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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spring Hill Pumpkin Patch

More locavore thrills this weekend during a visit to Spring Hill Farms near Petaluma, in the idyllic Two Rock valley. Milking the cow wasn't too daunting after breastfeeding a child. Oh, those rural delights: another haybale pyramid, hay maze, potato digging, cheese tasting, fantastic pumpkin ice cream and a huge selection of every known and some unknown types of winter squash. We brought home a gigantic ungainly Blue Hubbard, looking like a vegetable turkey and plan to have a fall full of sweet squashy goodness. Will anyone notice if I make Blue Hubbard ice cream instead of pumpkin? The goodness of Spring Hill cheese, a local farmer's market staple, was apparent in the good grass, now brown, the rich dirt and seabreezes at the farm. They make such an array, whenever I need cheese I consult with David who works the Tuesday stand on which Spring Hill cheese will work for my recipe. Who needs imported cheese? They have an ever-expanding selection of raw cheese, too.
Blue Hubbard Squash Flan
(adapted from The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas)
Back in my vegetarian days, I brought this to a carnivorous wedding feast so I would have something to eat. It was a huge hit. I'll be cooking this for an alfresco dinner party Saturday night. Works well for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
2 1/2 cups thick puree of cooked Blue Hubbard, Kabocha or Tahitian squash
1 t sea salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup cornmeal (Fully Belly's freshly ground if you can)
2 t butter
5 pastured eggs, beaten
2 T blackstrap molasses
1/2 t each cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg and ground ginger
1/4 small walnut pieces
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese (Spring Hill doesn't make one yet--I'll use Pt. Reyes Bleu)
Heat the milk in a saucepan and whisk in the cornmeal and butter. Continue stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon until the mixture thickens, remove from heat, let cool for 5 minutes and whisk in the beaten eggs a little at a time.
Stir in the squash, molasses, salt and spices. Whisk all this together or puree with a hand blender until smooth. Stir in the walnut pieces and crumbled cheese, gently. You want a smooth pudding with interesting veins and pockets of cheese. Pour the custard into a large, shallow, buttered baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes to brown. Lower the heat to 350 and cook for 40-45 minutes more. Serve hot or warm, with a sauce on the side: perhaps roasted heirloom tomato or chipotle salsa...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

10 Versatile Locavore Pantry Items

The SF Chronicle has been running a very interesting “Kitchen Essentials” series. The first was 10 essential kitchen techniques (but really, is segmenting citrus that vital for good cooking? I’ve never done it, not even in my 8 years in a restaurant kitchen), and this week was “10 Versatile Pantry Items.” Find the original article at

Author Tara Duggan’s excellent point was that a well-stocked pantry can make the difference between cooking and eating at home and running out for Thai takeout or something unmentionable.

When I teach on nutrition, a recurring question is how to have the time for real food and real cooking. The short answer is planning. A well-stocked pantry can sub for planning in a pinch.

As October is both the Eat Local Challenge and Fair Trade month, I respectfully submit a Bay Area locavore’s version of Tara's list. Good cooking does not have to rely on imported ingredients!

  1. Mirin: A versatile staple and flavor/sweetness source, but usually imported. How about local wine, verjus (Navarro's is great) or apple juice, frozen in ice cube trays then bagged, labeled, in the freezer?

  2. Dark chocolate, 70% cocoa: Love having it on hand. How about locally produced Scharffenberger, or better yet Fair Trade, organic, cane-juice sweetened, Sweet Earth chocolate , produced in San Luis Obispo?

  3. Fish sauce: always imported. For my umami kick, I use tamari, shoyu or domestic organic miso in light and dark colors which lasts indefinitely in the fridge. My other umami source is bone broths. I make stock regularly, saving all bones and carcasses in the freezer until I have enough to make stock, usually in the Crock Pot with a big splash of vinegar to extract maximum calcium. This I freeze in jars and ice cube trays to use in cooking.

  4. Quinoa: so handy and yummy but almost all is imported. You can get fair trade, but also fufill your whole grain needs Massa organics brown rice or wheat berries or Full Belly wheat berries, cooked in large batches and frozen for last minute convenience.
    For more shelf-stable grain staples, how about homemade or local sourdough bread? I can keep a loaf of Anna's Daughters Rye Bread from the Berkeley Farmer's market in the fridge for weeks. One of the beauties of sourdough is improved keeping qualities.

  5. Chipotles: delicious, but imported and canned food, well, it all leaches Bisphenol A and worse into your food. For heat, local chilis at Farmer’s markets, dried red chiles from Marin Organics, or my favorite, fermented hot sauce (actually kim chee juice) from Berkeley's own Cultured, the saurkraut people.

  6. Fancy tuna in olive oil: love it but pick locally-produced from Santa Cruz or Oregon.

  7. Capers: great but sub your own pickles or wonderful real pickles from Cultured or other local producers. I once was ambitious enough to pickle the nasturtium pods from my garden which worked well for a pepper caper kick. Locally produced olives might work, also.

  8. Honey: ah yes, a true local staple.

  9. Canned Garbanzos: Again the can itself is problematic. Although Eden foods cans with a ceramic liner instead of plastic, protecting you from chemical leaching. No wonder they cost more. You can get local beans from Full Belly, Phipps or Iacopi farms, cook in big batches and store in stored in your freezer.

  10. Mustard: Can't live without it. I look for domestic and organic brands, such as Eden, and get sour tastes from apple cider vinegar or lemon juice from my tree. Local apple cider vinegar is available from the Apple Farm in Philo, at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market by the liter or gallon.

  11. I used to consider canned tomatoes a staple. Now I keep sundried tomatoes from my local farm on hand and use them, softened for 20 minutes in boiling water and chopped or pureed, whenever I need tomato for a recipe.

When in doubt, in a hurry, when sick or generally unprepared, I make soup. With the staples above or not, soup can be concocted in a half hour and will exceed most convenience food in flavor, nutrition and gastronicity.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Hoes Down

If you are what you eat, I was with my people this weekend. The fabulous harvest festival of our CSA, Full Belly farm, was better than ever, less crowded and dusty than some years due to Friday's rain, and left us tearful at the prospect of returning to our city life. Except that half of Berkeley must have been in attendance. Including our city's farmers, like Jim Montgomery, founder of West Berkeley's Green Faerie farm where they've been raising chickens, rabbits, goats and veggies for over 15 years. He was there to do a goat workshop, complete with his three urban goats and samples of fresh chevre. As usual, I wasn't quite together enough to actually make it to any of the workshops, but they sure sounded good. I'm sorry I missed "Indigenous microorganisms: Improving your Soil's Health." And somehow I never quite made it over to the herb yurt, despite being a professional herbalist, for gosh sakes. I was just so busy running around after my son, grinding corn to make tortillas, churning ice cream, watching the cow being milked, running into old friends, trying to squeeze through tiny passages in the hay bale pyramid after a gaggle of four year olds, then heading over to the lazy river for a late afternoon wade. And the food, it sure took time to try something from almost every stand: gourmet popsicles, Straus ice cream, Prather Ranch burgers, Three Stone Hearth's local lamb stew, a bicycle powered smoothie. I loved the bicycle-powered grain grinder, gotta get one of those at home. Then there is the farmer's market for a jar of Herbs de Provence from Good Humus farm (thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, lavender, bay and fennel) which was wonderful on Sunday night on a Swiss steak from our Clark Summit Farm meat CSA. In this October of extra local eating I am trying to source ever-more local herbs and spices.

All too soon the sun started heading down and we hopped onto the wagon for a leisurely tour of the farm, stretching overhead to grab a ripening walnut from the gracious trees and arriving back in time to catch Asheba's last few songs at the kid stage where my son joined the mad toddler mosh pit. Then over to carve pumpkins and scoop up 3 free seed packets from Seeds of Change (get them now before the prices go up in 2009), electrifying African drumming next and then a million stars appearing over the valley with a fat streak of the milky way leading us back down the path to the heart of the Hoes Down glowing with two hundred winking jack-o-lanterns harbinging fall.

Have you heard that Full Belly's making wine now, which was fabulous and how is it they got Devil Makes Three to play, one of the few bands whose CD I actually bought this year? This trio sing sad and play happy country punk. My people and I were dancing fools and my son even curled up to sleep in the middle of the dance floor so his mama could boogie late into the night. And what a sweet peaceful sleep we finally had in the almond orchard. Or was the sweetest moment the long sleepy rumpled line for brunch the next day, last chance to run into long lost friends before we all helped clean up and wistfully packed for the ride back to our urban lives? Are you surprised that my boy asked me if we could move to Full Belly Farm?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eat Local Challenge October 2008

Wow, October is here already and it's this year's eat local month. I try to eat locally year round but get extra enthused each year when the locavores announce an eat local challenge. Check them out and sign on at The locavore movement was founded only in 2005 and by 2007 locavore was the word of the year in the Oxford English dictionary!

Each year I have found more local foods and found local versions of foods I had previously gotten from outside my foodshed. The latest: soft wheat and cornmeal from Full Belly Farm, coriander seeds from my garden, wild fennel leaves from a neighbor's yard, dry beans from Iacopi farms and Phipps on the Peninsula, wild sourdough instead of commercial yeast, homemade lacto-fermented sodas instead of imported mineral water.
After years of one form of orthexia or another, I no longer strive for gastronomic rigidity. A glance at the locavore's guidelines for how to choose food well is helpful.

Guidelines for Eating Well from
If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic. This is one of the most readily available alternatives in the market and making this choice protects the environment and your body from harsh chemicals and hormones.
If not ORGANIC, then Family farm. When faced with Kraft or Cabot cheeses, Cabot, a dairy co-op in Vermont, is the better choice. Supporting family farms helps to keep food processing decisions out of the hands of corporate conglomeration.
If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business. Basics like coffee and bread make buying local difficult. Try a local coffee shop or bakery to keep your food dollar close to home.
If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Terroir, which means 'taste of the Earth'. Purchase foods famous for the region they are grown in and support the agriculture that produces your favorite non-local foods such as Brie cheese from Brie, France or parmesan cheese from Parma, Italy.