Sometimes I need to go no farther than my own backyard to find inspiration. We have a wild, monster of a lavender plant that I planted when we first moved into our house 5-ish years ago. It's a fence section wide and easily 4 feet tall and that's tamed by Chris. It smells lovely, I often throw Cooper's ball into 'on accident' and he shoves his head into it to retrieve it and comes back smelling delicious! The bee's love it as well and are rarely bothered by dogs or cameras in their space, lavender intoxication is my guess.
The heat of the summer tends to linger in the valley. September in our little expanse of northern California does not signify the beginning of cooler weather. Whether starting school or celebrating a last summer camping trip on Labor Day, the heat is our constant companion.
The nice thing about our extended warm season is the amount of time we get to spend outdoors throughout the year. Farm stands, farmer's markets and the like stay open well into October and some even year round. Fruits and vegetables fresh from the earth don't disappear just because school's back in or summer is "over". New seasonal crops of fruits, vegetables and flowers begin to appear. September brings the start of pumpkin season, promising that eventually the heat will fade and fall will make it's appearance.
Erickson Ranch is still in full swing in September, peppers and pumpkins are the show stoppers starting this month. Ray and Vicky host a variety of events throughout the year. There is always some type of entertainment, ranch exploration and they invite local vendors to come and set up shop for the day. While the work is never done, there is a sense of mellowing around the ranch in September and I gather Ray and Vicky feel a sense of celebration is in order over the fruits of their labor. The events to come still mean a lot of work, but there's a great sense of joy and community that emanates during these final months of the ranch being open to the public.
One of the first things I discovered about Ray over the year, was his passion for birds. I clearly remember the first day I met him and how he drove me around the ranch explaining all about the fruit trees and the history of the ranch. At one point we got out and continued exploring on foot. I recall him stopping and pointing across the top of the orchard at a large hill, covered in trees and brush that borders their property, and telling me to look at the white tail far... far... far off! Surprised I thought, 'how can he see a deer THAT far away?!?' But the better and the right question was 'How can he see a HAWK that far away?!' Growing up on the ranch Ray developed an appreciation for the birds that lived on and migrated to the ranch each year. He can tell a bird by it's song, knows when and where specific birds will appear, knows their patterns and all about their lifecycle. They have special bird houses high up on poles at the ranch and they work with the Napa Solano Audubon Society to bring awareness to the public. Which is how I got the beautiful photo of the owl above .. there was also a hawk! Both injured and taken care of by awesome volunteers at the Audubon Society. Over the course of my visits I was lucky enough to see a melange of beautiful birds. To this day I notice each and every different bird that comes into my yard and crosses my path. My little boy has grown a love for birds as well, perhaps it's innate or perhaps I have eagerly pointed them out to him. Either way, it's fun to see his eyes dart to the sky, finger pointed high.
It's amazing and humbling to see someone like Ray, so in tune with nature, working their land, appreciating all that it has to offer and making it their life's work and enjoying it to the fullest. With all the go-go-go of our busy lives, it's a breath of fresh air to witness. He demonstrates a great lesson in slowing down to enjoy the things we each have worked hard to have in our lives and to notice, appreciate and take care of the things that nature has bestowed upon us.
Oh July, you snuck by so quickly! The month of July at Erickson Ranch is hot, as is everywhere else in the valley. But despite that heat, there's a lush feel at the ranch. The flowers are in full bloom, the vegetables and fruit are ripening. Trees provide much sought after shade. Under the shed roof where all of the picked fruit and vegetables await, fans blow and the pace is mellow. Ranch dogs wander and lounge in the shadows, still hasty to greet visitors, but not so eager to leave the coolness of the shade. There's still plenty of work and business going on and the ranch feels as though it's in a happy state; greeting visitors, providing food and a comfortable place to hang out and explore on a hot summer day. There's nothing like fresh fruit, that has been basking in a little heat, to quench your thirst. It sounds counter intuitive, but when fruit is at a natural temperature you get it's true flavor and the juiciness can't be beat.
One of the things I love about Erickson Ranch is that it's not just a business but a lifestyle for the owners and their family. It's not always pretty (as Vicky will point out) with the bugs, mud, long days, never ending to-do list and hard work, but it's rewarding. The reward is obvious, and so much more than just the bounty of their land, it's something you immediately sense when talking to Ray or Vicky. It's a lifestyle they so generously share and strive to pass on to their visitors, the community and their friends. A perfect example is their recipe cards they have ready to go home with you and also located on their website, recipes that include fresh ingredients you can get straight from the ranch. Some of the ingredients are available already picked and ready to be bagged, others you pick yourself, fresh from the garden. It's just a wonderful experience all around. It connects you to your food, to a simpler process so easily forgotten with the conviniences we have today.
I enjoy making food that includes the maximum amount of fresh veggies possible and food that celebrates itself. Guacamole for instance, I like mine to mainly taste like avocado, enhanced with a little garlic and salt , perhaps some onion, jalapeño and tomato if I'm feeling adventurous, but I want to celebrate the natural taste of the avocado as much as possible. Can you tell I'm passionate about my avocados ;) Sadly, the last few months with baby I've fallen from my veggie wagon! And have turned to convenient ready made food more often than I'd like... but honestly I miss a good, fresh home cooked meal! But knowing it's there waiting for me to just jump right back in is definitely exciting and I look forward to the time when I am back in my cooking groove. I am also looking forward to sharing the ranch with our little dumpling. From seeing how things grow, to harvesting the ingredients, to cooking; my own personal love of the ranch and the lifestyle aside, it's a great place to take kids and teach them all about food, where it comes from, how to prepare it and to really get them involved in what they eat. And hopefully, in turn, not so scared of veggies!
Make sure to head out to Erickson Ranch next time you need some fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers or just a bit of country in your life.
Hope you're all staying cool as possible in this heat... On to August!