Saturday, June 28, 2008


This week we got purslane (verdolagas) in our CSA box (the greens on the far left). Along with green beans, cabbage, carrots, fennel, stockton red onions, potatoes, and summer squash.

I've just been picking the leaves of the purslane off and adding them to salads. They don't taste like much but according to the newsletter they are full of beta-carotene, magnesium, and potassium, as well as high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 essential fatty acid). You can also add it to omelets and soups. Yum?

On a different topic, I've decided to really start playing with the still-life potential of the CSA box pics. It's very difficult to frame the veggies well and I don't know that I have it figured out yet. The photo above is an example of one that I think is poorly framed, and the one below is much better. But I can't really verbalize why yet. But the veggies will help me learn!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Goat Roast (Warning: Not for the Weak of Stomach)

A few weekends ago a group of my friends decided to roast a goat. Why not? This decision came from a desire to experience every aspect of meat-eating; animal selection, slaughter, butchering, cooking, and eating.

This task was made simple because we are friends with a guy who works at a specialty slaughterhouse and butcher outside of Davis. So they were able to be a part of the whole process and the butchers attended the goat roast celebration as participants and cooks. It was a pretty sweet deal.

The party was called a "celebration of local food" because no one wanted to feel like they were celebrating the death of an animal. We talked a lot about the whole experience. My friend K observed that the strangest part was when the goat was slaughtered; his brain immediately stopped identifying it as an animal, and began to identify it as food.

When I took these photos I was enthralled with the beauty of the roasting goat, and I certainly wasn't thinking of it as an animal. The light was gorgeous and the flames and colors of the meat caused me to just snap away like crazy. Now, though, I'm finding these photos to be a bit grotesque. It's clearly an animal, you can even see the tail sticking up. My stomach and eyes were in control, I guess, and my brain was shoved aside.

But the meat was delicious; greasy and dark, not too funky, chewy, and satisfying. They marinated and grilled the organs as well, so I tried some liver, heart, sweetmeats, and testicles. Only like, a millimeter squared, but it was enough to make me never want to eat animal organs ever again (shudder).

I'm sorry if these photos are disturbing to anyone, I put the warning in the title just in case. It was an interesting and delicious experience.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Helena, Saint of Bicycles and Pastry

A few weeks ago I spent an idyllic four days in St. Helena, working on my thesis (really) and hanging out with my girl Jaja in the house on Inglewood Ave. We spent the time in the following manner:

1. Taking long morning bike rides that usually ended with us in the bakery buying pastries for breakfast.

The bike path across from Beringer Winery

A particularly long and hilly ride

2. Enjoying the landscape.

The view from the house on Inglewood Ave.

3. Schmoozing with wine people and generally pretending to be a part of the world of Napa Valley.

Prager Port and Winery

Barrels of home-made wine in the garage on Inglewood Ave.

4. Treating ourselves to good food.

The adorable kitchen garden at Go Fish

Watching the game in the outdoor bar at Go Fish

Local bread, cheese, tomatoes, and basil for lunch from the Farmer's Market

5. Working on projects (my thesis, her sewing).

The view from my work desk

All I could do the whole time was laugh at how lucky I am and revel in the joys of summer and unscheduled time. So precious and so fleeting.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kids, and Gardens

This spring quarter I volunteered with a program at UC Davis called "Kids in the Garden." It was so incredible, I don't even know where to begin. Every Tuesday morning I got to lead a group of elementary school children around the garden and orchard and teach them about where their food comes from. We would pick food to eat, run around and play ladybug-and-aphid-tag, poke through compost looking for worms, and chase the chickens.

The children's garden at UC Davis is old and established, with fruit trees, vegetable patches, and ornamental plantings. And it helps that the weather here in California is gorgeous (at least in the spring) and there is always something for us to eat and play with. For example, during the last few Tuesdays the cherries were ripening and weighing down the boughs of the tree with pounds of juicy redness.

The garden is well designed too, with lots of open spaces for the kids to run, and sitting areas for us to calm down and do some learning.

There are also a few animal residents, who are always very popular with the kids.

I volunteered for this program because of an existing interest in environmental education and a growing interest in children's gardens specifically. I also missed having children in my life (no time for babysitting in grad school), so Tuesday mornings were my kid fix for the week. And they loved it too. We got some beautiful thank you cards, some watercolors like the one below, and some paper murals as well. I even got some thank you notes of my very own!

I actually got about 15 of them. I've transcribed my favorites for you below (verbatim):

"Dear Erica,
It was fun when we were checing if any chickens were laying an egg but one was Heidi saw it and a lot were trying to run away from us and to get out of there cage but they can't.
From, Vanessa"

"Dear Erica,
Thank you fer having sutch a grat time with us. Did you had fun on tuesday? I had a great time piking all those flawers ot the grownd i hope i cude go back agin and visit.
From, Roberto"

"Deer Erica thank you for doing the garted and piking the grens and doing the werm theng. it wus a lot of fun.
Love, Meg"

A few of them even made their way onto the fridge. Here's the best one. I think Logan really gets it.

"Dear Erica thank you for teaching us flowers and leting us see the chicens. and doing stuff we never did.
Love, Logan"

And that's what it's all about. Being introduced to something new. I loved doing this program, it became the thing I looked forward to all week. And it helped solidify some ideas I've had floating around in my head about the path my own future will take. It will definitely involve kids, and gardens.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

High of 106 degrees

Yup, that's right. At one point, it was still 106 degrees out at 8 o'clock at night. We sweated through our first real Nevada summer field work this past week, working 11 hour days (in two large chunks, with a 3 hour siesta in the middle of the day). When we weren't working, we were eating and sleeping. I'm glad to be back, even though it's 102 degrees here in Davis. Ah well.

I didn't take many pictures this time around, there was just too much to do. But the sunsets were very pretty so here are a few low light landscapes.

And here we are, doing our impression of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We couldn't get that song out of our heads the whole time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Potato, Potato, however you want to say it

This week's CSA box: Cabbage, carrots, arugula (not pictured), salad mix, fresh torpedo onions, huckleberry potatoes, summer squash, and basil from my own garden.

I decided that I will pass along a bit of info from the newsletter I get with each box. Did you know that "new" potatoes are just the potatoes that are harvested at the beginning of the season? As opposed to "cured" potatoes which are harvested at the end of the season. Here I was thinking that they were some special variety. Sheesh.

The newsletter, "The Fully Belly Beet" also told me this week that new potatoes should be eaten with the skin on, and treated like a fresh vegetable (that means refrigeration). Also, "the potato is the world's 4th most important crop after rice, wheat and maize . . . and can be grown more quickly on less land in harsher climates than any of the other important crops."

There's your potato knowledge for the week!

Also, my good friend Mike back in Philly is also taking pictures of his CSA box and posting them on his blog, found here. Yay!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Yo Soy Yogini

I love yoga. I know I'm just adding to the list of things that my family in New Jersey can make fun of me for, but I don't care. Have you tried this? It's wonderful. It's all about stretching and breathing, pushing your body (not too far) and leaving your worries behind.

I go to class about once a week and spend an hour and a half doing vinyasas and asanas in an 80 degree heated room. The asanas (AH-sa-nas) are a series of postures like Warrior Two (demonstrated nicely by Eric, above) and Trikonasana (demonstrated by me and Jaja, below). My instructor Robert describes the asanas as flowers on a lei, with your breath as the string that holds them together.

A lot of the focus of yoga is on breathing. My favorite Robert quote of late is "yoga is not about tension; it's about intention through breath." I love it.

The top photo was taken by Jaja on her manual camera (what's that?). The bottom was taken by LStad, both at Big Sur. And here's a hilarious website I found that shows you how to do the asana poses through animation.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Can See the Finish Line!

My study plant, Cordylanthus palmatus (with salt crystals on its leaves)

After much debate, my thesis will be on the germination of one species (not two or three, as previously thought): Cordylanthus palmatus (palmate-bracted bird's beak). It's a hemi-parasitic plant that grows on the edges of seasonal pools in the alkaline/saline grasslands of the Great Central Valley, CA (it's a mouthful, I know).

C. palmatus seedling (little, light green guy), growing alongside its potential host, salt grass (Distichlis spicata)

And here's the really big news: I think I might actually graduate soon! After a big meeting with my thesis committee a few months ago, I now have a time line and a date: July 22nd! Eeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

A seasonal wetland pool at my study site in Woodland, CA.

Yes, you read correctly. Eek. The finished product isn't due to the Office of Graduate Studies until September 8th, but my deadline for the first draft (which must be as ready-to-go as possible) is July 22nd. After that date I am going to Greece for two weeks and my advisors get to tear my thesis to shreds.

Bird's beak seedlings in the greenhouse

So the next two months are going to be jammed-packed with work. But I'll be around, everyone needs a break. In fact, I'm spending the next four days in Napa visiting Jaja and getting work done in the quiet house on Inglewood Ave (I swear).

Seedlings in April

These photos were taken on my last couple of trips out to my study site (April and May). The plants are just seedlings now, they grow all summer and flower in the fall.

Big, flowering plants in the greenhouse

Wish me luck!

The palmately lobed floral bracts and beak-shaped flowers that give this plant its common name

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

OMG Kitties!

Just a tidbit of cuteness for today. I went to San Diego to visit my friend Chez a few weekends ago and we spent a lot of the time playing with her kittens (as one does when confronted with kittens). This is an award-winning bit of cinematography on my part too, make sure you watch the whole thing, there's a surprise ending! (I had to post it on youtube because it is too long for Blogger to deal with).

They Keep Growing and Growing . . .

My happy little seedling transplants are growing into happy little veggies! Here's the original planting post. And here is my current progress:

Strong-looking tomatoes and delicious mystery onions. I may need to transplant that middle tomato (this after advising my own mother that it's getting to be too late for transplanting tomatoes in NJ, let alone CA).

The onions are a mystery to me because I didn't expect them to form such large bulbs. I secretly think they are sconions ("scun-yuns"; this is a cross between scallion and onion and I swear I've heard people call it that before, but the internet is denying it).

Sweet basil and a little eggplant in the middle (it may need a bit more room, whoops).

Pepper plants and an eggplant in the middle again. That's Boomer Petway in the background, the newest in my fleet of bicycles (can two individuals be called a "fleet?")

A pepper-to-be! (I'm on a roll with these parenthetical comments, better keep it up).

Here are some that are not doing so hot: cilantro from this planting, and celery from the last planting. I'm keeping them in the tubs for lack of fresh transplants to take their place.

And because they make a nice, fragrant addition to my little backyard flower bouquets.