Over the last year and a half, I have become intimately involved with how farmers and ranchers work to rejuvenate land burned by fire.
My partner, Jarrod McBride, bought a 10-acre ranch bounded by Mountain Ranch, Railroad Flat and Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County that had been devastated by the Butte Fire in 2015. He calls the land Pasture Works.
While many are scared off by these charred areas, we were attracted to Pasture Works because we saw enormous potential in the less expensive mountainous terrain and felt that once land burns, it will not catch fire for quite some time.
Thin green garlic rings tangle in curly Red Russian kale leaves, the colors white and green in contrast with purple. I drizzle Meyer lemon and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette on shaved raw asparagus. Next comes fragrant torn mint leaves. The taste of produce from a Yolo County organic farm swims in my mouth.
When I started working in farm-to-table restaurants after culinary school in San Francisco, I wandered through East Bay farmers markets and encountered stacks of mustard greens, leeks, broccoli, Meyer lemons, Valencia oranges and carrots with soil clinging to roots.
My first encounter with Bariani Olive Oil was my first encounter with California olive oil.
Roaming the Berkeley Farmers Market, I found the Bariani stall and took my first oil shot, delivered by one of the brothers who grew the olives and pressed the oil. The oil coated my mouth in a grassy fattiness, soothed my throat and sank into my belly.
Four decades ago in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the only olive oil available to me was mild, light and imported from Italy and Spain. In California, I savor a drizzle of amber green oil pressed from olives a few miles from where I cook. This oil makes leafy greens and grilled fish or meats sing complex songs.
The cuttlefish’s pale broad body with its thick bone holds itself to the board as I grip the head and pull the knife away, lifting bone from body, releasing the black ink sack. Ink on my knife, ink on my hands, ink staining my mind with its ocean impression.
An hour later cuttlefish pieces dance in a hot pan with fresh Aleppo pepper, black cherry tomato and Costata Romanesco zucchini just harvested from the garden. The curling edges sputter, spin against stainless steel, and lift and bend into hot, fragrant oil.
Almost every Friday morning for the last six months, I’ve made a pilgrimage to Sunh Fish, 1313 Broadway, drawn by succulent oysters, firm Hamachi and halibut glistening and opalescent from its recent ocean swim.
What would our city look like if gardens replaced vacant lots? If composted soil took over lawns? And if backyard hens produced our eggs? Oak Park resident Alex Hoang, along with some neighbors and community partners, is finding out.
Hoang is founder of Oak Park Eggery and Tanama Garden. “It was a trash lot, a dumpsite, for decades,” Hoang says about two parcels of land near 12th Avenue and Stockton Boulevard. With the help of community members, the lots are being used to make compost and grow food for the neighborhood.