Amber Stott: Living la vida locavore
Sacramento locavore Amber Stott is documenting her life as a conscious consumer and her journey to eat as locally as she can with a food blog, Awake at the Whisk.
She said she likes to start each day, camera in hand, with a walk through the garden.
On a recent June morning, she snapped photos of plants in her backyard next to the American River.
Planter boxes were filled with watermelon, tomatillos, corn, squash, cucumbers, melons and peppers growing in various stages. She pushed aside leaves, peered under plants and squealed with joy when she found the first jalapeno of the season.
"With the garden, every single day there’s something new. That’s – for me – my favorite part of the day," she said.
"If I do it in the morning, I can get a sense of what’s out there and what needs to be picked,” said Stott, who worked most recently at a local nonprofit. “And I can start brainstorming throughout the day about what to cook with it."
She started the blog in 2008. She describes Awake at the Whisk as a lifestyle guide filled with tips and ideas she’s gleaned on her path through life. Her blog’s tagline sums it up: "Living la vida locavore."
Stott posts gardening tips, what’s in season, recipes, essays about life, and ideas on ways to protect the environment. She also does restaurant and book reviews and chef interviews.
She’s been gardening all her life and cooking nearly as long. Stott grew up tending a big garden with her parents in rural Savanna, Ill., near the town of Galena. Her aunt and uncle had a well-known bakery in nearby Iowa.
Stott started cooking, baking and canning with her mother as far back as she can remember. She said she’s loved to read and write all her life.
"My mom’s a librarian. I always had a book in my hand. So if I wasn’t in the yard or in the kitchen, I was reading," she said.
She majored in journalism in college but found the stories she wrote for the school newspaper bored her, until she got a chance to write features. She worked hard on an assignment to find the best coffee in her college town of Madison, Wis. – only to have most of her writing cut due to lack of space.
Devastated, she changed her major to literature, minored in women’s studies and went to work in the nonprofit sector after college. She did grant writing, press releases and website content.
“I just was too young for that kind of rejection,” she said.
She let her own writing go as life got busy. Four or five years ago, something inside her awakened when she read New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl’s book, "Garlic and Sapphires." Stott said before then she’d never thought about putting food together with writing.
She later learned Reichl had become a successful newspaper writer and author although she didn’t have a journalism degree.
"It was like permission for me to write about food," she said.
Stott said she’s been a locavore all her life. But there wasn’t a name for it when she was growing up. Now, people are beginning to set guidelines for what that means – but those guidelines don’t fit everyone, she said.
She said she realizes it’s impractical to get everything from your own garden or a farmers market, especially when you’re first starting off.
Stott recalled how little food she and husband Brendan, a geomorphologist who restores rivers and streams for a living, got from their garden the year she tried to grow everything from heirloom seeds. Heirlooms tend to be more disease-prone. Stott gardens organically and lost those plants to pests.
The couple bought a house on a quarter-acre so they could have a huge garden, with plenty of fruit trees, native flowering plants and beautiful nooks to hang out in.
"The most critical thing for me is to have space – nature – out my back door," she said.
Standing in her garden, Stott picked a few pungent leaves while pointing out herbs such as lemon grass, rosemary, orange bergamot mint and oregano growing thickly against the garage. Then she pulled stalks of rhubarb and took them to the kitchen.
Brendan built the main vegetable and herb garden. He handles the water system and composting and tends pollinator plants and fruit trees.
She plants and tends the garden, harvests and makes the food. Stott bakes and cooks using fresh, seasonal ingredients from her garden and local farms and ranches.
The couple’s lifestyle reflects their shared commitment to the earth and making the world a better place, she said.
Her blog catches it all: Stott writes about what’s going on in her garden, culinary experiences and other things she’s interested in related to living on a healthy planet, such as honey bee colony collapse disorder.
Inside her Caribbean lime green-colored kitchen, she quickly hacked leaves and stem bases off stalks of rhubarb with a utility knife. Stott then grabbed her Canon digital camera and snapped a few photos of the stalks.
Using a handwritten family recipe handed down by her grandmother, she began simmering rhubarb sauce on the stove to make rhubarb pinwheels, one of her favorite desserts.
She does both writing and photography for her blog. She doesn’t have a regular posting schedule, but said she tries to post once a week. She fits it in around work and other parts of her life.
Stott said she would like to increase the blog’s readership and write a book. She doesn’t have any ads on her blog, so she isn’t making money with it. She plans to spend the summer exploring ways to do more writing and transition to writing for a living.
The blog has become an adventure – just like her life, living la vida locavore.
"It nurtures me. I’ve discovered all these other things I’m good at," she said. "It’s just a celebration of the earth, but through food and through my life."
Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt.