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.
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.
By the time fall rolled around, I realized a couple of things:
- 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.
- 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.)
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.
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.
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!)
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s my summer summary. What about you? Share your “what I did this summer” stories and food memories in the comments below.
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.*
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Craig Heatherington’s peppered sockeye on brioche with a little sour cream is satisfying and elegant appetizer.
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!
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.