez Panisse
- Portrait session with Bart Nagel including a retouched headshot
- A slot in one of master preservist June Taylor’s preserve-making classes
- Your choice of four different personal chef dinners and experiences
- A suckling pig for your holiday table from Clark Summit Farm
- Beautiful artisan-made jewelery, photographic prints, and other works of art
There are tons of other prizes — these are just my very favorites — and many of the coolest ones have no bids yet! So get on over there and win something cool. But don’t dally: Bidding closes in less than 24 hours (4 pm Pacific time, Saturday, October 10)
Join the Chicken & Egg CSA: Yep, just like a veggie CSA box, only this one’s got protein. Better still, deliveries are just once a month, and you get to pick how many chickens and dozens of eggs you want for each delivery. Drop-off points are available in Emeryville, Bernal Heights/Potrero Hill, Berkeley, and Hayes Valley on alternating weeks. And the prices are a good value, compared with the retail costs of the same items. Oh, and if you donated $25 or more to the Soul Food Farm Fire Fund, they will gladly credit your donation against your CSA fee. How cool is that?!
Soul Food Farm / Alexis and Eric Koefoed
6046 Pleasants Valley Road
Vacaville, CA 95688
Sorry it’s been a little quiet around here. We’ve experienced some technical difficulties, but mostly we’ve just been busy, happily squeezing a lot of fun into a low-budget summer.
But as lovely as our summer was, the last few weeks have been rough for some of our nearest friends. Too many have said goodbyes to family members and beloved pets, and we’re feeling all the more thankful for the many blessings in our own lives.
A little further afield, last week brought a nightmare to one of our favorite local food suppliers. Soul Food Farm — home to our favorite pastured chickens and one of our regular sources of pastured eggs — was hit by a devastating fire in the middle of the night. Despite heroic efforts by farmers Alexis and Eric Koefoed (and their family and neighbors), they lost so much:
Two chicken houses caught on fire, and we lost 1,000 baby chicks. Trapped. Our old 1880s barn burned and it was almost too much at that moment. Thirty acres of pasture for the meat birds is gone and several old beautiful oaks, all the old plum trees that were our connection to the original homesteaders.
I know times are tight for so many, so I hesitate to ask you for help. But I also know — from the fabulous response we’ve had to Menu for Hope each year — there are many generous folks out there. If your finances allow, consider one of the following:
- Donate directly to the Soul Food Farm recovery effort via Pay Pal.
- Buy tickets for the raffle that Bi-Rite Market is holding.
- Reserve a seat at one of the upcoming benefit dinners.
If you can’t afford the extra expense of donation, there are other ways to help:
- Join the Soul Food Farm chicken-and-egg CSA, which is starting soon.
Your membership fees will help give the farm much-needed cash flow.
- Volunteer for one of the upcoming farm work-days to help rebuild.
If you’re not particularly handy, there will be some non-construction chores.
- Consider shifting your chicken and egg purchases to Soul Food’s products.
Prather Ranch sells both items; check the SFF site for more outlets.
(Updated 9/15: Added a link above to Eater SF’s roundup post on the benefit dinners)
There’s something about the frugal pleasure of creating something out of nothing that appeals to my inner home economist. There’s a touch of puritanical redemption in there, too: Making use of every last scrap atones for the pleasure we take spending chunks of our income on fabulous food.
For the most part I’m not a fan of the usual sort of leftovers, reheating the same old meal for to live another day. (Fret not: I make exception for cold spaghetti, reheated enchiladas, and the glorious day-after-Thanksgiving mishmash). But what I love so dearly is a well-planned, or even well-improvised, creative reuse.
The last few nights, we’ve had dinners built on the skeletons of our weekend feasts. Tuesday night, we sauteed a pile of onions in bacon grease, then added the leftover pancetta-laced beans from Saturday’s supper, mashing them together to make a fabulously porky pan of frijoles refritos. Dressed with a dollop of thick crema and a swirl of homemade tomatillo salsa, they made an ample accompaniment to Prather Ranch skirt-steak tacos. (In an ironic twist, the beans were so filling that we ended up with leftover meat, which in turn became this morning’s steak-and-eggs breakfast.)
Tonight, we transformed the shredded meat left over from Sunday’s roast chicken into a tasty riff on chicken pot pie. Starting with a Barefoot Contessa recipe adapted by Smitten Kitchen, we took many liberties with substitutions: Golden sauteed mushroom chunks in place of pearl onions, simmered-down stock replacing bouillon, and shepherd’s-pie-style mashed potatoes on top in lieu of a pastry crust. We also managed to tidy up the crisper in the process, dispatching some baby carrots and snap peas that were just a touch too feeble for our usual pan-braising method. It was a deliciously decadent meal, and the ingredients were virtually free.
The image above is last weekend’s shopping haul, one of a series of similar photos I’ve been taking each Saturday since early summer. Inspired by my friend Jen’s beautiful shot of her farmers market purchases prettily laid out on a kitchen table in the cool spring light, I’ve started documenting what we’re buying each week. I flatter myself that it’s a fun Flickr set to flip through — overview shots of each week’s purchases all piled together, and a few solo portraits of our favorite finds — and an interesting way to keep track of the seasons. I can imagine referring to it next year (“Did we get corn in June or July?”) as a sort of visual seasonality calendar.
But, more than its mere utility, I’m struck by how beautiful the food we eat can be, especially in its natural state. Conventional wisdom holds that organic food is imperfect by nature, and uglier than the supermarket stuff. But after eating this way for the better part of two years, all I can see is the personality of our purchases. It’s perhaps a little too romantic to say that this aesthetic appeal is the direct result of the care that our farmers give their crops, and yet I do realize a lot of the variation I find so appealing — the huge with the tiny, the bright with the dull, the symmetrical with the misshapen — is part and parcel of the heirloom varieties and less-industrial methods that small-scale farming allows.
The set is a celebration of everyday beauty, the product of my brief meditation each Saturday on the wonders of the market. It makes me inordinately happy to lay out my week’s purchases on the counter, fuss with the arrangement, and set up the shot. Sometimes the light cooperates, and I end up with a subtly shaded image that’s like a Renaissance painting. Other times the spirit eludes me, and I end up with something less artsy and more documentary. Either way, I’m forcing myself to pay closer attention to mundane beauty, to wean myself from the fake perfection of the retail world.
Last year, when I discovered — after reading Bonnie Powell’s excellent post — that the Judy’s Family Farm eggs I’d been buying at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market were the product of an intensive factory operation called Petaluma Farm, I was pretty pissed.
I first blamed CUESA, the market’s organizers, for allowing me to be duped. But soon I realized the real culprit was my own ignorance, and I directed my anger where it properly belonged. It was foolish, after all, to expect that all food sold at the Ferry Plaza market would meet some rudimentary ethical standard and that the products would be sold by, you know, actual small farmers. I really should have wondered how Judy’s managed to sell their eggs for a third of the price of Marin Sun or Eatwell, but I was blinded by the almighty bargain.
My frustration at having been deceived spurred me to pay closer attention to how the food — especially the eggs, dairy, and meat — we buy at the market is really grown. I spent the better part of 6 months asking a lot of questions, and I am sure some farmers got pretty sick of me. But when all was said and done, I was pleased to realize — with the exception of this one major blip in the egg department — that the Ferry Plaza was full of real farmers whose animal-care practices I can support in good conscience.
But now, with the attention CUESA has given Petaluma Farm as part of their coverage of Proposition 2 — the California initiative that would require all caged and crated animals the exceedingly modest consideration of being able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs — I feel I really must speak up and question their motives as an organization.
To put it in perspective: I realize that, as recently as last year, there weren’t enough pastured eggs to meet demand. Egg aficionados lined up before the market opened, and latecomers (or even on-timers) were often heard sighing over how they’d been beaten to the punch yet again. I’d like to think that the decision to permit this…. shall we say “less-than-ideal” vendor was a matter of filling in the gaps; local and quasi-free-range eggs are better than nothing. But now that Marin Sun, Eatwell, Marin Roots, and Soul Food offer a steady supply of pastured, humane egg options, I’m shocked that CUESA continues to allow large-scale, factory producers to sell at the Ferry Plaza market. There’s no excuse left that I can find.
But the thing that really sticks in my craw is that CUESA offered the bully pulpit of a prime feature spot in their weekly newsletter to the specious anti-Prop 2 arguments of Petaluma Farm’s Steve Mahr.
Mahr’s got a right to his opinions, and (for now at least) the legal freedom to cram as many laying hens into confinement as he sees fit. I’m glad to learn that he raises at least some fraction of his hens in a cage-free environment. But the hypocrisy of passing off his blatantly industrial product as the sustainable and humane gleanings of some idyllic family farm needs to be called out. And I’m absolutely furious that CUESA is letting it pass.
Mahr claims in the CUESA story that, “I will not be in business if Prop 2 passes.” To which I say: “It’s no worse than you deserve, you greenwashing jive-turkey.” At least the eggs sold at Safeway aren’t pretending to be anything other than the inhumane, factory-produced crap you’d expect.
Of course, pastured eggs are still a luxury that many shoppers can’t afford. But not everyone has room in their weekly food budget for pastured beef, either, and yet you don’t see CAFO meat at the Ferry Plaza. If CUESA is going to claim that one of the 10 reason to shop to shop at their farmers market is “to promote the humane treatment of animals … who have been spared the cramped and unnatural living conditions of so many of their brethren,” then that’s what should be offered, period. And they need to get on the bus and support Prop 2 without any ifs, ands, or buts.
Pastured Eggs at the Ferry Plaza
Nigel & Frances Walker
5835 Sievers Road
Dixon, CA 95620
Marin Sun Farms
David & Julie Evans
10905 Highway 1
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Soul Food Farm (at the Prather Ranch store)
Alexis & Eric Koefoed
6046 Pleasants Valley Road
Vacaville, CA 95688
Marin Roots Farm
PO Box 74, Petaluma, CA 94952
More information about Proposition 2
Yes on Prop 2 official site
Michael Bauer (SF Chronicle)
Los Angeles Times (op-ed)
New York Times (endorsement)
Grist Environmental News
Oprah Winfrey Show
I mentioned this a few months ago, but — since it took a while to get rolling, and then a little longer to get things dialed in — I thought it might be nice to revisit my other blog-home, The Daily Green. My mini-column, SOLE Food Digest (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) recaps the good-news side of eating with a conscience, including seasonal suggestions and other encouraging tips from the blogosphere and beyond. It runs three times a week, and you can add it to your reader by subscribing to the SOLE feed.
If you want to read all Daily Green food bloggers’ posts — including “What to Eat” from Marion Nestle, “Recipes from the Gluten-Free Girl” by Shauna Ahern, and “100-Mile Diet” updates from Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, then subscribe to the feed for New Green Cuisine.
Back on the home front, if you’ve been clamoring for a way to keep on top of Married …with Dinner — and you’re not using an RSS reader, for whatever reason — you can now subscribe via email.
And if you’re waiting on a comment response from me… mea culpa. It’s been a doozy of a week here, and I will try my best to write coherent follow-ups soon.
Oh, hey — how are you? It seems like it’s been forever!
Apologies to anyone who’s spent even a moment fretting if we’re OK. We’re (finally) healthy, and happy, and working hard. But for some reason that I just can’t put my finger on, we’re just not blogging.
I anguished over missing last week’s Drink of the Week — the first since our formal hiatus last year — and then I realized that probably nobody cared but me, and had a good laugh.
I feel like I have blogger’s block. Which is somehow distinctly different than writer’s block, as I’m actually doing a lot of writing. I have plenty of stuff on tap, and even lots of posts in draft mode but — as Cameron likes to say — “my finisher is broken”. I get to the point where a post needs its photos, or a last good paragraph, or a final polish… and I lose momentum. I still haven’t told you about the long weekend when we spent four days eating nothing but Mexican food. Or the wicked shortbread Cameron made. Or our happy-hour dinner at O Izakaya. Or the batch of vin d’orange we’re whipping up with the giant sack of oranges that Cookie gave us. Ah, well — it’ll happen when it happens. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
I feel like I am running in place with a pile of office work and a million distractions. Whenever I find 30 minutes that I could use to blog, I always decide I’d rather take a nap, or watch an episode of The Wire, or cuddle with my old-man dog on the couch. (He had minor surgery last month, and I am feeling especially motherly toward him… even if he has no idea that anything happened. Seriously, I think he just thinks the whole anesthesia thing was a big nap with his favorite people — he loves the vet’s office, because they give him unlimited cookies — and has in no way connected it with the fact that we keep rolling him over to inspect his sutures. Which he has no idea exist, as far as we can tell.)
I’m chalking up my blogging blahs to the change of the seasons, at least in part. We’re having some truly gorgeous weather here — we’ve moved from just-spring into the real deal at the farmers market: asparagus… avocados! And on the home front, our plum tree is in full blossom and some of our herbs have mysteriously sprung back to life. The mint and verbena didn’t surprise me, but I had no idea that chives or tarragon would do that. Ah, the never-ending parade of surprises, and most of them are good ones.
So, see — we have plenty to write about. We’ll be back soon…. Promise.
Our fave spot Range has been closed for a post-New Year holiday break so we had no idea anything was amiss. But, tonight we read on 7×7′s Buzzed blog that head bartender Brooke Arthur has been hospitalized since New Year’s Eve due to severe smoke inhalation and burns, the result of a fire in her apartment.
Although she probably wouldn’t know us from Adam, Brooke’s amazing cocktail program is one of the many reasons we spend an inordinate amount of our dining budget at Range every month; we even featured one of her creations on Drink of the Week last summer.
In addition to some mind-bending hospital bills — she’s in an intensive burn unit, and unable to breathe on her own at this point, according to the page her family’s updating — Brooke also lost most everything in her apartment to the fire. Duggan and the boys at Cantina are hosting a benefit for Brooke’s expenses this coming Monday night. If you’re a fan of Range’s bar program, or even if you need a worthy excuse for an early-in-the-week cocktail, please join us there.
If you’re unable to come, or simply prefer to donate to Brooke’s family directly, please visit Brooke’s site.
UPDATE 1/15: Last night’s benefit at Cantina was a jam-packed success. Even better news from Marcia at Tablehopper: A star-studded cast of Range alums — including Dominic and Camber — are picking up Brooke’s shifts while she’s convalescing. On Tuesdays and Thursdays (yay, our regular nights!) the restaurant will match all bar tips, donating them to a fund for Brooke’s medical bills and lost income.
For us and for many of our friends, 2007 was a year of extremes and contradictions in our house and in our lives. I’ll spare you the maudlin, navel-gazing adjectives (oh, wait… shoot) and jump right into the highlight reel.
When January was just hours old, we rang in the new year with a streamlined version of our annual cassoulet. The next day, we invited you to tour our kitchens… yep, plural. The dysfunctional old one, the temporary kludge in the basement, and the yet-to-come remodeled dream. Later in the month, Cameron’s birthday was the impetus for the year’s most popular post: Boston Cream Pie cupcakes, which won the cupcake roundup for which they were created! Two other recipes created in the basement ‘camp kitchen’ — Fennel-Pear-Bleu salad and Golden Vegetable Bisque — turned into recurring winter favorites.
February was a slow month on the blog; we had some exciting progress on the kitchen remodel, then took a much needed hiatus to spend time with family after my dad passed away. Mom and I whipped up a batch of her justifiably famous banana bread, and Cameron cheered us up with a hopeful post about the promise of summer fruit from spring’s blossoms.
A March business trip turned up some pretty dismal dining experiences in the Big Apple, but the week was redeemed by fabulous cocktails at Pegu Club, among other worth establishments. Back on the home front: Can it have been nine whole months since we discovered our beloved Gialina? Our early crush has blossomed into a full-blown love affair with this solid, cozy Glen Park pizza bistro. By the end of the month, the kitchen wasn’t quite finished, but we’d moved back upstairs and started cooking. Our first meal: heritage-breed chicken, pasta with pan gravy, and broccolini.
Not long after that, we hosted our first blog event: April’s edition of Mixology Monday featured all manner of Champagne cocktails… more than 16 in all. At Eastertime, Mom came to visit, and DPaul and Sean joined us for a traditional ham supper beginning with a stunning green-pea soup. Sam invited us all to show the world that English food is no joke, and Cameron responded with St. John’s roasted marrow bones and parsley salad from Nose to Tail. The end of April brought our first attempt at locavore eating, courtesy of the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge. Could we eat exclusively local food for a whole week on just $140? (Answer: Hell yes.)
With May’s warmer weather, we started breaking out the tall, cool drinks. A tonic tasting was first on the list. (Stay tuned for an update with two new contenders). Speaking of drinks, we paid a visit to Seattle and made our first trip to Vessel, home of the inimitable Mr. Jamie Boudreau. Back home at the end of the month, I told you all about the pleasures of learning to cook Thai with Kasma.
Come June, Cameron penned a fairy-tale ode to his favorite new/old restaurant, Two. We marked the 40th anniversary of Dorothy Parker’s demise with a round of classic Martinis. With the finishing touches in place, the kitchen remodel was finally ready for her closeup, Mr. DeMille. We headed up to Napa, new camera in tow, to pick walnuts for our annual batch of Nocino at Mr. Hoffman’s orchard. Rounding out the month, Cameron began his full-circle tour of the edible landscape in our backyard.
July in The City meant that summer was in full swing! Time to grind some beef for the season’s first backyard burgers. Sean taught us how to make perfect Mint Juleps, and we pitted pounds and pounds of fruit for homemade Maraschino cherries. We hosted four carnivorous friends for an afternoon of sausage-making mayhem, then wrapped up the month using our new ‘corn zipper’ to make a gorgeous summer souffle — a plate-licker of a dish if ever there was one.
In August, a young Cameron’s fancy turned to home-cured gravlax. We honored Mrs. Child with a supper of ham in piperade and souffle potatoes. Oh no we di-int make Piña Coladas! (Oh yes we did, and they rocked.) But sometimes you have a flop or two in the kitchen; we had a whole week of them, dammit. Thankfully, we were able to get some decent food into our bellies when we headed north to Cookie’s house to share a retro-style potluck with other Bay Area bloggers.
As the rest of the Bay Area blogoverse headed to Bi-Rite Creamery to celebrate September’s Indian summer, we snuck over to the Mission District’s other local treasure of an ice-cream shop, Mitchell’s. As always, there was plenty to drink at our house: An ode to our local Hetch-Hetchy water, a batch of homemade pear-infused brandy, and a cocktail in honor of Cameron’s favorite musical.
Some folks questioned our sanity, but yes, we really did can 100 pounds of Mariquita Farm tomatoes last October. Spending a couple of weeks at Mom’s meant lots of comfort food: a revamped Creole Rice Casserole, and our entry into National Meatloaf Day. Later in the month, we went public with our locavore status, plunging headlong into the Dark Days Challenge. A search for an all-local eats and drinks led us to an eerie tale of murder most fowl and my new favorite cocktail: Gin, honey, and lemon is indeed the Bee’s Knees.
November was obviously booze month: I won the inaugural edition of Raiders of the Lost Cocktail, and got to choose the next theme ingredient: Benedictine. We learned the truth about Mai Tais at Tiki-Ti, took our place behind the bar chez Hedonia, and won a “Does My Blog Look Good in This?” mention for… wait for it… a cocktail photo.
Which brings us barreling on home to December… what a month! After we shared our favorite way to gobble up turkey leftovers (that’d be Enchiladas suizas), we bellied up to the bar for a sweet vermouth tasting, and spent seven straight nights eating locally sourced suppers. While preoccupied with Menu for Hope, were stunned to be nominated for Best Blog Covering Drinks — we never expected to win! (Thank you all, again. Wow.)
So yeah… highest highs, lowest lows, and all the what-have-you in between. I wouldn’t repeat this year for love or money, but I can’t say it wasn’t without its memorable occasions. I know it seems trite to say we couldn’t have done it without you, but it’s true — we’re truly blessed to have so many passionate subscribers, thoughtful commenters, and fabulous foodie friends.
I hope 2008 brings you everything you want, both in and out of the kitchen.
I hope you can all forgive my stunned silence on this subject over the last couple of days:
We awoke Monday to discover that we’d been named this year’s Best Blog Covering Drinks in the Well Fed food blog awards, in what I am assured was an incredibly close race. I’m absolutely floored that we were even nominated in such auspicious company, much less that we won!
(I guess we’ll keep working on Drink of the Week, eh? Not bad for a weekly feature that we weren’t sure would survive.)
Thank you — truly, deeply — to everyone who voted for us, and all of you who stopped by to offer congratulations while we were still dumbstruck and unable to post. We hope you’ll stop by and congratulate our co-winners, favorites both old and new:
Food Blog of the Year – 101 Cookbooks
Best City Food Blog – Becks and Posh
Best Family Food Blog – Lunch in a Box
Best Group Food Blog – Serious Eats
Best Industry Food Blog – Michael Ruhlman
Best New Food Blog and Best Humor Food Blog – French Laundry at Home
Best Food Blog Photography – La Tartine Gourmande
Best Food Blog Post – Gluten-Free Girl
Best Rural Food Blog – Farmgirl Fare
Best Theme Food Blog – Fat-Free Vegan
Best Food Blog Writing – Bittersweet Blog