August 31, 2006

Swing thru - August recipe roundup

Among the recipes I've flagged as "must try's" in August:

The Unemployed Chef's creative employment of one of summer's most bountiful crops.
Peobody's Great Balls of Goat Cheese and some sinful looking chocolate cookies.
An Olive-Onion Bread from Garrett at Vanilla Garlic -- the picture of which has me salivating.
Kevin's pear creation - an appetizer and a dessert all in one...
Another contribution from Kevin - kicked up macaroni & cheese.
A mouth-watering carne asada from Elise at Simply Recipes.
101-Cookbooks' Champagne Summer Shortcakes.
A fascinating Haloumi/Tomato/Basil salad from Vicious Ange.
A yummy *and* healthy apple spice cake from Nicole at SlashFood -- a great way to break in my new bundt pan.
A couple of salads from Tami: "Lucky 7" salad and Savory Canteloupe Salad.
Ivonne's divine looking Rustic Fruit Tart.
Another pair of yummy looking desserts: Vanilla Bean Lemon Cake and a couple of mango-inspired treats from Dessert First.
Michelle's Green Tea Salmon.
A fruit-filled Peach Blueberry Cake from Alanna.
A decadent Chocolate Mousse Cake courtesy of Chocolate in Context.
As we end what's been a hot bay area summer, Mae's simple-but-stunning blueberry ice cream sounds like the perfect ending to a Saturday evening BBQ.
From Barbara at Winos & Foodies, Donna Hay's Spinach & Ricotta Souffle.

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Happy Blog Day!

What is Blog Day? According to the organizers, it's an opportunity to discover excellent new blogs. If I'm any indication, it's working... I spent my lunch break and much of my evening following the links from some of my favorite bloggers to all new (to me) authors on all subjects from partying through my next 40 years to unique product reviews. Thank you, my friends, for sharing!

The "guidelines": Each participant finds five new blogs - preferably blogs that cover subjects different from the reviewing blogger's typical topics. In my case, non-food blogs. Okay, I can do that. Let the authors know you've chosen them. Check. Post a review of each of the five blogs, including links.

So without further adieu, allow me to introduce...

I'm not a parent. But two of my favorite blogs feature the trials and tribulations of raising a family in the 21st century...

The Delicious Sarah inadvertently introduced me to Danny of
Dad Gone Mad
, and I've never looked back. If Heathcliff Huxtable met Homer Simpson in some otherworld scientific experiment, the result might be a dad like Danny. Reading about his journey through fatherhood reminds me daily why I'm *not* a parent -- therapy costs more than college. Go. Read his story. Buy a DGM shirt. You know you want one...

For another snarky take on parenthood check out Dooce. What's neat about Heather is she says exactly what she's thinking without apology or explanation. She has a phenomenal way with words, and she's not afraid to use them. She can have me laughing uncontrollably in one paragraph, and bring me to near-tears three sentences later. In my world, that's a gift. A gift I'm grateful she shares.

In the area of expressing opinions, no one's more proficient than Bitter with Baggage. A former teacher turned full-time student, she's got an opinion on everything. And agree or disagree, I respect her willingness to express it -- her posts make me think.

I'm not Jewish. The nursing industry squicks me more than parenthood. The Certifiable Princess and I have virtually nothing in common. But I love the way she writes, so I come back for more. Again, she makes me laugh and she makes me think.

Jessica's words of wisdom challenge me on an entirely different level. Her assertion that it's not about (my) stuff inspires my inner domestic goddess with little ways to add order and efficiency to my life on a daily basis.

So there you have it -- my nominations for five blogs you must check out. Happy Blog Day all!

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August 16, 2006

Around the Bay in 7 Days -- A Farmers' Market Tour Wrap-Up

An early morning start, a breezy ferry ride, and a stroll along the ferry plaza in San Francisco on Saturday.

Due to scheduling constraints on both ends, Sunday's sojourn to Walnut Creek was far more structured.

Mondays there aren't any markets, so I settle for an after-work stop at the Windmill Farmstand, a cooperative of local farmers with a delightful open air market less than a mile from home. I love love L-O-V-E living in California...

Tuesday's meeting schedule meant no daytime excersions, so I trekked across another bridge and enjoyed the sunset view from San Mateo's 25th Avenue farmers' market.

Wednesday the market came to me, in the form of my bi-weekly CSA box.

Thursday I headed to the "hometown" market in Danville.

Friday I took a sunny late morning stroll through the Cupertino market at Valco Shopping Center.

Saturday we found ourselves back in San Francisco -- thie time tagging along while Daniel & Tracy stocked the restaurant.

Curious about other markets around the world? Check out the round up for Food Destinations 2 - the Local Market.

August 11, 2006

I'm lovin' it! (Who needs fries with that?)

“A Big Mac - the communion wafer of consumption.” -John Ralston Saul (1947--)

My contribution to this week's One Local Summer Challenge: the quintessential all-American burger, courtesy of several shopping excursions this week.

Fresh, grass fed local ground beef from Holding Angus Beef in Lafayette on ciabatta bread baked fresh at Metropolis Baking. Topped with tomatoes from Capay Organic and the guacamole I made Monday. With sliced tomatoes and onions drizzled with olive oil.

Speedy. Simple. Satisfying.

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August 10, 2006

A lifetime learning - Lessons at the local farmer's market

When they talk about healthy food, they usually mean things that don't taste very good.” -Julia Child (1912-2004)

I've been all around the bay area in the last few days -- who'd have guessed I'd learn about a new vegetable at my local-est farmers' market visit of the week.

As my experiments with eating locally have evolved, I find myself more curious about my food, where it's come fron and how it's prepared -- which provokes me to ask questions of the vendors at the market when I spot something that piques my curiosity. Today a "fuzzy cucumber" caught my attention.

The young lady from Bautista Farms (she couldn't have been more than 14) was proud to tell my that my "cucumber" was in fact a bitter melon -- appropriately named since it's one of the most bitter vegetables cultivated, renowned in eastern cultures for its medicinal value. "It's rich in nutrients and antioxidants" she said like a nutritionist. "Many cultures use it as a dietary treatment from everything from diabetes to malaria".


"How do you cook it?" I prompted.

"Stir-fry or cut up in salad" she responded, cutting open a sample to show me how to remove the seeds. She went on to warn that she wouldn't advise cooking it with other vegetables -- the bitterness would overwhelm them.

Hmmm... okay.

In the end, I passed on the melon -- but added it to my list for more extensive research.

Danville Certified Farmers' Market
Andronico's Parking Lot, Railroad & Prospect Streets
Thursdays 4-8 PM (through September 14, 2006)
Saturdays 9 AM - 1 PM, year round

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August 09, 2006

The farmers' market comes home -- this week's CSA box

"A modest garden contains, for those who know how to look and to wait, more instruction than a library." -Henri Frederic Amiel, 'The Private Journal of Henri Frederic Amiel'

After four days touring the bay area, today the market comes to me.

For me, my CSA box is like a bi-weekly holiday gift. Every other Wednesday a small cardboard box appears on my doorstep, stuffed with the freshest organic produce the Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento. Heirloom cherry tomatoes and just-picked spinach one week. Red flame grapes and lemon cucumbers the next.

I joined Farm Fresh to You last summer after doing extensive internet research on the bay area CSA options. My main objectives were to increase the quantity and variety of vegetables in my diet, and to support a small local producer in the process. In a year I've gotten all of that and so very much more.

After thirty-odd years avoiding them like the plague, my Farm Fresh to You experience has taught me to appreciate carrots even if I don't love them. It's introduced me to parsnips, kale and lemon cucumbers -- vegetables I would have skipped at the farmers' market in favor of something more familiar. This in turn has introduced me to new recipes and spurred some creativity in the kitchen.

This week's box brings late summer staples: cucumber, basil, green grapes, mini new potatoes, juicy canteloupe and heirloom tomatoes. The perfect inspiration for a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and grapes for our family barbecue this Saturday. And for dessert we'll slice the melon.

Stay tuned... tomorrow I head to my "home" market in Danville.

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August 08, 2006

If it's Tuesday, it must be Bel.. er... San Mateo - Market day on the Peninsula

“Give me book, fruit, French wine, and fine weather and a little music out of doors played by someone I do not know.” John Keats

I commuted faithfully across the San Mateo bridge for almost three years. During my tenure with the empire that Tom built, I did quite well in the culinary arena. I scored reservations at some of the finest dining establishments on the peninsula. I shopped religiously at Draegers and Whole Foods. But somehow I never managed to get to the farmers' market.

So despite the fact that nothing about the market on 25th Avenue in San Mateo could be described as "on the way home" I was willing to drive counter-commute to check it out. I'm glad I did.

The Experience: In comparison to my previous stops on this week's market tour, the 25th Street venue is far lower-profile. The market's osted by the First Presbyterian Church in a tree-lined residential neighborhood. Parking's impossible in San Francisco and a challenge in Walnut Creek. In San Mateo, I could have parked in the section of the church lot reserved for shoppers, but chose a spot a couple of blocks away and enjoyed a warm summer evening walk to and from my destination.

Many of the vendors in San Mateo were specialists, offering a selection of one or two core products rather than an entire mini-produce department in each booth. One vendor with nothing but stone fruit in every color of the rainbow. A second with strawberries the size of a credit card. An elderly couple with a large selection of organic herbs. And a charming genetleman offering samples of the sweetest picked-today Brentwood corn.

The Market Bag: In the end, the corn-farmer won my heart (or at least my market budget for the day).
Just like that, Grilled Corn with Chipotle Butter makes an appearance on this week's menu. I love the spontenaity that summer produce allows.

On the Menu: Grilled Corn with Chipotle Butter

4-6 ears of fresh corn, silks removed
1/2 cube of butter, room temperature
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, mashed


We wing this one. After removing the silks from the corn, I wrap it back in the husks and hand it to John. He tosses it on the grill, on the edges while the protein of choice cooks. Once we remove the protein, we move the corn to the center and cover the grill. We rotate the corn every ten minutes or so, and unusally pronounce it done about the time our guests are ready to carve into the protein without us. So far this completely unscientific approach to grilled corn hasn't failed us.

The chipotle butter is even easier. I just mash the butter and the chipotles together with a drop or two of the adobo sauce until the butter looks like it's got pretty dark red freckles. Put it in a ramekin and refrigerate overnight. Unmold the butter just like jello -- soak the ramekin in a bath of lukewarm water until the butter slides out easily.

Stay tuned... tomorrow the market comes home.

25th Avenue Farmers' Market, San Mateo
194 W 25th Ave., San Mateo
Tuesdays, 4-8 PM (through October 31, 2006)

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The neighborhood farmstand - Windmill Farms

Several hours of mostly uninterrupted searching the Internets reveals there's not a farmers' market to be found on Mondays in the seven bay area counties. What's a woman on a mission to do? Our heroine finds her answer less than a mile down the road from the local mega-mart: the charming family-run Windmill Farms.

Reminiscent of the farmstands that pepper many northern California highways and backroads, Windmill Farms beckons potential customers with colorful roadside signs announcing what's fresh and on sale. While the highlight of market is an abundance of mostly local produce, they've also dedicated small sections to grocery & dairy staples like milk, bread and pantry staples, eclectic wines and snacks for the weary traveler. They are the local source for fresh spring strawberries & asparagus, late summer Brentwood corn and all of the bounty in between. In October, their mostly open-air establishment transforms into a pumpkin patch. In December, the freshest holiday trees short of cut-your-own.

For those concerned about where and how their produce is grown, each display carries another colorfully penned old-world sign announcing the town, the farm, and whether the product was grown conventionally, organically, with or without chemicals. Got more questions? Just ask. The staff is friendly and eager to answer your questions. Good luck finding this kind of service up the road or around the corner.

After snapping some photographs to provide the four of you who read this a visual appreciation of the shopping experience, I grabbed a couple of avocados and a package of sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and headed for home to prepare my contribution to movie night in: guacamole.

My version of guacamole owes its inspiration to one of my father's dear friends. Maria believed that in most things culinary, less really is more.



Diced red onion.

Chipotle, if it's handy.

Under no circumstances whatsoever do mayonnaise, sour cream or other relatively bland white ingredients enter the equation.

So I sliced my avocado and mashed it with a fork until I had the right creamy-to-chunky ratio. Gently stirred in some halved sweet 100's, a small handful of diced red onion. Sprinkled a pinch of salt and a liberal couple of shakes of ground chipotle powder. Served with grilled tortillas, a couple of Coronas and some Coke for the kids.

Old-world snack food, courtesy of Maria and the Smith family at Windmill Farms...

Windmill Farms Produce
2255 San Ramon Valley Blvd, San Ramon, CA 94583

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August 07, 2006

An efficiency-junkie's dream - Walnut Creek's Farmers' Market

If Saturday was a touristy exploration of all things fresh and locally grown, Sunday's whirlwind trip to the Walnut Creek Farmers' Market was far more utilitarian experience. Since it's a more regular stop on our market rotation, it's far easier to approach with a shopping list. A good thing, when time is of the essence.

The Experience: Walnut Creek is among my favorite market experiences because it offers me the variety I'm looking for (all four food groups are well-represented) and its functional layout appeals to the process princess in me. Nice straight, wide pedestrian aisles (in contrast to the organized chaos that is the Ferry Plaza), with colorful recently-picked produce occupying the first two rows, followed by breads, prepared foods, meat and seafood.

Having assessed my pantry and my vegetable supply, Sunday's market mission was protein: meat and seafood upon which to build a week's menu. With that in mind, we wound quickly through the produce (in case there was something phenomenal and this-week-only that we couldn't pass up), and grabbed a loaf of bread from the folks at Great Harvest Bread in Oakland. One of the things I miss about living in Oakland are weekend trips to Great Harvest, where the smell of fresh-baked bread is absolutely intoxicating.

Bread in hand, we headed around the corner to Holding Angus Beef, my local-est resource for hormone-free grass-fed humanely-raised beef. We selected a package of ground beef and a couple of pounds of beef shank for making stock. Last stop: seafood. Halibut, sablefish, sea scallops, crab, it was all tempting. In the end, a sunset-colored filet of salmon won my appetite and assumed a spot in my market bag.

And since we've covered the market bag, let's move straight to the menu: Rather than heat the oven and thus heat the house, I pulled out my trusty four-quart countertop Nesco oven and set it to 350. Tweezed the pin bones out of my salmon fillet. Set the fillet on a sheet of aluminum foil. Spread a couple of liberal tablespoons of Stonewall Kitchens' Basil Pesto Mustard across the flesh and sprinkled with another couple tablespoons of panko crumbs. Loosely wrapped the foil around the sides of the salmon and baked for about 20 minutes. I served the salmon over some leftover honey-roasted summer squash. Another yummy low-effort Monday night meal.

Stay tuned -- Markets are closed on Mondays so our next stop on the fresh-food tour is my neighborhood farmstand.

Walnut Creek Farmers' Market
Library Parking Lot, 1644 N Broadway, Walnut Creek, CA
Sundays, 8 AM - 1 PM, year-round

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August 06, 2006

Snapping photos like a tourist - The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market

"Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people." -Elizabeth Berry

Our adventure began midway through the 7:00 hour. That's early on a Saturday for us and for our friends -- a necessary if evil part of meeting our objectives for the day. After a windy and brisk ferry ride from Vallejo we began a leisurely exploration of all of the wonderful things the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market has to offer. We wandered briefly inside the ferry building perusing the marketplace vendors before heading outdoors to check out the market offerings.

The Experience: We wandered among the booths with no real destination -- tasting melons, tomatoes, cheeses, olive oils, peppers, jams, jellies, nut butters and a small ton of stone fruit along the way. Chris is going off to study the culinary arts next month, so watching him canvass the market in search of the perfect nectarine *and* discover an appreciation for cheese and June Taylor's preserves along the way was a wonderful experience for all of us. There's just no greater joy than sharing those kind of discoveries -- that good food, *really* good food *can* be that amazing, that paradigm shifting.

We also enjoyed talking with the many vendors, learning about their farms, their livestock, their products and their lives. Chris learned the subtle differences between the honeykist and redgold varieties of nectarine. I spoke again with the folks from my CSA, and came away with renewed enthusiasm for the farm tour later this month and a name for the melon we love so much: Galia. Richard sampled several cheddars as the attentive folks at Cowgirl helped him select one that worked for him.

We stopped for lunch at Taylors Refresher, the perfect combination of fast food and fresh food. Most of us opted for the day's special: a BLT comprised of market-fresh ingredients.

The Market Bag: We came home with quite a stash: Yummy sungold tomatoes from Capay Organic that I'm eating like candy. A selection of Chris' favorite nectarines. Humbolt Fog and Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl. Strawberry Conserve and Apricot-Almond Fruit Butter from June Taylor. A crusty loaf of Acme Olive Herb Bread. A jar of roasted almond butter and a half dozen ideas jotted down in my notebook for using it. And the most wonderful goat cheese I've had the pleasure of tasting in a L-O-N-G time.

On the Menu: We wasted no time putting our bounty to work. Faster and healthier than any drive thru: a breakfast of Strawberry Conserve spooned into St. Benoit plain yogurt. Yum. We snacked on some of the olive-herb bread before giving half a loaf to John's parents. The cheeses will make their debut during my next girl's night with Tracy.

A pleaant, productive and profitable market day. Next stop: Walnut Creek.

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August 05, 2006

Spoiled Fresh - Celebrating National Farmer's Market Week

Haer ye, Hear ye.

The United States Department of Agriculture, in its infinite wisdom, has proclaimed the week of August 6-12 as National Farmers' Market Week.

In celebration, I'm going to borrow a page from Sarah's book (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery) and visit a farmer's market each day this week. Join me as I explore the freshest most flavorful food the Bay Area has to offer, building my menu on the fly from the bounty I discover.

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August 04, 2006

Napa's Friday Night Chef's Market

A bit of street fair. A touch of farmers' market. A pinch of art expo. Downtown Napa's Friday Night "Chef's Market" is an eclectic combination of events rolled into one. Oddly named however. Yes, we missed the 6:00 chef demo -- this week provided by Rachelle Boucher of Generation Chefs, an organization dedicated to educating and mentoring young chefs-to-be. But I guess we just expected more fine-food focus out of an event called a Chef's market...

The Crowd: We wandered the five block festival four times and discovered that it's the place to be in Napa on a Friday night. New parents pushing state-of-the-art strollers with (I'm not making this up) cup holders designed for wine glasses. Only in Napa. "DINKs" with blackberries and bluetooth accessories strapped to a variety of appendages. Teens and twenty-somethings with more piercings than I've seen anywhere but Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Kids, tweens and grandparents. Every generation represented.

The Food: an eclectic mix, if more mainstream (and more expensive) than we were expecting. Buckhorn Grill hawking $8.00 tri tip sandwiches. The barbecued oysters appealed -- until we got a look at the price tag. And the Creole/Cajun vendor would have done better if he hadn't displayed wilted versions of his offerings. Hard to spend $10 on a Po'Boy that looks like it's been out in the sun a week. And what exactly about seared ahi over mixed greens is cajun? In the end we opted for a foot-long grilled kielbasa from Christopher's Fine Foods. We were pleasantly surprised -- it was fresh, tasty and filling.

The Wine: for the most part, we didn't partake. But a bottle of "Rabid Red" (sporting the wine equivalent of Budweiser's Spuds MacKenzie piqued my curiosity. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, Zinfandel and who knows what else, it turned out to be the Bud Light of red wine -- pleasant enough for a single glass with a gourmet hotdog when the proceeds go to charity, but I wouldn't drop $15 on a bottle for home.

The Market Food: This is the arena in which the chef's market delivered. We came home with quite a collection of condiments: a bottle of Atlas Peak's Arbequina olive oil extracted in Napa from Northern California olives, Humble Beginnings all-natural Champagne-Strawberry Jam from Fairfield, two specialty mustards and a carmelized red onion & fig spread from Napa Valley Harvest, and a wedge of Busseto Foods' Sopressata Calabrese Salami sausage.

We'd walked. We'd eaten. We'd shopped. We'd socialized. It was time to head home and get some sleep -- we've got a long weekend ahead of us.

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August 03, 2006

The colors of summer

August in Northern California brings some of my favorite colorful fruits and vegetables to the table. Versatile bright green zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. Luscious vine-ripened tomatoes in every color of the rainbow. The perfect palette against which to build a locally-inspired dinner menu.

I started with the squash. Sliced them into uniform pieces (Pete would be so proud of his granddaughter) and tossed them with some lime infused olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of honey. Arranged them on a baking sheet and tossed them in a 450 oven for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, I sliced and salted the tomatoes -- that's really all they needed.

"Slice" turned out to be the theme of the evening. I sliced one of Aidell's Roasted Pepper and Corn sausages (produced locally and sustainably) and browned it in my everyday pan. Stirred in a bit of leftover sour cream to cut the spice a bit and balance with the other components.




Bon Appetit!

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