Monday, February 25, 2013

Stimulant Fix: Good Land Organics Grows Local Coffee

Chalk board labels and mason jars are almost as addictive as coffee.

About four years ago, I tried to quit drinking coffee. I was working in an office in Los Angeles and had gotten into the habit of drinking two 20-oz. cups every morning. The office I worked in had a particularly extensive coffee bar, which, along with Ice Cream Fridays, was largely responsible for getting me through the work week.

One day, a friend someone who wanted to scar me for life forwarded me a terrifying news article about a murderous meth addict who lived in (surprise!) Bakersfield, CA. Meth addicts in Bakersfield are obviously not news to anyone – nor are murderous ones, for that matter – but this story was particularly gruesome and compelled me to examine my own addiction to coffee. I mean, we’ve all seen Breaking Bad, haven’t we?** After all, coffee is also a stimulant, albeit an immeasurably more socially acceptable one.

Quitting didn’t go well. After a week of forgotten phone messages, misplaced documents, and general absentmindedness, I decided that everyone in my office would be better off if I maintained my addiction. I’ve never been a believer in the “slippery slope” theory, anyway, and drinking absurd amounts of coffee is a far cry from meth-driven murder.

Since that failed attempt, I’ve never considered quitting coffee again. I’ve also sought out studies that suggest drinking coffee is a healthy practice that everyone ought to take up, adds years to your life, improves brain function, etc. and I delight in citing this research when anyone questions whether I ought to be drinking my second Venti at 5:30pm.

Unfortunately, my coffee habit has never fit in with my predilection for local food. Like quinoa, coffee is one of those products that just isn’t easily grown in North America. Of course, Fair Trade coffee is everywhere these days, so it’s easy to make purchases with limited negative ramifications. But last year, I tasted an even better solution: locally grown coffee from right here in Santa Barbara County.

Working with University of California Farm Extension Service advisor Mark Gaskell, Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics processes and roasts coffee on-site at his farm in Goleta (distance from me: 9 miles). They started the project in 2002 with Arabica Cattura and Arabica Typica seeds from El Salvador and have since expanded to many more varieties. Ruskey uses the Kona coffee model, named for the expensive coffee grown on the Big Island in Hawaii. It involves growing, processing, post-harvesting, roasting, and selling coffee on the farm, as well as giving farm tours ($40 for a 3-hour tour, including coffee samples and snacks).

Good Land Organics coffee is unique because of the high mountain climate here: a 600-foot elevation, two miles from the ocean. The difference is that the bean matures on the tree for between ten months to a year, in contrast to lower lands, where the bean matures quickly.

The purpose of keeping it local, as Ruskey explained in a 2011 interview with Joshua Lurie of Food GPS, is that: “We want people to know where the coffee’s from, how it’s done, maybe even the varieties, because we have different varieties of beans. There’s this whole nomenclature and knowledge of how it’s roasted, how it’s processed, what time of year it was harvested, and that’s what we’re hoping to make: a new, feasible crop for area farmers.”

It seems to be working – a few years ago, David Karp wrote about Good Land Organics Coffee in the LATimes, and since then interest has been growing. Most recently, Good Land was the cover feature of the February, 2013 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine.

I bought a bag of what I thought were Good Land Organics whole beans for myself at Santa Cruz Market. I was pleasantly surprised to find it on the shelf at this small, inexpensive, locally owned Latino grocery store – I’d expect it to be carried by chichi markets, but apparently, Santa Cruz had gotten in on the action. 

I’ve been getting my fix from the Good Land Organics coffee for the past few days, with a dash of San Marcos Farms sage honey and Organic Pastures raw milk. It is absolutely delicious. You’d think that by this time, I’d have developed a discerning coffee palate – but the truth is, I’m just as likely to chug burnt diner coffee as I am to daintily sip handcrafted hipster coffee (much to the chagrin of the folks over at Intelligentsia).

That said, I do recognize solid coffee when I taste it, and Good Land Organics has, in my opinion, achieved it. Fortunately, my opinion is backed up by experts, who have given the coffee a Q rating of between 83-87. See ya later, Giant Folgers Tub From Costco.

Drinking Good Land Organics coffee somewhat diminishes my guilt about being addicted to a stimulant. At the risk of sounding like a snob (a risk with which I am demonstrably comfortable), I think it’s safe to say that sipping local coffee with local sage honey and local, raw milk is about as far as you can get from strapping a bomb to an elderly ex-drug lord’s wheelchair in order to blow up the leader of your own meth cartel.**

**If you don’t get this reference, my advice to you is to play hooky from work and watch all five seasons of Breaking Bad.

Update: Unfortunately for me, my original suspicions were right. The people at Good Land Organics informed me that another roaster in town, Santa Barbara Coffee Roasters, sells a type of coffee called "Good Land Coffee." So Number 1 on my To-Do list is to get my hands on some actual Good Land Organics coffee! Further update to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rock (Crab) Lobstah!

I’m from Boston, so no one should be surprised that I love lobster (lobstah, I suppose). Some of my fondest childhood memories involve picking out live lobster from the tanks of our favorite seafood vendors, watching my parents boil them at home, then cracking them apart with my bare hands and savoring their meat with absurd amounts of buttah dribbling down my chin.

Sometimes my siblings and I would have our lobsters “race” across the kitchen floor before removing the rubber bands from their claws – this practice now strikes me as a rather cruel kind of lobster-gladiator competition before inevitable death by boiling water. But that doesn’t diminish my nostalgia for the whole experience.

Of course, there are lobsters living in the Pacific Ocean, and some people catch them and eat them. But their lack of claw meat makes them pretty much useless to me. Luckily, David is a good listener and has picked up on my desperate longing fondness for northeastern lobster. He also realizes that Meghan Eats Local usually, but not All The Time.

So on Valentine’s Day, I was pleasantly surprised to find two live lobsters in a crate with seaweed and cold packs waiting for me on the kitchen table, straight from Maine.

We tried to make the lobsters race across the kitchen floor, but they were clearly in shock from the cold box and their trip across the country – I know, the whole racing thing seems even crueler now – so they didn’t move much at all. Oh, well! Straight into the pot.

We boiled them for about 15 minutes, until their shells were bright red. Then we transferred them to a colander and poured ice cold water over them until they cooled down. This is a crucial step – soaking them in an ice bath works, too – that prevents them from continuing to cook inside their shells.

We had read that it’s better to undercook them than to overcook them (which results in tough, yucky meat), so we erred on the side of undercooking. As it turned out, we had erred a bit too far on that side; the claw meat was a bit translucent rather than fully white, indicating that they could have cooked a little longer. That was a problem easily solved: we popped each lobster in the microwave for 60 seconds, which did the trick.

Ta-da! I demolished that lobstah, thoroughly soaking each piece of meat in buttah, of course. Happy Valentine’s Day to me! (But not to David, who was a bit grossed out by the whole breaking-a-creature-apart-white-staring-it-straight-in-the-face thing, nearly gave up on cracking the claws, and flat out refused to suck the meat out of the legs.)
Non-local shellfish for Valentine's Day

Obviously, shipping lobster from Maine to Santa Barbara is pretty much the opposite of eating local. I felt an urge to reconcile this transgression by indulging in some local shellfish (don’t question my logic).

Since moving to Santa Barbara, I haven’t really enjoyed much local shellfish beyond shrimp. That all changed last night at Arch Rock Fish. My parents and sister are in town visiting for a week, and last night we all went out to eat with David and his mom, Joan.

Arch Rock Fish is one of my favorite local seafood restaurants any day of the week, but particularly on Monday and Tuesday when they feature a special “Crab Feast.” Joan and I decided to split the “Crab Feast,” since neither of us was feeling particularly ravenous. It was a good thing we split it, because this was one beast of a feast:
Oh, hello! I am your feast!

We got a 2-pound local Rock Crab, which was arranged in a way that suggested it was attempting to escape from its pail, with corn on the cob and roasted potatoes. On top of that, we got a pound of Alaskan King Crab legs and a bottle of chardonnay from Santa Barbara county.

As Joan struggled with the claws and legs, it became increasingly clear where David got his dismal shell-cracking skills. I felt silly after I made fun of her, though, since I was soon frustrated by the claws myself: a Rock Crab shell is, apparently, significantly thicker and harder than that of an Alaskan King Crab, which snaps easily.

Unfortunately, the legs were more trouble than they were worth; there was very little meat to be scraped from inside them. The claw meat, on the other hand, came out in one big chunk. Unlike a lobster claw, the Rock Crab claw included a thin layer of cartilage right in the middle of the meat, upon which I very nearly choked.

By the end of the feast, we might have had some crab meat in our hair and laps, but we were happy and stuffed. The claw meat of the Rock Crab was delicious and was easily scraped from the cartilage; it tasted like a light, flaky, white fish. Well, like a light, flaky, white fish soaked in buttah.