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.