Category Archives: food

Yum Yum Colostrum: A Volunteer Experience at Coonridge Organic Goat Dairy

Prior to volunteering for a month at Nancy Coonridge’s Organic Goat Dairy, my only experience with cheesemaking was a tour at the Tillamook cheese factory. I figured at Nancy’s, I would be the guy who filled the cheese jars for eight hours a day.  In reality, the only consistent work was gathering chicken eggs and milking and feeding the goats.

Cheese production only went into full swing a week before fairs, and turning the milk into cheese was rather easy. The way Nancy has her facility set up, if a person can follow instructions and use common sense, the process was enjoyable.  The cleaning process can be tedious and long, but once the cheese has been made and the cheese room clean, the rest of the time a person can be called upon to work on a wide variety of projects like rescuing a goat from a mud puddle, chasing the chickens toward a pile of maggots, or trying to clip the hooves of a surly goat in the afternoon sun.

The Drive

The 4.5 hour drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Coonridge Organic Dairy in the wilds of New Mexico begins with learning the conversational styles of our new friends, Dave and Kita.

Dave drives in silence.  Occasionally his mouth opens wide enough to slide in a camel stud.  As we leave the paved road, Dave murmurs something.  I ask him to repeat it.  He doesn’t take the cigarette out of his mouth.  Unintelligible words become louder.  Smoke escapes along with sounds.  People say the sun always shines in New Mexico — not true when there’s a big cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over the driver’s head.

I wonder how safe it can be to travel into the desert in an unfamiliar state with total strangers.  Is this how young women from Eastern Europe wind up in the sex trade — by answering goat cheese ads on the internet?

Kita, the co-pilot, lives under a brilliant rainbow.  For a person with no teeth, she has the most beautiful smile.  She has a contagious laugh and an inquisitive mind.  She tells us stories of her Native American punk rock days including the Sex Pistols with Sid Vicious.

The last five miles of the drive takes the SUV on a slow climb through an arroyo to the top of an 8000 ft mountain.  Kita explains that the arroyo becomes impassible in the monsoon season or during an occasional male thunderstorm.  Within minutes raindrops can collectively turn the dry arroyo into several feet deep of rapidly moving water.

Accomodations

The arroyo opens up and Nancy’s house comes into full view.  In front of the house there are goats in the shade chewing their cud, barking Maremma dogs, chickens scratching the dirt, and cats humping.  French speaking women come out to the car to greet us and we wave good-bye to Dave and Kita. Our new friends are fellow volunteers at the goat dairy and fully aware of the long drive.  They take us to our cabin built on the ledge of a mesa that overlooks the valley.

View from our cabin

rain water catchment and solar panel

Bucket with a toilet seat

painted the milk container flat black

In a beautiful French accent we are told to relax and the cabin has everything needed to make a month go by comfortably.  The off the grid studio cabin has a water catchment system, electricity from a solar panel, and heat from a wood stove.  If we choose to poop in front of each other there’s a bucket with a toilet seat.  To bathe we use water heated on the wood stove or a homemade solar shower.  The cabin has all the comforts and energy needed to work on Earthworm Envy projects, read and listen to music.

The mornings are cool and cozy with natural light filtering through the cabin windows.  This sort of blissful reality makes a person stay in bed till their bladder becomes painfully full.  The outhouse has been built down the trail near the main buildings.

With my Maremma protector, I never felt afraid to use the outhouse

A large white Maremma dog whose bloodline can be traced back to the times of Caesar has taken to guarding the goats and the outhouse.  The dog starts to bark the bark that will make a bear flee.  My body says run in the opposite direction, but I keep advancing, listening to my brain that says the dog has never attacked an innocent pooper.

The main house has a large common area complete with a gas stove and refrigerator.  The goat-food lovers paradise awaits in the fridge:  goat milk, goat cheese, goat yogurt, goat hamburger. One wall has been lined with shelves that hold a plethora of dried foods and a library that contains a large selection of Tony Hillerman and Wendell Berry books.

hanging cast iron and mugs on nails

I fed my belly radishes and my mind Wendell Berry

Outside there’s a large garden that serves up leafy greens and radishes.  Free range hens that sleep in a tree instead of a henhouse lay eggs inside and around the barn.

Although there was never enough water to wash the truck, float on a plastic orca in a swimming pool or grow a palm tree, we bathed, cooked and hydrated with carefully managed rainwater.

Solar panels harnessed enough electricity for internet research/communication, to charge ipods along with travel speakers, power a laptop to edit video, and plenty of light to read.  There was not enough electricity to power small refrigerators full of Coke placed strategically throughout the ranch or to run an entertainment system to watch the newest Transformers movie on an HDTV, with surround sound, and enjoy Blue Ray disc features.

Without a microwave and processed food, meals couldn’t be consumed in minutes.  Instead, dinner could take an hour or longer. The kitchen became our classroom about all things goat related including entertaining stories about Nancy hitchhiking with her goats, goats eating someone’s marijuana crop, and a peg legged man trekking from the ranch to Albuquerque.

Daily Life

Around 9AM Nancy would start formulating the days plans which were always a new adventure. Here are a couple of examples of a workday:

Nancy and I help a fellow co-worker

One time while taking a tour of the property, we found a goat stuck in a huge mud puddle.  We rolled up our pant legs, and Nancy pushed and I pulled until the scared little goat got loose.  Another goat was not so lucky, and we had to pull the goat carcass from the mud puddle with a tractor. The tractor got stuck in the mud, so we had to walk back to the house to get a truck to pull out the tractor.  Nancy then buried the goat.  Several days later an awful smell surrounded the grave.  The ground had sunken in, exposing the goat to the air, and maggots had started to make a meal out of the flesh.  We chased the chickens into the grave area, and I have never seen such happy chickens.  They jumped and clucked around like little kids in a candy store.

Another time Nancy and I played cowboy to a cow that wandered onto the ranch.  The strategy: she would take the high rocky ground in her socks and I would take the relatively flat low ground in my shoes.  She kept that cow from wandering further into the ranch by chasing it at full speed and somehow avoiding sharp rocks and cactus.  Why was Nancy wearing socks?  This is one of the many Coonridge mysteries.

One day Nancy left the ranch with a truck full of cheese, a puppy, and a couple who couldn’t handle the beauty of the ranch.  Around mid-afternoon we saw Nancy walking up the road toward the house.  The truck had broken down several miles out in the arroyo.  Luckily, there was a spare truck, but it needed a battery.  We then took a battery from an old bus and placed it in the spare truck.  Three volunteers went with Nancy to help transfer the contents from the broken truck into the spare truck.  The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring arroyos, peaks, and cliffs as we walked back to the ranch.

At Coonridge, I got to meet and work with other goat lovers.  An interesting quirk about this goat-loving work crew is that we didn’t all take the same university classes or have similar cultural or socio-economic backgrounds.  Planting lettuce turned into an education about starting a small soap business in French speaking Canada.  Laying pipe turned into a hilarious story about the best place in Nicaragua to get a root canal.  Burying a dead chicken turned into a conversation about hair and culture.

The Goats

Click on the photo to watch the video GOAT WALKING in NEW MEXICO

The goats became some of my favorite coworkers.  Now, I am sure some readers are asking themselves what the hell is he talking about?  Yes, I know a goat can’t buy you a shot, smoke you out, sign a check, tell a funny story, or write a letter of recommendation.   A goat’s personality has mysteries that cannot be explained by medication or family histories nor can it be coaxed out after a couple of drinks or several I love you statements.  Those eyes can see into your soul.  Out in the middle of the desert, once a goat has you one-on-one, you do start talking, and suddenly a goat that you have just met knows more about your life story than your partner of seven years.

The goat has been the only coworker I have helped hold down while its throat has been cut, the only coworker I have cooked up in cast iron, the only coworker I have ever had to help bury, the only coworker I have not been grossed out by when their tits are slightly scabby, the only coworker I have seen survive a rattlesnake bite, the only coworker I have happily drank its bodily fluid, and the only coworker I look at and think yum yum colostrum.

fresh out of the womb

Not until working at a goat ranch did I realize why there is such a low turnover rate in hospital labor and delivery departments.  The joy of being around healthy mothers and babies puts a smile on anyone’s face.  Never once did I yawn at the news of baby goats being born.  No matter what was going on, planting veggies or filling water tanks, everyone drops everything to go and say “howdy” to the newborns.

An unexpected perk was the need for baby goats to bond with humans.   Part of the room and board compensation was for the chore of playing with baby goats.  At no time did Nancy have to say, “I’m not going to feed you till play with the baby goats.”

If you too want to gain a better understanding of the homesteader goat cheese industry and to purchase cheese check out Nancy’s website, www.organicgoatcheese.com

Special Thanks to Nancy

La Paz, Mexico: La Fonda Restaurant (video)

la-fonda, la paz, baja california, mexico

La Fonda restaurant in La Paz offers traditional Mexican food at reasonable prices, and the owner is happy to explain any of the dishes on the menu. Traveler Brandon tries shoemaker soup for breakfast.

Todos Santos, Mexico: El Zaguan (video)

Menu at El Zaguan Todos Santos

Homesick for peanut butter, traveler Brandon finds the next best thing – fillet of fresh fish with peanut sauce- at El Zaguan in Todos Santos, Mexico.

Pacific Coast Highway: Swanton Berry Farm

Visitors to the Swanton Berry Farm will find more than fresh organic strawberries.   They will also receive a free and delicious education in employee, customer, food relations.

Merritt’s Country Cafe located in Boise, Idaho

Merritt’s Country Cafe and Example of Progressive Change

Merritt’s Country Café, on any given day before the new Idaho smoking came into effect, was a den of smoke.  The attractiveness of Merritt’s were the hours.  A smoker could buy a bottomless cup of coffee and smoke for 24 hours, 7 days a week. You could always spot a first timer because they would come with a half pack of smokes.  The regulars might have a half pack of smokes on the table but definitely kept a carton in the car along with a bottle of zippo fluid. The only thing that could make the smoker slow down might be the apocalypse, oxygen tank switch, death bed or sadly when the smoking laws changed.

Now that smoking laws have come into effect, the rhythm of Merritt’s 2:30AM mating ritual – watery coffee, cheesy omelet, full-bodied drag, are you sober yet, your place or mine – has been replaced by teenagers and young adults who get off on loads of sugar packs and whip cream.  I have graciously accepted these changes because I’m ready to become a 24-hour fresh air breather. 

The one aspect that hasn’t changed at Merritt’s Country Café is the busy State Street four-lane road.  If a person walking or bicycling down State needs some fresh air, I recommend taking a break at Merritt’s. 

It’s criminal that a person has to step into a building with special air filters so that he or she may breathe fresh air, so recently the federal government has threatened to get in bed with the Treasure Valley’s air quality clean up program.  The solutions presented by our local elect, such as reduce driving and mow lawns in the evening, as reported in the Idaho Statesman reminds me of a smoker afraid that lung cancer might get involved in their daily life so the smoker makes an attempt to cut down their dangerous habit by switching from hand rolled Drum cigarettes to Marlboro Reds. 

When it comes down to it corporations and politicians love the money generated by the automobile and drivers love to drive and smokers love nicotine.  One way to dramatically decrease air pollutants would be to stop driving.  This sort of idea is as crazy as telling people to reduce lung cancer they must stop smoking.  I propose a compromise similar to the Idaho smoking laws that will help solve the air quality issue. The local elect must switch their air quality attitude from Marlboro Red cigarettes to Marlboro Ultra Lights.

Think of four lane roads as public buildings and restaurants.  The rule is a person can’t smoke in the restaurant but can smoke in designated outside areas.  An example would be Flying M Coffee House.  A person can’t smoke inside but can smoke on the patio.  Four-lane roads will have two lanes dedicated to cars, one lane dedicated to bicycles, and one lane dedicated to public transit.  

Think of two lane roads as public sidewalks.  Smokers and nonsmokers share the sidewalk.  Two lane roads will be shared by motorized and non-motorized vehicles.  The difference will be the hierarchy.  The bicycle/pedestrian rights will SOCIALLY and lawfully come first.

Think of I-84 as the bar.  The nonsmoker who walks into 10th Street Station or Turners Bar will be taking their lungs into their own hands.  Just as smokers have total smoker freedom in the bar so may the vehicles on the freeway. 

How will the city pay for these changes? One way to help pay for the costs of re-marking the lanes would be to create permanent space for vendors such as produce stands, food carts, and bookmobiles.   The local government would then collect a tax or rent fee on the barricade space.  Another idea – create a special sales tax on bicycles.  Citizens who use a lane need to pay for bicycle related city services.

Because our economy is based on capitalism, the above ideas will not be deemed successful in terms of air quality and health but in terms of air quality and money.  From my simple observations of the Boise smoking scene, the industry stills generates a fare amount of money.  At first, times were difficult for the smoker with the new laws.  Restaurants complained about patrons not being able to take a drag between their poached salmon and crème brulee, but people made do with the changes.  People complained when cigarette prices cost the same as a gallon of fuel but made do by smoking cheaper brands like USA Golds.  I no longer hear the smoker grumble.  The pendulum has swung back into balance.  I would bet there are more tobacco stores, cigar rooms, and hookah bars in Boise since the smoking laws went into effect.  The above observations indicate good news for politicians, corporations, and drivers who are afraid these driving ideas will have negative economic impacts.  Times at first will be a bit of a challenge, like a smoker who had to learn how to put down the cigarette from his left hand and replace it with a sugar packet.

The point being if a Merritt’s Country Cafe smoker can make the Idaho smoking law transition so can a Treasure Valley vehicle addict. 


 

Boise, Idaho: Merritt’s Country Cafe (video)

Click here to watch.

Traveler Brandon Follett is delighted to find a greasy cure for homesickness at Merritt’s.

Boise, Idaho: Peaceful Belly Harvest Festival (video)

Click here to watch

Once a year Peaceful Belly opens their farm up to the public. In the fall they host a harvest festival to celebrate another year of vegetables and fruit.  Music by High Desert.

Boise, Idaho: Flying M Coffee House (video)

Click here to watch

The Flying M Coffee House is located in downtown Boise, Idaho.  The coffee shop has more to offer then just its delicious coffee.  Watch the video to find why the Flying M is rated one of the best coffee houses in Boise.

Red Feather Lounge located in Boise, Idaho

Chirp, Chirp!!!!!!!


Thomas Paul at the Red Feather Lounge.

With the outbreaks of salmonella and e-coli, some eaters are starting to question the quality of veggies and meat sold in restaurants.  People are curious to know if the beef stuck between their teeth was fed too much corn and had to be dragged into the slaughterhouse by a chain wrapped around an ankle or did the cow finish its last meal of green grass, then skip with a smile to its death like in a Disney cartoon.

At Red Feather Lounge, the menu boasts fresh ingredients backed up by a list of farms at the bottom of the menu where the restaurant purchased the vegetables and eggs to make my delicious Huevos Rancheros. While digesting the Morning Owl Farm duck eggs, I start to ponder the question – which came first, the chicken or the cage?

Most birds that I have been introduced to have names like Chipper the parakeet, or Henrietta and Karl the lovebirds.  These birds live in cages, and after the newness wears off, seem to annoy their owners who have to selflessly feed and clean their cages with only the thanks of a helpless little bird in a cage to gawk upon.

I don’t quite understand the fascination with the caged bird.  I can understand the corporate farmers with their beakless small caged birds because money can make any crime bearable for the majority.  As I consider the question of non-capitalist bird owners, my thoughts float away to the zoo.  I envision a couple on a date:

A man looks at the zoo birds.  “I wish I could have one of those bald eagles in a really small cage on my night stand, do you?”

The woman replies, “Yes.”

The man grabs her hand and says, “How do you feel about going back to my love nest?  You can meet my lovebirds.  I named them Joy and Happiness.  Even though they are lovebirds, I keep Joy and Happiness in separate cages across the room because I like surround sound.  For dinner I’ll prepare foie gras.  We’ll stuff ourselves ‘til our stomachs become as bloated as a goose’s liver.  Afterwards, I’ll put on my yellow Big Bird outfit.  You can tie me up and ruffle my feathers.  I want to be your lovebird.  Chirp, CHIRP!!!”

The woman, “Okay.”

Not realizing his date likes to pretend she’s an insane cat named Sylvester who kills birds for pleasure, the next morning the man makes omelets more slowly than usual. He hobbles over to the refrigerator and takes out a white styrofoam container of eggs.  With pride he opens up the container containing the aryan eggs.  He looks at her with excited eyes, “I figured you would spend the night so I bought an 18 pack.”  As he cracks the eggs, he recites his poem.

“Millions of hens raised for their eggs
spending their lives in battery cages
stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses
no blue ribbons for these laying hens

seven or eight birds to a cage
not enough room to turn or spread a wing
stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses
beakless and stressed is a look that never wins

no thoughts of blue ribbons for these laying hens
stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses
beakless and stressed is a look that never wins
tier upon tier in hu-u-ge warehouses

I love the machine that provides the means
to force chickens to produce cheap eggs
stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses
not enough room to turn or spread a wing”

The woman starts to purr and rub herself against the counter.  The man stops singing.

She is now on all fours crawling toward him, meowing.  He turns off the stove.

Flapping his arms like a chicken, he runs to the bedroom to put on his yellow Big Bird outfit, yelling, “CHIRP! CHIRP!!!”

Morning Owl Farm ducks

Morning Owl Farm ducks

Strazzilicious Omelets (guest omelet review)

written by the Strawberry Girl

Dear Friends,

To usher her way into her sophomore effort, the Strawberry Girl decided to take her Fieldwork into another direction. In keeping with the omelet theme, she decided to declare her favorite omelets in some of her favorite American towns. Beware; the Strazzie ‘best of five’ general voting criterion, which is quite subjective…and created, voted, collected and compiled by the same person. Still, the Strawberry Girl can’t help but share some of her best cross-country omelet memories; the good, the bad and the OK.

BOISE, IDAHO

3 ½ Strazzies; Boise is definitely the most affordable of the five reviewed restaurants.

Best Bang-For-Your-Buck Omelet: the super-sized omelets of the historic Trolley House (1821 Warm Springs Ave., 208-345-9255) are enough to conceal a small child and made from the freshest ingredients the Strawberry Girl’s ever had in the Treasure Valley.

Best Non-Traditional Omelet: the reasonably-proportioned omelets soufflés of Bardenay (155 E Riverside Dr., Eagle, ID 208-939-5093) are deceiving at first, but the taste and presentation of each ingredient really gets to be enjoyed.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

4 ½ Strazzies; San Francisco is the hometown of the Strawberry Girl…need we say more?

Best Hangover Omelet Period: Dottie’s True Blue Café (522 Jones St, 415-885-2767) is hidden in Civic Center Plaza, where urban decay and cheap rent meets hipsters- and Dottie truly does know how to satisfy the groggy-headed morning-after crowd.

Best Vegan Omelet: Though not an omelet in the traditional sense, the substituted egg for tofu at Herbivore (983 Valencia St. 415-826-5657) is so hearty and flavorful, it’s a nice break from the norm.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

4 Strazzies; the Strawberry Girl apologizes- she was not forth coming. She is, in fact, part Apple.

Best Manhattan Omelet: Overlooking bus Canal and Broadway Streets, 416 B.C. (416 Broadway, 212-625-0981) serves a traditional Bulgarian dish called a kravarma, which is a hearty vegetable goulash wrapped in a thick egg crepe.

Best Brooklyn Omelet: Maggie Brown’s (455 Myrtle, 718-643-7001) reminds the Strawberry Girl of the old TV show Mel’s Diner, only with great food!

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

3 ¾ Strazzies; Vegas is an out of control, landlocked, gangster’s paradise and home to some great restaurants; for both the disconcerting palette and the no-nonsense diners.

Best Vegas Omelet Period: There is absolutely nothing pretentious about this establishment; the name and the reputation speak for themselves. The Omelet House (702-384-6868, 2160 W Charleston Blvd.) is a Vegas chain that has three equally awesome locations, but the Strip is the Strip.

Best Vegas Casino Omelet: The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino has every freaking type of restaurant you could possibly crave; all open 24/7 and all mean business. But Raffles Diner (3950 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-632-7406) stole the Strawberry Girl’s heart and further fueled her fantasy of time-traveling for a martini brunch with the Rat Pack.