Waste-Less Wednesday: Cleaning Out the Cobwebs

February 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, a travel blogger I know sent me an email. He was planning to put together a round-up of  “awesome food bloggers” and wanted to include 650Food (nice, right?), but then he got to the point: “I was going to include you but 650food seems to have cobwebs.” Cobwebs? Things might be a little dusty around here, but…cobwebs?! Huh.

It’s true that I haven’t posted in a while — in fact, we’re coming up on a year. So what happened? Simply: life happened. The upside to being The Boss of Me is that I can decide when and how to do this thing called Work (pros and cons, people…pros and cons). And 650Food, while a labor of love certainly, is quite a project. I spend an average of eight hours putting together a single post. Recipes can take closer to 16 hours, as I’ll test a recipe multiple times. For a non-recipe post, the process includes researching the topic at hand, visiting a food business (sometimes multiple times) or interviewing a maker, taking and editing photographs, writing and editing the post, creating keywords, and sharing the post to multiple social media channels. Don’t get me wrong; I love it. But 650Food happens in addition to all of the other things in my life. And this time last year, I needed a reset.

I decided to take a break, practice some necessary self-care to manage health issues, and catch up on long-overdue vacations. In fact, I planned a “year of travel” for myself that included local getaways (BottleRock Napa) and international trips (Spain, Jordan). It was my intention to keep posting to 650Food in between trips and “from the road.” I imagined myself writing posts on planes, in airports, or while drinking tea in some exotic cafe. I set up my laptop and iPad with Boingo, Gogoinflight, and VPN accounts.

puplo-tapas24

Pulpo at Tapas 24, Barcelona

Before heading off to Bottleneck Napa for Memorial Day weekend, I thought about hanging a “Gone Fishing” sign on 650Food for the summer. But then summer turned into fall. I went to Spain, then Jordan (both amazing food cultures, by the way) and came home with a some wonderful memories, great photographs, and flu that lasted into October. The remainder of 2016 was: more travel, more flu (seriously, planes and hotels are just petri dishes), and well, here we are. And yes, there’s still another big trip on the horizon.

jordan-breakfast

Middle Eastern Breakfast, Jordan

By the time fall rolled around, I realized a couple of things:

  1. It’s not so easy to write regular posts for a local food blog when you’re not home and therefore not cooking or eating much local food.
  2. The type of posts that are the foundation of 650Food — deep-dive, information-rich — required more time and resources than I could assemble while traveling, preparing to travel, or recovering from traveling.

What I can tell you after a year of travel, is that there are few places in the world quite like what we have here when it comes to food. We’re blessed with a climate that allows year-round growing, which means access to fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. (If you’ve been to a grocery store in Ohio in the middle of winter, you know what I mean.)

plant starts and flowers

Fifth Crow Farm, Pescadero

We have community-supported small farms that practice organic growing methods that are better for the health of people and the environment, ranches that believe in grass-fed and humanely raised animals, local apiaries providing some of the best honey you’ll ever taste, and an ocean of fresh seafood, not more than 20 miles from my home. And then there’s the variety of local restaurants that offer just about any style of food you might crave. I’ve got my sushi spot, my Latin spots (can’t have just one), my gluten-free/allergy-aware/earthy-crunchy spot, my craft cocktail spot. I could go on, and I’m sure you’ve got your favorites. And by the way, I’m just talking about what we have here in The 650. Add in the South Bay, the city, Marin, Napa — and the Bay Area is pretty special when it comes to food culture.

tuna-tartare-truefood

Tuna Tartare at True Food Kitchen, Palo Alto

So, clearing out the cobwebs and (slowly) getting back on track, I’ll remind you that it’s Waste-Less Wednesday. Waste-Less Wednesday is all about finding and sharing ways to reduce food waste at home and in our community. If you need a refresher, just type waste-less wednesday in the search box to view previous posts.

This week I have to share a fun thing I learned from my friend Amy’s mom, Fran: did you know that you can regrow scallions, aka, green onions? I find that scallions are a lot like herbs in that you always end up with more than you can use. You buy a bunch because you need to chop up a tablespoon or two out of the bunch for a recipe, and then are left wondering what to do with the rest. I have ended up with bunches of slimy yellow-green, used-to-be scallions in my crisper drawer more times than I care to remember.

So, how to get better and longer life out of your scallions, while reducing waste? Put the white root-end in a glass of water. Place the glass near or on a windowsill. You’ll see the green part at the top sprout and “regrow” within a couple of days. (Make sure to change the water as it starts to get cloudy.) Fran said her scallions almost doubled in length over the course of five days. It’s almost like getting a second bunch for free! Continue to snip the green part as necessary for your cooking needs.

scallions

Fran’s Second-Growth Scallions

Yep, there’s more than one way to keep growing and get back on track.

Have you tried regrowing scallions? How long did you keep them going?

(P.S. Thanks Fran!)

#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.

#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.

#TBT: What I Did This Summer

September 24, 2015 § 8 Comments

We’re back — and throwin’ it back for #TBT! Betcha thought 650Food had drifted away to the Land of Forgotten Blogs, but not so my friends! Way back in June I made the decision to take the summer off for a much-needed and long-overdue creative and lifestyle reboot. (On the blogging front, it’s hard to know how/when to announce this sort of thing. So rather than hang a virtual “Gone Fishing” sign on the blog, I thought it better to just leave things open in the event that I ended my hiatus sooner than, well, now.)

As a solopreneur and long-time Boss of Me, I’ve been notoriously bad at taking time off, regrouping, and recharging. For years “time off” has really meant working double-time before or after, just to make up for the time off. So, if you do the math on that, there’s no actual time off. And the guilt — oh, the guilt! It’s a Greek chorus of “You should be…” following me everywhere I go. Yeah. Over time, that sort of thing takes its toll on your health and your creativity. Especially here in the Bay Area, we’re so worked up about, er, work, and being busy that we don’t make time to take vacations, see friends, or even sit down to a slow, comfortable dinner at home.

It occurred to me that all of our “busy” and “not enough time” is self-inflicted. (And I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m the first to ‘fess up that my overworking and overscheduling is down to me and no one else.) It’s the choices we make about how we spend our time, coupled with a sense of obligation that leads to this feeling of being overwhelmed. I’ve been there enough times to know. And I’ve seen it affect the physical and mental health of friends and family — more and more as the years go by. I don’t think this is the way we’re meant to live. Taking a break allows you to breathe, get perspective, and hopefully regain the experience of enjoying your days, not rushing through them.

My “what I did this summer” story isn’t some epic Eat, Pray, Love experience; I didn’t eat my way through a Grand Tour of Europe or run off to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. In fact, most of my exploring happened close to home, and the farthest I ventured out of the 650 was to my parents’ place in rural Ohio. Mostly, I sought to savor every day — whether that meant researching a food-related topic for an article or blog post, spending time catching up with friends, or finally visiting local landmarks (Filoli Mansion & Gardens: check!). Of course, local food played a big part in how I spent my summer off. Following are some of the highlights of my summer; I’ll be writing about some of these experiences as part of #TBT in the coming weeks.

Jammin’
Jam making is one of those sweet-kitchen skills that wasn’t covered in my culinary school program. It’s something I’ve wanted to learn for years, but was afraid to try for fear of (1) screwing it up and (2) botulizing myself or someone else. This summer I dug in, did my research, and turned about 50 pounds of fruit (booyah!) into jam. Really good jam. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year?

Homemade Backyard Apricot-Lime Jam

Homemade Backyard Apricot-Lime Jam

Harley Farms Goat Dairy Visit
Early in the summer I took a day trip down the coast to Pescadero to check out their local food scene. The  folks at Harley Farms Goat Dairy make some delicious, award-winning goat-milk cheese: ricotta, fromage blanc, and (my favorite) chevre with honey and lavender. Located just past downtown Pescadero, it’s worth a visit. The gardens are beautiful, and the goats are adorable. You can buy the farm’s products on site and picnic nearby.

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Central Coast Food Tour
When I initially started thinking about a California road trip, I was focused on visiting historical sites — Hearst Castle, the missions, and so on. And yet, somehow my Central Coast trip became all about the food. From the Thursday night Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market to Ruddell’s Smoked Salmon Tacos in Cayucos, I pretty much ate my way through San Luis Obispo county.

From the coast to San Luis Obispo, SLO county has some delicious eats!

From the coast to San Luis Obispo, SLO county has some delicious eats!

Local Lunches
There’s something really indulgent about a leisurely weekday lunch, especially if there’s wine involved. With its fresh, made-to-order food, sangria, and friendly service, Mama Coco Cucina Mexicana in Menlo Park became one of my go-to spots.

Fresh, home-style Latin food at Mama Coco Cucina in Menlo Park

Fresh, home-style Latin food at Mama Coco Cucina in Menlo Park

CSA Open House at Fifth Crow Farm
If you’ve been following the blog for the past (eep!) almost two years, you know that I’m a strong advocate of knowing the source of your food. Know what you’re buying, where it was grown — and better yet, meet the person who made that food. This past spring I switched my CSA from a larger organization, to the 650’s own Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero. What better way to support the local food system and a growing small business? When the Fifth Crow folks announced the CSA-subscriber open house, lunch, and farm tour in August, there was no way I was missing it.

A day on the farm: Fifth Crow Farm's CSA Open House

A day on the farm: Fifth Crow Farm’s CSA Open House

That’s my summer summary. What about you? Share your “what I did this summer” stories and food memories in the comments below.

Field Trip: Eating My Way Around Boston (Part Deux)

December 9, 2014 § 2 Comments

Where were we? Oh right, leaving Boston’s North End after touring and tasting. (Need a refresher? Missed the first part of Eating My Way Around Boston? Catch up here.) With stops for oysters, a lobster roll, and cannoli checked off my list, I followed Hanover Street west — out of the North End — over to Congress Street, and into the heart of downtown Boston.

If you’re a history geek, there are plenty of interesting historical sites to visit along this part of the Freedom Trail, including the site of the Boston Massacre, the Old South Meeting House, and Granary Burial Ground (final resting place of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, among others). Walking through the contemporary City Plaza, then along historic Tremont Street with its old churches and burial grounds was a bit of a cognitive disconnect. History — not just the history of Boston or Massachusetts, but the history of this nation — lives side-by-side with 21st-century life. Our history in the Bay Area is newer, different, and not as much about the birth and infancy of a nation, but more about the growth of one. Something to ponder while watching the world go by from a bench in Boston Common (which, by the way, is the country’s oldest public park).

As I mentioned in my previous post, it wasn’t the prettiest day for touring, but Boston Common is one of those city parks that is lovely any time of year. It’s a large, beautiful green space with much to explore, including a variety of commemorative statues, a Frog Pond, and a large lagoon with swan boats. Or, just find a bench in a tree-shaded location and people watch for a while.

Beacon Hill, my final tour stop of the day, was a short walk across busy Beacon Street to Charles Street. With its old-growth trees, picture-perfect side streets, and neat red-brick buildings, I’d found my quintessential Boston calendar page. I spent a leisurely hour or so crisscrossing the neighborhood, checking out the cute shops and cafés. With the afternoon (and daylight) waning, it was time to head over to Fort Point for snacks and happy hour.

Snackalicious
Planning ahead for something tasty and sweet to snack on later in the evening, I stopped into Flour Bakery in Fort Point. With a mouth-watering assortment of French-style pastries and American baked goods (from beautiful petite tarts to hefty, rich brownies), it was a sugar-rush paradise. Flour also bakes a variety of breads and rolls, as well as some savory pastries. In the “but wait, there’s more category,” they also serve breakfast, salads, and sandwiches daily — either fresh-made to eat in or packaged to go.

Showing some amazing restraint, I limited myself to a cornmeal lime sandwich cookie the size of my palm, filled with lime buttercream. Fortunately I had another stop on my food tour, which would distract me from the cookie for the time being (although I could swear was calling my name from inside my purse).

dsfkjlas

Cornmeal-lime sandwich cookie from Flour Bakery in Fort Point

It’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere
After a full day of seeing Boston on foot, I figured I had earned my happy hour, so I found my way to craft bar Drink in Fort Point. Actually, not realizing that Drink is below street level, I walked right by entrance and had to circle back. (Hint: Drink and Sportello Restaurant share the same entrance. Go upstairs for Sportello and downstairs for Drink.) The interior is classic loft-style (San Franciscans, you’d feel right at home): brick walls, street-level windows, sleek wood bartops, open-beam ceiling, and low-wattage Edison lightbulbs.

Drink’s concept is interesting: you tell your bartender what you like to drink — whether that’s a particular cocktail, alcohol, or flavor — and he’ll whip up a libation just for you from the house’s extensive catalogue of handcrafted drinks. Just so you know, that catalogue is mostly in the bartenders’ heads. That’s right, there are no drink menus. Your drink is crafted based your preferences and your bartender’s extensive knowledge of Drink’s cocktails. It’s a marriage of prohibition-era cocktail culture with contemporary creativity.

When I mentioned to my bartender, Joe, that I’d developed a taste for vodka martinis lately, he suggested A Means of Preservation. Although the drink is typically gin-based, Joe offered me a selection of vodkas, including San Francisco’s own Hangar 1, as the cocktail’s main ingredient. A Means of Preservation (for me) is: Hangar 1 Vodka, St. Germain Liqueur, Dolin Extra Dry Vermouth, celery bitters, and a grapefruit twist, served up in a coupe glass.

A Means of Preservation at Drink

A Means of Preservation at Drink

This cocktail is light and elegant with layers of citrus and botanicals; it’s the perfect aperitif to sip while perusing Drink’s food menu. Like the cocktail choices, Drink’s food is a combination of classic and contemporary: Chicago Style Hot Dog, Grilled Cheese with squash, cheddar and sage, and House Made Charcuterie are just a few of the dozen options on the menu. The standout item for me? Vegetarian Charcuterie. Before you start envisioning a plate of chopped up vegetables, let me tell you that this was one of the more interesting vegetarian dishes I’ve had in a long time.

skdfj

L to R: Carrot rillettes with butter and sea salt; beet tartare with curry and pepper; creamy, earthy mushroom mousse; smoked yam slices with olive oil and smoked sea salt; house-made chips

Served on a cutting board, the Vegetarian Charcuterie includes four individual vegetarian dishes — carrot rillettes, mushroom mousse, beet tartare, and smoked yams — accompanied by house-made potato chips (or request bread, if you prefer). Every dish was flavorful and satisfying, from the first bite of buttery carrot rillettes to the last piece of smoked yam, accented with olive oil and sea salt. While I enjoyed everything on the board, the mushroom mousse was my favorite. I loved the contrast of the light, creamy texture of the mousse with the earthy, slightly spicy mushroom flavor. Second favorite was the beet tartare, spiced with curry and a touch of pepper, topped with a dollop of sour cream.

I had planned to hit Legal Seafood for dinner, but after a full day of tasting and touring, I was ready to head back to the hotel and climb into bed (call the water taxi!). Sorry Legal Seafood… next time. I ended my day savoring Flour’s cornmeal-lime sandwich cookie while enjoying the panoramic view of Boston’s city lights from my room. Sleep well? You bet I did.

How would you spend 24 hours in Boston? What’s your perfect day?

Field Trip: Eating My Way Around Boston

December 8, 2014 § 6 Comments

What if you had a day — just 24 hours — to experience Boston? Where would you go? What would you see? And more importantly, what would you eat? Tough questions, right?! With so much history, interesting architecture, and mouth-watering food, the list of options might be overwhelming. Would you follow the Freedom Trail, exploring the city’s oldest neighborhoods and historical sites? Or would you take a cultural tour, visiting museums, Harvard Square, or maybe even Fenway Park? And the food — where to start?! From the classic — lobster rolls and cannoli — in the North End to the fine-dining restaurants in Beacon Hill, you could spend weeks doing nothing but eating your way through the city. (Yes, please!)

So with this dilemma at hand a few weeks ago, I went into full-on planning mode for a day of indulgence in Boston. Adding to the excitement was the fact that this would be my first trip to Boston since a family vacation many, many years ago that involved seeing much of the Northeastern US over the course of 10 loooong days while squeezed into the back seat of a VW Squareback with my siblings. The highlights of that trip included plenty of boredom, bickering, and parental threats of “One more time, and I’m turning this car around!” A long time coming, but I was getting my very own Boston do-over.

Given the limited time and transportation options (I was going sans rental car), I knew I had to have a tight game plan if I was going to make the most of my free day in Boston. My home base was the Hyatt Boston Harbor, a 10-minute shuttle ride from Logan Airport. The hotel sits right on the inner harbor, and on a clear day you have a gorgeous panoramic view of the city skyline. Being right on the harbor also means easy access to water taxis, a fun (if slightly damp) way to get into the heart of downtown in just about 10 minutes. Less time in transit and more time for fun and food!

With transportation at my doorstep and a keen interest to mix historical touring with some of Boston’s best food, I had my plan: I’d take a water taxi across the harbor to the Boston Aquarium drop-off point, walk up and over a couple of blocks to Faneuil Hall to pick up the Freedom Trail and start my self-guided tour. Using the Freedom Trail phone app, I’d be able to not only get the deets of each historic location, but I could use the map to pinpoint food shops and restaurants along the way so that I could jump off the trail and indulge in some of Boston’s tastiest food as the mood struck.

I wish I could say that my day of touring was one of those calendar-worthy East Coast fall days: sunny, crisp, and accented with a backdrop of richly hued fall color, but unfortunately, no. A big storm had blown through Boston the night before my planned day of fun, leaving behind grey skies and slick, wet streets pasted with those colorful fall leaves. The fall color I was hoping to see was everywhere I looked — as long as I was looking down. No matter, there were other sights to see and a lobster roll to be had.

Gettin’ My Seafood On
After checking out Faneuil Hall Marketplace — a collection of food stalls that cover just about every cuisine you could imagine — and touring Faneuil Hall itself, I picked up the Freedom Trail and headed over to the North End. Eventually I’d get to the Paul Revere’s statue, the North Church, and Copps Hill Burial Ground, but first up: Neptune Oyster, one of Boston Magazine’s winners for Best Lobster Roll

Sampling East Coast seafood was the priority of the day, and I was looking forward to my first actually-made-in-New England lobster roll. (Side note? My first lobster roll experience happened right here in the 650 at Burlingame’s New England Lobster. I wanted to see how the West Coast version compared to the original.) Not just about lobster rolls and oysters, Neptune Oyster serves a variety of seafood options, including a full raw bar, clam chowder made to order, contemporary crudos, and seafood salads. Anticipating an early lunch and wanting to sample as much of the menu as I could, I’d skimped on breakfast.

Neptune Oyster in Boston's North End

Neptune Oyster in Boston’s North End

Neptune Oyster is an intimate spot just a couple of blocks off busy Cross Street. In fact, the restaurant reminds me a lot of Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco, but without the long line outside. Both places are small, with limited seating and a long, no-reservations waiting list. At Neptune Oyster you roll up, give your name and phone number to the nice man at the door, and then find something else to do for an hour or so until your spot is ready… unless you luck out for a seat at the bar (which I did!).

The restaurant’s interior is classic early 20th-century styling with subway tile on the walls, old globe lights hanging from the painted tin ceiling, and a marble-countertop bar. Servers are friendly, chatty, and ready to answer questions about the menu or offer wine-pairing suggestions. Want to start with something from the Raw Bar — oysters, clams, or a seafood cocktail? Of course you do! Just fill out the tally sheet provided with your menu.

Tally sheet for fresh oysters, clams, and seafood cocktails

Tally sheet for fresh oysters, clams, and seafood cocktails

I was jazzed to see some of my favorite West Coast oysters on the menu, but hey, I was going East Coast all the way: Wellfleet and Thatch Island oysters with a server-recommended rosé to start.

Oysters to start with a glass of crisp, yet fruity rose

Oysters to start with a glass of crisp, fruity rosé

I loved that the tally sheet included short flavor profiles to help me decide which oysters to try. The Wellfleets were smaller than the Thatch Islands, less plump, and really salty, whereas the Thatch Islands were plump and flavorful with a rich finish (my favorite of the two).

The main attraction for me, however, was the Maine Lobster Roll, served either cold with mayo or hot with butter. I opted for the cold version with just a touch of mayo. The sandwich comes with a mound of french fries that have just the right mix of salt, softness, and crispness — soooo good that you don’t want to stop eating them, (but I did, because, well, lobster). And the lobster roll itself? Simple perfection! Super-fresh lobster meat, and lots of it — twice what Burlingame’s NEL serves on their sandwiches — with just a touch of mayo and salt and pepper. (By comparison, Neptune Oyster’s sandwich is bigger than New England Lobster’s, but pricier, too. I was happy to see that our 650 version stands up to the East Coast original.)

A mound of fries, a mound of lobster meat, a freshly grilled roll... what else do you need?!

A mound of fries, a mound of lobster meat, a freshly grilled roll… what else do you need?!

After a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, including some entertaining counter-mates, it was time to waddle out of Neptune Oyster and get back on the Freedom Trail. After checking out Paul Revere’s statue and the Old North Church, I had one more food stop in the North End before heading over to Boston Common and Beacon Hill.

Statue of Paul Revere near The Old North Church

Statue of Paul Revere near The Old North Church

Holy Cannoli, Batman
You need to know that there was no way I leaving the North End without indulging in a classic cannoli! (Good thing I took a little time to walk off some of that lobster roll.) While anyone who knows cannoli in Boston will likely tell you that the two best-known bakeries for this crispy/creamy treat are Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, I opted for winner of Boston Magazine’s Best Cannoli for 2012 and 2013, Maria’s Pastry.

Maria's Pastry cannoli filled to order: classic ricotta filling with chocolate chips and fruit

Maria’s Pastry cannoli filled to order: classic ricotta filling with chocolate chips and candied fruit

The crispy, deep-fried shells are filled to order with your choice of traditional sweetened ricotta, vanilla cream, or chocolate cream. Want to dress up your cannoli? Order extras like a chocolate-dipped shell, chocolate chips, or candied fruit. (Uh, apparently most people only go for one “extra” because ordering both chocolate chips and fruit got a disapproving look from the lady behind the counter. Whatev…)

Maria’s sells other traditional Italian pastries as well, such as sfogliatelle, torrone, and biscotti. Take your treats to go, or enjoy them at one of the shop’s small tables. (Note to self: don’t eat cannoli outside on a windy day, unless you want to spend the rest of the afternoon dusting powered sugar off your coat, your boots, your hair…)

With my cannoli needs satisfied, I dusted myself off and got back on the trail. I had an afternoon of sightseeing ahead of me.

There’s more touring and more food to come! Grab a snack and stay tuned for Eating My Way Around Boston (Part Deux).

Field Trip: Another County Heard From

October 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

This past weekend I left the 650 behind and took a little road trip north, heading across the Big Red Bridge to Marin County. With unseasonably hot weather and clear blue skies, you would have thought it was mid-summer, not two weeks away from Halloween; nonetheless, it was perfect road-trip weather. Even the usual 19th Avenue crawl to the bridge had an upside: a sighting of the Blue Angels flying by. Lucky sighting it was, too, as the bridge itself was completely covered in fog. (The Blue Angels made another fly by while I was crossing the bridge, but the fog was so thick that I could only hear the planes.)

First stop and main event of the weekend was Bounty of Marin Organic, a food-and-beverage event/fundraiser at Marin County Mart. Despite the 19th Avenue traffic, I arrived at Marin County Mart half an hour before the event started, giving me time to stop by the event area and say hello to Jan Lee of AppleGarden Farm, who had generously invited me to be her guest at the event.*

Jan Lee, producer of organic, handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard cider at Bounty of Marin Organic

The lovely Jan Lee, producer of organic, handcrafted AppleGarden Farm Hard cider
ready for tasters at Bounty of Marin Organic

Not only do Jan and her husband, Lou, own and operate AppleGarden Farm and AppleGarden Cottage bed and breakfast, but they also produce hand-crafted AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider from organic heritage apples on their property. Phew! Talk about a creative and energetic couple! Welcome hugs and hellos said, I left Jan to prepare for cider tastings, while I headed over to Miette Bakery to inhale indulge in a macaron or three.

Bounty of Marin Organic kicked off at 5pm with a tasting event that featured about a dozen of Marin County’s finest organic food producers, including Star Route Farms, Gospel Flat Farm, Mindful Meats, and Straus Family Creamery. Tastes included fresh raw oysters from Hog Island and small indulgences of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, and Tomales Farmstead Creamery. There were also a variety of prepared foods by chefs from local restaurants, such as Saltwater Oyster Bar, Parkside Cafe, and Left Bank Brasserie, who used seasonal products from Marin’s organic farms to create some savory tastes. (The tasting event was followed by a family-style, farm-to-table dinner, created by the food producers and chefs who had participated in the tasting. I didn’t attend the dinner, opting for a light meal at nearby FarmShop instead.)

As the tasting portion of the event kicked off, I started my Marin food “tour” with a glass of Jan’s AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider while we chatted a bit about her business and customers. The cider itself is flavorful, crisp, hardly sweet, and a touch effervescent — what a pleasant surprise! I think the first thing I said to Jan was “It’s not sweet, or too bubbly!” She smiled knowingly and then mentioned that it paired well with oysters (Hog Island was at the table to our left) and cheese (to our right). The fat Hog Island Oysters were calling me, so off I went.

For two hours, I happily tasted some of the best local, organic, and handcrafted food from the northern 415 and western 707 (aka, West Marin), sipping Jan’s cider in between tastes of North Coast biodynamic wines. Here are some the highlights from my Bounty of Marin Organic tasting experience.

Hog Island Sweetwater Oysters
What could be better than freshly shucked local oysters?! Apparently freshly shucked local oysters with a glass of Jan’s cider. Seriously. I’ve been challenged to find a good beverage pairing with oysters, but this could be it for me.

HogIsland-1

Yes, please! A mound of fresh Hog Island Oysters, just waiting to be shucked

Mindful Meats Brisket
Mindful Meats is a wholesaler that works with organic dairy farmers in Marin and Sonoma counties to source and provide pastured, organic, non-GMO meats. They partnered with Left Bank Larkspur, providing the beef for a Gaucho-Style Braised Beef Brisket with Chimichurri Sauce. The meat was so tender and flavorful, while the sauce added some spice and contrast to the rich meat.

Mindful Meats Beef meets Left Bank Larkspur's creativity

Mindful Meats Beef meets Left Bank Larkspur’s creativity

Savory Vegetable Pastry
There were some happy vegetarians in the crowd when they found this crispy, savory treat. Stinson Beach’s Parkside Cafe created a rich, crave-able savory pastry that featured Gospel Flat Farm’s 5-Bean Salad in a croissant-like pastry with crispy exterior. Mmm… crispy, soft, buttery, earthy goodness. To further enhance the deliciousness, you could top the pastry with a spoonful of McEvoy Ranch Olive Tapenade and a sprinkling of sea salt. (Oh yes, I did. And then I went back for seconds.)

Parkside savory vegetable pastry made with Gospel Flat Farm produce

Parkside savory vegetable pastry made with Gospel Flat Farm produce

Alongside the pastries (which were snapped up almost as soon as they arrived on the table), was a display of Gospel Flat Farm produce used to make the pastries. Need I say it? A great example of farm-to-table creativity.

A display of Gospel Flat produce used for the pastries, alongside the finished product made by Parkside Cafe

A display of Gospel Flat produce used for the pastries, alongside the finished product made by Parkside Cafe

Pumpkin Goodness
The table shared by San Francisco-based Boxing Room and local (as in: in the same shopping center as the event) FarmShop Restaurant was pumpkin central. These two restaurants showed just how versatile and tasty pumpkin can be. FarmShop’s contribution was a Pumpkin Hummus with spiced pepitas and pomegranate molasses, served on a house-made lavash. (And, by the way, this can’t-stop-eating-it snack pairs nicely with hard cider. The dryer cider balances and complements the sweetness of the pumpkin and molasses.)

FarmShop Restaurant's Pumpkin Hummus on Housemade Lavash

FarmShop Restaurant’s Pumpkin Hummus on Housemade Lavash

The Boxing Room’s pumpkin soup, on the other hand, was rich with a hint of spice. It’s the kind of soup I’d crave while curled up in bed on a cold, rainy night, but that could be fancy enough for a dinner party. There was already plenty of buzz about “the soup” before I got to try one of the last few samples, and yes, it was worth it.

Pumpkin Soup from Boxing Room: buzzworthy

Pumpkin Soup from Boxing Room: buzzworthy

This event was a fun (and filling!) opportunity to enjoy some of the best food that Marin County has to offer. I love the fact that an organization like Marin Organic exists to support and promote the local, organic and handcrafted products of the area. I’ll be back Marin, I’ll be back!

Have you experienced the bounty of Marin? What did you eat? Local oysters? Organic cheeses? An amazing restaurant meal? Share your Marin food experience!

*Full disclosure: I attended Bounty of Marin Organic as the guest of Jan Lee. My opinions are my own and not provided in exchange for attendance at the event, nor at the request of Marin Organic, Jan Lee, AppleGarden Farm, or any other participants in Bounty of Marin Organic.

Bristol Bay Salmon: One Thing Leads to Another

October 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Salmon. It’s what’s for dinner. And lunch. And well, even breakfast. From Safeway to Whole Foods to the local farmer’s market, you can find beautiful, fresh fillets or thick steaks of this healthful, tasty fish in hues ranging from bright orange to almost-red. While salmon is versatile — it holds up well to most cooking methods and pairs with a variety of flavors — the much-publicized health benefits of wild salmon have helped in making it a popular addition to the dining table. (Wild salmon is high in Omega-3’s, making it heart-healthy and an important source of brain-building nutrition.) Oh, and it’s delicious.

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Fresh, wild sockey salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Our Northern California salmon fishing season varies throughout the year, but you’re likely to find a regular supply of fresh, local, wild salmon if you know where to look. Need some ideas? Try Whole Foods, weekend farmer’s markets, or Cooks Seafood in Menlo Park. Not only do we have access to delicious wild salmon caught right off the Northern California coast, but from time to time Alaskan salmon from Copper River and Bristol Bay makes its way down the Pacific coast to our local suppliers.

I am an admitted salmon convert. When I was a kid, the only salmon I knew came in cans. In my limited, kidhood experience, the only difference between salmon and tuna was the color — pink, not grey — and sometimes the texture. Salmon was crunchier because there were usually some small bones ground in. This salmon is what my mother and my aunties used to make an Australian dinner-table staple: fish cakes. (Canned tuna was an option as well, but somehow the salmon version holds a larger place in my memory). Salmon cakes would be the core of a “lighter” cooked dinner — lighter than, say, steak or roast or lamb chops, which, most nights, were de rigueur for dinner. (British influence, much?) The recipe was simple: combine canned fish, egg, breadcrumbs, and a few herbs into patties. Then, coat them in more breadcrumbs and fry those babies in drippings (aka, lard) until the outsides are crispy and dark brown, occasionally brown-black. Serve with mashed potatoes and green vegetables, usually the boiled kind.

Fresh fish was not something my mother cooked. She came from a meat-potato-veg-for-dinner generation of Australian women who knew how to economize while still putting out a well-rounded, nightly dinner. Fish sticks, fish cakes, and Red Lobster shrimp cocktail were the limit of my seafood experience until high school, when I tried lox for the first time. I was well into adulthood when I first tried fresh salmon. I was amazed at what I’d been missing for so many years — a flavorful, healthy source of protein that was pulled right out of our West Coast waters!

If you’ve read this blog for a bit, then you know that I’m an advocate for knowing the source of your food — and better yet, for connecting with the producer of that food. What does that mean? It means starting a conversation — talking with farmers at your weekend market, or the manager at a family-run grocery store, or the person in charge of making food at your favorite local restaurant. But what about something like fish? How do you make that connection? When are you likely to run into a fisherman? I mean, most people buy fish, in a package, at the local grocery store (ok, stop that, by the way). But how do you find out the source of your fish: whether it’s farmed or wild, Pacific or Atlantic, sustainably fished or not, and so on? And do fish have seasons? And what does “local fish” mean? All good questions to ponder.

A new book by Paul Greenburg, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood, examines some of these questions. Greenburg knows his subject matter; he’s a passionate, lifelong fisherman (not just a consumer) and award-winning author who writes about the state of the American fish industry. The book is an important read for anyone who eats seafood, values sustainable seafood sources, or just wants a better understanding of the seafood we’re eating (or not eating) in this country. The third section of the book focuses on Alaska’s Bristol Bay, currently a rich and pristine source of Alaskan wild sockeye salmon. Within the past decade, Bristol Bay has been threatened by mining interests, potentially sending it the way of so many other natural, American wild-fish sources that have been ravaged by industrial interests.

I finished the book shortly before attending the IFBC conference in Seattle last month, so much of the content — and specifically Bristol Bay’s current issues — were still in my mind. Not to mention the fact that Greenburg made Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon sound so utterly delicious that I was wondering when, if ever, I might have a chance to try it. (You see where this is going, right?) Yep, in a you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up experience, Bristol Bay sockeye salmon was featured at the IFBC 2014 opening reception. Seriously.

Three Seattle chefs created dishes that highlighted the versatility and flavor of the fish for attendees to try. Bristol Bay folks were on hand to talk about their salmon, as well as the potential risks to their fishing industry. It was an opportunity to taste this product I’d only read about, meet the people supporting it, and even participate in a little food activism. The dishes created by the chefs were tasty and approachable — not “fancy restaurant food,” but something you could cook and enjoy at home. Unfortunately, no recipes were provided, but you creative/adventurous cooks could probably reverse engineer them on your own.

Chef Kevin Davis’ grilled sockeye with tomatoes, sweet corn, and roasted heirloom chilies was a hearty, flavorful late-fall dish, that I could imagine enjoying with rice and a side salad.

Grilled Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon with dry-farmed tomatoes, sweet corn, and roasted heirloom chilies, prepared by Chef Kevin Davis of Blueacre Seafood, Seattle

Grilled Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon with dry-farmed tomatoes, sweet corn, and roasted heirloom chilies, prepared by Chef Kevin Davis of Blueacre Seafood, Seattle

Craig Heatherington’s peppered sockeye on brioche with a little sour cream is satisfying and elegant appetizer.

Peppered Bristol Bay Salmon on toasted brioche, prepared by Craig Hetherington of Seattle Art Museum Restaurant, TASTE

Peppered Bristol Bay Salmon on toasted brioche, prepared by Craig Hetherington of Seattle Art Museum Restaurant, TASTE

Chef Sean Ellis’ gravlax was probably my favorite of the three. Ok, let’s be honest, I’m not likely to make this one any time soon, but I do love me some gravlax!

Dill & Vodka Marinated Bristol Bay Sockey Salmon Gravlax with tarragon creme fraiche, prepared by Chef Sean Ellis of the Westin Seattle

Dill & Vodka Marinated Bristol Bay Sockey Salmon Gravlax with tarragon creme fraiche, prepared by Chef Sean Ellis of the Westin Seattle

Sourcing was included in the presentation; a sign was placed near each dish, crediting the chef, as well as the provider of the salmon itself. Seattle seafood processor, Icicle Seafood, provided the salmon for the the tomatoes and chilies dish, as well as the gravlax. However, the sockeye for the peppered salmon on brioche was provided by a single fisherman and vessel: Matthew Luck, MegJ LLC dba Pride of Bristol Bay. That’s something I’d like to see more often!

So how do you find out more about the source of the salmon you’re about to buy? Simple: ask. “Is this local?” If not, where is it from? If the guy (or gal) working the fish counter doesn’t know, ask if there’s someone else in the department who does know. I’ve ended up having some really good conversations with the folks working the fish department where I shop. You’d be surprised how knowledgeable your local fish supplier (or butcher, for that matter) can be!

Recently my local grocery store had two kinds of wild salmon in the fish case: king (aka, Chinook) and sockeye. I asked about the source of both, and the fish guy was on top of it: king from the California Coast and sockeye from Alaska. That rich, red-orange color of the sockeye, not to mention the “Best Choice” rating from Seafood Watch, won me over. The fillets were perfect for baking and enjoying over a simple green salad. Next time I’ll have to buy extra and try my hand at those salmon cakes.

Baked Alaskan sockeye salmon, served over a green salad of red leaf lettuce and baby spinach, finished with chopped chives and toasted pumpkin seeds

Baked Alaskan sockeye salmon, served over a green salad of red leaf lettuce and baby spinach, finished with chopped chives and toasted pumpkin seeds

Field Trip: Hello, My Name Is…

September 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

This past weekend I attended the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC 2014) in Seattle. After spending most of this month focusing on fixing the broken at home (I now have a working shower, doors that open and close, and new brakes on my car — woohoo!), and not finding enough time to write or work on recipes, the conference was a necessary respite: like a weekend away at camp. It was a weekend to focus on what I love — food, writing, and communication — and connect with other kindred spirits who relish the same.

Bottom: Fried Macaron & Cheese at Icon Grill, two-bite Coconut Cream Pie from Dahlia Bakery, Dill and Vodka Marinated Bristol Bay Salmon Gravlax at the Westin Seattle

Top: View of Elliot Bay
Bottom: Fried Macaroni & Cheese at Icon Grill, two-bite Coconut Cream Pie from Dahlia Bakery, Dill and Vodka Marinated Bristol Bay Salmon Gravlax served at IFBC’s opening reception at the Westin Seattle

Throughout the conference, the question “Who are you?” came up multiple times. (Hey, we’re writers; we have a tendency to get deep.) While it’s the kind of question that, examined too closely, could send you into a total spinout, it’s a good question to ask yourself during the course of a writing project or career. In short: what matters so much that you want to write about it…and why? It’s a question that I had to ponder when I started this blog, and yet it comes up again and again — especially when you’re at a food bloggers’ conference, and the person sitting next to you at breakfast starts the conversation with “So, what do you write about?” Oof.

In terms of conference takeaways, “Who are you?” is a good one, although it can be a daunting question to consider, as well. For me, it’s relevant as I’m coming up on the one-year anniversary of 650Food (which, by the way is pronounced six-five-oh food, not six-fifty food). Sure, as a businessperson I need to look at things like branding and audience reach, and all that, but as a writer, my committment is to writing authentically about all aspects of local food — from what to do with an excess of sage in my garden (Anyone? Anyone?) to supporting small-business foodcrafters. If I’m being true to my mission, then hopefully you’ll learn something useful, discover a cool new place to eat, or get a little more creative in the kitchen.

Lower left: Heirloom Tomato Salad & Sorbet from Trace Restaurant

Eat Local Seattle: Some memorable bites from IFBC 2014
Upper left and lower right: Sushi from Blue C Sushi
Upper right: Tasty vegan and gluten-free treats from Cupcake Royale
Lower left: Heirloom Tomato Salad & Sorbet from Trace Restaurant

While I approach food writing through a hyper-local lens, some of what I write about — being a part of your local food system, eating well, and creating community through food — reaches beyond county and state lines. Wherever you live, you’re part of a local food system, from where you shop to where you dine (even if “dining” means grabbing takeout from the place down the street).

Most of the time, my local is within the boundaries of the 650 area code: aka, The Peninsula, south of San Francisco and north of San Jose. But when I travel — whether it’s to visit family in the midwest or unplug completely for a few days in Puerto Rico — I’m looking at the local food system in that environment. What can I eat there that I can’t get in the 650? Or, how is a dish (let’s say: ceviche) made differently in San Mateo, Cleveland, or San Juan? What’s the source of the ingredients? How has climate change affected the growing season and availability of local produce? What’s the committment to supporting the local food system?

The subject of food is broad and deep, and I’m intrigued by the ways in which it impacts so many aspects of our lives: health and well-being, family and community, pleasure and indulgence, sustenance and sustainability, celebrations and lamentations. As a cook, I love the process of figuring out recipes, creating something simple but delicious (ok, sometimes complicated and delicious), and yes, the precision required in creating baked goods and confections. As a writer, I like sharing what I’ve learned and enjoyed over the course of my culinary experiences. Sometimes that includes a recipe, sometimes it doesn’t — sometimes it’s a technique or a place to eat.

So, what’s the answer to “who am I?” That’s probably a thesis and not a blog post. So, without getting too existential, you can check out my LinkedIn profile and About page of this blog for the “official” versions, but when it comes down to it, I’m someone who has a passion for making, eating, talking about, writing about, and sharing food. I like a good food story. What about you? What’s your food story?

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Culinary Travel category at 650Food.