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

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.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Strawberry-Orange Compote

May 6, 2015 § 1 Comment

When was the last time you took a good look inside your freezer? Do you know what’s living in there, under the frozen peas and ice cream? For many of us, the freezer is like a hall closet for food. We just keep shoving stuff in there until one day it all comes tumbling out, and we finally have to decide to pitch or keep that frozen mass of … what was that again? And how long has it been in there?

One way to keep a handle on what’s going into your freezer — and how long it lives there — is to label freezer items with the “date in.” All you need is a Sharpie and some freezer tape. For each item that goes into the freezer, take a minute and write the current date on a piece of freezer tape. (Add the name of the item, too, if it’s packaged in an opaque or unlabeled container, freezer bag, or layers of foil. ) Affix the tape to the item, and voilà. No more guessing games about how long that foil-wrapped thing has been wedged behind last week’s ice cream and under last year’s frozen pizza.

I’ve been a labeler since culinary school. All good, right? Yes and no. The followup to labelling is, that you have to — every few months — take a look at what’s actually living in the freezer. If you focus on a mostly fresh-food diet, then you might not be digging into the freezer that often. I use my freezer as a place to preserve foods — breads, summer fruit that I want to enjoy later in the year, stocks and broths, and vegetable scraps for said stocks and broths. In short, it’s place to store food until I get around to doing something with it. Problem is, often out of sight, out of mind. Hence the need to check in every few months.

Given that we’re into the first week of May already, summer garden vegetables and u-pick fruit are on their way. Unfortunately, I still have last year’s overages of backyard apricots and Swanton Berry Farm strawberries taking up most of my freezer. Sheesh. (Ok, so I’m not so good at the every-few-months check-in.) So while most Waste-Less Wednesdays have focused on ways to reduce waste by rescuing or repurposing what’s in front of you — in the refrigerator or on the countertop — let’s not forget about what’s going on in the freezer.

So, let’s say you’ve got an excess of freezer fruit. What to do? While freezing fruit often maintains most of the flavor, the texture is another story. Soft fruits like berries and apricots don’t bounce back so well when thawed, which means they’re ideal for smoothies or cooked fruit dishes. A simple way to enjoy previously frozen fruit? Make a compote. While it might sound fancy, the making part is easy. A compote is fruit cooked in liquid with sugar added for sweetness. Perfectly delicious on their own, compotes can also dress up Greek yogurt, elevate waffles and pancakes, or add a touch of decadence to your favorite ice cream.

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

So, start digging through your freezer. If you’ve got last year’s frozen berries — or store-bought frozen berries will do in a pinch — you can have a tasty, homemade fruit compote in about 15 minutes.

Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Compote
Yield: About 8 ounces

This recipe omits the water to produce a chunkier compote, and (bonus!) is a great way to use up one of those packets of orange zest you might have lingering in your refrigerator. Delicious warm or cold, you can enjoy this compote on its own (or with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream) or as a complement to a variety of other treats. Serve it warm or at room temperature with cakes, waffles, rice pudding, or pancakes. Serve cool over ice cream or yogurt.

Ingredients

12 ounces frozen strawberries (previously washed, dried, and hulled)
1½ – 2 ounces organic sugar (to your taste)
1 heaping teaspoon fresh orange zest

Yes, you can make a beautiful compote from just three ingredients!

Yes, you can make a beautiful compote from just three ingredients!

What You Need:

Rubber spatula
2-quart saucepan
Small plate
Small glass or ceramic bowl or dish (to hold up to 10 ounces)

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar and berries in the saucepan and place it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so that the berries cook evenly and don’t stick to the pan.
    After about five minutes, the berries will begin to soften and release their juices, combining with the sugar to make a syrup.

    Berries getting juicy and starting to soften

    Berries getting juicy and starting to soften

  2. Use the tip of the spatula to break the berries into smaller, bite-size pieces.
    Don’t worry about creating even-size pieces.
  3. Continue cooking until the syrup thickens and berries are soft and in pieces, about 10 minutes.
  4. Check the consistency of the compote by taking a small spoonful of the syrup from the saucepan and putting it on the plate. Place the plate in the freezer for about 20 seconds, just enough to bring the temperature down.
  5. Retrieve the plate from the freezer and run your finger or the tip of the spatula through the syrup. If the gap closes quickly, continue cooking the compote for a minute or two, testing it again for doneness. If the gap closes slowly, the compote is ready.

    Mind the gap: this compote is ready!

    Mind the gap: this compote is ready!

  6. Taste the small sample from the plate and adjust the amount of sugar, if neccessary.
    If you’d prefer a sweeter compote, stir another teaspoon of sugar into the hot compote until fully combined. Taste a cooled sample of the compote to determine whether you need to add any more sugar.
  7. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange zest.
  8. Transfer the compote to the glass or ceramic dish (Pyrex is a good choice), cover with plastic or parchment paper, and place in the refrigerator to cool.
  9. Serve cold or rewarm gently in the microwave before serving.swirl-yogurt-2
  10. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Field Trip: Swanton Berry Farm

June 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

While most of the 650 was sweltering through another 90-something-degree day this week, I decided to make a run for cooler temperatures on the coast. It was actually perfect timing to check off a couple of items on my Summer Bucket List: lunch at eco-resort Costanoa, followed by a short trip over the San Mateo county line for strawberry picking at Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport.

Strawberry plants in the sun at Swanton Berry Farm

Strawberry plants in the sun at Swanton Berry Farm

Why spend a couple of hours in a dusty field along the coast of Santa Cruz county when I could find local, organic berries at my neighborhood grocery store or farmers’ market? Sure the market is convenient, but you can’t get fresher berries than those you pick yourself. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to directly support a local, organic farm.

I was thinking, as I was wandering through the rows of berry plants, that u-pick benefits both the farm and the consumer. Consumers have an opportunity to pick the freshest organic berries at a reasonable price, and the farm can reduce the costs of labor and transporting the berries to market. Not to mention that it’s a nice summer outing for families — and an opportunity to teach your kids about where strawberries come from and the work that goes into producing them.

You can bring your own containers and head right to the field, or stop in to the Farmstand shop where you can pick up cardboard boxes to hold your berries. There’s not much to know about picking strawberries — common sense is pretty much all you need. Be gentle with the plants and only pick berries that are completely red; that means turning berries over to check that they’re fully ripe. While one side might be beautifully red, the other might still be green. Strawberries don’t ripen after you pick them, which is why you want to pick berries that are completely red, from stem to tip and front to back.

Strawberries

Turn berries over and look at the tips to make sure they’re fully ripe

Berries that aren’t red from stem to tip won’t have as much flavor, so leave them and move on to other plants. Trust me, there are plenty of ripe berries, if you have some patience and are willing to look. Swanton works on the honor system when it comes to berry picking. Once you’ve picked your fill, head back to the Farmstand, where you’ll weigh your berries, calculate the cost, and pay at the “honor station” at the counter.

Swanton says that they have fewer berries than usual for this time of year due to the drought, but I found plenty. It’s easy to get in a groove and end up with more berries than you anticipated. Somehow I always do this  — I was going for five pounds and ended up going home with seven.

Approximately 3.5 pounds of berries

Approximately 3.5 pounds of berries — but wait, there’s more…

As soon as I got home, I did a “sort and separate”:

  • Berries without stems (they won’t last as long without their stems)
  • Berries that are verging on overripe and/or have a bit of damage (again, they have a shorter lifespan)
  • Berries that have a bit of a green on the tip (yeah, somehow I got a few of those); they may or may not be flavorful
  • Berries that are beautifully red from stem to tip (most of the berries)

Basically, I want to get any soft, stemless, damaged, and very ripe berries out of the mix because they’ll deteriorate more quickly and can potentially cause mold problems with the rest of the berries. Once I finished sorting, I lined the boxes with foil and then two layers of paper towels and arranged the berries in a single layer in each box. (You can also use a sheet pan or shallow, plastic food bin.) I put the boxes (uncovered) on the top shelf of my fridge where they’ll stay for a day or so until I get everything prepped for freezing.

Berries need cool storage temps (about 35ºF) and high humidity. You’ll also want to make sure that they have some room for airflow, which is why you should store them in a single layer. The paper towels will absorb moisture, which should minimize the potential for mold. Oh, and one very important tip to extend the shelf-life of your berries: don’t wash them or remove the stems until you’re ready to use them. Want to know more? This comprehensive article from UC Davis gives good information about choosing, cleaning, and storing strawberries.

So what am I going to do with all of those luscious, red berries? I’ll use the very ripe and stemless berries first. As for the rest, I’ll keep some in the refrigerator for breakfast and snacking, but most I’ll freeze for future projects. Here are a few ideas I’m working on already:

  • Cut the very ripe berries into dice and mix with leftover sorbet syrup and fresh mint from my garden for a simple dessert
  • Make Strawberries Romanov (cut strawberries into dice, mix with sugar and Grand Marnier) as a topping for Orange Sorbet
  • Purée berries for strawberry sherbet or ice cream
  • Make a salad with fresh lettuce from my garden, strawberries, and feta

Then there are the frozen berries that I’ll hold back for baked treats (mmm, strawberry crisp) and possibly my first attempt at freezer jam. Fortunately, Swanton’s u-pick for strawberries runs until September or October, so I might just have to pace myself.berries-close

Have you been to Swanton to pick your own berries?

Details
What: Swanton Berry Farm U-Pick
Where: 25 Swanton Road, Davenport, CA 95017
Parking: Farmstand lot and u-pick field
Phone: 831-469-8804
Hours: Every day, 8am-8pm
Price: U-pick organic strawberries: $3/pound; Farmstand treats and baked goods: prices vary

Tip: Swanton’s Coastaways Ranch location in Pescadero will be open for u-pick ollalieberries in July. Mark your calendar.

Shop Local: Palo Alto Farmers’ Market

May 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Downtown Farmers’ Market in Palo Alto is one of my favorite weekend markets in the 650. It’s a small market, but with an abundant selection of local produce and hand-crafted foods. For many years it was my go-to market on Saturday mornings from spring through late fall. During the Gâteau et Ganache years, my first stop was always Full Belly Farm for organic lemon verbena and peppermint for Gâteau et Ganache’s spring/summer collection bonbons, and then Green Oaks Creek Farm for sweet, juicy strawberries. If there was time, I’d run by Blue Heron for baby lettuces and broccoli, just to be sure that I had some fresh dinner food for the week.

Checking out what's fresh at the PA Saturday Farmers' Market

Checking out what’s fresh at the PA Saturday Farmers’ Market

Now that I’m getting a regular CSA delivery, and my little garden is starting to flourish, fresh food is basically on my doorstep. I don’t need to get out to farmers’ markets as often, and yet, that’s still where I want to be on a weekend morning. There’s something about a sunny spring or summer weekend morning that just about requires spending some time at a farmers’ market — admiring beautiful, fresh produce, chatting with food producers, and fantasizing about new dishes to make at home. Maybe farmers’ markets are for cooks what music stores are to musicians: a place full of possibilities.

This past Saturday I was up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-holiday-weekend, but with good reason: I was waiting for the delivery of my new dishwasher. (Yay, no more resetting the breaker to make the machine go! No more re-washing dishes that didn’t get clean the first time!) Fortunately, the delivery guys arrived on time and completed the installation by mid-morning. Perfect timing to head to Palo Alto to get my market fix. With no shopping list and no schedule, I was able to just wander the market, enjoying the experience. Here are some of the highlights.

Eat the Rainbow
Color was everywhere — fruits, vegetables, flowers — and it felt like summer already! Full Belly had a pretty display of lettuces, rainbow chard, and kale. Gorgeous? Sure — and good for you, too. If you need any incentive to eat more veggies, here ya go:

Colorful organic greens from Full Belly Farms

Colorful organic greens from Full Belly Farm

Herbalicious
Fresh herbs can make the difference between an ok dish and something really flavorful and special. Lemon verbena (one of my favorites!), rosemary, oregano, and chives — just for starters — are plentiful right now. Full Belly and Coke Farm had good assortments of fresh, organic herbs.

Fresh herbs from Full Belly Farms

Fresh herbs from Full Belly Farm: Lemon verbena front and center

There’s a Mulberry Guy
The Mulberry Guy has taken over the spot where Green Oaks Creek used to be. *sigh* I really miss those strawberries, but hey… mulberries? That’s new and intriguing. Unfortunately, I arrived after the mulberries had already sold out (turns out they’re really popular and had sold out within the first hour or so of the market opening), but stayed to chat with business owner Kevin Lynch. I love the story of this business: the mulberries are grown locally — within a mile of the market location — and like most small food businesses, it’s a labor of love. Talk about Grow Local — Buy Local — Eat local! If you’re a fan of mulberries or just want to know more, clicky on over to themulberryguy.com.

The Mulberry Guy: locally grown mulberries (as in: a mile from the market)

The Mulberry Guy: Palo Alto-grown mulberries, jam, and honey

Hail Her Coconess
One of the cool things (for me) about spending time at the Palo Alto Farmer’s Market is getting to visit with other artisan food producers. I met Shelly Seward, creator-owner of Her Coconess Confections, several years ago at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, when we were both exhibiting at the show. Shelly hand-produces award-winning, classic treats such as Rocky Road and Salted Caramels in a facility in Belmont and sells them throughout the Bay Area. (Yep, that’s right — Her Coconess is home-grown in the 650!)  In case you’re wondering: yes, there are samples. Be sure to try ’em. Want to know more about Her Coconess? Check out the website.

Shelly Seward: Owner/confectioner/creator of Her Coconess, award-winning confections

Shelly Seward: Owner/confectioner/creator of Her Coconess, award-winning confections

Aw, Nuts!
After some sweet samples and catching up with Shelly, I stepped “next-door” to visit Nut ‘n Bean to try something more savory. Nut ‘n Bean is a young Hayward-based business making nut butters, dips, and spreads. While chatting with co-owner Katie Griffin, I tried the Blueberry Almond and Orange Honey Cashew nut butters. Both were delish, with a nice balance between the toasted nut and fresh fruit flavors, without being too sweet (Katie says the nut butters have very little added sugar). Knowing that I still had a few nut other butters in the fridge at home, I moved on to  try the Chipotle Lime Almond Dip and the Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese. Oh. My. Yes, please!

Katie of Nut n' Bean nut butters, dips, and spreads

Katie Griffin of Nut ‘n Bean with the goods: nut butters, dips, and spreads

The Chipotle Lime Almond Dip has the consistency of a whipped cream cheese, with a nice nutty, smoked-pepper flavor that’s got just the right amount of spice. It’s perfect with rice crackers and sweet potato corn chips (or, erm, a spoon, right out of the container). The Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese has a softer, more sauce-like consistency, and while it works as a dip, is fabulous as a sauce on grilled wild salmon (or seared tofu or baked chicken or…). Nut ‘n Bean has a serious product line, and something for every taste and diet. Vegan? Paleo? Gluten-free? You’ll love Nut ‘n Bean. Check ’em out at the market or online.

Nut n'Bean: Cashew Jalepeno-Cilantro Dip and Almond Chipotle-Lime spread

Nut ‘n Bean: Cashew Jalepeno-Cilantro Dip and Almond Chipotle-Lime spread

Overall, a fun trip to the market. And yes, I came home with enough food to make plenty of dirty dishes and try out my new dishwasher — booyah!

Details
What: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market
Where: Gilman Street & Hamilton Avenue
Directions: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market website
Saturdays, mid-May through mid-December: 8am-12pm
Parking: Street and nearby lots

Inspired: Creating a Kitchen Garden

April 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

You know what I love about spring in the 650? Everything! The days are deliciously warm, and the sun sets late enough in the evening that you can have dinner outside. Spring color brightens every yard on my street, thanks to blooming trees, rose bushes, and freshly planted annuals. The luscious perfume of citrus blossoms fills my neighborhood, especially at night. It’s an indulgence just to sit in my backyard in the evening and enjoy that scent.

Citrus trees, full of blossoms, give off a heady scent all spring

Orange trees, full of blossoms in the spring

Spring gives me another chance to complete (hell, start) those “getaroundtoit” projects at home. It’s the time of year when I really start feeding my house-porn habit with stacks of design magazines and fantasizing about re-creating my backyard so that I can host fabulous al fresco dinners. (Hey, a girl can dream!) And in my fantasy backyard I would have a thriving kitchen garden, complete with herbs, vegetables, berries, and an assortment of fruit trees (again with the dreaming).

I have to admit that I’m having garden envy. I know — as if I don’t have enough fabulous, fresh fruits and vegetables in my life (some of which actually show up on my doorstep, thanks to my CSA)! Between the plethora of farmers’ markets here on the peninsula and the generosity of my neighbor with over-the-fence tomatoes and in-a-pinch limes, I’m pretty spoiled for locally grown produce. Yet, there’s something very special and satisfying about just slipping out the back door and snipping fresh herbs to finish off a dish, or seeing what you can pull from your own garden to make dinner.

On a recent walk through my neighborhood I noticed that my neighbors are using whatever space is available for creating gardens, including driveways and front yards. How cool is that?!

Driveway garden

Driveway garden

These homeowners are taking advantage of the sunny front yard for their garden.

Creative front yard garden

Creative front yard garden

Check out the artichoke plant in left corner of the yard:

Artichoke plant

Artichoke plant

My next-door-neighbor and his daughter just got the tomato plants in pots along our shared driveway fence last weekend. (He was pretty excited on planting day, and I have to admit, thinking about those summer tomatoes, I am too.) They also planted zucchini, basil, and lemon balsam.

A few months from now, there will be tomatoes here!

A few months from now, there will be tomatoes here!

I’ve had edible gardens off and on over the years, but planting one wasn’t really an option when I was running Gâteau et Ganache. I barely found time for the basics (sleep, exercise, or a meal that consisted of something more than taste-testing bonbons and marshmallows), let alone creating and maintaining a garden.

Being a seasonally focused business meant relying on local farms for the fruits and herbs I used for making bonbons. Sometimes I was able to plan fun field trips to places like Swanton Berry Farm to hand-pick organic blackberries. Other times it meant long, frustrating searches around the Bay Area to find a reliable source of fresh, organic peppermint. (Harder than you’d think, as it turns out. What’s up with that?). At some point I hoped to create a garden that would give me a reliable supply of the fruits and herbs I so loved working with when I was making chocolates.

Now that I’m cooking again and have a bit more time, I’m thinking about taking a step toward “garden-to-table.” Between my neighbors’ creativity in making their own small gardens and the impressive bounty of the farmers’ markets, I’m inspired to carve out a little space for my own garden this year. First on my list are the herbs I love using for sweet dishes: lavender, lemon verbena, and peppermint. They pair with most summer fruits and are perfect for infused syrups, ice creams, and yes, ganaches. Once I get those herbs going, I might add some basil and chives for salads and some jalapeno and poblano peppers, just because. If there’s time to get fancy, I might try some strawberries, or — dare I say it? — tomatoes. Stay tuned.

What’s growing in your yard and your neighborhood this spring?

Shop Local: San Mateo Farmers’ Market

March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

This first Saturday of spring brought a perfect morning for visiting the College of San Mateo (CSM) Farmers’ Market: sunny, clear blue skies, and just a touch of coolness in the air that you know will make way for a pleasantly warm day later. Bliss!

Local kale at San Mateo farmers' market

Doesn’t get more local than this: kale from Pescadero, CA

This kind of day is one of the reasons I’m happy and grateful to live in the Bay Area. Spring arrives, well, pretty much on time, and with it the bounty and beauty of spring produce. Strawberries and spring greens and handfuls of fresh herbs — oh my!

The farmers’ market at CSM is one of the largest on the Peninsula and includes not only small-farm produce, but small/artisan food producers as well. While you’ll find a nice assortment of bakers, confectioners, and makers of small-batch pickles (oh, and Curry Up Now’s food truck!), seasonal fruits and vegetables are the draw. What I particularly love about this market is that some of San Mateo county’s best small farms — and, in particular, organic farms — are represented here. There’s no better opportunity to invest in your local food system than by connecting directly with the people who grow your food.

Below is a quick roundup of what I saw at the market today. Do you have a favorite market in your town? What are you buying? Better yet: what are you making with your market finds?

Fresh Herbs
Cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, thyme, and chives were available from most organic farmstands. I took home large bunches of parsley, thyme, and chives. Can’t wait to use them in salads and as a garnish for grilled fish.

Strawberries
Bright red strawberries are in abundance, and they just about glow in the sunlight! They’re not as sweet as mid-summer berries, but for early season berries, they’re definitely flavorful. Much better than what you’ll find in the local grocery store.

baskets of strawberries

Bright red strawberries, freshly picked

Root Vegetables and Brassicas
Carrots, beets (reds and goldens), radishes, broccoli, kale. Yes, kale is everywhere: curly kale, dino kale, red kale. No shortage of kale this morning.

Colorful assortment of spring vegetables

Add some color to your diet — there are so many options!

Spring Greens
Colorful chard, dandelion greens, salad mixes with flowers, Little Gems, and stinging nettles. Salad for everybody! Want more information about the variety of spring greens available? Check out CUESA’s guide to greens.

Colorful spring vegetables

Greens for making colorful salads and for braising

Spring Flowers
Colorful assortments from Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, and Watsonville: freesias, tulips, ranunculus, irises.

Fresh spring flowers

Fresh spring flowers, grown locally

Details
What: San Mateo Farmers’ Market
Where: College of San Mateo
Directions: Visit the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association site
Saturdays, year-round: 9am-1pm
*Tip: If you’re driving west on Hilldale Boulevard, keep going past College Heights Drive, which is the first entrance to the College of San Mateo (CSM). You’ll want to take the next right onto Perimeter Road. You’ll see the tents for the market in the parking lot to your left.

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