Monthly Archives: May 2009

Hooray for Stewards of Trails and Open Space

Marin County and the Bay Area are blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, open space and trails. This region is also the home of true pioneers in the Land Trust Movement, such as the Trust for Public Land, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and the group that may have started them all, back in the early 70s, my own neighborhood Homestead Valley Land Trust.

It took vision, those years ago, to realize that our pristine open space would be developed into housing tracts without fierce protectors and enormous public support. The Homestead Valley Land Trust, like so many others, usually works modestly, behind the scenes, weeding, monitoring and maintaining the land, so that my family and I can literally walk out our front door and enjoy a beautiful trail hike, watching the seasonal flow of wildflowers and wildlife, as if the modern world hadn’t interfered at all.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way. The Land Trust was recently in the news when a homeowner who abutted a popular trail encroached onto the land and claimed it as their own, with their own elaborate backyard landscaping.

This happens a lot, and it’s usually not an accident. People move into homes and find the long-time trails a nuisance and seek to close them off and privatize them. Or they illegally spread their homes and land onto the open space. I feel very strongly that our local (and taxpayer-supported) trails remain open for use by everyone — for recreation, for walking to school and other destinations, and for emergency egress from homes.

Another local group, Mill Valley’s Steps, Lanes and Paths, has also worked tirelessly to this end, by maintaining and marking paths and encouraging people to use them, so that it will be more common knowledge that our town has a wonderful system of stairs and paths leading up into the hills and out to the trails of Mt. Tamalpais and beyond.

A century ago, Mill Valley was a railroad town, and commuters returning from San Francisco would disembark from the train, retrieve their lanterns and head up the paths to their hillside homes. A young girl from those days wrote that, when it was dark, the lanterns lights winked and shone like fireflies.

I wrote a letter to the Marin Independent Journal, praising our tireless, passionate stewards of open space. My surroundings, and my daily life, would indeed be different without their work. The full letter is here.

ringtamwithgoldfields

Ring Mountain in Tiburon was also saved from development. Mt. Tamalpais is seen in the background. More about my recent Ring Mountain wildflower hike is here.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Mill Valley Red, Part Two

More red things seen out and about in Mill Valley. Click to enlarge any photo.

Mill Valley Red, Part One

A compendium of red things recently seen in Mill Valley. Click to enlarge any photo.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

The Deck Garden: Hope, and Flowers, Spring Eternal

What could offer more possibility than a garden in early spring? A couple of weeks ago, after some late rain, I got my little container garden going again. Spent bulbs were pulled out, fresh soil and organic amendments were put in. And seeds and seedlings were planted.

garden-seedpacks

I loved going to the nursery and wandering among the colorful bedding plants. I also loved picking out seeds to plant. Seed packets are always wonderful. They’re beautifully illustrated and full of promise and lore. I adore old-fashioned flowers, and managed to get some new ones this year to supplement my usual sweet peas, delphinium, cosmos, nasturtium, and stock. In particular, clary sage and scabiosa called to me.

garden-lettuce

Because I’m in a climate zone that gets cool summer fog wafting from the ocean, over the nearby mountain, and above my deck as it heads east, I’ve learned to plant shade-loving varieties. Peas love it here, and I always have vines of them climbing up trellises and lots of healthy peas ready for picking. (Verticality helps me get a lot of crops from my container garden.) I also plant lettuce and usually have a fog-tolerant tomato plant going.

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A couple summers ago, I actually grew pumpkins, as well as stalks of corn in my largest container. The corn was able to cross-pollinate (which is key), as the container’s square shape allowed just enough rows across and down. Just planting them, in a small space with little sun, was optimism defined. The corn was miniature, as was the prized pumpkin, which trailed up and over its container and onto the deck.

This season, practicality, along with romantic heirloom flowers, won out. I usually plant a container I call the Aspen box, inspired by the beautiful summer flowers that greeted me in Aspen, Colorado, when I visited for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, some years ago. Here’s the start of this year’s Aspen box, with cosmos, lobelia and stock:

Garden-Aspenbox

Garden-Variety

I love stock, in particular. It’s praises are undersung, I think. It’s a wonderful cottage-garden flower, growing or cut. It’s delightfully old-fashioned, with hardy, though delicate looking, petals that give off a sweet-spicy scent.

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I added spots of brighter reds and yellows in some of the other boxes, like this nice Pecotee petunia, and an accent dahlia.

Garden-Red Petunia

Garden-Dahlia

My Canadice champagne grape plant came back nicely after losing its leaves for the winter. Perennial plants never fail to amaze me.

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I was happy to see a bee performing its pollinating duties on a cosmos.

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Last year, I bought these sweet seeds at a school garden fair. Children had harvested the seeds and designed the packets.

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Other seeds await planting in my cupboard.

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Also in the cupboard, this robin’s egg, which we rescued from the ground. Of course, its hue is the quintessential “robin’s egg blue” that painters over time have attempted to replicate.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Brigante

Brigante

When Alex, the cheesemeister at my local Whole Foods recommends a cheese, I tend to listen, and this week he told me about a sheep cheese called Brigante, from Sardinia. Then he cut a slice for me to taste.

I found it an extremely pleasing cheese, very mild and so creamy as to be almost buttery in texture. Subsequent tastes confirmed that Brigante tasted a lot like a cow cheese, with the sheep taste coming on late, almost as an afterthought. As such, the subtle sheep flavor lends a pleasant tang to the buttery goodness. I tasted hints of something caramel-y and toasty, along with the buttery, milky taste, but those were very subtle. This is a mild cheese — It’s clean, supple, sweet, easy to like and, oh, easy to just go back for one more slice.

I haven’t even mentioned another of its great gifts. This Italian sheep cheese is a bargain, especially given its taste and pedigree. It’s from the huge Pinna dairy, in Thiesi, in the northern part of Italy’s Sardinia island. It is a Pecorino cheese, though it doesn’t have any of the Pecorino’s hard, crunchy texture or sharp taste. Brigante is a young cheese, matured only a few weeks, and it has a papery coating instead of a rind. The cheese’s attractive pale yellow color compliments its smooth texture and taste. You could easily offer it on a cheese board at a gathering, or have it on a picnic, with grapes and a light, fruity wine.

If Brigante were a dinner guest, it would be the one rounding out the party, not calling a lot of attention to itself, but being a good listener and guest — blending in, universally liked, the one everyone talks about the next day and invites back: What a nice cheese!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

First Peach of the Season: Make a Wish

Some time ago, a friend told me about his tradition of making a wish as he bit into the first peach of the season. I’ve never heard or seen anything about this custom since, but I made a point of adopting it nonetheless. It’s such a happy moment when the seasonal farmers’ markets start up again and the grocery stores start offering local berries and stone fruit in season and at in-season prices.

WhitePeach

For me, that moment happened this morning, as I was greeted at the market with the first real deals on ripe, sweet berries and the first cherries, apricots and peaches. I chose the most local peach, California’s Summerwhite, which happened to be the one that felt the ripest. White peaches, though not the classic deep summer yellow, have a multi-colored soft peach skin, and fruit the pale yellow color of spring butter. They also boast a lower acidity than yellow peaches, which renders them sweet and flavorful, even though these first ones have a relatively short growing season.

White peaches also ripen more quickly than traditional peaches and they tend to taste sweet when picked, in contrast to yellow peaches, which sweeten over time, as they ripen and acid levels drop. Though white peaches have been around for about 30 years and are popular in Asia, it’s taken American consumers a bit of time to discover their joys.

PeachHalf

Once home, I washed the ripest specimen and bit right in, ushering in summer right then and there. It was sweet, wonderful, and extremely juicy. The air coming through the open window suddenly felt extra warm and the leaves on the trees seemed particularly green. My wish? A great, warm, sensual summer, with lots of time to enjoy family, friends and nature, to be outside, to make and grow things, to eat healthy food and to take enthusiastic bites out of life.

PeachJam

Last year, we made peach chutney and apricot-lavender jam, among other delights. I sense another good canning season to come.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Blu del Monviso


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If you love the distinctive taste of blue cheese, but would like to try something more creamy than crumbly, then Blu del Monviso, from the Serale family dairy in Italy’s Piedmont region, is your blue. It’s extremely soft and spreadable and, as a result, is excellent on a water cracker. Its dense, creamy texture gives this cow’s milk blue a great mouth feel and incredible staying power, which is good because the taste is wonderful — sweet, milky, a bit nutty and somewhat mild, but with plenty of traditional, pungent blue-cheese mold. Blu del Monviso is especially rich (60-day aging brings out the mold), but without a sharp bite, rendering the contrast between taste and texture an exceptional treat. It also has a chewy rind my husband calls “toothworthy” and, indeed, some of the most tasty cheese was right at the rind.

This cheese would be fantastic on a burger, or anywhere else you might use, say, brie. It’s also great spread on a thick piece of whole wheat walnut bread and accompanied with grapes. Being the port fiend I am, I had this with a 20-year Cockburn’s Tawny. The caramelness of the port offered the perfect complement for the Monviso’s distinct taste.

MonvisoPackage

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman