October 16, 2015 § 2 Comments
I’d been harboring summer road trip fantasies for years. Nothing crazy, mind you — no cross-country, hit-every-state, live-out-of-an-RV trip for me. Nope, I just wanted to see more of the Golden State, at a leisurely pace. I’d go easy on the packing (shorts, sandals, cute tops — it is summer, after all), pop open the sunroof, and head off down the road, stereo cranked. Maybe drive Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Barbara or LA. Or take 101 north through Sonoma county, crossing over to Anderson Valley and ending up in Mendocino. I’d linger in small towns, taste wines in the middle of the afternoon, sample the products of local food makers, and take in the local history. sigh
Just so you know, I didn’t end up taking either of those trips — in part because I’ve done them in the past, and I wanted to go someplace that was new to me. (Although both are on the road trip bucket list for next year.) Instead, I decided to focus on visiting the Central Coast, which has been getting more press for its rising food and wine scene during the past few years. With five days all to myself and Little Cat’s petsitting needs taken care of, I made a plan head south down 101 right after the 4th of July. I’d land in San Luis Obispo for a few days, then head to the coast to finish up the trip before heading home via Highway 1. It was going to be my own personal food tour, with a bit of California history on the side.
The Salad Bowl of the World
The beginning of my trip included short tours through Soledad and Salinas, two cities that are central to California’s agriculture industry. The Salinas Valley is an amazing sight in mid-summer — enough to make you want to pull over from the speedy raceway that is 101 South and just take it all in. Beautiful, bright green fields (despite the drought and daily temps in the high-90’s) full of workers, picking, pulling, and loading. Awe-inspiring, and yet quite humbling when you realize that you’re in the heart of “the Salad Bowl of the World,” an area that produces approximately 80% of the world’s salad greens. Even more so that so much of that hard work is still done manually, in 90-plus-degree temperatures.
Road Food, Day 1
Heading out of Salinas, I was hankering for my first road food snack. It was a little too early in the trip to go right off the rails with heavy, greasy, processed fast food. (And who am I kidding? I don’t eat that way even on a bad day. My idea of comfort food is roasted vegetables and steamed broccoli.) Given my own dietary choices, it gave me the perfect opportunity to think about what’s out there for non-standard, non-meat-based diets. Erm, not much. You need to get creative (and bring your own snacks). Much as I’m a fan of local and family-owned over corporate food choices, Starbucks’ snack boxes came in for the win. Passing by pizza joints and burger spots on my way out of Salinas I popped into Starbucks for a bottle of water and came across their new Omega-3 Bistro Box. While being on-trend, it’s also vegetarian and gluten-free (but not vegan).
Eating My Way Through SLO
I arrived in San Luis Obispo just in time to get check in to my bed and breakfast before heading out to experience the Thursday Night Downtown San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market. More than a market, it’s a family-friendly evening event with farm-fresh produce, local food stalls (including award-winning barbeque), handmade products, and a variety of entertainment. The market, which runs 6 – 9pm, covers five city blocks of Higuera Street, between Osos and Nipomo.
Much of the produce I saw came from areas around SLO, and far south as Santa Barbara. While it was all beautiful, fresh, and local, I was surprised that there were so few organic vendors at this market. Another surprise? SLO is a meaty town — there’s a real love of barbeque here. That award-winning barbeque stall I mentioned? Locals were already lining up at 5:30, well before the market opened!
Downtown shops, restaurants, and bars along Higuera stay open during the market, which means that you can wander, shop, dine, and cocktail, as well. Or just hang out. The weather was just gorgeous — warm enough for summer clothing without a jacket — and the streets were full of happy people. I wandered, sampled, and chatted with vendors for about an hour, and then headed over to Luna Red to sample a craft cocktail or two and check out their small plate menu.
Seeing Red… Luna Red
Thursday night seems to be THE night to be at Luna Red, a tapas-style restaurant located just a block north of Higuera on Chorro Street. With perfect summer weather and almost two more hours of daylight coming, the outdoor seating area was packed when I arrived at 7pm.
No tiny patio, Luna Red’s outdoor seating area could pass for a small restaurant all on its own. The variety of seating includes high-top and regular tables, a fire pit with “couches,” and outdoor bar. It’s casual and fun, with a relaxed vibe. Inside, the restaurant pairs a contemporary design with a mission-style building that consists of a front room, long (red-lit) bar, and a back room with windows that look over the nearby creek. The interior of the restaurant is quieter, but also darker.
My server, Thomas, was friendly and knowledgeable, answering all of my questions about the cocktail and food menus. The craft cocktail staples, whiskey and gin, figure heavily into the cocktail menu, but there’s a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for every palate. You know I’m a tequila and mezcal kinda girl, so the Smoke and Mirrors (mezcal, benedictine, dry vermouth, grapefruit bitters, rosemary, lemon twist) was just what I needed. The bar gets creative with non-alcoholic drinks, as well, with options like Blackberry Stonefruit (blackberries, stonefruit shrub, lemon juice, soda) and Fig and Thyme (thyme, fig shrub, lime, soda).
The food menu is what I’d call globally inspired, but with a Latin-fusion focus. The restaurant emphasizes supporting local food producers, as well as sustainable farming and fishing techniques. (Note: Dishes reflect the season, so keep that in mind if you visit during the non-summer months. Some of the dishes I’ve mentioned here might not be available.) Luna Red is also very conscious of alternative diets; every dish on the menu has a small abbreviation next to it that indicates whether it’s gluten-free (gf), dairy-free (df), vegan (v), or contains nuts (n).
With five categories — Raw, Small Plates, Paellas, Flatbreads, and Sweets — you’re bound to find a dish or two that calls to you, and everything is meant to be shared. (And GF and DF folks, rejoice! There are approximately a dozen menu items that will suit your diet.) Paellas are the largest dishes and definitely meant to be shared. Even in the Paella category, gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan folks get a vote. Three of the four paellas are GF/DF, and the fourth is vegan.
If you’re choosing amongst Small Plates (the largest menu category), the restaurant suggests 2 – 3 dishes per person and 3 – 5 dishes per couple. The four-top across from me ordered a half dozen dishes to share. Some examples of Luna Red’s small plates: Goat & Berries salad (summer berries, red quinoa tabbouleh, grilled stonefruit, honeyed chevre), Gambas Al Ajillo (sustainable shrimp, paprika olive oil, garlic confit, chili flake, citrus bread), and Pork Short Ribs (honey-chimichurri, garlic green beans).
I was eying the Gambas and a salad, but here’s where my dietary choices went off the rails a bit. I opted for the Pacific Rockfish Ceviche (citrus juice, honey, cilantro, jalapeno) from the Raw section, and while I don’t usually eat meat, the Bacon-Wrapped Dates (stuffed with House-Made Chorizo) were calling to me from the Small Plate section. (Hey, it was a road trip, after all! Why not try something new?) The ceviche was perfect for a warm summer evening: fresh, tangy, and delish. The dates were a bit heavy for the warm weather (for me), although they were a nice balance of sweet, salty, and rich. Still, I enjoyed every bite and decided that dish was a stand-in for dessert.
A satisfying first day of my road trip completed, I headed back to my bed and breakfast for a good night’s sleep so that I would be ready for a full-on food tour of SLO on Day Two.
August 29, 2014 § 4 Comments
Sometimes you just gotta bail… hit the road… get outta Dodge. Take a vay-cay-shun. I love my little corner of the 650, but it’s good to travel and see the rest of the world from time to time. I’d been fantasizing about a trip to Puerto Rico — especially Old San Juan — since the beginning of the year, and I finally managed to squeeze in a getaway.
Given that I spend most of my waking moments thinking, reading, and writing about (what else?) food and drink, exploring local restaurants was definitely at the top of my “must do’s” for Old San Juan! But aside from a thriving food scene with a variety of top-notch restaurants, Old San Juan is packed full of history, culture, and romantic charm! There are museums, national landmarks, and narrow cobblestone streets to explore. The pace is slow (year-round temps of 85ºF and high humidity help with the slowing down), and the everyone I met was friendly.
I am crushing hard on Old San Juan; it’s a gorgeous city with so much to see and experience. To me, the old city is a mashup of French Quarter meets Caribbean, with plenty of Latin influence thrown in. Yet, there are surprises everywhere: a block of Art Deco buildings here, and good ol’ USA commerce — Walgreens and fast food — over there.
There’s history on every block of Old San Juan, so walking is the best way to see the old city. Keep an eye out for plaques, affixed to just about every other building, for even more historical information. (I now know where the first Piña Colada was created!) Yes, the text is in Spanish, but you’ll be able to get the gist, even if you don’t speak the language.
My days were spent walking the old city, visiting national historic sites, such as the Museo de Casa Blanca (home of the Ponce de León family for 250 years) and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (huge, multi-level “castle” that has guarded the city’s entrance for more than 400 years). As each day’s sightseeing wound down, I’d head to the Calle Fortelezza – Calle Tetuan area for a happy-hour cocktail and bar snacks before deciding on dinner. Bliss!
Mojitos are de rigeur at just about every bar. I tried both traditional and contemporary versions (let me just say that Toro Salao’s Rosemary Mojito rocks). One of the tastier, traditional versions that I tried was at Anam Spa & Cocktail Lounge. That’s right, spa and cocktail lounge. I wandered in thinking I’d just grab a happy-hour mojito and be on my way, but it turns out that I was able to relax with my cocktail while getting one of the best foot massages I’ve ever had (thank you, Hayley!!). Yet another opportunity to slow down.
Anam’s mojito had no measurements — just a handful of mint, muddled with the juice of half a lime, a healthy pour of Don Q limon rum, and a top-off of Sprite. The addition of lemon from the Sprite and the Don Q rum added sweetness, but wasn’t cloying. The cocktail was absolutely delicious, well-balanced, and refreshing!
I’m already missing Old San Juan and thinking about another visit. I’ll be posting more about my trip (and what I ate) in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’m going to mix up a mojito with some backyard garden mint, homemade lemon-lime simple syrup, and Puerto Rican rum.
Recipe: Missing Old San Juan Mojito
Yield: 1 cocktail
You’ll need a highball or pint glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, a muddler, a long-handled spoon, and ice.
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon
Handful of mint leaves (if you must count, let’s say about 2 dozen leaves)
2 ounces lemon-lime simple syrup (heat 4 ounces sugar and water to a simmer, stir until sugar is completely dissolved, add the zest and juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon, then cool and strain)
2¼ – 2½ ounces white rum (I used DonQ Cristal)
4 – 6 ounces sparkling water
- Juice the ½ lime into a glass.
- Add the mint leaves and lemon-lime simple syrup to the glass and muddle.
I use a press-and-turn motion with the muddler to crush the leaves without shredding them. You’re working to release the mint essence from the leaves and combine it with the simple syrup and lime. Want to know if it’s working? Put your nose in the glass and take a sniff. You should be able to smell a combination of mint and citrus. (Want more details about muddling? Check out my 650 Blackberry Mojito recipe.)
- Add the rum.
Stir once or twice to combine.
- Add ice to fill the glass about halfway.
- Top with sparkling water.
- Give a quick stir to combine everything.
- Adjust to your taste, if necessary, by adding more simple syrup or rum.
- Garnish with a mint sprig and enjoy!
March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
For the past month or so, new dietary guidelines from Brazil have been making food news here in the US. Marion Nestle’s blog, Food Politics, lists the ten easy-to-understand guidelines proposed by the Brazilian government. There are no pyramids, no squares, no “this many servings,” just common-sense advice for eating well and mindfully.
Fresh food, moderation, mindful eating, and sharing meals with others are key points of these guidelines. This approach puts the power of eating good food back in the hands (and mouths) of consumers. And it reminds us of the simple pleasure of enjoying and sharing the food we have. So many of us seem to have lost our connection to the food we eat — or we’re connecting with food that’s not healthy for us — and Brazil’s guidelines could be a wake-up call for Americans, particularly with new US guidelines due from the government in 2015.
While I agreed with the entire list — and was awed by the simple, common sense of it all — the top three guidelines for me are:
- “Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods.”
- “Eat in company whenever possible.”
- “Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.”
What I appreciate most about these guidelines is that they make a point to incorporate the planning, preparation, and sharing of food into everyday life. Healthy meals and good food are essential to our well-being, and we need to stop treating them as an afterthought. And I’m not talking about fancy food either. I’m talking about making a fresh salad, homemade meatloaf, or whatever suits your budget and skill level, and enjoying it with family and friends.
I really believe that the experience of food is to be shared — it’s a fundamental reason I started this blog. We create community by sharing our recipes, our successes and failures in making food, our dining experiences, and even what we do with the food that grows in our yards. Equally important as what and where we’re eating are food issues, such as dietary guidelines and food waste, and how we can affect change at home and in our communities.
The day after Ms. Nestle’s post about the Brazilian dietary guidelines, I had lunch with my friend Patricia at one of my favorite restaurants in the 650, Osteria Coppa. Osteria Coppa focuses on fresh, seasonal food, sourcing their ingredients from local foodcrafters and farmers. Patricia is a renaissance woman: baker, cottage food advocate, writer, and career coach — just for starters. Obviously we had a lot to talk about, including food! I remember thinking that our lunch together was a great example of what the Brazilian guidelines espoused, easily checking off at least half of the guidelines. Which is to say that following a different set of dietary guidelines might bring a greater benefit than just counting calories and checking off how much you ate today.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, skip on over the Food Politics blog and read through the Brazilian dietary guidelines. Sound like something you could follow? Do you already? What plans do you have for making, sharing, and eating fresh food in good company this weekend?
January 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
650Food field trips happen for a variety of reasons. Some are educational — an opportunity to learn about a new or not-so-well-known source of tasty, local food. Some are to share the experience of eating food produced by local farmers, artisans, or chefs. And some are… well, let’s be honest, some are just about pure indulgence. New England Lobster Market & Eatery in Burlingame falls into the latter category.
On a recent sunny, yet slightly crisp Friday afternoon, I was feeling pleased with myself for getting through my weekly To Do list and decided to treat myself to lunch. Work done for the the week and a sunny afternoon ahead of me, I was going to get myself a lobster roll. Never mind the fact that I’d never had a lobster roll in my life and hadn’t set foot in any part of New England since a family trip to Boston when I was 10 years old. I was having Lobster. For lunch. ‘Nuff said.
New England Lobster is definitely off the beaten path; it’s located in Burlingame’s business park/semi-industrial area off Old Bayshore Road. The Market and Eatery are housed in the same building — lunch and shopping all in one location! When you enter New England Lobster, turn left for the Market, or walk straight ahead for the Eatery. While most of the seafood at New England Lobster is not locally sourced, the prices are decent and the quality is excellent. (One exception: Dungeness crab, when in season, is locally sourced. NEL purchases their crab from boats in Half Moon Bay.) The market board and printed price list at the Market’s cash register give the latest information about what’s available, its origin, and market price.
The Market offers cooked lobster and cracked crab, as well as fresh oysters and clams on the half shell for in-house dining. You can also purchase these items to take home. Want more choices? The cold cases house frozen scallops, fish fillets (mahi and salmon), lobster tails, shrimp, and locally made seafood ravioli to purchase and cook at home.
If it’s a freshly made lobster roll you’re looking for, then head straight for the Eatery. While the lobster roll, available in three variations, is the star attraction, the Eatery’s menu has a seafood dish for any appetite. I could see a lot of Friday lunches at NEL in my future. I ordered the “lightly dressed” lobster roll (lobster meat dressed with just a touch of mayo, plus salt and pepper), took my number, and found a seat outside at one of the picnic tables in front of the the building.
Having missed the Friday lunch rush, I didn’t have to wait long for my lunch to appear. The lobster roll and sides were delivered in about 10 minutes by a friendly employee. Chunks of lobster meat were piled on top of the toasted, buttery, rectangular “roll” (now, if that isn’t an oxymoron…). The roll was more of a lobster-delivery device than container, so I ate the lobster first, then attacked the roll afterwards. The lobster itself was fresh, rich, and oh-so-slightly sweet. The light dressing of mayo, salt and pepper was enough to accent the lobster, providing balance and a bit of moistness.
The sides — thick-cut, spiced potato chips and cole slaw — are both made in-house. The chips are seasoned with cumin, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cayanne, and salt, and fried in canola oil. I’m not much of a potato chip fan, but these had the right amount of crunch and seasoning. The slaw is dressed up just a bit with the addition of plumped, dried cranberries, adding texture and sweetness to the crunchy, but slightly bland slaw. For my taste, I’d prefer a bit more salt and acid, fortunately with the condiments NEL provides on the tables, it’s easy to adjust.
So, that’s my new Friday indulgence — lobster for lunch (or Dungeness crab… or oysters…). And I’m no longer a Lobster Roll Virgin! What’s your latest local food indulgence? Show and tell!