How much water did it take to put the food on your table?

How much water did it take to put the food on your table?

Our carbon footprint has been talked about for years. The amount of water certain crops need is not news. But what is your water footprint?

The May issue of Bon Appetit magazine asked and helped answer that question.

Avocados are on the “thristier” scale, according to Bon Appetite magazine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not something I give any thought to when I’m buying groceries. I pay attention to price, where it’s grown, and if it’s in season where I live.

Chico is known for almonds. It’s also one of the biggest water consuming crops. I already knew this. But what I learned from the magazine article is that California almonds on average use 700 gallons of water per pound of almonds, whereas the rest of the almond-growing world uses 1,900 gallons for a pound.

Either way, that’s a whole heck of a lot of water.

The article suggests substituting peanuts for almonds because at 200 gallons per pound that’s a lot less water being used. While that’s a true statement, nutrition-wise almonds, according to what I found online, have more health benefits.

For someone who became a vegetarian based on a water consuming crop, it’s rather surprising I’m not more cognizant of my buying/eating choices.

The short story on my conversion to being a vegetarian in my 20s is that I was living in the Central Valley (south of where I am now) where two of the top water-consuming crops–cotton and alfalfa–are grown. California was in a drought. Alfalfa is only grown to feed cows that are then slaughtered for human consumption. I thought then as I still do today that that was a waste of land, water and the effort to grow a crop solely to feed to an animal that I would later consume. Why not use that land for a product I could essentially eat right from the field? That was my bit of protest that has continued decades later.

I’m not saying people should be vegetarians. I’m merely suggesting we could all do a better job when it comes to knowing the resources it takes to grow our food—be it animal or vegetable or fruit or grain or other.

Bon Appetit listed how much water various proteins use:

  • Beef: 1,850 gallons per pound
  • Pork: 719 gallons/pound
  • Chicken: 516 gallons/pound
  • Pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils): 486 gallons/pound
  • Tofu: 302 gallons/pound.

I was disheartened to learn avocados like water: 141-224/gallons per pound.

While it can be difficult to pay attention to everything that goes into putting groceries on store shelves, or on farmers’ market tables, the magazine said the following, which I think we should all take to heart: “The quickest, easiest way to shrink your water footprint? Eat everything you buy. At least 30 percent of the food purchased in the U.S. ends up in the trash. The average person’s annual food waste each year is equivalent to taking a 10-minute shower every day for 400 days.”

Focus on wine, consumers make for a more pleasurable experience

Focus on wine, consumers make for a more pleasurable experience

The view from Amizetta winery is stunning. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not just the flavor of the wine that sets Smith Devereux and Amizetta wineries in Napa County apart. Their approach to the consumer are polar opposite.

Both are essentially micro-wineries based on the small quantity they produce—between 2,000 and 4,000 cases at Smith Devereux and about 5,000 cases at Amizetta.

Ian Devereux, one of the owners of the Oak Knoll area winery, said, “I would rather make less money per sale and make more sales.”           

Ian Devereux talks about his philosophy of wine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At Amizetta, located outside of St. Helena 900 feet above the valley floor with a spectacular view of Lake Hennessey and the surrounding area, the owners are creating a high-priced experience to attract those with a wallet that is fatter than mine.

Both rely on direct to consumer sales, not restaurants or stores to sell their wine.

Smith Devereux doesn’t have a tasting room. Still, Devereux will host people at one of the locations where he leases the land, thus providing an intimate outdoor experience for guests. (He can’t charge for tastings because he doesn’t have the appropriate license.)

Amizetta, which includes tours of the cave in the price of a tasting, plans to double the size of its wine cave. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Amizetta charges $75 or $100 per person for a tasting. (We were told both prices, so not sure which is correct. It was free for the three of us because it was included with our condo rental.) Tom, who took care of us, shared the family’s story, gave us a sample from a barrel in the wine cave, let us enjoy the incredible view, and explained all of the construction taking place is in large part to cater to wine club members.

I have a hard time paying for any wine tasting because I came of drinking age when it was free to wine taste. Yes, I understand why wineries are charging—but $75 or more? No thanks. Sure, if I had bought three bottles, the tasting fee would have been waved at Amizetta, but when a so-so bottle of Chardonnay costs $60, there is no way I am ever going to meet the three bottle minimum.

The great thing about the Napa area is there are so many wineries with so many different flavors and experiences.

When others ran away from Merlot, Smith Devereux embraced this varietal. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What I was left with after these two experiences is Devereux cares about his community, is focused on raising funds for charities, wants his wines to be approachable to more than those who buy wine by the case, he cares about the land and the finished product, as well as the people drinking his wine.

At Amizetta, it seemed to be all about money—making it. I don’t begrudge people wanting to make a buck, I do, too. I was left with the feeling the price to taste, price per bottle and upgrades were all about the desire to have enough cash to pay for the three owners (who bought it from their parents) as well as their collective 11 children. It didn’t feel like the emphasis was on the wine. This came through in what I tasted, the stories that were shared, and the ultimate experience.

I bought a few bottles at Smith Devereux, none at Amizetta—though my two friends bought bottles at both.

The experiences were totally different. Both enjoyable. But I’d only recommend Smith Devereux—because the experience felt authentic and the wines were much better.

Ignore health officials, just say ‘yes’ to cookie dough

Ignore health officials, just say ‘yes’ to cookie dough

I was reminded recently how much I like cookie dough. Too much. My stomach ached afterward. I sprawled on the couch like a lump, of, well, cookie dough.

My mom shook her head. I refrained from telling her this was her fault even though she had not been home at the time of the overindulgence. (It was really bad because I made two batches of cookies, which I don’t usually do.)

Raw cookie dough is good no matter your age and no matter what the CDC says. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was mom’s fault because she is the one who introduced me to cookie dough before I was big enough to operate a mixer or even measure ingredients. This was via licking the beaters.

This is a glorious rite of childhood—beater and spatula cleanup from cookie dough, brownies, cake mix, whatever the sweet concoction may be.

This clearly was not the first time I had a stomach ache after making cookies. Maybe if I made them more often I would eat less. Doubtful. Clearly, the problem is that I’m a slow learner without willpower.

My favorite part is before the dry ingredients have been added, so just the eggs, butter, sugar and vanilla. Oh, my, it really is mouthwatering yummy.

I don’t care that the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention says this habit of mine is horrible, even dangerous. I have never been sick from cookie dough other than an upset stomach from over doing it. So, I say phooey to what the CDC says.

And this is what the CDC says, “Raw and lightly cooked eggs can contain salmonella, a germ that causes food poisoning.”

I’ve known about the raw egg bit for eons. I don’t care. I’m going to keep eating cookie dough and Caesar salad dressing, which also has raw eggs.

What I didn’t know until writing this story is that flour is also a problem. I remember when mom was making bread all the time when I was a kid. I would readily consume a small piece of dough. It had such a unique taste and texture. Not as good as cookie dough, but interesting enough to never say no when offered a nibble.

This is what the CDC says about flour: “Flour doesn’t look like a raw food, but most flour is raw. That means it hasn’t been treated to kill germs that cause food poisoning, such as E. coli. These harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or flour while it’s being made. Steps like grinding grain and bleaching flour don’t kill harmful germs—and these germs can end up in flour or baking mixes you buy at the store. You can get sick if you eat unbaked dough or batter made with flour containing germs. Germs are killed only when flour is baked or cooked.”

While the CDC says no to raw dough, I say yes.

Kitchen gadgets simplify life for the home cook

Kitchen gadgets simplify life for the home cook

I would not call myself a minimalist, but I am also definitely not the person who needs the latest gizmo. I suppose this makes me much like most of the world where there are a few things I’ve acquired that make my life better, but I certainly could live without.

One of these items I bought in the last six months and the other I’ve had for several years. Both are used in the kitchen.

A tofu press makes a world of difference for getting all of the water out. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The newest item is a tofu press. It does just what its name implies—it presses tofu.

Tofu is packed full of water. To get the best results when cooking tofu one must remove as much water as possible. It browns better with less water, and in turn then absorbs other flavors more easily—which is what you want.

I finally got tired of going through so much paper towel or needing to put a kitchen towel in the wash after squeezing the tofu. Plus, it never felt like I got all the water out.

The contraption is simple in design. The hard plastic fits a normal size grocery store block of tofu. The tofu sits between two thin pieces of hard plastic with holes in them from which the water oozes out. Then a spring is attached to press the tofu. The liquid can then be poured out.

It’s best to start the process at the get-go of whatever you are making in order to release as much water as possible.

One use and I was convinced this was a smart purchase.

An immersion blender is a must for anyone who makes soups that need to be blended. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The other contraption I use is my immersion blender that I got as a gift several years ago. I use it for soups, but I’m sure it could have other applications.

Instead of pouring batches of soup into a regular blender, which can be a laborious process, the handheld immersion blender is used in the pot you are cooking in.

It is so, so easy to use.

If you blend any soups, you must get an immersion blender.

What gadgets make your life easier in the kitchen?

Sierra Nevada Barrel-Aged Beer A Special Treat

Sierra Nevada Barrel-Aged Beer A Special Treat

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot aged in bourbon barrels. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sometimes the bottle is so fun you don’t want to open it. Sometimes it’s too big for one person. Eventually, though, it’s time to open that big boy to see what all the hoopla is about.

Such was the case with a special bottle of my sister gave me at the holidays.

A 750 ml, 15 percent ABV bottle of beer wasn’t something I wanted to experience on my own. So, I waited until a beer drinking friend was in town to open it.

What we had to share was a bottle of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine-style ale that had been aged for seven years in bourbon barrels in collaboration with Buffalo Trace.

The Chico brewery doesn’t even list this beer on its website. A Bigfoot is there. But not the one aged for seven years. I would be interested in trying it to see the difference.

A description about the beer on various websites other than Sierra Nevada says this, “Since 1983, Bigfoot Barleywine has captivated beer drinkers for its versatility—a force when fresh, and an adventure when aged. But the pinnacle of Bigfoot flavor? Hibernation in spirit barrels. And there are no distilleries more awarded than Buffalo Trace Distillery whose E.H. Taylor Jr. Collection honors the ‘Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry.’ Together we hand-selected Kentucky bourbon barrels to finish a seven-year vintage of Bigfoot Barleywine. If you’re lucky enough to hold this extremely limited bottle, may you enjoy it alongside the best of friends and family.”

PorchDrinking,com says this about the beer, “First released in 1983, Bigfoot was the second major modern American Barleywine to hit the market, after Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn, and it’s bold assertive Pacific Northwest hops and smooth full-bodied caramel-malt warmth have ensured that it remains an annual favorite among strong beer lovers. While there have been previous barrel-aged Bigfoot releases, including one of Sierra Nevada’s high-profile Trip To The Woods series, the Colonel E.H. Taylor is breaking ground at new levels of fancy, having been created through a refined blending process, much like a whiskey itself.”

It went down easy. While it was dark, it wasn’t heavy. It was a bit sweet, even chocolaty. It definitely had a unique, sweet taste. It was the perfect complement to hot tubbing after a day of hiking.

Would I buy it in the future? No, because there are better beers out there. But it was fun to try something unique. I don’t know how much my sister paid for this bottle, but I’m guessing it might have been one of the most expensive bottles I’ve had.

Tiny napkins a wasteful dining experience in Baja

Tiny napkins a wasteful dining experience in Baja

Tiny napkins are the norm at restaurants in Baja Sur. (Images: Kathryn Reed)

Cocktail napkins should not be used as a dinner (or lunch or breakfast) napkin. They are too dang small.

That’s not the belief in Mexico, though. Well, at least throughout the Baja peninsula.

Restaurants in Baja are known for their penchant to provide napkins that can’t do the job. Well, they can, it just takes multiple napkins to get through an entire meal.

I’m not really sure how this is efficient. It seems like a waste of paper and a waste of money. It seems like an environmental nightmare.

These servilletas, which in reality are probably a hair bigger than cocktail napkins, are also usually thin. This contributes to needing more than one or two or three to get through a meal—even if you aren’t a messy eater or even eating something messy. It’s not like I’m eating barbecue or the like where more than one of any size napkin is necessary.

The worst is when the napkin is wrapped around eating utensils. Inevitably the napkin is ripped because it’s been secured by a wrapper that doesn’t want to come undone.

While many times a container of napkins is on the table, you can’t be guaranteed that is going to be the case. To me, this arsenal of additional napkins is evidence the original napkin is not enough to get through the meal. So, it’s not like restaurateurs don’t know there is an issue with the napkins.

I realize the size of a napkin is not usually something worthy of a rant. I just think if these restaurants in Baja would be helping the environment and customers if they would provide guests with a better, bigger napkin.

All of this makes me wonder what Mexicans do in their homes. What size napkins are they using? How many do they use in one meal?

Book signing, free beer tasting in Todos Santos

Book signing, free beer tasting in Todos Santos

Life is about pairings. What could be better than books and beer?

I will be signing copies of my latest book Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico on Dec. 9 from 4-6pm at El Tecolote Bookstore in Todos Santos.

Sleeping With Strangers BookEach sells for $20 or 400 pesos.

In the courtyard where I’ll be signing there will be free Moschcat Beer tastings. Moschcat is a Baja artisanal brewery. Taste the new Ultra Lager and Vienna Lager.

Militar Galleria next door to El Tecolote will be having an artist’s reception the same day from 4-8pm for Terryl Tagg. Her work will be paired with wine.

El Tecolote is on H. Colegio Militar, very close to the corner of Alvaro Obregon. It’s next to El Refugio restaurant.

If you miss the book signing, El Tecolote will keep stocking the book, or it may be ordered at your favorite bookstore outside of Todos Santos, or online. And Moschcat, it will soon be available on shelves in local stores, restaurants and bars throughout Baja Sur. Track the venues online.

Bounty of Butte County ag tantalizes taste buds

Bounty of Butte County ag tantalizes taste buds

Olive trees at Calolea Olive Oil tasting room in Bangor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With agriculture being a multi-million dollar industry in Butte County, it’s no surprise those involved in it want to celebrate what they bring to the table.

That is exactly what the Sierra Oro Farm Trail is all about. For $40 (the cost this year) people were able to visit an array of ag related businesses, taste their goods, learn about what they do and get deals on purchases.

The monthlong harvest celebration in October included wineries, olive oil, meat, cheese, jams, lavender, rice and more.

An array of wine and hard liquor to taste at Hickman Family Vineyards. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

According to the 2021 Butte County Crop & Livestock Report, the estimated gross value of agricultural production was $609,955,303, which was $15,429,406 less than 2020. The 10-year average for Butte County is $713,185,710.

This was my first year to experience any aspect of Oro Trails. My friend, Kristin, invited me along for a day of wine and olive oil tasting. While I have gone to a handful of wineries in the area, it was my first time to visit all of the places we went to on this particular Sunday.

The view from Hickman Family Vineyards in Butte County. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We headed to the Bangor Wine Region, a place I had not heard of—though that is not saying much. We skirted around Oroville, where we came across acreage that made me feel a bit like being in the El Dorado County wine region; probably because Bangor is in the foothills and a former Gold Rush town. The familiarity I felt also had to do with the unpretentious nature of the wineries themselves. The hospitality and openness of the owners and workers clearly let you know you were not in Napa or Sonoma counties. The emphasis was on the product, not on sales.

First stop was Hickman Family Vineyards where more than just wine is poured. Spirits from Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery are also part of the offerings. These are made down the road by family members.

Inside the Hickman tasting room. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This winery has been open since 2011, while the distillery opened its doors five years later.

I left with some bubbly and grappa moonshine.

Next up was Spencer-Shirey Wines. A few campers pulled in while we were tasting because owners Mary Spencer and Kimball Shirey allow a few trailers to spend the night—for a fee, of course. What a tranquil place to call home while on the road.

Then to be steps from great tasting wines—especially the reds, well, I was a bit jealous we had to keep driving.

An array of delicious choices at Calolea Olive Oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Drive we did, though, to great olive oil. Those trees—they seemed much larger than what I’ve seen before. Monica and Michael Keller at Calolea Olive Oil have Mission, Manzanillo and Tuscan olive trees.

With so many flavors to taste, it was hard to pick a favorite. Nonetheless, I was able to narrow it down to buy a few gift bottles.

The entire experience makes me want to explore more of what Butte County has to offer during Oro Trail days in 2023.

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