Tulips to Treasure

I’m sending my mom tulips for Mother’s Day. She is at home in Baltimore and I live on the west coast in a small town that has a delightfully mild climate. Arcata, California is known for its giant coastal redwoods, the cool sea, lush grasses that feed our livestock most of the year and, surprisingly, flowers.

The Sun Valley Floral Farm out in the Arcata Bottoms is one of the largest growers of tulips in the country. That seems pretty impressive until you consider the fact that only 20% of cut flowers purchased in the U.S. are actually grown here. I am excited to be able to send home not only a local product, but a uniquely domestic one too. Feeling patriotic? Oh, wait – it’s not July yet. Send your mom an American Grown bouquet this year!


In my family, tulips have a special memory attached to them. When mom sees the big red tulip blossoms, I know they will remind her of my grandfather- her dad. Pop-pop served our country during WWII. After raising four kids and retiring, he and nan-nan started Rothwell Nursery- not for the profit in it, but for joy. Sharing the beauty of flowers was my grandfather’s passion.

Pop-pop planted so many places in Aberdeen, Maryland: funeral homes, on and off ramps, the Decoy Museum and the Ripken Museum too. I remember when I had just gotten my learners’ permit pop-pop let me drive him around town. We drove by median strips he had filled with dandelions and stopped at all of his plantings. I brought my film camera and took pictures of his work.  It was a special time where we shared our passions together. I made a book of the pictures and gave it to him. I will always remember that day; as he flipped through the pages of my creation and cried with joy.

His favorite flower was always tulips. When we visited the Ripken Museum he showed me two huge rectangular beds full of red tulips blooming. They were tightly planted and all the same height making a spectacular splash of color! I remember those plantings in particular filled him with great joy.

Upon visiting Sun Valley Farm, I found endless greenhouses full of the same. They so reminded me of pop-pop’s work that I just knew he was there smiling with me. Sun Valley grows their flowers not only on American soil, but in it as well (unlike the hydroponic tulips you get from Holland). It makes for a better quality cut flower. This way, mom has a few extra days to enjoy her bouquet.

crate bunch

My pop-pop had the most generous heart and that is the legacy he left us in each bulb that blooms year after year. My mother shares his open, giving approach to life. When she receives those tulips from me, I know she will remember.

Flowers have this inexplicable way of expressing the sweetness that we feel about someone. When we give a bunch, they carry a certain ‘I don’t know what’ quality that reflects the emotion we want to share. Chances are that your mom will be deeply moved by the gesture. Send her a token of your love & appreciation on Sunday and make sure they are American Grown.

Stand Out in the crowd


An Old Beef

It turns out that I have a lot to say about beef, and in this town can you blame me? We had a delivery to the meat department last week from Redwood Meat. The guy came in with boxes of trim for us to grind into hamburger. Instead of leaving the boxes in our walk-in like usual, he asked me for some lugs (50lb capacity plastic containers) and explained by saying, “I got hot meat!”

Now I’m not exactly sure what’s happening here, but at the same time, I think, well, I guess it’s pretty obvious what’s going on… I grab a handful of lugs from the cut room and re-enter the cooler. Our bulk department head steps in just then and asks the question on everyone’s mind, “What’s hot meat?”

“Well,” the guy says, pausing for a moment to look right at us, “it was walking around a few hours ago! Now, we had to get it to you and didn’t have the time to drop it in our freezer for a few hours like we normally do, so lets’ spread it out in these lugs and make sure it gets cool.” We put our heads down and our hands to work. The meat was warm and blubbery like Jello. There was a hum in the air, too.


This topic may be getting old, but that is appropriate because lastly, I want to talk about aged beef. I have an eye for meat; I’ve seen it at its best and I’ve seen it past due. Reading meat is pretty much a sixth sense of mine at this point. I trust my senses, and so do my customers.

When my experienced eye turns to beef, I am always salivating over the old brown piece. Can you believe it? Most customers find the oxidized steak distasteful compared to the bright red color of freshly sliced beef. However, there are a select few who know that the browner the beef, the better!


A well-aged steak’s flavor has appreciated considerably and it is going to be easier to digest. Beef is unique in that it resists invading bacteria that would break it down, so it doesn’t deteriorate like most meat. In fact, after a week in our case you can cut a browner steak to find that it is only brown on the outer 1/8th of an inch; the inside is red as can be.

Under the right conditions beef will age just the same as a fine wine or fancy cheese. As time goes by, you can detect a slight change in texture and when cut, the meat will look like it has a roughness to it like split ends, which is pretty much exactly what they are because the very grain of the meat is weakening. Aged beef is a preference that I see expressed amongst discerning customers and it is those folks that I am always happy to meat. Don’t be shy; give it a try!

Cow Breakdown

This is a quick tutorial on tackling a massive topic: cows. In this town they are all over, so you know they’re big! Most are also grass-fed and finished, like Clint Victorine’s Pacific Pastures and Eel River Organic Beef (a topic I covered in a previous post). Let’s look out on the pasture to see what the cows are bringing home.


You might think, it is too hard to learn all the parts of a thousand pound creature. In fact, you might be tempted to “graze” right over it, but trust me: this is simple! I will teach you a little bit about anatomy then you can match the part of the animal with the type of preparation it requires. When you visit the meat counter find out what general region each piece comes from. You can ask the butcher or Google it. Knowing some anatomy, you will be able to understand how to prepare it.

The closer a cut of beef is to the extremities of the animal (i.e. horns or hooves) the tougher it is going to be. Therefore the shoulders, rump and legs become tough because they are used frequently for hefting the cow as it grazes. Considering the size of a cow, that can be some serious grunt work!


Tender pieces hang out in the middle of a cow, between the front and back legs. That is where the prime cuts like Ribeye (pictured above) and Sirloin are found. For instance, the softest muscle in a cow is the Filet Mignon (aka tenderloin) which has the small task of supporting the quadruped’s spine (pictured below).


Equipped as you are, with a rough anatomy lesson, let’s begin to apply cooking techniques. I’m going to match up two basic heat applications with the two types of meat we just covered (tough v. tender).


Tough cuts, like this cow head want to be cooked “low and slow,” that means a long time at a low temperature. This process renders out fat so that the lean meat is juicy and falling apart. Oftentimes, this is achieved with an all-day barbeque or smoker that takes a lot of time but renders out the fat entirely so lean meat is literally falling off the bone. This technique is best applied to tough cuts like a shank (i.e. leg), ribs, shoulder or rump.

My favorite tough cut is the chuck, which comes from the shoulder. It is well marbled, which means a lot of those healthy grass-finished fats. As the fat is rendered into liquid stock it imparts flavor and moisture, while the lean meat pulls apart into a lovely shredded or “pulled” beef texture. It’s easy and foolproof. You can’t overcook a chuck and all the while you are developing a feel for how meat responds to heat. You can use a crock pot, the oven or even cover it on the stovetop.


First the meat contracts tightly. After some time though, the piece starts to relax again (now things are getting good.) Keep on cooking and you will find that pieces get easier and easier to pull apart. Before long they are falling off the bone and melting in your mouth! When finished, the fat has disappeared entirely and the only thing left is succulent strings of beef in a wonderful au jus. You can make stew, tacos/fajitas or just a big BBQ sandwich! Don’t forget the coleslaw.


On the flip side, tender steaks like a “hot/quick” treatment. They can be seared with a short, blistering dose of heat from the grill and served rare on the inside. It is always best to let the meat you are about to cook sit on the counter for a while and come to room temp. I also take this opportunity to apply a little Ted and Barneys, which is a seasoning that I use on every piece of meat that I cook (because it’s genius). Heat the pan and sear steaks for a minute or two on each side. Now, you can finish them in the broiler at four minutes a side. Finally, let them rest, covered on a cool plate for 5-15 minutes.

Once you’ve learned the concepts inherent in each method, you can mix and match those processes to effectively “freestyle” meat preparation with wonderful results! Searing a steak seals in its’ juices. Finishing that steak in a 200 degree oven for ten-twenty minutes (instead of a broiler for four) transitions you to a gentler “low and slow” approach. I especially recommend this option for pork chops, since they tend to dry out faster than beef. Once again, it is nice to “meat” you! Give these approaches a try and may the fat morsels be with you.