Shaking things up

IMG_8105 IMG_8095 IMG_8102

Historically when it comes to earthquakes, I’m not the calmest person in the room. I’m a native Californian, I’ve been through many, but when the big ones hit, I’m not all that cool and collected. Who is, really. When you are just going about your business sleeping away and one hits, your adrenaline has no place to go but rush around all over the place.

And that’s just what happened at 3:20 Sunday morning. Huge jolts, loud creaks from the house and the noise of everything you own shaking all over. It was a long one, it seemed. Long enough for us to both get out of bed and try our best to walk to the doorway, then down the long hallway to the children’s rooms, which is when it finished. Once we got to our bedroom door, it almost seemed over which is when the whole house did a terrible jolt again and then the rolling started. That’s when I screamed. And that’s when the children woke up. As my son reported, ‘the earthquake didn’t wake us up, your screaming did mom!’ I opened our daughters door and she look wide eyed at me and said, ‘what. was. that!?!’

We lost power immediately of course, which means when you live with well water, that you are out of water too. We’re becoming accustumed to shouting out once we lose power, ‘don’t flush the toilets!’. Scott and I are pretty good about brushing aside small earthquakes, going back to normal life as soon as they finish. This one was so big and violent feeling that we all huddled around the kitchen table with candles and tried to figure out what in the heck just happened! Eventually we learned what you probably already know, a 6.1 earthquake in American Canyon, the epicenter 8 miles from our house.

Everything was fine in our house. The power came on the next morning and we were able to function as normal. As I joked with friends, all of our pictures were hanging askew before the quake, now they are straight! Our friends and family in Napa have big messes to clean up.

I wasn’t able to go back to sleep after the quake though, which made for a very slow foggy brained Sunday. We all moved slowly. Funnily enough the earthquake knocked down a whole bunch of ripe tomatoes from their plants so we took that as a sign to get some tomato sauce made and canned. I made my first loaf of sourdough bread using Wild Grape Sourdough Starter from my favorite The Model Bakery Cookbook(very appropriately a Napa Valley bakery). And truth be told, we got some quality tv watching in done too.

I know I have a number of local readers, how did you guys fare with the ground shaking?

 

16 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Visiting Chileno Valley Ranch

IMG_8023 IMG_8026 IMG_8027 IMG_8028 IMG_8030 IMG_8032 IMG_8034 IMG_8037 IMG_8040 IMG_8041 IMG_8042 IMG_8054As you might well remember, for about five years now we’ve been buying a fourth of a grass fed cow every summer. For many years we bought from Beltane Ranch which is just a few miles away from us. Unfortunately due to new regulations they aren’t able to sell directly to customers anymore, so we’ve switched to buying from Chileno Valley Ranch over in Petaluma. You can read a bit about why we eat grass fed beef from this older post and even more from this older post.

On Sunday they hosted a u-pick day for their apples. Our poor apple trees are in a serious state of decline, so we headed over there to meet the rancher couple and to get some apples. This ranch is deep down Chileno Valley Road, past curving roads, filled with hillsides, ponds and large ranches. It was a beautiful drive. As we approached our destined ranch I was pretty awed by the amazing house you can see from a distance. The house had been in the wife, Sally’s, family since the Civil War! Sally and her husband Mike took ownership of the property in the early ’90’s and set about rehabilitating the house (check out the original structure) and the land.

Everything was gorgeous. We came for the apples, but I left inspired by the gardens. While Scott chatted with Mike about the beef order we recently placed, I talked with Sally about her roses. Strangely enough I didn’t get any pictures of her dozens upon dozens (maybe a hundred +) of roses, but they were unbelievably beautiful. All with bright green leaves and in full flower. My roses at home have been in a sad state ever since their initial spring bloom and I’ve given serious consideration to taking a good majority out. Everything Sally grew was bountiful and lush. As we talked she mentioned how when she cleans out the chicken coop she sprinkles a little of their manure around the roses. She also has sheep and cows that she collects manure from and also has a local dairy deliver manure to her. Ah-ha! Yes, of course. Manure!

As soon as we got home I found my Felco’s and got to work tidying up around the roses and then promptly cleaned out the chicken coop and spread what I scooped all round the roses and watered it in well. Within easy walking distance I can access cow, horse, sheep and chicken manure. I need to collect my wheelbarrow and shovel, head down the street and put these neighboring friendships to work.

If you are local, Chileno Valley Ranch holds these u-pick weekends all the way until October, it’s worth the trip, if you can make it!

10 Comments

Filed under chickens, Life in Sonoma, what we've learned

Rainy Summer Day

IMG_7925IMG_7923
Strangely enough, amidst the deepest of droughts, it rained this morning. In fact this was the third time precipitation has fallen from the sky this summer, if I’m counting correctly. Of course none of these rains have done much to help the drought nor has it even watered the plants all that well. However, us native Californians will tell you, rain in summer is just weird and miraculous!
IMG_7947IMG_7946IMG_7939
IMG_7937IMG_7934The plants, though they didn’t get a good soaking, very much appreciated the little they did get. They all looked much happier this morning upon my usual morning stroll. One of my favorite areas are these new planting beds we had built on either side of the deck staircase. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the nursery and picked out all new plants for an all new bed. Fun! Pineapple sage, dahlias, purple fountain grass, mexican feather grass, artimesia, lavender, black and blue salvia and a few others fill the beds.
IMG_7933
In previous summers (2013, 2012, 2011) this bed was overflowing with sunflowers and corn and melons, this year it lays fallow, filled with weeds and dried fava beans. It’s okay… the soil needs to rest, right? Sure.
IMG_7932
IMG_7931
IMG_7929
IMG_7928Radishes, along with the other seedling I planted last week are sprouting up. Thank you weird, welcome summer rain.

2 Comments

Filed under state of the garden

State of the Garden

IMG_7913IMG_7909
We seem to have entered into the phase of summer where it’s just plain hot & dry. The tomatoes and peppers aren’t complaining though. The tomatoes are starting to tower over our heads and are sending us inside with handfuls of red jems to enjoy. Remember we added in our drainage pipes a few weeks ago and it seems to be paying off, they are all looking very healthy and happy.
IMG_7911  IMG_7910  IMG_7908
Those metal containers? Look how happy things are growing in them. That basil, that tiny little store bought basil is almost tree like now. It’s the biggest basil we’ve ever grown. And the cucumbers are thriving too.
IMG_7921 IMG_7917
The grapes, our poor little dry farmed grapes (irrigation going in next year, right?) are coming ripe. They are so fun to go visit and pick with the kids.
IMG_7916 IMG_7915I worked on this bed over the weekend. Getting out the pesky dead weeds and amending it with gypsum, which helps break up the clay soil. These zucchini got a late start, but seem to be happy and with a little bit of daily watering and some luck new seedlings will be joining them. Kale, chard, spinach, cilantro, carrots and radishes. I also added in a few biannual flower seeds that I’ll transplant out to the flower garden once they get going. Since I was going to be watering everyday, might as well group all the seedlings together! It feels good to have the time to focus on the garden once more and to feel hopeful about it again.

How are things going in your garden? Are you feeling good about the state of things?

6 Comments

Filed under state of the garden

Putting up Plums

Ripe Santa Rosa Plums

Ripe Santa Rosa Plums

Just picked plums

Scoring Plums

Plums

Food Mill Plums
The Santa Rosa plums came ripe within the last two weeks. Looking into my canning notes, we hadn’t yet preserved anything this growing season(!), but the plums changed all that. We sat down the other Sunday to do our first batch of jam. I picked with gusto, I carried them into the house with gusto but as soon as I sat down to put the task to hand, all the wind was knocked out of my sails. Our plums are delicious but they are hidden behind a very bitter skin. I started peeling with a knife, but the knife was dull (a solveable problem, I know). Then I tried scoring the bottom, like tomatoes, and dunking them into hot water to let the skins separate from the meat of the fruit. It looked like it would work, but it didn’t. In fact it totally backfired. Not only did the skins not fully loosen, but by placing the bitter skinned plums in the boiling water, the bitterness soaked right through the fruit, making the whole batch bitter. Argh! Scott sharpened the knives and we sat down and hand peeled…for hours!

Then inspiration hit and for our second batch, we picked them, let them sit on the counter a few days to truly ripen and sent them through the food mill. Problem solved! Not only that, but after the fruit passes through the food mill, it’s smooth and thick enough that it only took a minute or two on the stove to let the sugar dissolve and then into trays to become handmade fruit roll ups. Hardly any hot cooking involved! Food mill, where have you been all of my life?

First entry into the 2014 Canning Log: 6-half pints of plum jam & 4 sheets of fruit rolls ups.

4 Comments

Filed under fruit trees, preserving

Cucumber Abundance

IMG_7847
IMG_7849
IMG_7741
IMG_7762

Apparently the cucumbers are more than happy in their new bed. We’ve been getting inundated with them for the past week or so and luckily I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. It feels good to get a good, abundant harvest again. So many other priorities rudely interfered with our usual spring garden routines this year that we’ve been feeling weak in the whole growing department. But look, we have cucumbers. It’s a start.

We planted about five or six different kinds. I’d carefully explain which each variety is, but those tags are buried deep beneath those tangled vines. That will have to wait for another time. Needless to say, they are all good and I’m so enjoying eating them. And infusing them into gin for martinis. There’s that too.

We’ve been thinking about doing a big fall garden this year. Last year I read You Can Farm by Joel Salatin. It was a motivating, inspiring, quick reading book. But one thing is said is that if you want to be a farmer, you have to tell your kids that time consuming extracurricular activities are out, especially baseball. Now that I lived through two boys on two different Little League teams during one spring season, I can see what he meant. If you want to focus on building your land up as a profitable, you can’t waste those hours doing things that aren’t building up the farm. However, we are not intending to be farmers, but a family who lives in the country with a big garden. I want my kids to be able to play sports if they are driven to do so. But man, that did put a giant big kink in our spring garden habits, as I’ve mentioned before. Well that and deck building and business trip taking (to Norway none the less!). Luckily we live where we do and we can grow a lush garden in fall too. And so, this weekend after a hectic spring and a free, though busy summer, we’ve allotted to getting the beds ready. Wish us luck!

6 Comments

Filed under just picked

Milking Sheep

IMG_7706
IMG_7710
IMG_7711
IMG_7714
IMG_7717
IMG_7771

A few weeks back my sheep tending neighbor and I were letting our children play around her farm. We started talking about the merits of raising goats versus sheep. Now that the wee one is getting older, the thought of adding in some animals to our property is seeming more possible. Still a far off hope, but still much more do-able, at least in my mind. Sensing my interest, Cindy asked if maybe I wouldn’t want to share in her East Friesian sheep-keeping by learning how to milk them. Sign us up!, I said and a few mornings later my middle son and I were riding our bikes down the street to learn how to milk sheep.

An enjoyable hour later, we rode back down the street with a gallon of sheep’s milk and a bit of chevre culture and rennant. Fresh sheep milk, if you are as curious as I was, tastes quite similar to cows milk. We all enjoyed the taste. It quickly however, thanks to this recipe, became fresh chévre. Delicious! What an incredible experience, and hopefully not our last.

6 Comments

Filed under in the kitchen