Gail is a locavore; someone who eats food provided by local producers, growers and suppliers. She promotes local products in her classes and radio shows and uses local products in her recipes whenever possible. The extreme end of locavorism is “100 mile dieting” which means that all products must originate within 100 miles of the consumer. One hundred miles has become the defacto measure for eating local although the phrase “local” is as loose as a politician’s credibility. For Edmonton and many other parts of the planet this means a very limited diet in the winter and early spring. It also means that products like coffee, bananas and many spices are as unwelcome as water leaks in a submarine.
As consumers we have become used to a diet that includes “seasonal” fruit and vegetables all year round. Everything that can be grown is “in season” somewhere in the world and is shipped out in huge containers on ships, trucks and airplanes. Often California is seen as the villain when foodies discuss food providence issues.
But down here in California the argument falls apart. It is hard to be extreme when almost everything is local and seasonal all year round. Citrus fruits in your front yard yield fruit all year round and everything from almonds to zinfandel are available from roadside stands operated by farmers and cooperatives.
Farmers markets are operated in every village year round and specialize not only in local but also organic and wholesome. I suppose that Canadian sourced products like Maple syrup is demonized down here.
It has become very confusing to beat the locally sourced drum while walking through what at home is considered the demonic centre of all things non-local.
That’s what I am thinking about.
VW van requires a bit more work today (new clutch). The weather is beautiful and Jon and I decide to take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from Berkeley to San Francisco.
To the Ferry Plaza Market for breakfast. I wait in a long line at The Blue Bottle Coffee Co. (there’s always a line up here) for what is possibly the best latte I have ever had. Yes, I know that’s a huge statement to make, but it is true. Something about the coffee they use and only organic milk…Jon picks up a nosh at the Meat Market booth – a toasted bagel with ‘schmear’, a cream cheese spread with sundried tomatoes and a breakfast sandwich with bacon, cheese and egg. Our stand up breakfast gives us the sustenance to walk through the rest of the market and view the vendors (with envy) who are the producers, from fresh food produce, cheese (Cow Girl, one of my favourites), McEvoy organic oil (excellent) to items such as Heath pottery made in Sausalito (the dishware that’s used at the Slated Door – at $28 per dinner plate, that’s impressive).
We decide to walk through downtown San Francisco and come back to the Ferry Market for a late lunch at the Slanted Door. Jon scores a light, black, wool coat and sports jacket. We couldn’t resist the quality and the price -- $250 including alterations finished within the hour!
I’m happiest when I return to a restaurant and the experience is as good as or better than the first time. The Slanted Door can do this. We arrive at 1 pm and the 265 seat restaurant at the back of the Ferry Plaza is full, except for a few seats at the bar which we take. A gin and tonic (tonic by Ferry Few which is available at Everything Cheese in Riverbend – buy it, it makes a difference). BBQ Ribs and the Daikon Rice Cake (couldn’t pass the rice cake up – it was an amazing dish on the culinary tour last year and still is). The ribs come stacked 5 to a plate, each at least 5” in length, very meaty and slathered in a Vietnamese inspired (sweet/salty/spicy) bbq sauce, immediately followed by steaming hot cloths which are very necessary to clean fingers and face. The daikon rice cake reminds me of thin potato kugel – same sweet, sticky, fine texture, but this is quickly pan fried on high heat to finish and drenched in a sweet soy sauce. It meets my standards for exceptional carbohydrates!
At the recommendation of the patron to my right, we order the Cellophane Noodles with Dungeness Crab. He is on his second order! Jon and I order one to share. See through thin noodles, coated in a light sauce with big chunks of fresh crab. The craftsmanship of this dish allows the full sweet flavour of the crab to come through. Great choice.
We head back to Berkeley and pick up our van. It’s close to 6 pm and we’re on the freeway heading south to San Jose to visit friends that moved there from Edmonton 12 years ago.
Evelyn and Ed McNeill have a lovely home complete with an outdoor pool (Ed says he spends more time cleaning it than swimming in it) and gardens with perennials that bloom 12 months of the year. Over 20 types of roses that smell beautiful (yes, they actually have a scent!). Apologies from our guests that the cut roses on the dining room table were cut several days ago and could look fresher. To my eye they look fresher than anything you’d see back home!
Two cheeses are put out to start – Cow Girl Creamery’s Triple Cream Brie and Point Reyes Blue. Okay, here I go again with statements about the best I’ve ever had. We need to get these in Edmonton! I’ll give Everything Cheese a shout – they’ve got a large selection of US cheeses, maybe there is hope!
Dinner is a marinated ‘tri-tip’ bbq roast. Now this is a cut I’ve not heard of before. It’s from the area just in front of the shank where three muscles come together. Like flank it does well to marinate and bbq slowly, which is what the McNeill’s did. It is juicy and tender and leftovers cry out for sandwiches! I’ll be talking to Sunshine Organics about this cut of meat when I get home! Some oven roasted potatoes and roasted fresh local asparagus with sautéed grape tomatoes topped with goats cheese round out the plate. Home cooking doesn’t get much better than this! A petit chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream from Whole Foods for dessert. I’m full after the entrée, but like a good soldier, I somehow eat all of the dessert.
It’s get the van fixed day (tune-up, oil change and muffler repair followed by four new tires) and at the suggestion of the guys at Buslab (specializing in VW Westfalia repair) we go to La Note for breakfast.
I admit; breakfast is one of my favourite meals of the day. I love eating breakfast out and wish we had a good selection of breakfast spots at home, but we don’t (by good breakfast spots I mean, cooked in butter, eggs are soft, baking is fresh from scratch…if I were 20 years younger, I’d start a breakfast restaurant).This spot is ‘Berkeley Provencale’, crazy country French décor, with fantastic food. The orange juice is freshly squeezed. My ‘cote est’ dish of scrambled eggs, crème fraiche pancake and bacon is perfect – eggs are soft and buttery, bacon is thick and crispy and the pancake takes centre stage on the plate – 8” in diameter with a swirl of crème fraiche sitting on top, a side of hand-scooped creamy butter and real maple syrup. Jon’s Omelette de pommes de terre is another winner – sautéed potatoes and caramelized onions, served open faced, with toast (butter on the side) and Provencale tomatoes (wedges seasoned and lightly roasted or sautéed). Big bowls of coffee (café au lait for me and latte for Jon) and we’re very happy. Yes, there’s something about good breakfast places – a big thank you to the guys at Buslab for the referral!
It’s sunny enough to take our bikes for a ride around Berkeley campus. Eclectic architecture, winding paths (all accessible by bike or wheelchair), redwoods and cafes are also in the mix. We continue our ride off campus, west toward the water and stumble upon the Fourth Avenue area just north of University Avenue. This could be the site of another culinary tour to this part CA. Small shops and cafes for several blocks.
Dinner is a stop at Saul’s Deli. Saul’s makes a point of being an ‘evolved’ deli, un-like the deli’s in New York that stopped evolving. Whatever. The latkes are big, chunky and hot, served with applesauce and sour cream. The potato knish is different from my mother’s version; this one is more like a savoury potato strudel. The pastrami sandwich on sourdough rye (could have been a bit thicker) but it was good nevertheless. This is a must stop for deli if you are in Berkeley.
If your only tool is a hammer then every problem is a nail. I think about that all the time because I am a marketing guy and every issue is viewed through a marketing lens. I have been considering the wine industry for the past weeks while visiting a couple of dozen wineries. Winemakers spend millions of dollars creating, selling and distributing wine around the world. The buildings they make wine in are spectacular and many are way over the top. Yet when you enter the tasting room, some of the basics seem to be missing.
Any wine expert will tell you that the vineyard is where good wine is made. The winemaker’s primary objective is to stay out of the way of a good wine as it flows through the production process. The soil, water, air and vines themselves all affect the creation of the grapes that are crushed, fermented and aged to create thousands of types of wines.
Surprisingly the actual task of making wine is very simple and consistent from one winery to the next despite the millions of tiny changes that can be added to the process. If wine making was about the process then wine could be made anywhere: yet wine only comes from a few select areas of the world where the vines survive and create great grapes.
Back in the tasting room, the talk is all about the finished product. The nose, the flavour notes, the color are all discussed in great detail. The wine presenter n ever fails to mention oak barrels, aging times and bottling techniques: the process. They hardly ever credit the terroire, the weather or the soils that create the grape. In fact, it was only at Raymond Winery that the presenter mentioned the value of the Napa Valley itself to the wine making process. I think more winemakers should use the vineyard as the main point that differentiates their wine from all other competitor’s products.
The other point that I want to make is that very few wine presenters aerate their wines in the tasting rooms. We know that red wines in particular must be opened several hours before being served or decanted to reach their full potential. The best restaurants and hosts all ritualize the serving of wine with fancy decanters and all sorts of gear that round out the taste, allow some of the airborne alcohol to evaporate and enhance the wine tasting experience. Yet at the wineries the presenters spend all day popping corks and pouring wine directly into glasses. They are not presenting their wines at their best.
The process of aeration does not have to be difficult. Only one winery so far was using a bottle aerator to bubble the wine into the glass. I use the same device at home and have shown many groups of guests how the taste and enjoyment of a wine is enhanced with the device. I pour wine into the glass directly from the bottle and then pour it through the bubbler and every guest can taste the difference that the air makes.
Why are wineries not showing off their wines to the best advantage? I suppose it’s because they don’t have a marketing focus.
That’s what I am thinking about.
It’s Easter Sunday and some kids from a nearby camper are on an early Easter egg hunt. We get up, shower and enjoy a camper breakfast of Greek God’s honey yogurt, a banana and the alst of the Three Sisters Bakery Granola (it was mighty fine granola).
We head to the Fairmont Sonoma Mission and Sap in Sonoma for a meeting with Keeley Hiatt, sales and conference manager, to get more details for our tour here next February. Questions are answered and the tour is coming together quite nicely.
We lunch at The Girl and Fig. I order the Roasted Baby Beet Salad with Bellwether Farms Crscenza (like quesa fresco), arugula and a hazelnut vinaigrette. Jon orders the omelette of the day with caramelized onions, bacon and cheese. Both are delish. It’s a busy place and we’re sitting at the bar (the bar structure is an antique over 160 years old) and the bartender is truly fine to watch – knows where his inventory is and moves easily and efficiently.
We walk the square in Sonoma and drive to Sausilito.
It’s sunny and we walk along the waterfront for several hours. En route to the van, we decide to stop for a beverage outside at the Sausalito Taco Shop. The couple beside us convince us to order off the menu: Taco de Cochnita (roasted leg of pork simmered in achiote – not spicy) and the Taco Sausalito (breaded shrimp, sautéed with onion) and a side of spicy housemade beans. Oh yes, two large margaritas made with agave wine, fresh lime, simple syrup and hibiscus juice, finished with a salted rim, complete the order.
Now the search is on for a place to camp and it becomes a hopeless search. We end up driving to find the closest Walmart…Rule number 2 about camping for the night at a Walmart – it must be a stand alone, not a ‘rented’ store as we discovered at 11:30 pm when mall security abruptly woke us up and had us drive off the property to the church across the street. Oh, rule number 1, about camping at Walmart, park at the front of the store and not at the back or you could be awakened by teens getting off shirt at midnight and having a few too many beers…..
Drive to Berkeley in rush hour traffic and head to Peet’s for a latte. Busy place and Peet’s is celebrating 45 years in business. Did you know that Peet’s was the learning ground for Howard Schulta, the founder/owner of Starbucks?...It's less structured than Starbuck's, but just as busy.
Lunch at Slow, a small bright spot on University Avenue and we chow down on two amazing sandwiches – juicy pulled pork and thinly sliced, slow roasted Niman beef with beets and cream cheese (what a great taste combo!), both on fabulous sourdough - just as you expect in San Francisco.
We walk along Shattuck Avenue and re-visit the stops that were on our culinary tour last May, and decide to go to Chez Panisse for dinner if there is room – there is!! This restaurant wasn’t part of our tour last year as our group of 12 was too big, but a reservation for 2 at 5:45 is available and we take it.
Alice Water’s restaurant, Chez Panisse, was one of the first restaurants in the US to focus on seasonl/local/fresh cuisine, back in 1969. School lunch programs and school garden programs across the states have been started through her foundation – thank you Alice. It's a quaint location, with a farmhouse feel -- lot's of wood finishes and low lighting. Staff exude expertise -- our server has been with the restaurant for 14 years. The original restauant is on the main level and has a prix fixed menu. The care above, has smaller plate and entree options. We opt for the cafe.
Dinner at the Café at Chez Panisse is all I thought I hoped it would be. A lovely local/seasonally inspired menu. We each enjoy a Lillet Blanc as a starter beverage (we have some Lillet at home and now I'm inspired to use it before dinner at home). I order the Star Route Farm fava bean salad with prosciutto and pecorino. In my mind, I was expecting cooked from dry fava beans. My dish is a delightful array of fresh fava beans lightly blanched, tossed with arugula in olive oil. The prosciutto adds a sweet/salty touch and the pecorino, just the right about of fatty flavour. Jon enjoys the Marinated beet salad with braised spinach and mustard greens, toast and an egg poached in beet juice. It's a beautiful dish -- my eyes are captivated by the purple colour to the edge of the egg.
Entrees are superior. I have the Northern halibut cooked in a fig leaf with asparagus, potatoes and kumquat relish. What is it about fish that is cooked so well -- this is one of the best halibut dishes I have ever had -- succulent, soft, juicy and sweet with the kumquat adding a light citrus balance. the asparagus stems are turned and the baby potatoes, skins on, are sweet like sugar, dripping in butter. Jon has the Grilled grass-fed rib-eye roast with shoestring potatoes, little turnips and béarnaise sauce. Beautiful rare done beef, thinly sliced, delicate turnips and the most awesome potato frites -- paper thin, not greasy at all!
We're full, but we have to have dessert, which we share (below): Crimson rhubarb, apple and strawberry crisp with lemon-buttermilk ice cream. The ice cream offsets the sweetness of the crisp perfectly!
One of the best food experiences of and highly recommended if you are ever this way.
Travel is broadening. Despite the fact that we both intend to loose a few pounds on this trip as a result of good eating and increased exercise and therefore decrease the width of our beam, the trip has widened our minds. I already have a head full of unrelated and generally useless trivia but after almost 60 years of dribbling that information out, it is good to get some new stuff to share randomly as the occasion requires.
One of my favourite TV characters was the writer played by Morey Amsterdam in the Dick Van Dyke Show. One of his set pieces on the show was to recite a joke about any topic you could name. Of course, the show was scripted but the talent was inspiring. But I digress. What I want to do today is give you some of the fascinating gems I have learned in the first few weeks of travel.
FACT: Rainbow and Steelhead Trout are the same species. I learned this at a self-serving aquarium exhibit operated by a lumber company in Oregon which demonstrated that they had over 50 scientists working on environmental issues and preserving the fish and other animals who are affected by the thousands of other employees dedicated to cutting down trees and denuding the environment.
FACT: At the Tillamoot Creamery I learned that over 100 years ago salt was originally added to butter during production to preserve it during shipping. It is the same reason that salt pork and similar products were produced. Without the added salt the butter turned rancid before it could be used. Improvements in transportation made the production technique unnecessary but consumer’s taste for salt keeps salted butter on the shelf.
FACT: Cape Blanco is supposed to be the most westerly point in the contingent United States. There is a lighthouse on the Cape which despite being the shortest lighthouse on the western coast is the highest lighthouse above sea level because of the cliffs that the lighthouse is located on. At least one other community claims to be located at the furthest point sticking into the Pacific.
FACT: Paul Bunyan was raised on milk fed to him in 80 gallon baby bottles. You can see a life size statue of Paul and Babe the Blue Ox at the Trees of Wonder exhibit in Oregon.
FACT: Bandon, Oregon is a nice place to visit despite the fact that some wag has added an “A” to the beginning of the name on a highway sign making it less attractive as Abandon.
FACT: There is less than 4% of the original old growth Redwood forest left. Some of these trees were growing when Jesus was born and have survived over 2000 years of history. Yet in just over 200 years we have decimated these forestry giants to make shingles and deck lumber.
FACT: Over 50,000 containers full of consumer goods are offloaded in the Los Angeles port EACH DAY. When you see the vast array of products available at Wal-Mart it is easy to see where much of that cargo goes.
FACT: There are six soil types of soil in the Napa Valley. Most wine growing areas contain one or two. Apparently the only other place in the world with six soil types is a small valley in France. Since more than 80% of a wine’s ultimate success comes from the orchard then you can understand why Napa has such a variety of excellent wines.
FACT: The slogan for this trip has become “Not all who wander are lost.” I hope you appreciate that these facts are no longer lost.
That’s what I have been thinking about.
Hearty breakfast at Gillwoods café (multi-grain blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon for Jon and a breakfast sandwich – bagel, egg, cheese and bacon –for me).
It’s off to the Rutherford area to tour some wineries: William Harrison, purchased a bottle of their cabernet franc; Rutherford Ranch, purchased their port and zinfandel; and St. Supery (their moscato was served at the fundraiser for Laurie Blakeman at Rutherford House in February and is available at DeVines – it’s well worth the purchase).These wineries could be included in the Spa/wine tour we’re organizing for next February 17 to 20. Did I mention that these winery visits were work? We also stopped at Opus One, but didn`t go inside.
We arrive Yountville and head to Redd’s one of the three restaurants in the area that has received a Michelin star, and is known for its contemporary American cuisine. It must have been an off afternoon – service was slow and the two appetizers we tried, fish tacos and lettuce wraps with a Szechwan style chicken were so-so.
We decide to head to Napa and luckily find a camping spot at the Skyline Wilderness Park. It starts to rain and continues through the night.
We continue touring wineries along the Russian River: Mill Creek (produces about 8,000 cases per year); Hop Kiln (a beautiful historic building that had been used to dry hops); Thomas George winery with a new cave that opened in 2010; and lastly Porter Creek winery (we had to stop here as Jon’s sister and family live in Porter Creek, a subdivision of Whitehouse, YK) an independent American winery that produces less that 4,000 cases per year.
We head east to Callistoga and camp at the Bothe Napa State Park. We cooked up the smoked pork chops in a bit of butter and olive oil, and served it with a side of quinoa and salad, paired with some local wine. Yumm
Continue down the coastal hwy to Ft Bragg and purchase some smoked products (turkey and pork chops) from a local deli.
We decide to head east on Dry Creek for Healdsburg (the north part of Sonoma). It’s a good thing we did this in daylight, as we climbed up to elevations of 2000 ft on narrow, two and one lane roads. We arrive at Healdsburg at 8:30 pm and can’t find a campground. We drive south a few miles to Windsor, CA and take advantage of Walmart’s free parking for rv’s. Too tired to cook the smoked pork chops, so a smoked turkey sandwich does the trick with a glass of wine.