Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mussel Hunting

As Mali and I prepared to move to Santa Cruz we imagined frequent afternoons sunbathing naked on the beach. Our plans were stymied by fierce winds we encountered on the unpopulated beaches up North where we live. All summer we ended up spending only a handful of days on the beach. It seems silly to frolic on the beach in winter, but here I sit basking in sun and realizing that winter might be a better time to visit the beach than the summer. The sand and air are chilled but sun rays on my skin massage the cold away. The ocean emits a constant murmur, then heaves up a groan, followed by a crash and a whisper as it follows the beach up to where I sit. The cycle of sounds interrupted only by chirping and cawing of birds. Other than the hordes of surfers floating in the water, we have the beach to ourselves. We make a little lunch of salami and bread before we head out to find mussels.

You can hunt mussels around here with a California fishing license. They say only to collect mussels in months that contain the letter R due to the red tide in May, June, July, and August. It's best to go during a low or negative tide, but we go when the weather is nice and we have time. We don't always catch a low tide, but we've always found enough-- sometimes at the sacrifice of getting fairly wet.

Once you collect the mussels put them in a bucket full of salt water to transport them home. I clean them by pulling out the beards (the hair they use to hold onto rocks) with a pair of pliers and then I rub them together under water to clean off barnacles and crap from the shells.

For two servings Mali boils about 15 mussels in about 6 cups of water for 15 to 20 minutes. Then she puts the mussels and broth in a bowl and adds one big tablespoon of red miso per bowl.

I've also used mussels we collected in a red curry sauce and it was pretty tastie.

Mali making lunch





Cleaning the mussels


Got these guys at the store


Ready to eat!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Winter knows how to push my buttons

Coastal California is a great place. We live amongst redwoods and oaks and are lulled to sleep by the tides of the ocean. How can I complain? Well the tricky thing about redwoods is you have to negotiate with them about the sun. In our front yard there is a massive redwood that shades our little yurt from until about 2 o'clock in the afternoon which keeps it a little less than comfortable 50 degrees all day. This normally is tolerable for me. I wear several pairs of wool socks, leggings and sweaters and think warm fuzzy thoughts.

We are off the grid except for our land line which is a phone line strung through the trees. Besides that everything in our home runs off of propane. We do have a solar panel and a battery but it only gets enough sun to charge small devices infrequently. So anyways, I was making breakfast on Monday morning when I started to smell gas. Then I noticed the water came out like ice cubes and our light started flicker. We ran out of propane. And it totally sucked.

It was an overwhelming moment and took almost every ounce of energy in me to not throw in the towel and walk away from our life right then and there. After a heartbeat of panic I pulled myself together and got on the phone with Suburban Propane. The womyn was very nice but said the truck wouldn't be in our neighborhood until Thursday. That meant 3 days with no heat, light, hot water, or refrigerator for our dairy. I went to their office to sign some paperwork and a different womyn helped me. She told me that their would be a an extra $80 fee for a test they had to run when there's an interruption in service and the guy who does it wouldn't be able to do it before Christmas. That would set us back at least another 5 days, over a week without propane and an extra fee.

She must have seen my heart fall out of my chest and roll across the floor while I fought tears from my eyes because she stood up and walked into another room for a bit. When she returned she scratched the fee off the bill and told us that the test was unnecessary this time so someone would be there on Thursday to fill up our tank. What a relief. I felt as if god had given me an apology and I accepted.

We survived the few days in our chilled yurt and I think god felt a little bad because the sun came out for some of those days. We were relatively prepared for such an ordeal because we brought in some camping equipment that we had and life went on somewhat as usual. Living without gas was not such a big deal but the fact that we are still so dependent on the man was irritating. We live in a yurt in the middle of redwoods, milk our own goats, eat wild mushrooms but we are still suckling at the teat of big oil. A wood stove would have solved the majority of our problems but I can see the downfall of fire in the summer or before the fire's going in the mornings. A nice balance would be great of gas and wood. Maybe I'll look into methane.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tiny Titties

Today we picked up Flamingo a gentle Alpine-Boer cross who is as strong as an ox. Her chichis are Boer chichis. I have gotten used to our Lady Covington's boobies and was not prepared for Flamingo's tiny titties. I am thankful that we picked her up today and I have time to build a bond with her before we sell her shares because I almost have to relearn how to milk her because I can barely fit my hands around her nipples. We have 4 new her share-ers which is very exciting because that means we might actually be able to survive off goat farming. With these new members we are almost at capacity for 1 goat so luckily we have some time before Flamingo's milk is needed.
Welcome Flamingo, to the herd!!!!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pickin' up Chicks

Yesterday I went on a community herb walk. Summer is usually not the best time for herb walks because everything is dried up and herbs are always best fresh. Still the walk was great and we got to be re-birthed and receive everything we didn't get the first time we were born. Most importantly I learned that there is a great alternative medicine to pink eye, a somewhat common ailment in goats that everyone recommends an antibiotic for. I don't want to use any antibiotics for many reasons but especially if people are going to be drinking the milk.

On our journey home from our short walk around the hood we found a small patch of sad chickweed or scientifically Stellaria media. A woman in the group said that she had boiled some in water and applied a few drops to her son's pink eye and later that day it had cleared up entirely. I hope that my goats don't get pink eye but now if they do I won't have to worry about using antibiotics on them.

I also learned the difference between some of the lichens around here. Usnea is a great preservative because it has antibiotic and antifungal properties. And if you're hungry enough you can eat it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unsalted Nuts

We harvested some hazel nuts a while back and nutella has nothing on nature. Its hard to find a tree with nuts on them because the squirrels and jays usually get them all before anyone else can. But if you find some I highly recommend collecting some because they are quite a delectable snack.

California Hazel (Corylus cornuta ssp. californiaca)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We found a place to live! Which is such a relief. I was beginning to feel a bit frantic about not being able to find a place to live with our animals. But all that worrying can go out the window because we will be moving into a fancier yurt across the canyon with roaming space for our fast growing herd. We also might be having a goat roast soon to celebrate harvest season and our new home.

We are still looking for an alpine buck to buck our does.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hurray for Animals...We Have New Goats!

Earlier this week we took a drive up to Sonoma County to pick up a doe and her doeling. It was an incredibly inspiring day because not only did we expand our herd but we met a very sweet family that motivated us to get our act together and really start our goat share.

We learned the details of herd sharing, organizations that are defending farmer's rights to sell directly to the consumer like the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the difference between A1 and A2 milk.

This family has a few Jersey cows that produce A2 (the easier to digest type) milk that support a family of 4 from selling shares of the herd. It was great to see a young couple doing similar things as us that was actually successful. I have been starting to doubt starting a herd share because there seemed to be a larger number of unsuccessful goat farms in the area. But this delightful couple has only being doing it since December and are still planning on expanding. Which gave me hope especially since they were so generous with information on how to set everything up.

I am so happy that we went to pick up Peaches and Petal.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bucket Head

We went to do our rounds and check on the animals and the sheep had a water bucket on his head. I love sheep man and lady goat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Weight of Stuff: The Quality-Quantity Dilema

The end of our lease is nearing and we have no idea what to do next. For the past 4 years I have moved about every 4 months and it never gets easier. This last move up here I got rid of a lot of stuff, I mean A LOT of ridiculous and mostly useless stuff. Stuff that was weighing me down. The baggage I was carrying was overwhelming but the idea of getting rid of it was even more terrifying. Now that I let go of so much of it, I want to let go of almost all of it.

I, like many womyn today, have a semi-unhealthy relationship with clothes. I hate shopping but I love free piles. The thing that's more dangerous about free piles is that everything is a good deal so I come out with an exponential amount of stuff compared to if I went to buy clothes. Also instead of coming home with ready to wear clothes everything needs a little love; a patch on the butt, a good hand washing or cut into shorts. These little tidbits often go undone so they go from one pile of unworn clothing to another.

Luckily I have a strong support group aka best friends who help ease and initiate the process of downsizing my life. This doesn't mean I don't get to acquire anything it just means make room for the new. On a recent visit to San Francisco I went through several free piles and got some pretty good stuff but as soon as I got home I got rid of a comparable amount. A trick I learned from an embarrassing source (Sandra Bullock's character in "The Blind Side") is first don't buy something unless you love it in the store because that's when you like it the best and second if there's something that you would change about a garment when you wear it then get rid of it. Clothes are supposed to make you feel comfortable, they hid our shame, so if you're uncomfortable in something why wear it?

I had a hard time parting with many love items but the more I thought about them the more I remembered little things about them that I didn't like. As soon as they were gone I forgot all about them and got to be excited about new stuff. Now as our next moving date approaches I look forward to downsizing again. One thing that has changed about me since we moved up here is the fact that I've become much more of a quality rather than quantity person. Except that we live in a society that often values things the other way around.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Who knew sheep had tails?

We got our little lamby completely intact--balls, tail and all. Seeing a live action sheep tail is pretty rare. Sheep farmers usually cut them off for hygienic reasons. I have never met a sheep tail before and I was surprised at how much emotion they convey like dog tails. I thought they would be more like horse tails, somewhere between animated and expressive. Sheep wag their tails when they're happy. Here is our sheepy when he is happiest, drinking his bottle, for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Looking for a new place to live

We currently live in a Yurt and we're afraid it might be a little less than Santa Cruz winter-proof. We're looking around for a new place, but we're a little confused about the SC codes. I think I might have to call someone down town or something.

SC Code says:

In any R- District, or in conjunction with any residential uses in any other district, there may be kept on any lot of at least twenty thousand square feet in area, two large family farm animals and ten small family farm animals.

1. Such animals shall be specifically for use by the family on the site and not be for sale, except in the case of an approved young farmer project.

2. Such animals and poultry shall under no circumstances be permitted to run at large, but shall be confined at all times within a suitable enclosure.

3. Such enclosure shall at all times be maintained in clean and sanitary condition so as to be at all times free from offensive odor or other nuisance features.

4. No part of any enclosure shall be located less than forty feet from any neighbor’s dwelling, and twenty feet from owner’s property line.

5. Only small animals may be butchered on property.

6. Domestic farm animals (those defined as domestic animals in Section 24.22.050) shall be counted as part of the total number of domestic animals permitted on any one property.

7. Where one or more large farm animals or seven or more small farm animals are to be maintained, an administrative use permit shall be required for all family farms. The following shall be considered in the approval of such permits:

a. The slope of the land and its bearing on the problems associated with runoff shall be taken into consideration with surface of all corrals and animal areas to be graded so as to prevent the accumulation of storm or casual waters;

b. The applicant’s proposed plan for the removal of animal manure from the site and for screening of that portion of the property where animals are to be kept;

c. Proposed measures for prevention of adverse impacts, such as noise, on adjacent properties or the neighborhood caused by the keeping of such animals.

(Ord. 85-05 § 1 (part), 1985).

In any R- District, there may be kept one horse, pony, donkey or mule for each twenty thousand square feet of land area, subject to the following provisions:

1. The minimum contiguous land area shall be forty thousand square feet, of which twenty thousand square feet shall be open space. Contiguous parcels which are leased pursuant to a written or oral rental agreement may not be considered as part of the minimum lot area requirements hereof.

2. The fenced paddock and corral area and structures for the housing of such animals shall be at least twenty feet from the property line; stables and housing of such animals shall be at least forty feet from property lines; and stables and corrals a minimum of one hundred feet from neighbor’s dwelling. Except that, upon written consent of adjacent property owner and tenant, where applicable, the setback requirements may be reduced. In no case, however, shall paddocks, corral areas, stables or animal housing be less than fifty feet from habitable structures on adjacent properties.

3. Such animals shall be maintained in a fenced paddock or corral area containing at least eight hundred square feet of fenced area per animal. All of said minimum fenced paddock or corral area shall be permanently accessible to such animals. Such animals shall be cared for and kept in a manner which preserves the health and safety of the animals and which complies with Chapter 8.18 of the Santa Cruz Municipal Code;

a. If fenced paddock area is not provided for such animals, each twenty thousand square feet of land area per animal shall be fenced.

4. The land area shall at all times be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition so as to be free from offensive odors or other nuisance features.

5. The fly-control regulations and other restrictions of the environmental health department shall be complied with.

6. A foal of such animal which is lawfully kept on such contiguous land area and which is under the age of one year shall not be counted in determining the number of such animals being kept on the land.

7. An administrative use permit shall be required for all horses, ponies, donkeys and mules. The following shall be considered in the approval of such permits:

a. The slopes of the land and its bearing on the problems associated with runoff shall be taken in consideration, with surface of all corrals and animal areas to be graded so as to prevent the accumulation of storm or casual waters;

b. The applicant’s proposed plan for the removal of animal manure from the site and for screening of that portion of the property where animals are to be kept;

c. Proposed measures for prevention of adverse impacts such as noise on adjacent properties or the neighborhood caused by the keeping of such animal.

(Ord. 85-05 § 1 (part), 1985).
24.12.650 BEES (APIARIES).

In an R-1 District, there may be kept on any lot no more than two hives of bees.

1. No hive shall be kept or maintained closer than twenty feet from all property lines.

2. An administrative use permit shall be required.

(Ord. 85-05 § 1 (part), 1985).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Globalization is Delicious

Today for snack I had avocado with white miso paste and olive oil on a piece of bread. I know what I eat is not very interesting to many people besides myself but as I was swept up in the deliciousness of it all my day dream came to a screeching haul with the realization that this moment would not have been possible without a global economy and trade system.

I do my best to support my local economy and blah blah blah but there are some things I can't live without. Luckily I live in central California where seasons are something I read about in a fairy tale and I can eat avocados all year long and there are olive groves spotting the state. Fermented soybean mush probably has to road trip a few thousand miles at the least to end up on my shelf but if it wasn't for a certain Italiain explorer and liberal trade my originally global yet seemingly local meal, along with every other aspect of modern life, would not have existed. Damn you oh so tasty but Earth killing globalization, damn you to hell.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Demystifying Brie, Confessions of being lactose intolerant

During this process of refrigeless life I have gotten in touch with my inner little house on the prairie. There are about six billion people on the earth and a very large percent don't have refrigerators. What do they do and what did people do before our fancy technologies made life so simple?

They invite their friends to eat. I've started to become friends with them too. I've gotten pretty close to lacto bascilli, mesophillic m and many other single celled organisms that like to hang around. After scouring the internet and the raising goats section at the library this is what I found. What we now call cultured buttermilk is what used to be called cobbled milk, which is raw milk with a little extra acid (vinegar or lemon juice) sitting out for a few days that starts to get chunky aka cobbled. The cobbled milk is extremely tangy which is what gives chevre its distinctive taste.

When we first got our goat I was overwhelmed by the amount of milk we had to figure out something to do with everyday, without being able to refrigerate it. Now she's a modest milker giving about a gallon a day which is a lot of milk for two people to drink in one day. I'm lactose intolerant which is a big shade of gray because well like everything else in life we're all different. My favorite food is ice cream and I can eat some ice cream brands Hagan Daz but not others like Ben and Jerry's because of the different processes and ingredients they use. With a little yogurt before consuming any dairy product everything goes much smoother...well maybe actually more solid. Anyways we have all this milk and I refuse to waste it and even though the fat and sugar molecules are smaller and more digestible in goat milk than cows milk a gallon a day is still a lot for a non-traditional milk drinker; Our solution was to make it into cheese and other pre-digested goodies.

The easiest cheese to make is farmer cheese, cottage cheese's older less creamy sister. Its quick and easy and doesn't leave you worrying about the milk getting to warm and becoming suspiciously thick. But after a few days of bland lightly salted cheese I start to get anxious for sharp cheddar, aged gouda, and pepper jack.

After mastering the art of making good rotten milk the next step was to take the ultimate plunge into luxury and make the high priestess of cheeses, brie.

Before I started my voyage into firm outside and gooey middleness I was intimidated. Could I, a semi-lactose intolerant womyn make such a delicatessen food without buying fancy bacteria starters and no fridge? Well yes, making brie is really simple. All you have to do is make some farmer cheese and after you've poured off the whey mix in some meso culture or ripe brie and place in a mold, in my case a coffee can with holes, and let sit in a cool place for about a month. Who knew such a gourmet food would be so simple?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Baby Lamb

Photo from the archive. Here's a pic of our baby lamb from the beginning of April. So cute eh?

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Bumblebee hurt my feelings

Today I was stung by a bumblebee. I have been under the impression that they are the gentle giants of the bee world until today. I was driving home from a day of volunteering at Pajaro Valley High School’s free veggies and meet a lamb day when I felt an intense burning-stinging sensation in my back. I searched frantically with my fingertips around my shoulder blade in the spot that you cant really reach with either arm in any direction trying to figure out what was causing such a great pain. I drove the last 2 winding miles home with my arm wrapped around myself squeezing the area trying to reduce the pain. When I stopped to open the gate I felt up my shirt trying once more to find a clue to my stinging shoulder blade. Still I found nothing until I felt a tickle on my arm and ferociously brushed off the culprit in a panic. I looked down to inspect the critter and was shocked that it was a bumblebee. I felt betrayed. Not only had a factual pillar been shattered but so were my feelings. Why was I stung? An advocate of bees who provides diverse nutritious nectars to drink and had boldly stated that bumblebees don’t sting.

I watched the damaged body quiver from the swat while my heart sank. My sadness was rudely interrupted by a throbbing in my back so I left the bee to die alone to take care of the wound it left on me. To soothe a bee sting or bug bite; apply either a tincture or poultice of dry or fresh Echinacea to a cotton ball and then tape to the sting until the swelling has reduced. Today I emptied out a capsule of dried Echinacea to some water and just rubbed it on, since I don’t have any of the other materials for a proper poultice, which relieved the pain immediately.
I’m still not sure how the bee got into my shirt in the first place and am willing to believe that bumblebees don’t actively sting as much as wasps but at least I know that Echinacea can reduce the discomfort of bug bites and stings.

An Introduction to Eating Wild Plants

I am a nature geek, not as geeky as the families who go hiking with matching kaki outfits and defy the fashion gods by wearing socks with sandals but I share their enthusiasm for catching blue belly lizards, geological history and spotting red-tailed hawks. One thing we probably don't share is my dis-concern for following the rules. I know that when you visit state and national parks you are supposed to take only memories and leave only footprints. Its not a bad rule when there are over 300 people to every square mile shit is going to get fucked up...Not like it isn't already, almost 95% of the California grasses are invasive, the red fox is killing of the snowy plover like its nobodies business and there are no predators of poison hemlock. Anyways you have to work with what you've got and we have a very limited mostly non-native landscape filled with delectable and not-so delectable eats and I'm going to tell you about some of them and what I've learned.

Before we dive into the excitement of foraging wild foods I will warn you eating things you find can be dangerous. Make sure you have a100% identification before you put anything in your mouth. A good rule I have is identify something thrice (on separate occasions) before it touches my tummy. Here are some things to keep in mind when exploring the world of medicinal and edible plants:

This product was produced in a factory that also processes tree nuts. Just like some people are allergic to strawberries some people's bodies may disagree with other plants so you might try a little and make sure you aren't surprised with an impromptu colonic.

The potato was not always delicious. Not all plants are edible and not all parts of plants are edible. The potato is in the nightshade family, which is poisonous, it has been cultivated for thousands of years to be the crispy fries we know today, its leaves are still toxic.

Not all digestive tracts are created equal.
Just because another animal eats something doesn't mean we can. Deer, sheep, goats and many others find the young leaves of poison oak quite a treat but for us could be very unpleasant.

Conservative thinking has a time and place.
You don’t eat ten pounds of broccoli at a time there is no reason to go nuts over braken fern leaves either. Start conservative and work your way up to larger amounts, again so you don’t loose your lunch or anything else.

Know your food.
Prior to your voyage on preparing wild food I suggest when eating something for the first time just lightly sauté it in some olive oil to get a sense of what it tastes like and you aren't shocked that the nettles didn't cook up exactly the same way as the spinach normally does in your famous casserole.

Another tidbit about wild food is that much of it is wild for a reason. Things become domesticate because they are delicious, texturally acceptable and are easy to harvest. So whether you are a dooms-dayer preparing yourself for the apocalypse or just want to impress a hot date rooting around outside for tasty treats is fun and a good reason to go outside. Don’t be discouraged if you can't make it to Yellowstone or Yosemite that you wont find anything cool. Nature is everywhere, including the empty lot down the street from your house. When venturing in the mean city streets beware of invisible demons on plants found in urban areas. A good rinse can rid some of them like dog pee and some pesticides however some are embedded deep in the phylum of the plant and cannot be washed off, like heavy metals from the ground. But the park near your house or your neighbors lawn is a good place to start to familiarize yourself with grasses, trees and some herbs or flowers until you can make it to the great outdoors.

So here’s the dealio:

Part 1

Now I'm not going to go in any particular order that may make sense to you but it makes sense to me because it will be my successes. I've been eating weeds for a while and there have been a lot of failures. Not missed identifications failures but cooking failures. When was the last time you read a recipe that called for goose foot, hounds tongue and rattle snake grass? Or did I just miss the section in The Joy of Cooking on how long to roast the soap plant bulb for? Yeah, that's what I thought. I've suffered a lot of texture violations for you're eating ease.

Part 2

You may also want to know the layout. It will start with a common name followed by more common names and then a scientific name in italics. Then a description including habitat and uses with a lovely picture taken by my mountaneering man Dusty Jensen. And finally a tried and tested recipe I deem worthy of your digestive tract from the collection to the preparation. There may also be some other uses for wounds, dyes or underwater basket weaving thrown in too. On to the goodies...

Sunday, July 18, 2010


This is Taj. Not my horse but I get to ride her.

More Easily Stored Veggies

One of my goals of the homestead is to approach food self sustainability. I was just looking at my garden and thinking about winter and I think I need a lot more food that is easily stored. Corn, beans, potatoes, onions.

I guess I'll need to start thinking about how to store them too.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Principles Vs. Lifestyle

Thomas Jefferson says, "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock," and it sounds about right to me.

Why live this lifestyle? There are several reasons, but high on the list is my principles. I don't want to drop out of society, but I how can I live a lifestyle if I don't agree with cumulative effects of the lifestyle. I can't claim that my lifestyle is perfect, but that's the purpose of this blog and our homestead -- Is it possible to live a life dictated by principles?


Hi! We're Mali and Dustin (and Mr. Lambie). Nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by. We live in a Yurt in on 40 acres of redwoods in the hills above Santa Cruz, California. We moved out here because we wanted a more simple life and a have closer relationship with our food. On a deeper level we were becoming sick of the excess of the Western lifestyle and we wanted a chance to ponder, examine, and experiment with the lifestyle we wanted to live. The goal of this blog to document our thoughts and experiments and to facilitate a discussion with others. So please comment and let us know what you think.

Mali and Dustin (and Mr. Lambie)