#TBT: A Walking Food Tour of San Luis Obispo

October 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truffle samples at Mama Ganache

Truffle samples at Mama Ganache

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

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

Vegetarian sampler plate at Jaffa Café

Vegetarian sampler plate at Jaffa Café

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

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

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

Sampling olive oils and vinegars at We Olive

Sampling olive oils and vinegars at We Olive

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just one of the cheese cases at Fromagerie Sophie

Just one of the cheese cases at Fromagerie Sophie

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

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

Sampling the goods at Fromagerie Sophie

Sampling the goods at Fromagerie Sophie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palazzo Guiseppe's Ravioli di Zucca

Palazzo Guiseppe’s Ravioli di Zucca

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

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

Dessert at Luna Red

Dessert at Luna Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TBT: Central Coast Food Tour, Going SLO

October 16, 2015 § 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

Starbucks' Omega 3 Bistro Box

Starbucks’ Omega-3 Bistro Box

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

Thursday Night Farmers' Market in San Luis Obispo

Thursday Night Farmers’ Market in San Luis Obispo

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

That must be some GOOD barbeque!

That must be some GOOD barbeque!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waste-Less Wednesday: Down on the Farm

October 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

How to:

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

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

Ingredients:

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

How to:

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

#TBT: Visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero

October 1, 2015 § 4 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harley Goat Farm Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

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

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

View of the gardens from the hayloft at Harley Farms

View of the gardens from the hayloft at Harley Farms

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

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

Harley Farms Shop in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Shop in Pescadero, CA

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

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

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

Harley Farms Honey Lavender Chevre

Harley Farms Honey Lavender Chèvre

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

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

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

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

 

Waste-Less Wednesday: The Latest in Food Waste

September 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Starting today, Waste-Less Wednesday is getting a bit of a change up. In addition to tips and recipes for reducing food waste at home, you’ll be seeing the occasional news roundup of food waste topics, near and far.

While I think about food waste at a micro level — i.e., my kitchen and local food system — recent conversations with friends have reminded me to look beyond the 650. Conversations about food waste are now happening with more frequency at the national and international levels, thanks to chefs, writers, and food activists. We’re learning more about the impact of food waste on hunger, loss of resources, and climate change — and how all of us can be a part of the food waste solution. Here’s a roundup of what you might have missed recently.

September 29, 2015
Book Release: Waste Free Kitchen Handbook: A guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food by Dana Gunders

Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

Dana Gunders, who authored the pivotal food-waste report “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” is a Project Scientist with the National Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. I first heard her speak about food waste during a panel talk co-hosted by CUESA last year. During this educational and inspiring discussion, Gunders gave a most memorable description of consumer food waste: “It’s like going to the grocery store, buying five bags of groceries and dropping two of them in the parking lot — and leaving them there.”

As a scientist, Gunders wanted to understand what consumers needed to know to reduce food waste. Specifically, what did they need to know about buying, storing, and cooking food, including food that seems ready for the compost pile? For example: “When you’re standing in your kitchen with a wrinkled tomato, what do you need to know in order not to waste it?” In addition to practical information, the book also contains what Gunders calls “use-it-up recipes” for ingredients on the brink (or maybe just a little bit past).

Get the whole story in just 2 Minutes.
Read Dana Gunders’ blog post about the book release: Why I Wrote the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook | Dana Gunders’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

September 28, 2015
United Nations’ Food Waste Luncheon is All About the Leftovers

Photo via @UN_spokesperson (Twitter)

Photo via @UN_spokesperson (Twitter)

Blue Hill and wastED Chef Dan Barber and former White House Chef Sam Kass recently created a luncheon of repurposed food for 30 world leaders. The meal, which included dishes created for and served at Barber’s wastED pop-up restaurant brought attention to the issues of global food waste, loss of resources, and climate change. The printed menu included a description of each course, but also the source of each ingredient. The first course, “Landfill salad,” consisted of “vegetable scraps, rejected apples and pears, and chickpea water.”

Get the 2-Minute version of the UN Food Waste Luncheon:
“UN Serves ‘Landfill Salad’ to Highlight Food Waste”

September 25, 2015
More Than a Billion Pounds of Seafood Going to Waste Every Year

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Food waste doesn’t occur just on the farm or in the food-manufacturing plants. According to a recent NPR article, almost half of the US seafood supply ends up wasted. While seafood waste happens throughout the system — from boat to processor to consumer — “consumers are far and away wasting more seafood than any other group,” tossing out 1.3 billion pounds of seafood annually. Some of this seafood is purchased and never eaten, and some is “plate waste” that ends up in pet food bowls or the garbage.

Consumers aren’t solely to blame for seafood waste. Processing plants discard the “less desirable” parts of fish (think: fish heads) in favor of supermarket-perfect pieces. Commercial fisheries contribute to waste as well, through bycatch. Bycatch are the unwanted fish and other marine life that are caught in addition to the target species. Efforts are being made in the industry to reduce bycatch, but it’s still a problem.

Want to know more? Check out this 3-minute read on the state of seafood waste in the US:
Via NPR | The Salt | “We Leave Half Of All Our Seafood On The Table (And In The Trash) by Alistair Bland

September 16, 2015
USDA and EPA Set National Food Waste Reduction Target
Food waste hits the big time — and that’s a good thing! The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued a nationwide food-waste challenge: a 50% reduction of food waste by 2030. A variety of big-name US food retailers, agriculture industry reps, and charitable organizations have already signed on with support (Albertsons, Wegmans Markets, and City Harvest, just to name a few.)

Read the press release in 2½ minutes or less:
Food Retailers, Agriculture Industry, and Charitable Organizations Support First National Goal to Reduce Food Waste by 50 Percent by 2030.”

Want more detail? Check out the Office of the Chief Economist’s web page on food waste.

What’s your food waste story? Share in the comments below.

#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.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Getting the Most from Summer Fruit

June 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Ever feel like you’re in a race to keep ahead of food waste at home — particularly during the summer? Summer, for all of its wonderful bounty of fresh produce from CSA boxes, farmers’ markets, and home gardens, also presents a challenge: how to make the most of the fruits and vegetables that come into your home before they get too soft, wilty, or (ugh) moldy? With the drought continuing here in California, it seems more important than ever to use up what comes into the kitchen, rather than letting it any of it go to waste.

I seem to be managing the vegetables so far (salads — lots of salads with an array of lettuces — paired with roasted vegetables like fennel and carrots), but the fruit is another story. Between glossy, large, bright-red strawberries from Fifth Crow Farms and an abundance of quickly ripening backyard apricots and long-lingering lemons, I’ve got more than my fair share of fruit — and with it a small case of FOMO. I mean…What if I don’t make the most of that fresh, seasonal fruit while I can?

Santa Rosa Plums

Neighborhood plums in the 650

If you’re struggling with the idea of not enjoying all of that fruit while it’s fresh, ease up. The beauty of eating seasonally is that you get to look forward to that bounty and really appreciate it while the food is available — when it’s at the peak of flavor and freshness. But you also have the option to preserve that fruit for later enjoyment, too. So, here’s your cheat sheet for enjoying summer fruit now and later. From proper storage to freezing to (yes, you can!) making jams and preserves, here are some ways to reduce summer fruit waste at home.

Optimal Storage
I try to get as much life out of my fruit as possible, which starts with storing it appropriately. First thing to know: different summer fruits have different storage needs. More important is that not every piece of fruit has to (or should be) stored in the refrigerator. After many years of trial and error, here’s how I’m storing summer fruit.

  • Berries: Don’t wash until you’re ready to use them. To store, line a plastic or glass storage container with paper towel. Arrange the berries in a single layer on the paper towel, cover with a well-fitting lid, and store on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Soft berries (raspberries, blackberries, etc.) will last a few days at most. I’ve been able to keep strawberries and blueberries this way for up to 10 days, but typically have to replace the paper towel and wipe down the interior of the storage container to remove condensation every 3-4 days.
  • Stone Fruit: Again, I don’t wash stone fruit until I’m ready to use it. Store ripe fruit in a single layer in a dish or on a sheet pan at room temperature and use or freeze it within 2-3 days. Storing stone fruit in the refrigerator results in an unpleasant, mealy texture, so don’t do it. (Note: Cherries are the exception! Store cherries in a closed container or ziplock bag in the refrigerator to extend their lifespan.)
  • Citrus: Wash, dry, and store at room temperature in a dish or bowl if you’re going to use them within 2 days. Otherwise, store in a ziplock bag (with the air pressed out) in coldest part of the refrigerator (usually the bottom shelf or crisper drawer). I’ve kept citrus this way for up to three months.

Freezing
Already know that you’ve got too much fruit on hand and want to freeze some for later? There are three ways to prepare fruit for freezing:

  • Unsweetened Pack
  • Syrup Pack
  • Sugar Pack

I’ve tried all three methods and have found that the unsweetened approach is quickest, easiest, and leaves me the most flexibility for using the fruit when I thaw it. Here’s how:

  1. Wash the fruit, removing any dirt. Place on paper towels or cotton kitchen towels and pat dry, removing as much moisture as possible.
  2. Cut away any bruised, damaged, or moldy spots, then prepare the fruit as follows:
    Strawberries: Remove green tops and hull.
    Stone fruit: Slice in half and remove the pit.
    Blueberries and soft berries: Remove any stems.
  3. Arrange the fruit in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan (don’t crowd or pieces might stick together when frozen), then place in the freezer for an hour or so — just until the fruit is frozen.

    Frozen apricots thawing

    Frozen apricots: washed, halved, pitted. Ready for bagging.

  4. Store fruit in a freezer bag with the air pressed out.

For more information about freezing fruit using the syrup and sugar pack methods, check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s web site.

Making Fruit Compotes
Compotes are my favorite way to use up berries that are past their prime for eating out of hand or not pretty enough for decorating a cake or tart. Berries, sugar, and lemon juice are all you need to make a quick berry compote, and you can tailor the amount of sugar and lemon juice to your taste.

Need a starting point? For every 6 ounces of berries, add 1 to 1½ ounces of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Cook in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for 10 minutes for a thinner, saucy compote, or as long as 15 minutes for a thicker, jammy compote. Try this Strawberry-Orange Compote (or substitute your favorite berries).

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

650 Strawberry-Orange Compote with organic Greek yogurt

Preserving: Jams and Marmalades
I’ve been baby stepping my way into canning this year, but it’s turning out to be my new addiction! When I made my first batch of marmalade, and the canning seals didn’t bounce back when I tested them, I did the happy dance around my kitchen. After another successful batch of marmalade, I was ready to move on to making apricot butter, and then strawberry jam.

If you’ve been thinking about canning, but felt uncertain or afraid, don’t let that hold you back! It’s easier and less scary than you might think! Just take the time to learn a little about the process of canning and why it’s important to follow recipes and canning steps as written. Here are some resources that I’ve found informative and helpful.

  • Easy citrus marmalade: If you’re just starting out, this Blood-Orange Rosemary Marmalade from The Herbfarm Cookbook is an easy introduction to canning. Prep work is minimal, and there’s no water bath processing step to worry about (you will have to sterilize the jars and lids, though). I’ve substituted regular oranges and ruby grapefruits with success.

    Mmmmm, marmalade

    Blood Orange-Rosemary Maramalade (just as good with ruby grapefruit or navel oranges!)

  • Small-batch canning: If you’re short on kitchen storage space or don’t want to invest in making large batches of jam (seriously, what would I do with 10 pints of jam??), then small-batch canning is for you! What do I mean by small-batch canning? Think: 2—4 pints or half-pints at a time. Food in Jars blogger and author Marisa McClellan offers a wealth of information about the equipment for and process of canning on her website, not to mention some tasty recipes. (Use the site’s search box to locate small-batch jam recipes or scroll through the recipe index.)

    From left to right: Ruby Grapefruit and Rosemary Marmalade, Honey Strawberry Jam, Apricot Butter

    From left to right: Ruby Grapefruit and Rosemary Marmalade,
    Honey Strawberry Jam, Apricot Butter

  • Pectin-free, low-sugar fruit jams: While searching for small-batch, pectin-free, low-sugar recipes, I stumbled upon this post on Northwest Edible Life. Blogger Erica not only provides a detailed introduction to making jam the old-school way, but also offers up this fun chart for creating your own custom flavors.

Sharing Is Caring
And let’s not forget the simplest way to reduce food waste: share with family, neighbors, and friends. Every summer I trade apricots to my next-door neighbors for their home-grown tomatoes. They make apricot pie, and I make a batch of oven-dried tomatoes (some of which eventually make it into the freezer for longer preservation!).
Want a broader community for sharing your abundance of home-grown fruits and vegetables? Try offering it on neighborhood websites Freecycle.org or Nextdoor.com.

How are you preventing summer food waste at home? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Wasteless Wednesday: Veggie Smoosh Burgers

May 27, 2015 § 5 Comments

Last year I posted a recipe for Spring Vegetable Broth, which in retrospect, should have been titled “Year-Round Vegetable Broth.” Although the vegetables called for hit that seasonal sweet spot between late winter and early spring, you’re likely to be able to find the ingredients (or flavorful substitutes) just about any time of year here in the 650.

Vegetables in the pot for broth

Vegetables in the pot for broth

I’ve been making this broth for years; it’s a staple in my kitchen. Healthful, low-fat, and fresh, it has been the basis for so many comforting soups, rice dishes, and pastas. Making broths and stocks are a great way to use up wilty and just-about-out-the-door vegetables and herbs, leftover peels, and a variety of vegetable bits and bobs. Spring Vegetable Broth is the kind of recipe that not only offers a simple and useful way to reduce food waste in the kitchen, but also encourages creative, to-your-taste cooking.

Truth be told, I never make this broth exactly the same way twice. I’ve substituted yellow carrots for orange, sweet potatoes for butternut squash, dried thyme for fresh… you get the idea. And yet, every time, I end up with a flavorful broth that is good its own or as the basis of a homemade soup.

The by-product of this tasty broth is what I’ve referred to as the vegetable “smoosh.” After boiling the vegetables, herbs, and spices in filtered water for an hour or so, you press everything through a strainer to extract all of that brothy goodness. What you’re left with is a small pile of smashed vegetables that look something like rough baby food. And what do you do with this smoosh? Well, for lack of a better idea, it’s likely to end up in the green bin or compost pile. But what if you could use it for another recipe? A two-for-one deal, if you will. That would be a big win in the weekly war on food waste at home!

Using a ladle to extract more broth

Vegetables getting the “smoosh” treatment to extract broth

That’s the question I’ve been considering for the past year or so: what if you could make something out of the leftovers of making broth? For starters, it’s not much to look at — boiled down, smashed vegetables. Then there’s the fact that some of the flavor has been extracted for the broth. And yet, it just seems like such a waste to toss out what amounts to about a pound of rough vegetable mash. It is, after all, still food. Making something out of it would not only reduce food waste, but let you benefit twice from the money spent on those vegetables in the first place.

With a little doctoring, it turns out that vegetable smoosh is a good base for homemade veggie burgers! The first step? Make sure you’ve strained as much liquid as possible out of the vegetable mash. Once you’ve got a fairly dry and chunky mixture of vegetable smoosh, adding brown rice and bread crumbs give some substance to the mix and absorb any remaining liquid. Adding an egg helps bind everything together and adds a little fat (not a bad thing). The vegetable flavors are muted, so you’ll need to add herbs and spices that accent the vegetables without overwhelming them. Finally, a two-step stove-top cooking method lets you get a crisp exterior on the burgers, while cooking them thoroughly.

Recipe: Veggie Smoosh Burgers
Yield: 4 small burgers (approximately 3″ patties)

You’ll need to make sure that you’ve extracted as much liquid as possible from the vegetable smoosh before making the burgers, which means putting some muscle into the straining part of making the broth. (Note that this recipe calls for 8 ounces of vegetable smoosh, although a full batch of Spring Vegetable Broth should produce about 1 pound of smoosh, enough for a double-batch of burgers.)

Serve these burgers on a bun with your favorite toppings, or bunless alongside a seasonal, fresh green salad. Mild tomato-based sauces, such as pico de gallo and homemade ketchup complement the delicate vegetable flavor of these burgers, as do carrot-top pesto or hummus.

What you need:

Medium-sized bowl
Rubber spatula
Plate for breading the patties
12-14″ frying pan (or use a 10″ frying pan and cook the patties in two batches)
Turner/spatula

Ingredients:

8 ounces organic vegetable smoosh, leftover from making Spring Vegetable Broth, with as much liquid as possible pressed out
3 ounces cooked organic brown rice
1 ounce dry breadcrumbs, plus 1/2 cup for coating the patties (I used homemade breadcrumbs from spelt bread)
1 tablespoon chopped or snipped fresh chives (1/4″ pieces)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying the pattiesburger-ingredients

How to:

  1. Using a rubber spatula, combine the vegetable smoosh, rice, and breadcrumbs in a medium-size bowl.
  2. Add the egg, worcestershire sauce, spices, and chives and mix until thoroughly combined.
    The mixture should be sticky, but not stiff. You should be able to easily scoop the mixture and form it into a cohesive ball.combining-ingreds
  3. Divide the mixture into four equal-sized portions (approximately 3.5 ounces each). Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten it into a patty.
    The patties should be about ½” thick and about 3″ in diameter.patty-and-balls
  4. Pour the additional ½ cup of breadcrumbs onto a plate for coating the patties.
  5. Press both sides and the edges of each patty into the breadcrumbs, coating completely.
    breading-pattyWhen all patties are coated in breadcrumbs, set aside while you heat the pan for frying.
  6. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan and heat on high until the oil glistens but doesn’t smoke.
    Swirl the oil around the pan to coat the bottom completely.
  7. Place the patties in the pan and cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.frying-patties-2
  8. Turn the heat back up to high, flip the patties, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Again, cook for 30-60 seconds to “sear” the outside, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another 7 minutes.
  9. Serve immediately.

    Vegetable burger patty topped with tomato salsa and cultured sour cream

    Vegetable burger patty topped with tomato salsa and cultured sour cream

Get the Blues

May 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

Blueberries are back in season, and they’re everywhere right now! Local market providers Triple D Ranch and Sierra Cascade (one of my favs for their sustainable practices and sweet berries) are bringing their berries to farmers’ markets and local stores. Whole Foods recently had a good deal on San Joaquin Valley berries from Delta Blues. Right now blueberries are plentiful, and prices reasonable, so stock up.

Fresh blueberries from the San Joaquin valley

Fresh blueberries from the San Joaquin valley

Unfortunately, we don’t see many locally grown blueberries (as in, right here in the 650), but we’re fortunate to have some quality regional organic growers from points north. Early season berries tend to be a bit more tart — especially with our cooler weather this year — but we should see sweeter berries as the season continues. I’m digging blueberries in my morning cereal, the occasional blueberry compote (a good solution for too-tart berries), and my favorite: blueberry scones.

If you’re thinking “Meh, scones; they’re so dry,” let me persuade you otherwise. Made with a little love and attention, a good scone hits that sweet spot between pastry and cake. The crumb isn’t as fine as that of a cake or muffin, yet the texture is moist and tender — sturdy enough to be a tasty delivery device for jam or lemon curd.

Scones are essentially a rubbed dough (like pie dough), in which you coat the flour with fat. There are two keys to making a tender scone: adding enough moisture and not overworking the dough. The moisture comes in the form of Greek yogurt and a bit of lemon juice. Not overworking the dough means combining ingredients by hand and work it just enough to combine the ingredients enough into a cohesive dough ball.

If you’ve been meh about scones, give this recipe a try; it’s a nice way to get the blues.

Recipe: Blueberry Scones
Yield: 8 wedges or 12 round scones
These scones are best the day they’re baked. Let them cool completely before enjoying with butter and jam or some homemade lemon curd. Serve for breakfast, brunch, or an indulgent afternoon snack. They also freeze well for up to 3 months.

What You Need:

Small bowl
Large bowl
Rubber spatula
Half sheet pan
Parchment paper (cut to fit half sheet pan)
Small (1 cup) microwave-safe container for melting butter
Pastry brush
Dough scraper or chef’s knife to cut wedges or 2½” round cutter

Ingredients:

9.6 ounces organic all-purpose or stone-ground white wheat flour
2.6 ounces fair trade organic sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼ – ½″ pieces
4 ounces organic blueberries (washed)
2.5 ounces organic Greek yogurt (full fat or low-fat)
1.5 ounces lemon juice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon raw (demerara) sugaringredients-darker

How To:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line the sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, juice, and egg until smooth and well combined. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Rather than using a whisk or fork, I swirl my fingers through the dry ingredients to combine, but do what works for you.
  4. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients, and using your fingertips, rub the pieces into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
    Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles cornmeal

    Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture
    resembles cornmeal

    Rubbing the butter in coats the dry ingredients in fat, which will give the scones a tender crumb. It’s okay if a few visible bits of butter remain.

  5. Add the yogurt-juice-egg mixture and berries to the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula to combine.
    The dough will be wet and sticky as it comes together.
  6. Flour your hands, turn the dough out onto a floured workspace, gathering all ingredients together and forming the dough into a ball.
    Knead lightly, just enough to be sure that all dry ingredients are moistened and the dough comes together.
  7. Flatten the ball into an 8″ disk on the floured board or workspace.
    The dough should be about ½” thick.
  8. Cut the dough into wedges or rounds. For wedges: Using a chef’s knife or dough scraper, cut the dough into 8 wedges. For rounds: Using a 2½” round cutter, cut 8 rounds. Gather the remaining dough together into a ½” thickness and cut the remaining 4.
    Don’t knead or work the dough too much. Doing so will strengthen the gluten and melt the butter, toughening the dough.
  9. Move the cut scones to the prepared sheet pan, spacing them evenly.
    Wedges: Two rows of four scones.
    Rounds: Three rows of four scones.
  10. Brush each scone with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

    Finish the scones with melted butter and demerara sugar

    Finish the scones with melted butter and demerara sugar

  11. Bake for 12-13 minutes, until lightly golden brown.baked
  12. Allow scones to cool on the sheet pan for about 10 minutes, then move to a rack until completely cool.
  13. Serve plain, with butter and jam or lemon curd. hero-with-curd
  14. Store in a closed container or ziplock bag for three days at room temperature, or freeze for up to three months.