Inside The One-Block Feast
Take a peek at our book about how we tried to raise every ingredient we’d need for 4 seasonal menus—right in our backyard. Plus: recipes
The story of that menu ran in our August 2008 issue, but we didn’t stop there. Along with Team Cow, Team Tea, and Team Escargot (when your garden gives you snails …), the project spawned a blog—which won a James Beard award in 2009—and now a book.
Also, check out this fun video about our One-block experience at Sunset!
Morels, on the other hand, are a long-term endeavor, with no guarantees that you will reap the rewards the first year (we are still waiting; the planting process is pictured here). But what rewards when they do come! Few treats compare with a panful of fragrant, earthy morels sautéed in butter.
In The One-Block Feast, you’ll get loads of tips on raising chickens, from equipment to feeding.
Our city, Menlo Park, allows backyard cows. But for many reasons, including our total lack of experience, Team Cow decided our cow would be better off living on a farm and being taken care of by people who knew what they were doing—and could teach us.
The rewards so far include learning to milk by hand; the pleasure of wandering around a beautiful and well-managed farm with healthy cows; the incomparable flavor of sweet, fresh Jersey milk; and the fun of making cheese (you can find our recipes in The One-Block Feast).
Team Cheese’s first cheeses, for our summer feast, couldn’t have been simpler, because we restricted ourselves to what we could get from our garden: lemons for coagulation and herbs for flavoring, plus salt, which we made from seawater, and milk, from a local dairy (and eventually from our own cow). But even with our super-simple cheeses, the results were slightly different depending on how we adjusted the variables: temperature, time, amounts, and technique.
As our one-block project continued, we kept making our simple cheeses, but we also learned to use cheese cultures and rennet. Once we started playing around with presses and brines, the chances for variation only multiplied. In The One-Block Feast, we share the full cheese-making process and recipes for several varieties, from ricotta to gouda.
That was definitely the French approach to dealing with snails in the garden. But were ours the type of snails that could be eaten? And, most important, how would we make them taste like the French gourmet item served in overpriced restaurants?
You have probably heard the statistic: bees are responsible for producing about one-third of our country’s food supply, because they pollinate our plants. Unfortunately for them and for us, they have been dying in huge numbers over the past several years. No one has conclusively understood why. We figured that by raising bees, we would contribute, in at least a small way, to the overall population of bees. “The learning experience is so worth it,” says Margaret Sloane, Sunset’s Production Coordinator and Team Bee’s main blogger. “Most people don’t know about the lives in the hive. And it’s so relaxing. Whenever I’m stressed, I go out and watch them.”
"Another nice thing about bees," says Brianne McElhiney, Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief, "is that they smell like honey."
Try beekeeping yourself with The One-Block Feast’s step-by-step guide to raising honeybees and making honey.
But Team Salt persisted because we knew we had to have seasoning for our dinner, and figured—what with the San Francisco Bay to one side of us and the Pacific Ocean on the other, we had some water to choose from. It would be copping out to just go buy salt.
The process proved surprisingly easy, and the yield was much higher than we had expected. And our salt looked pretty (pure white), smelled fresh, tasted exactly like the ocean, and made a fine seasoning for our feast.
Unfortunately, they were feeding the insects a little too well. Our olives, we learned, were thoroughly infested with the maggots of olive fruit flies. So Team Olive picked olives at a nearby, fruit-fly-free olive farm instead and drove them to a commercial olive press, where we had planned to press our olives anyway. “Seeing the olives being crushed in the mill, and the sensuality of the smells and sounds of the mill—that was the best part,” says Trina Enriquez, Sunset Copy Editor. And tasting the jewel-green new oil, of course!
In The One-Block Feast, we detail every aspect of the making of oil, from picking to crushing to bottling.
What is harder to find is good ordinary red-wine vinegar. Most of what is available commercially for a couple of bucks a bottle is thin and flavorless. Slightly better, though only marginally, is vinegar made using a speeded-up fermentation process (anywhere from one to three days). Traditional red-wine vinegar, left to ferment naturally on its own, takes about seventy-five days and results in a much richer texture and flavor. “It’s more complex and more subtle than anything you can buy,” says Julie Chai, Sunset’s Associate Garden Editor and Team Vinegar member.
As you’ll learn in The One-Block Feast, the good news is that “slow vinegar” is easy to make at home, tastes wonderful, and is cheap to produce (it feeds on leftover wine). Team Vinegar has two crocks going in our kitchen that yield a constant supply for salad dressings, sauces, and gifts.
If you can, pick your own grapes. We considered quitting our day jobs after our experience of harvesting dusty, juicy Syrah grapes in Thomas Fogarty Winery’s remote and gorgeous Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.
The home wine-making journey we detail in The One-Block Feast will get under your skin and give you a huge appreciation for the quality in the bottles you buy. Just remember to keep a record of everything you do to your wine and to sanitize everything every step of the way. Then celebrate the chance to use that high-school chemistry.
Team Mead was inspired to have a crack at it after Team Bee accompanied our local beekeepers’ guild to Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale, California. We chatted with the owner and acclaimed mead maker, Michael Faul, and realized that basic mead was not hard to make: Honey, water, and yeast are all it takes. The One-Block Feast shares the easy steps to making a delicious batch. “I was really surprised by how well it turned out,” says Brianne McElhiney, Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief. “We’ve tasted quite a few meads that were like cough medicine. But ours tasted pretty good—light and refreshing and easy to drink.”
Most home brewers use brewing kits to make beer, and that’s how Team Beer started, too. For our second batch, we made beer totally from scratch—as in, we used the wheat and barley that we had planted, threshed, winnowed, and malted (sprouted) ourselves, and grew hop flowers (called cones) for flavoring and preserving the brew. We were in a little over our heads, but we had expert advice and fun doing it. “We were amazed that it worked at all, and that it was drinkable and none of us got sick,” says Rick LaFrentz, Sunset’s head gardener and leader of Team Beer.
First Team Tea had to find mature tea bushes and figure out where they would grow best on the Sunset grounds. After that, the actual processing of the tea turned out to be pretty simple. We are still in the early days of tea growing. So far, we’ve had one very small harvest from our three bushes, which resulted in a single pot of pale yellow, very delicate, distinctly tea-flavored brew. But we’re looking forward to learning, and drinking, more.
The essence of sweet, just-picked summer corn, this soup lends itself to a gardenful of garnishes; besides the roasted poblanos and zucchini blossoms, we sprinkled it with crumbles of easy-to-make fresh oregano cheese. It is equally good hot or cold.
Recipe: Pattypan Squash with Eggs