To Market, To Market

May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

Weather-wise, things have been just a bit too Seattlesque for my taste this spring. Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen an end to the seemingly endless rainy, grey days, it’s time to get outside and enjoy our fine Bay Area weather.

May is one of my favorite months in the 650, not only because our usually fine weather settles in and days are longer and sunnier — but also because all of our neighborhood farmers’ markets are back in full swing. While we don’t lack for year-round markets in the 650, some neighborhood markets, such as Los Altos, Palo Alto Downtown, and Half Moon Bay close during fall and winter. For those of you who might have been missing your local market, the wait is over!

Here’s the list of markets re-opening in May.

Market Opening Date Market Day
Half Moon Bay May 6, 2017 Saturdays
Los Altos, Downtown May 4, 2017 Thursdays
Palo Alto, Downtown May 13, 2017 Saturdays
Pacifica, Rockaway Beach May 3, 2017 Wednesdays
San Mateo, W. 25th Avenue May 2, 2017 Tuesdays
South San Francisco May 6, 2017 Saturdays

April and May are a transitional time at the market as we’re seeing the last of “winter” produce, such as root vegetables and citrus, and the arrival of beans, peas, and stone fruit.

market-collage

What’s in the market now: Palo Alto California Avenue market, Spring 2017

If grocery shopping isn’t on your agenda, farmers’ markets are a fun place to grab a meal and enjoy the sunshine while people watching. Just a few examples from my recent visit to the Palo Alto Sunday market on California Avenue: dim sum, grilled meat sandwiches, bahn mi, sushi, and homestyle Mexican dishes with handmade tortillas. There’s something interesting to taste whatever your food preferences.

dim-sum-notcenter

Dim Sum on a sunny Sunday

P1100197

Because: meat

masa

Fresh masa for handmade tortillas

Need to know which market is when? Following is handy-dandy list of all farmers’ markets in the 650, with 2017 opening dates. Click the market link for more info, such as location, parking, and vendors.

City/Market Market Day(s) Open
Belmont Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Daly City, Serramonte Ctr. Thursday & Sunday,
9am – 1pm
Year-Round
Half Moon Bay, Shoreline Station Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 6 – Dec 21
Los Altos, Downtown Thursday, 4 – 8pm May 4 – Sep 30
Menlo Park Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Millbrae Saturday, 8am – 1pm Year-Round
Mountain View Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Pacifica, Rockaway Beach Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 6 – Dec 21
Palo Alto, California Ave. Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Palo Alto, Downtown Saturday, 9am – 1pm May 13 –
Palo Alto, VA Wednesday, 10am – 2pm Apr 12 – Oct 25
Redwood City, Kaiser Wednesday, 10am – 2pm Apr 5 – Nov 22
Redwood City, Downtown Saturday, 8am – 12pm April 15 – Nov
San Carlos, Laurel Street Sunday, 10am – 2pm Year-Round
San Mateo, College of SM Saturday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
San Mateo, W. 25th Ave. Tuesday, 4 – 7:30pm May 2 – Oct 10

Now get out and support your local food system; meet the people who grow your food and nourish our communities!

Tell me: what is/are your favorite farmers’ market(s) in the 650?support-small-farms

#TBT: Fifth Crow Farm’s Farm Field Day

December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

 

CSA welcome board

CSA welcome board

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

Plump, sweet-tart, organic blackberries

Plump, sweet-tart, organic blackberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farm dog, hanging out with the hens

Farm dog, hanging out with the hens

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

Waste-Less Wednesday: 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.

#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

 

Eat Local: Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City

May 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

The Redwood City restaurant boom continues with this week’s opening of Howie’s Artisan Pizza. Taking over the old Tarboosh spot on Jefferson Avenue, Howie’s brings chef/restaurateur Howard Bulka’s casual pizza concept to the mid-Peninsula. Bulka, former chef/owner of the (now closed) Marche Restaurant in Menlo Park, opened the first Howie’s Artisan Pizza in November 2009 in the Palo Alto Town & Country shopping center. The Palo Alto Howie’s has done well with steady business, particularly on weekends and throughout the summer when it packs out with local families.

Think of the Redwood City location as “Howie’s 2.0” — an expansion of the Palo Alto concept, according one staff member. The new space echoes the casual feel of the Palo Alto location, but has more outdoor seating, with the large side patio area that’s set up for year-round dining. About half of the patio area is covered, but tables in the open area have umbrellas to shade diners from the summer sun. For chilly days (or evenings), overhead heaters provide warmth. The interior of the restaurant is large and casual with front doors that open completely, bringing the outdoors in and giving the restaurant an airy feel. Seating is at individual tables or the long bar, which runs the length of the dining room.

What is new in the Howie’s concept is a full bar program that not only includes beer and wine, but also handcrafted cocktails. Howie’s Bar Manager, Ryan, is ramping up the cocktail program slowly, presenting an approachable menu of classic cocktails with contemporary twists. For the house Mai-Tai, Howie’s bartenders muddle fresh almonds with Demerara sugar to elicit an aromatic, fresh almond flavor that plays beautifully with the dark rum.

Can't get to the beach? Take a tropical break with Howie's Mai-Tai.

Can’t get to the beach? Take a tropical break with Howie’s Mai-Tai.

Ryan’s Pisco Punch is a take on the classic Pisco Sour (pisco, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white) that uses house-made pineapple gomme syrup. And then there’s The Heat of Passion, which had me at hello. Don Julio Reposado tequila, passion fruit and lime juices, along with a hint of Calabrian chili. ‘Nuff said.

In The Heat of Passion in the 650: Sweet, tart, and just enough spice

In The Heat of Passion in the 650: Sweet, tart, and just enough spice

And this is just the start. Plans are in the works to add seasonal cocktails, infusions, and housemade bitters and tinctures.

Cocktails not your thing? The beer menu includes about a dozen craft beers on tap, most from around California. Craving a Bud Lite or classic PBR? Yeah, they’ve got that, too. The wine list has something for just about everyone, from crisp whites that will be perfect sipping on warm summer days to fruity, rich reds to pair with red-sauce pizzas. (Although white wine drinkers might prefer to see a few more white wine choices, including a by-the-glass option for the lovely Flowers Chardonnay.) Of course, non-alcoholic options, including soft drinks, are available as well.

With drinks squared away, you’ll be ready to move on to the food menu, where comfort food is the theme. While pizza is the main draw, the food menu also offer small plates/appetizers, meal-sized salads, and sandwiches (listed as “Burgers and Such”). Not sure what to get? The servers are knowledgeable and happy to offer suggestions and tell you about items unique to the Redwood City menu, such as the small plates Eggplant Pillows and Burn Your Fingers Shrimp.

The Eggplant Pillows are long, thin slices of roasted eggplant rolled around a dollop of fresh, housemade ricotta cheese and topped with salsa verde. Tempting, but I opted for aptly named Burn Your Fingers Shrimp. Six large cajun-spiced peel-and-eat shrimp are served sizzling hot with melted, browned butter in small skillet, along with two pieces of toasted bread for mopping up the extra browned butter.

Messy, spicy, buttery, delicious. But definitely not first-date food.

Messy, spicy, buttery, delicious. But definitely not first-date food.

Moving on from Small Plates, you’re likely to skip right on over to the Pizza section of the menu. (I’m not saying you should, but Howie’s is a pizza joint, after all.) What makes a “good” pizza is a completely subjective thing. For some people, it’s all about the toppings. For others, it’s all about the crust. If you’re a crust fanatic, Howie’s falls somewhere between a Neapolitan and New York style pizza. Crispy on the bottom, this is no cracker-like crust; it’s got some depth and chewiness, thanks to a sourdough starter. The crust is sturdy enough to stand up to meat and vegetable toppings, and there’s an even balance between toppings and crust.

Toppings are fresh, and you can choose from the nine classic combos, or come up with your own. House favorites include the Margherita (red sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil), Sausage and Peppers, and Arugula and Prosciutto.

It's a complete meal: Arugula and proscuitto with fresh mozzarella and a hint of creamy garlic sauce on the base

It’s a complete meal: Arugula and proscuitto with fresh mozzarella and a hint of creamy garlic sauce on the base

If you don’t feel up to consuming a full-sized pizza on your own, Howie’s offers a smaller Petitz’a, which is their individual-size pizza, for about half the price of a full size. Any pizza on the menu is available as a Petitz’a.

Sharing with someone else and can’t decide between two favorites? You can get a full-sized half-and-half pizza for a small upcharge ($1). (Half-and-half is not available in the smaller, Petitz’a size.)

Can't decide on just one? How about a half-n-half: Sausage & Peppers and Margherita.

Can’t decide on just one? Try this half-n-half: Sausage & Peppers and Margherita.

If you’re eating light and opt for a salad, know that Howie’s salad plates are substantial — plenty for a meal or to share if you’re also splitting an appetizer or a pizza. Among the five salad choices are classics, such as Mixed Greens and Caesar. You can add grilled chicken to any salad for an upcharge.

If you’re pizza-ed out or just looking for something different, check out the Burgers and Such section of the menu. Options include a variety of sandwiches from the Howie’s Burger (pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, pickle, and of course, a secret sauce) to a classic grilled cheese with marina sauce for dipping (perfect for the kids). Non-meat and vegetarian options are available, including a Caponato Melt with eggplant, peppers, onions, zucchini, olives, mozzarella, fresh basil, and parmesan.

Phew! If you’ve still got room for dessert (you go!), Howie’s does offer a few home-style, comfort-food choices: Banana Cream Pie, Seasonal Fruit Crisp for Two, and a Cookie Plate. Servers tell me the Banana Cream Pie is a good bet, but I’ll have to report back on that at a later date.

This is the closest I've gotten to dessert at Howie's Artisan Pizza

This is the closest I’ve gotten to dessert at Howie’s Artisan Pizza

Although Howie’s “opened quietly this week,” as Bulka put it, it’s not likely to stay quiet for long. Bulka and staff are chatting with customers, taking suggestions, and tweaking things to, as Bulka put it, “get it right.” They’re definitely on their way. With a casual vibe, comfort-food menu, plenty of seating, and central Redwood City location, this could be your new mid-Peninsula spot.

Have you visited the new Howie’s Artisan Pizza in Redwood City yet? Share your experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Details
What: Howie’s Artisan Pizza
Where: 837 Jefferson Avenue, Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: 650-391-9305
Hours: 11:30am-2pm and 5–9:30pm daily
Parking: Street, garage, and public lots (pay)

Eat Local: Redwood City Restaurant Week

April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

I love a good food story, particularly when it comes to the hows and whys of food producers doing what they do. Whether we’re talking about small-business foodcrafters, farmers, chefs, or restauranteurs, the “why” often comes down to two things: a love of food and a desire to share what you make or grow with your community.

From farmers’ markets to salsa competitions to food-and-wine tastings, the 650 has no lack of community-based food events where food lovers can connect with local producers. Add to that list this year’s inaugural Redwood City Restaurant Week, April 23-29. That’s right, the mid-Peninsula locale formerly known as “Deadwood City” for its long-time lack of entertainment and dining options has experienced a major revitalization, including a now-vibrant dining scene. Redwood City has its own food story to tell: it’s a growing city with a diverse array of ethnic cuisines, not to mention Michelin Bib Gourmand picks and OpenTable Diner’s Choice Award Winners.

During the recent kickoff party for Redwood City Restaurant Week, I had a chance to chat with local restauranteurs and event participants, Manuel Martinez and Diane Cusimano, about the city’s changing dining scene and what this upcoming event means.

Redwood City Restaurant Week kickoff party at LV Mar on April 16

Yours truly chatting with Diane and Renato Cusimano (at the bar) during the Redwood City Restaurant Week kickoff party at LV Mar on April 16

Cusimano and her husband Renato, long-time Bay Area restauranteurs who lived in Atherton for 25 years, saw the potential in Redwood City almost a decade ago. It was Renato who viewed Redwood City as the Peninsula’s “next big thing” and opted for a spot on Main Street for their Deseo Tequila Lounge. Six years since opening the lounge and not quite a year since adding Palermo Italian Restaurant, they’re happy with their decision and have a loyal clientele.

Cusimano pointed out that the “diversity in cuisine” is one of downtown Redwood City’s strengths. Indeed, Restaurant Week participants run the gamut of global cuisine from American to Persian. Whether you’re an expat wanting to experience a taste of home or Bay Area local wanting to try something out of your comfort zone, there’s a restaurant for that. There’s also an opportunity for Redwood City’s restaurants, many of which are family-based businesses, to tell the story of their native cuisines and culinary passions. In the Cusimanos’ case, Deseo allows them to express Renato’s passion for tequila, while Palermo focuses on the cuisine of his native Sicily.

Chef/owner of La Viga and LV Mar, Manuel Martinez, spoke about using a variety of Latin ingredients — not just those of his native Mexico — as the inspiration for the menus he creates.

Chef Manuel Martinez of La Viga and LV Mar in Redwood City

Chef Manuel Martinez of La Viga and LV Mar in Redwood City

“The food and drink — everything we do here tells a story.” This philosophy extends to LV Mar’s new cocktail program, implemented just within the past two months. Ask Chef Manuel about the mezcals and tequilas on the bar’s wall, and there’s a story there about quality ingredients and traditional production methods. “We’re working hard to have a great food and drink menu that has character and means something.”

Both of Martinez’ spots have garnered a strong following from diners around the Bay Area during the past three years, not only for the story his food tells, but also for the warm service and friendly atmosphere. While Martinez’ restaurants have received recognition from Michelin Bib Gourmand and OpenTable, they aren’t the only award winners in Restaurant Week’s lineup. Angelica’s, Crouching Tiger, Donato Enoteca, Downtown, and Portobello Grill are also Michelin Bib Gourmand and/or OpenTable Diner’s Choice Winners.

Chatting with other attendees at the kickoff party, there was a sense of pride and camaraderie about what Redwood City has to offer food lovers, and Restaurant Week is about getting the word out. Diane Cusimano emphasized that “we have great restaurants here, and it’s time for people outside Redwood City to recognize that.” Martinez echoed the Cusimanos’ belief in Redwood City’s bright future for food: “Restaurant Week is all about the fact that things are changing and Redwood City is great.”

Here’s a quick preview of just a few of the entrees you can experience during Redwood City’s Restaurant Week:

  • Housemade fresh Dungeness crab ravioli (Palermo Italian Restaurant)
  • Grilled Pork Loin in Guajillo Adobo Sauce with White Bean Ragout and Pork au Jus (La Viga)
  • Vegetable Tower with layers of Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Spinach, Eggplant, served with flavorful rice and a saffron yogurt sauce (Arya Global Cuisine)

If you’ve never dined out at a restaurant week event, think of it as a get-to-know-you eating opportunity. Each of the 14 participating restaurants have created an affordable three-course prix fixe menu that highlight some of their favorite dishes. Set menu prices range from $20-45 per person, depending on the restaurant’s cuisine, for a selection of appetizer, main course, and dessert. (Fine print: tax, tip, and beverages not included.) For detailed menus and restaurant profiles, check out the Redwood City Restaurant Week website. Of course, restaurants will be offering their regular menus as well.

While I’ve certainly got my go-to spots in the city known for having a “Climate Best by Government Test,” Restaurant Week is motivating me to hit up those places I’ve been meaning to try. Have you dined in Redwood City lately? Which restaurants would you recommend?

Eat Local: American Pie

January 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Happy Pie Day! (No, not Pi Day — that’s in March, natch.) If you didn’t know, January 23 is the official day to indulge in that comforting, flavorful, make-me-feel-like-a-kid-again combination of flaky, tender crust and your favorite filling. Whether you like fruity, creamy, nutty, crunchy, hot, cold, room-temperature, you name it, there’s a pie for you.

So...THIS happened.

So…THIS happened.

I’ve yet to meet anyone (any American, that is) who doesn’t like pie. Some people are iffy about ice cream, marshmallows, chocolate, certain kinds of cake. But not pie. Seems like everyone likes pie. Apple is still the favorite of most Americans, but cherry, blueberry, pumpkin, and lemon meringue have plenty of fans too, according to the National Pie Council.

Good pie means something different to everyone, but it really comes down to the execution of — and balance between — the crust and the filling. Texture and flavor must play well together for a good pie, but that means something different for every pie lover. Do you prefer flaky crust or crumbly? Slightly undercooked and golden or brownish and crispy? And what about the filling? Sweet? Tart? And how much? What about that filling-to-crust ratio? Does your favorite pie have just enough crust to barely hold in a mound of filling, or is the crust substantial enough to stand up to the filling and play an equal part?

The best pies are homemade, but what if you’re baking-challenged or just plain don’t have time to knock out some homemade-pie lusciousness? Where in the 650 can you go to get your local pie fix — beyond the obvious options of chain grocery stores and Costco? Well, turns out that there’s no easy answer to that question. Unlike San Francisco, which seems to be experiencing a handcrafted pie renaissance (Mission Pie, Three Babes Bakeshop, Tartine… need I go on?), the Peninsula isn’t experiencing the same kind of pie love. Sure, we’ve got some fine bakeries and a growing number of European-influenced patisseries with tarts, galettes, and cakes, but when it comes to good ol’ American pie…hmmm, not so much. You need to do some sleuthing to find a reasonable variety of fresh, locally baked pies here in the 650.

If you’ve got some time on your hands, and the weather is fine, you could take a drive over to Highway 1 and down the coast to Duarte’s Tavern, whose ollalieberry pie was anointed one of the country’s best pies by Life Magazine in 2005. Or, keep heading south on Highway 1 to Davenport and pick up a fresh-baked berry pie at Swanton Berry Farm’s Farm Stand. If you can plan ahead or schedule your pie cravings, there are some talented small-batch bakers who sell their treats at weekend farmers’ markets, when the markets are in season (sigh, how I miss iPie!). But where can you go to pick up a freshly baked pie (or even a slice!) any day of the week? After some sleuthing and taste testing, here are three options to try.

Palo Alto Creamery (Palo Alto)
If filling is your favorite part of pie, then Palo Alto Creamery’s pies are for you! The Creamery’s crust is flaky, but thin, which means that the filling is definitely the star. Note that fillings tend to be on the sweet side, so if you like sweeter pies, The Creamery’s got you covered. The apple pie has a double crust (pie shell with top crust to encase the filling), with a mound of chunky-applesauce-like filling. Blueberry is also a double-crust pie, while cherry has a butter-crumb topping.

Palo Alto Creamery's bakery case

Palo Alto Creamery’s bakery case

Eat in or Take Out: Both. Their whole pies are big, resulting in generous, thick slices.
Good to Know: When ordering to go, head to the bakery case at the back of the restaurant. Fruit pies are kept in the bakery case, but cream pies are kept in a refrigerator behind the counter. Be sure to ask the counter staff for a full list of the daily pies.
Flavors: Half a dozen or so classics, including apple, blueberry, cherry, chocolate cream, banana cream, key lime.
Price: $4.95/slice or $24/whole pie, plus pie plate deposit
Eat This: Key lime has a sturdy (not soft or soggy) graham cracker crust and creamy, balanced sweet-lime filling that wasn’t too sweet or too tart. I couldn’t stop eating it.

The Creamery's Key Lime Pie: Yes, please.

The Creamery’s Key Lime Pie: Yes, please.

Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery & Donut Shop (Belmont)
This pink and green shop sits right on El Camino Real in mid-Belmont. While they’re known for their donuts, they have some of the best homemade pies I’ve tasted.

Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery & Donut Shop in Belmont

Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery & Donut Shop in Belmont

Pilgrim Kitchen gives equal billing to both the crust and the filling. Crusts are golden brown, flakey, and fork-tender. Fruit pies are double-crusted, and the fillings are balanced perfectly with the thickness of the crust. It’s not all about one or the other, so filling and crust lovers would both be happy with Pilgrim Kitchen’s pies. The apple pie contains fresh, al dente pieces of tart apple. If you like a firmer apple pie, this one’s for you.

Eat in or Take Out: Both. The shop has indoor and outdoor seating; order and pay at the counter, then find a place to sit. Whole pies are standard 9″, and slices are about 1/6th of a pie.
Good to Know: Whole pies are in the case to your left and in front of you as you enter the shop. Ask which flavors are available by the slice.
Flavors: A dozen or so classics: apple, berry, cherry, coconut cream, pecan, lemon meringue. Call ahead for a full list.
Price: $3.50/slice or $12.95 – $14.95/whole pie, depending on the flavor
Eat This: The lemon meringue pie is heavenly. A flaky crust provides the base for a layer of creamy, pale-yellow, tart lemon custard, topped with an airy, melt-in-your mouth cap of meringue.

Pilgrim Kitchen's Lemon Meringue Pie: A little slice of pie heaven

Pilgrim Kitchen’s Lemon Meringue Pie: A little slice of pie heaven

Whole Foods Market (Redwood City, plus three other locations)
With a commitment to healthy ingredients and fresh food, Whole Foods fills that niche between neighborhood bakery (which seem to be few and far between in the 650) and the everything-to-everyone grocery store chains. What you might not know? Whole Foods makes their own pies in-house — from scratch.

Whole Foods In-House Pies: Make sure you get the orange box

Whole Foods In-House Pies: Make sure you get the orange box

Want to know when your pie was baked? Check the ingredient label. Whole Foods’ pies have a high filling-to-crust ratio, with a crust texture that falls between flaky and crumbly. The crust also has a nice, rich brown color, indicating that it’s been well-baked without being too crisp or having that slightly bitter edge of an over-baked crust.

Eat in or Take Out: Well, it’s a grocery store, so you’re likely to take out. But if you can’t wait, most WF’s have a seating area at the front of the store where you can tuck in to your pie.
Good to Know: Local, in-store-made pies are in the orange boxes. Pies in white boxes arrive frozen from the corporate bakery and are baked, but not made on-site. Locally made pies cost more.
Flavors: No cream pies. About half a dozen flavors, mostly fruit: apple, berry, cherry, pumpkin (seasonal), pecan.
Price: $10.99 for small (4″) or $19.99 for large (9″)
Eat This: Blackberry-Lime. A double-crusted pie with a jammy-blackberry filing that has a hint of lime and whole berries. No mushy filling here. Interesting blend of sweet and tart, with the filling in the starring role (although the crust is a good filling-delivery device).

Whole Foods Blackberry-Lime Pie: Half for me...

Whole Foods Blackberry-Lime Pie: Half for me…

Of the three, I’d say Pilgrim was a surprise favorite — and I’ll go back for more. Where do you go for pie in the 650? Share your favorites, and I’ll post an update!

Wild Salmon: Gone, Baby, Gone

November 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, I posted about the nutritious, flavorful, fresh, wild salmon that has been available in our 650 markets. Sadly, as many good things do, the commercial fishing season for wild salmon has come to an end.

Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Fresh, wild salmon fillets, purchased in the 650

Our California king salmon fishing season actually ended a month ago, and we’ve been seeing fresh, wild salmon arrive from points further and further north — first Oregon, then Alaska. Well, the supply is all but finished for the season now. If you’re lucky enough to find any fresh, wild king or coho salmon in the market, it’s coming from Alaska, and grab it while you can! My two 650 fish sources — Cook’s Seafood and Whole Foods — say that there’s maybe a week left before all of the fresh, wild salmon goes bye-bye.

Frozen is still a good option, according to my sources, however. Wild salmon caught at sea is flash frozen on the boat within 24 hours of the catch. In terms of preserving the nutritional value, it’s not a bad choice. Just as a point of comparison, transit time for fresh, wild fish from boat to your store can take a couple of days. I still buy previously frozen West Coast salmon from time to time throughout the fall and winter, but the texture isn’t quite the same as fresh.

Not to worry, though, there are still plenty of wild, local, seasonal fish in the sea — some of it from here in the 650. Half Moon Bay fishermen provide much of the cod, sole, and snapper that we’re seeing in local markets now. And our commercial Dungeness crab season is set to start on November 15 (sport fishing for Dungeness crab starts today!).

Getting to know your local fish supplier — whether at your grocery store, farmer’s market, or community fish share (yes, there is such a thing!) — goes a long way to ensuring that you’ll get the freshest local, seasonal fish. Not seeing fresh, local fish in your grocery store, or not happy with the selection? Don’t despair, there are a few things you can do!

Start a Conversation
Best way to find out what you need to know about fresh, local fish options? Strike up a friendly convo with the person working the fish counter where you shop.

Fish fillets in mid-peninsula grocery store

An assortment of fillets in the 650: Bay Area Rock Cod, tropical Mahi Mahi, and previously frozen King Salmon. Which would you choose?

If you shop one store regularly and like their fish selection, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the sources of their seafood (wild or farmed?), usual delivery days for specific products (so that you can get the freshest pieces), and whether you can call ahead or special order something. And, one more thing: don’t hesitate to ask for a fresh cut of something if the fish in the case is looking a little tired (think: swordfish with a brown bloodline or brownish tuna with a rainbow “sheen”).

As a consumer, you have a right to know what you’re buying and its source.  (Think about it: this is something you’re putting into your body, so shouldn’t you know where it’s from and how it’s been raised?) Need another reason to know the source of your seafood? A recent article by Takepart references two different studies in which fish has been mislabeled in some grocery stores and restaurants. Shop with stores and vendors you trust, who are willing to answer your questions, and to provide the best quality product.

Shop Your Local Farmers’ Markets
Farmers’ markets aren’t just for fruits and vegetables any more; they’re also a good source of handcrafted foods (jams, dips, chocolates), dairy products (pastured eggs, cheese), and yes, fresh fish. A few local fishermen sell through farmers’ markets, typically bringing their fish to market within 24 to 48 hours of the catch (realize that availability will depend on the weather and season). Late-running and year-round markets, such as the Moutain View Farmers’ Market, Palo Alto’s Sunday Market, and Coastside Market in Half Moon Bay are good places to check for local fish.

Whole fish in the case

Got mad DIY fish skills? Save money and buy direct from the fisherman.

Make a Trip to Pillar Point Harbor
There’s good fishing right off Half Moon Bay, and some fishermen will sell their catch directly from the boat. Want to know what’s fresh and available before you make the drive? Call the Pillar Point Harbor office (650-746-8724, ext. 3) for details; they have a recorded message on their voicemail with the latest info. If you do plan to purchase directly from the harbor, plan ahead and take an ice-filled cooler with you so that you can keep your purchase cold and fresh on the drive home. Lacking mad fish skills or don’t want to clean your own fish? Take your purchase to nearby Princeton Seafood Company, where they’ll do the dirty work for you (call for pricing).

Let the Fish Come to You
Too busy to hit the market or take a drive to Pillar Point? Let the Bay Area’s fresh fish come to you. Taking a cue from farmers, some fishermen now participate in Community Support Seafood (CSS) subscription services. Much like the Community Supported Agriculture services (CSA, aka “farmers’ market box”), you buy a “share” based on the amount of seafood you want (number of people/servings) and frequency of delivery. You’ll get a seasonal assortment pulled from our Bay Area waters — Monterey Bay, Half Moon Bay, and some points north — delivered either to your home or neighborhood, depending on the plan. Two to consider: H&H Fresh Fish, based in Santa Cruz, and Siren Fish Co., based in San Francisco.

Want to try out direct-to-your-home fish delivery that offers choices from a variety of local fish services before committing to a CSS? You can order loins and fillets of local, seasonal fish directly from GoodEggs, with no delivery fee — and they’ll deliver direct to your door.

So, yes, I’ll miss the sight of bright orange salmon at my local fish place, but there’s no lack of wild, local fish available for my 650 dinner table — and plenty of options for getting them there. With all of these healthy, readily available fish choices, there’s no reason not to eat local. So put that frozen, who-knows-where-it-came-from shrimp back in the freezer case and get yourself some fresh, local fish for dinner!

 

Eat Local: LV Mar

July 9, 2014 § 2 Comments

The first time I went to LV Mar — Chef Manuel Martinez’ upscale, contemporary Latin restaurant in Redwood City — I walked in on a private party. I was headed to Vesta with a friend on a cool November night, the week before Thanksgiving, when we walked by LV Mar and saw that window signs announcing “Coming Soon” were gone, the lights were on, the door open, and the restaurant full of diners. I had been looking forward to trying Chef Manuel’s new concept, hints of which he’d been offering at La Viga, his other, more casual restaurant down the street.

I’ve written previously about being a fan of Vesta, and there’s always a lingering craving for their seasonal pizzas and grilled pears, but — sure, we could change plans and try something new! We marched right inside and up to the hostess, who promptly told us that the restaurant was closed. Pause. Insert confused Scooby Doo face, complete with head tilt and a verbalized “Rurh?” Um, you don’t look closed.

She explained that they were actually in the middle of a “Friends & Family” soft opening, but would be open to the public in a week, and would we please come back then. My friend and I agreed on the spot that we’d be back in a week, and went off to enjoy Vesta as planned. (Maybe it’s my enthusiasm for finding good food in the 650, but I seem to have a knack for rolling up to restaurants before they’re quite open.)

Flash forward a week, and we did indeed arrive back at LV Mar on their “official” opening night: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Since that first visit, I’ve dined at LV Mar once a month or so and, it’s become one of my 650 favorites. Not only is the menu creative and fresh, but the service is warm, welcoming, and accommodating every time. (Even during a recent visit when a perfect storm of snafus caused friends to run almost an hour late for a celebration dinner, the hostess was very understanding and held our table without complaint or question.)

My favorite way to experience LV Mar is to order a variety of small plates and taste everything. Seafood plays a starring role in LV Mar’s menu, but there are dishes to please eaters of all kinds, including vegans and vegetarians. Below are highlights of the dishes I’ve tasted since the restaurant’s opening. Just so you know: peppers play a role in most savory dishes, adding flavor, depth, sweetness, and some heat. A friend summed it up perfectly saying “everything was spicy — meaning it had flavor.”

Ceviche Mixto
LV Mar makes some of the best ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spiced with peppers) in the 650. The house specialty is the Ceviche Mixto: chopped octopus, scallop, and halibut married with orange, red onion, and rocoto chile. The ceviche is topped with shredded jicama and finely sliced red onion and served with crispy plantain chips. Sweet, spicy, tender and fresh, this dish reminds me of afternoons under a palapa bar on the beach in Zihuatanejo.

LV Mar's Ceviche Mixto served with plaintain chips

LV Mar’s Ceviche Mixto served with plaintain chips

Deshebra de Pato
Friends ordered this small plate during our celebration dinner, and I just had to taste it. Oh my! Rich shredded duck leg confit is spiced with chipotle and onions, nestled onto a small, deep-fried masa pillow and topped with manchego cheese, avocado, and tomatillo salsa. They might be bite-sized, but these small delicacies are full of flavor!

Deshebra de Pato:  shredded duck leg confit, chipotle & onions, masa pelliscadas, manchego cheese, avocado, tomatillo salsa

Deshebra de Pato: shredded duck leg confit with chipotle and onions, manchego cheese, avocado, tomatillo salsa, on small masa pillow

Cayo Dorado
Another favorite small plate, the Cayo Dorado is served like a small soft taco (although I couldn’t eat it like a soft taco — this one is best with a knife and fork). A perfectly tender, lightly battered scallop sits atop a thinly sliced piece of jicama — the “tortilla”– and is dressed with cucumber, orange, and sweet habanero cream.

Cayo Dorado crispy scallop, cucumber, plantain, sweet habanero cream on jicama tortilla

Cayo Dorado: Crispy scallop on a jicama tortilla, finished with cucumber, orange, and sweet habanero cream

Envuelto de Cangrejo y Aguacate
The crab salad, one of several salads on the menu, stars our local favorite shellfish: Dungeness crab. Like most of LV Mar’s dishes, this one incorporates a variety of flavors and textures: soft and sweet (the crab salad), crisp and slightly bitter (the frisee and radishes), tart/citrusy (orange supremes and dressing). Note: Yes, the dish does include avocado (aguacate), but I’m not a fan, so the kitchen graciously accommodated my request to 86 the avocado. The photo below was taken November 2013, and the presentation might be different now.

Envuelto de Cangrejo y Aguacate: Crab salad with frisee, orange supremes

Envuelto de Cangrejo y Aguacate (Fall 2013): Crab salad with frisee, orange supremes

Pescado Con Pepitas
While I usually prefer to sample a variety of small plates, there is one entrée that I’ve tried and found craveable: pan-seared, pepita-crusted fish. This version is currently not on the menu, but I’m hoping it returns in the fall. It’s cool-weather, belly-filling comfort food all the way: pan-roasted pepita-crushed sea bass, served on a bed of corn truffle purée, surrounded by pieces of chayote squash and two pepper sauces.

Pescado Con Pepitas (Fall 2013): pan-roasted, pepita-crusted sea bass with corn truffle puree, chayote squash, and two pepper sauces

Pescado Con Pepitas (Fall 2013): pan-roasted, pepita-crusted sea bass with corn truffle puree, chayote squash, and two pepper sauces

The current seasonal version is Pescado Sarteneado: pan-roasted wild Alaskan halibut, asparagus, corn truffle and potato croquettes, guajillo chile emulsion.

Desserts and Drinks
If you like to start or end your meal with an adult beverage, you can choose from an assortment of beers, wines, and wine-based cocktails. (Note that the restaurant doesn’t have a full liquor license, though, so don’t expect shelves of tequilas or an array of fancy margaritas.) Chosen to pair with the food menu, wines are on the lighter side and hail from Spain and South America.

The wine-based cocktail menu tends toward the fruity side, and includes a classic sangria, along with cocktails built around wine “spirits,” such as agave wine, wine vodka, and sake. On my list to try: the El Morado (blackberry-basil mix, petrov wine vodka, sparkling wine) and the Gingerito (mint simple syrup, ginger mix, sake, ginger beer & fresh lime juice). Beer choices include an assortment of bottled beers and beer on tap. Non-alcoholic drinks include fresh lemonade and a horchata, a rice drink with spices, shaken over ice with coconut milk. This one should be on the dessert menu — it’s so rich and decadent!

Horchata with coconut milk

Horchata with coconut milk: rich, sweet, and delicious!

The dessert list is small, but hits the usual notes: chocolate, fruit, cake, ice cream. If your idea of dessert involves chocolate and little else, try the flourless chocolate cake. It’s a small but rich dessert, and I’m fairly certain the only ingredients are chocolate and butter (and that’s not a bad thing)! Want something more summery? The Torta de Fresas takes a Latin twist to a classic American shortcake:  thin slices of sweet cornbread, layered with mixed berry compote, topped with horchata ice cream and finished with a light mint syrup.

Torta de Fresas layered cornbread, mixed berry compote, horchata ice cream, mint syrup

Torta de Fresas: layered cornbread, mixed berry compote, horchata ice cream, mint syrup

There you have it — my highlights of dining at LV Mar since it opened to the public. Have you tried LV Mar yet? What did you eat?

Details
What: LV Mar
Where: 2042 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: 650-241-3111
Hours: Mon–Thu 11:30am–9:30pm; Fri–Sat 11:30am-10:30pm
Price: $$
Bar: Beer, wine, and wine-based cocktails. No spirits.
Parking: Street and nearby lots.

 

Grow Local: How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

As we’re heading into the last weekend of May, it’s time for the first update on my attempt to grow food. After just about a month, my little garden is flourishing! To date everything I planted is thriving, and much to my surprise, the lettuce is overflowing the planting boxes.

Burgundy mix and little gem lettuces

Lettuce explosion: burgundy mix in the front, little gems behind

As a comparison, here’s what they looked like when I planted them four weeks ago. Amazing what good organic soil, sunshine, water, and a little TLC can do!

Left to right: Little Gem lettuce, Burgundy Red Mix lettuce, purple jalapeno

Awww, they were just babies then…

Just this week I’ve started harvesting the outer leaves for small salads, pulling only what I need from the garden. I hope I can keep this going through the summer — continuing to harvest leaves as I need them, without having to harvest entire heads of lettuce that might go to waste.

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

Garden-to-table: fresh lettuce

I’ve also (cautiously) started snipping the tops of the chives, for the occasional garnish. If they continue to thrive, I might get a bit more aggressive and really give them a haircut. The sage is popping, too, so it might be time to pull some leaves and fry them up. (No, it doesn’t matter what you put them on — fried sage leaves are delicious! Ideas? Try them with sausage and pasta or grilled swordfish with olive oil or roasted veggies with brown rice…)

Herb box: Sage and chives

Sage and chives, little gems to the right

The peppers and tomato plants are taking their own sweet time, but they do have a longer growth time (75-90 days) compared to the lettuces and herbs (30-60 days). The anchos are the frontrunners right now, with three peppers, while the purple jalapenos are a close second.

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

Yep, there are three ancho chili peppers in there!

If you’re thinking about starting a garden, it’s not too late! Lettuces are much easier to grow than I ever imagined, and they give an abundant return for your time and effort. Peppers are sturdy and do well in containers — but you need some patience because they do take up to three months to really produce. Tomatoes do amazingly well in the 650 — my plant start was four inches tall with no flowers a month ago, and now it’s almost 24″ tall with lots of flowers (which means, if all goes well, fruit will follow!).

Tomato plant

Tomato plant

You can check out how I put my little garden together here. The post also includes resources for more gardening info.

So what’s this all leading to? Hopefully a summer of creative, simple meals made of local ingredients. Just to give you an idea of how you can “eat local,” at home, here’s a simple meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients:

Eat local: West coast halibut with Nut 'n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots and Marin feta.

Eat local: West-coast halibut with Nut ‘n Bean Cashew Jalapeno Cheese and chives from my garden. Salad of homegrown lettuces, CSA-box beets and carrots, and feta.

The run-on, menu-style description: Baked west-coast halibut, topped with Nut ‘n Bean Jalapeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese “sauce,” and chives, served with late-spring rainbow salad. The salad brings together lettuces from my garden, carrots and beets from my CSA delivery, a sprinkling of feta from Marin, and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice (yes, from local lemons). With the exception of the fish and the olive oil, every ingredient on this plate comes from within 85 miles of where I live. How cool is that?!

Of course, you can vary the protein based on your budget and diet (chicken or tofu could work, too), and the salad fixin’s based on what’s available in your garden or market. The point here is that it’s so easy it is to create a good, fresh dish from local ingredients. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to cook something like that.” Au contraire! Halibut takes 13-14 minutes to bake; other fish or proteins might time a little more or less time. During that time, you can wash, chop, and assemble the salad ingredients. Overall, figure about 30 minutes to prep and assemble a meal like this.

The best way to enjoy a meal like this in the 650? Grab a chilled bottle of wine (or some homemade sangria), your favorite people, and head to the back yard for some nice al fresco dining. What more could you ask for this weekend?

 

 

 

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