Category Archives: foto friday

Celebrating

orchard walk

kicking things off with a wander through the orchard

Last-last weekend was our annual Harvest Party — the seventh one, and now a bona-fide tradition here at the Ranch! Each year, after our harvest and market season is over, we round up a bunch of friends for an afternoon of celebration (and potlucking and farm-touring and homebrew-tasting and campfiring and…) We say it every year, but this year’s party really was the best one yet!

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Left: friends Paula, Tony, and Adolfo. Right: Mikail (in his BH Ranch t-shirt!) and Phyllis 

My dear friend Antonio De Lucci  took these gorgeous photos of the festivities, and I’m so glad he did — I never manage to snap enough! He perfectly captured the afternoon, drenched in golden sunlight.

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And look, real honest-to-goodness Polaroids! At left: the tipi presides over the gathering (with a giant woodpile at the ready for campfire time when it gets dark). Right: yes, we really did haul out the gigantic vintage punch bowl for pear-pomegranate punch, made with our own pear juice. Who says you can’t be fancy just because you’re out in the orchard?

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Tom, leading the tour

Punch bowls aside — the orchard, of course, is the real star of the party! Everybody finds a glass of something and heads out for a tour before dinner.  I always feel like the farm just loves having all these people wandering around, admiring the Arkansas Black apples still on the trees, tasting grapes under the arbor, and taking turns to duck into the little wine cellar.

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And then it’s time for dinner — a fabulous potluck! One of the things I love most about this party is that it’s a rare opportunity to bring together all our friends from various spheres… farmers, musicians, beekeepers, radio DJs, artists, teachers, foragers, endurance runners, and homesteaders all sit down together with homemade food and drink, and it’s such fun to see all the unexpected connections and conversations that come up!

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Somehow, no matter how many people show up, there’s always the perfect number of haybales to sit on, and the big table magically expands to fit every last delicious dish.

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 Above: our neighbour Elizabeth brought pear marmalade and pear butter that she made from our fruit!

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Clockwise from left: photographer Antonio De Lucci; heirloom-variety table grapes under the arbor; last rays of sun in the orchard.

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A sweet photo of my dad and me (with an impressive array of home-brewed libations on the table — in addition to the pot-luck, there’s always a hearty brew-luck going on!)

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Come dusk, I did manage to get out my camera and snap a few photos of the campfire. Marshmallows appear, Tom produces a bundle of fresh pear twigs perfect for toasting sticks, and everyone gathers around the crackling flames as the crisp chill of a fall evening settles in.

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It’s been another marvelous season, with great farmer’s market days, wonderful customers and friends, some of the most beautiful fruit we’ve ever grown, and yet another fantastic party to celebrate it all! Thanks to all of you for supporting our “little family farm that could” — we’re so grateful to have you as our community. Wishing you all a bright and beautiful Autumn!

Many thanks to Antonio De Lucci for the photos! Check out more of his work at antoniodelucci.com.

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Filed under around the farm, autumn, foto friday

Foto Friday #2: All Things Autumn

For your Friday… a sampling of Fall photos from around the farm!

Ok, I’m definitely growing this gorgeous heirloom Indian corn every year now. It grew ten feet tall, produced beautifully, and the colours were stunning — turquoise, lavender, mauve, periwinkle, neon yellow, brick red… I can’t wait to grind it into cornmeal for “homegrown” corn bread!

The heirloom apples practically pose for pictures. As do these little pears…

Everything is picked by hand… we’d have it no other way!

Auntie Maryann takes the farmer’s market seriously! (Not too seriously.)

The ladies on the veranda:

Cosmic Cosmos!

The Black Arkansas apples are almost ripe… yep, must be Autumn at last.

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Foto Friday: glorious garden!

At last! The moment we’ve all been waiting for…

Just look at these beauties! We’ve been eagerly watching the eggplant and zucchini all week, measuring their progress day by day, and trying to be ever so patient — but tonight, finally, it was time for the First Official Garden Dinner of Summer. Slice, olive oil and salt, grill, fresh basil, delicious.

The garden is a glorious jungle — the tomatoes are as tall as I am! My evening ritual is to wander the rows barefoot, still-warm soil under my toes, pulling weeds and doing a giddy jig every few yards as I find a giant green tomato, or a tiny cucumber. (My regular performances of the Gleeful Zucchini Dance sure did the trick, as you’ve already seen! I’m telling you, those plants just love the attention.)

I’m especially excited about this heirloom German Cherry tomato I grew from seed. I never seem to start my seedlings early enough, but this year, with the help of a borrowed heating mat, success!

Brenda knows every inch of the garden, and we make our evening rounds together. Then it’s time to have a set and enjoy the perfectly cool evening…

Happy gardening, and Happy Summer!

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Foto Friday: Rainbow

Sometimes it feels like our little farm here is at the middle of everything — as though all the different aspects of our lives, all the different things we do, meet somewhere in the heart of the orchard.

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I teach Greek language classes for kids at the Annunciation Greek School in Sacramento. The other day, a girl in my class asked me how to say “rainbow” in Greek. I’d never run across the word “rainbow,” so we looked it up: ουράνιο τόξο, ouránio tóxo — “sky arrow.” Isn’t that the loveliest picture?

Then, as I was out in the orchard yesterday, that word popped into my head — ouránio tóxo. And, looking closer at the grass around me, I saw that it was as though one had fallen to earth.

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Red in the peach blossoms, and in this sow-thistle stalk, where a tiny village of ants and aphids have made their home…

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Orange in the calendula flowers that spring up around the little house and the garden…

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Yellow in dandelion and mustard blossoms…

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Green everywhere! — but especially in the grass that the chickens are so fond of…

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…and in the cover crop of fava beans and vetch, scrambling across the dormant garden…

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…and have I mentioned how blue the sky is!

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Sky-blue here, too, reflected in the tiny blossoms of wild speedwell. My grandfather calls this flower by its Greek name, μάτια της Παναγίας: mátia tis Panagías, “eyes of the Virgin Mary.”

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And purple, of course. This is another of my favourite tiny flowers, the kind you have to look closely to see: henbit, a relative of both nettle and mint. The long-necked purple flowers have fantastically speckled tongues, and if you pluck one very carefully and blow air gently through it from the the end that was attached to the plant, it will emit a teeny, high-pitched whistle!

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Isn’t it marvelous how a question can lead to a word that can lead to a whole new way of looking at everything around you?

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Springtime Mushroom Hunt (and Wild Mushroom Fritatta)

Springtime may be all about wildflowers and clover and, well, see that last post — but one of the things I look forward to the most when the weather warms is a bit less greeting-card-perfect and a little more… strange: the Spring mushroom season! Unlike the showy blossoms and greenery, mushrooms are subtle and secretive; they won’t jump out at you with a riot of skyward-reaching stalks and stems, with Technicolor hues on a grand scale. You have to look for them.They’re tiny, experts at camouflage. You could walk in the woods every day without the faintest inkling of the tremendous variety of fungi surrounding you.

I’ve been hunting for mushrooms for only a couple years, and I’m continually amazed by the diversity of species we see even right here on our little farm. Even more fascinating is the way a mushroom can look totally unremarkable at a glance, but then be so intricate and beautiful if you take the time to study it up close. I have to thank my friend Thea, mycology-expert and forest-sprite extraordinaire, for introducing me to the mushroom world, and to David Arora’s fantastic field guides (a must if you want to know just what it is you’re looking at). Here are a few of the many fungi that show up in our area — see if you can spot them next time you’re out wandering!

Left: A member of the Lactarius family is easily identified by the “milk” that exudes from its flesh when scratched or broken. (Which particular Lactarius it is, however, is a little more challenging to discern!)

Right: One of my favorite little mushrooms, Hygrophorus chrysodon. The name chrysodon comes from the Greek for “golden-tooth” — a wonderfully poetic description for the bright-yellow flecks that dust its cap and stalk.

The wonderful thing about mushroom-hunting is that you’ll be taking a perfectly civilised walk in the woods, and then next thing you know, you’re lying on the ground in the mud, not entirely sure of how you got there, nose-to-nose with this:

Such is the weirdly charismatic nature of fungi. This little guy is absolutely electric! I suspect it’s some kind of Hygrocybe, but I couldn’t bring myself to pluck it for a more detailed inspection. That parrot-green hue, by the way, is quite true to life!

Left: The convoluted, velvet-black cap of Helvella lacunosa, the Fluted Black Elfin Saddle. They’re quite common around here in springtime. Spotting them among the leaves is good practice for finding their delectable relative the Morel!

Right: another common one in our area, Laccaria laccata, known as the Lackluster Laccaria, which I suppose it is when compared to its violet cousin L. amethystina. Both have long, tough stalks, jaunty domed caps, and white spores.

Some mushrooms are wildly flamboyant, like these turkey tails; others are nondescript little dots in the leaves…

I love this particular copse of manzanitas. The bees are crazy about them, too — you can stand under the arching branches and listen to the most incredible buzzzzzzzzz overhead. When we open the hives this time of year, there is often a distinct manzanita-blossom fragrance that drifts out — nectar from the blossoms the bees have been so busily visiting.

Another devotee of the manzanita grove: the cheekily-named Cowboy’s Handkerchief! The moniker is an apt description of their slimy, snow-white caps. Hygrophorus eburnius is a more respectable name for these guys, but not quite as, ah, colourful…

My mushroom-hunting route follows a deer trail through a particularly damp, shady north slope of the woods: a perfect environment for fungi, as well as for lush mosses and lichens. Ferns, too. Oh, to have a good guidebook for each — but then I’d be lost in the woods all day, identifying everything in sight….

But, as much fun as it is to spot and study all these fascinating denizens of the forest floor, the best mushroom hunts are the ones that end with a basket of edibles! What a delight to stumble across this trove of blewits: Clitocybe nuda, a fabulously-hued and absolutely delicious wild mushroom that grows like a weed in the woods around here. I wasn’t expecting to find many this late in the season, so for once I didn’t bring a basket — maybe the Russian saying is true: Carry a large basket with you, and the mushrooms will see it and hide!

There are a few other purple wild mushrooms around here that could be mistaken for a blewit, but none have the distinct orange-juice aroma that these do. It’s funny — after a a while, you start to smell mushrooms in the woods. Or you develop a mysterious mushroom radar, telling you to look over there. And then, following your feet and nose and instinct, you’ll find a beautiful Amanita, or a prized Matsutake, or a whole basketful of these beauties…

And one of the mushrooms went immediately into this frittata for lunch!

Phyllis’s Wild Mushroom and Potato Frittata

Peel a large potato, cut in half lenghthwise, and slice into thin half-moons. Fry potato slices in 2 Tb olive oil in a 9-inch frying pan, gently turning the potatoes until they are just tender.

Add one sliced green onion, some chopped parsley, and about 1 cup sliced wild mushrooms (one large blewit mushroom). Sautee until everything is tender; season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, beat 7 eggs with 1 Tb water, a dash of hot sauce or sriracha, and some salt and pepper.

Add eggs to pan; lift the potato-mushroom mixture around the edges with a spatula to allow the eggs to run underneath. Stir everything around a bit (being careful not to break up the potatoes) and smooth out the top.

When the eggs start to set, turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes. Then uncover the pan and slide it in the oven under the broiler — watch carefully and cook just until the top is set and lightly browned.

Slide the frittata onto a plate, grate some good cheese over the top, and serve!

If you’re interested in hunting for edible mushrooms, find someone with knowledge and experience to go with you — don’t try it alone at first, even with a field guide in hand, as mushrooms are subtle things and their defining characteristics can be deceptive to the untrained eye. As mentioned above, there are other purple mushrooms that could be confused with the blewit; make sure you know exactly what you are looking for and how to tell it apart from look-alikes! That being said, blewits are a great “first mushroom” to collect because they are so distinctive, and absolutely delicious as well…. happy hunting!

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Foto Friday: When the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful…

We’ve been waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for some serious stormy weather all winter… but now, finally, a big, drenching, delicious rainstorm has moved in! And with the rain comes a few rituals…

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…like finding your coziest pair of boots and trudging out to stomp in some puddles and see how high the clover has grown…

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….or just to admire the sudden flurry of plum blossoms crowning branches that were bare a few days ago.

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Somehow, the camellias look just as lovely spilled over the grass as they do on their stems.

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No bees out today — fingers crossed that these blossoms will hold on until the weather brightens up! But nothing is too gloomy for this sea of wild mustard…

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And there are petals everywhere, like snow.

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The orchard is especially beautiful this time of year, awash in green and gold. And it’s all connected: those weeds and wildflowers provide food and shelter for beneficial insects, pollen and nectar for our honeybees, and forage for the chickens. There are even tasty edibles for those who know where to look! (I’m always fascinated that so many people find their way to this blog via this post on horta, the greek-style wild greens my grandfather taught me to gather.)

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And one more part of the rainy-day ritual: wander back home, set the soggy shoes and coat to dry, dust off my favourite E.E. Cummings compendium, and turn to this marvelous little rainy-day poem. Just perfect.

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Foto Friday: Comice Pears

These Comice pears looked so lovely, lined up on an upturned lug box, catching the golden afternoon light, that I had to go fetch my camera before the sun sank an inch further. (Then they went promptly into a batch of pear bread pudding!)

The nice thing about pears is that there are so many varieties — we begin the season with Bartletts, bright and juicy, then wait for heirlooms like the breathtakingly beautiful Conseiller de la Cour, and finally harvest the late-season varieties like Comice and Winter Nellis. According to my grandfather, the winter pears used to be carefully packed for storage in wooden crates, nestled in straw. I just might try that this year with a few of the “Nellies” we picked yesterday…

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