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July 2, 2007

Beginning

In this blog I hope to venture in and out of the garden as I write about food, travel and, of course, my garden itself.

I love to cook and have years of experience as a completely self-taught, fully amateur cook for family and friends, or as I like to call them, the ever willing victims of my experiments. My cooking has been influenced by several trips to Italy, several stints with vegetarianism and an addiction to television cooking shows stemming back to my childhood when Julia Child’s “The French Chef” aired on the same station as Sesame Street.

I recently joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at Fairview Gardens. It is a simple but brilliant concept. Consumers pay upfront for a portion of the harvest. Each week I pick up an assortment of organic, freshly picked, seasonal fruits and vegetables. It varies each week and the surprise of it all has really influenced the way I cook and eat. I’m looking forward to sharing the recipes and ideas that the CSA experience has given me in this blog. And I encourage you to seek out the CSAs in your area and consider joining one.

As for my own little garden, it has felt a little neglected since I’m enjoying Fairview Garden tomatoes instead of planting my own this year. But my herb bed is thriving and the grapes are filling in the arbor, so it is still my favorite refuge and outdoor room. So, in or out of the garden, let the blog begin.

July 4, 2007

Raspberry Pie with Lavender Creme Anglaise

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For the 4th of July I decided to try making a raspberry pie. I wanted to do something with just fruit so that I could make some lavender creme Anglaise to go with it. This pie turned out to be exactly what I was hoping it would be. It's a light fruit tart with intense raspberry flavor but not too much sweetness. I served it with a little pool of the lavender creme Anglaise and that was exactly the sweetness and creaminess it needed to offset all that berry flavor. It turned out great, though I think next time I would use a little half and half in the creme Anglaise. I used only whole milk and it is a little on the thin side. But it is still delicious. And now for the recipe...

Continue reading "Raspberry Pie with Lavender Creme Anglaise" »

July 7, 2007

Peaches

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I got a wonderful supply of produce this week from Fairview Gardens where I am a member of their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. I have become quite the fan of these programs. Not only do they enable you to support your local, organic farmers, but you get the benefit of really tasty and fresh produce. I look forward each week to the email that tells us what they are expecting to harvest that week.

This week my share consisted of: arugula, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, basil, dill, mandarins, strawberries and lots of peaches. I’ve already used up the green beans and some of the strawberries, zucchini, arugula and basil. And today I have plans for the peaches. I think something simple like a Peach Crumble - basically pie without the crust. I really like an Alice Waters recipe for a Comice Pear Crisp and I think it can be modified just slightly to make a delicious Peach Crisp. Stay tuned for how it turns out.

July 13, 2007

Cooking with Diva

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The other night I got a wonderful opportunity to participate in a class taught at Cook It School. Their guest instructor was a woman I had long wanted to meet, Judy Witts Francini, the proprietress of Divina Cucina, a cooking school in Florence. Known as Diva on the Slow Travel Message Board, Judy is a wealth of knowledge about food and Florence (her home since 1984). Judy’s cooking emphasizes the importance of marketing — finding all the wonderful local, seasonal products that are the hallmark of her classic, Tuscan cooking. Nothing could be more compatible with my own style of cooking, so I was sure that this class would be just the thing to inspire me.

The evening’s menu featured a delicious summer dinner of Grilled, Marinated Eggplant, Almond, Artichoke and Olive Pesto on bread, Panzanella Salad, Fregola* with Clam and Zucchini Sauce, Pollo al Mattone, and for dessert we had a lovely Panna Cotta.

The class was held in a commercial kitchen with plenty of space to set up stations for people to participate in the cooking. But most of the time all eyes were on Judy. She has the kind of personality and style that would translate well to her own television show. Her warm, outgoing and enthusiastic nature is combined with a comfortable and capable expertise in the kitchen. She gave us some really interesting and simple tips.

For instance, it never before occurred to me to harvest the pollen of the wild fennel that grows here as a common roadside weed. But Judy did just that to add an extra note of flavor to the chicken. She said to pick the floweres when they're nice and yellow, then dry them (hang in a dry place or use the microwave). The little yellow grains of pollen have nice spicy anise smell to them. They both look and smell like summer.**

Judy also immersed herself in the Santa Barbara marketing scene - picking up fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market, cheese from C’est Cheese and fish from the Harbor. Before she even began cooking she discussed all the ingredients and the importance of finding quality ingredients for your cooking.

Continue reading "Cooking with Diva" »

July 14, 2007

A Day with Georgia

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I spent a lovely day with Georgia, the daughter of my dear friend. Georgia is almost five and, in fact, her birthday is one day after my own. I tried telling her that that made me one day older than she was, but I don't think she bought it. She's a very clever little girl, but she did learn about at least one thing during her day with me.

Ants on a Log
I don't have a lot of kid friendly recipes up my sleeve, so when I thought about what to make Georgia for lunch, I thought I would do at least one thing that was familiar — ants on a log. Hasn't everyone had this childhood favorite of celery with peanut butter inside the groove and topped with raisins? Well, apparently I was the lucky one to introduce this delicacy to Georgia. First I had her guess what the ingredients were. I told her about the peanut butter, she was able to guess the raisins, but the celery was something new to her. She liked the way it crunched and was actually quite happy to eat the celery by itself before I was able to add the other ingredients. But once she tried the completed dish, she was sold. She thought it was the best part of our lunch.

So, not that it really requires a recipe, but if you really want the technique, here goes:

Several ribs of celery, trimmed in 5 inch or so lengths
Peanut butter
Raisins

1. Fill the groove neatly with the peanut butter. Top with raisins set in a row. Serve.

I didn't get a good picture of the finished pieces, but you can see one on this shot of our lunch plate:

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The anticlimactic rest of the lunch consisted of a lovely chicken salad with red grapes and pecans served in a radicchio cup, as well as a colorful cabbage slaw of red cabbage, carrots, scallions, apple and sunflower seeds.

Dessert was a hit, though. We made fresh peach ice cream with some tiny Nutella panini along the side. While we ate dessert we watched Georgia's favorite movie, Barbie Mermaidia which, as Netflix describes, is "an enchanting undersea adventure in this animated follow-up to Fairytopia." So, I guess I learned quite a few things about fairies and little girls from my day spent with Georgia. And I'm looking forward to the next time I see her.

July 19, 2007

Fairview Gardens Produce

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Above is the produce that I picked up today at Fairview Gardens. This week we received a large head of lettuce, tomatoes, a cucumber, zucchini, green beans, basil, sage, plums, nectarines and lots of peaches. Everything is very freshly picked and ripe.

I'm not sure how all CSAs work, but at Fairview Gardens we pick up the produce at the farm itself and it's self serve. When you walk up you give your name and they check you off the list. You can sign up for either a full share or a half share. I have the half share and so far it has been just the right amount for me and my husband. All the produce is set up on long tables, and they put up a couple of boards with the produce and the amount you are to take. There are bags and scales. It's really pretty easy and everyone is friendly and helpful. If there is something that you don't want that week, you can put it on the free table. And if there's anything there that someone else left, you are welcome to take it.

I also like the fact that the regular produce stand is adjacent to the pickup area, so if you want to buy any additional produce, it's convenient (and 10% off for CSA members). This is my first year as a member of the Fairview Gardens CSA, and so far it has been a great experience.

August 5, 2007

Collecting Old Cookbooks

books.jpgI collect old cookbooks. I have somewhere between 70 and 80 and they are mostly from the 1940s and earlier. One of these days I really should round them all up (they are divided up between three bookcases) and document each one and put them in a spreadsheet or something really efficient like that. But in the meantime (and it could be a very long time), I do like to browse through them every so often.

It started when I was in college. After taking a class on films of the 1940s, I became interested in the role of women during World War II and what everyday life was like for them. When I came across a cookbook from the 40s in a used book store, it occurred to me that this was just the perfect glimpse into what life was like. How people cook, what they eat, how they entertain and serve their meals are all critical facets of people’s lives. So, I bought a book here or there when I came across them. Once I started looking, I realized that the ones from the 30s and even earlier were just as fascinating, so the scope of the collection grew.

I love the design of some of the books — the classic typography, the funny little illustrations or the antique looking photographs. I especially like the chatty tone that some of them have when they are giving household tips or entertaining tips. The household tips might be something along the lines of how to use an electric ice box — the types of foods that should or should not be put in one. The entertaining tips might be how to serve a dinner with just one maid, or even with no maid at all!

Continue reading "Collecting Old Cookbooks" »

August 9, 2007

Produce Pickup Day

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Above is the produce that I picked up today at Fairview Gardens. This week we received a large head of lettuce, basil, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, green beans, edamame, potatoes, carrots, 2 melons and some plums. The edamame and the cherry tomatoes were new this week. Tonight for dinner I roasted a couple potatoes and some green beans with just some olive oil, salt and pepper.

I think I may use the cherry tomatoes for a pasta sauce this week. I've been reading a number of recipes for cherry tomato sauces — some for roasting the cherry tomatoes and some for sauteing the cherry tomatoes. They all sound good, so I guess I'll have to just pick a technique and hope that we get cherry tomatoes next week, so I can continue to experiment.

I won't even need a recipe for the edamame — just boil for a few minutes and then sprinkle with coarse salt and serve them as they do in the Japanese restaurants. Now, if we start getting edamame every week, then I'll branch out and start looking for some things to do with them. As much as I love green beans, I've had them for quite a few weeks in a row. I am getting bored, bored, bored. And I don't think you can sneak them into cake batter the way you can with zucchini. So, I am in search of new and interesting things to do with green beans. I may have to resort to pickling. I may have to resort to using a recipe of Emeril's. He has a Lemon Rosemary Pickled Green Bean recipe, that he uses for his Bloody Mary recipe, that looks pretty amazing. I am tempted.

August 11, 2007

A Little Dinner Party

I had a little dinner party last night and when I say little I mean there were just three of us — my two neighbors (Harriet and Alan) and me. These two neighbors of mine are really quite a bit more than neighbors. They are dear friends and we count on them for so many things, including the sharing of many meals. Last night was one of those spontaneous dinners. I had all my lovely produce from Fairview and my husband was out of town, so I asked Harriet if they would come over and help me eat some of it. I have to say that it was Harriet who did most of the work. She picked up some delicious proscitto from C'est Cheese and we used that to make a very simple and rustic starter of Prosciutto e Melone.

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She also made the gorgeous rustic pasta, which we tossed with some yellow cherry tomatoes that had been lightly sauteed in a little olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes, and we sprinkled a little grated Parmesan over the whole works. Harriet also made a variation on one of her signature dishes. She topped a slice of mozzarella with a slice of tomato spread with a little of her delicious homemade pesto. These are simply put on a baking sheet and broiled for a few minutes. Sometimes she puts this on top of a slice of bread, but in this case we had it without. Absolutely delicious. And for our protein, I made the wonderful chicken dish (Pollo al Mattone) that I learned from Judy at the cooking class that I went to in July (see blog entry).

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It was a delicious combination of flavors and a wonderful meal. The wine we had with dinner was a 2005 Montepulciano d' Abruzzo by Pirovano that was extremely good. For dessert I took the easy route and served chocolate ice cream "affogato" — drowned with a shot of espresso. By this time we were having so much fun that I forgot to take a picture of dessert. So, I guess the only thing nicer than the meal was the conversation and company of my dear friends.

August 16, 2007

Another August Produce Pickup

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Here's the latest batch of produce that I picked up from Fairview Gardens. It included: lettuce, collard greens, basil, cilantro, 4 ears of corn, carrots, a cucumber, yellow cherry tomatoes, lemons, 2 melons and a watermelon. I felt I really had to post another photo of my CSA produce after seeing Kim's porn CSA veggies. And it was thanks to Kim that I got interested in joining a CSA... little did I know what her CSA was like!

Anyway, it is the first corn and the first watermelon that we have received this season. I already have a watermelon salad that is tried and true. So, now I'll have to look around for a corn chowder recipe.

August 18, 2007

Flowers from the Farmer's Market

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Our houseguest bought us this beautiful bouquet of flowers at the Farmer's Market. We were there this morning picking up a few things for tonight. I'm planning a veggie feast. I've already made the soup - Yukon Gold Potato, Yellow Squash and Corn Soup. Now I'm going to head into the kitchen and start on dessert - something with peaches and raspberries. Stay tuned.

September 3, 2007

Dinner Group

Last night was my first time hosting our dinner group. About a year ago our dinner group formed with a total of 4 couples and the idea that we would each host a dinner once a year. So each quarter we get together for big feast. The host picks a theme and does the main course, the other couples rotate between bringing appetizer, dessert and cheese course. It works amazingly well.

So, for my turn I picked a Tuscan theme and did ravioli in a sage butter sauce for the first course and Judy’s Pollo al Mattone for the second course along with spinaci and white beans. One couple brought a beautiful plate of appetizers (including an amazing thing with figs that had me begging for the recipe). Another couple brought a gorgeous fig tart for dessert and another couple brought the cheese platter (complete with little banners and detailed descriptions of the cheeses!). The thing is, we had such a good time eating and socializing that we pretty much failed in the act taking any pictures of the food.

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I did manage this photo as I was setting the table that somewhat shows the mannikins I used as place cards. The mannikins had little photos of each guest taped to the face, and they held a little candy box. People enjoyed putting the mannikins in various poses throughout the night, and the fun and conversation went well past midnight.

September 5, 2007

Eating Locally

I was just reading an interesting blog called The One Block Diet. Sunset Magazine has embraced the local food movement with an experiment to grow and raise everything they need for a big feast. They have teams of people in five areas: beer, chicken, garden, olive and wine and the blog tracks their progress and their learning curve.

It does remind me that every year about this time I start looking at the olive trees growing at the end of the driveway and I think about picking and curing olives. I have tried before, but I have not had much success. Some years there aren't many olives. One year when there was a big crop, I put them in a brine solution. Unfortunately they didn't stay submerged, and I ended up with a moldy mess. But maybe this year will be different. I will keep an eye on the olives. I seem to remember that they are ripe in late October, early November so I have plenty of time to research curing methods.

I became really interested in eating more of my food from local sources after reading Michael Pollan's The Ominovore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. For years I've loved going to our Farmer's Markets, but I found that it was sometimes too easy to skip going. I realized that my diet relied far too much on grocery store produce and unseasonal foods. So this year I joined a CSA, and I haven't looked back. I still enjoy going to the Farmer's Market, but now I have a guarenteed batch of local, seasonal produce every Thursday afternoon. The variety and quality have been good, and I enjoy the fact that I don't really know what I'm going to get that week until I pick it up. The element of surprise is a nice thing.

As for really eating locally and growing my own food, I'm not really set up to do it at this point. I do have a small number of edibles in my garden: grapes, a plum tree, 2 orange trees, 1 dwarf blood orange tree, a tangerine tree, a lemon tree and some peppers. But none of these produce a large crop. I just enjoy even the small amount they are willing to give me. The trees would probably benefit from more water and fertizer than I currently give them. So someday when I have more time for the garden, I would like to have a lime tree and perhaps an avocado tree and a small plot of seasonal vegetables. Of course I would also have to find room for them.

In the meantime I have a number of perennial herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon balm, oregano, chives, winter savory, curry plant, lavendar, and bay. They all are relatively care free. I usually plant at least parsley and basil each season. And so, for now I am happy with my small amount of local produce.

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A shot of the curry plant with citrus in the background.

October 25, 2007

Slow Travel Get Together in Palm Desert

Last weekend we attended a most amazing gathering of people from Slow Travel. It was hosted by Palma and Brad in their beautiful home in Palm Desert. And I have to digress for just a moment and say how much I love the name Palma and the fact that this particular Palma lives in Palm Desert. Palma is also an exceptional cook, a master of entertaining and her love of Italy and all things Italian shows in everything that she does. So, this was a get together that was not to be missed.

We started at about 4:00 on a quite warm afternoon and I don't think we left until 1:30 am or so. What on earth did we do that whole time? Well, eating accounted for a lot of it. Talking was almost continuous and laughter was the glue that held it all together.

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After lavish appetizers, we had a leisurely three course sit down dinner and later we had dessert. Every bit of food was delicious and I still cannot get over how amazing those chocolate dipped homemade caramels sprinkled with sea salt were.

And lest you think it was all about eating, let me reassure you that there was quite a bit more going on. Palma performed for us by singing her own words to classic songs, and she was backed up by a group of "slow chicks" adorned with feather boas. There was also a clever "show and tell" game where people brought something Italian in a bag. One of the favorites was Grappa in a Spray Bottle!

But by and large the main purpose of the event was for us to meet old and new friends, so the non-stop talking and laughter was ample evidence that the party was a roaring success. My thanks to Palma and Brad for giving so generously of their time, their hospitality and their friendship.

For more perspectives on the get together, check out Palma's blog, Jerry's blog, Sandi's blog and the Slow Travel Photo Album (that has over 180 photo from the event!). Video footage may be coming soon, I'll keep you posted.

October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

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My Halloween treat to myself is that I just signed up with a group called Plow to Porch Organics to have local, organic produce delivered right to my door each week. Ever since the season ended with the CSA that I joined this year (Fairview Gardens), I have been missing a regular supply of good produce. Plow to Porch sounded like just the right solution — and they even deliver!

So today I got my first box of produce, pictured above. It contained: 1 bag of Shepherds salad mix, 2 Granny Smith apples, 1 lb Pixie tangerines, 1 basket of cherry tomatoes, 1 grapefruit, about 7 tiny Persian cucumbers, 1/2 lb green beans, 1 bunch of carrots and 1 head garlic. A perfectly nice assortment of produce, but I have to confess that I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t a pumpkin. It being Halloween and all.

I will console myself with my favorite carrot soup, which is, at least, the appropriate color. I may even get crazy and garnish it this time with some chopped black Kalamata olives. Recipe follows.

Continue reading "Happy Halloween" »

November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving Countdown

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Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. I am incredibly fortunate to be spending another Thanksgiving with my dear friends, who happen to live next door. There is really nothing like being able to walk to your holiday celebration. It will be a huge feast with fantastic food and lots of friends. We’ll have a couple friends and my brother-in-law staying with us for a few days, so it is about time for me to start getting ready. And since I’m not hosting the big event, I feel compelled to bring plenty of side dishes and desserts, which I'm going to share with all of you in the next few days.

One side dish that my hostess specifically asked for was a Jalapeno Creamed Spinach that I brought last year. This is really a perfect extra side dish for Thanksgiving because it’s green and it’s spicy—a marked contrast to everything else on the table.

The first time I had something like this was at a dinner party over a decade ago with some co-workers. One of the women I worked with (named Laurie) was a really terrific cook, and she was from New Orleans. She made a spicy creamed spinach dish that everyone went crazy over. I always meant to ask her for the recipe, but before I knew it she left the company and went back to New Orleans.

Then I came across a recipe from another Laurie—one of my favorite food writers, Laurie Colwin. It was in her book Home Cooking and it looked very similar to the other Laurie’s recipe. The flavors sounded right, but the ingredients seemed all wrong—evaporated milk, canned jalapenos and frozen spinach. So I had to come up with my own version, which I am now quite happy with.

So, back by popular demand, I give you:

Jalapeño Creamed Spinach

8 cups fresh spinach
1/2 small onion, diced (optional, I’ve left it out for onion hating friends)
1 clove garlic, minced
a couple tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup grated jalepeño jack cheese
a small handful of bread crumbs

1. Steam or saute the spinach. Chop it coarsely and press it to get as much liquid out as possible.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion (if using) and garlic and then the flour. Whisk the flour into the butter and cook a little, but do not brown. Slowly add the milk, stirring until slightly thickened. Gradually add the cheese, a little at a time, while stirring, and cook just until smooth and melted. Add the spinach and mix to combine thoroughly. Add some salt and a little pepper to taste.

3. Place in a casserole and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 300°, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Apple Endive Salad

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Next in my series of Thanksgiving countdown recipes is an Apple Endive Salad. Salad isn’t usually a big hit on the Thanksgiving table. In fact when I was growing up, the only salad you’d see at Thanksgiving was a nasty lime green jello salad with completely unidentifiable things floating in it. I realize that some people have fond childhood memories of certain holiday foods, but for the life of me, I do not understand the appeal of a jello salad. Why is it even called a salad? Bits of canned fruit and possibly mini marshmallows wrapped up in a mass of green jiggly goo are considered a salad? Now, I’m sure some fabulously famous chef will someday reinterpret the jello salad and it will become wildly popular. But until that day, I offer you another option for your Thanksgiving table.

This Apple Endive Salad is beautiful, tasty and easy, and because it doesn’t have greens, it can be dressed and left to sit on the buffet table without turning into a wilted mess. (I think there are some people who wish they had all these attributes!)

Apple Endive Salad

2 tart apples (Jonagolds, Macintosh or your favorite local apples)
Juice of half a lemon
7 Belgian endives
2 stalks of celery
1/2 walnuts (or pecans or your favorite nut)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Core and dice the apples, squeeze some lemon juice over them to keep them from turning brown while you prepare the rest of the salad. Trim the bottoms off the endive and reserve enough of the outer leaves to put in a ring around the platter you are going to serve the salad on. The slice the endive into rings. Dice the celery.

2. Toast the walnuts or other nuts on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven for about 3 minutes, or just until lightly brown. Chop them coarsely.

3. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. In a large bowl, combine the apples, chopped endive, celery and walnuts and toss with the dressing. Put the salad in the middle of a platter with the reserved outer leaves of the endive ringing the rim, with their tips pointing to the outside. If you like, you can get creative and alternate red endive with the pale green endive.

Serves plenty as part of a holiday buffet.

November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Roasted Green Beans, Potatoes and Fennel

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Mashed potatoes are such a traditional part of the Thanksgiving menu, that I doubt anyone thinks about adding roasted potatoes to the meal. But I have a dish that combines potatoes with fennel and green beans, so it seems more like a vegetable side dish than a starchy one. The trick to making it tasty is lots of good olive oil, salt and pepper. There really aren’t many ingredients, which makes it incredibly easy to prepare. But you do have to seek out good quality ingredients. It is worth it. You end up with a side dish that is really delicious, and yet so guilt-free that you might be able to talk yourself into having an extra helping of dessert.

Roasted Green Beans, Potatoes and Fennel

2 pounds of small Yukon Gold or red potatoes
2 large bulbs of fennel
1 1/2 to 2 pounds green beans
1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil
Good coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Thinly slice the potatoes. Cut the tops off the fennel and discard or use as garnish. Thinly slice the fennel bulb. Trim the ends off the green beans.

3. Combine just the potatoes and fennel in a large bowl with the oil and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and then spread them out on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes.

4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and add the green beans. Toss to coat the beans with the oil and seasoning. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden brown. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Serves plenty as part of a holiday buffet.

November 20, 2007

Santa Barbara Farmer's Market

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Even though I love the Plow to Porch produce deliveries that I’ve been getting, there is nothing like a visit to the downtown Farmer’s Market on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. You go for all the great organic produce, but it always ends up being an interesting experience as well.

I loaded up on some beautiful apples for my apple pie, I decided on a half and half mixture of Granny Smith and Pink Lady. I also got celery, fennel, green beans, baby Yukon potatoes, walnuts and, of course, some fresh flowers.

turkey.jpgAs I was strolling down State Street, I noticed this amazing turkey strutting about. My first thought was that someone was selling fresh heritage turkeys! But no, this was someone’s pet and he was a show turkey, definitely not for eating. His owner brought him to the Farmer’s Market to get attention for a California ballot initiate that they were collecting signatures for, one that I was most interested in signing. Californians for Humane Farms is working on collecting 650,000 signatures to place a measure on the California ballot called the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. The act provides simply the most basic protection to farm animals: allowing them to turn around and extend their limbs. It’s aimed at preventing the three most inhumane practices of factory farms, namely veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates. It seems to me that the initiative could go a little further, but I guess they have to start somewhere. All three of these practices have already been legislated against in the European Union.

So, I got my produce, I got my flowers and I got an education about factory farming practices. I am ready for Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipe: Caramel Apple Pie

This is a very rich and extremely delicious apple pie—a perfect holiday treat. I once entered it in a company picnic pie contest and it took first place! I think part of the appeal is the streusel topping. There is something about those sort of crumble toppings that people just love. And how can you go wrong with the combination of caramel and apples? The only drawback to this pie is that it takes a bit of time to make. You are best off dividing the work over the course of two days. Make the streusel topping and the pie crust the day before. Then the following day make the filling and finish the pie. Don't worry, the effort is worth it.

Caramel Apple Pie

For streusel:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 each teaspoon of clove and ginger OR 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

One round of chilled pie pastry for bottom crust only

For filling:
3 pounds apples (about 8), peeled, cored, cut into chunks (use a tart apple that holds up when cooked, such as Jonagolds or Granny Smiths)
1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Plus more caramel for drizzling on top (optional)

---------------------------

Make streusel:
Mix flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in medium bowl to blend. Rub in butter with fingertips until mixture forms pea-size clumps. (Dough and streusel can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate streusel. Keep dough chilled. Let dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Roll out dough on floured work surface to 14-inch round. Transfer to 9 1/2-inch-diameter ceramic deep pie dish. Crimp edges decoratively and refrigerate until needed.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F.

Make filling:
Combine apple wedges and 1/4 cup flour in 2 medium sized bowls lined in foil (the foil is just for easier clean-up, the caramel turns rock hard when it cools). Toss the apples to coat. Let stand while preparing caramel.

Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy large saucepan (unlined copper is great for this) over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil syrup just until it turns amber colored, brushing pan sides with a wet pastry brush and swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes or maybe longer, depending on the amount of heat and the pan you are using. You need to keep an eye on it—stop when it turns a nice amber color, do not overcook. Remove from heat. Add butter and 2 tablespoons cream (watch out, the mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir until smooth.

Pour caramel over the apples in each of the two bowls as equally as possible; toss to coat. Let stand until apples release juices, tossing occasionally, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile put water in the pot that you used for the caramel and bring to a boil, otherwise it will be impossible to clean.

Spoon apple mixture into prepared crust. Sprinkle streusel over pie.

Bake pie until apples are tender and streusel is golden, covering crust edge with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool at least 1 hour. If you like you can drizzle with some additional caramel sauce. Serve pie warm or at room temperature, with or without vanilla ice cream.

Serves about 10.

December 6, 2007

Holiday Time!

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This incredible gingerbread Santa and his sleigh was given to me by one our sales reps. Isn’t it amazing? He does these sort of lavish gingerbread creations every year, and this year I was one of the lucky recipients. I think it is just what I needed to get into the holiday spirit. Now it's time to start thinking about my own holiday cooking and baking.

December 26, 2007

Christmas Wrap Up

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The presents were wrapped and unwrapped, and my cat Peeka was intrigued by either the presents or her reflection in the mirror. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and that you are continuing to enjoy the holiday season.

We had a wonderful dinner out on Christmas Eve at Bucatini. This is one my favorite restaurants in Santa Barbara. We started off with their Cozze alla Marinara and their Warm Seafood Salad and then I had one of their specials, the monkfish served with a Puttanesca sauce, roasted potatoes and spinaci with roasted garlic. Delicious!

We skipped dessert because I had a cookie platter at home. First I had some cookies already made and just waiting to be baked in the refrigerator. These were a variation on the Apricot Crescent Cookies (I updated that entry with new photos). This time I elevated them quite a bit by using homemade fig jam sent to me by this slow travel friend. They were amazing. In fact, they may need to be permanently renamed Fig Crescent Cookies.

I also had on hand a cookie platter with toffee and molasses spice cookies made by my friend Trish and Bacon Chocolate Chip cookies made by my neighbor, Alan.

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They were all excellent, especially with a Pinot Noir from J. Wilkes. In fact the wine was so good that we decided to have it again the next night with Christmas Dinner... which will be the topic of the next entry.

The Feast

We feasted well this year on Christmas Day. We had one of those nice, long, leisurely meals filled with delicious flavors, great conversation and plenty of laughter. My neighbor and I collaborated on the meal and planning it was just as fun as actually making and eating it. We decided on only four courses:

A Trio of Seafood Starters: Scallops in an Orange Sauce, Shrimp with Tropical Salsa and Crab Cakes with Aioli Sauce

Ravioli and Tortellini in a Citrus Cream Sauce

Turkey Breast Stuffed with Chestnuts, Rosemary and Pears
Braised Red Cabbage
Roasted Green Beans

Chocolate Brownie Cake with Homemade Honey Ice Cream

Harriet made the outstanding seafood trio as well as the delicious pasta. I made the main course dishes and the dessert. It all went together beautifully.

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December 29, 2007

Winter Farmer's Market

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I went to the Farmer's Market this morning to see what could be had in Santa Barbara in the depths of winter. The market was a bit more empty and the selection definitely sparse compared to the rest of the year. The fall produce is on the way out, though I did still see some peppers and a few butternut squash. And the spring produce is not ready yet, though there were a few sightings of strawberries and sugar snap peas. Also, there was less in the way of certified organic produce than I am used to seeing.

But as you can see from the photo above, I did manage to find enough to fill my basket. And the whole lot only cost about $18. Most of it was from certified organic growers, though the tangerines and the potatoes were merely pesticide free and the Brussels sprouts were conventionally grown. Here is the itemized list:

4 Pink Lady apples
6 Pixie tangerines
2 tomatoes
1 small bunch of Italian parsley
1 small bunch arugula
1 bunch of green onions
2 small heads of broccoli
1 small bag of mixed lettuce greens
3 small russet potatoes
1 bag of Brussels sprouts

January 19, 2008

Broccoli Romanesco

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I bought this unusual variety of broccoli at the farmer's market this week. Broccoli Romanesco looks like a cross between a cauliflower and a broccoli that has been painted bright chartreuse green and shaped into a cluster of conical fractal shapes. Technically it's a Brassica oleracea in the Botrytis group which includes cauliflower and broccoflower (Broccoli is in a different group of Brassica oleracea, so perhaps the name should have been Cauliflower Romanesco).

In any case I think this Romanesco is actually centerpiece gorgeous, and if it didn't taste so good that's what I'd do with it. But I bought a head last week and sauteed it with some garlic and tossed with pasta and a light cream sauce, and now there's no turning back. The taste is more similar to cauliflower than to broccoli (another reason for a name change), but it has a nuttier and more subtle flavor than cauliflower. It's delicious.

It's probably difficult to find outside of farm stands and farmer's markets. You don't find many recipes specifically calling for it in cookbooks either. Luckily you can treat it pretty much the same way you'd treat broccoli or cauliflower. Feel free to substitute it in any recipe for broccoli or cauliflower. The florets are not separate the way they are in heads of broccoli, so you'll need to cut it up the way you would a head of cauliflower or try steaming it whole.

Like any member of the cabbage family, it pairs well with robust flavors like garlic and Parmesan cheese. I haven't tried making a soup out of it yet, but I think it would be both pretty and delicious as a pureed soup with some reserved tips as garnish.

My hope is that it will become more popular and readily available because I want you all to try it.

February 2, 2008

Paso Robles Winetasting

I am heading to Paso Robles this weekend for the second annual Slow Travel get together, affectionately known as the Slow Bowl, since it’s held on Super Bowl weekend. But the purpose of the get together is primarily for wine tasting, with food consumption a close second. We'll be visiting Castoro Cellars and Tablas Creek Vineyard and perhaps another winery if we have the time. There is also a group dinner and a brunch at Artisan.

I had planned to make a cake as my contribution to the group dinner, but had to make a last minute substitution. Instead I made some delicious Lemony Semolina Cookies from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma. This is one of my new favorite cookbooks and although this was the first recipe I made from it, it won't be my last. I love the photos in the book and the really thorough descriptions of Italian ingredients and baking tips. One reason I thought I'd start by trying her Lemony Semolina Cookies is that I had read about them on Kim's blog. Now, I have to admit that I did make mine a bit on the large size. I realized after I made the first batch that I should have been making them smaller, but by then I figured I might as well make them all the same size. So, my dough made 4 dozen instead of 5, and my cookies are a bit bigger and more dome shaped. The picture on Kim's blog shows them how they are supposed to look. And since Kim will also be at the Paso Robles get together, I can have her taste one of my cookies and see if the flavor is at least the same. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at our big slow party!

February 5, 2008

I've Always Loved Chocolate Cakes

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I was going through some old photos tonight, and I believe I now have evidence that I've always loved chocolate cakes — or at least as far back as age four. I was really looking for a photo of the house I grew up in. This photo was taken when we lived in a house on Archer Street from the time I was about three and half until I was seven. Turning four was the first birthday I remember. Really, it's one of my first vivid memories in general. I remember the chocolate cake, and I remember that I had a doll that had a matching dress to the dress that I wore.

It was one of those simple family parties at home with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins that I don't think any one ever does anymore. It's a little hard to tell without their heads, but behind me is, I believe, my aunt in the blue and white and my grandmother in the orange. To the side of me is my cousin Randy, who I am certain is anxiously awaiting the moment when the candles are blown out because he wants to lick the frosting off the bottom of at least one of the candles. I am sure that I would have claimed at least one of those candles, too. Because, you see, I've always loved chocolate cakes.

February 8, 2008

Five Favorite Foods

Inspired by Ed Levine's New York Eats blog entry...

If I had to pick just five favorite foods to wind up with me when I was stranded on a deserted island, I wonder what they would be...

ChocolateBar.jpg1. Chocolate. I’m afraid I wouldn’t last long on Survivor without a ready supply of chocolate in some form or other. I love hot chocolate, chocolate truffles, brownies, chocolate mousse and all sorts of other chocolate creations. Oh, and I’m quite happy to just nibble on a nice dark chocolate bar.

2. Bread. There is really nothing like a really delicious, crusty loaf of bread. You can eat it straight, toast it, spread with all sorts of things, make sandwiches, crostini and bruschetta out of it, put it into soups (think French onion soup and ribollita), and when it it’s finally too stale to do anything else with it, grind it up in your food processor for bread crumbs.

3. Pasta. I’d really like to pick all of Italian regional cooking as one of my choices, but that doesn’t seem fair, so I’ll pick one of my favorite elements of Italian cooking, the ubiquitous pasta. There are only about a zillion different pasta dishes, so I’m probably still cheating, but who could choose only one type of pasta? Probably one of my favorite types of pasta is ravioli filled with butternut squash or pumpkin with a sage butter sauce. Yeah, I could live on that.

4. Ginger. Beyond simply having a wonderful flavor, ginger is medicinal. Ginger has been used for stomach upsets, motion sickness, circulation problems and the common cold. Ginger tea is one of my favorite beverages. I love desserts with ginger: gingerbread, candied ginger (especially dipped into chocolate), gingersnaps. And then ginger has that whole culinary side to it, flavoring savory dishes such as carrot soup, curries and all sorts of Asian dishes.

5. Gelato. Like the perfect finish to a meal, I’m going to have to finish my list off with gelato. I don’t have a favorite flavor. It’s usually the last one that I ordered. But I have to say that a dish of vanilla or cream gelato topped with a shot of espresso is pretty near perfection. The Italians call it “affogato,” which means “drowned.” And for me it’s the perfect marriage of coffee and dessert.

I am sure this list is completely unrealistic as a list of survival foods. I mean, how would I make a lovely curry dinner with just ginger alone? Perhaps my island is well stocked with vegetables, rice paddies and some wild chickens running about. Oh, and it would be nice to have a kitchen stocked with all the other ingredients needed to compliment my favorite foods, sort of like the pantry on Top Chef. Let's hope so.

February 11, 2008

Food and Books

Food and books are two of my pet subjects. Deborah just reminded me about one of my favorite books about food (by the way, you might want to click her link and check out the blog entry that she has on David's Duck Fat Fried Mac & Cheese - it has to be seen to be believed). Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver is one of those books that makes you want to change your life or, at the very least, the way you eat. If you're familiar with Kingsolver's novels (like the wonderful Poisonwood Bible), you'll find this nonfiction work an interesting change of pace for her.

AnimalVegetableBook.jpgFirst of all it's a collaboration with her husband and their 19-year-old daughter. The book chronicles their move to rural Virginia and their determination to eat locally for a year:

“This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew... and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

The book is an interesting mix of narrative mixed with factual sidebars and personal essays. The fact that it even has recipes means that I'm keeping it on my cookbook shelf. You may find that you already know much of the information presented in it about the food industry (especially if you've read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma). But what's interesting about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the way the information is woven into their year long story.

I actually started reading the book last year shortly after joining the Fairview Gardens CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Reading the book was a wonderful way for me to really embrace the idea of eating locally. I can't quite see myself committing to a whole year of eating nothing but local food, but I do find myself looking for more and more ways to move my diet in that direction. Now, if I could just find a source for local ducks, I could try that Mac & Cheese recipe...

February 12, 2008

Lotus Flower

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The lotus flower is one of my favorite flowers. I've always been drawn to water gardens and, although I don't have a big enough pond to grow my own lotus, I do so appreciate them. Luckily I live in fairly close proximity to the Mecca of lotus gardens — Lotusland — where I took this photo.

The lotus is a member of same family that brings us water lilies, but it is its own genus called Nelumbo. I think Nelumbo has a far nicer sound to it than lotus, which sounds too much like locust to be a pretty name. But the flowers are beautiful and the huge circular leaves are dramatic. If beauty isn't enough, the flowers are also sacred to certain religions, and the roots, seeds and leaves are edible. I've never actually cooked with lotus root. I'm not sure where I would even find fresh lotus root, but I have seen it in cans. It would be interesting to try it out in a soup or salad. Now how is it that I started off writing about a flower and somehow I have ended with cooking? The garden and the kitchen are never too far apart.

February 16, 2008

February Farmers Market

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I went to the Santa Barbara Farmers Market this morning and thought I would take a few photos to document my trip. My husband took the photo of me above buying some radishes at the Fairview Gardens stand.

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Strolling the Aisles

The Saturday market is the biggest of the weekly markets. It is held in a city parking lot and has 4 of these main aisles, plus the side aisles. It's easy to shop because you can circle back around quickly, unlike the Tuesday market on State Street which is one big line of stalls. There are more photos in the extended entry.

Continue reading "February Farmers Market" »

February 17, 2008

A Visit to the Cheese Shop

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My next stop yesterday after the Farmers Market was to my favorite cheese shop—C'est Cheese. I was there to buy some cheese for a dessert cheese platter for a dinner party we were going to that night. One of the owners helped me pick out a trio of delicious and complementary cheeses. So, with descriptions from the C'est Cheese website, here are the three that I ended up with:

1. Hoch Ybrig from Switzerland
An excellent cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland that is washed in white wine. It is very creamy, with a softer texture than Gruyere. The flavor is creamy, nutty, and slightly intense. A must try for those who like a cheese with a lot of body and like em’ nutty.

2. Stilton from England
A fantastic rich and creamy blue from our friends at Neal's Dairy Yard in England, with just as much complexity as any other great blue. Flavors of honey, leather and molasses. Not bland like the grocery store version, this cheese is rich and intense.

3. Mt. Tam from California
As triple creme cheeses go, this is an incredible cheese. Made in Northern California by Cowgirl Creamery, it’s a deliciously rich cow’s milk cheese, with a buttery finish and slight tanginess in the finish. Just won best soft-ripened cheese from the ACS!

To round off my cheese platter I added some fresh lemon flavored Quark that I bought at the farmers market. I also bought a tiny basket of delicious raspberries and some candied spicy walnuts. So, even, though a couple of the cheeses on my platter traveled a great distance, I think I balanced it out with some local selections. And, most important of all, everything was delicious.

February 18, 2008

I'm Teaching a Cooking Class!

I wanted to let everyone know that I will be teaching a cooking class at the Williams-Sonoma in Beverly Hills next month. I will be demonstrating an Italian inspired menu that is ideal for entertaining. Many of the dishes can be made ahead of time and can easily be served either as a sit down dinner or buffet style. I am really looking forward to sharing these recipes and ideas.

If any of you are in the LA area and would like to attend, here are the details:

A Williams-Sonoma Cooking Class
Easy Entertaining: An Italian Style Dinner Party
with Krista Harris
Thursday, March 20
6:00-8:00 pm

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The Williams-Sonoma cooking classes are held in a spacious kitchen demonstration area and are limited to 15 people. They are demonstration, not hands-on, but you are definitely included in eating the meal!

To register call (310) 274-9127 or visit the store at 339 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. The cost of the class is $55 per person. Pre-payment is required to reserve class space.

February 21, 2008

Swiss Cookies

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I was going through my photos of Switzerland and came across this one that I just had to post. I love taking photos of bakery windows and when I caught sight of these cookies in Berne, it stopped me in my tracks. One of these days I should try making them... could be a bit of a project, but it sure would look great on a cookie platter.

February 29, 2008

More About the Cooking Class

A little while back I announced that I would be teaching a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma in Beverly Hills on March 20th. I've had some people asking questions, so I thought I better write a little more about it.

When I was asked to write up a proposal to teach a class, I thought about what sorts of cooking classes I like to attend. Well, I'm always looking for ideas that I can use for entertaining. Much as it would be useful to take a class on learning one type of thing, like sauces, I think what a lot of us are looking for is a great meal that we can use for entertaining. We want a starter, a main course, a side dish, a salad and a dessert, all which go together nicely and can be reasonably put together without too much fuss.

When I was in high school I worked part time at a local newspaper. One day the publisher asked me if I would like to help her out with a dinner party. She paid me the same hourly rate I made at the newspaper, and it turned out to be quite as instructional. I think I mentioned before that my mother did not cook or entertain when I was growing up. Restaurant dining was the only epicurean skill I learned from my mother.

So, to help out at semi-formal dinner party was something completely unknown to me until this point. And luckily the publisher I worked for had it down to a science. She had perfected a single entree—stuffed chicken breasts, served with stuffed tomatoes and rice—and that's what she always served. The salad varied, but it was usually a composed salad and dessert was often different—sometimes a cake from a French bakery. She would have between 8 and 12 people for a sit down dinner and her dinner parties were, without fail, always elegant and successful. I'd like to think in part because of my help, but in actuality it was because she always cooked what she knew would work.

Now, I don't think you have to serve the same entree over and over again when you entertain, but I do think you have to cook and serve what you know will work. In putting together this meal and this class, I have chosen dishes that I think are not only delicious but are ideal for entertaining. They will work just as well as a buffet dinner as a sit down dinner. Parts of them can be made in advance.

Of course you can search for, and find, tons of great recipes on the Internet and in cookbooks. But the beauty of taking a cooking class is that someone has already found some great recipes and can show you exactly how to prepare them. And you get to taste the results to see if you think it really is fantastic enough to serve your own guests.

I know a lot of people who read this may not be close enough to the LA area to take my class, but I do promise to blog all about it and to post the recipes after the class. If you are nearby and would like to attend, here are the details:

A Williams-Sonoma Cooking Class
Easy Entertaining: An Italian Style Dinner Party
with Krista Harris
Thursday, March 20
6:00-8:00 pm

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The Williams-Sonoma cooking classes are held in a spacious kitchen demonstration area and are limited to 15 people. They are demonstration, not hands-on, but you are definitely included in eating the meal!

To register call (310) 274-9127 or visit the store at 339 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. The cost of the class is $55 per person. Pre-payment is required to reserve class space. So far the class is a little over half full, so there are still plenty of spots left.

March 16, 2008

Local Single Varietal Honey

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Lately I've been buying local honey at the Farmers Market. San Marcos Farms has been a fixture there for many years and produces a number of different single varietal honeys. I plan to sample every one of them. So far I've tried the orange blossom honey (light colored, sweet and mild) and the Santa Barbara Wildflower Honey (amber colored, rich and delicious).

Yesterday, I picked up another jar of this honey and I asked the seller about some of the other varieties (yes, I bought this jar yesterday and it's almost half gone). He said most people like the wildflower honey for baking and desserts because it has a distinct honey flavor. The orange blossom honey is probably too mild for cooking. The sage honey also has a very distinct honey flavor, so I'll have to buy some and compare.

The honey that really intrigued me was the avocado blossom honey. It is very dark and looks almost like molasses. When I asked him what made it so dark, he said it's just the nature of the nectar from the avocado trees. Even though avocado blooms are a creamy off-white, the nectar apparently makes honey that is very dark. He also said the flavor is very rich and complex. Similar to the buckwheat honey found back East, it should be used where you want a very strong distinctive flavor. I'd like to try it in gingerbread or just by itself paired with a blue cheese.

And as I think about all these great local single varietal honeys, I realize that when traveling, I should keep an eye out for honey. I know you can order just about anything from the Internet, but it's nice to have an edible souvenir of a place you've visited... tupelo honey from Georgia, buckwheat honey from upstate New York, macadamia nut honey from Hawaii.

I think my adventures in honey tasting have only just begun.

March 22, 2008

Cooking Class Report

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Last Thursday I taught a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma, and what a blast it was! I don't have the photos yet, so I will have to update this entry when I get them. The class was two hours and, as you can see from the menu, I planned to pack a lot of cooking into that two hours. What I didn't realize is that there was a short break halfway through, so I'm afraid my class went a little over the two hours. But no one seemed to mind. They were having a good time and were definitely enjoying the food.

The Williams-Sonoma in Beverly Hills has a really well equipped kitchen. They had a brand new Viking range and plenty of space to work in. I also had the help of an assistant, Craig, who did an excellent job. Since it was my first time working in their kitchen, there was plenty for me to learn and get accustomed to—I really needed that two hours of prep time. But I quickly got comfortable with their set-up and would gladly teach another class there.

I was also really impressed with the people who took the class. We had a really nice group of people who were interested, asked great questions and just seemed to enjoy themselves. All in all, a very positive experience that has me already thinking about what menu I would come up with for another class. In the meantime, I will post recipes (and photos) of the dishes we did in the class over the next few days.

March 23, 2008

Olive Oil Citrus Cake Photo

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Here is the Olive Oil Citrus cake as it came out of the oven on the night of the cooking class.

August 14, 2008

The Omnivore’s Hundred

I found this on one of my favorite blogs: Last Night's Dinner. Since, I seem to be on a Meme kick, I decided I had to try it. Want to play along? It’s simple:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

It's an interesting list from PB&J to Lobster Thermidor... still a lot out there that I've never tried. But even if I haven't had Nettle Tea, I have had a Nettle Frittata...

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The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea (not the tea, but the nettle frittata above)
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi (I wasn't sure about this, but after googling it, I think I've had it)
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (I hadn't heard of this cheese, but it sounds great, will have to check to see if C'est Cheese carries it)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I probably couldn't handle that much heat)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I think I've only had sweet lassi)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (no thanks)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (I don't think I could do this unless literally starving)
43. Phaal (probably too hot for me)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (not interested in the least)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (no thanks)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (not intentionally)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (another one I don't think I could do)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (no thanks)
76. Baijiu (had to google this, never heard of it)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky (never heard of it)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (I wish!)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (no thanks)
90. Criollo chocolate (where can I get some?)
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

August 16, 2008

Full Moon Friday at Fairview

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Last night the CSA that I belong to, Fairview Gardens, held a cooking and feasting event to celebrate the summer full moon. On a not very frequent basis they hold these informal outdoor dinners that combine a cooking class with the appreciation of the ingredients of the farm and the camaraderie of people who share a love of sustainable food. So last night, chef Laurance Hauben of Market Forays shared with us her decidedly French take on cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Laurance is a well known figure in the Santa Barbara food scene. She has written for a number of local publications and her cooking classes are extremely popular. Her philosophy toward food is the perfect fit with what Fairview Gardens does, so when I heard about this event I know I had to get involved.

Along with three other volunteers, I arrived a little over an hour before the event to offer help. Laurence probably could have easily pulled off the whole meal without help, but she was happy to have our company in the kitchen and gave us some prep work to do. As we all worked, Laurence chatted about her background in food. Though she grew up in northern France in Flanders, she has traveled all over and has made Santa Barbara her home since 1983 (interestingly enough the same year I moved to Santa Barbara). In addition to preferring the weather here to her native France, she clearly loves the ingredients. Quality, fresh ingredients are central to her cooking, so it is no surprise to hear how much she loves Fairview Gardens.

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Laurence Hauben

For the guests, the evening started out with a tour of the farm, and they had the opportunity to pick some of the ingredients that would go into the finished meal. Then it was into the farmhouse kitchen where Laurance effortlessly coordinated this ambitious menu and got everyone involved in the preparation:

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Burrata Cheese
Mesclun with Roasted Figs
Charentais Melon Drizzled with Port
Fresh Halibut Tartare with Avocado and Grapefruit
House Smoked Pork Tenderloin with Honeyed Peaches
Butter Sauteed Fresh Corn and Fresh Green Beans
Roasted Zucchini, Peppers with Garlic and Homemade Goat Cheese
Stuffed Tomatoes with Basil, Parsley, Garlic and Breadcrumbs
Homemade Rolls and Grilled Flatbread

Peach Tart Tatin
Fig Tart

Just as the sun was setting we all sat down at a long table with a view of the fields and right on cue the full moon rose. Tiffany Cooper, Fairview's Education Director and organizer of these events read us a description of the 'Corn Moon' from the book "Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection" by Jessica Prentice. The combination of the incredible food, the beautiful setting and the like-minded people gathered together was truly magical.

More (food!) photos in the extended entry.

Continue reading "Full Moon Friday at Fairview" »

November 6, 2008

Farmer in Chief

Many of you may have read Michael Pollan's brilliant article "Farmer in Chief" in the New York Times Magazine last month. If you didn't get around to reading, go read it right now, give yourself a little time — it's long, but well worth it. We'll wait for you, come back when you're finished.

Now the best news is that Obama actually read the article and referenced it in this interview:

"I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs."
- Barack Obama
The Full Obama Interview
Posted by Joe Klein

I am so encouraged that food issues are finally being talked about at the highest levels. Here's to a new awareness in the politics of food!

February 8, 2009

Larb Chicken

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Last night we had another gathering of our dinner group. The theme was Thai food, and I volunteered to bring an appetizer. I love to eat Thai food, but I rarely attempt to make it. Sometimes the ingredients are hard to find and sometimes the recipes seem overly complicated. But after asking for some help on the Slow Travel food forum, I was steered toward this Larb recipe on Epicurious. No, it's not lard, it's larb and it's delicious.

I was recently turned onto this dish by my neighbors and dear friends during a wine tasting and take out Thai food dinner. It's basically a meat salad. It can be chicken, pork, beef or whatever. The key point is that it's marinated in lime juice, fish sauce and other typical Thai flavors. Of course it turns out that it's actually a Cambodian dish, but it is popular in Thailand. It makes a perfect start to Thai dinner. So that's what I decided to bring to last night's dinner.

Now I have to say that I broke one of my rules to never do something for a dinner party that I've never tried before. But the Epicurious recipe didn't let me down. I did make a couple of subsitutions. I ran out of limes for the lime juice and juiced a couple of my meyer lemons to make up the 2/3 cup of juice in the dressing. I also left out the lemongrass because I didn't have time to track it down. I added the zest of one of the meyer lemons to make up for it. And finally I used cabbage instead of the Boston lettuce because cabbage is what they used at the restaurant where we had it. The substitutions all worked and it tasted delicious. We had a wonderful dinner with our friends, and it sounds like this recipe will be passed around and used again. It's a keeper!

February 15, 2009

Another Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

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I've been reading a lot about a recent study that highlights the presence of mercury in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy issued a report called "Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup." The report finds that some HFCS is made with mercury-grade caustic soda. It's an outdated technology, yet HFCS manufacturers still appear to be using it, and the mercury is making its way into a variety of food products on store shelves — nearly one in three of the 55 HFCS-containing food products that the study tested. These were things like snack bars, barbecue sauce, sloppy joe mix, yogurt and chocolate syrup. Many of these food products are marketed to children and have HFCS as the first or second ingredient on the label.

I think there are a lot of reasons to avoid HFCS (if you haven't already, watch the movie King Corn), and this is just yet another reason to read labels carefully.

February 16, 2009

The Letter A

I'm participating in this letter meme via Girasoli's Shave Ice & Gelato who got it from Fizzy Thoughts. My assignment was to come up with 10 things I loved that began with the letter that she assigned to me. She gave me the letter A, and I decided to narrow it down to just food. So, here's what I came up with:

1. Abalone
This is a delicacy that I don't get very often, but when it's prepared well, it can be a real dream. Before I was I born my Dad spent a period of time as an abalone diver here in Santa Barbara. Later growing up in San Diego in the early seventies I can remember having abalone on special occasions. And abalone shells were everywhere—people used them as containers or ashtrays in the house or in the garden. But by the eighties the abalone were gone. Disease, sea otters or poachers, whatever the cause, an entire industry dried up. These days you see farmed abalone on restaurant menus and, though pricey, it can be a nostalgic and delicious treat.

2. Almonds
Almonds are indispensable when it comes to baking. I can specifically recommend this Italian Crumbly Cake with its almond topping and these Almond Fingers and this Toasted Almond Gelato.

3. Anise
Some love it, some hate it, but the licorice like flavor of anise has always been a favorite of mine. I used to make an anise pine nut cookie recipe that was completely vegan and delicious. I haven't made it in years, so it might be time to try it out again.

4. Apples
I once won an apple pie contest with my Caramel Apple Pie, and I make a tasty salad with roasted fennel, endive and apple. But the most unusual apple recipe I have ever tried was this very tasty Sweet Apple Omelet.

5. Apricots
Apricot season is fleeting, but apricot jam is year round. I especially like it in these Apricot Crescent Cookies, that I make during the holidays.

6. Artichokes
Artichokes are just one of those foods that you can never get enough of. I love the giant globe artichokes that are so big that you can barely get them into a pot to steam them. One per person is enough for dinner, served with aioli sauce.

7. Arugula
There is a fantastic book called The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp that tells the story of how we became a gourmet nation. I freely admit that I'm a lover of arugula, and I have the gene that enables me to quite happily eat an all arugula salad.

8. Asiago
There had to be cheese on this list, and this is a delicious Italian cheese that, when aged, hard and grated, is the perfect topping to a plate of pasta.

9. Asparagus
I've always liked asparagus even at the age of five when it was served to me out of a can (which kind of makes me shudder now). But I think I really fell in love with asparagus when I discovered what it tasted like when it was roasted. It needs nothing but the best olive oil, salt and pepper. There is something about those slightly charred tips that make this vegetable irresistible.

10. Avocado
I have grown up and lived my whole life in avocado country. Sliced avocados make their way into the majority of the salads I make, and guacamole is an essential side dish. In the summer I especially like my variation on a Caprese Salad, substituting avocado slices for the mozzarella you end up with a beautiful fan of sliced tomatoes, sliced avocados with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, pepper and scattered basil leaves.

February 22, 2009

What Do You Buy at the Farmers Market?

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I went to the farmers market yesterday and got a pretty wide assortment of food. I got plenty of vegetables: broccoli, kale, a small cabbage, sugar snap peas, a bag of salad mix, a couple beautiful small heads of broccoli romanesco (pictured below) and a head of garlic.

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I also got a bagful of tangerines, a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, a jar of marmalime (marmalade made with limes), some bee pollen and a case of wine. It's amazing what you can get at the farmers market these days. Some days I buy grass fed beef, homemade sausage or cornish game hens. Other times I pick up olive oil, walnut oil, fruit juices, nuts or bread.

Of course I love buying my vegetables and fruit from the farmers market, but I find that picking up these other extras really enhances my cooking and supports the farmers and food producers.

What do you buy at your farmers market?

March 14, 2009

A Food Meme

I just got this food meme from one of my favorite blogs: Palmabella's Passions — thanks, Palma, for something fun and easy to get me back to blogging!

What is your go-to ingredient?
Just like Palma, mine is definitely pasta — so many shapes, so many things to do with it...

What nationality of food do you like the best?
Again, this would have to be Italian because I love, love, love it. But then again if you count California as a nation, then I would say California/Santa Barbara Cuisine is my favorite. It's got the Italian influence combined with all my favorite local ingredients.

What’s your favorite meal of the day to prepare?
I'll pick something different - afternoon tea. I don't get the opportunity to do it very often, but I love a good pot of tea and some delicious scones or tea sandwiches.

What is/are your signature dish? (What dish are you ‘known’ for?)
My vegetable lasagne, seafood orzo, lots of soups, and for desserts: caramel apple pie, carrot cake, gingerbread, brownies.

What is your favorite comfort food?
Minestrone or Ribollita soup with some good crusty bread and brownies for dessert.

What cooking shows do you watch?
I love Top Chef. Sometimes I watch Iron Chef, No Reservations and any show with Jamie Oliver in it.

Your top three favorite cookbooks are:
Two by Alice Waters: The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution and Chez Panisse Vegetables and a sentimental favorite the original Silver Palate Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition.

Your must-have kitchen accessory is:
A Microplane Grater/Zester — it's a must with just about anything I cook.

Do you ever eat fast food? If so, what?
At first I thought, no I don't eat fast food. But actually I do eat at Chipotle. Their pork for their carnitas is naturally raised — not factory farmed, and it's delicious in the burrito bowl, especially with the addition of guacamole.

Most memorable meal you’ve had while on vacation:
I still talk about the amazing lunch I had in Spain in 1998 somewhere outside of Barcelona at a place whose name I can't remember. We had an incredible fixed price meal of 4 courses that I will never forget... gazpacho, fried sardines, seafood paella, beautiful plate of fish, peppers and potatoes, fresh fruit for dessert... I wish I had taken pictures.

What restaurant do you want to eat at that you haven’t yet?
Chez Panisse.

What’s your favorite dessert?
It's usually something with chocolate, but I also love fruit tarts and I'm extremely partial to gelato in Italy.

What scent in the kitchen do you love?
The smell of bread baking or gingerbread in the oven.

What ingredient(s) do you avoid/dislike?
I hate to admit it but I'm not wild about beets.

What’s your secret splurge at the grocery store?
The frozen pizzas by Full of Life Flatbread.

What’s the most decadent dish you’ve ever had?
The lobster or crab raviolis at Gianfranco's Trattoria in Carpinteria — they are so deliciously decadent!

What’s your favorite midnight snack?
I'm not usually up that late! But I guess if I was it would be a cup of hot chocolate made with really good chocolate.

March 21, 2009

Dinner at Fabio's

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Last night we met friends and fellow bloggers Palma and Marcia, and their husbands at Cafe Firenze in Moorpark. For those of you who are not Top Chef addicts, it's the restaurant of one of the more wildly popular contestants on the show—Fabio. He may not have won the title of Top Chef, but he won the hearts of millions (literally) by being his down to earth Italian self.

But what's his food like? Luckily Palma scored reservations for us at his restaurant so that we could find out. Well, I have to tell you, our dinner was excellent. It was packed beyond belief but the kitchen managed to keep getting everything out. We ordered leisurely, course by course and had as much fun people watching and chatting with our fabulous server as we did eating. Palma took far more pictures of the food and a shot of us with Fabio, so as soon as she's back and blogging, I will post a link to what I'm sure will be a detailed run down of the evening. But for now, here are a couple of tantalizing salad shots.

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As for meeting Fabio, we did—and he is every bit as charming and truly nice as he appears on television. There is talk of another restaurant or two opening up in Ventura, as well as a couple of books. Top Chef may be over, but I'm sure we'll be seeing and hearing more from Fabio. In the meantime, I would highly recommend a visit to Cafe Firenze.

March 29, 2009

The Spring Issue of Edible Santa Barbara is Here!

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April 2, 2009

Roasted Asparagus

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Here's a recipe from the spring issue for roasted asparagus, that I just happened to have made again last night for dinner. It's one of my favorites. There are lots of recipes for roasted asparagus, and it's a pretty simple thing to do. But the difference with this recipe is that you preheat the pan in the oven. So when you add the asparagus to the hot pan, you get an immediate sizzle. The asparagus roasts quickly, though the time really does depend on the thickness of your stalks. So you just have to check on it. When the tips start to get crispy, it's done—and delicious.

Roasted Asparagus
Makes 2–4 servings

1 bunch of asparagus, approximately 1/2 pound
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, or your favorite fancy sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Put a medium sized shallow roasting pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Rinse the asparagus and dry completely. In a large bowl combine the asparagus with the olive oil, salt and pepper, toss to coat the asparagus with the olive oil and to evenly distribute the seasonings.

When the oven is up to temperature, carefully put the asparagus mixture into the hot pan, spreading it out into one layer. It will sizzle. Roast in the oven until the asparagus is soft and the ends are slightly brown and crispy, approximately 10–20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.

Enjoy!

May 17, 2009

FRESH: A Film by Ana Sofia Joanes

I'm very excited that HopeDance Films has arranged a screening of the film FRESH in Santa Barbara:

Date: Wednesday, June 3
Time: 7:00pm
Location: Faulkner Gallery inside the Santa Barbara Downtown Library
40 E Anapamu Street
$5-$10 suggested donation

FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy.

Find out more about the movie and other screenings at FRESH the movie

July 2, 2009

Support Your Independent Day at the Co-op

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Tomorrow - July 3rd, 8am-10pm, everything at the Isla Vista Food Co-op (minus items already on deep discount) will be 10% off. You don't have to be a member. Just stop by 6575 Seville Road in Isla Vista.

When I was a student at UC Santa Barbara back in the 80s I used to shop at the Co-op. They always had the best produce for what was my signature dish: stir fried vegetables served over whole wheat pasta. After I moved away from Isla Vista, I somewhat forgot about the Co-op. But lately I've been shopping there when I'm in Goleta, and I'm amazed at the selection of products that they have now. I can find my favorite brands of organic butter and yogurt along with bulk items and, of course, great local produce and even whole wheat pasta, if I'm inclined to recreate the food of my student days.

July 25, 2009

Another Screening of FRESH!

I'm very excited that HopeDance Films has arranged another screening of the film FRESH, this time in Goleta:

Date: Tuesday, July 28th
Time: 6:00pm - Fresh Food Reception / 7:00pm - Film
Location: Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave
$5-$10 suggested donation

FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy.

Find out more about the movie and other screenings at FRESH the movie

August 2, 2009

Birthday Dinner at Root 246

A couple weeks ago I had one of those things that people like to celebrate, a birthday. And my idea of celebrating is to go out to dinner. But it was a Monday night and we were out visiting some wineries in Santa Ynez Valley, so where to eat? I decided that it would be the perfect time to try Root 246, Bradley Ogden's new restaurant in Solvang. I've been wanting to try it since they first opened in April.

Before I get to the mouth watering details. I have to start off we where we started off, with a little wine tasting of Arcadian wines with winemaker Joe Davis at Tastes of the Valleys. As you may have seen in our Summer issue of Edible Santa Barbara, Arcadian wines were featured in our "What the Grownups are Drinking" column by Diane Murphy and Laura Lindsey. So it was a special treat for us to meet Joe and taste a couple of his wines that weren't in the article.

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Talking to Joe was as fascinating as drinking his wines, and we could barely tear ourselves away to walk over to the restaurant. But we are so glad we did. The only thing better than drinking fine local wine is pairing those wines with fine local food.

From it's creative name to its modern elegant interior, Root 246 is definitely impressive. I particularly admire their farm to plate philosophy and the fact that they source so many local ingredients. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the restaurant and to meet Bradley Ogden as well as executive chef Jonny Hall, which was a huge treat for this birthday girl. I had a hard time choosing where to sit down to eat: one of the two distinctly different but equally stylish bars or the main dining room. We finally settled on a cosy booth in the dining room. And then we had a simply fabulous dinner. There was a refreshing amuse bouche berry sorbet and a pre starter demitasse cup of corn soup served with a bite sized puff topped with crème fraiche and caviar that was utterly exquisite. We shared several starters, and I think my favorite was the ultra simple Sea Salt Roasted Radishes with Sweet Cream Butter.

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I loved my entree of braised lamb shoulder with spring garlic, corn spoon bread and chimichurri.

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And top the meal off, dessert was a trio of peach cobbler, a peach ice cream sandwich and peach ice tea.

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I can only sum it up by saying incredible food and incredible people. It was a birthday night to remember.

August 9, 2009

A Sustainable Wine Tasting Tour

Recently my husband, Steve and I went on a wine tasting tour with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours. I have to confess that I have never actually gone on a wine tour. We've been to plenty of wineries on our own or with a group, but never actually done the tour approach. Perhaps it was because the idea of getting into a giant gas guzzling bus with a horde of people didn't sound all that appealing. But the premise of Sustainable Vine Wine Tours is altogether different and quite appealing. In the interest of full disclosure, they also happen to be an advertiser in Edible Santa Barbara for which I am the editor and co-publisher. I knew that their business seemed like a good fit for what we were doing with the magazine, but I really wanted to experience one of their tours first hand to find out more about it.

To start off, transportation is in a 9-passenger Mercedes biodiesel van, so right away you're feeling better about the environment. Owner and tour guide Bryan Hope is as passionate about sustainability in all things as he is knowledgeable about the wine industry in our area. So, as soon as he started to give us a little overview of organic and biodynamic winemaking on the drive out there, I knew this was going to be an incredible experience. The day's agenda is paced perfectly: three vineyards/wineries to visit and lunch in between. The wineries can vary, so the three that we went to on our tour were Cimerone, Alma Rosa and Demetria. Others in the lineup might include Beckman, Ampelos, Coquelicot, Sunstone or Presidio.

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Bryan Hope of Sustainable Vine Wine Tours

We started off our tour at Three Creek Vineyard which makes Cimerone wines. It is located in the area known as Happy Canyon, which will soon have it's own sought after AVA (American Viticultural Area) status. Cimerone is not open to the public, so we would have never have been able to go there on our own. And what a treat to meet owners Roger and Priscilla Higgins.

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Above Roger shows us the ripening grapes protected from the birds by netting. We tasted a grape and learned what they look for to determine when to pick — the taste of the grape and the taste of the seed, as well as how the color of the skin influences the flesh of the grape.

The vineyard grows their grapes organically but the wine is not technically organic, due to the fact that sulfites are used to protect the wine from damage by oxygen. Without the addition of sulfites, wine is much more unstable and susceptible to spoilage. So rather than try to look for organic wines, you are much better off looking for wines which are made from organic grapes.

The winemaker for Cimerone is Doug Margerum, who is well known as the original owner of The Wine Cask, and he also produces critically acclaimed wine under the Margerum wine label.

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Stepping into the immaculate and chilly barrel room, we were all overwhelmed with the delicious smell of the wine, and we were thrilled when we got a barrel tasting of some of their fantastic syrah. Notice how winery dog Kali, who is the mascot on their logo, keeps an eye on us.

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Our next stop was Alma Rosa. Owner Richard Sanford first planted Pinot Noir vines in Santa Barbara County in 1970. Whether you refer to him as a pioneer or a legend, clearly he is a pivotal figure in the wine industry, and he was on hand to chat with us as we tasted some of their delicious wines. Their vineyards are certified organic and owners Richard and Thekla are both committed to the environment and to promoting sustainability. From their Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris to their well loved Chardonnay and their stellar Pinot Noir, it was a fantastic tasting and a perfect prelude to our gourmet and organic lunch.

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Left to right: myself, Michael, Trish, Bryan, Steve and Tiffany (from New Hampshire)

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We gathered in front of the winery for a group shot and Richard Sanford joined us (second from right).

Our final stop for the day was Demetria Estate, one of only a handful of biodynamic vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Demetria is only open by appointment, so it is not for the casual visitor. Tucked amidst stunning scenery, the winery is picture postcard beautiful.

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We sat out on the terrace and tasted the wines while learning a little bit about the principals of biodynamic farming. Similar to organic in that they don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, biodynamic goes a step further in trying to achieve a holistic and balanced ecosystem. The features of biodynamic farming include using a lunar calendar when planting, pruning and picking and controlling pests or weeds by using their ashes as a deterrent. Some of the attributes of biodynamics seem to stray into philosophy and the concepts of anthroposophy as taught by founder Rudulf Steiner... and as the conversation become more esoteric it all somehow seemed fitting while relaxing on the terrace and drinking their stunning wines.

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After a tour of the winery and a more detailed description of how they make the wine, we were all completely satisfied, and it was time to head back to Santa Barbara after a full and rewarding day.

I felt so privileged to have gone on this tour—what a fantastic experience. Many of us who live in this area forget how amazing our wine region is. We have so many world class vintners in our midst. But finding out about some of these organic and biodynamic vineyards takes it to another level. Going on this tour deepened my awareness and respect for what they are doing, and once again reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in Santa Barbara County.

For more information about taking a tour with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours call (805) 698-3911 or visit their website.

September 12, 2009

Weekly Produce from Shepherd Farms

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When I mention that I'm a member of a CSA, people often ask what the heck that is. CSA is the abbreviation for Community Supported Agriculture, and it describes a program or a relationship with a farm where the consumer pays upfront for a share of the produce throughout the season or year. Every CSA program is slightly different, but what they all have in common is that they connect you in a very tangible way with the farm and farmers who grow your food.

There are now several CSA programs in Santa Barbara County, and though I'd like to be a member of all of them at the same time, that would be a little challenging even for me. So I think I'll have to try them out one by one. Currently I'm happily a member of the Shepherd Farms CSA. Membership is $300 a quarter or $1,000 for the full year. If you go to the farm in Carpinteria, you can pick out what you like or you can arrange to pick up a box of preselected items at Backyard Bowls in downtown Santa Barbara. Either way it's $25 worth of produce and it varies according to the season.

The picture above is what I picked out at the farm this week:

1 bag of Shepherd Salad Mix
1 bag of spinach
3 small yellow onions and 2 white onions
2 heirloom tomatoes
1 avocado
2 peppers
1 basket of strawberries
a bunch of basil
a bunch of kale
a handful of carrots
lots of little yellow zucchini
a large bowl of thin green beans
a large bowl of dried white beans

You can see that you can get quite a bit for $25. And what will I do with this bounty of produce? Well, this week the tomatoes and avocado will get used with the salad mix for a few salads. The strawberries will get eaten with breakfast or as a dessert. I'll use some of the beans, carrots, onions, kale, green beans, zucchini and basil for a minestrone soup. The veggies that are left over will probably go on top of pasta on a couple of nights this week. And then it will be time to go pick up next week's batch!

September 27, 2009

Countdown to the Eat Local Challenge

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In October we're co-sponsoring an Eat Local Challenge in Santa Barbara. This is something that I've wanted to do for quite some time. Perhaps the idea was planted when I first read Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. And perhaps the idea really came together after talking with Sam Edelman of the Farmers Market and realizing that this was something that we could do in conjunction with epicure.sb — the collection of food festivals and events throughout the month of October.

I particularly like the fact that it's for a month. It's long enough to feel like you're embarking on a challenge and yet not so long as to feel daunting. In fact, I think the interesting thing about it might end up being how very unchallenging it is. How can we feel deprived with all of our fantastic sources of produce, meat, seafood, honey, oils, wine and beer? And yet, perhaps there will be some interesting lessons to be learned. Why does Santa Barbara County not have a dairy industry? Why do we have to go up the coast to find artisanal cheese?

I also like the fact that I'm not embarking on this alone. Here in Santa Barbara County, the Isla Vista Food Co-op is doing an Eat Local Challenge for the month of October and nationally the group blog "Eat Local Challenge" will be doing one as well. So there will be ample resources and the feeling of a shared experience. We have just set up a Google Group called SB Eat Local Challenge where you can post questions and share information about finding sources of local food. There are already some great discussions up there about dairy, coffee and local sparkling water.

So consider participating in any way that you can. Whether you take the pledge to eat exclusively local foods for 31 days, or whether you just try to incorporate more local foods into your everyday buying habits, I think there are huge benefits to building this awareness of local foods.

October 13, 2009

Two Bloggers to Check Out

There are two bloggers that I want to highlight. The first is Alelia's Red Door Epicure. I had the pleasure of spending time with Alelia at the Full of Life Flatbread dinner for Douglas Gayeton's wonderful book "SLOW: Life in a Tuscan Town." It was an unbelievable evening of fantastic food and wine and companionship. Please read Alelia's entry about the evening with mouthwatering photos and descriptions of the entire evening:

SLOW ~ Anatomy of a meal in the Santa Ynez Valley

The other blogger that I recently discovered is Katie Falbo's California Organic Foodie. She is currently participating in our Eat Local Challenge and she has some informative and interesting entries about what she's eating and doing. Start with her first entry for October and then continue to follow her all month:

Pledge to Eat Local

January 7, 2010

New Year Thoughts and Resolutions

It's actually past the time that I should have made my New Year's resolutions. But just because we're well into January, doesn't mean that I haven't stopped thinking about things I'd like to do this year. And especially since I've had time to read all the blogs and articles and Twitter postings about resolutions, I feel I've had time to give it a little thought. So here are 5 things I'd like to do or change or add to my life in 2010... all food related, of course.

1. Learn to Make Yogurt. I did actually attempt it once last October during my Eat Local Challenge, but it didn't turn out. I love the texture and taste of Greek yogurt, so that is my goal. And if I can get my hands on some local goat milk, I might be tempted to try to make goat's milk yogurt. All things are possible.

2. Read One of Elizabeth David's Cookbooks. For some reason, I have managed to get this far without owning or reading any of Elizabeth David's classic books on French, Italian and Mediterranean food. She's considered one of the foremost writers on food in the 20th century, and someone I really should have in my library. She's written "French Provincial Cooking," "Italian Food," "A Book of Mediterranean Food," and "Is There a Nutmeg in the House?" which I would read for the title alone.

3. Grow More Herbs and Vegetables. Currently the little bed of herbs in my garden looks like a neglected overgrown patch of natural selection experiments. The oregano has driven out a number of other weaker companions, the curry plant has turned into a curry hedge and the lemon verbena is about 8 feet tall and leggy. I find myself always needing a little more of some herb or another that is not in my garden. I'd like to add tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos to my plot because those are things that are handy to have on hand (especially when making posole), as well as more Italian parsley, sage, chervil, dill and a few varieties of basil.

4. Avoid Plastic. I know that it will be just about impossible to eliminate plastic entirely from my life, but with all the concerns being raised about plastic leaching into our food, not to mention the landfill problems it creates, I would like to get rid of as much of it as I can. I'm also concerned about the lining on canned foods, and I've already started avoiding all canned food. I gave most of my plastic reusable containers to my husband to store hardware and supplies. Instead I'm using glass bowls with plastic lids - yes, that's still plastic, but at least the lids don't come in contact with the food. The upside is that glass looks better and cleans more easily. I'd also like to reduce the number of plastic produce bags that I use by getting a set of cloth produce bags, like these.

5. Take More Photos of Food and Blog More! It seems like 2009 really got away from me in terms of blogging. One of my problems was purely technical: when I upgraded my operating system, the image upload in my blogging software stopped working. I've figured that out now, but it's still hard to get back in the groove. So, I plan to keep a camera in the kitchen to make it easier to take photos of what I'm cooking. When I have good photos of food, it's always an inspiration to blog. And one of our Edible Santa Barbara writers and recipe editor, Nancy Oster, will hopefully join again on the Edible Santa Barbara blog. Also my cousin has a new blog called "I Don't Cook, But My Boyfriend Does!" so maybe I can talk her into being a guest blogger once in a while.

Here's to a delicious and satisfying 2010 - Cheers!

July 13, 2010

Nine Day Natural Detox

I have just started a Nine Day Detox Program with nutritionist Betsy Markle of Sunshine Wellness. Why? Well, I'm healthy and I eat lots of organic and local food, but sometimes I feel like eat too much wonderful rich food and it would be nice to take a break... to give my body a break. So, since Sunshine Wellness is an advertiser in Edible Santa Barbara, I thought I'd like to try out the Nine Day Detox Program that Betsy has designed.

The way it works is simply that you eliminate potentially allergenic and toxic foods from your diet day by day until by the middle of the program you are eating nothing more than vegetables, fruit and good fats. Then you gradually reintroduce the other food groups back into your diet. She also provides a supplement powder that you take in shake form throughout the detox.

Detox diets and fasting have a long history. Fasting has been a component of many religions all over the world, from the earliest times to modern day. And fasting can be a natural instinct in both humans and animals in response to sickness. For me, though, I'm more interested in the simplification of my diet rather than giving up food altogether. And I like the idea of clearing out the toxins from my body and improving my overall health.

As I looked over the instructions for Day One, it looked pretty straightforward: eliminate alcohol, refined sugars, caffeinated beverages, processed food and meat. The only thing that I would have a problem with would be my morning cappuccino. So, to make it a little easier for myself and to hopefully avoid a caffeine withdrawal headache, I decided to have my morning cappuccino with one shot of espresso instead of two. I had my usual Greek yogurt with San Marcos Farms honey and all was well. For lunch I had the Tofu Saute from Zooker's and for dinner my husband and I went to Pizza Guru for a vegetarian pizza.

So, day one was easy and I'm looking forward to stepping it up on day two. I'll continue blogging each day, and I'll post recipes whenever I can. Please feel free to email me or comment if you have any questions or if you have done this type of program before and would like to share your experience.

July 14, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Two

It's day two in my Natural Detox Program, and it's the first day that I have completely cut out my morning cappuccino. Could this be why I had a slight headache all day? I've decided to have some lightly caffeinated tea. I found a mint white tea blend - all organic - that I think will be a good compromise. It has very little caffeine and is the least processed of teas.

The rest of the day wasn't difficult. I had sourdough toast with a little lemon infused olive oil on it that was delicious. For lunch I went to Zooker's again and had a cup of their black bean soup and a small green salad.

After picking up some vegetables at the farmers market, I made soup for dinner. We finally have some beautiful sunny weather, and it seems odd to be making a pot of soup. But I had a craving for my potato, corn and squash soup. The yellow squash and corn is so great right now. This is a wonderful creamy and hearty soup that I have been making variations of for years. It was inspired by the Yukon Gold and Yellow Squash Soup in the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook. Whether you are on a detox diet or not, I encourage you to try this soup. I like it served hot, but you can serve it chilled and, if you do, be sure to add the optional garnish.


Yellow Potato, Squash and Corn Soup
Serves 4-6

1 onion, finely diced
olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 yellow summer squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peel on, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 ears of fresh corn, cut from cob
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional garnish:

2 or 3 mild to medium chili peppers
1 or 2 small jalapeno peppers (if you want even more heat)
1 avocado

1. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, saute the onion in some olive oil until lightly browned. Add the the stock, potatoes and squash, and bring to a boil. Add some salt, lower the heat and simmer partially covered until the vegetables are tender. It should take about 20-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, if you are doing the optional garnish, roast the peppers on a grill or over a gas flame until blackened. Put in a paper or plastic bag for a few minutes to “sweat” then scrape off the blackened skin. Chop the jalapeno peppers. Peel and dice the avocado.

3. Remove the soup from the heat and puree until smooth in the pot with a hand held blender (if you don’t have one of these great devices, transfer to a blender or food processor). If the soup is too thick—you should not be able to stand a spoon up in it—add a little more stock.

4. Then add the corn and cilantro and cook over low heat until the corn is heated and tender but still has a little crunch, about 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Potato soups can take more salt than you realize.

5. Serve the soup. If you use the optional garnish, put each of the garnishes in small bowls and allow guests to garnish with as much heat as they like.

July 15, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Three

On day three in my Natural Detox Program I was really missing my morning cappuccino. The wonderful organic mint white tea is just not the same. I used to be strictly a tea drinker, mostly herbal teas. Then I went to Italy, and the espresso culture there completely won me over. So, for the last seven or eight years, we've had an automatic espresso machine to fulfill our need for a cappuccino, latte or macchiato each morning. The irony is that right before starting this detox we just got a new machine. The old one had a faulty pump, so we invested in a new De'Longhi. It makes fabulous espresso. But for now, I will try not to think about that.

For breakfast I attempted to have oatmeal, but after a couple bites, I decided that I am not an oatmeal person. I may have also been feeling grumpy about not having my cappuccino, but again I will try not to dwell on that. I did add a frozen banana to my shake and that made it much better, so at least I had that for breakfast.

I packed a lunch today: celery sticks, rice crackers, hummus and cherry tomatoes. I also brought some more mint white tea with me, and I felt fine all day - no headache and not starving. Later in the day I had another shake with frozen banana (must remember to pick up some more bananas), and then I went to the Farmers Market at Harding School. With what I picked up at the market and from my CSA box, I made a big salad for dinner and some pasta. The pasta was the biggest surprise. I bought some brown rice pasta (since wheat and gluten is out), not really thinking that it would be very good. I thought the texture and flavor would not come close to the real thing. But I was completely wrong. It was actually very good. It probably helped that I put a spicy tomato sauce on top of it, but I was quite amazed that something that was a substitute would taste this good. This is something that I would now regularly keep in my pantry. And I guess that is one of the points of this whole detox, to try something new and hopefully instill some healthy new eating habits long after the nine days is over.

July 16, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Four

DetoxFruit.jpg

It's day four in my Natural Detox Program, and I think I'm getting the hang of things. I had a great bowl of fruit for breakfast with my shake. And I've discovered that adding a little coconut milk and some frozen fruit to the shake is a wonderful thing. I picked up so much fruit yesterday between my CSA and the Farmers Market, that I needed to freeze some of it.

A friend (who is also doing the Detox Program) and I went to Zooker's for lunch. She ordered the Tofu Saute without tofu, mushrooms or cheese - so basically brown rice with sauteed vegetables. But she said it was amazingly flavorful and she didn't miss the tofu or cheese one bit. I had a cup of their gazpacho soup and the Roasted Vegetable Salad without the goat cheese, and everything was delicious.

I didn't have any headaches today, but I did feel my energy dropping quite a bit around mid afternoon. For dinner I had another shake and some celery and hummus. I had every intention of making rice and vegetables, but I wasn't very hungry so I had an apricot and that was my dinner. Tomorrow begins the intense 3 days of the detox where I'll be eating only fruits and vegetables, but it seems as though I've almost done that today, so I think I'm ready.

July 17, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Five

CilantroSalad.jpg

Day Five in my Natural Detox Program is where it starts to get intense. I'm drinking the shake four times a day and eating only fruits and vegetables. I've even let go of my tea for now. It all sounds pretty harsh, but it isn't for some reason. I guess partly because I know this is only for nine days or perhaps because eating fruits and vegetables for a while isn't all that bad. Summer is a great time to do this sort of thing.

For breakfast it was just a shake, which I supplemented with frozen strawberries and coconut milk. And then I had another shake later in the morning. By lunch I was ready for some food. It wasn't that I was starving, I just wanted to eat something. So I made the Cabbage Cilantro Salad pictured above, and I've included the recipe below.

You definitely don't have to be on a detox program to make this salad. It's a wonderful salad to serve alongside anything from Mexican food to Curry dishes. If I wasn't on the detox, I would probably add tamari soy sauce to the dressing and some chopped peanuts. The recipe makes a lot, so I put the dressing on just the amount I was going to eat for lunch and put the rest of the salad, undressed, in the refrigerator. It holds up pretty well. Substitutions work well with this salad, too. If you don't like avocado, leave it off. Or try adding thinly sliced green onions, radishes or shredded carrots. Things with bright, crunchy flavors work great.

After another shake in the afternoon, I wasn't feeling terribly hungry for dinner, but I knew I needed something. So I made a big pan of roasted vegetables: potatoes, parsnips, onions, zucchini and green beans. I tossed them with olive oil, and added some Salish Smoked Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. It was delicious and just what I needed. I may not be eating much, but I am eating well.

Cabbage Cilantro Salad
6-8 servings

1 small to medium Napa Cabbage
1 bunch minced fresh cilantro
2 thinly sliced ribs of celery
1/4 cup of mixed sprouts
Dressing:

Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon raw honey
6 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional:

1/2 avocado, slice, per serving
Quarter the cabbage, and remove and discard the tough central core. Shred by cutting very thin slices along the length of each quarter. In a large bowl add the shredded cabbage, minced cilantro, sliced celery and sprouts. Toss to mix.

Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl with a whisk. Pour dressing over slaw. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Garnish each serving with sliced avocado if desired.

July 18, 2010

Nine Day Detox: Day Six

It's day six in my Natural Detox Program, and it's been a pretty quiet day. I started off the day with my usual shake and then went to the farmers market.

If you are not familiar with the Santa Barbara Saturday Farmers Market, it is quite the experience. It's the largest of the weekly markets and it's packed with vendors selling everything from the most beautiful heirloom vegetables to locally raised grass-fed beef. Today I was interested in the vegetables, and things that I could have on my detox diet. I got some extremely large artichokes, a bunch of asparagus, a bottle of olive oil and some amazing lavender smoked olives.

Fusano California Valley Olive Company is located in Paso Robles, and they are a welcome fixture at our Santa Barbara market selling their line of olives, olive oil and tapenades. Their line of smoke olives are absolutely unbelievable, and I was excited to see that they had a new lavender version. I tried one and had to get them. I can't wait to try them in salads or with some roasted vegetables.

For lunch I had more of yesterday's Cabbage Cilantro Salad, which was still great. For dinner I made artichokes and roasted asparagus and potatoes. I steamed the artichokes and served with just some olive oil for dipping. You can read all about artichokes and the recipe for steaming in Becky Green Aaronson's article from our spring issue.

I noticed that my energy level has been down all day. That could be because of the heat or it could be the detox. It was a great day to catch up on some reading and to putter in the garden, and I'm looking forward to more of the same tomorrow.

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