Eat Local: Asian Box 2.0

March 23, 2016 § 2 Comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve fed my craving for Asian Box, but finding myself in the heart of Palo Alto with a growly belly yesterday, I headed to Town & Country for a fix. Expecting less of a crowd than the out-the-door lunch-time insanity, I was surprised to find the place not only quiet, but closed when I rocked up mid-afternoon. What the what?!

When did this happen?! Asian Box 2.0 is almost ready for release.

When did this happen?! Asian Box 2.0 is almost ready for release.

Turns out that the closure was temporary, as the Asian Box folks were in the final stages of a refresh on their primary location, which is now five years old. Fortunately one of the Guys in Charge saw me standing in front of the door looking bewildered and informed me that the takeaway window around the corner was open for business. Phew!

I was a bit disappointed to find that I wouldn’t be able to order my usual (one of the great things about Asian Box is being able to customize your order). With the construction going on, the kitchen was indeed open, but limited the menu to four “special boxes of the day” that didn’t allow much customizing. Upside? The special boxes had a special price of $7 each for the same hearty quantity of food.  I went with the Garden Box: brown rice, extra tofu, fresh vegetable mix, coconut curry sauce (yum!) all toppers except jalapeno, and the Asian Street Dust.

So what can customers expect to see when grand re-opening/unveiling happens today? (That’s right — today! It’s business as usual, but with a fresh twist.) The interior and exterior are getting new look, there’s new signage that includes the “farm to box” tagline, and the menu will offer a few new items in addition to old favorites. I’m loving the coconut curry sauce from the special Garden Box, so I hope that’s an option on the new menu. (Ah, Asian Box, I see what you’re up to … )my-box

Kudos to Asian Box for their committment to keep things fresh across the board! I’m looking forward to checking out Palo Alto’s Asian Box 2.0. Did you happen to visit Asian Box during the remodel? What was your experience?

Details
What: Asian Box
Where: Town & Country Shopping Center, 855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: 650-391-9305
Hours: 11am–9pm daily
Parking: Free lot

#TBT: Fifth Crow Farm’s Farm Field Day

December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but I am freezing this winter! (And here’s a sobering thought: we’re only 10 days into the season, which means El Nino likely has more extremes in store for us.) I keep telling my friends and family on the East Coast that they need to send our weather back.  Hard to believe that just a few short months ago, we were having 100-degree days in the 650.

Back on August 15, a friend and I made the drive down Highway 1 to Pescadero for Fifth Crow Farm’s Field Day —  a day of berry picking, farm touring, and meeting the folks who run the farm. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day (temperatures topped 90 degrees, and yes, I got a sunburn). The event was open to CSA subscribers and gave us an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the farmers and the food they grow. (For more about how Fifth Crow Farm manages sustainability and food waste on the farm, read Wasteless Wednesday: Down on the Farm.)

If you have an opportunity for a local farm tour, I highly recommend it. There’s no better way to understand where your food comes from and how it’s produced. Here’s the photo tour of my day out on the farm — and reminder of what we have to look forward to when summer comes back around.

Darin, Fifth Crow's CSA coordinator, was at the entrance to greet everyone.

Darin, Fifth Crow’s CSA coordinator, was at the entrance to greet everyone

 

CSA welcome board

CSA welcome board

We too late to join the first farm tour, but that left us time for berry picking before lunch! I opted for blackberries, with a plan to make jam, while my friend Allen went for a mix of strawberries and blackberries.

Plump, sweet-tart, organic blackberries

Plump, sweet-tart, organic blackberries

Despite my intense picking efforts, I ended up with just enough to make four quarter-pint jars of blackberry jam… which I am hoarding until spring.

Lunch consisted of a buffet line of dishes produced using produce and beans from the farm, as well as chicken and beef from Fifth Crow’s partners, Root Down Farm and Markegard Family Grass-Fed. Talk about eating local!

What's for lunch: farm-fresh slaw, potato salad and tacos (chicken, beef, or veggie)

What’s for lunch: farm-fresh slaw, potato salad and tacos (chicken, beef, or veggie)

Partner-farmer Teresa Kurtak welcomed us and made a few announcements while we all enjoyed our lunches.

Teresa Kurtak, one of Fifth Crow Farm's farmers/partners/owners

Teresa Kurtak, one of Fifth Crow Farm’s partner-farmers

After finishing lunch and bussing our dishes, we were ready for the walking farm tour with farmer-partner, John Vars.

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm's three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm’s three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour

John led us from the flower fields, to the plant-start tables for organic greens, past the strawberry and blackberry fields, and on to the chicken area. During the tour he discussed the history of now seven-year-old Fifth Crow Farm from its creation, while answering questions about crops and food waste.

From left: an assortment of organically grown flowers, table of baby plants for salad greens, closeup of salad green starts

From left: an assortment of organically grown flowers, table of baby plants for salad greens, closeup of salad green starts

View of the fields with more mature organic greens that are about two weeks from harvest

View of the fields with more mature organic greens that are about two weeks from harvest

Pastured chickens at Fifth Crow were selected for a variety of egg type and color

Pastured chickens at Fifth Crow were selected for a variety of egg types and colors

Farm dog, hanging out with the hens

Farm dog, hanging out with the hens

As 2015 draws to a close, I look back and realize that it’s been a year of abundance, and my pleasure to share local food experiences with you. It’s no secret that this little corner of the world where I live is pretty special and has an amazing food system that flourishes with the support of the community. Here’s to more food adventures in 2016!

Waste-Less Wednesday: Waste Free Kitchen Handbook Review

November 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season in the US this week, and for many of us that means the start of the eating season. Thanksgiving dinners this week will give way to December’s holiday parties, cookie exchanges, dinners out, and family gatherings. We’ll cook lots, eat lots, and yes, waste lots, too.

Cheesy baked mashed potatoes: a holiday tradition

Cheesy baked mashed potatoes: a holiday tradition

Who hasn’t prepared a holiday meal or hosted a holiday party and ended up with too much food? We fear running out or not having enough options for our guests, and so we overcompensate. Or maybe we make extra so that we don’t have to cook for a few days following the feast. And yet, inevitably, some of that food ends up in the garbage. When it comes to the T-Day bird, for example, the USDA estimates that we’ll toss out about one-third of it. Dollar-wise, that’s a collective $282 million going into the garbage this holiday season (despite our best efforts at eating turkey everything this coming weekend). Hard to swallow when there are so many food-insecure families who might be challenged to put even a small meal on the table this holiday season.

What if you had a handy-dandy kitchen reference to help you with portion planning for parties and holidays? Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders can help you not only plan better for your holiday meals this year, but also provides guidance on how to get the most of what’s in your refrigerator year-round. Author Gunders, who is a staff scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, brought the food waste issue into the mainstream several years ago when the NRDC published her insightful report, Wasted: How America Is Losing 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” Gunders knows food waste, and now she’s helping the rest of us do something about it.

A compendium of information for wasting less

A compendium of information for wasting less

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is a colorful, easy-to-read, 200-page kitchen reference. Following a brief introduction, in which Gunders gives an overview of the food waste problem and contributing factors, the body of the guide is divided into three parts: Strategies for Everyday Life, Recipes, and Directory.

The first part — Strategies for Everyday Life — is comprised of six chapters that focus on how we can reduce food waste on a daily basis, from a grocery shopping strategy to meal planning to best practices for food storage. The book even includes sample meal-planning templates that you can copy and tape to your fridge! And there’s no expectation of perfection here, in fact, Gunders recommends scheduling a “lazy night” or two into weekly meal planning to accommodate those evenings when you just don’t want to cook dinner.meal-planning-template

The “Smarter Storage” chapter provides some colorful, useful graphics for effective food storage in your refrigerator and freezer — including demystification of the wilter crisper drawers. Yes, finally, a guide to what you should be storing in the crisper drawers and how those things really work! The “Kitchen Setup” chapter provides practical tips on how to organize your kitchen for efficient food storage, as well as giving a list of essential kitchen equipment. Regardless of whether you’re an experienced cook or a newbie to the kitchen, you’ll find useful information here.

Portion planning is something many of us struggle with, and Gunders covers that topic in two helpful charts: “How Much Should I Make?” for daily meal planning (adult and child portion sizes) and a larger “Party Portion Planning” chart that tells you how much to make for one person, 25 people, and a crowd of 50. And when it comes to leftovers, you’ll learn what’s safe to eat, how long can to keep it, and even a list of what you can share with your canine family members.

Part two, Recipes, is a collection of 20 “use it up” recipes for salvaging food on the brink. The recipe collection is nothing fancy, but rather focuses on practical, easy-to-manage, dinner-at-home dishes, such as chilaquiles, soups, and salads. Each recipe contains a brief summary of the ingredients you’ll use up, making the recipe section easily scannable and functional. If, for example, you know you need to use up vegetables, your options include the Free-for-All Frittata, Fried Rice, or Light Chicken Salad, to name a few.

Got leftover pasta, a protein, and some vegetables? There's a waste-less recipe for that!

Got leftover pasta, a protein, and some vegetables? There’s a waste-less recipe for that!

On first read, I thought this section was a bit simple and was hoping for more recipes (although the Sour Milk Pancakes have piqued my interest!). However, after a second read, I realized that Gunders has provided some solid recipes that can also provide the foundation for those who have the time or creativity to get fancier. More important, for the time-pressed, these recipes will get dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time while reducing food waste. Win-win.

The final part, Directory, is my favorite. It’s an inclusive guide that answers those nagging questions about how to optimize the lifespan of the fresh ingredients and pantry staples that you buy regularly, including produce, proteins, dairy, and oils and condiments. For each item, Gunders summarizes optimal freshness details, where and how to store an item, and whether or not it can (or should) be frozen. No more wondering “can I freeze this?” “how long is it good?” or “should I store on the counter or in the refrigerator?” (Yes, Virginia, you can freeze herbs!) Even if you’ve got years of kitchen experience, this handy section collects all of this essential food info in one place.

Everything you need to know about reducing food waste, ingredient by ingredient

Everything you need to know about reducing food waste, ingredient by ingredient

Throughout the book, Gunders’ tone is knowledgable, yet reassuring. Her expertise comes through, and it’s clear that she’s done her research (see the Notes section for sources), but she also admits she’s as challenged as anyone when it comes to managing food waste at home. Gunders speaks of managing food waste as a journey and encourages the reader to think differently about what goes to waste and why.

Waste Free Kitchen Handbook is a guide for eaters and should be in every kitchen. It’s filled with useful information about food waste and what we can all do to reduce the problem in our own homes.

#TBT: SLO to the Coast

November 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

This is the final of a three-part series covering my food adventures during a roadtrip to California’s Central Coast this past summer. Need to catch up? Check out #TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO and #TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo.

Generally I don’t like to bring my personal stuff to the blog, but hey, this is a food blog and that means writing about food issues. So, true confession time: what I’ve been a bit cagey about in these trip reports is the fact that prior to hitting the road back in July, I was retooling my personal diet to deal with a slew of moderate food allergies and sensitivities.

By “moderate,” I mean that none of my food allergies are of the must-carry-Epi-Pen kind (although I do own one), but they’re enough to be uncomfortable, and in some cases, require a Benadryl stat. Dealing with this sort of thing as a culinary professional and someone who loves food has been, well, a pain in the ass.  I’m fortunate, though, in that my reactions are manageable and not life-threatening (so far).

This past summer I decided to see what life was like when I 86-ed the biggest offenders: nuts, uncooked stone fruit, avocados, as well as wheat, barley, and rye-based products. Of course, how to manage those choices on the road became an interesting project, but I like a good food challenge. I’m always keeping an eye out for dietary options that extend beyond the basic meat-and-potatoes or fast-food approach.

San Luis Obispo had been a sweet surprise in terms of food options — from the meatiest of meat options for omnivores to the variety of alterna-diet-conscious restaurants for pescetarians, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks. I’d had a couple of big days out food-wise, already, and as I left SLO and headed to the coast, I was looking for more casual, walk-in fresh food options. Here’s what I found along the way. (Important to know for gluten-free diets: I didn’t ask these restaurants how they’re managing potential gluten cross-contamination, so if you have celiac disease or are allergic to gluten, be sure to contact them directly for more information.)

Mon Ami Creperie Cafe, Pismo Beach
Through some interwebs searching, I found this small cafe, which offers savory and dessert crepes, as well as paninis, smoothies, and coffee drinks. The space has a casual, coffee-shop hangout feel, and the staff is super friendly and accommodating. Crepes and sandwiches are made fresh to order, and there are gluten-free options!

I went with the gluten-free crepes filled with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese (a variation of the vegetarian panini filling).

Gluten-free crepe at Mon Ami Creperie Cafe in Pismo Beach: sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and cheesy goodness

Gluten-free crepe at Mon Ami Creperie Cafe in Pismo Beach: sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and cheesy deliciousness

The crepe was cooked perfectly, and while I was concerned that a gluten-free crepe might have a gummy texture, this was absolutely not the case. The crepe itself was thin and light. The filling had an equal balance of sauteed vegetables and melty mozzarella cheese. The dish was light, yet filling, so I had no room to try the dessert crepes (wom wom), but that’s just another reason to plan a future visit.

Duckie’s Chowder House, Cayucos
For a small town, Cayucos has a good variety of food choices, from upscale dining to gas-station tacos. I spent two nights in Cayucos, which wasn’t nearly enough to try all the places I discovered in town. Sticking to my plan for budget-oriented, casual meals, Duckie’s Chowder House was my first stop.

Duckies is a family-friendly seafood-focused spot where you line up to place your order and staff members deliver it to your table. Touristy? Yep, a bit, but it’s also a solid seafood-based restaurant located across from Cayucos Beach. If you’re looking for a beach-town experience, this is it. The restaurant packs out during warm summer evenings, so if you can’t find a spot to sit, or don’t want to wait for a table, you can always take your order to go.

The menu is broad, American-style and has options for most diets: salads, fried or grilled seafood options, as well as sandwiches. Vegetarian and vegan options include salads and the ubiquitous Gardenburger, as well most of the sides. If you’re a DIY type, you could easily assemble a gluten-free, vegetarian dinner by ordering sides of rice, black beans, steamed veggies, and corn tortillas.

Of course, if you’re pescetarian, Duckie’s is a no-brainer. There are plenty of fried seafood options, but if you’re eating clean or gluten-free, choose the shrimp cocktail, fish tacos, or Duckie’s Bowl. Duckie’s Bowl includes your choice of protein — shrimp or blackened, sautéed or grilled fish — served over rice pilaf and steamed vegetables.

Duckie's Bowl to go, with a view of the beach in the background

Duckie’s Bowl to go, with a view of the beach in the background

Sebastian’s Store, San Simeon
If you’re visiting Hearst Castle, you’re a captive market when it comes to dining choices, and my primary recommendation is to take your own food and picnic in the parking lot. However, if you’re feeling peckish after touring the castle and didn’t BYO, skip the high-priced options at the visitor center and head down to Sebastian’s Store on Highway 1.

The historic building sits in a quiet, pastoral spot on the ocean side of Highway 1, about a mile north of the Hearst Castle Road entrance. (Note that Sebastian’s cafe also shares space with the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting bar, so you can always opt for the liquid snack, if nothing on the food menu suits you.)

Historic Sebastian's Store in San Simeon houses a cafe and wine tasting bar

Historic Sebastian’s Store in San Simeon houses a cafe and wine tasting bar

The blackboard cafe menu includes an assortment of sandwiches and salads, and is definitely meat-heavy, with a focus on burgers made with Hearst Ranch beef. Vegetarian options include the Greek salad, Black Bean Veggie Cheeseburger, and possibly a special request to make one of the sandwiches (turkey, perhaps) vegetarian style.

Pescetarian options are limited to the Swordfish Sandwich and Grilled Fish Tacos. I went with the fish tacos, which are served on corn tortillas with a slaw and creamy sauce. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh. The staff is friendly and service is brisk, and this cafe comes with a good serving of history, not to mention a lovely view.

Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
There’s no lack of fish tacos in Cayucos, but Ruddell’s Smokehouse serves some of the best on the Central Coast. This tiny, lunch-only place serves sandwiches, salads, and soft tacos. The kicker? They do their own in-house hot smoking of the meat and fish used in their dishes.

Meat and fish lovers will be happy with the variety of deliciousness, with the taco category providing the largest range of options: choose from shrimp, albacore, ahi, salmon, pork, or chicken (yes, all smoked in-house) for your tacos. Vegetarians get an option in each category, too: taco, sandwich, and salad. Pickin’s are slimmer for gluten-free folks and vegans, as you’re limited to a salad. However, if fish is part of your diet, you must try the house-smoked salmon in some form or another — it’s that good.ruddells-collage

I went with the Smoked Salmon Tacos. They’re dressed with a creamy sauce and a “salad” of apple, carrot, celery, lettuce and tomatoes that provides crunch, sweetness, and a bit of acidity that offsets the complex, rich flavor of the smoked salmon. As I mentioned, Ruddell’s is tiny, with only a couple of tables out front for seating, so most people take their food to go. I found a nice spot across the street at Cayucos Beach where I could people watch and enjoy the warm sunny day along my new favorite fish tacos.

All in all, my roadtrip to the Central Coast and back was a great getaway: perfect weather, a good dose of California history and landmarks, and some memorable food. A couple of towns in particular have captured my heart, and I’m looking forward to future visits (and more fish tacos!).

Have you visited California’s Central Coast? Share your food experiences in the comments below.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Sustainable Cider from AppleGarden Farm

November 18, 2015 § 2 Comments

When I’m looking for a peaceful getaway beyond the 650, I head north to West Marin county. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and turning onto Highway 1 brings a sigh of relief as you’re forced to slow down and enjoy the scenery — from the rugged coastal areas as you wind your way down to Stinson Beach, to the glassy beauty of Tomales Bay as you head north to Marshall, and finally to the peaceful, pastoral lands as you make your way east toward Petaluma.

Point Reyes Beach

Looking at Point Reyes Beach on the way to the lighthouse

If the natural beauty isn’t enough to entice you, West Marin is rife with history and a rich heritage when it comes to food production. Dairy and cattle ranches have populated Marin county since the 1860’s. Most of these are family-run farms (not “big ag” operations) that have passed from one generation to the next, or between families, as they keep Marin County’s agrarian heritage growing. Traditional, organic, and sustainable have become a way of life among West Marin’s food producers.

From grower to producer to chef, the local food system is thriving. Marin’s farmers provide the organic, sustainable, raw ingredients — dairy, produce, meat — that today’s artisan food crafters and chefs rely on to make their products.

next-door-cows-grazing

Cows graze near AppleGarden Farm in Tomales

The past two decades have seen the rise of award-winning cheese producers, with Cowgirl Creamery leading the way. (See also Tomales Farmstead Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery, among others.) Farming isn’t limited to the land; shellfish is also a top local “crop.” Tomales Bay produces some of the finest west coast oysters you’ll ever try — not to mention mussels and clams. Restaurants like Stinson Beach’s Parkside Cafe and Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station rely on local ingredients to create satisfying, delicious dishes.

Unique among West Marin’s artisan producers are Jan Lee and her husband Lou, owners and farmers of AppleGarden Farm orchard in Tomales and makers of handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider. A two-person operation, they have spent the past eight years planting, growing, and harvesting 40 varieties of apples on their 20-acre property in order to create Marin county’s only organic farmstead hard cider. Jan calls it their “retirement project.” (And if that weren’t enough, there’s also the AppleGarden Cottage bed and breakfast, which Jan started up while waiting for the apple trees to mature enough for the first bottling of cider.)

jan-in-the-orchard

Jan Lee in the orchard of AppleGarden Farm during harvest time

Hard cider, which seems to be on trend lately, isn’t new. In fact, hard cider was the colonists’ original tipple. Cider apples — which are more tart and tannic than the apples we see in the market today —  were cultivated by English settlers, and the drink enjoyed popularity until Prohibition. The Volstead Act not only outlawed alcoholic cider, but it also limited the production of cider apple orchards and even sweet cider, also known as apple juice. As a result of Prohibition, orchards of cider apple trees were replaced with trees producing the sweeter eating apples we know now. But Jan Lee is doing something about that.

After leaving behind stress-filled careers managing commercial construction projects up and down the West Coast, Jan and Lou purchased their property in Tomales in fall 2007. Their plan: grow their own apples and make a flavorful, traditional English-style cider using a natural fermentation process that required only fresh juice and yeast. Together they built a barn, which they lived in until their residence on the property was complete, and planted the first apple trees. The first harvest produced enough apples for Jan to make “lots of applesauce.” Harvesting for making cider started in 2010, with the first bottling in 2011.

Eight years on, Jan and Lou have a two-acre orchard of over 300 apple trees that provide the apples for their hard cider. In addition, the farm is home to approximately 30 pastured chickens (who Jan calls “the girls”).

girls-closeup

Two of “the girls” taking a stroll in the apple orchard

In previous years, when the drought wasn’t as severe, Lou has also indulged his passion for “growing things,” including Cinderella pumpkins, summer squashes, and strawberries. Aside from the apples for cider, whatever Jan and Lou don’t eat or put into cold storage goes to feed the chickens and livestock on neighboring properties.

next-door-cows1

Fruit from AppleGarden Farm: it’s what’s for dinner!

Biodiversity and sustainability were built into the plan for AppleGarden Farm. With a variety of 40 apples, some types, such as the crabapples, attract pollinators and add a tannic (dry) component to the cider blend. (In fact, Jan and Lou keep bee boxes on their property, although a beekeeper manages the bees.) Cider apples contribute tannins and tartness, while the sweeter apples, such as Elstar, Stayman Winesap, and Freedom allow Jan to play with the sweetness and flavor profile when blending the cider. The diversity of apples means a ripening season from late August through early November. Lou harvests the apples by hand when they’re ready, and nothing goes to waste or is left lingering on the tree. Fruit that falls from the tree on its own is left on the ground to become food for the chickens, who in turn, provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer (manure) throughout the orchard.girls-strolling2

Jan and Lou specifically chose trees that would thrive in their coastal region, accounting for foggy mornings and less-sunny summers than inland locations in Sonoma county, for example. Young trees, which take several years to produce apples, receive a small amount of drip irrigation as needed during the summer. Mature trees are dry farmed. Jan and Lou also use large amounts of local organic mulch to keep the soil moist following winter rains.

mulch-new-trees

Heavy mulch around less-mature trees at AppleGarden Farm

Apples are allowed to rest in picking boxes until Jan and Lou are ready to start pressing.

apples-picking-boxes

Freshly picked apples, waiting for the press

Using a new press that Lou built this year, they’re able to extract the maximum amount of juice from the apples. Leftover apple “smoosh” from the pressings becomes feed for neighbors’ livestock. Juice is combined with yeast and left to ferment in large barrels at room temperature for several weeks.

Jan uses commercial yeast for consistent results, but nothing else is added to the cider — no sugar, no flavorings, and no additional carbonation. She tests the cider for percentage of alcohol (maximum 7%) and sugar, acidity, and flavor. Adjustments are made by adding juice — more juice to reduce the percentage of alcohol, tannic juice to balance sweetness and so on. This is the art of blending, and Jan is very good at it.

ferment-collage

The cider as it goes through the first stage of the fermentation process

Two more stages of fermentation, which take the better part of a year in cold storage, happen before the cider can be bottled. Jan and Lou do the bottling on site themselves, using bottling equipment that Lou built. Labels are applied by hand, and Jan delivers the orders herself, driving up and down Marin county to deliver orders to wholesale accounts, of which there are now a dozen.

AppleGarden Farm’s Hard Cider has a moderate amount of alcohol, balance of tannins and sweetness, slight effervescence and sweet-tart apple flavor. Jan calls it a “casual drink, a picnic cider.”

jan-pouring

Jan Lee pouring a glass of her handcrafted farmstead cider

The flavor profile makes it a perfect pairing with Marin county-produced foods — especially full-flavored cheeses such as Cowgirl Creamery’s Mount Tam. Goat cheeses are also a good pairing, and I’m looking forward to trying the cider with Pescadero’s own Harley Goat Farms cheeses.

cheese-board

A selection of Marin county cheeses, charcuterie, marcona almonds, and olives to pair with AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider

Another excellent cider pairing? Tomales Bay oysters! In fact, it’s my new go-to choice of beverage to enjoy with our regional oysters, emphasizing the creaminess and balancing the briny notes.

oysters

Barbequed oysters with chorizo butter and AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider at The Marshall Store

Unfortunately AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider is not yet available in the 650. If you want to try this handmade, sustainable cider for yourself, you’ll have to head to points north and get some from these restaurants and specialty stores:

  • San Francisco: Upcider
  • Larkspur: Left Bank Brasserie
  • Fairfax: Taste Kitchen
  • Olema: Sir & Star Restaurant
  • Petaluma: Marin French Cheese Company
  • Point Reyes Station: Osteria Stellina, Tomales Bay Foods/Cowgirl Creamery
  • Inverness Park: Perry’s Deli
  • Inverness: Saltwater Oyster Depot
  • Marshall: Marshall Store and Oyster Bar, Nick’s Cove
  • Valley Ford: Rocker Oysterfeller’s

Better yet, plan a trip to West Marin when the farm is open and purchase some directly from Jan. Check the farm’s Facebook page for open days and times.

#TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo

October 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

How do you decide where to eat when you’re on vacation in a new locale? Deep research via the interwebs? Friends’ recommendations? Advice from the concierge or innkeeper at your place of lodging? For many of us, what and where we eat while traveling becomes part of the story. We experience a sense of place through local food. Food stories influence our experiences and shape our memories.

Figuring out where to eat is a huge part of trip planning for me. In fact, I probably spend more time compiling a list of restaurants, bakeries, markets, and artisan food shops to visit than I do actually making travel plans. With only a few days to spend in San Luis Obispo this past summer, I was quickly caught up in the best way to fully experience the local food scene while seeing the town and learning its history. (Visiting the Thursday night market was a good start.)

Fortunately, a quick Google search for “food tours” led me to Central Coast Food tours, which offers — yasssss! — a Downtown San Luis Obispo Tour that they call “a food tasting, cultural and historical walking tour all in one!” You had me at hello.

Central Coast Food Tours
Central Coast Food Tours is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team, Laura and Yule Gurreau. The Gurreaus are long-time Central Coast residents and passionate supporters of the area’s evolving food and wine scene. In addition to the San Luis Obispo walking tour, they also offer several walking tours in the town of Paso Robles — which has seen amazing growth in its local dining scene in recent years. You can experience “Paso” through a daytime downtown tour (similar to the SLO walking tour), a Sunday brunch and wine walk, and an evening “haunted hotel” dinner tour.

If you want to experience wine and food in other parts of the county, the Gurreaus can organize a private wine tour of the SLO/Edna Valley area, a sip and sail tour on the coast, or a sip and zip-line tour at Margharita Ranch. (Note: You can book walking tours through Central Coast Food Tours’ website, but will need to call or email to inquire about other tours.)

The SLO walking tour is an afternoon event, starting at 1pm and running 3½ – 4 hours, which leaves you plenty of time to sleep in, grab a leisurely breakfast, and maybe even do a little wandering around town on your own. Or, if you’re one of those early risers, you could take a short drive down to the tiny town of Avila Beach beforehand, explore a bit, and be back in time for the tour. (Oh, and FYI, you’ll be tasting at 5 or 6 locations during the tour, so grabbing a snack beforehand is recommended, but skip the full meal. You’ll be plenty full by the end of the day.)

Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates
Our meeting place and first tour stop was Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates (1491 Monterey Street), a leisurely 15-minute walk from my bed and breakfast. I was the first to arrive and chatted with Yule, who would be leading the tour, while we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. (Laura was leading her own tour in Paso Robles that afternoon.) In all there were six of us: myself, Yule, a couple from Paso Robles, and a couple from Los Angeles. Keeping the group size small gives the tour a relaxed feel and makes it easier to get to know everyone.

Mama Ganache is a small, cute shop that produces a variety of handmade chocolate treats with an emphasis on truffles, bars, and molded chocolates. In addition to a variety of chocolate confections, including vegan and gluten-free options, they also offer an assortment of hot chocolates, coffee drinks, and milkshakes.

Sit and sip awhile: the drinks menu at Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates in San Luis Obispo

Sit and sip awhile: the drinks menu at Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates in San Luis Obispo

After our group had assembled, we settled into the comfy couches at the front of the shop. While we enjoyed our first taste — a refreshing, creamy, peppermint-accented, milk-chocolate milkshake served in an espresso cup — Yule gave us a lesson in chocolate processing, as well as the back story on Mama Ganache. Created and owned by Cal Poly professor of Food Science and Nutrition, Tom Neuhaus, and his sister Joanne, Mama Ganache is a values-based business. They specialize in using fair-trade, organic chocolate and emphasize chocolate education and sustainable cocao farming.

Perfect for a hot, sunny, summer day: Mini peppermint-chocolate milkshake

Perfect for a hot, sunny, summer day: Mini peppermint-chocolate milkshake

After the milkshake palate cleanser, we were ready to taste two of the shop’s unique truffles. The first was a white-chocolate zabaglione-inspired truffle that had just enough marsala to keep it interesting without being too boozy. The second taste was a dark chocolate cherry-chipotle truffle. After the tasting, there was time to chat with the store employees about products, check out the various chocolate-themed gifts for sale, and of course, purchase an assortment of truffles.

Truffle samples at Mama Ganache

Truffle samples at Mama Ganache

Jaffa Café
Leaving Mama Ganache, we headed west on Monterey Street, toward downtown, stopping in at Jaffa Café (1308 Monterey Street). Serving casual, classic Mediterranean-style cuisine to eat in or take out, Jaffa Café has four locations throughout San Luis Obispo county. The SLO location, however, was the first, and continues to be very popular with locals. Jaffa Café has been a local readers’ poll winner for “Best of SLO County – Best Mediterranean Food” seven years running.

Menu choices for meat eaters include kabob plates, shwarma plates, pita wraps, and fatoush salads. Vegetarians and vegans are not left out by any means. Non-meat options range from pita wraps and salads to a “make your own combo” plate with choices that include stuffed grape leaves, hummus, baba ganoush, and grilled veggie salad. By the way, now would be a good time to mention that the tour is vegetarian/vegan-friendly, so make sure you share any dietary restrictions when you book. Yule had noted that I’d requested non-meat dishes when I signed up, and he made sure that my sampler plate came with falafel, instead of gyro meat.

Vegetarian sampler plate at Jaffa Café

Vegetarian sampler plate at Jaffa Café

We Olive
Our walk from Jaffa Café to gourmet food and olive oil purveyor We Olive (958 Higuera Street) took us back into the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo. Along the way, Yule shared his knowledge of local history while pointing out historical buildings.

At We Olive, we sampled just a few of the shop’s more than 40 varieties of olive oils and vinegars. My favorite was the organic Meyer lemon olive oil, which turned out to be the perfect summer salad dressing.

Some of the more popular oils and vinegars are sold by the ounce, allowing customers to buy just what they need. You can bring your own bottle to fill or purchase one of We Olive’s reusable glass bottles. Return a bottle for a refill and save $5 – 7.50, depending on the bottle size.

Sampling olive oils and vinegars at We Olive

Sampling olive oils and vinegars at We Olive

We Olive takes a local/regional approach to olive oil tasting and sales, with locations throughout the Central Coast and Bay Area. (Note that We Olive is a franchise-based business, so not all stores will be the same.) Olive oils sold at We Olive in SLO are California-grown and Certified Extra Virgin by the California Olive Oil Council. According to We Olive’s website: “[m]any of our oils are grown and pressed right here in the Central Coast, providing nutrient-rich products that support local producers.” You can also purchase olives, mustards, and other savory condiments.

Some oils and vinegars are sold in bulk; buy as much as you need

Some oils and vinegars are sold in bulk; buy as much as you need

Fromagerie Sophie
Our next tour stop took us to Fromagerie Sophie, a French-inspired cheese shop on Garden Street, just a couple of blocks west of We Olive. The famous Bubblegum Alley is just around the corner, and Yule offered to take us through before heading into Fromage Sophie for cheese tasting, but everyone in our group had already seen it, so we passed — which left more time for cheese!

Fromage Sophie stocks and sells a large assortment of cheeses from around the world (with an emphasis on French cheeses, of course), including some unique and small-batch cheeses that Sophie orders directly from the makers. In addition to sales, the shop also offers classes and participates in local food and wine events.

Our group was led through the small shop, past the refrigerated glass cases stocked with cheeses, and out the back door to a private patio area accented with string lights and olive trees.

Just one of the cheese cases at Fromagerie Sophie

Just one of the cheese cases at Fromagerie Sophie

An umbrella-shaded table was set and waiting for us; perfect for a mid-afternoon respite and cheese tasting. It’s the kind of spot, where you might, after a glass or two of wine, forget that you’re in Central California, and imagine yourself in the Rhone valley or a Tuscan hill town.

After we had settled in, shop assistants brought beautifully arranged platters of cheese samples, dried fruit, honey, bread, and charcuterie. (Remember what I said about not eating too much before the tour?) As we tasted, we compared notes on the different cheeses — which we preferred, which tasted better with a slice of dried apricot or pear versus a drizzle of honey (or both), and whether wine or scotch whiskey is a better pairing for rich, creamy cheeses.

Sampling the goods at Fromagerie Sophie

Sampling the goods at Fromagerie Sophie

While Fromagerie Sophie would have been a lovely ending to our afternoon tour, there were a few more stops to make. We had an opportunity to walk off our cheese tasting and learn a bit of California history with a visit to the heart of downtown’s historic district: Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

Clockwise from upper-left: Interior of the church at Mission San Luis Obispo Tolosa; mission bells, Yule explains how the walls are structured to withstand earthquakes, mission gardens, stars on the church ceiling, handpainted flowers cover the walls

Clockwise from upper-left: Interior of the church at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa; mission bells; Yule explains how the walls are structured to withstand earthquakes; mission gardens; stars on the church ceiling; hand-painted flowers cover the walls

The fifth of 21 missions founded by Franciscan fathers along California’s mission trail from San Diego to Sonoma, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa remains among the top five to visit. The buildings have been updated and restored and include a museum and gift shop. The mission church is open to the public when not holding Catholic services. Make sure you check out the beautiful hand-painted walls and ceiling inside the church and then take a stroll through the gardens. The plaza next to the mission is home to a variety of local cultural events, including a summer concert series and a Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Palazzo Guiseppe
Backtracking a bit, we crossed the Mission Plaza and headed two blocks up Monterey Street for a taste of Italy at Palazzo Guiseppe. The restaurant sits at the Monterey end of Court Street, a block-long pedestrian mall of shops and restaurants that connects to Higuera on the other end. The restaurant’s casual outdoor seating puts you right along the pedestrian mall and lets you enjoy the warm San Luis Obispo summer evenings while watching the world go by.

The interior of the restaurant is upscale and contemporary without being stuffy. With a menu that focuses on southern Italian-influenced cuisine, Guiseppe’s is committed to using local, seasonal ingredients. In fact, this family-run restaurant — one of two opened by founder Giuseppe “Joe” DiFronzo (the other is in Pismo Beach) —  sources produce from the family’s own organic farm.

Our group was seated at a pre-set table at the front of the interior of the restaurant and served one of their most popular dishes: an appetizer-sized version of their housemade Ravioli di Zucca.

Palazzo Guiseppe's Ravioli di Zucca

Palazzo Guiseppe’s Ravioli di Zucca

Guiseppe’s makes their own dough for this rich dish of demilune-shaped pasta filled with butternut squash purée and sage, complemented with a parmigiana cream sauce and finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Tasty, but perhaps a bit  heavy for a fifth tasting (especially after the cheese and charcuterie tasting earlier). The hospitality at Guiseppe’s was gracious and attentive. When one of our group requested a substitution, it was handled quickly and in a friendly manner. I think we were all starting to wind down at this point, but there was one last stop to make. We thanked our hostess at Guiseppe’s and headed down the street to our final destination: Luna Red.

Luna Red
If you read Part Un of my SLO food trip, you’ll recall that I’d dined at Luna Red the previous evening. Not to worry, though, as there were plenty of dishes on the menu that I didn’t get to taste (including dessert). Our SLO food tour came to a sweet end with Luna Red’s rich, brownie-like chocolate cake with crème anglais and a glass of wine.

Dessert at Luna Red

Dessert at Luna Red

Yule left us as we finished dessert, but with no schedule to keep, the rest of us stayed on for another glass of wine and more conversation. It turns out that one of our group, Miranda, is the owner of the local Powell’s Sweet Shoppe on Court Street, right next to Palazzo Guiseppe. She offered to show us the shop and let us sample their gelato! (Post-dessert, anyone?) It was fun to see the business that she’d so passionately spoken about during our tour.

Bonus Stop: Powell’s Sweet Shoppe
Powell’s was nothing short of a candy lover’s dream. Every confection you could imagine is stocked in the store — in addition to the delicious, creamy gelato.

Just a fraction of the confections at Powell's Sweet Shoppe

Just a fraction of the confections at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe

As much as I enjoyed tasting SLO, meeting a fun group of food lovers and getting to know them made the tour a richer experience. I took the long way home to my bed and breakfast, exploring the downtown streets and the nearby residential area. The night was warm, the downtown crowd lively, and there was no need to hurry back. When I returned to my bed and breakfast later that evening, I found that Yule had left a little thank you gift of truffles from Mama Ganache and baklava from Jaffa Café. It was a sweet ending to an enjoyable and educational day in SLO. I’d tasted my way through some of SLO’s best-loved food spots and met a nice group of people.

Walking food tours are a fun way to get an overview of the local food scene. Not only can you meet and connect with other like-minded travelers, but your guide can provide access and insight to the local food scene that you might not discover on your own. Have you taken a food tour? Share your experience in the comments below.

#TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO

October 16, 2015 § 2 Comments

I’d been harboring summer road trip fantasies for years. Nothing crazy, mind you — no cross-country, hit-every-state, live-out-of-an-RV trip for me. Nope, I just wanted to see more of the Golden State, at a leisurely pace.  I’d go easy on the packing (shorts, sandals, cute tops — it is summer, after all), pop open the sunroof, and head off down the road, stereo cranked. Maybe drive Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Barbara or LA. Or take 101 north through Sonoma county, crossing over to Anderson Valley and ending up in Mendocino. I’d linger in small towns, taste wines in the middle of the afternoon, sample the products of local food makers, and take in the local history. sigh

Just so you know, I didn’t end up taking either of those trips — in part because I’ve done them in the past, and I wanted to go someplace that was new to me. (Although both are on the road trip bucket list for next year.) Instead, I decided to focus on visiting the Central Coast, which has been getting more press for its rising food and wine scene during the past few years. With five days all to myself and Little Cat’s petsitting needs taken care of, I made a plan head south down 101 right after the 4th of July. I’d land in San Luis Obispo for a few days, then head to the coast to finish up the trip before heading home via Highway 1. It was going to be my own personal food tour, with a bit of California history on the side.

The Salad Bowl of the World
The beginning of my trip included short tours through Soledad and Salinas, two cities that are central to California’s agriculture industry. The Salinas Valley is an amazing sight in mid-summer — enough to make you want to pull over from the speedy raceway that is 101 South and just take it all in. Beautiful, bright green fields (despite the drought and daily temps in the high-90’s) full of workers, picking, pulling, and loading. Awe-inspiring, and yet quite humbling when you realize that you’re in the heart of “the Salad Bowl of the World,” an area that produces approximately 80% of the world’s salad greens. Even more so that so much of that hard work is still done manually, in 90-plus-degree temperatures.

Road Food, Day 1
Heading out of Salinas, I was hankering for my first road food snack. It was a little too early in the trip to go right off the rails with heavy, greasy, processed fast food. (And who am I kidding? I don’t eat that way even on a bad day. My idea of comfort food is roasted vegetables and steamed broccoli.) Given my own dietary choices, it gave me the perfect opportunity to think about what’s out there for non-standard, non-meat-based diets. Erm, not much. You need to get creative (and bring your own snacks). Much as I’m a fan of local and family-owned over corporate food choices, Starbucks’ snack boxes came in for the win. Passing by pizza joints and burger spots on my way out of Salinas I popped into Starbucks for a bottle of water and came across their new Omega-3 Bistro Box. While being on-trend, it’s also vegetarian and gluten-free (but not vegan).

Starbucks' Omega 3 Bistro Box

Starbucks’ Omega-3 Bistro Box

Eating My Way Through SLO
I arrived in San Luis Obispo just in time to get check in to my bed and breakfast before heading out to experience the Thursday Night Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market. More than a market, it’s a family-friendly evening event with farm-fresh produce, local food stalls (including award-winning barbeque), handmade products, and a variety of entertainment. The market, which runs 6 – 9pm, covers five city blocks of Higuera Street, between Osos and Nipomo.

Thursday Night Farmers' Market in San Luis Obispo

Thursday Night Farmers’ Market in San Luis Obispo

Much of the produce I saw came from areas around SLO, and far south as Santa Barbara. While it was all beautiful, fresh, and local, I was surprised that there were so few organic vendors at this market. Another surprise? SLO is a meaty town — there’s a real love of  barbeque here. That award-winning barbeque stall I mentioned? Locals were already lining up at 5:30, well before the market opened!

That must be some GOOD barbeque!

That must be some GOOD barbeque!

Downtown shops, restaurants, and bars along Higuera stay open during the market, which means that you can wander, shop, dine, and cocktail, as well. Or just hang out. The weather was just gorgeous — warm enough for summer clothing without a jacket — and the streets were full of happy people. I wandered, sampled, and chatted with vendors for about an hour, and then headed over to Luna Red to sample a craft cocktail or two and check out their small plate menu.

Seeing Red… Luna Red
Thursday night seems to be THE night to be at Luna Red, a tapas-style restaurant located just a block north of Higuera on Chorro Street. With perfect summer weather and almost two more hours of daylight coming, the outdoor seating area was packed when I arrived at 7pm.

No tiny patio, Luna Red’s outdoor seating area could pass for a small restaurant all on its own. The variety of seating includes high-top and regular tables, a fire pit with “couches,” and outdoor bar. It’s casual and fun, with a relaxed vibe. Inside, the restaurant pairs a contemporary design with a mission-style building that consists of a front room, long (red-lit) bar, and a back room with windows that look over the nearby creek. The interior of the restaurant is quieter, but also darker.

Peaceful view from my table at Luna Red (the San Luis Obispo mission is just off to the right, out of the pic)

Peaceful view from my table at Luna Red (the San Luis Obispo mission is just off to the right, out of the pic)

My server, Thomas, was friendly and knowledgeable, answering all of my questions about the cocktail and food menus. The craft cocktail staples, whiskey and gin, figure heavily into the cocktail menu, but there’s a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for every palate. You know I’m a tequila and mezcal kinda girl, so the Smoke and Mirrors (mezcal, benedictine, dry vermouth, grapefruit bitters, rosemary, lemon twist) was just what I needed. The bar gets creative with non-alcoholic drinks, as well, with options like Blackberry Stonefruit (blackberries, stonefruit shrub, lemon juice, soda) and Fig and Thyme (thyme, fig shrub, lime, soda).

The food menu is what I’d call globally inspired, but with a Latin-fusion focus. The restaurant emphasizes supporting local food producers, as well as sustainable farming and fishing techniques. (Note: Dishes reflect the season, so keep that in mind if you visit during the non-summer months. Some of the dishes I’ve mentioned here might not be available.) Luna Red is also very conscious of alternative diets; every dish on the menu has a small abbreviation next to it that indicates whether it’s gluten-free (gf), dairy-free (df), vegan (v), or contains nuts (n).

At Luna Red: Smoke and Mirrors cocktail, Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Sangria, Rockfish Ceviche (clockwise from upper-left)

At Luna Red: Smoke and Mirrors cocktail, Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Sangria, Rockfish Ceviche (clockwise from upper-left)

With five categories — Raw, Small Plates, Paellas, Flatbreads, and Sweets — you’re bound to find a dish or two that calls to you, and everything is meant to be shared. (And GF and DF folks, rejoice! There are approximately a dozen menu items that will suit your diet.) Paellas are the largest dishes and definitely meant to be shared. Even in the Paella category, gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan folks get a vote. Three of the four paellas are GF/DF, and the fourth is vegan.

If you’re choosing amongst Small Plates (the largest menu category), the restaurant suggests 2 – 3 dishes per person and 3 – 5 dishes per couple. The four-top across from me ordered a half dozen dishes to share. Some examples of Luna Red’s small plates: Goat & Berries salad (summer berries, red quinoa tabbouleh, grilled stonefruit, honeyed chevre), Gambas Al Ajillo (sustainable shrimp, paprika olive oil, garlic confit, chili flake, citrus bread), and Pork Short Ribs (honey-chimichurri, garlic green beans).

I was eying the Gambas and a salad, but here’s where my dietary choices went off the rails a bit. I opted for the Pacific Rockfish Ceviche (citrus juice, honey, cilantro, jalapeno) from the Raw section, and while I don’t usually eat meat, the Bacon-Wrapped Dates (stuffed with House-Made Chorizo) were calling to me from the Small Plate section. (Hey, it was a road trip, after all! Why not try something new?) The ceviche was perfect for a warm summer evening: fresh, tangy, and delish. The dates were a bit heavy for the warm weather (for me), although they were a nice balance of sweet, salty, and rich. Still, I enjoyed every bite and decided that dish was a stand-in for dessert.

A satisfying first day of my road trip completed, I headed back to my bed and breakfast for a good night’s sleep so that I would be ready for a full-on food tour of SLO on Day Two.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Down on the Farm

October 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

The issue of food waste has gone mainstream. Back in July, John Oliver covered the topic during an episode of “Last Week Tonight.” And last month, the USDA and EPA got in on the act, issuing a national Food Waste Challenge. The goal? To reduce food waste in the US by 50% by 2030. Already the challenge has received buy-in from major food retailers, as well as food industry and charitable organizations (although no formal program is in place yet).

Much of what’s reported and discussed in the media targets food waste at the consumer level: the food we buy and never eat, the science-experiment leftovers in our refrigerators, and the edible bits we toss out, like carrot greens and cauliflower leaves. But the consumer end is just one aspect of the food system in which food waste occurs. Food waste happens at all points in the system, literally from farm to table. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) report, “Wasted,” the total loss for fruits and vegetables at the production level is about 20%, (“production losses are greatest for fresh produce”) and from post-harvest to retail amounts to about 14%.

The type of waste that occurs on large, commercial farms often involves leaving behind fields of edible product to serve supermarket requirements for size and beauty. The amount of fresh food wasted in this way is staggering.

Just Eat It – Field Waste – Cauliflower (Deleted Scene) from Grant Baldwin on Vimeo.

But what about local farms in the 650, many of which are family owned and already focused on sustainability? How can a small farm — reliant on farmers’ markets, restaurants, and CSA subscribers for sales — manage and reduce food waste, while growing a business? I had a chance to ask John Vars, who is a partner-farmer of Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero (along with co-partners Mike Irving and Teresa Kurtak) during FCF’s CSA Open House farm tour in August.

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm's three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour

John Vars, one of Fifth Crow Farm’s three partner-farmers, getting ready to lead a farm tour during the CSA Open House in August

You don’t see the kind of prettying-up waste that has happened on large, commercial farms. In terms of what Fifth Crow takes to market or provides to CSA subscribers, it’s the whole product harvested from the tree or bush or out of the ground. You’ll see the occasionally blemished or odd-sized fruit, extra-large heads of cauliflower, root vegetables with their greens still attached, and even roots-on basil.

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Roots-on basil plant from Fifth Crow Farm: kept in water at room temperature, it lasted almost five weeks

Farmers’ markets are one of the less-predictable retail outlets for local farms. Market sales can be affected by weather, time of year, and customer tastes, just to name a few of the variables. Estimating market demand and producing “the right amount” is an on-going challenge for any growing food business.  You don’t want to disappoint customers by running out too quickly, but you also don’t want to end up with too much unsold product that you might have to take home with you.

One step in reducing food waste from farm to market then, is getting good at estimating your customers’ demands. Fifth Crow Farm currently participates in six Bay Area markets weekly, in addition to providing farm products to restaurants and CSA subscribers. With six years (now closing in on seven) of growing seasons behind them, the Fifth Crow folks have enough data and experience to better predict and plan what they take to farmers’ markets.

While they’ve gotten better at estimating what to take to market, inevitably there are items that don’t sell. In line with their sustainable, community-based approach to business, Fifth Crow handles leftover market products by:

  • Donating to community organizations that are able to pick up product directly from the market
  • Returning unsold produce to the farm and offering it to the employees, at no charge
  • Using it as food for the farm’s pasture-raised chickens (which produce some of the best eggs I’ve had recently)
No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm's pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

No food waste: Fifth Crow Farm’s pasture-raised chickens dine on greens, beets, kohlrabi, and fennel

John mentioned that the partners especially like being able to offer the unsold products to their employees. In addition to paying a fair wage, it’s another way they support the employees’ hard work throughout the season.

So that’s how one local farm is doing it right: taking a multi-pronged approach that benefits the land, the community, and the farm as a business. Have you asked your local food producers and retailers how they’re reducing food waste? What did you learn? Share your experience in the comments below.

Weekend Recipe: Seasonal Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Goat Cheese

October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s a fine line between the end of summer and beginning of fall here in the 650. Our warm, sunny days might continue right up until Thanksgiving, making you wonder how the holidays came up so quickly. The clues are there: leaves turning from bright green to brown and vibrant red (but slowly, not all at once), shorter days, and a change in the way the sunlight comes in my kitchen window… more golden in color, but not as bright or strong as during the summer.

You see it in the markets, too, of course. Summer produce is mostly finished by October 1, although in good years you’ll still see strawberries lingering for a few more weeks. Stone fruit is long gone, as are blueberries and the second flush of figs. Apples, pears, and persimmons have made their way into the market. Even the concord grapes have come and gone.

I’m now doing the happy dance for the efforts I made to preserve food during those crazy hot days of summer: the jars of jam that have taken over most of a large kitchen cabinet, not to mention the roasted tomatoes, beets, and peppers that have filled my freezer. I’m a little wistful to see summer go; it’s definitely my favorite food season.

Back in early June, after visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, I put together what I thought of as the quintessential 650 summer salad: mixed baby greens with edible flowers from Fifth Crow Farm, topped with strawberries (also from Fifth Crow Farm), Blenheim apricots from my backyard, and Harley Farm’s Honey Lavender Chèvre.

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chèvre

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy Chèvre

By the time I made the second visit to Harley Farms in late August to pick up more Honey Lavender Chèvre, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make that same salad again until next year. My backyard apricot tree was bare, as the harvest ended at the beginning of July, and Fifth Crow Farm’s tender baby greens with edible flowers weren’t showing up in my CSA box. Instead, they’d been placed by spinach and baby kale. (Not that I’m complaining, by any means. That’s the beauty of eating seasonally, new things just keep coming!) *sigh* It was a nice little dish, that salad, and I look forward to making it again next June, when those Blenheims are ripe and sweet. In the meantime, there were other salad variations with which to enjoy that luscious goat cheese from Harley Farms.

What follows is the original Pescadero-inspired salad from early summer. If you can still get good strawberries now, go ahead and make it, substituting sweet-tart apples or even fuyu persimmons for the apricots. Otherwise, you can squirrel it away for next year, when strawberries and apricots hit the market in early summer. If we’re well into fall by the time you read this, then scroll on down to the bottom of the page for a seasonal variation.

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Summer)
2 Servings
I believe in improvising when making salads — use whatever you’ve got and assemble the ingredients according to your taste. There’s no measuring, and you can’t really go wrong, as long as you’re using fresh ingredients that you enjoy. I’ve approximated the measurements for two servings, but feel free to adjust to your taste and appetite.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic baby greens salad mix with edible flowers
3 – 4 medium organic Blenheim apricots, rinsed and sliced into eighths (Early fall version: substitute thinly sliced sweet-tart apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl)
8 – 10 medium organic strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, hulled, and sliced into quarters
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

How to:

  1. Split the ingredients between two bowls or dinner plates. Place the greens on the dish first, then top with slices of fruit, arranging the pieces evenly.
  2. Drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over each salad.
  3. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Top with crumbled goat cheese.
    Wine pairing suggestion: French-style rosé
    plate-top-view

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Fall)
The roasted carrots in this autumn version of the salad add a sweet-savory-earthy component that works surprisingly well with the honey lavender goat cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, toss in some roasted fennel, which plays well with both the apple and the carrot.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic mixed lettuces, spinach, or a combination, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium sweet-tart apple, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl, cut into thin slices
2 – 3 medium roasted carrots, cut into chunks
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Chopped toasted pecan pieces to finish the salad

How to:

  1. Follow instructions for the summer salad version for assembly.
  2. Wine-pairing suggestion: California chardonnay

#TBT: Visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero

October 1, 2015 § 4 Comments

The tiny town of Pescadero (pop. 643, as of 2010) in southern San Mateo county is probably best known for Duarte’s Tavern, a long-standing institution established in 1894 and lauded in Sunset Magazine for its now-famous artichoke soup. But there’s so much more to experience in Pescadero, as I learned this past summer.

Historically important in San Mateo county’s development, Pescadero was part of the original stage-coach road system, taking travelers south from San Francisco to the coast.

Map from the San Mateo County Museum's exhibit on The First Roads

Map from the San Mateo County Museum’s exhibit on The First Roads

Equally important for the 650 is that Pescadero has been a fertile area for farming and ranching in San Mateo county since the 1860’s. Today we’re lucky to have sustainably raised food from Fifth Crow Farm, Root Down Farm, Pie Ranch, and Harley Farms Goat Dairy, to name a few. Some of these farms are supplying San Mateo county’s best restaurants, while also selling their products directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSA programs.

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chevre

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chevre

When the Bay Area’s first round of super-hot weather descended in early June, I took that as a sign to head down the coast. A trip down Highway 1 is often a crapshoot. Microclimates being what they are here, a 30-minute drive across Highway 92 and over to the coast can take you from a siesta-inducing, 95 degrees on the mid-peninsula to a better-bundle-up, foggy 63 degrees on the coast. You just don’t know for sure until you get there (and it’s all part of the adventure, so bring extra clothes)! Fortunately, the day I headed south for a Food Day in Pescadero (the first of two), I lucked out with comfortable 70-something-degree temperatures that were enough to burn off the fog and expose the rugged beauty of the San Mateo county coast. My destination? Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero.

Harley Farms Goat Dairy is a restored 1910 property located just about a mile west (inland) from Downtown Pescadero, right before the intersection of North Street and Pescadero Creek Road. The scenic route takes you through Downtown Pescadero, a cute don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town with a surprising array of places to indulge in food and beverages. Stop and explore, if you have time. If you decide to bypass downtown and keep going west on Pescadero Creek Road, just know that the only entrance to the farm is on North Road (you’ll be able to see the back of the property), so you’ll have to take a sharp left there and backtrack a bit.

Keep an eye out for the cream-colored buildings and goat sign hanging outside the shop.

Harley Goat Farm Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Park along the road, near the shop, or look for the Parking sign just past the metal tanks (near the large eucalyptus tree).

The scenic nine-acre farm is primarily a working dairy that houses 200 alpine goats for milk and cheese production. The property also includes a barn, orchard, colorful garden, and shop where visitors can taste and purchase the farm’s products. The enchanting hayloft above the shop is the site of farm dinners and parties and offers a stunning view of the property and surrounding hills.

View of the gardens from the hayloft at Harley Farms

View of the gardens from the hayloft at Harley Farms

The farm is open year-round for private and public tours, retreats, and events. Guided tours, which must be booked in advance, take visitors around the property to view the farm in action, visit with the goats, and learn about the cheese-making process. The farm offers public tours on weekends, and you can easily book through the website. There are options for family tours (with kids) or adults-only tours (no kids). A word of advice: book early because tours and events book up quickly, especially May-October. Harley Farms will also work with you to create your own private tour or event. Corporate retreat? Birthday dinner in the hayloft? A farm tour with your extended family? Contact the farm directly for more information and availability.

Even if you roll up without a tour booking (as I did on a random weekday), you can still enjoy the public spaces, view the gardens, watch the goats in their pens, and taste the farm’s award-winning products in the Cheese Shop.

Harley Farms Shop in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Shop in Pescadero, CA

The farm produces feta, ricotta, fromage blanc, and of course, chèvre. The fromage blanc, which has the texture of a soft, light cream cheese, is available plain or with flavor accents such as garlic and herb or tomato and basil. Pro tip: the tomato-basil fromage blanc pairs perfectly with the freshly baked artichoke bread from Arcangeli’s Market in town.

Harley Farms chèvre is a classic goat cheese with a firm, but creamy consistency. It crumbles when chilled and spreads like cream cheese at room temperature. The Cheese Shop offers several sizes of chèvre, from cute “buttons,” perfect for tasting, to must-share rounds and logs. Flavor-wise, you can choose plain chèvre or dressed-up options topped with chopped apricots and pistachios; cranberries and walnuts; or pretty, edible flowers from Harley Farms gardens (aka, the award-winning Monet Cheese).

I tried them all, but my hands-down favorite, however, is the Honey Lavender Chèvre. The sweet-herbal combination is well-balanced and complements the earthy goat cheese flavor. While it’s delish on a cracker, I found that the complex flavor combo is a perfect addition to a pretty summer salad of fruits, greens, and edible flowers. It was so good, I had to make a second trip to Harley Farms later in the summer for more Honey Lavender Chèvre.

Harley Farms Honey Lavender Chevre

Harley Farms Honey Lavender Chèvre

The shop also sells assorted sweet treats (handmade truffles and goat-cheese cheesecakes), bath and body products, and gifts.

A small and vibrant part of the San Mateo farming community, Harley Farms is a worth a visit. Book yourself a tour, bring along some picnic supplies (or stop into Arcangeli’s Market for that artichoke bread), and make a day of it.

Have you visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy? Or a goat dairy in your local food system? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Details
What: Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Where: 205 North Street, Pescadero, CA 94060
Phone: 650-879-0480
Farm & Shop Hours:
January-February: Mon-Thu 11am-3pm; Fri-Sun 10am-4pm
March-December: 10am-5pm, every day
Closed Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
Parking: Street or lot

 

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