Thursday, December 27, 2012

And the Beet Goes In(to the Juicer): Beet-Carrot-Spinach Juice

When it comes to receiving Christmas gifts, I’m a little nontraditional. Diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, but who wants a best friend who’s prettier than you? Also, best friends can stab you in the back - and if they’re using a diamond, it’s going to hurt.

So David, who obviously knows me well, gifted me a juicer. It’s not just any juicer - it’s the Omega 8006 Nutrition Center Juicer. We named it Omar. Omar is easy to clean, which makes him far superior to the only other juicer any other juicer I’ve ever used.

Of course, I wanted to start “juicing” (that’s what the cool kids call it) immediately. I decided to switch our Plow to Porch delivery subscription to the “Juicing Box,” which includes more juicing-friendly produce and fewer random things like turnips and dragon fruit.

We received our delivery later that week, and it included an absurd amount of beets. I don’t have anything against beets, but I usually like to eat about one beet per sitting, maybe two if for some reason I have two beets on a plate in front of me. In this “Juicing Box,” we received three bunches of beets, with four beets to a bunch. Math is not my strong suit, but that is too many beets.

At this point, we had no choice but to start juicing every day, so none of the produce would go to waste. It became sort of a bonding ritual between me, David, and Omar. David would come home from the office to find me diligently scrapbooking writing my dissertation, and we would head to the kitchen to find Omar and make some juice. We came up with a bunch of different juice “recipes,” all of which included beets, of course.

I felt like Lil’ Wayne with all the beets I was dropping… into the juicer. One of my favorite recipes only involves three vegetables: carrots, beets (duh), and spinach. Here’s what I used:

6 carrots from Rancho Cortez in Santa Maria, CA (distance from me: 65 miles)
3 beets, including stalks (save the leafy greens for a later meal)
1 bunch spinach, also from Rancho Cortez

I started with the spinach, because Omar’s instruction booklet said he prefers it if you start with the softer objects (like spinach) and work up to the harder objects (like carrots). That seemed reasonable. But after most of the spinach had been juiced, here’s what I had:

A disappointing yield, I’m sure you’ll agree. But not to worry: greens always produce a paltry amount of juice, and that’s just as well, because spinach juice tastes all weird and bitter. That’s what the carrots and beets are for: to make you forget you’re consuming an entire bunch of spinach in two sips. After juicing all the carrots and beets as well, I had a container full of juice (on the right, closer to Omar) and a container of pulp (on the left):
It was enough to fill two mason jars: one for each of us. I was struck by how much the carrot-beet-spinach juice resembled blood, and I suspect David had the same thought, because his face looked a little funny as he raised his mason jar to clink with mine.
Vampire juice?
After taking a sip, David and I smiled at each other from across the kitchen table and immediately turned away in disgust: our teeth were coated with a sheen of the blood-red juice. A superstitious person might assume we were vampires who had, just this second, committed murder.

On the bright side, it tastes delicious. The bitter taste of the spinach is completely overwhelmed by the sweet beets and carrots (whose juice is as sweet as a fruit’s, surprisingly). The moral of the story is: drink this juice, but not before a hot date! Unless your date is into the whole vampire fad.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Square Soup (Squash + Pear Soup)

If you know me, you know that the only thing I like more than a good nap is a good portmanteau. And my penchant for portmanteaus extends beyond the obvious ones (“bromance,” “jorts,” “biopic,” etc.). For example, are you gay and also Asian? You’re gaysian. Did you accidentally fart when you sneezed? Gross, you just snarted.

Now, over the past few weeks, the delicata squash situation in my house had become, well, squawful. They just kept coming every week in my Plow to Porch box and I had run out of ideas of how to use them.

At first I tried to turn them into a whimsical centerpiece, but five squash standing in a line looks more awkward than attractive. It wasn’t even much of a conversation starter: “Hey, babe, what are we planning to do with all this squash?” “… Yeah, I don’t know. There are a lot of them, huh?” “Yeah.”

I figured the best way to use up too many of any vegetable is to make a soup. I wanted to make a soup with a bit of sweetness. Fortunately, as it turned out, I had also been compiling a surplus of pears. They were hidden in a drawer in my refrigerator, though, so their presence wasn’t as intrusive as that of the delicata squash.

I realized I could use up all my squash and three of my pears in one go by turning them into Squash Pear Soup. Square Soup.

My soup is only square in name, though: I thought serving it in a square bowl would just be redundant. Also I don’t own any square bowls.

Square Soup

Square soup in a round bowl
5 delicata squash from Jose Alcanta Garcia
3 Bartlett pears from Todd Ranch
1 tablespoon honey from San Marcos Farms
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup evaporated milk

First, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. While it was heating up, I got to work on the squares. I sliced each one down the middle and brushed it with a little bit of olive oil. Then I arranged the halves on cookie trays, like so:
I popped the trays in the oven for 30 minutes and killed time by deciding on a new, more attractive centerpiece (I went with a single pumpkin).

After 30 minutes, I poked the squash with a fork and it was tender, so I took the trays out of the oven. I let the squares cool down for about 10 minutes, then used a spoon to scoop the flesh (or whatever gross word you want to apply to the inside of a squash or pear) into a blender.

The blender was almost full, but there was room for one cup of chicken broth, which I added to help the mixture liquefy. When it was the consistency of food you could feed someone through a tube, I transferred it from the blender into a pot and added the rest of the chicken broth, the nutmeg, and the honey.

I brought it to a boil on the stove, then let it simmer for 10 minutes. A few minutes before I served it (to myself), I stirred in the evaporated milk and continued to let it simmer.

Finally, my square soup was ready! It tasted different than I expected it to – it was a little spicy from the nutmeg. But the 5:1 squash:pear ratio turned out to be pretty perfect in terms of balancing squashiness and sweetness. And this recipe made about 12 servings, so I’ll be having square soup in a round bowl with my dinner for another week!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Way the Kiwi Crumbles

One morning about a month ago, my otherwise-perfectly-pleasant breakfast was sabotaged by this devastating little video:

David played it for me – because he just loves me that much – and I immediately burst into tears. I continued crying for about ten minutes, my sobs interrupted only by unintelligible words along the lines of, “He just wanted to fly!”; “He put in all that work!”; and just, “Why? Why Kiwi?!”.

Since then, David has delighted in exacerbating any slight dip in my mood by Kiwi!-bombing me. He can use his phone to control what appears on the TV in our living room, so more than once I’ve been innocently reading a book on the couch, only to have my peaceful evening shattered by Kiwi! suddenly appearing on the TV.

It was becoming ridiculous. I needed to fix my negative word-association of “kiwi,” but I didn’t know how. Amazingly, an answer was delivered to my door on Tuesday.

In my Plow to Porch box this week, I got not just one kiwi, not just two kiwis, but a full pound and a half of kiwis. That’s freaking twelve kiwis. They’re from Mallard Lake Ranch in Nipomo, CA (distance from me: 70 miles), operated by Don and Jane Criswell, their son, Bob, his wife, and their two children. They bought the ranch in 1988 and use only sustainable farming practices.

Kiwis have always seemed kind of random to me, but as it turns out, they pack a ton of potassium, fiber, and double the vitamin C of oranges. The only thing to be done with a fruit this healthful, in my opinion, is to negate any nutritional value by adding butter and sugar. Duh.

Kiwi-Apple Crumble

The Fruit Mixture
2 fuji apples, skinned and chopped (from Cuyama Orchards in Cuyama Valley, distance from me: 60 miles)
4 kiwi, skinned and chopped (from Mallard Lake Ranch in Nipomo, CA, distance from me: 70 miles) 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

The Crumble
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 handfuls crumbled walnuts

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and began skinning and chopping up the apples and kiwis. I put the fruit in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat and added the brown sugar and cinnamon, slowly stirring it around until the apples were kind of soft. Then I added the vanilla extract and removed the pan from the heat.

While the fruit mixture was heating up, I made the crumble in a separate bowl by just mashing everything together with a fork until it stuck together in little clumps and was, well, crumbly.

Then I poured the crumbly mixture on top of the fruit mixture in a ceramic dish and popped the whole thing in the oven, easy peasy. After 20 minutes, I opened the oven to take a peek and it looked like this:

Erm… not crumbling the way I had hoped it would. So I reached in with a wooden spoon and kind of tooled around in there, 1950s-lobotomy-style, until it looked a bit more mixed up and a bit less dry. After another 10 minutes (30 minutes total), it looked like this:
Much better! I have to say, I crumbled the heck out of this crumble. Next time, I’ll use a bit less flour so it turns out a little more moist. I just wish I had some vanilla ice cream to put on top of it!

At least now when David decides to prank me by surprising me with the Kiwi! video, I can comfort myself by binge eating this delicious kiwi dessert. And the kiwi apple crumble isn’t going to throw itself off a cliff just to experience flying… for once in its life… because it only has those adorable stumpy wings… and it put in all that hard work to nail those trees to the side of the cliff… oh, Kiwi! Why?!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Butterface Butternut Squash Pie

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I have mixed childhood memories. I remember carefully making little place cards for every family member’s spot at the table, singing songs about the many things I was thankful for, and having terrifying nightmares for weeks about the electric saw my dad used to slice the turkey.

I was always under the impression that I was super helpful to my mom in the kitchen, but I now suspect that I invented those memories. That’s because I actually have no idea how to prepare any Thanksgiving dish. So if I was in the kitchen at all in years past, I must have been just standing there zoning out or something.

My utter lack of Thanksgiving-preparation knowledge started to worry me when it was decided that David and I would be in charge of pies and wine this year. Wine, no problem. Pies… problem.

My first thought was to just purchase the pies from Simply Pies here in Santa Barbara. Apparently, that was everyone else’s first thought, too, and they had their first thoughts first. Other than making a mental note to have more first thoughts first, there was nothing I could do.

Simply Pies uses only locally produced fruits and vegetables in their pies, and they purchase all their other ingredients (like eggs, milk, and flour) from local co-ops. Lucky for me, one of those local co-ops, the Isla Vista Food Co-op, sells Simply Pies vegan pie crusts. Starting out with a pre-made pie crust made the whole task considerably less daunting.

Butternut Squash Pie

1 medium butternut squash from Jose Alcantar Garcia in Oxnard (distance from me: 37 miles)
Vegan pie crust from Simply Pies
1 cup light brown sugar
3 brown eggs from Chino Valley Ranchers in Arcadia (distance from me: 106 miles)
¾ cup evaporated milk
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons non-bleached flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Anyone who knows me knows that I am terrified of butternut squash. The last time I tried to chop up a butternut squash, I ended up with squash and seeds all over the kitchen and Band-aids on at least two fingers.

So I did some research before attacking the squash this time, and it turns out that if you stick the squash in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes and then let it cool completely, the skin peels right off and it’s very easy to cut up:
The naked butternut squash
After roasting in the oven, the squash was really squashy (!). I put it in a mixing bowl with the brown sugar and beat it together by hand. All the recipes I found online suggested using a power mixer but I don’t own one. So I came to terms with the idea of having slightly chunky pie and went medieval on that squash with a fork.

So what if the pie wouldn’t look pretty? It would just be like one of those unfortunate girls with beautiful bodies but unattractive faces, whom immature guys sometimes call "Butterfaces" ("She's got a great body, but her face..."). To those guys, I always say that it's better to be a butterface than a jerkface. And this pie was certainly not a jerkface.

Having come to terms with the aesthetic shortcomings of my pie, I blended in all the other ingredients, like so:

I poured the lumpy mixture into the Simply Pies crust and popped it in the oven. I had some batter left over, so I decided to make mini, crust-less pies in a muffin tin:

I did retain one thing from helping my mom with pies as a little girl: after about a half hour, you need to pull out the pie and wrap the crust in a loose layer of aluminum foil, so it doesn’t burn. I managed to complete this task without burning myself, which I count as a small victory.

After another ten minutes (45 minutes total), I pulled the pie out of the oven to cool. I haven’t eaten the pie itself yet, of course, but the mini, crust-less pie-muffin things are totally gone. They were wonderful.

It ended up not mattering that the batter was slightly lumpy – the lumps went away in the oven, and the end result has a smooth, creamy texture and that delicious, autumnal butternut squash taste.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Meghan Apple Seed: Muffins

In my everyday life, I experience metaphorical seeds quite often. For instance, the reelection of the president on Tuesday --> sowed the seeds of hope in my heart. Sometimes I go around --> planting seeds of doubt in other people’s minds just to stir things up. But I rarely interact with literal seeds.

That changed when I discovered, a company that believes in the benefits of adding seeds to your diet. You can order seeds a la carte from their website, or join their Super Seed of the Month Club to have a new type of seed delivered to your door every month. Unfortunately, eat seed is based in North Carolina, thousands of miles away from me. So these seeds aren’t local, but they do offer a healthy supplement to local ingredients.

I ordered the Six Seed Super Blend, which includes pumpkin, sunflower, chia, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds. So many seeds. And so many health benefits! Just to name a few:

Pumpkin seeds can help fight depression, since they’re rich in tryptophan, which can increase serotonin levels. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E, which reduces the risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Chia seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and calcium. Sesame seeds are also high in calcium: half a cup of sesame seeds contains three times the calcium of half a cup of milk, so sesame seeds are great for your bones and teeth. Hemp seeds can reduce cholesterol levels and improve your skin. And, of course, flax seeds (or linseeds) keep you regular. Not “regular” in terms of your personality (that’s a lost cause), “regular” in terms of your poop. Brilliant.

Eat seed features a blog with recipe ideas, but I wanted to come up with one of my own. I started with the obvious: sprinkling the seeds on my oatmeal. It made breakfast look a little fancier, but whole seeds can be hard to digest.

I knew that to get the real benefits of the seeds, I’d have to grind them up and bake. That made me nervous, as baking always does: you have to follow the directions exactly or risk blowing up your oven. The stakes are so high!

I decided to use locally grown apples in the recipe to add sweetness and texture. And also because I really wanted to adopt the moniker Meghan Apple Seed, if only for the hour or so it took me to bake these muffins.

Meghan Apple Seed Muffins

Here’s what I used:
1 cup ground Six Seed Super blend
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 apple, chopped into small bits (from Fair Hills Farm in Topanga Canyon, distance from me: 74 miles)
½ cup raisins
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. Then I ground up the Six Seed Super Blend in my spice grinder until it became a powder, like this:

I mixed the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, apples, and raisins in with the ground seeds:
 Then I added the wet ingredients and mixed it all up, like so:
I plopped the mixture into a baking tin and popped it into the oven for about 18 minutes, until I could stick a fork into one of the muffins and it would come out dry. Ta-da!
The muffins were absolutely delicious. David and I snacked on them late-night style, then had them again for breakfast in the morning… and for lunch that day. They didn’t taste gross like some good-for-you muffins – instead, the apples, raisins, and brown sugar added sweetness to the healthful goodness of the Six Seed Super Blend.

This successful endeavor planted some seeds of change (!) regarding my fear of baking. But I’m just planting seeds left and right now, since I’m Meghan Apple Seed now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Roasted American "Feet" (Fennel+Beets)

On Tuesday, I skipped down my front walk to collect my Plow to Porch delivery box. Feeling a bit like a politically correct kid on ChristmaKwanzukkah, I peeled open the top of the cardboard… and was immediately hit in the face by a plume of fluffy, strongly scented greens.

Fennel! Yay…? I think I am not alone in my ambiguous feelings toward fennel. It’s hard not to be excited by something with such a distinctive flavor, but I’m not entirely sure I like that flavor. It’s the flavor of anise, also used in black licorice. I certainly don’t like black licorice, and I’ve only eaten anise as an antidote for bad gas for no reason at all.

Despite its questionable taste, fennel has texture going for it. Its texture is like celery. In fact, I’m going to go out on a crunchy, porous limb and say that fennel is like celery’s flamboyant cousin who causes general confusion at family dinners.

Just as much as a flamboyant cousin, every family dinner needs a terrifying albino neighbor. Lucky for me, my Plow to Porch box also included white beets. At first I wasn’t sure what these white beets even were, but then I received an email from Plow to Porch explaining that they hadn’t received their expected shipment of red beets, so they had delivered these creepy white beets instead.

I’m giving the white beets a hard time, but they are actually quite special. I found some websites that describe them as “novelty” beets – so, apparently, they’d be a perfect gift to bring to your next Yankee Swap – and they have the same nutritional value as regular beets but a milder flavor.

Since it is no longer October, I am no longer bound by my pledge to eat only locally produced foods. So for this recipe, I used apple cider vinegar that was pressed by Trader Joe’s somewhere far, far away and Dijon mustard, whose very name betrays its un-American origins.

To make up for the Dijon mustard’s anti-American background, I decided to add apples – everyone’s favorite American snack – to this recipe. In honor of the impending election, I give you Roasted American (because of the apples) Feet (because fennel + beet = feet).

Roasted American Feet

3 white “novelty” beets, skinned and cubed (from Rancho Cortez in Santa Maria, distance from me: 63.4 miles)
2 heads of fennel, sliced thickly (from The Garden Of… in Los Olivos, distance from me: 33.6 miles)
3 Fuji apples, cored, skinned, and chopped into cubes (from Fair Hills Farm in Topanga Canyon, distance from me: 74 miles)

The Feet Sauce
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp honey (from San Marcos Farms in Santa Ynez, distance from me: 30 miles)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. Then I had to skin the apples and beets and chop them up into cubes. This was kind of an excruciating task, but I put on the latest episode of The Walking Dead to watch while I did it. This kept me entertained and reminded me that the pain in the butt of skinning and chopping up vegetables is better than the pain of having your butt eaten by zombies.

The fennel heads were easier to deal with: I just sliced them into thick strips. I arranged the apples, beets, and fennel in baking dishes pretty haphazardly:
Then I mixed up the apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, honey, and mustard in a bowl and drizzled it on top. I put the baking dishes in the oven for 50 minutes, until the fennel was almost clear and the beets were tender.

While the dishes were in the oven, I grilled up the white beet greens, which were no more pallid than the greens of normal beets, in olive oil. Beet greens are full of vitamins K, A, and C and taste a lot like spinach when they’re grilled.

The finished product tasted yummy in a very autumnal way. The sweetness of apple balanced out the anise flavor of the “feet,” and the combination of textures worked well, too. It seems to me American zombies everywhere could learn a thing or two from this slightly sophisticated preparation of feet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oh, My Squash! It's Autumn!

A couple of weeks ago, I was on an epic bike ride (and by “epic” I mean about six miles on my neon pink beach cruiser), when I decided to stop into Plow to Porch Organics on upper State Street. I hadn’t been inside their store since using my Groupon a year and a half ago, so I nosed around all the displays.

As I rummaged through the freezer, trying to decide between flavors of Rori’s artisanal ice cream, I was approached by a friendly woman named Pam Plesons. She’s the owner of Plow to Porch, and she told me all about their home delivery program.

Within minutes, I was signing up for a weekly delivery of the “Small” sized box, which includes enough fresh produce from multiple farms in the area to feed two people for a week. They also offer “Family” sized boxes, if you live in a bigger household, and “Bambino” sized boxes, if you are an Italian baby.

Regular old Community Share Agriculture (CSA) programs offer only whatever that one farm happens to grow, whereas Plow to Porch offers a mixture of fruits, vegetables, and herbs from a variety of farms. You can also sign up online for “extras” like cheese, nuts, meat, fish, etc. on a week-to-week basis.

Yesterday, I received my second weekly box, right outside my front door:

There are very few ways in which Santa Barbara indicates the autumn season. The grape harvest and subsequent wine binging tasting is the most fun way, and the appearance of all different kinds of squash is the most delicious. So I was psyched to see four delicata squash in my Plow to Porch box.

Delicata squash is right up my alley when it comes to cooking preparation, since it’s easier to cut than most other squash and you don’t have to skin it before you cook it. After more than one traumatizing experience chasing a stubborn butternut squash around the kitchen with a carving knife, slicing up delicata squash was a piece of pumpkin pie.

Delicata Squash with Sage
The ingredients
Here’s what I used:
2 delicata squash from Jose Alcantara Garcia in Oxnard, CA (distance from me: 37 miles)
1 bunch sage from Earthtrine Farm in Ojai (distance from me: 33 miles)

(I would have liked to use butter, but I had rubbed the last of it all over my knee after walking into a piece of furniture. I read online that butter stops bruises from forming. For the record, it did not work, and now I just have a greasy, bruised knee.)

Unfortunately butterless, I figured I could always add some olive oil if the squash turned out too dry. First, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. I cut the squash down the middle and scraped out the seeds so they looked like this:

Then I sliced them into little half-circles and arranged them in a baking dish. I chopped up the bunch of sage into very fine bits and sprinkled them over the top of the squash. I baked it for 45 minutes.

I don’t cook with sage very often, so I was glad for a reason to try it. I’ve always thought sage tastes and smells like a musty old museum – the kind with taxidermied mammals in glass cases. I still think it tastes musty, but combined with the flavorful squash, it was more of a comforting must, like a nice old lady’s sweater drawer.

I sautéed some spinach from Rancho Cortez in Santa Maria (distance from me: 64 miles) as a side. The whole meal was delicious. I’m inclined to think butter was completely unnecessary, since the squash itself had a buttery texture and flavor.

I know what I’m rubbing on my knee the next time I accidentally walk into the coffee table.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sugar and Salt and Everything Nice

I scream, you scream, we all scream when we realize just how many calories we’re shoveling into our mouths with every spoonful of ice cream. Given how delicious it is, it seems supremely unfair that just one half cup of ice cream – and who eats just one half cup, ever? – has about 20% of the total calories most women need in a day… and 100% of the fat.

(I am so sorry if you’re reading this post while enjoying an entire pint exactly one half cup of ice cream. Please forgive me for ruining it and continue reading.)

Lots of foods have lots of calories and lots of us just do our best to avoid those foods. Ice cream, though, is particularly difficult to resist because it makes you feel so goddamn nostalgic. If you can watch the ice cream truck turning the corner – covered in half-peeled-off stickers of multi-colored popsicles, its incessant chiming music made slightly creepy by the Doppler effect – and not experience the urge to chase after it on your bike with a dollar crumpled up in your fist, well, I would argue that you had no childhood.

I did have a childhood and I sure took advantage of it: on more than one occasion, my siblings and I didn’t make it to the ice cream truck in time and whined until our dad agreed to chase it down in our family minivan. (I am not making that up... so yeah, thanks, Dad.)

So when I saw what appeared to be a particularly classy ice cream truck at the SOL Food Festival here in Santa Barbara, I headed straight for it, my childlike excitement only slightly dampened by a certain amount of calorie-guilt-preparation.

That nagging guilt dissipated, though, when I realized that this wasn’t an ice cream truck after all; it was a refurbished 1966 mail truck, offering ice cream’s hippie health-nut cousin: locally sourced, non-dairy sorbet!
John with the Sugar and Salt Creamery truck.
I chatted to John, the founder and co-operator of Sugar and Salt Creamery, who was standing near an adorable sandwich-chalkboard (chalk-sandwich board?) advertising the day’s flavors:
John told me that all the sorbet is made with locally sprouted, homemade almond milk and produced in downtown Santa Barbara. For the SOL Food Festival, he had used almonds from Fat Uncle Farms in Wasco, CA (distance from me: 150 miles) and fruit from Shepherd Farms, which has land in Carpinteria (distance from me: 11 miles) and Santa Ynez (distance from me: 30 miles).

The Sugar and Salt Creamery truck parks at local events like the Art Walk on Sundays and the Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as well as at Butterfly Beach on Fridays. They’re also expanding their business to local retailers like the Isla Vista Coop, in case you’re not in the mood to hop in your minivan and chase them down.

I ordered the raspberry flavor and was handed a small serving which, if I had to guess, was probably just one half cup:
So good! Almond milk and raspberry sorbet.

If this looks like a very tiny serving of sorbet, believe me: it looked the same in person. But amazingly, it was enough. And this is coming from a girl who once finished an entire pint of Chunky Monkey while sitting cross-legged on the floor and watching America’s Next Top Model (the irony was not lost on me).

The combination of almond milk and fresh fruit made the Sugar and Salt sorbet really special and satisfying, rather than just a less-filling stand-in for ice cream. It was sweet and nutty at the same time, and the texture was creamy but not too heavy. Bonus points for the baby spoon hidden in the bottom of the lid.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Eat Local Challenge 2012

I've gloated about this many times, but just for the record (in case you're keeping one): I'm lucky enough to live in Santa Barbara, where it is particularly easy to eat locally grown and produced foods. It's the reason an otherwise lazy person like me can dedicate an entire blog to my adventures eating local foods and reviewing restaurants and other establishments that use local ingredients.

But sometimes it's just easier to heat up a can of soup or pick up a packaged meal at an inexpensive market. I've been in the process of moving into a new place over the past couple of weeks, so the time I can dedicate to planning local shopping trips and preparing meals using local ingredients has been more limited than usual.

Recently, I read about a project that is just the inspiration I need to get back on the proverbial track. Edible Santa Barbara, my favorite publication ever in the history of time, is sponsoring its 4th annual Eat Local Challenge in conjunction with the Community Environmental Council and the Santa Barbara Farmers Market.

Santa Barbarians (who are generally not as barbaric as they sound) are encouraged to pledge to eat only locally grown and produced food for the month of October. They can set their own limits: "local" can refer to only Santa Barbara proper, or the tri-county area, or all of the state of California. Exceptions can be made for coffee, tea, and other addictions products that are not grown locally.

Although I already make a point of eating a local diet, there are certain products I consume on a near-daily basis that originated in the far-flung corners of the world. Here are a few of those products and how I plan to address them this month:

Coffee: Ugh. No, really, "ugh" is all I can physically bring myself to say on days when I haven't had my coffee. Teaching can be awkward, as can responding to sensitive questions like, "What do you think of my new outfit?" Ugh. Since coffee isn't grown in California, and since giving it up would mean wearing a month-long scowl and alienating my friends and colleagues with glares and half-articulated grunts, I thought I'd have to make an exception. But I recently learned that Goodland Organics is experimenting with growing coffee right in Goleta, California, and selling it at the Tuesday farmers market! I can't wait to pick some up.

Milk: There is no dairy in Santa Barbara county, but Lazy Acres carries milk from dairies in the nearby area. I am also a fan of Organic Pastures raw milk, which is sold at the Saturday farmers market. Don't cry over raw milk, that's what I always say.

Bread: I love the artisan rolls from Solvang Pie Company, and as it turns out, they're made from wheat grown in the Santa Ynez valley. Perfect.

Quinoa: This part breaks my quinoa-lovin' heart. Quinoa won't grow in California, since the climate won't support it. That means I'll just have to eat a lot more legumes. I'm going to try supplementing my veggies with pasta made from locally grown wheat from Solvang Pie Company.

So there you have it: my eating local plan for the month of October. Make your own plan and share it! You can join the Facebook group and RSVP to the Facebook event for moral support. The Google group is also a great resource for ideas about where to find local versions of your favorite foods. Check out this Source Guide for a list of establishments that are on-board the local train.

If, like me, you derive your self-worth some occasional pleasure from tweeting, use #EatLocalSB, @EdibleSB and @CECSB as you track your progress.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dream the Hydroponic Scene: Beylik Family Farms in Fillmore, CA

Until a few days ago, the only people I’d heard use the word “hydroponics” were saying it while rolling a joint. They were probably listening to 311 and wearing flip-flops held together with duct-tape, too - I can’t remember.

But at the Saturday farmers market, I heard the word “hydroponics” come out of the mouth of a clean-cut, probably-not-stoned young girl working at the Beylik Family Farms stand. She was selling me Japanese tomatoes (which are particularly sweet and low in acidity) for $3.50/pound and explaining to me why the word “organic” didn’t appear on the stand’s signage.

She told me that Beylik Family Farms near Fillmore, California (distance from me: 62 miles) has been growing mostly tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers hydroponically since 1971. “Hydroponic” plants are grown indoors without soil, using only a nutrient solution.

I recently spoke with Laura Beylik, who lives and work on the farm with her husband, Scott. Laura sells their products at markets with a team of six, while her husband avoids the market “like the plague,” preferring to stay on the farm where he works with eight employees. Scott inherited the farm from his father, who retired about five years ago, and his grandfather, who passed away about ten years ago. It comprises two properties: Scott and Laura live on close to 15 acres, while his parents live right across the street on 6.5 acres.

Laura explained that the farm is semi-hydroponic, since their greenhouses use natural light and true hydroponic farms use only artificial light. The Beyliks also use coconut husks and Grodan Rockwool as a “medium” to support the plants’ root systems and hold moisture.

Contrary to my first assumption, “Rockwool” is not the fluffy result of shearing your pet rock. Rather, it’s a man-made mineral fiber made by melting basaltic rock and then spinning it into a fibrous material. The highest quality Rockwool is produced from diabase (pure basaltic rock) and has a mineral balance completely inert and nonreactive with nutrient solutions.
Hydroponic tomatoes on the vine at Beylik Family Farms (photo:

Apparently, the hydroponic and organic growing communities have been embroiled in a bit of a feud for the past fifty years or so. Organic growers care about improving the biological health of the soil by minimizing degradation and erosion, while hydroponic growers cut the soil out of the process all together.

For many of us, the word “organic” has become kind of a synonym for “good for the environment.” And organically grown food certainly is better for the environment than conventionally grown food, despite recent research on its arguable health benefits.

But it’s not the only environmentally friendly way to grow food. Hydroponic plants have smaller root systems so they take up less room than soil-grown plants, and they’re not plagued by weeds or soil-borne diseases. Plants are able to access nutrients as they need them, and no water is lost in the process. I’m glad I learned a little more about hydroponic food so I can expand my local diet. 

And in my opinion, these Japanese tomatoes taste just as good as their organic counterparts. I have been eating one of them while I write this post, simultaneously blasting “Hydroponic” by 311 on loop, just to get in the mood. Don’t worry - I made sure to save one of the tomatoes to use in self-defense against my neighbors, who have got to be getting tired of this song.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Restaurant Review: Seagrass

Recently, my boyfriend David turned twenty-seven years old. I decided to give him exactly what I would have wanted if I were trying to celebrate a milestone on the road to becoming old and decrepit: a scavenger hunt! Nobody loves scavenger hunts more than I do… including David.

I should remind you that birthdays are kind of a big deal in my family. So you can imagine my horror when David told me that all he wanted for his birthday was to relax and play violent, war-themed video games in his boxer shorts. Obviously, this man had no idea what having a birthday even meant. Lucky for him, he’s dating someone who does.

So I went about crafting intricate clues to go along with little gifts for him to discover throughout the day, painstakingly handwriting each clue in impeccable calligraphy. As I worked long into the night, I thought about how lucky David was that I knew what a real birthday entailed. He was going to have such fun.

When the day arrived, I enlisted the help of his good friend and colleague to help distract David (who, hilariously, believed I had canceled our lunch date for no good reason) as I tiptoed around planting clues, feeling clever. The scavenger hunt went off without a hitch until the last clue, which I handed to him while we were having pre-dinner drinks at a bar downtown:
Dinner’s on me!
For the first time, let’s try
The ocean
Something you’d smoke to get high
The answer was, of course, Seagrass. This “sustainable, organic, and local” restaurant is owned by the Perez family, all of whom participate in its operation. Chef Robert Perez’s older son, Ruben Richard, is the wine director; Robert’s wife, Marianna, manages the aesthetics of the space; and their younger son Ruben’s life partner, Erin Gailsdaughter, also works at the restaurant.
The Perez-Gailsdaughter family; Richard not pictured
A member of the Ty Warner Sea Center’s Sustainable Seafood Program, Seagrass acquires all its local fish and shellfish from Kanaloa Seafood and Santa Barbara Fish Market. Most of their produce comes from bi-weekly shopping trips to the farmers market.

They had recently offered a Groupon deal for their dinner tasting menu, and of course I’d jumped on that deal quicker than you can say, “The ocean + Something you’d smoke to get high.” And that brings me back to the clue… which was going nowhere, slowly.

“Sea… weed?!” David guessed for the hundredth time, furrowing his brow. “Atlantic… crack? No. Pacific meth!” Our bartender chuckled and rolled her eyes. I didn’t know whether to chuckle or to be concerned that David had such an extensive mental list of things you could smoke to get high.

I guess nobody uses the word “grass” anymore. But after much coaxing, I finally got David to say the words, “Sea… grass?! Seagrass. Oh, Seagrass!” and we were on our way.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the restaurant was how dark it was inside; heavy maroon drapes kept out any of the night’s remaining natural light and the interior lighting was decidedly dim. The understated décor was punctuated by large seashell fixtures and little green specks of light projected onto the ceiling, perhaps meant to represent moonlight filtered through ocean water or the light at the end of a dock.

But if I stared at the green lights for too long, I found myself longing for dreams just beyond my grasp, all Gatsby-like, so I focused on the delicious food instead.

The tasting menu included two options for each course, so we tried both and shared them. The abyss of darkness in which we were dining made photographing the dishes in a flattering way quite impossible. Using the flash resulting in something horrible like this:
The lighting does not flatter this smoked salmon dish.
So you’ll just have to take my word for it that these dishes looked as good as they sound. To start, I got the little gem salad with blue cheese, bacon, and cherry tomatoes. “Little gem,” also called “sucrine,” tastes like a combination of Butter and Romaine lettuce. It is flavorful as far as lettuces go, which is admittedly not very far. David got the smoked Scottish salmon with greens, emulsified olive oil, and capers, pictured unflatteringly above.

For the main course, I got the pan-seared, oven-baked sea bass on roasted eggplant with a possibly magical veal reduction. David’s maple duck was also pan-seared and oven-baked, served with summer vegetables.

The tasting menu included dessert (phew!), and I gobbled up my chocolate mousse with salted caramel and Chantilly cream almost as fast as David devoured his toasted vanilla bean ice cream. Yes, toasted ice cream, the classy older cousin of the deep-fried ice cream you always see on menus at Japanese restaurants but are too afraid to order.

The whole meal was beyond satisfying. With every course, we had one of those moments in which you shove a forkful of your food at your dining partner, repeating over and over, “You just have to try this!” And try it we did.

I was happy to have demonstrated to David how joyful birthdays can be. David was happy to have made it to the end of his incredibly exhausting fun scavenger hunt. Seagrass was a huge success, and we’ll be back – during the day, though, so as not to be lured by those beckoning green lights.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lemon Cucumber Caprese Salad: Size Doesn't Matter

The farmers market is always a place of discovery for me. Vegetables I’ve never seen before, mutant fruit, a curmudgeonly lady playing the didgeridoo – anything you can think of, I’ve encountered it at the Santa Barbara farmers market. Well, not anything you can think of. Be reasonable.

My newest discovery came before a dinner date with my friend Sasha. We were perusing the market for ingredients to make a tasty meal when we found what looked like a cross between a summer squash and a pumpkin.
Lemon cucumbers at the Milliken Farm stand
Turns out, these little nuggets are neither of the above: they’re cucumbers! Lemon cucumbers, to be exact. Despite what their name suggests, lemon cucumbers are not the creation of a mad scientist who wondered what would happen if a lemon and a cucumber had a mutant baby. They’re just stout, yellow cucumbers that are kind of shaped like a lemon and grow during the summer.

Lemon cucumbers have a sweeter flavor than regular cucumbers, but have the same crisp texture. They’re also called apple cucumbers, since some people apparently have trouble distinguishing between lemons and apples.

The Milliken Farm stand was selling them for $2.50 a pound, so I bought a few. I’ve been feeling kind of anti-traditional-salad lately, but I couldn’t think of another way to use these midget cukes in a meal.

Then I saw the fresh mozzarella at the Spring Hill Jersey Cheese stand. They only had one package of it left, so I snatched it up quicker than you can say “mozzarella-ella-ella-ey-ey-ey.” I was going Caprese style on these cukes.

Caprese salad is usually just sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil drizzled with balsamic dressing and olive oil. It’s a refreshing, filling twist on a traditional salad and I basically subsist on it whenever I’m pretending to be in Italy.

So Sasha and I trekked home from the market and got to work slicing up fresh heirloom tomatoes, the Spring Hill mozzarella cheese, and the Lilliputian cucumbers:
The fresh ingredients
I layered the slices with basil from my mason jar herb garden and drizzled some balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top:
Yum! The cucumbers added a crunchy texture to the traditional Caprese salad. The difference in flavor from regular old cucumbers was just barely noticeable. So when it comes to cucumbers, does size matter? It depends on what you’re going to do with that cucumber.

I am assuming you’re going to put it in a salad, so the answer is nope! Size doesn’t matter. These pocket-sized little guys do the job just as well as their more common green cousins.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Meghan Gets Crafty: Mason Jar Herb Garden

Since moving into a new downtown apartment I can barely afford on my graduate-student salary, I’ve become quite crafty. And I don’t mean crafty like sly, manipulative, getting-what-I-want-when-I-want-it. I mean crafty like I’m too poor to buy new clothes so I make them myself out of old curtains.

Well, I would, if I could sew. Since I’m not Maria von Trapp (much to my constant chagrin), I have to stick to more manageable crafts.

For example, I like to think that my sad excuse for a kitchen presents a great opportunity for craftiness. Some people might look at my kitchen and laugh at the idea that it could even be called a kitchen. It’s more of a corner of my living room, designated by its unfortunate 1970s-era linoleum, a 3/4-size refrigerator that is barely large enough to fit a carton of eggs and a half-gallon of milk at the same time, and one row of cabinets above the stove. I like to call it a nook, since I think that word connotes coziness rather than destitution.

Since there is not enough space for all my food in my kitchen nook, I store some things in mason jars with cute little chalkboard labels, displayed on a bookcase. That way, I can pretend to myself that I actually prefer the lack of cabinet space – otherwise, there would be no reason for chalkboard labels and no one would know where I kept my quinoa.

My boyfriend David is generally a bit skeptical of my crafting ways. He’s seen the show Hoarders, and he worries that “Don’t throw out that old pair of jeans – I could turn it into a purse!” might lead to, “Don’t throw out that old diaper! I could add it to my growing pile of health-code violations!” somewhere down the road. Frankly, it’s not a completely irrational concern.

But in a recent bout of supportive craftiness, he surprised me with an afternoon project. It doesn’t get much more local than herbs grown in your own backyard, so David purchased the supplies to make a backyard herb garden. Since most of the ground space in my backyard is dominated by cacti and other local succulent plants, and since I have a love for mason jars that defies reason, my herbs would live adorably in hanging mason jars on my back porch.

First things first: wine.
Mason jars and wine! My two favorite inanimate things. One day, I will drink wine out of a mason jar and my life will be complete. Don’t worry, I’ll blog about it.

After the wine was poured, we got started on the hanging herb garden. Here’s what we used:

Two slabs of wood
Chalkboard pain
8 adjustable round brackets
Gold leaf paint
8 mason jars
Various screws
A power drill

First, we used a ruler to divide the slabs of wood into four equal parts. I measured a one-inch section at the bottom of each the four parts and painted it with chalkboard paint; that would be the label for each herb:
Then I used the gold leaf paint on the brackets for no reason other than that it looked pretty:
While I painted, David pulled a Tim The-Tool-Man Taylor and used the power drill to attach the brackets to the wood slabs. He attached the bottom three at an angle, so the herbs could grow diagonally upward without hitting the bottom of the next mason jar.
Once the brackets were attached, the mason jars could slide right in. We put the herbs in the mason jars before attaching them to the wood slabs: rosemary, thyme, cilantro, basil, parsley, and mint.
There were eight mason jars and only six herbs, so we put flowers in the top-most mason jars. I used colored chalk to label the herbs and voila! An adorable herb garden hanging right on my porch:
Unfortunately, like most beautiful things, this hanging herb garden is quite impractical. A quick online search about how to care for these herbs revealed to me that there are three things most herbs need: sunlight, water, and drainage.

Two out of three ain’t bad, right? No. Wrong. They get plenty of sunlight on my porch and I make sure to water them often. The problem is that mason jars don’t drain. So all these herbs will surely die, unless I replace the mason jars with more practical pots.

But what will I do with all those mason jars? I’m thinking something crafty like lanterns with tea lights… or utensil holders… or individual Barbie jacuzzi tubs… the possibilities are endless.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Honey, Honey, How You Thrill Me

If you know me, you know I like to sing. Heck, even if you don’t know me, you probably know I like to sing. Especially if you happen to live in my apartment complex, in which case you might know me as “that girl who sings I Have Confidence in Sunshine on her way back from the laundry room, swinging around a jug of detergent as if it’s a guitar case and trying to master the jump-and-heel-click move. That girl.”

Sometimes people even pay me to sing. So in order to keep those people happy (as well as my sleepless and resentful friendly and adoring apartment complex neighbors), I drink a lot of tea and honey to soothe my throat. Every singer has a different remedy for a sore throat (including cortisone shots to the jugular – I kid you not), but mine has always been chamomile tea sweetened with a tablespoon of honey.

Obviously, when I switched to a vegan diet a year and a half ago, I had to kick my honey habit. But now that I’ve reintroduced animal products into my diet, I’m back on the good stuff.

My honey provider of choice is San Marcos Farms, with locations in Santa Ynez (distance from me: 30 miles), Ojai (distance from me: 33 miles), and Santa Barbara. Owners Dan and Anne Cole were some of the first farmers to participate in local farmers markets in the 1980s. Now they sell honey and honey products at markets all over the Santa Barbara area and in local grocery stores.

My favorite variety is sage honey from Santa Ynez. I’ve even been substituting it for sugar in my coffee; it’s delicious. San Marcos Farms also produces orange blossom honey in Ojai and avocado and wildflower honey here in Santa Barbara.

The Coles make sure their bees have all the honey and pollen they need, extracting only the excess honey during the harvest. Compared to commercial honey, which is shipped to industrial honey packers in 650-pound barrels, this local stuff tastes incredible.
Sage honey in my coffee.
But their bees, like many, are victims of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). CCD might be the result of mite infestations, viral and bacterial diseases, and/or new systemic pesticides. It’s bad news not just for bees and beekeepers, but for farmers who depend on honey bees to pollinate their fruits and vegetables.

The only way I can think of to fight CCD from my end is to keep supporting San Marcos Farms and other local honey producers, so they have the funds to keep their bees alive and healthy.

Meanwhile, I’ll be going all Winnie-the-Pooh-style on my sage honey, stuffing my mouth, nose, and chin into the biggest jar I can get my hands on and gulping it down.

Unfortunately, it’s a little tricky to sing in that position.

But don’t worry, neighbors! Once I emerge, I will don my light-blue, impossibly unflattering spandex jumpsuit and serenade you with my favorite honey-themed song and the inspiration for the title of this post: