Anderson Valley, Apples and Apple Cinnamon Loaf

Traveling south along Hwy 1, after three beautiful days exploring in and around Fort Bragg, my sister Gwen and I decided to take yet another backroad detour off the main highway. Backroads can be beautiful and enjoyable experiences, sometimes they are just the opposite. This time we would try a road headed inland from the coast through the tiny town of Comptche, then south to Hwy 128 just west of the town of Navarro in the Anderson Valley. It turned out to be both beautiful and enjoyable.

The Anderson Valley occupies an area about 25 miles long, extending northwesterly from Hwy 101 towards the Coast along Hwy 128. Early  European settlers described it as “a long valley stretching to the northwest, surrounded by dense woods on the southwestern side, and grassy hills to the northeast. There was abundant meadow grass, and water. Deer, elk, bear, and small game animals are abundant and roam the valley and surrounding hills.”

The settlers started arriving around 1850 and with them came the changes that transformed this wooded valley into the thriving agricultural community it is today. From what I can find in the histories apple production here began just before the turn of the century. Today apples still grow in this region but many orchards have been replaced by vineyards. Since 1964 winegrowing and winemaking has become a big part of the economic landscape of the valley. But then that’s another story for another day. Today it’s about apples.

DSCN6633 As we entered Anderson Valley I remembered a historic fruit stand that I had visited many years ago and wondered if it was still there. Much to my delight Gowan’s Oak Tree was still there, unchanged and best of all it was open. I had to stop.

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DSCN6634Gowan’s has been around since the 30’s when Grandma Gowan would sit under the oak tree, that now shades the building, and sell apples to travelers passing by. Around 1950 they built the fruit stand and have been selling to travelers and neighbors ever since.

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They had a nice variety of apples and pears to choose from but no persimmons even though the sign said they did. During the summer months they sell peaches, plums, berries and home grown vegetables.

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Oh, and they had Arkansas Black apples. One of my favorites and not always easy to find.  To link to a recipe for Fresh Apple Cake and more about these beauties see my previous post Arkansas Black Apples.
DSCN6637This little basket of Lady Apples intrigued me, begged me to try one. So I did. It had a semisweet flavor and was crisp and juicy. The sad thing about these little gems is that they aren’t widely available.

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From what I could find about them, they were first cultivated by the Romans and are the oldest apple variety known. The French, it is said, loved them and considered them as royal; early American colonists thought of them as a symbol of wealth. Pretty impressive history for such a tiny fruit.DSCN6684

Always looking for something new to try and having a nice variety of fresh apples on hand, I decided to try this recipe for Apple Cinnamon Loaf by Sharon Whitley posted on Just A Pinch Recipes. The perfect recipe for brightening a cold winter morning. The only thing I changed was to add 1 cup of chopped walnuts with the apple and use mini loaf pans instead of the 9 x 5. The aroma of this loaf will drive you crazy when it’s baking. Is there anything better smelling than cinnamon and sugar? Quick to fix and yummy.

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake Tailgate Snack

Mexican Free-tail bat flyout at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

Recently two grandmas and five grandchildren headed west looking for adventure. We had reserved spaces at Yolo Basin Foundation’s Bat Walk & Talk, a presentation by Corky Quirk, the renowned “Bat Lady” of Northern California, followed by a trip out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats emerge from their daytime sleeping space under the Yolo Causeway and fly into sunset tinted skies.

Corky’s presentation was about 45 minutes long it’s content great for both adults and kids. It’s informative and fun and towards the shared up close projected images of three different live bats showing us their differences. She even fed one mealworms and we watched it munch them down.

Now it was time to load into our cars and caravan out to the Wildlife Area to see the bats fly into the night sky where they would spend their time hunting moths. We followed the line of cars, led by Corky, to a spot far on the eastern side of the property. There we parked and gathered at a place not too far from where the bats would emerge from under the causeway. We stood and waited and then they appeared, thousands of little Mexican Free-tailed bats flying in a long ribbon like formation into the evening sky. It was a beautiful sight.

muffin tail gate party

Carrot Zucchini cupcake tailgate snack

Since there are literally thousands (estimated to be around 250,000 at last count) of bats that need to emerge, the flights come in waves and there can be some time in between where no bats are visible. Just the perfect amount of time for boys of 8 & 9 and girls aged 6 to become totally distracted and start looking for something to do. During one of these breaks I had the kids follow me back to our car for a little tailgate snack; homemade Cream Cheese frosted Carrot Zucchini cupcakes and a glass of pineapple/mango/passion fruit juice. Since I had a few finicky eaters, when asked what kind of cupcakes they were, I just said carrot cake; no sense complicating the veggie issue by mentioning that there was also grated summer squash in them. Two of the kids decided they loved the icing, which they licked completely off of the cupcake before returning it to me to say they didn’t like the cake part even though they didn’t even try it. The other three grandkids and the grandmas ate theirs without complaint and in fact, we found them to be delicious.  After our snack it was back down to watch more bats and a peregrine falcon that had come to see if it could catch a few snacks of its own. It was pretty exciting to watch it cut through the ribbon of bats and snatch one.  The excitement of the evening over we caravanned back through the wildlife area listening to the sounds of the frogs and seeing lots of Black-crowned Night herons flying around, also out hunting. It was deemed a good adventure by all and one we would recommend to all that have not had a chance to see this amazing spectacular.

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The recipe I used for the cupcakes was a modification of Carrot and Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, published by Real Mom Kitchen, Aug, 2011 a recipe she adapted from a Better Homes & Gardens recipe. I omitted the ginger and instead added the zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon. I didn’t put any zest in the frosting only because I didn’t have any more lemons. This is a great little recipe that I’ll be using again and again.

You can find other cake-like recipes where I have used zucchini on the following links:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

A California Gal Makes Hawaiian Muffins

A Tangelo and a Zucchini Met One Morning

Camp Toast With Maple Syrup Poached Fruit

Mt Lassen reflection

Mt. Lassen reflected in Summit Lake

Recently friends asked me to join them at Lassen Volcanic NP for a few days of camping. How could I say no. Lassen is one of my favorite places to camp and this time we would be at Summit Lake.

toast & fruit on camp stoveWe shared cooking meals so on one of my turns I made one of my favorite summer breakfast recipes, french toast with fresh fruit poached in Maple syrup.

nectarines & blueberries in syrup

The fruit, this time, was white nectarines and blueberries sauteed in a little butter then poached for just a little while in maple syrup.

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The french toast was made by soaking a piece of whole grain, seeded bread in a mixture of one egg beaten with one-half egg shell of milk until the mixture is absorbed into the toast, then cooking it in a little olive oil and butter until it browns on each side. To test for doneness touch it with your finger, if it springs back, its done.

fruit and french toast

To serve pour the fruit and syrup mixture over the toast. Another tasty addition is to add a dollop of Greek yogurt and light sprinkling of cinnamon to the top of the fruit.

Another idea I have tried when cooking french toast at home is to use a Belgian style waffle maker. The toast cooks quicker and the holes contain the syrup. Actually I have grown to prefer french toast cooked this way. But, when camping a cook stove and a frying pan works just fine. Throw in some gorgeous scenery and you have the perfect camp breakfast.

Chillin on a Hot Day

A forecast of 107°F more than caught my eye as I checked the weekend weather. Not liking what I saw, I quickly started checking where the nearest cool weather would be. The mountains were an option but coolest temperatures would be at the coast so that’s where I headed. Up early, I packed a lunch and left the valley missing both the heat and traffic arriving at Point Reyes National Seashore, via some interesting back roads, about two and a half hours later. I had made the right choice it was perfect in the areas I visited, avoiding the fog at one of my favorite beaches in favor of sun and some gusty winds but cool temperatures at Abbotts Lagoon an area I hadn’t visited in a while. The crowds were minimal, the wildflowers plentiful. The walk out to the beach was breezy but the winds at the beach itself were gusty which made for some great wave watching and it wasn’t hot or too cold, so I was happy to sit and enjoy my time there.

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After poking around Point Reyes for most of the day it was time to start heading back towards what I feared would be an inferno, home. After trying out a couple of new back roads I ended up in Petaluma and remembered that the Petaluma Farmers Market takes place on Saturday. I decided to swing by Walnut Park and see if the market was still going. It was, so of course I stopped to check it out. Getting out of the car I couldn’t help noticing the warmer temperature. It wasn’t exactly hot, not like it would be at home but it was definitely much warmer than it had been on the coast.

DSCN4186The market was in full swing with some great live music coming from the old fashioned bandstand that sits in the park’s center and a good variety of vendors selling fish, veggies, fruit and crafts eager to share their products.

musicians at Pentaluma

I like to cruise the whole market before buying, checking not only prices but also freshness and variety as I go. I had almost completed my observation round when I saw exactly what I wanted, ice cream. Not just any ice cream, locally made Nimble & Finn’s Ice Cream, made using organic Straus Dairy milk and cream and local produce. An ice cream that would bring back memories of homemade, hand cranked custard ice cream studded with fresh summer fruit. There were only five choices but there may as well have been ten. 

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They all sounded worthy of trying. Now all I had to do was make a decision. First, I tried the Strawberry Rhubarb sorbet but it wasn’t what I wanted, then I tried the Honey & Roasted Apricot Swirl. It was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, creamy and cold. I was in heaven. I carried my cone to a nearby table, in the shade, and sat people watching, which was by the way excellent, listening to the music and slowly enjoying every lick of my luscious ice cream cone. The perfect ending to a perfect get-away.

Honey Apricot ice creamMore on the Petaluma Farmers’ Market can be found here.

Pentaluma FM banner

Clear Lake Road Trip – Kelseyville and Vigilance

After a short drive off the main highway I arrived in downtown Kelseyville. It’s a small (pop. around 3000) town and I found the people to be very  friendly. After a nice walk around the block long main business area I popped into Studebaker’s, a cute little deli,  for a lemonade, then sat outside enjoying its refreshing taste and the local sights.

It’s history says, Kelseyville was established in 1882 and is named after Andrew Kelsey, the first American settler in Lake County. A quirky trivia bit about Lake County I found while researching is that it is the only one of California’s 58 counties that has never been served by a railroad. Evidently it was too hilly to build one.

The area surrounding the town has long been known for its farming. Vineyards and wine making were established as early as 1870 but prohibition in 1920 ended that era of farming and the vineyards were torn out and replaced with walnut and pear orchards, which remain as prominent crops today. In the early 1960’s vineyards were again reintroduced with around around 100 acres being cultivated in 1965, to a total of over 8800 acres today. Many of the vineyards in Lake County today support sustainable farming practices.

The last Saturday in September, the town hosts the Kelseyville Pear Festival. It features craft booths, entertainment, a quilt show, art and antique tractor shows and begins the day with a great street parade. Sounds like that might be another good reason for a road trip. Pears raised in this area are delicious. Yum, I’m thinking pear pie, but then that’s another story.

From Kelseyville I begin the drive towards Anderson Marsh my next destination before I meet my sister, Gwen, for the birding-by-boat trip. As I’m driving I get a glimpse of Anderson Marsh off down the hill to my left. I turn off on the next road looking for a spot to stop and take in the view and find a parking area beside an old barn. The barn I learn from a farmhand who is just leaving the parking area is part of the Vigilance Winery, and that just down the hill a little is the tasting room and they are open. Well, I have snap peas, chèvre and the bread with me, they have wine and a picnic area with an incredible view. Easy decision. I head down the hill to do a little tasting

They are indeed open and since it’s still before noon, early for most wine tasters, I have the place to myself. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. The winery is owned by Clay & Margarita Shannon who believe in and practice the art of farming using sustainable practices helping to preserve the land for future generations.  The name, Vigilance, (alert, watchful, keenly aware, careful, observant) reflects their spirit and commitment to winemaking.  The tasting starts with their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a very nice white that is light and fresh tasting. Definitely a good start. I taste six wines and decide to buy a couple of bottles; the Savignon Blanc I tasted first and a 2010 Cimmaron, a delicious blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all grown sustainably in Lake County.

I take a glass of Cimmaron to the picnic table and enjoy it with the peas, chèvre, bread and the view. It was all as tasty as I had imagined. I hated to leave but Anderson Ranch was calling and if I wanted to walk some of the trails there before I met Gwen I would need to get on down the road.

Next up: Anderson Ranch

Clear Lake Road Trip

I set out early, with Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely in California, as my destination. I have several things in mind as I travel up through the Capay Valley; enjoy a leisurely two hour drive through some outstanding scenery, check out yet another Farmers Market, explore the south side of the lake around Kelseyville, and do a little birding.

Late spring is the perfect time to visit Clear Lake if like me, you like watching birds. The marshes surrounding this part of the lake attract large quantities of waterfowl many of whom like the Western grebe are exhibiting courting behaviors. There are also several large egret and heron rookeries in some of the tall trees that line the shore. I’ve also heard there might be a Golden eagle nest that is visible if you approach by boat and have binoculars. Hopefully I’ll be lucky on both counts as I have reservations to go out into the marsh area by boat in the afternoon and I brought binoculars.

But before I go birding, I head to the Lake County’s Farmers’ Finest Saturday Morning Market at Steele Wines to take a look around and hopefully pick up picnic supplies for lunch.

It’s a beautiful morning and the local population has turned out to shop and catch up on the local news. The market is small compared to what I am accustomed to, but with a good variety of very friendly vendors, and music for those of us who are willing to stop for a while and enjoy it.

Keeping in mind I wanted something I could take and have for lunch later, I purchased some lovely snap peas from Sky Hoyt. He says he grows these in a green house because it’s just too cold to grow them outside. The one I tasted was crisp and sweet.

Yerba Santa Goat Dairy had some tasty fresh herb chèvre  and I thought that it would taste pretty nice with the peas so into my basket it went. So peas and cheese, what else?

That’s when I found the most incredible loaf of savory bread I have ever tasted.  It’s called GREAT Bread and is made from organic winter wheat flour, whole wheat flour, sundried tomatoes, eggplant, roasted garlic, fresh rosemary, and asiago and parmesan cheeses. I know now why the named it GREAT,  I’m still dreaming about it weeks later. The leftovers made incredible toast.

Farmers Market exploration complete I headed back down the road to Kelseyville in search of the Main Street Bakery, the vendor I bought the bread from, and to see what the little town of Kelseyville was all about.

Next up: Kelseyville and the marsh.

California Rice

Snow geese over harvested rice field

When I drive to work in the morning I cross a three-mile bridge over a floodway. This floodway, or bypass, was created early in California’s history to carry water away from the Sacramento River during high flows and prevent the city of Sacramento from flooding and so far it has done its job. Within this floodway a wildlife area was created in 1997, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It provides habitat to hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that visit each winter as they travel the Pacific Flyway from Alaska and Canada down into California’s central valley. There are also rice fields alongside the wetland habitats within the bypass. They also provide food and shelter for scores of wildlife species. In fact, California ricelands provide habitat to 230 wildlife species, including more than 30 that have been designated as special status. Ricelands provide more than half of the food needed by wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.

Rice production also benefits Californians in a big way, it puts more than a billion dollars into our economy, it supports local communities and premium California rice is found in every piece of sushi made in America. So if you eat sushi, you’re eating rice grown right here in my back yard. So, how did rice get to be such an important crop? It certainly isn’t native to our area.

Like so many things in California you could say it all started when Sutter found gold in “them thar hills”. The California gold rush brought thousands of fortune hunters to California. Immigrants from all over the world came, the largest group were Chinese workers hired by the mines and the railroad. Rice was an important part of the Chinese diet and it had to be imported from China or Japan. European and Asian miners who didn’t fair well in their search for gold turned to their previous profession, farming. Some saw rice as a potential crop.

But early attempts to cultivate long grain rice failed time and time again. It wasn’t until 1908 that a USDA soil specialist discovered that a Japanese medium grain variety, Kiushu, was better suited to northern California’s climate and soil. The first successful crop was grown at the Belfour-Guthrie Ranch in the community of Biggs just after the discovery and by 1912 the rice industry was established. Today California’s rice industry flourishes in the Sacramento Valley and a small portion of the San Joaquin Valley. About half of the rice produced in California stays in the US, the rest is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Middle East. Rice is also produced in two other principal areas of the United States: the Grand Prairie and Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri and the Gulf Coast of Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

One of the things I like to make with California short grain rice is risotto. I’ve been using it for years now and prefer it to the more traditional Arborio rice from Italy. To me Risotto is a comfort food, much like mac-n-cheese.

Farmhand Risotto

Tonight I put together a risotto hearty enough to satisfy a hungry farmhand or just a very hungry gal looking for some comfort food. It combines short grain rice, chicken stock and vegetables fresh from this morning’s Farmers’ Market, fresh carrots, crimini mushrooms, onions and tender spring spinach. I also used celery and country sage sausage, a touch of fresh thyme from my garden, a pat of sweet butter, some baked garlic cloves I had on hand, and a sprinkling of grated Asiago cheese just before serving. Served with a simple mixed green salad and a glass of wine it was the perfect dinner on this rainy spring evening.

Additional information and recipes for California rice can be found at California Rice Commission.

3/10/11 – Annie’s article  for step by step information on how to make risotto.