Sunday, July 29, 2007


Jim and I went to last night and today's baseball games. The Giants versus the Florida Marlins. Barry Bonds is on the verge of tying Hank Aaron's record of 755 career home runs. Last night was exciting and full of good hitting. Today's game was not so good. And we're still waiting for Barry to hit one or two balls for the record books. Games in San Francisco are all about contrasts. I freeze during foggy night games like last night, or roast in the sun like I did this afternoon.

Baseball games are not just about the game that's unfolding on the field. It is about watching the crowd, too. Everyone cheers and chants when Barry Bonds comes to bat, they boo-ed when ex-Giants pitcher Armando Benitez took to the mound, they got all warm and fuzzy when the team from 1987 was honored before today's game.

Baseball games are also about eating stuff you'd never put in your mouth at home. Cotton candy? Cracker Jacks? Peanuts in the shell? Grilled sausages smothered in grilled onions, sauerkraut, and mustard? Garlic fries? Is there ever a good time to eat any of these things? Only at the ballpark. We always intend to bring lunch or dinner with us. Save our cash for the extremely expensive souvenirs. Somehow, only peanuts and apples ever wind up in our backpacks. Last night we devoured peanuts during the first half of the game. Dry, empty shells littered the concrete beneath our seats. It is the only time I feel no remorse for littering. I miss the days at Candlestick watching the hot dog wrappers and plastic bags whip around in the wind and fog, tumbling across the outfield. Umpires would pick up the trash in between innings. The new stadium doesn't have the same wind currents so the trash tends to stay in the stands.

Today we snacked on pistachio nuts. We finished the peanuts last night. I usually buy nuts at Trader Joe's and thought pistachios would be a nice change of pace. Jim and I opened the bag during the first inning. We cracked handfuls of nuts while watching Barry hit foul balls. The shells started to pile up under our feet. Unlike peanut shells, the pistachio shells don't crunch nicely underfoot. They sit there like small, hard pebbles. Tasty, but the shells are a pain. Then you get the unsplit nut that won't come out of the shell. Completely useless. On to the ground with it.

I can recall the first time I ever had pistachio nuts. It was the mid-70's and I was a little kid. My mom had bought a bag of them at Torn Ranch, a store in downtown San Rafael. Torn Ranch specialized in dried fruit and nuts and sweets. Things you might find at Cost Plus today. They also had a crepe café and juice bar. The shop was next door to my dad's clothing store. I remember my mother giving me a pistachio nut. I loved it from the first bite. Mom explained that these nuts were very expensive because they only grow them in the Middle East. These nuts were from Iran. They came in cool colors like red and green or natural. I ate them only on special occasions because my parents didn't buy them often. They were too much money.

Not too long after that experience, I had my first political food revelation. Pistachios were even harder to get and even more expensive. The Iranian hostage crisis and ensuing embargo of Iranian goods cut off the supply of pistachio nuts! This is bad on all fronts. Coincidentally, U.S. production of pistachios began in the late 1970's. California has the perfect climate for pistachio trees. They like the same type of climate as almonds and olives.

We have lots of pistachio nuts grown here in California today. They also grow them in Turkey and throughout the Mediterranean. Recently I have even found nuts from Iran. My local produce market Parkside Market has it all. They have amazing produce, a feta bar with five types of feta, an olive bar with eight kinds of olives, Turkish tea, and pistachio nuts in many flavors from all corners of the earth for only $5.00 a pound.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Walking away

Real Estate update:

The deal is off. We must continue to search for our Oregon home.

Why is it off? It all came down to the inspection. The house is in a great location, but it needs some serious work. We flew up last Monday for the inspection and met Larry, the home inspector and Paul our real estate agent at the house outside of Carlton. We went inside and Larry went to work. Jim and I wandered from room to room, taking pictures and discussing what we might do to make improvements. Larry spent three hours examining the place from top to bottom. He had his laptop with him so he could examine a room and then write his report. He took pictures and poked and prodded what seems like every square inch of the house.

When he was finished, we all converged in the kitchen for a full debriefing. Larry's opinion: for a 100 year old house, the place is in o.k. shape. HOWEVER, it needs some work. The roof is probably 25 years old and needs to be replaced. The plumbing is heavily corroded and restricting the flow of water through the pipes, so there is very little water pressure. The solution: replace the galvanized steel pipes with copper plumbing.

Oh, and the foundation is crumbling on one side of the house.

The list continued on from there, none of it seemed to be minor. I don't want this house anymore. I don't want this property anymore. I don't want to have to do major work on a house before I move in. This place was not priced as a "fixer."

The well inspection was also rather disappointing. For some reason, a well that was thought to be pumping an admirable 25 gallons per minute of water, is only pumping 4 gallons per minute.

Enough. I don't want to restore this place. I want to move in and build my cheese operation. Time to cut our losses and keep looking.

The hunt continues. We'll be back in Oregon on Aug. 10th and will look at several more properties. I'm eager to find a place that's just right.

Monday, July 09, 2007

In the Works

(The Cowgirls - Rachel, now working at the warehouse in Petaluma, Sue & Peggy--photo taken last August)

I do not like to be idle. To stay out of trouble I've been putting some time in at Cowgirl Creamery. It is always fun to step behind the counter again and sell a wide variety of fine cheese. I'm in my element. I get to talk about all kinds of cheese for hours! There are lots of new faces behind the counter, so I get to entertain them with many stories about my cheesemaking adventures. It is easy to sell something that you're passionate about. The customers seem to pick up on my enthusiasm and buy lots of cheese. I enjoy giving them fascinating tidbits about the cheese that they're tasting. For example, Everona Dairy's Piedmont, a sheep's milk cheese from Virginia is made by a medical doctor, Dr. Pat Elliot. I believe she's a cardiac surgeon. One ounce of a rich triple-cream like Mt. Tam has LESS calories than one ounce of parmigiano reggiano. Why? Because there is a lot more moisture (water) in a soft cheese like Mt. Tam, than a hard cheese like a parmigiano. Essentially, the harder the cheese, the more concentrated it is and the less water is in it. And goat's milk has less fat, naturally in it than cow or sheep's milk. I'm not saying that cheese is a low-fat or low calorie food. I just know what's going to make me fatter, faster.

I love talking to customers. Everyone is always happy when they enter the cheese shop. I can make them happier by offering a taste of anything they see. People become overwhelmed by the selection, so I enjoy helping them explore the possibilities. I just feed them until they find something they like. I engage them by asking questions like: "Do you like your cheese hard, soft or somewhere in between? Do you like it mild or bold? Creamy or pungent?" I try to zero in on something that they might enjoy. I can usually find something that they like and that they might not have tried before.

One customer particularly stands out from my stint behind the counter last week. A family was buying a bunch of cheese to pair with wines. They looked familiar. They've been in the shop before and were familiar with many of the cheeses Cowgirl sells. We were discussing what would pair well with a white wine (savignon blanc?) As we discussed our options, I was impressed with her cheese knowledge. She also really knew her wine. Turns out she and her husband publish a website called Fork & Bottle. I've looked at it before. They really enjoy their subjects, food & wine. They seem to have an emphasis on local foods from the Bay Area (they're in Santa Rosa) but their site is quite extensive and is a clearinghouse of food-centric information. I am intrigued by their cheese and wine parings that they're working on at the moment. I hope I was able to give Joanne some good cheese for her research!

(left: Trethowan's Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese)

I also like to see the regular customers who know what they like and look forward to getting their favorites. I'll try to point out certain cheeses that are truly stellar at the moment. For instance, last week I cut open a wheel of Gorwydd caerphilly, a Welsh cheese. It knocked my socks off. It was perfectly ripe and had a bright flavor that dances between lemons, asparagus, and thyme. Glorious. Sometimes it can be too ripe and sad. This one was just right. When someone asked me what was my favorite cheese I'd show them the caerphilly. My favorite cheese is whatever is at its peak on that particular day.

I've been missing my work at the dairy so I went out and bought a gallon of goat's milk at Trader Joe's. I made a batch of fresh chevre for our house and to share with Jim's uncle in McMinnville, OR. After it set up and drained for a day, I took some of the curd and made roasted red bell pepper chevre as well as fig and honey chevre. I kept a small amount and just salted it so I could have plain chevre for breakfast.

(right: freshly drained chevre ready to be salted and eaten.)

Cooking tip: I got a filet of salmon for dinner the other night. I cooked it on the stovetop so it got a nice, crisp skin and moist center. I then took a dallop of my roasted red bell pepper chevre and let it melt over the top of the hot salmon fillet as you would with herb butter. The results were a big hit at the dinner table. It really punched up the flavor of the fresh salmon and made everything sing. I've got to try that again. Working at Goat Lady Dairy made me realize how fun it can be to play with flavored fresh goat cheese.

Real Estate update: We found a great little farm between Carlton and McMinnville in Oregon. 13 acres with an Arts & Crafts bungalow, a barn, a few trees, and bare earth. We put an offer in it, haggled a bit with the seller, and now we're in escrow! My God! We're really doing this! Oh SH*T! We've got a lot of work to do, but we're going to make some our own cheese one of these days and were going to do it on Highway 47 in Oregon.