Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nature's Bounty: I love our local farmers' markets! I'm so lucky to live in a town that has not one but two markets, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Here are some of my favorite farmers and their best products:
Full Belly Farm, Yolo County, CA: Charentais melons - these succulent little melons are just like you'd find in France. They are similar to cantaloupes, but so much more flavorful!
Hare Hollow: delectable oils and vinegars. My absolute fave is the Fig/Date Balsamic Vinegar - drizzle over heirloom tomatoes.
Molino Creek Farm, somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains: they grow these amazing 'dry-farmed' tomatoes, which means that they are not watered by hand at all, relying solely on the moisture in the soil. These little tomatoes are the most intensely-flavored I've ever had. Perfect for soup or sauce, but I just like them sliced, drizzled with the fig/date balsamic vinegar, and scattered with basil leaves. Yummy.
The Hmong lady who sells the best green beans, Thai basil and all sorts of Asian vegetables. I should know her name by now, but I don't, but I was so thrilled when she told me earlier this summer that her eldest son would be attending Stanford University this fall! A true American success story!
Karin Johnson baked goods: Karin comes over from the East Bay each Sunday with her lovely parents, and sells scrumptious, homey creations from her stall at the California Avenue Farmers' Market. I am partial to the lemon semolina cake and often buy it if I'm entertaining on Sunday night. It's moist and lemony, and goes well with sliced fruit and ice cream. If I'm feeling charitable, I also buy a couple of the little single-serving flourless chocolate cakes for DD, my ornery teenager. Oh, and the cherry bran muffins, brownies, (gluten-free) macarons, and fruit galettes are also great.
Under the "Too Dumb to Live" category: today I spotted an Asian man texting while driving his silver Mercedes northbound on 101. His phone was propped up on the steering wheel in full view of anyone driving by! I honked as I drove by, and as I glanced in my rearview mirror, I saw him drifting into the adjacent lane. Aii-yah, as we saw in Hong Kong! Yesterday a young woman was yacking on her cellphone while driving on crowded El Camino Real in Menlo Park. I didn't realize what was happening until I pulled abreast of her. I guess people just aren't afraid of getting tickets! On the same topic, why do people let their dogs sit on their laps while they drive??? Talk about an accident waiting to happen! Finally, the winners of my "Too Dumb to Live" awards have to be all the bicyclists around Palo Alto who have neither front lights nor rear lights, and who zoom around in the dark!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Musings on packing

Why does it take more time to pack stuff other than clothes? As our lives become more intertwined with our electronic possessions, it is increasingly more difficult to set out on a journey. Gone are the days when I could throw my clothing, toiletries and some reading matter in a bag. Now, the clothes packing takes about an hour, but the other crap takes about six!! There is the cellphone, of course, the camera, the Ipod, and for some, the computer. These devices all have chargers, USB wires, etc. Then there is the madness of a middle-aged woman's toiletries. Creams for the face, body, feet; pills, vitamins, toners,make-up,hair accessories,tweezers, first-aid items.....aargh! Add to all that the complications of packing 3 oz. portions of everything should you want to carry your possessions on the plane, or if you're like me, you just worry about being separated from your precious stuff! I never, ever, fly without my little quart-sized zip-lock bag with mini-containers of all the potions I can't live without. Knock on wood, I haven't lost a bag yet, but I'm not taking any chances! Then there is the business of being connected. Once upon a time, you could disappear for awhile and be blissfully unaware of what was happening back home. No more...everyone expects you to keep up with your emails while you are gone! I long for the day when I'd just jot a few postcards and send them off. Now, if you neglect your emails, you're faced with a mountain of junk when you return...for me this just obliterates the good feelings I had while on "vacation".

Monday, May 18, 2009

There WILL be sludge! (a coffee primer)

A few years ago, I had a life-changing experience at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza. I wandered into Frog Hollow Farm's shop looking for sustenance after shopping at the farmers' market, held every Tuesday and Saturday. There was an intriguing "New Orleans-style " iced coffee on the menu. One sip of this smooth, dark confection and I HAD to find out how to make it at home! I emailed the owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, James Freeman, and he kindly shared his recipe with me. Now that Blue Bottle has achieved national fame and has several retail outlets, more people are discovering the delights of this exceptional roaster. I've tried several of the blends, but my favorite is my first love, Bella Donovan. This coffee is available either by mail, at www.bluebottlecoffee.net, or in 1/2 pound bags at several retail outlets including Fraiche Yogurt in Palo Alto (only from Thursday afternoons through Sundays). So, here is New Orleans-style iced coffee my way: for 1 pound of Blue Bottle's Bella Donavan beans:
Grind the coffee coarsely, either in a supermarket grinder set on Coarse, or in your home blender (do 1/2 pound at a time!). Pulse the coffee beans using the ice-grind or ice-crush setting until it's granular, but not powdered! DO NOT over-grind or THERE WILL BE SLUDGE! Actually, there will be sludge no matter how coarsely you grind, but that's part of the deal.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground coffee with 2 ounces of ground chicory and 2 liters of cold water. Chicory can be hard to find. My local Whole Foods used to carry it, but now I can only find it at a small health food store, Country Sun. Larger Whole Foods Markets may have chicory in the bulk herbs section.
Stir the mixture well, and let the whole brew soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
In the morning, strain the coffee several times, pressing firmly on the grounds to extract as much liquid as possible. Be sure to use a fine strainer. Don't discard the grounds! Use them to fertilize your acid-loving plants. Do strain the mixture a couple of times - each time you'll extract a bit more sludge!
Once you've completed this rather messy process, you will have enough coffee for about 10-14 tall iced coffees, depending on how strong you like your brew. To make your iced coffee, pour a few inches of the coffee extract into a tall glass, and add cold milk to taste. You might want some sugar, but I think this is smooth and sweet enough without any! There is absolutely no bitterness, just the most intense coffee flavor! You can, of course, add hot milk to the coffee extract, but I prefer it iced most of the time. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.