Yesterday was tough for Marta and me; work for me, family and work for her. We both wanted to collapse. But we’d been invited by our neighbors, Dave and Leslie, to the Ukiah Chili Cook-Off downtown, a fund-raiser for the Boys-and-Girls Club, and — according to Dave — one of the best parties Ukiah puts on. So we dragged ourselves out.
It was, indeed, a sweet party on the green. The Mendocino Animal Hospital chose a Cat In The Hat theme — you see Thing One and Thing Two here. The Rainbow farm supply store chose a theme of turkeys, one booth had a New Orleans theme, and there was even a Mad Scientist theme, complete with a home-built Tesla coil (“Just a little one,” the owner said, modestly). The music wasn’t live, but was well-selected and well-mixed, the chilis were awesome, and there was plenty of beer and wine, as well as a free drive-home service for those who imbibed a bit too much.
As you can see in the pictures, the light is starting to grow heavy and golden, but the weather remains warm and dry.
It was a perfect way to shake off the blues of a long week.
This morning, Marta took me to breakfast at Stan’s Maple Cafe, and we walked over to the farmer’s market afterward. We spent some time chatting with the vendors.
We talked about lambs, sheep, and wool with the lamb merchant. Wool is made from the long-haired sheep, not the sheep they raise for slaughter. She said they can’t even give the wool from their sheep away. No one wants it. We bought some chops.
We bought oyster mushrooms from the mushroom lady, and listened as she explained to another customer about how they raise the mushrooms; the life-cycle and harvesting schedule. They’re beautiful: they grow in clusters with the gills facing forward, or at least that’s how they’re presented: perhaps they grow against a wall, then lay sideways on the table. Marta asked about preparation and collected some ideas. I asked about Chanterelles, which are wild and native to the area, and which I’d read about in Kate’s book on the wild oaks.
“Oh, Kate’s book!” the mushroom lady enthused. “I love her book. The Oak Woodlands, right?” But she had no Chanterelles, as they can’t sell wild mushrooms in California, by law. However, you can get them in various renegade markets in the area, and she said they are delicious.
“How do they get around the law?” I asked.
She shrugged. “They’re renegade markets. They sell all sorts of things.”
The apple merchant was intrigued by Marta’s story about my experience with Tyrolean apple soup, and wanted the recipe. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and bought a bag of fresh-picked Jonathan apples.
One of the produce farmers had various squashes, and Marta talked with him about recipes for the big orange guy shown above, which is a variety of Hopi Squash. The chili cook-off inspired her, and she is inventing new chili recipes in her head.
The produce farmer mentioned that he grows these in the traditional mounds of the “three sisters” — squash, beans, and maize — and I asked him if he minded a strange question. I asked if he could raise enough food to live for a year this way. He thought about it, then shook his head. He said, “You might raise enough food, but you can’t keep going. You need the full life-cycle, including animals. I looked into getting a cow at one point. It takes seven acres too keep a cow. Goats are better, but they still take land. You really need a village to survive on your own produce.”
We had a conversation about the village, and he said the natural size of the village unit is about thirty people, in which each person has his or her specialized job. He said they even need one troublemaker, or indigent — someone who didn’t do what was expected of him or her: the town drunk, the village idiot, the farmer who falls apart because his wife died. He said it teaches the village empathy.
I bought some local honey. I asked what pollen the bees had used, and he gave a long list: he told me the bees worked a particular piece of farmland that had all of those things. The spring honey was more uniform, and milder. As I write, now, I’ve forgotten all the details, but the vendor knew the bees, and the honey.
I think it’s time to start a jug of mead. There are no local brewing supply stores, and I’m debating whether I even want to buy a packet of yeast through Amazon. This is wine country, and the grape yeasts are everywhere. Vintners — some of them, at least — don’t add anything to their musts. No sulfites, no water, no yeast. The grapes are already covered with yeasts, and the grape juices will ferment on their own. I’m sure the yeasts suffuse the air, as well. You can smell the grapes; the harvest is already well underway, a little early this year because of the drought and the heat.
After the farmer’s market, Marta and I took a drive up into Redwood Valley, about fifteen minutes away, and found a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant with the best food. Then, driving back to town, we stopped at the Barra tasting room, where I bought a wonderful Pinot Noir and an even more excellent Muscat dessert wine.
It has been a beautiful weekend.
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