Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slow Food Nation, Day Three - Total Sensory Overload

The Bread Snail
It's been quite a trip, this three day event. The stated goal was to inspire people to go back to the communities where we live, to do good and make changes that will improve lives. Projects, careers, passions, politics, food production, celebration and inspiration. All of those buzzwords have been bandied about, and all of them were involved, at least for me. I'm inspired to do more with my school garden program - to be more ambitious, to be more involved. In fact, I've been hit by so many lightning bolts over the past few days, that I really need to sit down and think about which ideas are practical and which may just be pipe dreams. Right now I'm thinking if I divide it into small bites, I just might be able to do all of it. At least I can try.
Wine glasses and espresso cups
At the same time though, I've been hugely conflicted about the grand displays of luxury foods and the amount of "conspicuous consumption" that has gone on here. Yes, these events are fundraisers - but I'm still not exactly clear on where the money goes? Does Slow Food give out community grants? If so, where do I apply for one? If not, then what exactly is the point?
The Honey and Preserves Pavilion
I've also been impressed - even blown away - by the amazing design and architecture on display - it's all so fantastically clever. At the same time though, I can't help but be reminded of that line from Fight Club, "How's that working out for you, being clever?" What does that really do for us all? I guess the short answer is, it does for others what it did for me. It makes us think, it stimulates us and gets us talking. And it reminds us how lucky we are to be able to enjoy something like this - a fantastical sensory overload experience with $65.00 tickets.
The Taste Pavilion
I think by most any measure, the event was a smashing success. The tickets sold out, everything went off as planned, and people seemed to have a great time. I'm thrilled to think that the "message" of a need for change has gone out to more people this weekend - and I hope it has a practical effect. I hope that it turns out to be more than just entertainment for a whole bunch of people who've already bought into the movement - I really, really do.
Meeting the milking goats at Harley Farms
For me - though my nerves are shot and my emotions are raw - it was a great inspiration and a stimulating and encouraging experience. On an individual level, I'm really glad I came. I still have a lot of questions though, and a lot of throughts swirling around in my head about where it all goes from here. How does this movement really effect change? On a grassroots level? Or is there a need for a broader effort - with more political clout? How does Slow Food overcome the dilletante reputation, and ensure that it's activities are actually furthering the greater purpose of clean, fair and afforadable food for all? How exactly does Slow Food propose to make that happen, anyway? In order to give the organization more credibility, is it a good idea to separate the politics from the celebratory aspect, to avoid hypocrisy while still collecting a steady stream of revenue from the fancy-food loving public? Is there merit in and of itself to an outrageously sumptuous "celebration" of food - or is that just grotesquely out of touch with the real world - where people are literally starving for lack of any food to eat, much less food that is fair, clean and delicious?
After being bludgeoned by the excesses at the Taste Pavilion - that is the one I'm actually having the most trouble with.
*sharp eyed readers may notice that I skipped day two, which was the Half Moon Bay "Slow Journey" - it was amazing (especially the goats) and I will be back with a dedicated post soon - as well as more details about the other events once I've calmed down a little bit. If you just want to see some eye-candy/food porn in the meantime - the full photo set can be viewed here.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Slow Food Nation - Day One

Victory Garden at the Civic Center
Slow Food Nation is in full swing, and I, for one am loving it. The garden is absolutely gorgeous, the design and set up of the Civic Center venue is genius, and the food and merchandise at the Marketplace and Slow on the Go are better than I'd dared hope. All of these are accessible to the public, and today, the public turned out. At lunchtime, some stalls had long lines, but it never became unmanageable - nobody ran out of food, and the venue handled the crowds well. All waste is compostable, water is being offered free of charge, people are reading poetry and speaking out on food politics at the Soapbox, and to answer the question I asked earlier - yes, the event does feel like a cohesive happening.

In addition to the public events, there have been two days of "by invitation" sessions - most notably the Congress of the Convivium representatives on Thursday, and todays' Changemakers Day - where the real work is taking place. I wasn't invited to attend either of those, but I did go to two of the Food for Thought sessions today, Food Systems: Policy and Planning, and Relocalizing Food. Both of these discussions focused on finding ways to repair the damage done to our culture and economy by the nationalized food systems we've developed post World War II. It's becoming increasingly clear that the current system (which depends on cheap labor and fossil fuels) is not sustainable and is not providing quality nutrition to the people who need it. Though I thought the discussion in the Food Systems session was better organized, I really enjoyed listening to some of the guests in the Relocalizing Food session. Michael Pollan of course is always great - but Dan Barber (Chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns) was the surprise hit. He made some really some funny and incisive comments, and told great stories about growing 8 Row Flint Corn for polenta, trying to raise "volunteer" foie gras, and visiting a farm in France where the living conditions for the farmer's captive geese were so favorable, they actually called migrating geese down to stay.
City Hall and the Victory Garden
The discussions were thought provoking - and it's encouraging to see that so people are passionate about making changes to the dysfunctional systems we have in place for food production and delivery. Most of the discussion though, was about how we got in this mess, and though there seems to be alot of desire to get us out - it's not clear at all how that's going to happen. Given that agribusiness has a lot of money, while nature has none, it's kind of an unequal playing field. It needs to become such a hot political issue that elected officials are willing to defy the big $$ giants and change the law. If we don't - based on what I heard today - we're all in a mess of trouble.

Education of the public about these issues and the potential ramifications is essential to making changes - and to my mind, that's Slow Food's most important mission. Schools are a great place to start spreading the word - "get 'em while they're young!" - and that's what we're trying to do with projects like our school garden, etc. It's hard though, when the kids are so busy learning about the ridiculous subjects they test on now that they have no time to learn to grow food. You really wouldn't think that would be so far down on the totem pole, would you?? Here, have a GMO tater tot, kid, and get back to your four hours of algebra homework.

Some thoughts that have stuck in my mind today:

Why would anyone ever grow anything that doesn't produce food - especially given the rising cost of water? Are edible landscapes the wave of the future, and if not - why not?

Soil quality, fishing stocks, etc. are not improved by technology - technology only allows us to exhaust them ever more quickly.

What is the carrying capacity of California? How do we figure out a sustainable way to feed the population without confronting the limits of our ability to produce food?

The cost of transporting a case of broccoli from California to the East Coast has gone from $3.00 to $10.00 in the past year. Thus, the cost of fossil fuels have driven large sellers (Walmart, etc.) to look for ways to grow more food locally without any political will being exerted.

The current food production system rests on a foundation of cheap fossil fuels - used to transport food long distances without much added value. That is all coming to an end with the rise in the price of oil.

Our current food system depends on cheap labor in developing countries - we've bought large tracts from native populations, sent the people to the cities and farmed their land - exporting all the crops to the US. Though the rising cost of fossil fuels is making this impractical - we can't return the land to these people and expect them to resume farming it locally. In one generation that knowledge of farming has been lost.
We're currently producing over 3000 calories of food per day per person, which is nearly twice what most people need. We're stuffing those calories into people in the form of corn syrup and processed foods, which make the most money for the businesses who produce them. There's no economic incentive for corporations to promote fresh, healthy foods, because they can't add value to them through processing - which they then charge for in the form of a four dollar box of cereal that contains fifty cents worth (if that) of grains.


It sounds depressing and discouraging - but if people are going to care about these things, they have to know about them. This information needs to get out there, and these stories need to be told - that is what Slow Food is trying to do.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about Slow Food - that it's about "super-awesome food for the happy few" rather than good food for all, etc. People who espouse these views either aren't really paying attention to the message (which has changed subtly over the past few years) or still believe in the puritanical notion that enjoyment of good food is unacceptably hedonistic. Really, there is room for the pursuit of both - enjoyment of good food, and fair food for all. Yes, there are events that cost money - they are fundraisers - it's a non-profit organization. Some people seem to feel excluded, or have a perception that Slow Food is not for or about them - but they've never joined, they've never added their voice or input to the group. Slow Food is "about" the people who take the time to be part of it, and put the energy into it - no one is excluded unless they choose to exclude themselves.
Tomatoes at the Marketplace
This is a little disjointed - but so are my thoughts right now. It's a little overwhelming, and I have to admit that the dual nature of the event - with the dire predictions on the one hand and the beautiful displays of delicious food on the other is a little hard to reconcile. If you want to see more of what I saw and ate (and thoroughly enjoyed!) here are the photos.

Tomorrow, I'm going on an all day excursion to Half Moon Bay, including visits to Pie Ranch and Hayley Farms - to see some goats. Sunday, I'm going to the Taste Pavilions for the morning session. Dinner tonight was at SPQR, which was very good and quite affordable - I will write more about it soon.

More Slow Food Nation commentary:
Open letter to Alice Waters from Ed of Serious Eats
Shuna's thoughts on the event
more of Shuna's thoughts
SF Gate Guide to the event
SF Gate Blog about the event (including this evening's Taste Pavilion preview)
The live Tweetstream
Still want more? Try this.

A Sold Out Slow Food Nation

Capay Organics Produce at the Farmers' Market
I'm about to head down to the Civic Center to participate in what's being billed as the "largest food celebration in America." It's pretty exciting, and I'm both impressed and a little disappointed to see that they've sold out of tickets for nearly all of the events. (I was hoping to get a couple for a friend to join me.) When I bought my tickets, only a couple of things were sold out - but now even the Taste Pavilions are closed.

I'm really curious to see if this event "comes together" - if it feels like a cohesive happening, or if the disjointed nature off the presentations and events prevents that. I hope it does, because I think that's what people are really looking for - a way to connect and feel like part of a larger movement. I'm doing two Food for Thought sessions today - one on designing new Food Systems and one on Relocalizing Food, and I'm looking forward to checking out the Marketplace, Victory Garden and "Slow on the Go" food. (Kind of like a Slow Food food court.) If you want to check out the happening, these events are open to the public and don't require tickets.
Bar Crudo - Lobster Salad with Burrata, Arugula and Heirlooms
Last night I had a fantastic dinner at Bar Crudo with Sam from Becks and Posh - we put away a bottle of Cava, and shared some phenomenal seafood dishes. It was really great to catch up too - it had been quite a while. The lobster/burrata/heirloom tomato salad there is just to die for. It may sound like a bit of an odd combination, but when all three of those ingredients are at their peak they really compliment each other. (The photo above is actually last year's version - this year's, with sweet corn, is even better.) After dinner we went over to Orson for some dessert and cocktails.
The difference between the atmosphere in there on our earlier visit and last night was stunning. The room felt and looked completely different, and the menu has been changed a bit. We each had an after dinner cocktail - Sam tried one with their housemade chocolate liquor, which was very nice, and I tried one called the "Sunset" - made with tequila, sherry, madeira and nocello. It might sound like a lot of ingredients, but it was delicious. We also did a little dessert sampler that had some interesting flavors - we really liked the tasting of pluot with olive oil mousse and honey ice cream, and the figs with armagnac. My only complaint was that the textures were all very similar - they were all samples of something soft, with a mousse or an ice cream (or both) and Sam was disappointed that the "Pigwich" was gone. Maybe next time...
Tommy and I are heading out this evening - possibly to SPQR, or to Zuni, if I can keep him awake long enough for a 10:30 reservation!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tacos Tacos Tacos Tacos! - Tacos el Paisa

Tacos el Paisa
If only Terry would come rolling through on his roller skates - this place would be straight out of Reno 911. Ok, maybe not. In fact, definitely not. Truth be told, this is one of the most pleasant and interesting taco stands I've ever come across in San Diego. Rather than walk up to a grimy window with bars over it, you stroll onto a patio filled with tables and umbrellas, and up to the outdoor grill - where meat and vegetables are sizzling away and a pot of beans is simmering. You can see the tortillas being made inside, and you're dazzled by a row of jewel-toned aguas frescas near the cash register.
Aguas Frescas at Tacos el Paisa It's quite a seductive scene, which might surprise you given the location, but it shouldn't. This is the real deal - and as I've learned in my food explorations of San Diego over lo many years - you often have to travel to the source, aka the ethnic neighborhoods of South San Diego, to get it. (It's amazing how many excellent eateries exist in this City that most residents who live North of the 8 know nothing about.)
Tacos el Paisa
Though there's a little building with a kitchen on the premises, on the day we were there, all of the cooking was being done at the grill and truck outside on the patio. Alex expressed some concern that the food was not quite as good as it normally is because the usual guy wasn't cooking - but having nothing to compare it to - I was far from disappointed.
Tacos at Tacos el Paisa
We'd already been to South Beach earlier that day (it was a progressive lunch!) so we ordered five tacos to share (hey, they're small!) birria, buche, carnitas, carne asada and adobada. I dug the birria, which Alex insisted was beef, but I insisted was goat or lamb - turns out it was a mixture, so we were both right. Alex had raved about the buche, and it was indeed tasty - though I have texture issues with organ meats. I'm working on it. The carnitas and carne asada were fine, but not mindblowing - I'd go with the adobada or the birria over those - just for a change. The adobada had a spice on it that tasted almost like curry, and the savory and juicy birria is something you can't get just anywhere.
Condiments at Tacos el Paisa
One of the best things about the meal is the huge relish tray they bring to you - with three mahvelous salsas, guacamole, spicy carrots, cucumbers and limes.
Beans at Tacos el Paisa
There's also a cup of the beans - which are soft and rather soupy, and flavored with strips of peppers - aka rajas. I also had a cantaloupe agua fresca, which though toothachingly sweet, was a perfect cooler for the hot summer day. The aquas frescas are also made the old fashioned way - as is the horchata, which is a bit unusual.
Grilling at Tacos el Paisa
If that weren't enough, the employees are charming, the service is excellent, and the prices eminently affordable. I recommend you put it on your short list now, when you can still sit outside, let an agua fresca to cool you the way it's meant to, and enjoy some tacos made with meats charred on an open grill. It's some of the best outdoor eating San Diego has to offer.

Tacos El Paisa
National Avenue and 31st (not on the website)
San Diego Ca, 92113
not sure about the phone number or hours for the location we visited, but it appears they're open morning noon and night. Check the website for more information.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More than One Way to Eat Your Greens...

Central Elementary School Garden
This year, I have the privilege of chairing a committee for the Junior League of San Diego called Growing Healthy Students - aka "The School Garden committee." We're working with Central Elementary School in City Heights, which until now has been running their fabulous on-site garden as a "Six to Six" program activity. This year, we're partnering with the UC Davis Cooperative Extension to bring a new curriculum to the fourth grade classroom, to get the kids into the garden, and bring the garden into the classroom. The TWIGS curriculum is California Standards based, but it's nice and earthy too - with fun lessons about soil and worms, edible flowers - even some recipes. For an hour or so each week, the kids will learn about soil and how food grows, they'll observe what's going on in the beds, and maybe even plant some of them. Though I was on this committee last year, this is the first time that the program has been integrated with the classroom teaching, which is pretty exciting for us.
Central Elementary Garden Cleanup
For the benefit of the garden, the families and our members, we're doing cooperative garden cleanup and planting days at the school every other month - this past Saturday was our second one, and like the first it was a big success. We planted some guava trees and grape vines, pulled weeds, hauled trash, and just generally spiffed the place up.
Sugar Cane, Lemongrass, Tomatoes and Basil
The amazing garden is cared for by Agustin, who works not only at Central but at a few other schools in the area. It's serious foodie territory - with sugarcane and lemongrass; herbs including thyme, oregano, chocolate mint, spearmint and basil; zucchini, apples and tomatoes. The best part of going to work there, is there's always a surplus of trimmings and extras for the helpers. Last time it was buckets of onions that we actually sent to the Linkery. This time, it was basil, lemongrass, sugar cane, and best of all - fresh Chocolate Mint.
The haul in my car ready to go home
Chocolate Mint is a variety of peppermint with a slightly darker leaf that has a hint of chocolate in it's aroma. On Sunday morning, I picked off the leaves and steeped them in cream to make the best homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream I've ever made. It might even be the best mint chocolate chip ice cream I've ever had - which is saying a lot, considering it's my standard order at Bi Rite Creamery. It has just enough sharpness from the peppermint, with a gentle herbal undertone you just can't get from pure peppermint oil. I did boost the flavor just a teensy bit with a swipe of peppermint oil on a toothpick - but you could get away without it too. The delicate herbal flavor has a charm all it's own.
Chocolate mint leaves steeping
We ate this last night with some friends to top off an ideal summer meal - a salad made with heirloom tomatoes from their garden, some local avocados, fresh burrata I picked up at Taste this weekend - topped with dollops of fresh pesto made with basil from the garden using Elise's recipe. I did feel a little bit guilty. After all, making ice cream and pesto isn't exactly what we have in mind for our program - but we wouldn't want this lovely stuff to go to waste now, would we?
homemade pesto
To sop up the tomato juices we had toasted Bread and Cie baguette, and there were salad greens which were largely ignored, and Vinho Verde, which was not. The meal was delicious, the company was delightful, and the ice cream was the perfect thing to finish. Best of all, I found out Jora is growing chocolate mint in her herb garden right now, meaning there is undoubtedly more of this delicious stuff in our future!
Fresh Chocolate-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Fresh Chocolate-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
adapted from this recipe and this one.

1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups lightly packed chocolate mint or peppermint leaves

1 cup half and half
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
pure peppermint oil (not extract)*

5 egg yolks

1 cup chopped chocolate (I used Valrhona 56%, chopped with a chef's knife into 1/4 inch pieces - and one and one half 3 oz bars made exactly one cup of chips)

In a small saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup half and half with the mint leaves, stirring constantly, until it's good and hot but not boiling. (You can just touch it lightly with your finger to test it.)

Set aside the mint and cream mixture to steep for at least 30 mins. Press the mint leaves against the side of the pan to extract the flavor, and stir the pan a couple of times during cooling to prevent a skin from forming on the milk.

When you're ready to make the custard, put the remaining cream and half and half in a saucepan with the sugar and a dash of salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until hot but not boiling. Temper in the egg yolks - add a little of the mixture to the yolks and whisk it in to warm the yolks, then add the yolk mixture back to the saucepan and whisk together gently. Cook the custard over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it makes an opaque coating on the back of the spoon and your finger leaves a trail when drawn through it. If you have a thermometer, it should be about 170 degrees.

Strain the hot custard into a bowl, then strain the mint-cream into the same bowl, pressing down on the mint to extract all the juices. Take the peppermint oil and drip one or two drops into the cap of the bottle, then dip a toothpick in the oil and swish it through the custard mixture. (Trust me, this is all it takes!)

Chill until cold, either in an ice water bath or the refrigerator, and churn in an ice cream maker. When you put the ice cream in to churn - chop your chocolate, place it in a bowl, and leave in the freezer for a few minutes, until the ice cream is done. When the ice cream is frozen, add the frozen chocolate chips - either by sprinkling them in a little bit at a time while the machine is running (if possible) or stirring them in immediately after freezing.
Fresh Chocolate-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
I think my Krups machine goes a little longer when the bowl is wrapped up with couple of folded kitchen towels for extra insulation. (make sure you don't wrap the motor, it could overheat!) My theory is that the extra time allows it to whip more air into the ice cream, giving it better texture. My machine has a little hole in the top, and when the ice cream was spinning on the blade like taffy and looked nice and elastic and pretty solid - I sprinkled the chocolate in a little at a time, until it was all incorporated, then scooped it into a container for the freezer.

*I bought mine at Henry's - it's an essential oil, which they carry in the cosmetics section. I'm pretty sure you can also buy it at Whole Foods.

Makes 1 quart, plus one extra serving for the cook!

Other favorite ice cream recipes from the archives:
Sour Cherry Frozen Custard
Salted Caramel Ice Cream (linked)
Lemon Ice Cream

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Truth about Fish Tacos

Tacos at South Beach in OB

For some reason, out of town visitors always come to San Diego with the idea that the fish taco is the must-try local specialty. My theory is this notion was propagated by some out of town food writer desperate for something, anything, to say about San Diego's food scene. Calvin Trillin and Jeffrey Steingarten are likely suspects from what I can gather, though I haven't been able to get my hands on their actual essays. As much as I respect each of their esteemed opinions, I'm not sure they were really on target with this one. While every taco shop on every corner in town serves a fish taco of some sort - if you're not careful you could easily wind up with the equivalent of fish sticks wrapped in a tortilla. I can only imagine the disappointment some visitors must suffer.

The first time I ever heard of a fish taco here in San Diego was when I was a senior in high school, and the Marine Biology club sold them as a fundraiser to support their Baja surfing expeditions. They had brought the formula back from Ensenada, and the whole school went crazy for the little tacos, made with a puffy tempura fried piece of fish atop a corn tortilla, with shredded cabbage, yogurt sauce and a little lime.  No ranch dressing, no cheese, no salsa.
Menu at South Beach in OB

The story goes that fish tacos originated in Baja, where Japanese fishermen introduced the locals to tempura frying. They are really fairly simple - the fish should be fresh and crisp, the tortilla soft, but not so soft that it falls apart in your hand, and the toppings should be minimal - the better to keep the fish hot and crisp. The most important thing of all, is that the taco must be eaten right away.
Tacos at South Beach in OB

If you're a San Diego foodie, or if you troll the local Chowhound board with any regularity, you've likely heard South Beach Bar and Grille recommended as the place for fish tacos here in town. Not having tried it in a while, and curious about all the recommendations - I dragged fellow local Chowhounders Josh and Alex down to Ocean Beach a few weeks ago to give it a whirl. Josh strongly recommended ordering the salsa and sauce on the side, and I wholeheartedly agree. As you can see from the picture above, South Beach does not subscribe to a minimalist theory when it comes to toppings. Their tacos are served on flour tortillas rather than corn, with shredded yellow cheddar cheese and tomato salsa, and are - unless you ask for it on the side like we did - drowned in ranch dressing. One thing they do right is fry their tacos in a beer batter.
Fish Taco at South Beach in OB

Unfortunately, on the day we visited, it was a little too thick and heavy - resulting in some doughy chunks of uncooked batter (the picture is a little fuzzy - but you can see a chunk there on the lefthand side of the fish.) The salsa was also a little past it's prime - mushy, with that over-ripe tomato flavor. And what can I say about the Ranch dressing?  Likewise, cheddar cheese belongs on a cheeseburger.
Oyster Taco at South Beach in OB

The one thing I did really like was the fried oyster taco. Since I asked for the dressing and salsa on the side - the oysters were still nice and crisp, and I was able to add a little bit of hot sauce to make a sort of Mexican version of a po-boy. They weren't terribly cheap at $4.25 a pop, and South Beach has this crazy rule that the servers can't bring you beverages - you have to order from the bar even if you're the only table in there - but I guess popularity has it's price. They also carded us to get through the door, so presumably no one under 21 is allowed inside.
The Kitchen at South Beach in OB

Another common recommendation for fish tacos is the bar at the Brigantine. The Brig, as it's known to the locals, is a popular spot for happy hours and lunches. It's a local chain, with about a half dozen branches around town - Shelter Island, Del Mar, Mt. Helix and Coronado come to mind immediately. I've eaten many a fish taco in their bar, and though they are better than South Beach, I just can't get past the fact that they PILE on the shredded yellow cheese. You can always ask them to leave it off - but is this really San Diego's BEST fish taco? 

So then, you may ask - where should you go get the best fish tacos?   Well, Rubios actually serves up a pretty decent one, and I know of two Mariscos trucks who do a pretty good job - Mariscos German and Mariscos El Pescador but my favorite these days is at Blue Water Grill on India Street.   I'm also a fan of the fish taco at Don Chuy in Solana Beach, though I haven't head it in a while.  

So, dear readers, what do you think?

Do you love San Diego's fish tacos, and if so where do you eat them?

If not - what other local specialties would you recommend instead?

P.S. - As a bonus, here are two lists offering the "Best Fish Tacos in San Diego" from Yelp and Serious Eats.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taste of Slow Food This Saturday in Old Town!

Overland Mail Anniversary 020
Just a reminder that The Fifth Annual Taste of Slow Food is taking place this Saturday evening on the Plaza in Old Town State Park from 5-9 PM! The event will feature tastings from food stations staffed by local chefs, featuring fresh, seasonal organic produce, artisan meats and cheeses. Local wines and beers will be available for tasting, and unlike in past years, 2 glasses of beer or wine are included in the ticket price of $65.00.

Participating Chefs include: Dean Thomas, Jim Phillips and Duncan Firth, Barona Casino ♦ Bernard Guillas, Marine Room ♦ Tom McAliney, Brandt Beef ♦ Katie Grebow, Café Chloe ♦ Timothy Au, Molly's ♦ Antonio Friscia, Dish ♦ Scott Wagner, ChileCo ♦ Jeff Massey, Stone Brew World Bistro & Gardens ♦ Margarite Griftka, Starlite ♦ Christy Samoy, Sea Rocket Bistro ♦ Leah Di Bernardo, Delytes Catering ♦ Ray Kau, Whole Foods ♦ Javier Plascencia, Restaurante Romesco, ♦ Margarita Salinas di Carrillo, Don Emilianos's ♦ Mrs. Trimmer's Restaurant ♦ Berta Utreas, Berta's ♦ Bob Gibson, Pasado Del Paseo ♦ Jeanne Ferrell, Cold Stone Creamery ♦ Elizabethan Desserts ♦ Mario Montes, El Agave ♦ Samantha Hanan, The Market ♦ Café Coyote ♦ Acapulco ♦ Connie Puente Miller, El Fandango ♦ Victor Jimenez, Cowboy Star.

Purveyors and Farmers include: Brandt Beef ♦ Hamilton Meats ♦ Gina Friese, Venissmo Cheese ♦ Michael Antonorsi, Chuao Chocolate, Barry Logan's La Milpa Organica, Phil and Juany Noble's Sage Mountain Farm, Sweet Tree Farm, Helene Beck's La Vigne ♦ Jackie Anderson's Jackie's Jams ♦ Debra Katz, Sadie Rose Baking Co. ♦ Ana Salcedo's Old Town Ice Cream ♦

Local Breweries and Wineries include: Greg Koch's Stone Brewing Co ♦ Port Brewing Co ♦ Alesmith Brewing Co ♦ Hacienda de las Rosas Winery ♦ Salerno's ♦ San Pasqual Winery ♦ Twin Oaks Valley Winery ♦ Woof'n Rose Winery.

More from Slow Food San Diego:
"Proceeds will benefit the projects of Slow Food San Diego and The Old Town San Diego State Park. Slow Food is a celebration of food from field to plate. Slow Food San Diego hosts events throughout the year including farm tours, educational tastings and celebrations of food all of which are open to the public. Slow Food supports the delicious simplicity of produce grown by sustainable farming; from animal breeds and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables to handcrafted wine and beer, farmhouse cheeses and other artisan products; these foods are all apart of our cultural identity."

Transportation :
The park is located across Congress Street from the Old Town Transit Center. For information on public transportation visit and

You can purchase tickets here. Hope to see you there!

photo of the Brandt Beef folks from the recent 150th Anniversary of the Overland Mail Route held last August - more photos here

Monday, August 18, 2008

Livin' it Up in LA, Part II - Boutique-ing Around

Our second and third days in LA were spent mostly tripping around between shopping districts. I'd forgotten (if I ever knew) how much time it can take to get across this city, what with the traffic and and the stoplights - and I think we might have planned our attack a bit better, but at least we got to see some new things.

On the second day, we had three things on the itinerary - lunch at The Milk Bar - a place I'd heard about on Chowhound, the Trina Turk Boutique (which is - or at least was - having a fabulous sale) and Silver Lake - and area of town that I've heard and read about in some of my favorite design magazines and blogs.
Turkey Bacon Club @ Milk Shop
Lunch at Milk was a success - though for some reason I was surprised that it was a quick service place and not a sit down restaurant. I envisioned something like a modern version of Farrells, with some decent food and kick ass ice cream sundaes and specialities. Not quite - it was more of a fancy deli/ice cream shop, but what we sampled was more than adequate. Given that it's owned by former members of the Patina group, it's not too surprising that it's a little better than average. We split a panini sandwich with chicken, bacon, a special dressing, lettuce and tomato that came with a lovely little green salad - the better to leave room for our milkshakes.
Banana Dulce de Leche Peanut Butter Malt Shake @ Milk Shop
I went whole hog with Banana Dulce de Leche ice cream, caramel, malt balls, and peanuts - WOW, is all I can say about that - and Susan stuck with the plain Banana Dulce de Leche Shake. She polished that off and went for some of mine - they were that good.

We'd parked a few blocks away on Beverly, and stumbled across some great little boutiques right there in the neighborhood. We especially liked Gibson and Ige - both filled with furniture, objets d'art and ephemera in wondefully artful settings. They reminded me of boutiques in Paris - as did the other jewel-box like stores we encountered. We also popped into Modernica, which stocks original and repro modern furniture for mid-century aficionados. LA also seems to be full of the kind of restaurant I adore the most - cafes that are casual in atmosphere, but serious about food. I was quite impressed.
IGE Boutique on Beverly
At IGE we picked up a little guidebook that had some listings for places in Silver Lake and Venice Beach, two places we planned to visit. Needless to say, we didn't make it to all of them - but we did hit a few. Our second stop was Third Street, just up Beverly and left on Fairfax at the CBS Studios - where we hit the Trina Turk sale. My husband reads this blog, so that's all I'm going to say about that. ;-)

Third Street is full of fabulous boutiques, mostly selling women's clothing and accessories - but it's also home to one of my favorite food destinations - Joan's on Third. It's expanded to double it's original size since our last visit, which was fun to see. It's more or less the Dean and Deluca of LA, with a little more refined taste, and without the produce section. We actually made our way back here at the end of the day and picked up a baguette, some heirloom tomatoes, a wad of fresh burrata cheese, and a bottle of Gruner Veltliner - which we consumed for dinner in our hotel room while watching the Olympics instead of our reservation at Bar Marmont. I just couldn't imagine driving all the way back across the City to eat a dinner I wasn't even hungry for after that milkshake power lunch.
Silver Lake in LA
After Third Street, we moseyed over to Silver Lake. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that we didn't know where we were going (though we did accidentally stumble across the adorable little district of Larchmont) but we made it eventually. We came down Sunset to Silver Lake Boulevard, and stopped at the bottom of the hill at the intersection of Effie - where we spotted Yolk and LAMILL coffee.
Yolk in Silver Lake
Yolk is a jewelbox of a shop, full of the most adorable kitchen and kiddie items imaginable. LA MILL is just a trip. It's like something straight out of a big city street in Paris or New York, but dropped right in the middle of a residential neighborhood in LA. They call themselves a "coffee boutique" and they make coffee using all sorts of exotic methods - Clover vacuum siphon brewed, cold water extracted, and of course your standard espresso. They use a special milk formulated for coffee by the Straus Organic Creamery, and the water is purified in house by their Cirqua customized system. The atmosphere inside is Versaille meets 50's Department Store tearoom, with murals, white upholstery and gilt. The espresso was pretty darn good - syrupy and sweet - and their food menu looked quite intriguing. They do a grilled "PB&C" - Peanut Butter, Banana, and Vahlrona chocolate - grilled on brioche and served with cold vanilla milk - that sounded like the perfect afternoon snack. We headed back to the W a short time later for a dip in the pool and a couple of cocktails - and the aforementioned tomato/burrata/baguette supper - along with Michael Phelps' eighth gold medal.
Surfa's in Culver City
The next morning, we'd planned to go to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, but I read that the Wednesday market is actually the serious food market, and Sunday is more of a scene - so we didn't make a special effort to get up early for it. Consequently we didn't make it out of the hotel until 10:30 - so we decided to skip Santa Monica entirely and go straight to Surfa's in Culver City. There I picked up some Himalayan Red Rice, Chinese Forbidden Black Rice, Dal, Beluga Lentils, chocolate pastilles, and a few other items. We thought about burgers at Fathers' Office - right near by - but we still wanted to hit Venice Beach, and F.O. didn't open until noon - so we headed down Venice to Abbot Kinney instead. (I'm a big fan of the show Californication, and have been wanting to visit for a while.)
Entrance to Jin Patisserie
I'd wanted to go to Jin Patisserie to get some desserts, so we wound up having lunch there. Sadly, the sandwiches we had were disappointing - plain, dry and uninteresting. Won't be making that mistake again - but the jewel-like tiny macarons and sesame peanut butter cookies were phenomenal. Clearly it's a place to go for dessert rather than a meal. We did a little walking around near there before heading home, and ran across another fantastic boutique called Tortoise. They stock Japanese housewares, including ceramics, glassware, textiles, office supplies and books. The unique selection makes for some interesting browsing, and it's a great place to pick up a gift for someone. (James received a build-your own bonsai tree puzzle.)

We had a great time, and found even more places we're already planning to go on a future trip. If you're planning a trip of your own - either to LA or another major U.S. City - I'd suggest picking up a copy of the local Eat Shop guidebook. It features a carefully curated list of local and unique small businesses - just the kind of places you'd hope to find on your own if you had the time, or some super stylish friends to guide you! Check them out at

7290 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
ice cream cafe and deli - the ice cream sandwiches with macaron cookies looked really good. We loved the coffee toffee and banana dulce de leche ice cream. The sandwiches are worthwhile too.

7352 Beverly Blvd.
objets d'art, furniture and ephemera

7382 Beverly Blvd.
jewelry, clothing, novelty items and objets d'art

7366 Beverly Blvd
modern furniture

Trina Turk
8008 W. 3rd Street
women's clothing and accessories

1626 Silver Lake Blvd.
housewares, children's clothes, books and toys

1636 Silver Lake Blvd.
amazing gourmet coffee cafe

Joan's on Third
8350 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Surfas Restaurant Supply
8824 National Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-4770

Jin Patisserie
1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 399-8801
recommend the desserts - especially the macarons, but skip the savories.

1208 Abbott Kinney Blvd.
open wed-sun 12-6
Japanese housewares and accessories

Daisy Arts
1312 Abbott Kinney Blvd.
girly housewares, jewelry and accessories

Friday, August 15, 2008

Livin' it Up in LA, Part I - Pizzeria Mozza

I'm in Los Angeles for the weekend - enjoying some spa-ing, eating and shopping with a good girlfriend, and just thought I'd share a little bit about the lunch we had today at Pizzeria Mozza. I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype, but we were pleasantly surprised. Here, for your enjoyment is a little photo essay.

Also on the hit list this weekend: The Milk Shop, Bar Marmont, Le Pain Quotidien, The Santa Monica Farmers Market, Jin Patisserie, The Hungry Cat, and some shopping in Silverlake/Los Feliz/Echo Park. Feel free to chime in with any recommendations!

Happy weekend everyone!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Meet me at the Mercato

Little Italy Mercato - Saturday Mornings on Date Street

Have you been to the new Saturday morning Farmer's Market in Little Italy yet? If not, you're in for a treat. Instead of a parking lot, the market stalls line the sides of Date Street, a far more scenic locale, and the crowds, at least for now, are much more manageable than they are at Sunday's Hillcrest and La Jolla markets. I also prefer the Saturday time slot (9:00 AM to 1:00 PM) because it doesn't interfere with my Sunday morning laziness.
Pepper sat Sage Mountain - Little Italy Mercato

I recognized a lot of the vendors from the other markets in town, and discovered a few new ones. Sage Mountain Farms was there, the photo above is of some of their peppers. I stopped to visit with Mariella Balbi of Guanni Chocolates, who sells some of the best chocolates in town. (Love the Pisco and the Aruma.) I saw the Bread and Cie guy, Smit Orchards, and a few others I recognized from Hillcrest, but I didn't see the Salsa Chilena people, and my beloved Barry, of La Milpa Farms, was not there - but I can always catch him on Fridays at the La Mesa market.
Little Italy Mercato 8.2.08

My favorite new discovery was the Schaner Farms stand, in the upper third of the market, on the North side of the street. They had a lovely assortment of produce, but what really caught my eye were the turkey, duck and guinea hen eggs they had on display. I bought six - four duck eggs, one turkey and one guinea. Our usual Sunday breakfast is fried eggs with levain toast and Niman Ranch bacon, and these were a great addition - though I regretted that I served them them with croissants this time, since they were so rich. They taste just like chicken eggs, only more so - almost buttery, with a slightly heavier texture.
Assorted Eggs at Schaner Farms Stand

They also sell fresh squeezed Orange Passionfruit juice, which I definitely would have bought if I'd been heading straight home after the market. Instead, I went on a little taco tasting expedition with Alex and Josh, who met me there at the market. (More on that coming very soon!)
Schaner Farms Stand at Little Italy Mercato

The Schaners don't sell at any other markets in the urban areas, they told me they sell most of their produce to LA area restaurants, and they sell at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market in LA . (not sure if it's the Wednesday or Sunday market or both.) I'm actually hoping to check out the Sunday market next weekend when I'm in LA with a friend. We're doing a girls spa weekend at the W, and we have reservations at Pizzeria Mozza and Bar Marmont. I can't wait!

View more photos here.

Little Italy Mercato Farmers' Market
on Date Street at India
9:00 to 1:00 PM Saturday mornings

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Some Serious Brownies

I know I've posted about brownies before, but it looks like my obsession with finding the perfect formula is FINALLY starting to pay off. These were just about as close as I've ever come.

In the course of my trial-and-error efforts, I've adopted various techniques from different sources. From the Tartine method, I've learned to use glass baking pans and massive amounts of dark chocolate, butter and eggs - but I use a blend of white and brown sugar where they call for all brown, and I like to add baking powder for a little extra lift and a bit more flour to keep them from being too heavy - tricks I gleaned from a Martha Stewart recipe (which in turn came from the skier Picabo Street. I always knew she was cool.)

These could have had a touch more bittersweet flavor, and three to five minutes longer in the oven would not have hurt - but still, I think these were the best I've ever made. I know, I always say that - but this time, I really mean it.

These came about primarily because I was using up a surplus of chocolate I had on hand. I actually don't eat that much plain chocolate - and I don't like to keep it around for too long because it starts to go chalky and develop that bloom - especially when it melts and re-solidifies in our hot summer weather. I had enough on hand that I'd actually intended this to be a triple recipe, but my Pyrex pans were so big that I got two nice, thick batches.
crackly brownies
The advantage of the glass is that it holds heat and distributes it uniformly, so the brownies cook more evenly than they do in a metal pan. If you haven't tried it I highly recommend it. I lined the pans with parchment this time, spraying nonstick spray on the pan before pressing down the parchment to help keep it from sliding, but you can also just butter or grease the glass well. (Above is a photo of a batch I made using Tartine's recipe a while ago.)

As the name implies, these are not for wimps, and may well be considered too rich or too fudgy by some. If the thought of three pounds of chocolate is daunting to you (and I can't blame you myself!) you may want to try a batch of these, which are a tad more chewy.
Serious Brownies
makes 3 9x13 pans, or 1 11x17 pan and 1 9x13 pan

3 pounds of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 1/2 sticks of butter (14 ounces)
2 Tablespoons powdered espresso concentrate

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
4 cups of granulated sugar
11 large eggs
3 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons Maldon salt or other large flake fleur de sel, lightly crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 1/2 cups of All Purpose Flour

optional - 1 cup of chopped walnuts or chocolate chips for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your pans with parchment or grease them well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large saucepan over low heat, gently melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring periodically to incorporate and prevent burning. Stir in the espresso concentrate. As soon as the mixture is melted, turn off the heat and allow to cool.

In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs with the sugar on high speed until the mixture is very pale and thick, and falls back into the bowl with a wide ribbon that folds back on itself and slowly dissolves when the beater is lifted from the surface. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.

Gently fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar, then fold in the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time. Distribute the batter evenly among the pans, and sprinkle with chocolate chips or nuts if using. Bake at 350 degrees until the top surface is slightly puffed and uniformly dry, and the batter no longer jiggles when you shake the pan gently - about 25-30 minutes depending on how thick they are. The standard toothpick/cake tester will not work with these because they are so damp and full of chocolate. They will sink a bit as they cool.

These can be eaten the day they are baked, but I find that both the flavor and texture improve exponentially if they are allowed to sit for one or even two days. (This is true of just about all brownies.) After they are cut, store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container. They will keep for several days in the fridge - and even longer in the freezer.... if you can leave them alone that is!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A quick trip to Azucar...

The antique malls on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach are were calling my name last Thursday, so I combined a quick lunchtime trip over there with a stop at Azucar, a new Cuban bakery and cafe that just opened right there on Newport - just off Sunset Cliffs.Cases at Azucar
The first thing I noticed about Azucar is how stylish and modern it is. It makes sense - the chef/owner is from Miami, the epicentre of Cuban-American culture, and one of the style capitals of the world - so I had high hopes that the food would live up to the promise of the atmosphere. The Cafe Cubano I ordered (espresso sweetened as it is made) was perfection, but alas the food didn't quite measure up to my hopes and expectations.

First off, although the display cases are gorgeous, they're filled with small plates holding only a few of each type of pastry - in some cases only one. It didn't make for a very appealing display, and the hard to read handwritten signs on each item didn't help. I ordered a Cubano sandwich for my lunch, and asked for a ginger scone with ginger spread and a "meat pie" to go.
Cafe Cubano at Azucar
The scone (their last one) wound up being the best thing I tried. It's chock full of candied ginger, with a housemade ginger spread (which they also sell separately) on the side. It could be baked a bit darker, but it's worth ordering along with a coffee. I wasn't so fond of the meat pie. The flaky puff pastry was good, but the filling was unappealingly mushy, and was overwhelmingly flavored with green bell pepper. I loved the idea of it (and I dig a good empanada) but this just didn't work for me.
Unmelted Cubano at Azucar
I had really high hopes for the Cubano sandwich. It was $7.50 on the menu, which I thought was a little high, but if it was truly kick-ass, I wouldn't have minded. It took quite a while to arrive, so I was surprised to find that it was cold on the inside. I could have complained, but I chose to focus on eating around the edges, where the bread was crisp. I was also a little disappointed that it seemed to be made with regular old ingredients. Yellow mustard, pickles out of a jar, ordinary ham, and plain sliced deli cheese. Not that it had to be something extraordinary, but a little extra effort would be appreciated at that price - certainly, it should have been heated through. It came with a pile of slightly overdressed salad greens on the side - or you can opt for plantain chips.

A couple of days later, I found myself back in OB with Alex. After some fish tacos at South Beach (more on that to come) we walked the few blocks down to Azucar for Cafe Cubanos and picked up a "mojito" cookie. It sounded great - lime zest and mint in a buttery sugar cookie - but we both agreed that it was a little doughy and overly sweet. Alex wound up taking it to work to unload on his colleagues.

I'd go back again for the coffee but I couldn't help but think - as I sipped my similarly sweet coffee and nibbled my chilly sandwich - that I'd rather be having a vietnamese iced coffee and roast pork bahn mi at K Sandwiches for half the price. The desserts looked good though, and it seems the chef is an accomplished patissier, so maybe the cupcakes or plated pastries are the way to go. If you try one, you'll have to let me know.

4820 Newport Ave
(between Cable St & Sunset Cliffs Blvd)
Ocean Beach
recommended: Cafe Cubano, ginger scone - they also have cupcakes and plated desserts that look very good.