These four young families in Sausalito, CA, love food and kitchen projects and “mucking about outside with our preschoolers,” says team leader Abby Peterson. They are, in her words: "Two stay-at-home moms with plenty of dirt under their nails; several small preschoolers who love feeding grapes to chickens; a solar consultant who makes his own pâté and salami; an engineer who brews beer on the side; and a stay-at-home dad who is a great cook and a glassblower to boot.” A wonderful neighbor, Frank Pacoe, joined the team partway through, and says that Abby—in pulling this team together for the One-Block Party contest—"has created a neighborhood in a town that had lost that." Their party this September, high in the hills of Sausalito, was sun-drenched and mellow, with the occasional foghorn blowing very softly in the distance. This is Abby's report.
Abby Peterson and her son Paul set the table, left. Right (at bottom), the menu; at top, the song Paul sang at the feast. Here are the lyrics: "Earth who gave us food/Sun that made it grow/Good earth, good sun/we thank you for the blessings on our meal."
After waiting and waiting for the fog to clear and our "real" summer to start, we finally got some warm weather and some ripe tomatoes in the first week of September! And that meant we could finally set the date for our feast: Sunday September 18th.
Making Cheese for the Party
Earlier in the month, we met to hone our mozzarella-making skills. We were amazed that it really, truly isn't that difficult to make cheese. There's something so intimidating about all the steps and equipment, but once you start, it's really not bad at all.
Mozzarella-making. Photo: Erica Nofi/www.bravepotato.com
Our first batch of mozzarella went like clockwork. What fun to dip the curds back in the hot whey to get them all stretchy and then roll them up! And to realize curds really are squeaky, just like you always heard! We also made ricotta with the whey from the mozzarella—my new favorite breakfast, with a slice of toast and whatever jam we have on hand. Our big logistics decision after a couple batches of cheese was that we wanted to make all the cheeses on the actual day of the feast; they taste SO much better on the same day. (This came back to bite me a bit on the morning of the feast, though, as things got busy. In my rush, I messed up the ricotta and it was a little too runny, but it still was yummy.)
Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park. Photo courtesy CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation
We also took an early September field trip to obtain a much-needed ingredient: flour. My husband, Alex, and the boys and I drove up to Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park in Napa one beautiful sunny Saturday. The place is amazing! It's the largest waterwheel west of the Mississippi (my boys loved watching it turn) and has, indoors, a completely restored mill operation. After 30 years of fundraising and work, the restoration was just finished this past August. The woodwork on the mill machinery is so beautiful; it looks like a New England Shaker village or something.
On the tour, you can learn all about how stone-ground mills work and all of the funny phrases we use today that have their origins in the language of millwork ("fair to middling," "run of the mill," "nose to the grindstone"). Nose to the grindstone came from the millers keeping their noses up close to the stone so that they could smell any faint hints of smoke, which meant something was going wrong with the grind and they needed to adjust.
The best part of visiting Bale Grist Mill is that you can buy local organic stoneground flour right there. Since we didn't grow grains, this is how we got flour for our bread, croutons, and pie crusts for the feast. We bought three things: organic stoneground wheat flour, organic stoneground wheat pastry flour, and corn polenta. The most hilarious part: The mill isn't technically allowed to sell its flours as food (I guess because of regulations), so all of the bags are marked "Not for Human Consumption." But of course, consume we did! Whit Halvorsen and Frank Pacoe, our two expert bakers, say the stoneground wheat was a little bit different to work with for feast day, but it was delicious. And it was so cool that we actually got to see our flour being ground on a historic mill.
Prepping for the Feast
As the feast approached, there was a flurry of getting ready. Suddenly, since we knew Sunset was coming, we just HAD to lay new pavers, repaint the deck, and do a million different other things along with the food! It was a whirlwind, but we were so excited. The emails were flying back and forth with different plans and menu lineups. There was so much "okay you bring this, I'll do that, wait, who's bringing the pizza crust, can you bring your mandolin for the potatoes" etc etc. But it was so fun.
In the last few days before the party, it felt like we were nursing along every single little precious vegetable. Whit and Todd had two cucumbers that they were being VERY careful to preserve, and over at my house, I was doing my very best not to topple over any tomato vines, and I hid the trowels so the boys wouldn't dig up all the potatoes. Two days before the feast, we ripped out our spent green bean plants, picked off the last beans, and planted broccoli and cabbage for winter.
On the morning of the feast, we started by dumping out all our bounty on my big kitchen table. We had tons of potatoes, zucchini, salad greens, and tomatoes; herbs and herb flowers of course; our jars of dilly beans, mint jelly, and plum compote from earlier in the summer; homemade mayo and butter from Frank; our bread, pizza crusts, and tart crust; AMAZING home-cured meats from Todd Halvorsen; and eggs from the Halvorsens' chickens.
Todd Halvorsen with his amazing bacon.
Let me tell you, Todd is someone you want around when you're planning a One-Block Party. Over the summer, he had bought a full pig belly from Marin Sun Farms and cured it to make his own bacon. He caught Sierra trout and made trout rillettes. And he made lamb sausage with herbs from his garden and lamb that we had bought direct from an organic farm in Dixon.
Todd Halvorsen makes the pizzas; Whit, his wife, opens the wine, made on a local houseboat from California Primitivo grapes. Its maker called it "Nipples of Luna," and the label further notes that it was "fermented in the belly of the research vessel 'Rhino Auk'".
The main courses, with flowers from Abby's garden.
The beer (in a keg) is behind the table.
We planned for a lunchtime feast, since we all have little kids who still nap, and we decided to do it buffet style, since sitting down to a quiet meal, all at once, is not really something that happens with a bunch of four-year-olds in the picture. We invited a couple of bonus neighbors who were very interested in all the happenings, and we even tried to Skype with former-team-member-who-moved-away Anna, but it didn't quite work. We were so lucky because Sept 18th turned out to be warm and sunny, so all our plans to sit under the trees and around the garden were possible.
Here's our menu:
Dilly beans (beans and herbs from Abby's garden, made as a group over at Frank's house)
Cucumber-tomato salad (cukes from Whit and Todd, tomatoes from Abby)
Smoked trout rillettes (Todd caught the trout and smoked it)
Whole wheat bread (Whit made it with Bale Grist Mill flour)
"Bacon and eggs" (Todd's creation; deviled eggs with his own home-cured bacon on top)
Lamb sausage patties (Todd made the sausage with our Dixon lamb)
Zucchini "succotash" (Abby's zucchini, and she used her grandmother's recipe)
Whole-wheat pizzas with potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic oil and herbs (crust from Bale Grist Mill flour, veggies from Abby's and Whit's gardens)
Salad with green garden dressing (greens and herbs from Abby's garden)
Blackberry tart with thyme whipped cream (Frank collected the berries from the bushes near his house and made the crust with Bale Grist Mill flour)
Plum compote with ricotta cheese and fennel pollen (we met as a group earlier in the summer to make the compote from plums in Abby's yard, Abby made the cheese that morning, and Whit and her girls collected the fennel pollen from fennel that grows wild everywhere here in Sausalito)
Hefeweisen home brew (we brewed it back in June)
Local wine (a friend donated it; the wine was made on a houseboat here in Sausalito)
Lemon verbena tisanes with Sausalito honey (Whit's neighbors made the honey; we bartered some bacon for it)
Blackberry vodka (berries from the bushes around the corner from Abby's house)
Blackberry spritzers (sparkling water with syrup made from berries Abby collected with her boys)
Paul and Marin loved the lamb patties. Anja preferred the hammock.
Matt, Abby, and Frank in mid-party; two of Whit's chickens, Sam and Lucy, peck the plates clean. Over dessert, Frank said, "Most meals are just ephemeral. But this one has history."
Walter picking blackberries (he ate quite a few); Walter waiting for blackberry galette.
It was such a special day. I've never experienced anything quite like it. Just to know that we'd had our hands in everything, that we had made EVERY SINGLE THING from scratch, together as a team, with (mostly) stuff from our own yards—it was such an amazing feeling.
And it was over too soon. We are already planning a late-fall feast with more sausages, more of our potato bounty, and green-tomato relish with all of the tomatoes that never ripen!
I still say the best part about the One-Block Party is how it has brought our families together. Whit and Frank and Alex and I all share a common interest in doing things the old-fashioned way, having a big garden, doing lots of outdoor things with our families, and making stuff. We love that this project has connected us back to things like canning, preserving, cheese- and beer-making, and berry-picking. I'll never look at that plum tree down in the corner of my yard without thinking of the sunny afternoon we spent hulling those plums and stirring a pot of compote over at Whit's house. I walk past the blackberry bushes where we got our berries with my boys all the time, and the fennel patch where Whit collected pollen with her girls is right next to our favorite beach. What a lesson to realize that food is everywhere, even in a suburb like Sausalito.
Thanks again for the wonderful experience!
By Abby Peterson, Team Leader