Wednesday, May 23, 2012


...Which of course stands for Bring Your Own Pestle.  I posted about this place before but since that post lacked photographs it was essentially useless.  Which distinguished it not at all from most of my posts.  Not four miles from where I'm sitting is Morro Bay State Park.  The park's wonderful little Natural History Museum is tucked behind a huge rock outcrop.

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Carved out of the bedrock, as the sign helpfully points out, are mortars used by the indigenous Chumash people to grind acorns into meal and flour.  If you squint through the trees you see the water of Morro Bay.  What a life that would have been!  Sitting overlooking the bay and visiting with friends while grinding a year's worth of nutrition.  And yes, they each brought their own personal pestles.  Here's a better shot, sans signage:

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How, you ask, could they have overlooked the bay when sitting astride these mortars, what with all the vegetation in the way?  Let's look up, shall we?

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I don't think these bloody eucalyptus were here when the Chumash were actively using this site.  I think that perhaps a little "ground line pruning" would be in order here.

My son's elementary school toured the Natural History Museum and the guide made a special point of showing them these mortars.  I first learned of them several years ago, long before I had any idea that fate would land me just around the bay, when on a business trip to the area I stopped by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and asked if they knew of any bedrock mortars nearby.  The woman there told me of this spot, but I was crushed for time and didn't get a chance to visit back then.  No doubt her recollection springs from a childhood visit to the site as well.  It's very cool to know that school children in this area are made aware of this amazing place, right at the age when such things make a deep impression on them.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Looks like pizza

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When I took this photo of a trio of California white oaks (Q. lobata) growing in a clump on a hill surrounded with wheat (photo taken near Creston, CA) I was all set to launch into a rant about the stupidity of beating the snot out the soil to produce a cereal crop on land that for centuries supported its inhabitants with acorns.

But in light of the previous post I'm seeing this photo in a whole new light.  Acorns plus wheat equals... pizza dough.  Or really, really good bread.

The problem, to me, is one of scale and proportion.  I hope I live to see a day when oaks will be the primary crop on land like this, wheat is an afterthought, and the farmer spend a lot more time sitting in the shade with his friends than sitting on a tractor burnin' oil.

I wonder if the farmer knows that he can produce a different, more nutritious flour from the bounty of this field that fetches 18 bucks a pound?  For some reason I doubt it.  But in field after field - be it a corn field in central Minnesota with a magnificent bur oak or a vineyard in Tulare, CA with a giant California white oak - I see oaks left standing where they arguably detract from the productivity of the target crop being grown, and I often wonder why.  Yes, there are regulations here in CA and probably elsewhere restricting the removal of mature oaks.  But I don't think that's the answer.  I think something deep in our psyche finds reassurance and comfort in seeing those oaks.  We subconsciously know - even if our conscious mind has long forgotten - that the crops we are laboring so hard to grow are fragile and foreign, and are one water shortage or disease away from disappearing.  The presence of these "farm field oaks" tells our subconscious that even after we beat up the soil beyond the ability to produce row crops there will still be food.

Well what do you know?  I managed to get my rant in any way!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Acorn Pizza Devoured

So I walked into the kitchen last Friday afternoon to find a couple of smallish people – smallish people who theoretically have ½ of my DNA but whose good looks and love of cooking argue strongly otherwise – kneading dough.

“Whatcha makin’?”  I asked.

“Pizza dough,” came the reply. 

Thoroughly confused I asked, “Why, is our phone line disconnected?  Because where I come from you can just make a phone call and a guy will literally bring pizza to your door… and it’s already cooked.”

For about the nine thousandth time these smallish people looked at me with that peculiar mix of scorn and sympathy that I have come to know so well.  “Papa, that pizza has all kinds of junk in it.  And it has too much salt.”

“Heaven forbid,” I said, reaching in the cupboard for the chips.  “OK, but why is the dough so… brown?  Are you using that special spelt/millet/amaranth flour again?”

Look of scorn/sympathy #9001:  “No papa, we mixed in a cup of your acorn flour.”  At that very moment I knew that my life has been a complete success, despite its myriad failures.  What an amazing feeling. 

How was the pizza you ask?  Awesome.  Not awesome only after taking into account  its unconventional ingredients, or awesome in the self-righteous/delusional way newly minted vegans eat a bowl of quinoa and black beans sans flavor and call it awesome.  I’m talking awesome to an avowed pizza lover, awesome to a guy who would (and, in fact, has) become a vegetarian with the only and inviolable exception of pepperoni.  (Can life without pepperoni be considered “life?”at all?  I think not.)  I mean awesome on the same laudatory scale in which, for a native Minnesotan like me, the phrase “not bad” is considered high praise.

Where did I get the acorn flour you ask?  At my friendly neighborhood hot dog and acorn flour shop.  They don’t have those where you live?  They’re pretty much on every street corner here it California.  Right next to Starbucks.  Actually the one and only Sue’s Acorn CafĂ© & Mill is located in Martinez, CA, about 5 hours from me.  Luckily business takes me by there regularly.  And it really is a hot dog joint.

A couple days before to the pizza epiphany we ran short of whole wheat flour when making our usual honey wheat bread.  I keep saying that the white fluffy Wonder Bread and Roman Meal I was fed as a child clearly never did me any harm, but for some strange reason the more I say that the more my kids demand homemade. 

We substituted a cup of acorn flour for one of the 3 cups of whole wheat, and otherwise did everything exactly the same.  Don’t ask me what “exactly the same" means.  I am only the designated kneader.  I am banned from the kitchen until it’s time to knead, and am quickly banished thereafter out of (well justified) concern that I’ll do/spill/drop/burn something to ruin the whole batch.

The bread turned out beautifully, and tasted great.  The acorn flour added a healthy dose of healthy fat and protein to what is otherwise a carb-fest.  The kids loved it and were clearly inspired to add the acorn flour to the pizza dough.

By the way, acorn flour fetches about $18 a pound.  Anyone sense a business opportunity, or is it just me?  Hopefully it’s just me.  Forget I said anything.