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Tsu La La - Icycles

Posted on April 15, 2012 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)



Long icycles formed by the doorway of our ranch.  I was singing Tsu la la, Tsu la la.  It means icycles in Japanese.
Too much excitement going on here with all this snow.  But this morning, the Tsu la la was all gone and the sun came out.

Room with a snow view- Tehachapi

Posted on April 13, 2012 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (0)





A Deer Moment - Tehachapi

Posted on April 13, 2012 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (1)


Our two feral cats, Chibi and Kurokin, were neutered at the Tehachapi Veterinarian Hospital this month.  Chibi's left ear has been clipped for identification purposes. Kurokin, Chibi's mother, didn't get her ear clipped due to an oversight by the vet's office but her surgery was a little more complicated than Chibi's because she had a hysterectomy.  Despite their respective surgeries,  the two cats are pretty much back to their old selves.  They are back to catching gofers and mice, which is  what we want them to be doing. I don't like it when the cats bring their catch into the studio, but I like seeing them playing out in the fields.

   

This afternoon, we had five deer visit the ranch. It was the first visit of 2012. It almost felt like alien landing.  We  all came out to greet the deer, including the cats.  I have never seen so many deer on our ranch.   The deer were as curious as we were but maintained a safe distance.  They were nibbling on grass and looking around to see what's new this season. Soon, it was time for them to move on, and they did.






 

Songs of Spring - Tehachapi

Posted on April 7, 2012 at 3:15 AM Comments comments (0)
There were a few days in March that Tehachapi suddenly warmed up and felt like ealry summer. But then winter came back and temperatures went down to a record 28F. The ranch was covered in snow.  The fruit trees were confused as I was about how to deal with this climate change.  Some lost their blooms from the sudden drop of temperatures.  Others perservered.  When the warmth returned, a number of  fruit trees turned out to have some spring left in them. They began blooming again.
 
Buds of cherries and of a tree I don't know.


 
The young leaves of peonies.

  The yellow of daffodails


The cedar trees waiting to be planted.  


The crow in the sky.



Ana at the ranch.



Bareroot blueberries.


The peach trees in full bloom.


Assures me that spring is here, at last.

Boy cat looks after Mother cat - Tehachapi

Posted on March 25, 2012 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (0)




Chibi is one of two feral cats that was living with underneath our ranch house in Tehachapi when we bought the property.  Chibi, means little in Japan but he has outgrown his name and his mother, Kurokin.The  black cat curled up next to Chibi is Kurokin. Normally, Kurokin will not let Chibi near her but she is recovering from surgey and feeling either too weak to shoo Chibi away or in need of tender, loving care.  After a whole year of trying to catch these feral cats, I finally trapped  Kurokin yesterday, and took her to the vet to get her spayed. She appeared pregnant and sure enough, she was.  I am sorry about the abortion but we had to do it. 

Chibi and Kurokin last spring. They were living underneath  the
ranch house.  Chibi didn't not make an appearance until
a few months after we bought the ranch. Kurokin was
keeping her in hiding. Chibi was a complete surprise.

Chibi missed his mother a lot while she was away. I could hear the sadness in his meow.  Now that they are back together, they are inseparable.   Kurokin is doing everything a cat can do to comfort his mother.  He licks her shaved tummy and holds her  lovingly.  In just a  a couple days, Chibi appears to have matured and learned to show compassion.  In fact, he acts like  the mother cat.  We had to leave them both in Tehachapi like we always do.  It's good Kurokin has company.  Two is better than one. People and cats, we are all the same.

Kurokin - the feral cat that used to bark at us.
Now she lets us pat her on the back if she feels like it
and follows us around but always keeps a safe distant.

Happy 2012! Tehachapi Ranch

Posted on January 2, 2012 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (0)

It's nice to start the new year in Tehachapi with our routine morning walk.  Our neighbor, Michelle, stopped her truck to wish us a happy new year on her way to work.  "Your field is so nicely mowed, I see you decided to take a walk," she said. 

I love watching Ana dash through the field. You tell her to go and she shoots off like a bullet. She's really turned into a ranch dog.  She loves digging the mole holes, too. One day, we will plant something or bring in some farm animals but for now, we like this empty field.





Happy Holidays -Tehachapi

Posted on December 22, 2011 at 5:55 AM Comments comments (0)






Fall - Tehachapi ranch

Posted on October 26, 2011 at 4:10 AM Comments comments (1)


 

A male deer sits under the apricot tree of our backyard.  This is as close as I have seen a large wild animal make himself at home at our ranch in Tehachapi.

Grape Harvest - Tehachapi

Posted on October 10, 2011 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (1)


One of the things our new neighbors on Old Ranch Road pointed out when they stop their trucks and suvs to greet us was our grape vines.  "Your concords are very good," they all said. This was back in April when the vines had barely any fruit.  I counted close to fifty mature grape vines on the property.  I decided to water the thirsty looking vines periodically and give them some food to see what happens. Even though they had been neglected for sometime, maybe two years, they produced tons of fruit.   Sweet, juicy and fragrant fruit.  And I found out we not only had concords but also muscat grapes.  The birds and deer were trying to get to them before us but everyone got a fair share of the harvest.  


I picked the grapes right before leaving for Japan and took them back to Los Angeles to give to my friends.  The grapes contain seeds and their skin is on the thick side but they have darn good flavor. It's hard to go back to eating industrially grown grapes again.  The muscat is the sweetest of the bunch.  Look how fat the fruit is.  I wonder what will happen when we give the vines proper pruning.  




The grape vines are growing along the fence. There is a row of blackberries growing parallel to the grapes but they need some serious love and care to bring them back to health.  That will be my job.

Growing Buckwheat #3 - Tehachapi

Posted on October 9, 2011 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

The buckwheat farm is slowing coming together. We have no tools, except a few shovels. The patch of land has been plowed entirely by hand.  Man power can accomplish a lot.  Of course, I eventually want to get a tractor but I don't even know how to drive a lawn mower so we will see.

The weather is definitely getting cooler but I am going ahead and sowing the seeds to see which buckwheat grows best. I have never done any planting of this scale so I was intimidated by the sheer possibilities that this land offers but once you get started, it's all about making plans and putting them into action. 

The land is very hard and dry because it's never been irrigated before.  I have plenty of well water to irrigate the land.  With some water, it will get a nice makeover.  The rains helped loosen up the soil. It was a blessing.

I sent pictures to my advisor Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills.  He liked the look of the soil  

One small step in growing food, feels like one big leap in life.


Growing Buckwheat - #2 - Tehachapi

Posted on October 6, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)


Barren land in summer - weeds cut to prep for planting

I am in Tokyo for three weeks attending a film festival.  So I miised the sowing.  Sakai just e-mailed me today and said that the weather in Tehachapi took a drastic turn and winter has arrived. There is snow on the mountain peaks and temperatures at night are in the 40s. Ana, our dog is shivering. It has been raining there for two days straight.  I like the rainy part but the low temperatures are discouraging. My idea to plant three kinds of buckwheat has now been thwarted to one.  But that's okay.  This is a test.  Sakai asked me which of the three types of seeds to plant. I asked for Tartan. Let's hope that the moist ground will do good to the seeds.  I just need 75 days of warmer weather for the buckwheat to mature.  I am praying from Tokyo.


Growing buckwheat - Test #1

Posted on October 2, 2011 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (0)



I know little about growing buckwheat or farming for that matter, but it is an idea that frequents the minds of many soba makers.  Ever since I began making soba, I wanted to have access to fresh buckwheat because the most flavorful soba I've tasted in Japan has always been made with groats that have been freshly milled at the restaurant daily.  Buying the ranch in Tehachapi gave me a chance to pursue the idea of starting a small buckwheat farm.

When I first came toTehachapi, I read in the local paper, Tehachapi News, that the Kawaisu indians from the area used to gather food in the wild, including the seeds of native Tehachapi buckwheat. I thought I may be able to make soba with this native varietal and got rather excited about the idea. I started searching for more information on the net, asking people about this buckwheat and one day, a local grape farmer pointed to the hills and said, "it's those reddish plants that cover the hills."  They looked more like burnt sage than the buckwheat I am familiar with.  Even though this native varietal is edible, it had little in common with the buckwheat for making soba.  The buckwheat I was looking for belongs to the polyganaceae family.   


I've been visiting the buckwheat farms in East Washington, even as recently as a week ago, and learned that East Washington and Tehachapi have similar climates and grow common crops. Tehachapi is in the high dessert.  It has four distinct seasons. The farmers in Cummings Valley, Tehachapi where I live grows apples, melons, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes,  berries, cherries, apricots, lilacs, lavendar and peonies.  I am sure buckwheat has a good chance, even though noone I know is growing it yet.


I've been in touch with growers and millers like Glenn Roberts from Anson Mills  in North Carolian and Darrel Ottness - a buckwheat producer in East Washington - buckwheat capitol of the US where they grow sixty percent of the crop that is exported to Japan.  They have been generously guiding me in my endeavor as a layman farmer, and providing me the seeds I need for free!  Glenn says it is his mission to help  farmers like me. He is dedicated to restoreing heirloom grain varietals and researching ways to grow food for better flavor and higher nutritional value. Glenn and Darrel would both answer my questions patiently by e mail  -  my questions about deer, birds, gofers, PH level of the soil,  types of seeds, and how far to plant the buckwheat so they don't cross breed,  etc.  


When the hurricane hit North Carolina, Glenn didn't e mail me for awhile so I got worried about his farm. He e mailed me later and apologized for responding so late.     His wheat crop was damaged by the hurricane but then he was back on the farm frantically trying to replant before the cooler weather set in.  Farmers are a resilient bunch.


Then, there is Sakai who encouraged me to put my idea on paper and find someone who can help me prep the soil for planting.  He found me a Okinawan gardner.  He and his Nicaraguan wife came out to look at the land where I want to plant the buckwheat.  They looked at a few videos about buckwheat planting and said, they could help me. We talked for a long time about other things besides growing buckwheat - like Japan, the earthquake, sake, apples, well water, etc.  But after the hour visit, we finally got down to the buckwheat discussion, and made plans to do it this weekend.


Planting wise, October might be a little late but buckwheat only takes 75 days to grow, so I am hoping with that the weather will stay warm (it still gets in the mid-80s during the day) - optimum growing temperture is 64F. I need 10 weeks before the first frost.  I hope the frost comes late this years.  Maybe it's wishful thinking,  but this is a test. If the crop fails, I can plant again in the spring. I have to start somewhere.



I am keeping the buckwheat garnden small. They say that you need 1 square meters of buckwheat to produce 100 grams of buckwheat, which is about 1 serving.  I am using an area of 80'x80.  I am planting three types of buckwheat - Kitawase, Tartan and Botan.  


It's very exciting.  I am already thinking about purchasing a stone mill for grinding the fresh buckwheat groats to make buckwheat flour. I am going to Japan in October to look for a mill.  This buckwheat field is my field of dreams. 


Taming the Wild - Tehachapi

Posted on August 31, 2011 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Kurokin and Chibi

When we bought the ranch in Tehachapi, we found a black feral cat living under the mobil home.  The ranch had been bank owned for some time before we took over, so we wondered how this cat managed without any water or food.  But soon we learned that there is a creek near the property and there are plenty of field mice, and other edible creatures.  Still, the black cat was skin and bones, and limping when we found her. 

Having a cat on the ranch helps keep the mice population down, so we decided to keep the black cat.  We named it Kurokin which means black  and gold (for her golden eyes).  We put food and water out whenever we were at the ranch, and slowly, Kurokin began to make eye contact with us, and not hiss as much.  It's scary when she hisses with her nose. It sounds like a mean sneeze.

Three months went by, and one morning, Kurokin appeared with a little kitten.  We couldn't believe it. Maybe she had more but they didn't survive.  Kurokin is very protective of the kitten, which we named chibi for being little. Unlike her mother, chibi is not afraid of us but Kurokin keeps a close guard.  Kurokin is a good mother.  I don't know what she would have done, if she didn't have this baby.  We think the father cat was one that we found dead on Old Ranch Road, the first week I came. 

Sakai bought a cat bed at Costco to prepare the cats for the cooler weather, and sure enough, they love it. We also have to fix the heating system, which is under the house.  This means, the cats will have to find housing elsewhere soon.  Sakai is going to build a cat house for them.  

When chibi is old enough, I want to fix it.  I also want to fix Kurokin but she is not easy. My neighbor tried to catch Kurokin once but she escaped. I hope to succeed. I have to.  But I am going to wait till chibi is a little older.


Halibut Wrapped in Fresh Grape Leaves- Tehachapi

Posted on August 26, 2011 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)


When people hear that we bought a ranch in Tehachapi, the frequently asked question is "Do you have any cows or horses?" A typical ranch or a farm would have some farm animals, and maybe a pond with ducks, but what we have is a weedy field, an empty corral, a mobil home with a feral cat and her kitten, and an orchard that needs some serious pruning.  Where do you begin? That is the question.

View of the ranch from the orchard

I wanted to ask the Tehachapi Basque sherperds to bring their sheep for grazing our land.  But we missed the shepards by three days this year.  They move hundreds of sheep from one valley to another so you have to catch them while they are in your area. I have to call the shepard and book by January next year, and the idea of having farm animals will be something to think about after we finish building the studio and barn.  For the time being, if I want to see farm animals, there are plenty in Tehachapi, including Alpacas and Lamas, which are quite adorable.


The weeds will die when the cold weather sets in and beautiful wild flowers will bloom again in the spring. Patience is a good virtue.

The orchard

Apples

We have a double unit mobile home, so it's quite spacious. We just finished fixing the roof of the mobile home.  We had to evict a colony of bats but I plan to put a bat house nearby.  My neighbor Mike told me that it's good to have bats around because they eat mosquitoes, and some species pollinate fruit and seeds. I also learned that they are endangered because humans are taking away their habitat.

Sunset at the ranch

Besides the roof, we made a lot of repairs in August: the water system, the oven, and some of the broken windows. We ripped out the ugly purple carpet.  We still have the pink walls to deal with but that's nothing. Our son, Sakae, came to visit the ranch and helped us out for a few days.

Muscat  grapes 

In the morning, Sakae and I went for a walk down the country road. Sakae spotted a family of deer.  We went to the local Latin fusion restaurant, Don Juan so Sakae could get his Mexican fix before he goes back to Seattle.  In the evening, we barbecued the halibut, which I brought from LA.  I seasoned the fish with salt, pepper and olive oil and wrapped it in grape leaves from our land. It's a Greek tradition. I didn't have any capers so It's a wannabe Greek dish. I think this dish would look more impressive with whole fish wrapped in grape leaves but this one wasn't bad for a first try.  The grape leaves keep the meat moist and adds a hint of flavor. I served the fish with baked potato and a simple green salad.  I also barbecued some spareribs because I knew this wouldn't be enough for the boys.  

Blanched grape leaves.

Recipe for Grilled Halibut wrapped in Grape Leaves
Serves 2-3

1 pounds Halibut fillets, skinned, cut to make 4 pieces

Salt

Fresh-ground black pepper

8 large fresh grape leaves, blanched and dried, or brined grape leaves, drained and dried.

1 tablespoons cooking oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 cloves garlic, minced

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon capers, drained (optional)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or other herbs of your choice


Light the grill or heat the broiler. Season the fish with salt and pepper and baste it with olive oil. Overlap two or three of the grape leaves and put a piece of the fish in the middle.  Fold the leaves to envelope the entire fish, so all the meat is covered. Brush some of the olive oil over the packet to seal the leaves and keep them from sticking to the grill. Repeat with the remaining fish, grape leaves, and oil, making eight packets in all.

Grill or broil the fish packets, turning once, until just done, about 8 minutes in all for 3/4-inch-thick fillets.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the garlic, lemon zest, capers, lemon juice, parsley, and  salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the sauce over the grape-leaf packets.



Sculpture and Kids - Mohave Desert

Posted on August 24, 2011 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)





Green Apples - A Souvenir from Tehachapi

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (1)




Tehachapi is the land of four seasons. It is a good place to grow apples, lilacs, peonies, berries, grapes, etc.   Ha's Apple Farm is near us.  Some of you may be familiar with their apples from visiting the farmers markets in Los Angeles.  I met Mr. and Mrs. Ha for the first time at the Pasadena Farmers Market. I went up to introduce myself as their new neighbor in Tehachapi.  Some of the locals in Tehachapi think we are Mr. and Mrs. Ha. Not too many Asians live there. I don't mind being mistaken as one of the Has. They produce beautiful apples and pears.

The former owners of our ranch didn't get around to pruning our apple trees last year.  We have about six.  There is a lot of fruit on the trees but I don't expect them to get very big.  The deer have been coming into our property to check on the apples nearly everyday.  So they must think they are good. One branch of the tree broke off this morning. Sakai brought it back to Pasadena.  It had more than fifty small apples on it.  No wonder. They are still too tart, but maybe I can make applesauce or tart tatin with it.  It's going to be a lot of work to peel them but I can't wait to taste our first apples.

Summer of 2011 - Tehachapi

Posted on August 16, 2011 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (0)



Three happy kids at the ranch. 



Goat Day Afternoon -Tehachapi

Posted on August 10, 2011 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)





First Deer - Visitor on the Ranch

Posted on July 11, 2011 at 11:23 AM Comments comments (0)