Edible Monterey Bay

Tomato Taste-Off: September´s FoodShed Focus

To-MAY-to or To-MAH-to? Pronunciation doesn’t really matter when it comes to this nutritious, summery fruit. It’s all about what you do with it. Some might argue that it’s a vegetable; it’s not. A tomato is a luscious and versatile fruit that should be celebrated at its sun-kissed best. And you’ll have the opportunity to do just that at two Foodshed Project events coming up this Wednesday Sept. 5 and Friday Sept. 7.

photoThis summer, the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market (SCCFM) launched an educational series that focuses on the connections between farmers, food artisans, and the community that make up our local foodshed: the FoodShed Project. A foodshed can be defined in a variety of ways. But, to put it simply, a foodshed includes where a food is produced, where it is consumed, and everything in between—the land on which it grows, the route it travels to get to market shelves, the tables on which it’s served, how it’s being prepared and presented, and the waste that is produced.

From its inception in 1990, the SCCFM has had the goal of providing educational programs within the community. Now, that plan is coming to fruition with a grant funded by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program and in a partnership with the Ecological Farming Association.

The FoodShed Project series kicked off in June and continues through October—on the first Wednesday of each month. All of the FoodShed Project events are free and are typically hosted at the Downtown Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market. This month, in addition to the first Wednesday event, there is a special, second event—La Comida Del Pueblo de Watsonville—which will be held at the Watsonville Farmers’ Market on Friday, September 7th.

The FoodShed Project’s monthly events shine the spotlight on seasonal food items, showcasing them with tastings, talks, music, cooking demonstrations, and activities for the entire family. Food, What?! youths have been hired to lead scavenger hunts and lend helping hands during the mini cooking classes and demonstrations at each event. The FoodShed Project hopes to grow their partnership with Food, What?! and nurture the local agriculture industry by funneling young, food-justice leaders into local agriculture-related jobs in the coming years.

The FoodShed Project’s first September event—Tomato Taste-Off—is on Wednesday, September 5, from 3-5pm, at the Downtown Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market. The second event—La Comida Del Pueblo de Watsonville—follows just two days later. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the sun-kissed flavors and regional history of the tomato. On Wednesday, you’ll learn about the famous dry farm tomato from the pioneers at Molino Creek. You can make googly eyes with heirlooms of every size, shape, and shade while listening to Happy Boy Farms talk about growing practices and flavor. Witness Joseph Schultz from India Jose work his magic with this summery fruit.This month, the tomato is the FoodShed Project’s guest of honor. The English word ‘tomato’ comes from the Spanish word tomate, which derived from the Aztec word tomatl. Native to western South America and Central America, the Spanish explorer Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma’s gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornaments, but not eaten. More than likely the first tomato varieties to reach Europe were yellow; in Spain and Italy tomatoes were known as pomi d’oro, literally ‘apples of gold’. Italians were the first culture to embrace and cultivate the tomato outside of South America.

On Friday, September 7, from 4-6pm, JCG Farm will be dishing out growing tips while Lidia Mendez Juarez will whip up some of her fabulous tomato creations. At both FoodShed Project events, you’ll be able to follow Food, What?! on an educational, family-friendly scavenger hunt after the presentations. It’s free, fun, and informative.

Don’t miss the chance to celebrate the tomato with the FoodShed Project!

 

Peaches in August

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To get a picture of the kind of activities that are in store at this week’s Tomato Taste-off, read on for the juicy details of happened at last month’s Peach Partay.

About 70 market-goers gathered, sitting on hay bales, while Frog Hollow Farm peach expert Jon Harvey held up the fallen limb of a peach tree, heavy under the weight of ripe, juice-filled fruit. Harvey pointed out the place in the wood where the new growth began and explained how the fruit-bearing part of the tree is the previous year’s growth.

Following the Frog Hollow Farm’s presentation, Kendra, Zach and Ana of the Penny Ice Creamery stepped forward and, with the assistance of local food justice leaders from the Santa Cruz based organization ‘Food, What?!’, launched into a mix of story-telling, ice cream making and peach grilling.

Each audience member received an ice cream making kit. Small bags of ice cream mixture nestled inside larger bags full of ice and, gripped tightly in the hands of customers young and old, the sounds of clinking ice cubes filled the air. Participants smiled with the excitement of this do-it-yourself demonstration while they learned about where the ingredients came from and what is possible in their own homes.

Following the presentations, the band sounded, a face painter set up shop, and mural making continued at the art table. The ‘Food, What?!’ youth leaders led interested participants on a stone fruit hunt around the market. With a free scoop of ice cream from the Penny for those who completed the hunt, participants learned foodshed facts: a large peach contains 3 grams of fiber, is a good source of vitamins A and C, and is rich in many vital minerals such as potassium, fluoride and iron.

Peach juice will dribble down your chin, make you smile, and a peach is large enough to share. And since peaches are on the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of fruits and vegetables, you should always purchase organic due to high pesticide residues in the conventionally grown fruit.

For more information about the FoodShed Project, which is directed by Nicki Zahm, please go to: www.santacruzfarmersmarket.org.

Read moreTomato Taste-Off: September´s FoodShed Focus

Farm to Fork Benefit at UCSC—No Bananas, No Slugs—Just Really Awesome Organic Food

dg_pic_Diners at the second annual Farm to Fork benefit at the UCSC Farm can expect spectacular views of Monterey Bay, great organic food, fine wine and music by—who else?—a bunch of apprentice organic farmers!

The September 9 event will raise needed scholarship funds for the renowned Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture offered by UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems—and it will cooked by fabulous chefs, using some of the best of our local ingredients.

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A number of the school’s talented apprentices and alums will deliver the night’s delectable dishes: A roasted poblano and sweet corn gazpacho shooter will be the first course, followed by a choice of salads made from vegetable and herbs grown at the UCSC Farm and Alan Chadwick Garden, as well as farms run by graduates of the apprenticeship program. Guests can expect to sample cheeses served with jams made from the farm’s fruit by Heidi Schlecht, a former apprentice who now runs Plumline Jams. Ecological Horticulture grad Erin Lampel’s will offer organic breads from her Companion Bakeshop of Santa Cruz.

Entrees will include chicken with padron peppers and honey from the UCSC farm’s apiary, and a vegetarian option of ratatouille-topped polenta created by Schlecht and fellow alum Amy Padilla, who runs Feel Good Foods Fine Organic Catering together with Schlecht. Bonny Doon and other local wineries will provide wines selected to accompany each course.

According to Martha Brown, outreach coordinator for the event, the first Farm to Fork dinner was conceived by one of last year’s apprentices.

Amid concerns about rising tuition costs, Matthew Raiford decided to take action. Brown says Raiford—who she calls “an absolute force of nature”—wanted to help out future apprentices. Although he moved back home to his family’s farm in Georgia and is now executive chef at Little St. Simons Island resort, Raiford agreed to come back for four years to lead the effort; after that, he plans to pass the baton to another apprentice or alum.

grape_planting_webThirty-nine apprentices from the class of 2012 and a few teaching assistants from last years’ class will be assisting the chefs in cooking and serving the dinner.

In addition to enjoying the apprentices’ “house band,” as Brown described it, guests can participate in a silent auction offering some singular experiences, including a guided tour of the Grateful Dead archive with Archivist Nicholas Meriwether and a mountain lion tracking session with Environmental Studies professor Chris Wilmers. A group of apprentices are also auctioning off their services for a home garden makeover.

UCSC_dinnerOne more highlight of the evening? A tour of the legendary location where the apprentices study—a gorgeous working farm with exceptional views of Monterey Bay.

The festivities start at 3:00 p.m., beginning with the farm tour. Dinner will follow at 4:00 p.m. Tickets for this one-of-a-kind event benefiting a terrific cause are $125.00 and may be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/262743.

We recommend you buy your tickets before they sell out!

Read moreFarm to Fork Benefit at UCSC—No Bananas, No Slugs—Just Really Awesome Organic Food

Abalone: Local, delectable, and not as daunting as I previously imagined

Abalone_CFor the abalone, its journey from native currency to disdained export to ocean delicacy has been fraught with derision, then frenzy. From the 1800s to the early 20th century, abalone meat was exported to China and Japan and its shells sent to Europe to be used in intricate inlays. There was no American market for abalone meat.

Then “Pop” Ernest Doelter taught American diners how to eat abalone. He pounded the abalone into steaks for his restaurant on the Monterey wharf and served them at the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco. With that exposure, abalone’s domestic popularity soared, bringing the edible gastropod to the brink of extinction.

Abalone_ClNow, with commercial abalone fishing completely banned in California and sport abalone divers saddled with strict regulations, commercial abalone farming is taking off. And abalone is making a comeback, appearing on the menus of some of our area’s finest restaurants.

I recently had the opportunity to shuck it, pound it, cook it, and plate it under the tutelage of Executive Chef Justin Cogley during his “Monterey Bay Abalone” class.

Each month enthusiasts can attend culinary classes in the kitchen of Aubergine restaurant at L’Auberge hotel in Carmel. Cogley leads the series of savory classes, while Executive Pastry Chef Ron Mendoza teaches the sweets. Previous offerings have included: The Mystery of Old World Grains; Plate Like a Professional; and Working with Raw Fish and Sake. This fall they offer: Adventures in Appetizers; Curds and Creams; and Savory Sauces – The Next Level. If my class was any indication, people come from far and wide to attend these two-hour culinary adventures.

Abalone_Class-2While Cogley introduced himself to us newbies—there were more than a few class regulars—he offered us flutes of cava as well as still and sparkling water. Then we tied on aprons, took our places at a cutting board, and went right to work.

We shelled Tiger’s Eye beans, sliced kernels of fresh corn from the cobs and diced onions. We sampled oyster leaves—a salty variety of cress that grows near the sea—and fondled Turkish towel seaweed. Then Cogley talked to us about the Monterey Abalone Company. Here on the Monterey Bay, we are fortunate to have farmers whose operating philosophy is to duplicate the abalone’s natural environment as closely as possible. Trevor Fay and Art Seavey, co-owners of the Monterey Abalone Company, are hands-on in every phase of the cultivation and harvest. And their efforts have helped put farmed abalone on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Best Choice list. Aubergine just might be one of their largest customers, ordering between 200 and 300 abalone per week. At a year old, abalone are about the size of your thumbnail. Three years later, after feeding on fresh, hand- harvested giant kelp, abalone grow to about 3 inches across. That’s the ideal size, according to Cogley, any bigger and cost becomes an issue for the restaurants—and for the diners.

While our corn-bean sauce simmered on the stove, we began to work on our abalone. Here are the five easy steps… 

Abalone_Class-4Step One: Shuck

Cogley demonstrated, in one smooth motion, how to separate the mollusk from its shell. Our efforts weren’t quite as graceful, but we ended up with a stack of shells and a dozen abalone. So, I’d call that a success.

Step Two: Clean and Pound

We didn’t actually clean the abalone, Julian did that for us, but he did demonstrate how to pound them and we eagerly gave that a try after Cogley made the distinction between the ‘presentation side’ and the ‘other side.’ We pounded the other side with the spiked side of the mallet. Forty-five strikes was what one of my classmates counted during the demonstration. Then we flipped the abalone over, covered it with a towel, and pounded it again with the smooth side. Another forty-five times? We weren’t counting. We just pounded.

Step Three: Sous Vide

At that point, our abalone were vacuum-sealed for us to take home and we cooked abalone that Cogley and his crew had already prepped for final cooking. When I write ‘prepped for final cooking’, I mean they were cooked sous vide ahead of time. Sous vide is French for ‘under vacuum’ and describes a method of cooking in vacuum-sealed plastic pouches at precisely controlled temperatures. In this case, the abalone were sous vide’d at 140° F for 30 minutes prior to the final cooking.

Abalone_Class-5Step Four: Pan-Fry

We heated unsalted butter in a pan and quickly pan-fried our abalone to give them a nice golden color. It only took about a minute on each side.

Step Five: Plate

We spooned a bed of corn and Tiger’s Eye beans onto the plate, laid our abalone on top, and garnished it with some sea lettuce, sea grass, oyster leaves and a sprinkling of salt. Cogley poured us each a glass of chilled Grüner Veltliner that paired deliciously with our abalone creations. No surprise there, he is an expert.

I did have to invoke some serious superhero skills for this assignment, juggling a camera, a notepad, and a pen, all while wielding a knife, a mallet, and a variety of other utensils. What a fun experience! 

I took my pounded abalone home and, as Cogley instructed for those of us who don’t have a sous vide machine at home, steamed the abalone over the lowest heat possible. I drizzled the abalone every hour to keep it moist and I did this for five hours. Needless to say, this didn’t make it to the dinner table on time, but it ended up being a late-night treat for my husband. I thought my sons would complain that they didn’t get to try any, but they were content with the abalone shells I brought home for them.

Now I’m inspired to get over to the commercial wharf, pick up some abalone from the Monterey Abalone Company, maybe finagle a tour, and give this recipe another whirl. Cooking abalone is not as daunting as I previously imagined…thanks to the fabulous guidance of Chef Cogley and the staff at Aubergine.

Read moreAbalone: Local, delectable, and not as daunting as I previously imagined

A Collaborative Feast: Santa Cruz’s Westside Farmers’ Market Pop-Up Breakfast

When Edible Monterey Bay approached Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market director Nesh Dhillon with the idea of collaborating on a pop-up meal, he picked breakfast. “Everyone does dinner,” he reasoned, “but no one does breakfast.”

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On Saturday August 25th, Dhillon teamed up with Chef Kevin Koebel, and his organization Local FATT (Food Awareness Through Teaching), to present a menu that showcased regionally significant food at this farm-to-breakfast table pop-up event. Local FATT urges consumers and farmers to build full-circle food systems that blend knowledge, passion, intelligence, and integrity.

2Imagine the jovial scene. Tubs of luscious berries crowd market tables. A string quartet roams the market, serenading the crowd with folk music and bluegrass tunes. Wrinkled padrón and shishito peppers are piled precariously into baskets. Bins of Red Kuri pumpkins signal that fall may be just around the bend. Market goers, hands curled around basket handles, stroll from one stand to the next and peruse the offerings while giggling among themselves and chatting with the vendors. And, tucked into a corner of the market, long tables and chairs are set-up with menus printed on heavy craft paper. Jam jars, mismatched coffee mugs, jugs of water, and wildflowers in mason jars line the tables. And in the interest of ecology—and a more festive, colorful table—event planners asked diners bring their own plates and flatware.

Along with Dhillon and Koebel, this collaborative feast relied on the Westside Market producers themselves and other unique local purveyors. Barry Jackson, the owner and winemaker of Equinox Champenoise, kicked off the celebration by mixing mimosas for the guests who numbered just over fifty. Made just blocks from where we sat, Jackson employs the traditional French méthode champenoise to give his sparkling libation a toasty, aromatic quality. “More flavor results from the contact with the yeast,” Jackson explains. 

3Roland Konicke, of Uncie Ro’s Pizza, manned his wood-fired oven which was used to cook most of the meal. Konicke stuffed
high-protein dough with scrambled eggs, Harley Farms chevre,
wilted greens, and house-ground fennel-molasses sausage with a touch of El Salchichero’s magic in it, and baked it at a high temperature until it bore his signature charred crust to make the hearty roulades that were served about mid-way through the meal.

Fiesta Farms delivered fresh eggs; Condor’s Hope Winery poured their rosé; Lulu Carpenter’s Coffee lined the tables with carafes of steaming artisan-roasted coffee; H&H Fresh Fish provided local king salmon; and Happy Boy, Route 1, Live Earth, Everett, New Natives, Twin Girl, Rainbow Orchard, and Companion Bakeshop all came together to make this meal incredibly seasonal, fresh, and unique.

4Along with the Equinox mimosas, breakfast began with heaping bowls of fresh fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe cubes, and raspberries were macerated in a splash of sparkling wine with whole vanilla beans and magnificently garnished with fresh lavender sprigs and bachelor button florets.

The feast continued as Nicki Zahm, Director of the Foodshed Project, made her way around the tables with a heavy wooden board piled high with salty-caramel sticky buns that were slathered with house-made raw honey butter.

6Wood-fire roasted salmon filets were served with a pool of persillade—think pesto but with parsley instead of basil—on one side and a wild mushroom-tarragon reduction on the other. Perfectly poached eggs sat astride wilted collard greens, topped with a vibrant nasturtium and drizzled with Meyer lemon juice and flaxseed oil. And Koebel cut his house-cured bacon by hand so that no two pieces were alike.

From start to finish the breakfast was a parade of delectable dishes that looked as exquisite as they tasted. Some people might eat at box-restaurants because they know what to expect. It’s predictable and it’s uniform. A dish at a chain restaurant in one city should look exactly the same as the same dish at the same restaurant in another city. That’s the point, right? But people who eat food that is hand-cut, hand-rolled, and handmade expect and really relish variations. Food made by hand is strikingly irregular. Gorgeously asymmetrical.

7Because the goal of the pop-up was not just to wine and dine guests with seasonal goods, towards the end of the breakfast Dhillon and Koebel spoke to the group about the benefits of local, fresh foods and urged people to make informed food choices. Then they opened up the floor for comments and moderated a round-table discussion about the event. Some people had never attended a pop-up event before, others were veterans. Some people frequented farmers’ markets weekly for their fruits and vegetables, many didn’t. I was surprised by the show of hands when that question was posed. Koebel wasn’t. He said that that was about par: only about a third of the group regularly shopped at their farmers’ market. But, he said, it begins with awareness and education.

In that vein, Local FATT gave t-shirts to the kids that attended. My boys were thrilled and immediately pulled the wheat grass-colored shirts over the ones they were already wearing. When we left the breakfast and headed to a school pool party, they continued to sport the shirts. I overheard them telling their classmates about their morning culinary adventure.

51I know that my kids aren’t completely typical. We tour our CSA farm annually; we visit organic dairies; we procure meat from our friends who hunt; we shop at farmers’ markets regularly. But I was so proud when I asked my 10-year-old what the term ‘local food system’ meant to him and he answered with knowledge, passion, and intelligence. “Supporting local food systems means that we eat food that grows here…you know, in our own community. When you cook with local food—and other people like it—they’ll be more likely to buy it.” Well said. I think Dhillon and Koebel would be proud, too.

Read moreA Collaborative Feast: Santa Cruz’s Westside Farmers’ Market Pop-Up Breakfast

Grazing on the Green

Imagine a perfect, sunny Saturday afternoon in Aptos Village Park. Now imagine strolling through the park sampling the decadent wares of 67 local food, wine and beer purveyors and you have the 9th annual “Gourmet Grazing on the Green” cancer benefit to be held on September 15th. Says event director Jeni Brill: “We’ve got the best that Santa Cruz has to offer.” Indeed, the list of participants reads like a who’s who of food and beverage icons from Santa Cruz and the surrounding communities.

Shadowbrook_Exec_Chef_Ashley_Hosmer

Guests will be able to sip wines from standbys like Roudon-Smith and Burrell School and relative newcomers like Wargin Wine, owned and operated by Soquel native Mikael Wargin. Beer drinkers can enjoy a full-fledged beer garden featuring the likes of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company—one of the original eight exhibitors. Brill says was the brewery was, “our token beer booth for a number of years”. For the first time, Beast BBQ will bring their rig to the beer garden, a setup Brill calls “The Beast in the Garden.”

Hungry? Chow down on some of Hula’s Island Grill’s tiki-themed bites or head over for some Mexican munchies with The Whole Enchilada. Ashley Hosmer, executive chef of the uber-romantic Shadowbrook, will also be there. Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine will serve up Middle Eastern snacks, while favorites like Severino’s, Peachwood Grill and Chaminade will also be on-hand with tantalizing treats. In addition to restaurants, businesses like Carried Away—which makes great food to go—and The True Olive Connection will be sampling their wares. Friends in Cheeses Jam Company will be spooning out their fruity goodness, too.

Brill notes that produce is donated by local farms like Coke Farms, Route One, Earthbound Farm, New Natives and Watsonville Coast

Produce and that almost all the vendors are local restaurants, chefs, wineries and breweries. She goes on to say, “We allow certain exhibitors from out of the area; they pay to be there and really resonate with the cause.” Speaking of resonating, Steve Velasquez Trio and the Blu Soul Band with vocalist Ané Watts will collaborate to provide live music. Expect sounds of R&B, Jazz, Latin and Funk to enliven the afternoon.

Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group’s mission is to “improve the quality of life for people living with cancer in the Santa Cruz community by raising money to support our beneficiary organizations and fund new research that will provide possible cures and better solutions for treating cancer.” They do this by raising money to donate to their beneficiaries: Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services; Hospice of Santa Cruz; Katz Cancer Resource Center at Dominican Hospital; WomenCARE; and the UC Santa Cruz Fellowship Program for cancer research.

Tickets to this year’s event are available on the website (www.sccbg.org) and at New Leaf Markets. The $65 ticket includes admission, a souvenir wine glass, and four hours of eating, drinking and enjoying the live entertainment starting at noon. If you can find nine other people, you can take advantage of the group rate: 10 tickets for $500. We defy you to find a more indulgent way to support a good cause.

Read moreGrazing on the Green

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