Monday, April 22, 2013

Santa Rhubarbara Strawberry Jam

Last week at the farmers market, I came across the stand of Nancy Bertelsen. She grows rhubarb, among other tasty things, in her 1.5-acre backyard, and sells it with a smile for $3 a bunch:

I have to admit that I was disappointed that Nancy's name was not Barbara, since I would have loved to nickname her Rhubarbara. Luckily, I live in Santa Barbara, so I can make that pun with any rhubarb recipe I come up with, anyway.

I could have snacked on the rhubarb raw, or added it to green juice for a sweet kick. But I decided to make my first encounter with rhubarb coincide with another first: my first attempt at jam making.

Before I went about trying to make jam, I picked up a pint of strawberries from Chuy at Chuy's Berries for only $2.50 - the best price at the market! I wasn't sure if I was going to like the taste of the rhubarb, and I figured that pretty much anything tastes great if you mix it with strawberries.

Now, the stock of special, fancy ingredients in my pantry is admittedly paltry. But there is one ingredient in most jams that you probably wouldn't find in even the most impressively stocked kitchen cabinet: pectin.

What is pectin, you ask? I don't know, but it doesn't matter. Because pectin, shmectin! This is a recipe for some pectin-less jam!

Santa Rhubarbara and Strawberry Jam


1 pint of strawberries, diced, from Chuy's Berries in Arroyo Grande, CA (distance from me: 79 miles)
6 stalks of rhubarb, diced, from Nancy Bertelsen's backyard in Santa Barbara
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

First, I chopped up the strawberries and rhubarb. You know that trick your elementary school art teacher taught you to do with white carnations, where you put food coloring in the water and the flowers drink it up and change color? Well, rhubarb looks like somebody did that with red food coloring and a stalk of celery:
Diced rhubarb.
Then I put the diced strawberries and rhubarb in a big sauce pot with the sugar, lemon juice, and orange juice.

I had squeezed the juice myself from organic lemons I'd purchased at Trader Joe's (they're not in season around here right now) and organic oranges from various farm stands at the market (I go kind of nuts with oranges each week). My little electric citrus juicer is no Omega 8006, but it gets the job done and I find the process quite therapeutic, honestly.

I covered the pot with all the ingredients in it and cooked them on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolved. Then I turned the heat down to low and let the mixture simmer for 15-minute intervals, stirring it and checking its consistency in between.

In total, I ended up letting it simmer for about an hour. It was still more liquid than I would like jam to be, but I didn't want to risk burning the fruit, and also I was getting bored with the whole project.

So I poured it into two mason jars and put them in the freezer. The next day, I took one out to thaw - in about an hour, I had myself some tasty jam!
It tastes sweeter than a strawberry, with a distinct hint of orange. The texture of the rhubarb is not celery-like at all anymore, thank goodness. It is mushy enough to spread, and just as lumpy as you'd want jam to be. Yum!

Now that I know it can be so easy to make, I don't think I'll ever buy another container of jam. I have another big mason jar of it waiting in the freezer, to keep around until rhubarbs go out of season! And after that, I'll have to settle for making jams with less punny names. Like blueberry jam. Meh.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Favorite Things: Olive-Oil-Wine-Cake with Strawberries on Top

Let it be known that I'm kind of obsessed with Edible Santa Barbara. I always check the ATM stand at the farmers market to see if there's a new issue out that I can snag for free, and recently I was delighted to discover the new "Bread and Wine Issue." It included a whole bunch of inspired recipes, as usual, but I was intrigued by one in particular: wine cake, of course.
Olive-Oil-Wine-Cake with Strawberry-Pinot-Noir topping!

In addition to wine, the other main ingredient this cake recipe called for was olive oil. A whole lot of olive oil, since it was taking the place of butter in the recipe. Brown paper packages tied up with strings are okay, I guess, but wine, cake, and olive oil? These are a few of my favorite things!

For the olive oil, I headed straight to Il Fustino, one of Santa Barbara's best olive oil makers and vendors. The shop looks clean and inviting inside; the walls are lined with stainless steel containers of olive oils and balsamic vinegars, as well as all kinds of snacks and seasonings from local merchants. Each tank had a recipe suggestion for that type of olive oil for customers to take home!

"Il Fustino" means "The Tank" in Italian. Looks like this place got named during a game of I Spy (or "Io vedo," if you will).

I chatted with James Kirkley, whose dad, Jim, founded Il Fustino after working in the software industry for years. James's mom, Laura, does all the marketing for Il Fustino. James told me that all of their oils are grown in California and are certified to be Extra Virgin by the California Olive Oil Council.

Don't ask me what the Extra Virgin certification process entails, but I have to assume you sign up for it at Comic-Con.

I tasted a few of the oils right from the tank before settling on Olio Nuovo (which just means "new oil"), freshly pressed from the new Arbequina olive crop and unfiltered. It had a green tinge, smelled like newly cut grass, and tasted kind of peppery. James told me the peppery flavor was due to the polyphenols (antioxidants that reduce the risks of cancer and heart disease). This stuff was strong, but I figured if I was going to use olive oil in my cake, I wanted to taste it in the finished product.

Now it was time for the "wine" part of the wine cake operation. Unfortunately, I don't know of any local winemakers who produce Moscato, which the recipe called for, so I did the next best thing and purchased some at The Winehound, my favorite local wine shop. I told Bob, the least snobby wine connoisseur I've ever met, of my wine cake aspirations and he helped me pick out a good, inexpensive Moscato.

I also needed to buy some Pinot Noir for the strawberry topping, so I tried something new: "moobuzz" Pinot Noir by The Other Guys, Inc. in Monterery, CA (distance from me: 237 miles). "Moobuzz" is a cute reference to "The Land of Milk and Honey" - get it? Milk comes from cows, which go "moo," and honey comes from bees, which go "buzz!" How could I not buy this delightfully punny wine?

Here's the recipe, courtesy of Edible Santa Barbara, with my own twist:

Wine Cake

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup unbleached organic cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup dessert wine (I used Moscato)

For the glaze:
3 tablespoons Moscato
1/2 cup organic powdered sugar

For the topping:
1 pint strawberries
1 cup Pinot Noir
1/8 cup unbleached granulated sugar

First, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. The directions said to lightly butter a 9- by 5-inch metal loaf pan and line the bottom and two longer sides with parchment paper. Well, there was about a 0% chance that I was in possession of any parchment paper, but luckily I had some really thin, paper crafty bags left over from my over-the-top Valentine's Day crafts-travaganza. I cut one along the edges and figured it made an okay substitute:

I combined the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and put it aside. Then I was supposed to beat the eggs and sugar in a stand mixer, but since I don't just have a stand mixer lying around, I got a real arm workout in here. After I beat the eggs and sugar together, it was time to add the vanilla extract and olive oil (still mixing ferociously for about 5 minutes).

Before you judge me for not having a stand mixer, remember that I haven't had any weddings, so I don't have any of the standard wedding-gift-kitchen appliances like stand mixers, fondu sets, matching silverware, etc.

Then I got to open the Moscato - pop! - and I poured it into the bowl, alternating it with adding the dry ingredients little by little (still beating the crap out of the mixture by hand). I grumbled to David that we should get married soon for the sole purpose of acquiring a stand mixer. He laughed... and then ran away.
The wet ingredients with some bubbly Moscato!
While the cake baked, I got to work making the strawberry/wine topping! Yes, more wine. This one was simple: I just cut the strawberries in half and mixed them up in a bowl with the sugar, then poured the Pinot Noir over them.

Instead of a cork, this bottle had a "zork" - a delightful portmanteau of "zipper" and "cork" - that peels off and then pops out like a cork. My mind was blown.
The moobuzz zork!
I let the strawberries chill out in the wine (or "macerate," as you might call it if you were classy) while the cake finished baking. Meanwhile, I mixed together the Moscato/powdered sugar glaze in a small bowl.

After 50 minutes, the wine cake was done! I took it out of the oven and poured the glaze on top immediately, so it soaked right into the still-warm cake:
Hooray! The craft paper didn't catch on fire!
After letting it cool for about ten minutes, I sliced it up and spooned the strawberry topping over it. It was so moist and delicious! The wine soaked into the cake, which I loved, but it was too much for David. He preferred his wine cake without the extra wine on top.

Pshaw. I'll take my wine cake with wine on top and a glass of wine, please! The next evening, I took the rest of the cake over to my friend Jasmine's house and we finished it off while drinking more wine (obviously) and watching Magic Mike. Then I made up this song:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm, woolen mittens,
Olive oil, wine cake, and a glass of more wine...
Channing Tatum. Boom.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Too Dirty to Cleanse?

Pressed Juicery, an LA-based company with locations all around southern and northern California, just opened their newest counter, tucked away in the back of a strip mall on Coast Village Road in Montecito. The ingredients are local to southern California, but since their only kitchen is in LA, that’s where the juices are prepared each day before being driven up to the other locations.

Now, it’s no secret that I don’t buy into the idea of cleansing, unless it’s a peanut-butter-toast-and-cereal cleanse. That I feel confident I could pull off. But when I stopped by their newest location to check it out, I saw a chalk sandwich board out front announcing their Grand Opening Special: $39/day.

As much as I hate the idea of a cleanse, I love the idea of a bargain (let alone a bargain advertised on a chalk sandwich board), so I was in.

Holly and Jeremy, who were working the counter, were quite energetic, informative, and helpful. They offer three options for cleanses; I chose Option #1, for people who are new to cleansing, since it is apparently the easiest plan to stick to. Holly helped me plan my cleanse using an adorable little chart that laid out all my options.

They offer seven “green” juices, four “root” juices, four “citrus” juices, and three “almond” juices. I got my choice of six juices, which I was to drink in this order: green, root, green, citrus, root, almond. In addition, I got a bottle of Chloropyll H20 to drink throughout the day and a bottle of Aloe Vera H20 to drink before bed for digestion.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little pumped to get started on this cleanse. I like making plans, and the idea of having a neat little formula for my day’s consumption was appealing to my brain (if not my stomach). Plus, the juices were colorful and looked pretty all lined up:

Holly even wrote numbers on their caps so I would remember the order!
Yesterday morning, I woke up slightly apprehensive but ready to begin my cleanse.

8:30am: First Green: Kale, spinach, romaine, parsley, cucumber, celery, apple, and lemon.
I drank this for “breakfast” over the course of an hour as I went through my normal morning routine. David had a protein shake for breakfast so I didn’t feel left out, and neither of us had coffee. The “Green 2,” as it’s called, was pretty sweet and tasty. Pressed Juicery uses the same trick I always pull to make my green juice palatable: toss an apple in there and hope for the best.
10:30am: First Root: Kale, spinach, romaine, parsley, cucumber, celery, beet, and carrot.
I drank my “Root 1” juice as a mid-morning snack, beginning in the car on the way to campus and continuing to sip it throughout lecture. Without my usual grains for breakfast, my body was starting to feel a bit strange. I was doing a lot of those inner burp things, which I have onomatopoetically dubbed “zongs.”
12:30pm: Second Green: Spinach, romaine, fennel, orange, pineapple, cilantro.
I guess this was lunch. I drank it on the drive home from campus and didn’t feel guilty about my lifestyle/disregard for safety the way I would have if I were eating a solid meal in the car.
The pineapple and orange in the “Green 5” made it noticeably sweeter than the green juice I had had for breakfast. After finishing it off, I felt tempted to eat some real food. It wasn’t that I was hungry; I just craved texture. To avoid the temptation of the kitchen, I went outside on the patio to write and took my time sipping lunch.
3:00pm: I remembered that I was supposed to be drinking the chlorophyll water throughout the day.
Chlorophyll is an antioxidant and keeps you energized. The juice tasted really lame and nothing-y, but I drank the whole thing quickly because my stomach was starting to feel empty. (Chlorophyll? More like Bore-ophyll!)
3:45pm: Citrus: Pineapple, apple, lemon, mint.
I started in on the “Citrus 2” as a snack immediately after finishing the weird chlorophyll water because I was still hungry. Like the green juice I had had for lunch, the citrus juice was dominated by the flavor of the pineapple.
I was beginning to feel bored with this cleanse. It was getting chilly out on the patio so I had to move inside to write at my kitchen table, and all the food options surrounding me were driving me a bit mad.
4:30pm: I really wanted a bowl of cereal.
I decided to call my beautiful, sage friend Saloni to talk about life instead.
5:15pm: I still really wanted a bowl of cereal.
It was time to drink the second root juice, but it seemed really unappetizing to me. So I decided to walk to the gym and take a spinning class to kill a few hours and take my mind off not eating solid food.
Out of the way, Juice! I need to get to those beers in back.
7:15pm: Spin class ends.
I felt great! It surprised me that despite not having consumed anything besides fruit and vegetable juices throughout the day, I was able to have a satisfying workout. Plus, I chugged about a liter of water.
7:30pm: Walking home.
On the 30-minute walk home from the gym, I started to feel uncomfortable. My head was aching dully and I was slightly off-balance. I pulled out my phone and Googled “exercising on a juice cleanse.” Yup, this was research I should have done before letting Janesh, my petite-gay-hilarious-Indian spin instructor kick my butt (and calves and thighs).
I did some quick math (not in my head! I used the MyFitnessPal app) and realized that, given my speed walk to and from the gym and my 45-minute spin class, I had netted about 180 calories for the day.
7:45pm: I arrive home.
By the time I reached my apartment, I had decided to break the cleanse and just go for that bowl of cereal. I didn’t even want to look at the second root juice I was supposed to have had for dinner – the thought of more vegetable juice made me feel slightly nauseated. As I nommed on my Cheerios, I perused Pinterest on my phone.
7:50pm: No way! According to Pinterest, you can substitute peanut butter for regular butter to bake a slightly healthier loaf of banana chocolate chip bread.
On it.

9:00pm: The oven timer goes off.
The peanut butter banana chocolate chip bread was done! David and I each enjoyed a slice of it while watching Modern Family on Hulu. I realized that spin class had ended almost two hours before and I still hadn’t showered - thus, I came to the satisfyingly punny conclusion that I must just be too dirty to cleanse.
Okay, so that didn’t exactly go as planned. I ate a bowl of Cheerios and a slice of banana bread instead of drinking the last root juice, and I didn’t even get to the almond “juice” (almonds, dates, vanilla bean, filtered water, sea salt) or the Aloe Vera H20.

But I don’t count my cleanse experiment as a complete fail, because I learned some important things yesterday:
  1. Pressed Juicery makes some effing delicious juices. Their combinations of vegetables and one or two fruits for flavor and sweetness were genius, and I’m definitely going to try to copy the recipe for “Green 2.” And I still have that second root juice and the almond “juice” to enjoy today! Maybe I’ll mix them with some hard alcohol to make a cocktail.
  2. According to my belated research and my personal experience, if you’re not eating solid food, don’t do any hardcore exercise. Walking or yoga is probably fine, but avoid spin instructors named Janesh.
  3. I didn’t actually get hungry subsisting on potent, raw juice for a day. Mostly I just craved the texture of food. I ended up feeling dizzy (probably from a combination of hunger and fatigue) but my stomach wasn’t rumbling during the day or anything.
  4. You can substitute peanut butter for regular butter to bake a slightly healthier loaf of banana chocolate chip bread. Thanks, Pinterest!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Juices, Deliver Us! Ascending Health Juicery

At the Santa Barbara SOL (Sustainable, Organic, Local) Food Festival last fall, I tried a sample of some kind of green juice from the Ascending Health Juicery stand. It was so tasty that I made a note to myself to find out where it came from and how I could get more.

Then, of course, I promptly forgot about it until Juice Week! Thank goodness for Juice Week.

The thing that caught my eye about Ascending Health Juicery this time is that owners Alfred Pomerleau and Deb Monroe aim to be affordable: their organic, raw, locally sourced juices go for $5 for an 8-ounce jar; $9 for a 16-ounce jar; or $16 for a 32-ounce jar. One of the ways they keep costs down (and demonstrate their love for the environment) is to collect and reuse jars.

Ascending Health is a small-scale operation, which means their menu is slightly limited: they always have a choice of five different juices, whose specific ingredients change with the season. You have to email ( or call (805-698-5443) before 6pm to order your juice, which is then pressed the following morning and delivered to your door between 8:00-8:30am.

When I called Deb to place my order, she warned me that they make their juice “differently,” with minimal fruit (for minimal sugar) and special herbs that are meant to add healthy kicks. She actually described some of their most potent juices as “intense - not light and foo-foo.” Who likes foo-foo juices, anyway? Not this kid.

I was intrigued. So I ordered a (free!) delivery of one 8-ounce Original Red and one 8-ounce Original Green. I rolled out of bed when I heard the doorbell waited expectantly by my door in the morning and was not disappointed: Deb herself delivered my jars of juice at 8am sharp. Before she left, she warned me again that they were stronger than I might expect:
The instructions said to drink the juice slowly, savor it, and “allow your saliva to begin the digestive process.” So for lunch, I slowly savored the Original Green, willing my saliva to start digesting it (though, honestly, I can’t speak for my saliva’s success in that regard).

After dinner, I tried the Original Red instead of nomming on a leftover chocolate Easter egg, a decision for which I deserve to be congratulated. Both containers were filled to the brim, to the point that some spilled out when I opened the lid. So much juice!

It was hard to tell exactly what I was tasting as I sipped these juices. The specific ingredients change daily and always include some combination of “twelve to fifteen individual vegetables, a base of leafy greens (chard, cilantro, collards, dandelion, lettuce, kale, parsley, and spinach), apple, carrot, celery, cucumber, fennel, ginger, and zucchini” and sometimes also “bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, daikon radish and its greens, endive, fenugreek, radish and tops, turnip and its greens, purslane, or watercress.”

I definitely understood what Deb was saying about the intensity of this stuff. It must be because of the fenugreek. (I don’t know what fenugreek is.)

The Original Green tasted okay, like getting attacked by a firing squad of vegetables, but they’re throwing water balloons at you and it’s a hot day. The Original Red was a little sweeter and even a tad spicy – again, I blame the fenugreek.

So they were intense, but not in an entirely untasty way. I’d argue that when it comes to juices, intensity = concentration; the flavor is a result of Deb and Alfred packing in as many vegetables as humanly possible. I can almost feel my health ascending!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Los An-juiceless No More: Clover

My 5-year college reunion is coming up in a couple of months and, because one weekend of aggressive hand shaking and pretending to remember people’s names isn’t enough, there are a bunch of small-scale events happening at cities around the country leading up to reunion weekend.

Despite feeling nauseating slight social anxiety about the whole thing, I’ve seen enough romantic comedies to know that school reunions are full of people having crippling breakdowns and getting punched in the face by former rivals. Like I would miss that kind of drama!

So last week, I headed down to LA to visit my beautiful, financially stable friend Avery and hit up the Harvard Class of 2008 lead-up-to-the-actual-reunion event at the Churchill, a rather trendy (technically not in) West Hollywood bar. We spent the evening trying to be prettier than we had been in college and exchanging thinly veiled assertions that we had spent the past five years succeeding wildly at life and definitely not blogging for no money.

Actually, it was quite a good time, and after a few too many drinks, I was having enough fun to forget my credit card at the bar. That meant that the following morning before driving back up to Santa Barbara, I got to sit in LA traffic (which actually made me a bit nostalgic for my Venice Beach days) on my way to retrieve my credit card from the Churchill.

And that’s what brought me to Clover. When I called the manager of the Churchill to see about my card, he said to pick it up from him at the “little window” next door. Turns out, that “little window” was Clover, a brand new juice bar serving breakfast, lunch, “late-night” snacks, and Stumptown coffee, too.

Clover's window and charming seating area.
The folks at Clover source all their juice ingredients locally and change up their offerings according to the season. The food menu, which includes a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, is whipped up by Churchill executive chef, Bruce Kalman; pastries and other sweets are created by Lauren Lobley of Charm City Cakes West.
The clover menu on the wall outside.

I was served my $8 breakfast sandwich by Kimberly, who told me that the Churchill’s co-owners, Cassandra and Andrew Walker and Beau Laughlin, are the ones behind Clover, too. Here’s what my breakfast sandwich looked like right before I devoured it in my car:

It was exactly what you would want in a breakfast sandwich: eggs, avocado, bacon, and a special tomato jam. But it was especially delicious because the ingredients were practically oozing freshness. It makes an incredible difference when food is made with local, fresh ingredients, no matter how simple the meal.

The first Clover location opened on La Brea in January, serving cold-pressed juices like Go Big (beet, kale, carrot, apple, wheatgrass, lemon, and ginger, $8) or the strangely translucent Clean Green (chlorophyll, peppermint oil, and H2O, $4).

If you can’t make it to either the La Brea or West Hollywood location, don’t lament - unless you don’t have an internet connection, either. Then you can go ahead and lament. How are you even reading this post? - because beginning this month, you’ll be able to order Clover juices online by the bottle or in “seasonal kits” of four different juices. You can even do a “cleanse” by ordering enough juice to subsist on for 1, 3, or 5 days ($70-350) depending on your level of insanity dedication.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Meghan Drinks Local: Juice Week!


This week, Meghan Eats Local will become Meghan Drinks Local, as I focus on three awesome raw juice bars I’ve recently discovered. I make a lot of juice myself at home, but after finding myself in a bit of a recipe rut (a girl can only drink so much beet juice), I decided I needed some inspiration.

Since pressed raw juice is absolutely delicious, establishments dedicated to creating and selling it are popping up all around southern California. I am not sure why pressed raw juice is just becoming cool now. It seems like it should have been one of the very first cool things, when the first snarky cool kid demonstrated his worth to his community of hunter-gatherers by crushing the hell out of a mango.

But, like stand-up paddleboard yoga, some seemingly obvious things take a surprisingly long time to catch on (seriously, what could go wrong?). And hey, when you need a pick-me-up during the day, fresh juice is clearly a much better option than, say, a chocolate bar you found kind of melted into the lining at the bottom of your purse.

A lot of these new juiceries proudly serve “cold-pressed” juice. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I know what pressed juice is! That’s when I use my hands to squeeze the very last drops out of my Motts apple juice box during snack time,” just listen to yourself. Don’t be ridiculous. – Self

Pressing the juice out of produce (rather than grinding it) keeps vital nutrients, minerals, and enzymes from oxidizing. All the good stuff stays in the juice and when you drink it, your body can absorb it quickly. The raw fruits and vegetables are pulverized into a pulp, from which juice is then crushed. About three pounds of produce yields one bottle of cold-pressed juice!

The “cold” part just means the juice is “raw,” in that it hasn’t been heated above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. People who commit to a raw diet won’t consume anything that’s been cooked, and that can be difficult and limiting – so raw juice is a great option for those of us who don’t want to grow dreadlocks or figure out how to make our own pasta out of shredded zucchini.

I’ll be covering three juiceries that use fresh, raw, locally sourced ingredients. Reviews to come over the next week! This week, “drinking local” doesn’t mean getting tipsy on wine tastings.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter! Chocolatey Nutella Meringue Berry "Nests"

Last week, I was wandering through World Market, procrastinating doing some necessary shopping, and stumbled upon Nutella. I hadn't really thought about Nutella since I invented my own vegan version last year, but it's one of those items (like Fluffernutter or this Easter egg beanie for a cat) that, when I come across it, I kind of have to buy it.

So buy it I did. I also picked up some meringue "nests" because they were on sale and I was getting in the crafty spirit of Easter (not long after the crafty spirit of Valentine's Day had worn off). I was going to invent an Easter treat involving Nutella and these ridiculous meringue "nests," but I didn't know how.

While perusing the farmers market this morning, it hit me: Nothing says "Happy Easter" like Chocolatey Nutella Meringue Berry Nests! ... Right?

So I picked up a basket of blueberries from the Chuy Berry Farms stand ($5) and two baskets of strawberries from Peter Desales at the Goleta Valley Farms stand.

Peter Desales runs his small, 10-acre farm in Goleta with his two brothers; it's been in their family for three generations, since 1950. He gave me a deal on my strawberries: 2 baskets for $4! I took my berries and hippity-hopped home to get to work.

Chocolatey Nutella Meringue Berry Nests

Here's what I started with:

Blueberries from Chuy's Berries in Arroyo Grande (distance from me: 79 miles)
Strawberries from Goleta Valley Farms in Goleta (distance from me: 9 miles) Meringue "Nests" from World Market
Chocolate chips (melted in the microwave for 40 seconds)

You could also make your own meringues, if you're so inclined. Here's a recipe.

Once I had all the ingredients set, the creation of these little nests was pretty easy and went quickly. First, I coated the bottoms of the nests in the melted chocolate chips. I just plopped them into the bowl and slowly rotated them with my left hand, holding the spoon in my right hand to guide the melted chocolate around the bottom of the nest. Then I put them on a pan covered in parchment paper to dry:

The next step was to add a dollop (I love that word!) of Nutella in the center of each nest. I could have used Fluffernutter as a substitute - anything yummy and sticky for the fruit to sit on would work.

Finally, I added one quarter of a strawberry and three blueberries to each little nest. Adorable. This dessert is perfect because of its small size - each serving has about 100 calories.

It's also a great alternative to creme-filled chocolate Easter eggs, especially if they're delivered by THIS GUY:

I'm sorry. Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Delish & Nutrish (Is the "Ish!")

You might read my blog sometimes and think to yourself, "How nice for Meghan that she has the time and energy to go to farmers markets and experiment with ingredients to come up with healthy meals! But unlike some people, Self, you have a life, and also you don't care that much." Well, tell your Self not to worry - if you live in the Santa Barbara area, I've found a solution. You're welcome.

It's called Delish & Nutrish and, as they say in radio edits, it is the "ish." It's a meal delivery service owned and operated by Nina Tafarella, who uses local ingredients and strives to create healthy, fun meals, personalized to fit her clients' dietary needs. For instance, any meal can be vegan-ized, vegetarian-ized, low-sugar-ized, de-spicified (for me!), de-glutenized, etc. She even caters to raw foodists, who can participate in the Delish & Nutrish 7-day raw food cleanse every month.

Nina bought the company from Sunshine Wellness Meal Delivery three years ago - at that point, there were only 15 clients and she had to rent kitchen space to prepare the meals. Now she serves about 100 clients, using only word-of-mouth marketing, and owns a small industrial kitchen in downtown Santa Barbara. She says her clients are mostly busy people who want to eat healthy and/or lose weight but don't have the time or knowledge to prepare their own meals.

Nina works at the kitchen two full days and two half days a week. She has the help of two chefs, Justin Reed and Danny Kempton, and a high school intern through Partners in Education named Suzie. I stopped by last week on Sunday, one of their delivery days, and found Nina and Suzie making and packaging pear, gorgonzola, and edamame salad with balsamic dressing:
Nina gave me some delicious juice and orange slices to snack on while she told me about her dreams for Delish & Nutrish. She had originally wanted to open a cafe, but with two little children at home, it made more sense to stick to the food delivery service. She just got her first catering job and hopes to expand in that area, but she told me that her first priority is to help people. She cares more about doing a service to the community and maintaining a fun, positive work environment for her employees than about growing the business.

Nina drives to farms in the area to pick up cases of produce herself, rather than running around to farmers markets. John Givens Farm in Goleta is her go-to for most veggies, and she supplements meals with fruit from Lassen's, Lazy Acres Market, and Tri-County Produce. She gets all her from Kanaloa Seafood and the Santa Barbara Fish Market.

All this sounded awesome to me, so obviously I wanted to try out Delish & Nutrish for myself. I got to choose either the Healthy Weight Loss plan, which limits carbs and includes mostly proteins and non-starchy veggies, or the Balanced Lifestyle plan, which is just as much food as they can fit into each container. I thought about it for, oh, four seconds before choosing Balanced Lifestyle. Duh.

So I got five dinners delivered to my front door in two batches: three meals on Sunday and two meals the following Wednesday.

Here's what I got:
Organic mixed green dinner salad to start.

Thai peanut pasta with chicken and roasted leaks and sugar snap peas.

Salmon burger with a mint pea puree and carrots over quinoa

Grilled turkey breast with sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli

Pan-seared trout with coconut curry, lentils, and roasted bell peppers over brown rice.
There was one other meal - steak piccata with white wine caper sauce, pasta, and roasted snap peas - but David ate the whole thing before I got home. I was not pleased.

Because these meals were not only nutrish, they were... you guessed it (I hope)! Delish. The veggies and meats tasted fresh and flavorful. My favorite was the salmon burger - I've been trying to figure out how to make it myself, but I'm not sure I could pull it off.

David loved the chicken, and that's saying a lot, since he's kind of a chicken expert. Seriously, every time we go out to eat at a fancy restaurant, he'll turn down all kinds of house specialties for the simplest, most boring thing on the menu: chicken. He knows his chicken, needless to say, and he wouldn't stop praising the texture and taste of the Delish & Nutrish meal.

The cool thing about the Delish & Nutrish meal delivery system is that each week, you get a sheet of paper with a description of each meal and a little box next to it, where you can "grade your meal from A-F." Nina can then use that feedback to inform her sixteen rotating menus, which are posted on the website.

I'm in the middle of grading my undergraduate students' final exams from winter quarter, and let me tell you - I was pleased to be able to give somebody an A+, even if that somebody was a salmon burger. (Students, if you're reading this, I'm half just kidding - some of you did quite well.) (But some of you didn't.)

Since Nina uses only word-of-mouth marketing, here are some words from my very satisfied mouth: "Yum!" Also: "Delish!" (and "nutrish").

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Here's the Scoop (or Double Scoop, or Triple Scoop)

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I participated in my first opera training program in Siena, Italy. Since I spent a good portion of my days there nearly getting hit by tiny cars as I waltzed through the narrow city streets for miles at a time, being lost exploring – and since most of my college days for the months leading up to that summer had been spent lazing around on the banks of the Charles River with assigned reading in one hand and a solo cup of beer in the other – I assumed I was burning some mad calories.

As it turned out, I was gaining weight. That’s because, without fail, my excursions around the city included at least one stop for gelato. Per day. Frankly, I blame it on the Italian stallion who worked the counter at the gelateria on my block. He shouted all sorts of romantic things at me as I passed by, beckoning me in with calls of, “Ciao, Bella!” and other incredibly personal salutations. I mean, how could I resist?

I’ve since kicked my gelato habit, simply due to lack of supply. But while my family was visiting me here, I discovered a little gem hidden downstairs in a Montecito courtyard. It’s not just a gelateria, it’s a sorbeteria – that’s not a thing, is it? Well, they serve gelato and sorbet.

Here’s the scoop on Here’s the Scoop (see what I did there?). Ellie, who owns and operates the shop with her husband, Bob, was working the counter. She didn’t shout “Ciao, Bella!” at me, which was disappointing, but I went in anyway.
So many flavors!
Ellie was delighted to tell me how she and Bob opened Here’s the Scoop nine years ago after working at fast-paced, high-paying jobs. They wanted to stay in town for their daughter Alex’s sake and they both really liked fancy ice cream alternatives, so they went for it and opened their own gelato/sorbet parlor. The sorbet is totally dairy-free: it’s just local fruit, sugar, and water. The gelato is, of course, quite dairy-dependent, made with certified organic milk and cream.

Ellie let us sample all the gelato we wanted, and we wanted a lot of samples. We’re talking Thin Mint made with girl scout cookies, lemon chiffon, and honey almond pistachio, just to name a few. I was transported back to that summer in Siena spent stuffing my face with every flavor imaginable (but mostly stracciatella, which is like vanilla chocolate chip if the vanilla was crack and the chocolate chips were also crack).

So it wasn’t surprising to learn that Ellie and Bob had traveled to Italy to do their gelato research and to buy a huge gelato-making machine, which they now use on the premises. After an embarrassing number of samples, I finally settled on strawberry sorbet in a chocolate waffle cone (which was also made by hand, in-house):
The best part about Here’s the Scoop is that Ellie makes all the sorbet with fruit from Shepherd Farms in Carpinteria. Almost all her fruit flavors change depending on what’s in season. Next month, she and Tom Shepherd are debuting a new flavor: carrot cake gelato, made with Shepherd’s Farms carrots.

I felt a little bad bringing my family to Here’s the Scoop. It seemed a bit like I was rubbing it in their gelato-and-sorbet-stuffed faces (faces that are currently wrapped to the eyes in wool scarves as they brave another Boston blizzard) that here in Santa Barbara, we have fresh local fruit all year round. And wonderful people like Ellie and Bob to turn it into sorbet.

I’m glad Here’s the Scoop is doing so well, and I’m also glad it’s all the way down in Montecito. Otherwise I’d fall right back into my old habits, grabbing a two-scoop cone to start my day and wandering through the streets of Santa Barbara, singing opera to myself like a crazy person, stopping every measure or so to eat a bite of gelato.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stimulant Fix: Good Land Organics Grows Local Coffee

Chalk board labels and mason jars are almost as addictive as coffee.

About four years ago, I tried to quit drinking coffee. I was working in an office in Los Angeles and had gotten into the habit of drinking two 20-oz. cups every morning. The office I worked in had a particularly extensive coffee bar, which, along with Ice Cream Fridays, was largely responsible for getting me through the work week.

One day, a friend someone who wanted to scar me for life forwarded me a terrifying news article about a murderous meth addict who lived in (surprise!) Bakersfield, CA. Meth addicts in Bakersfield are obviously not news to anyone – nor are murderous ones, for that matter – but this story was particularly gruesome and compelled me to examine my own addiction to coffee. I mean, we’ve all seen Breaking Bad, haven’t we?** After all, coffee is also a stimulant, albeit an immeasurably more socially acceptable one.

Quitting didn’t go well. After a week of forgotten phone messages, misplaced documents, and general absentmindedness, I decided that everyone in my office would be better off if I maintained my addiction. I’ve never been a believer in the “slippery slope” theory, anyway, and drinking absurd amounts of coffee is a far cry from meth-driven murder.

Since that failed attempt, I’ve never considered quitting coffee again. I’ve also sought out studies that suggest drinking coffee is a healthy practice that everyone ought to take up, adds years to your life, improves brain function, etc. and I delight in citing this research when anyone questions whether I ought to be drinking my second Venti at 5:30pm.

Unfortunately, my coffee habit has never fit in with my predilection for local food. Like quinoa, coffee is one of those products that just isn’t easily grown in North America. Of course, Fair Trade coffee is everywhere these days, so it’s easy to make purchases with limited negative ramifications. But last year, I tasted an even better solution: locally grown coffee from right here in Santa Barbara County.

Working with University of California Farm Extension Service advisor Mark Gaskell, Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics processes and roasts coffee on-site at his farm in Goleta (distance from me: 9 miles). They started the project in 2002 with Arabica Cattura and Arabica Typica seeds from El Salvador and have since expanded to many more varieties. Ruskey uses the Kona coffee model, named for the expensive coffee grown on the Big Island in Hawaii. It involves growing, processing, post-harvesting, roasting, and selling coffee on the farm, as well as giving farm tours ($40 for a 3-hour tour, including coffee samples and snacks).

Good Land Organics coffee is unique because of the high mountain climate here: a 600-foot elevation, two miles from the ocean. The difference is that the bean matures on the tree for between ten months to a year, in contrast to lower lands, where the bean matures quickly.

The purpose of keeping it local, as Ruskey explained in a 2011 interview with Joshua Lurie of Food GPS, is that: “We want people to know where the coffee’s from, how it’s done, maybe even the varieties, because we have different varieties of beans. There’s this whole nomenclature and knowledge of how it’s roasted, how it’s processed, what time of year it was harvested, and that’s what we’re hoping to make: a new, feasible crop for area farmers.”

It seems to be working – a few years ago, David Karp wrote about Good Land Organics Coffee in the LATimes, and since then interest has been growing. Most recently, Good Land was the cover feature of the February, 2013 issue of Fresh Cup Magazine.

I bought a bag of what I thought were Good Land Organics whole beans for myself at Santa Cruz Market. I was pleasantly surprised to find it on the shelf at this small, inexpensive, locally owned Latino grocery store – I’d expect it to be carried by chichi markets, but apparently, Santa Cruz had gotten in on the action. 

I’ve been getting my fix from the Good Land Organics coffee for the past few days, with a dash of San Marcos Farms sage honey and Organic Pastures raw milk. It is absolutely delicious. You’d think that by this time, I’d have developed a discerning coffee palate – but the truth is, I’m just as likely to chug burnt diner coffee as I am to daintily sip handcrafted hipster coffee (much to the chagrin of the folks over at Intelligentsia).

That said, I do recognize solid coffee when I taste it, and Good Land Organics has, in my opinion, achieved it. Fortunately, my opinion is backed up by experts, who have given the coffee a Q rating of between 83-87. See ya later, Giant Folgers Tub From Costco.

Drinking Good Land Organics coffee somewhat diminishes my guilt about being addicted to a stimulant. At the risk of sounding like a snob (a risk with which I am demonstrably comfortable), I think it’s safe to say that sipping local coffee with local sage honey and local, raw milk is about as far as you can get from strapping a bomb to an elderly ex-drug lord’s wheelchair in order to blow up the leader of your own meth cartel.**

**If you don’t get this reference, my advice to you is to play hooky from work and watch all five seasons of Breaking Bad.

Update: Unfortunately for me, my original suspicions were right. The people at Good Land Organics informed me that another roaster in town, Santa Barbara Coffee Roasters, sells a type of coffee called "Good Land Coffee." So Number 1 on my To-Do list is to get my hands on some actual Good Land Organics coffee! Further update to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rock (Crab) Lobstah!

I’m from Boston, so no one should be surprised that I love lobster (lobstah, I suppose). Some of my fondest childhood memories involve picking out live lobster from the tanks of our favorite seafood vendors, watching my parents boil them at home, then cracking them apart with my bare hands and savoring their meat with absurd amounts of buttah dribbling down my chin.

Sometimes my siblings and I would have our lobsters “race” across the kitchen floor before removing the rubber bands from their claws – this practice now strikes me as a rather cruel kind of lobster-gladiator competition before inevitable death by boiling water. But that doesn’t diminish my nostalgia for the whole experience.

Of course, there are lobsters living in the Pacific Ocean, and some people catch them and eat them. But their lack of claw meat makes them pretty much useless to me. Luckily, David is a good listener and has picked up on my desperate longing fondness for northeastern lobster. He also realizes that Meghan Eats Local usually, but not All The Time.

So on Valentine’s Day, I was pleasantly surprised to find two live lobsters in a crate with seaweed and cold packs waiting for me on the kitchen table, straight from Maine.

We tried to make the lobsters race across the kitchen floor, but they were clearly in shock from the cold box and their trip across the country – I know, the whole racing thing seems even crueler now – so they didn’t move much at all. Oh, well! Straight into the pot.

We boiled them for about 15 minutes, until their shells were bright red. Then we transferred them to a colander and poured ice cold water over them until they cooled down. This is a crucial step – soaking them in an ice bath works, too – that prevents them from continuing to cook inside their shells.

We had read that it’s better to undercook them than to overcook them (which results in tough, yucky meat), so we erred on the side of undercooking. As it turned out, we had erred a bit too far on that side; the claw meat was a bit translucent rather than fully white, indicating that they could have cooked a little longer. That was a problem easily solved: we popped each lobster in the microwave for 60 seconds, which did the trick.

Ta-da! I demolished that lobstah, thoroughly soaking each piece of meat in buttah, of course. Happy Valentine’s Day to me! (But not to David, who was a bit grossed out by the whole breaking-a-creature-apart-white-staring-it-straight-in-the-face thing, nearly gave up on cracking the claws, and flat out refused to suck the meat out of the legs.)
Non-local shellfish for Valentine's Day

Obviously, shipping lobster from Maine to Santa Barbara is pretty much the opposite of eating local. I felt an urge to reconcile this transgression by indulging in some local shellfish (don’t question my logic).

Since moving to Santa Barbara, I haven’t really enjoyed much local shellfish beyond shrimp. That all changed last night at Arch Rock Fish. My parents and sister are in town visiting for a week, and last night we all went out to eat with David and his mom, Joan.

Arch Rock Fish is one of my favorite local seafood restaurants any day of the week, but particularly on Monday and Tuesday when they feature a special “Crab Feast.” Joan and I decided to split the “Crab Feast,” since neither of us was feeling particularly ravenous. It was a good thing we split it, because this was one beast of a feast:
Oh, hello! I am your feast!

We got a 2-pound local Rock Crab, which was arranged in a way that suggested it was attempting to escape from its pail, with corn on the cob and roasted potatoes. On top of that, we got a pound of Alaskan King Crab legs and a bottle of chardonnay from Santa Barbara county.

As Joan struggled with the claws and legs, it became increasingly clear where David got his dismal shell-cracking skills. I felt silly after I made fun of her, though, since I was soon frustrated by the claws myself: a Rock Crab shell is, apparently, significantly thicker and harder than that of an Alaskan King Crab, which snaps easily.

Unfortunately, the legs were more trouble than they were worth; there was very little meat to be scraped from inside them. The claw meat, on the other hand, came out in one big chunk. Unlike a lobster claw, the Rock Crab claw included a thin layer of cartilage right in the middle of the meat, upon which I very nearly choked.

By the end of the feast, we might have had some crab meat in our hair and laps, but we were happy and stuffed. The claw meat of the Rock Crab was delicious and was easily scraped from the cartilage; it tasted like a light, flaky, white fish. Well, like a light, flaky, white fish soaked in buttah.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Is Quinoa Mean(oa)?: A Slightly Deeper Look

Yesterday, my Colombian friend Victoria sent me a link to the article by Joanna Blytheman that’s been causing somewhat of an uproar among quinoa lovers: Can Vegans Stomach the Unpalatable Truth About Quinoa? Before I even clicked on the link, it struck me as strange that the author would call out vegans, when many non-vegans also consume quinoa on a daily basis. As a former vegan with a particularly weak stomach, I was curious to see if I could handle the “unpalatable truth.”
By the end of the article – in addition to having had to look up the definition of “larder” (I had assumed it meant “one who consumes lard,” so I was surprised to discover that it is just a fancy word for “pantry”) – I was feeling distinctly bougie and ashamed.

Blytheman makes the point that the recent obsession with quinoa among affluent people living in developed countries has driven up its price in the developing countries where it is produced (Bolivia and Peru), so that the people in those countries can no longer afford to eat it.

Her problem with British vegans is that while Britain provides omnivores with locally produced meat and dairy products, “a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places.” Sorry, British Vegans, that you have chosen to live in a country whose land cannot produce fruits and vegetables (and whose journalists use words like “larder”).

But if Blytheman’s point was as simple as she made it seem, then quinoa-loving Americans were not off the hook. A rummage through my larder would produce the 4-lb. bag of Nature’s Earthly Choice quinoa I bought at Costco last week. Now, I realize that we Americans are pretty solidly stuck on the hook for countless wrongs against people living in developing countries. But I just couldn’t stomach adding quinoa consumption to the long list of transgressions.

So I decided to poke around for some second opinions. After about three minutes’ worth of Google searches extensive research, I found evidence that the quinoa issue was more complicated than Blytheman made it out to be.

Just two days before Blytheman’s article appeared in The Guardian, an article by Dan Collyns entitled Quinoa Brings Riches to the Andes was published… in The Guardian.

First of all, I have to admit that I suspect I am not part of Collyns’s target audience, since in order to convey the benefits of Royal quinoa, which only grows in southern Bolivia and is particularly rich in protein, he makes the following comparison: “Royal quinoa is to the grain what beluga is to caviar.”

Oh, naturally. A quick rummage in my larder would reveal that all my caviar is of the beluga variety. I mean, really.

His assumption of his readers’ familiarity with caviar aside, Collyns’s article does not immediately contradict Blytheman’s; he makes the similar point that “global demand means less quinoa is being eaten in Bolivia and Peru,” which “could cause malnutrition [in] producers, who have long relied on the superfood to supplement their meagre diets.”

But Collyns goes on to quote Paola Mejia, agronomist and general manager of Bolivia’s Chamber of Quinoa Real and Organic Product Exporters, as saying of quinoa farmers: “They have westernized their diets because they have more profits and more income… Ten years ago they had only an Andean diet in front of them. They had no choice. But now they do and they want rice, noodles, candies, coke, they want everything!”

And in Peru, a new government campaign has drastically reduced chronic malnutrition in children under five. This progress seems to be a result of the nearly $35 million Peru earned from quinoa exports in 2012; similarly, quinoa exports have boosted Bolivia’s economy by $85 million, according to Victor Hugo Vásquez, Bolivia's vice-minister for rural development and agriculture.

The governments of both countries have also launched campaigns to promote national consumption of quinoa as part of a healthy diet. So it could be argued that the rising price of quinoa is benefiting the citizens of the countries where it is produced, as their governments use their increased funds to combat malnutrition.

Clearly, as these two articles appearing in the same publication two days apart demonstrate, the issues surrounding quinoa’s popularity are quite complicated, and the consequences for the people of Bolivia and Peru are mixed.

One way to avoid feeling guilty about your quinoa addiction is to get your fix from within the United States. The only place I can find that produces quinoa is White Mountain Farm in Colorado, but I’m sure there are other sources.

Given all the unseen damage caused by the lifestyle we take for granted (and by “we” I mean affluent citizens of developed countries, British vegans included), the concentration of concern around quinoa seems misguided.

I’m going to make some quinoa for lunch right now, and while I eat it I will contemplate where and by whom my clothes were made, how my car runs, what “fair trade” actually implies, the morality of the myriad of companies in which Vanguard has invested my money…