Buddy, Can You Paradigm?
Don't ask.....Second time in two years we have gone through the insane emotional (and financial) ups and downs of shepherding a puppy through parvovirus. Well, emotional ups and downs....the financial is just down. Three grand through Monday morning....
Anyway, I actually wanted to write about food. Shocking.
This summer and fall we were so busy that we actually lost control of our lives and our businesses....and just had to ride the wave.
Strange things happened. Just when we needed them, amazing hardworking caterfolk emerged from all sides. At times we had 30 professional caterers working around the clock....which compares favorably with the .5 professional caterer that we now have working around the clock.
Even more amazing was the food flood. We have long prided ourselves on our produce: everything is organic, and comes from the farmers' markets....or outfits like Serendipity or the Coke's. This involves lots of planning and communication....and lots of driving around and opening gates and lots of Spanish.
This year was different. We opened ourselves up to our new friends in Cachagua and said: "Just bring it....we'll buy it. Or trade for it."
A hurricane of insanely great produce ensued. Lyle and Joanie Linares taught us about mulberries, dozens of varieties of squashes, peppers, eggplants, herbs.....and buried us under them. Ditto Rogelio and Johnny Kinder from James Creek Farm. Ditto Rich and Mary from Heller Estate. Alan Wheat....former soccer guy and landscape artist....brought a mountain of potatoes. We coulda made vodka......We even got apples from crackhead alkie sewer pumpers in exchange for beer and cigarettes that caused Pebble Beach folk to beg for recipes....
Micah's Apple Crisp with Jack Daniels Caramel:
Well, first you get 6 cups of chopped small, dry apples from crackhead alkie sewer pumpers who can't pay their booze bill. Make sure the tree is in the middle of the yard where the sewer truck parks....and close enough to the house that it is well irrigated with minimally digested Copenhagen and Coors Lite.........
And some weird tomato growing guys who show up at odd times.....like last night at 10pm. Just in time for the Monday Night staff to get the best Capreses and Panzanellas in weeks....
At the peak, we we took in 500 pounds of tomatoes a week.....and paid for almost nothing. Mary at Heller begged us to take away the tomatoes before they rotted. "Give them away in the Store. Just make sure they get eaten!"
One really amusing day....well, from a local politics standpoint, anyway.....Rich from Heller brought down two huge lugs of gorgeous, ripe tomatoes. "Don't tell Mary.....I am overflowing in the fucking things."
OK....I stashed them in our temperature controlled wine room. Mumm's the word.
Five minutes after Rich left, Mary from Heller arrived wit two huge lugs of tomatoes. "Michael...take these tomatoes. I am overflowing in the fucking things."
I know, I know......"Don't mention it to Rich......"
Five minutes later, Joanie arrived with more gorgeous tomatoes. "Take the fucking things.....oh, it looks like you have a ton already." Sad face.
I am now in the position of comforting a person who has worked her ass off for months to produce what are probably the best looking and tasting tomatoes on the planet that week......for giving them to me for free...and assuring her that really it is not an imposition.
Meanwhile, John and Rogelio arrive from James Creek. We have a standing deal to buy whatever they are willing to sell us.....just so they will be willing to sell us any of their amazing stuff.....ever.
Next up were the Rana Creekies.....same deal. They trade for dinner on Mondays......
Not to mention the two weird brothers.....I pay for their tomatoes even at the peak, just so I can get them when everyone else flails....
It was like the Katrina of heirloom, organic tomatoes. I spent hours each day just pushing tomatoes through a china hat. Amanda kept shouting: "Where is that retarded kid we should be hiring! You should be sending bills....not making tomato sauce!"
Have we talked about the basil? Thai, African, Opal, Genovese.......bales of it. Don't even bring up the fucking squash and peppers.
I felt like the sorcerer's apprentice of produce......
So....in the middle of all this we did a seminar on holistic, sustainable grassland management. "How to Raise a Great Cow and Save the Planet." I met this funny guy.....George Work from San Miguel. George is from the same Work family as our local Work's......"except our branch of the family likes to actually Work for a living.....so we moved as far from Monterey as we could get as fast as we could." George is just the grandson of the original Work.....so he must be a million years old. Either that or the working Work's breed late in life.
George is one of that kind of cattleman who has spent too much time talking to cows. When he gets around people, he can't shut up. George will pin you to the wall, and talk your ears right off your head.
George is the Central Coast version of Joel Salatin: holistic ranch management, local control, local market, sustainable ranching and farming practices.....and a weird kind of redneck holistic business guy who is pitching tickets to a pancake breakfast for a Chamber of Commerce in an alternate universe.
Ten years ago, George banged through the California Legislature the Agritourism bill. This allowed ranches and farms to take in tourists as guests, keep them overnight or for a week, and feed them at the ranch or farm. For decades the fuckheads at the California Restaurant Association, aided and abetted by horrible bureaucrats, had insisted that anyplace that served food for money had to be a licensed, professional, commercial restaurant unattached to any kind of living situation. Greek and Mexican dishwashers sleeping on stainless next to their machines didn't count.
Their are still insane regulatory hurdles to jump through.....but if you go to the website you can find tons of outfits around the State. Only one in Monterey County, but hey. If you search "California Farmstays" you will discover a tourist subculture right up there with quilters and rockhounds. George's place is here. This is an infant industry. Anyone who has travelled in Europe knows Agrotourismo. I could bore you with photos of our favorite Basque agro that would make you weep and lunge for your Mastercard......
George's vision keeps on running right past farmstays, though.
It turns out that the State of Kentucky has pioneered a law that allows home kitchens to can and preserve food commercially. They call it home processing or home microprocessing....depending on the acidity of whatever is being processed. Processors take classes sponsored by the UofK, the State, and the local county and get a license after passing the class. They get inspected by the locals and they are off and running. Canned and preserved stuff can be sold at farmers' markets, roadside stands, etc. Old family traditonal recipes wind up turning into products that people fight over....and income for folks who might be on the bubble.
This is in the Kentucky folk and ag tradition. My favorite heirloom tomato of all is "Radiator Charley's Mortgage Lifter".....really. It was developed by a guy named Charley who worked in a radiator shop in Kentucky or Tennessee generations ago....and who used proceeds from selling his tomatoes to help lift the burden of his monthly mortgage.
There is a long history of official government support for this kind of thing. The US government a hundred years ago recognized the value of safely saving crops and feeding people and a strong part of the local ag coop in every county in the US has always supported home grown agriculture and food production. In recent times this tradition has been drowned out by the roar of mega agribusiness....but the worker bees are still out there. Modern bureaucrats are facing a stark future....and enlightened ones are realizing that supporting home grown processing and agriculture actually helps justify and amplify their jobs.
George Work's passion for microprocessing isn't just about local foods and heritage recipes....it is about crops, waste, hunger and poverty. My tomato Katrina was just our local mini Cachagua version of what happens everywhere in small farming. At Serendipity at mid Valley it is the same story.......all the tomatoes ripen at once, and it is impossible for Jamie to market as much as half of her crop. All the rest gets donated....at the risk of inflating supply and cutting her prices....or composted. It is tons and tons of beautiful, organic fruit.....poured into the ground.
To me it is not just the waste of the actual food and the crop.....it is all the prep, organization, hard work, water, fuel, supplies, rent, power that go into growing food that gets tossed because of our imperfect markets. Criminal naivete and stupidity on our part. Don't even get me started on the damage below our cultural waterline that our contempt for surplus labor and surplus living foods does.
So.....here is my new paradigm: California.....or Monterey County.....passes a similar law, and sets up similar training and licensing. Microprocessor canned and preserved foods, dairy and cheeses, preserved and smoked meats and fish. Small batch beers, wines, grappa?
During the individual floods of each crop's peak harvest.....the moms, the grumpy, the crazy, the socially phobic, the disabled, the old......could can, dry, freeze and preserve a lot of that which is now tossed and composted.....and sell it later in the year. The money would lift mortgages....or expand gardens and make it actually worthwhile for moms, the grumpy, the crazy, the socially phobic, the disabled, the old to stay home and grow and care for things and raise food.
Our Farmer's Markets....which look like Eden just before the snake and the apple in August....might look less like Moscow's in the week before Christmas. Some of that we pour into the ground in summer we could put into local pockets in winter.
Fold in Agrotourismo....Farmstays. Picture coming to Cachagua, having dinner at The Store and enjoying local beers, wines, hams, sausages, smoked heirloom tomato pasta with local goat and sheep cheese...washed down with plum brandy from Rich at Heller....then retiring to James Creek
, or Joanie and Lyle's, or Heller's guest house, or the Lambert Ranch, or Nason's....or Rana Creek......Getting up in the morning and having coffee, pastries with local mulberry preserves and local eggs and bacon wherever you are...........and going for a horseback ride up the mountain....or a dove shoot, or a boar hunt....or a wildflower photo shoot with Joe Kovacs.....or any one of a dozen winetastings.....
Naw......that would suck.
Forget I spoke......