Saturday, May 22, 2010

-0- Miles, or Endings

It has been quite awhile since I last posted. A lot has been happening. Part of the reason I have been away is that I lost my father a month ago. He'd been sick, we knew the end was inevitable but his death, and the aftermath of losing a loved one, has been difficult. I'm slowly starting to feel better and am looking forward to getting back into the groove of my life (and writing new blog posts!)

The other big news, and part of the reason for the extended absence, is that this blog has a new home. 100 Miles has grown up on Blogger but is moving out, and on its own. 100 Miles now has its own URL and a dedicated website and can be found at http:/

Please take a look and let me know what you think. I am very excited about all the new features, and the new look.

E-mail: If you have been receiving e-mails each time I post you need do nothing. You will continue to do so from the new site. You do not need to enter your e-mail information on the new site.

RSS: If you have 100 Miles on your RSS feed you need do nothing. You will continue to receive feeds when I publish new posts from the new site. You do not need to subscribe again on the new site.

Favorites: If you have my blog saved in your favorites, please replace it with the new URL.

Blogrolls: If you have 100 Miles on your blogroll please swap out the URL you have up now with the new one:

From the new site consider becoming a 100 Miles fan on Facebook ('Like') if you are not already (there's a link on the new site).

Also from the new site consider following my Flickr stream (there's a link on the new site).

This is the final post on Blogger. It is a bittersweet good-bye. But we're also ready for new frontiers and new adventures. See you over at

Thank you for your continued support.

Charles Thompson
100 Miles

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Tillamook

Bring on more cheese, please!

Food memories, and, or nostalgia, are important to me -- as my regular readers know. My own personal food memories are as essential to this blog as are the concepts of 100 miles and 'living life locally.' I recently attended an event here in Los Angeles that was a whole-lotta fun. April is apparently a very cheesy month: it's National Grilled Cheese Month and the Tillamook Cheese Company is on the road with their 'The Loaf Love Tour.' They've retrofitted three 1966 Standard VW Microbuses to resemble 'Baby Loafs' of Tillamook cheddar and are visiting one-hundred cities in nine states throughout the Western U.S., Texas and Illinois to teach consumers about their famous cheese. Tillamook is also the 'exclusive cheese sponsor' for the 2010 Grilled Cheese Invitational -- 'a grilled cheese sammich cooking competition' taking place in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 24th that I will happily be attending.

My friend, Jo Stougaard (of My Last Bite) and I went to a gathering of foodies to taste Tillamook cheddar, to pose with the 'Baby Loaf' Microbuses, and to eat cheese-inspired dishes prepared by Chef Akasha Richmond at her Culver City restaurant Akasha Restaurant Bar & Bakery. It was a lighthearted, full-of-laughs evening. And delightfully, it involved a cheese from my childhood. Growing up in California, we took a lot of trips north to Oregon and Washington. Tillamook cheddar is made in Tillamook County, Oregon. That loaf of orange cheese was always around when I was a kid; at home, at relatives, in grocery stores, in advertising. It was a 'thing.' For me it was a bit like a favorite pair of slippers. Steady, loyal and comforting. It still is. It was nice to see it again, and to reconnect with it.

Tillamook is a farmer owned cooperative. After a cheese from the county won an award at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, Tillamook County dairy farmers knew they had something special. In 1909 ten independent cheese producing plants in Tillamook County banded together and formed a cooperative 'to control quality and to market the cheese from the county as a whole instead of from individual plants.' The Tillamook County Creamery Association was born. Today the association consists of 110 dairy families. The cheese can now be found in grocery stores across the country and is used in restaurants from national chains to high-end eateries. The cheddar product line includes Medium Sharp, Special Reserve Extra Sharp, Vintage White, Smoked Cheddar, Mozzarella, Colby and three Jacks -- Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack and Colby Jack. They also make ice cream, yogurt, butter and sour cream. Tillamook products are all-natural, and are made from the highest-quality milk from cows not treated with artificial bovine growth hormone --in other words they are both good and safe to eat. This is a company I can get behind; from its humble beginnings to its now nationally recognized status it is still true to its original values. It's still a cooperative, its products continue to be all-natural, and they make their cheese the way they did when it all began in 1909. Despite their success they are still an old-fashioned company. That's something to celebrate.

Chef Akasha Richmond's Tillamook cheese-inspired food was a perfect compliment to the cheese tasting. Photos by Jo Stougaard.

The Cheese

A Mushroom-Crouton Bite

Fried Chicken with Caesar Salad

Fried Chicken & Mac N Cheese

Macaroni & Cheese!

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Cochon 555 Napa, a write up of the amazing pork festival that I went to in Napa. Reviews: The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: 'My Nepenthe'

My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur. Romney Steele. Andrews McMeel Publishing. $35.00 (352p) ISBN: 978-0-7407-7914-5

My first visit to Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur, California was in the fall of 1983. It was a hot day and we sat outside on the massive terrace with a cold drink -- in those days white wine, or possibly beer -- and looked down at the unbelievable view. A view of the Monterey coast that went on forever. I've never forgotten that first visit. Or that first view. Yes, the parking lot was full of rental cars, and yes, there were crowds of tourists snapping photos but none of that mattered. I didn't know what to expect as we climbed the winding stone steps up through a canopy of oak trees to the restaurant. But once I stepped foot onto the large terrace and saw the view, I understood the magic of Nepenthe. No matter where you are at Nepenthe, the Phoneix Shop, the Café Kevah or the restaurant itself, the view is there. Always and forever. In my memory there were hawks floating on thermals almost at eye level. That is how high up Nepenthe is. In the clouds. At the end of our drinks it was very hard to pull myself away. Over the years I have gone back to Nepenthe each time I visited the area. How can one not visit such a spectacular place?

I was thrilled when I heard that a granddaughter of the original owners had written the Nepenthe story in celebration of its' 60th anniversary. I was even more excited when the book arrived on my doorstep for review. It is everything a book like this should be: a celebration of a place and time, a memoir from someone who lived it, and a cookbook with both family and restaurant recipes. I was recently in Big Sur, (see my last post) and I took Robert to Nepenthe for his first time. It was a joy to be back, and to see the magic at work on someone else. He was just as wowed as I was on my first visit. I love the Bohemian-hippy vibe that still exists in Big Sur and thankfully author, Romney Steele, infuses her writing with a lot of that historical detail. Nepenthe was and still is a gathering point for all sorts of interesting and unique souls. From writers, to artists and artisans, to film people, to through-voyagers. As a child Romney Steele was lucky enough to watch it all happen. From stories of her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fasset who bought the property from Orsen Welles and Rita Hayworth in 1947, to frequent visits by writers Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, to filming of the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie The Sandpiper, Ms. Steele was witness to it all. And a magical storyteller she is, as well as an accomplished cook.

The book is woven through with history, stories, memories, archival photos and recipes. Many of the non-archival color photos are beautifully shot by Sara Remington. The look and feel of the entire work is evocative of the free-living Bohemian lifestyle that permeates Big Sur's past and present. For me it was a fun read as I have been to Nepenthe, and to Big Sur many times over the years; it was wonderful to learn more about the history of both the restaurant and the area. Nepenthe is woven into the fabric of Big Sur and vice versa. They are a part of each other. I tried several recipes from the book and all worked very well, and were a pleasure to eat. On a recent Sunday I cooked this menu: 'Lolly's Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing,' 'Cranberry Sauce,' 'Beet Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette' and 'Lemony Lemon Squares.' This time Robert and I were the only guests; we devoured everything, and loved it all. A few of the leftover lemon bars were passed along to family and friends -- all of whom have asked for the recipe, they were that good. What I like about the food in this book is that it fits in with the down-to-earth vibe the book embodies. Ms. Steele encourages use of local, sustainable ingredients. In fact she has a chart at the beginning of the book, 'Cooking notes,' that tells, (and suggests to), the cook the nature of each ingredient used when she developed and tested the recipes: 'Meats are prime,' 'Baking powder is aluminum-free,' 'Fruit is seasonal, organic if possible, and preferably locally grown,' and so on. This isn't fancy, five-star cuisine nor should it be. The food is earthy, hearty, filling and direct. It's food that makes sense for a restaurant and place perched high atop a hillside above the crashing surf in the wilds of Big Sur. Steele encourages the reader to find their own Nepenthe within the pages of her book. Steele is my kind of cook, this is my kind of book, I expect to pick it up often to both cook from, and to read more and again about life at Nepenthe. My Nepenthe.

Lolly's Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing (Pg. 113)

Cranberry Sauce (Pg. 114)

Beet Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette (Pg. 279)

Lemony Lemon Squares (Pg. 250)

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Cochon 555 Napa, a write up of the amazing pork festival that I went to in Napa. Reviews: The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 22, 2010

Big Sur, California

Despite having seen most of the state while growing up and living in it as an adult, California still surprises. Over and over it reveals itself to me, reminds me of its beauty, and still makes me think it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It had been a number of years since I'd been to one of my favorite spots: Big Sur. Robert and I recently spent a long weekend there and I fell in love all over again. There is something magical in the Big Sur air. Everything about the place appeals to me. The remoteness, the residents still living like it is 1968, the overwhelming natural beauty. We approached the area by car from the north; as soon as we drove into the valley where Big Sur starts we entered a lovely time warp. There is little to none cell phone coverage (bliss!). We stayed at Deetjen's Inn where there is no television, no Internet (more bliss!), and no locks on the doors. It was just the break I'd needed and was looking for from all the noise of modern society. It's amazing how quiet it can actually be without all the technology we surround ourselves with. I'd been hearing about Deetjen's for a number of years from my friend Jill, an American living in London who goes whenever she's in California. I am so glad we chose to stay there.

Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, 48865 Highway One, Big Sur, California, 93920, (831) 667-2377,

Built in the early 1930s by Norwegian Helmut Deetjen, Deetjen's is world famous for its rustic charm and quiet isolation. The story goes that Helmut left his native Norway to get away from the 'authorities'; when he discovered the remote Big Sur coast he decided to stay. He and his wife Helen Haight bought several acres in Castro Canyon which offered the privacy and seclusion he sought. Starting with a redwood barn made from materials from the canneries along Monterey's Cannery Row, 'Grandpa Deetjen' went on to build more structures all constructed using local, scavenged redwood. The inn now comprises twenty rooms and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years it has been visited by numerous famous names from old Hollywood, (Rita Hayworth, Orsen Welles, Kim Novak) to such writers and artists as Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston.

We stayed in 'Edy's Room'; only big enough for a bed, and a couple of chairs and small tables but so full of charm that the lack of space was quickly forgotten. The room was cozy against the chill temperatures outside, and once inside I found it hard to leave. The doors only locked from the inside which at first gave us pause but as long as we were careful to take valuables with us was not an issue. This lack of locks fits right into the laissez-faire Big Sur attitude. For an additional bit of intrigue the room is supposedly haunted by Edy's
ghost. Reading through the journals left behind by prior guests
we learned of possible ghostly sightings. If she was around during our stay she didn't let us know. While we were at Deetjen's we ate a dinner and a breakfast in the quaint dining room; the food was hearty and filling in keeping with the Deetjen's spirit. Now that I have been I look forward to going again soon.

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Highway One, Big Sur, California, (831) 667-0520,

I used to go to Big Sur on a very regular basis when I worked in the restaurant business in San Francisco in the '80s. Jeremiah Tower, chef and owner of Stars restaurant, was once chef at Ventana Inn & Spa in Big Sur. Because of that connection, I always stayed at Ventana -- an upscale resort nestled against the Big Sur mountains just above the fog line. I usually ate in the Ventana restaurant. I also generally stayed put and enjoyed the beauty of Big Sur from on high. This time was different. Robert and I jumped in and really experienced it. We drove, we looked, we hiked and we explored almost every inch. One of the places I knew I'd be visiting was the newish Big Sur Bakery which I'd read about in the Los Angeles Times. I was quite intrigued by the story of three Los Angeles chef friends who chucked their urban-city lives to open a bakery and restaurant in the rustic wilds of Big Sur. It sounded so wonderful to me. Michelle Rizzolo, Philip Wojtowicz and Mike Gilson met while working in such Los Angeles restaurants as Campanile, La Brea Bakery, Joe's Restaurant, and Mélisse. At Big Sur Bakery Michelle handles all the baking and pastry making; Philip is responsible for the kitchen while Mike handles the front of the house. Using a wood-fired oven they bake bread every morning to be sold in the bakery and used in the restaurant. Many dishes on the restaurant menus are also cooked in the wood-fired oven; they honor the local, sustainable, organic credo as well. The trio has published a cookbook, 'The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year In The Life of a Restaurant,' about their first year in business in Big Sur. We had two meals both deeply satisfying. The wood-fire pizza ('Traditional wood fired tomato & cheese pizza') and salad ('Salad of seasonal organic mixed greens with shallots, herbs, roasted carrots, toasted sunflower seeds, and lemon poppy seed dressing') we shared after hiking to a waterfall was just what we needed to fuel up for our next adventure. The dinner we ate one night was the perfect antidote to the cold rainy weather outside. There is a dearth of good, reasonably priced eats in Big Sur so the cozy, rustic charm and hearty food of Big Sur Bakery is a most welcome addition. If I lived in Big Sur I'd be a regular patron.

Part of what I like about Big Sur is its hippy-bohemian vibe. We saw more hitchhikers in three days then I have seen in thirty years. The people we saw out and about, wandering down Highway One on foot, bicycle and car, in shops and restaurants, and at the beach often seemed to be aged hippies of yore, throwbacks to the '60s and the earlier Beat Generation, or for the younger generation -- modern day 'hippies.' The whole Big Sur vibe reminded me so much of growing up in the '60s and '70s along the Central Coast of California where these types were the norm. Hitchhikers thumbed rides freely; men had long hair and beards; everyone wore tie dye T-shirts, peace signs around their necks, and bell bottoms. It was an awesome time to be a kid; so much was happening. I felt a bit of this energy in Big Sur. A place where Beat author Jack Kerouac spent time; and where 'Tropic of Cancer' -- it's 1961 U.S. publication date led to an obscenity trial -- writer Henry Miller lived from 1944 to 1962. Naturally, one of my favorite places we visited was The Henry Miller Library.

The Henry Miller Library, Highway One, Big Sur California, (831) 667-2574,

The library reminded me of City Lights Books in San Francisco's North Beach; a once fertile gathering place for Beatniks, subversives and hippies. Not just a library or a place to sell books but a meeting place; a place to find like-minded souls; a place to hear poetry or a lecture, to see a performance, or attend a workshop; a place to get back that counter-culture, hippy vibe lost long ago. The library does all of that while keeping the spirit of Miller alive. It's seemingly the nexus of all that Big Sur energy. Magnus the current 'librarian' holds court at the cashier's desk answering questions; passing on Miller tidbits, facts and history; and explaining upcoming activities at the library. Again, it felt as though I was stepping back in time. I loved the poster for 'Celebration At Big Sur' -- a counter-culture concert featuring some of my counter-culture heroes: Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Crosy, Stills Nash & Young -- hanging in the library. The poster (see below) says 'Celebrate with...' and I'm sorry I didn't get to.

After we left the Henry Miller Library we ventured down the road to another famed Big Sur location, the can't-miss 'Nepenthe.' A restaurant and bar perched above the Pacific that offers breathtaking views down the Monterey coast. I'd been years ago on a hot summer day, and sat outside on the deck with a cold drink looking south down the coast. My memory of the view and the place has remained strong over the years. The weather was wet and cold the day Robert and I went but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Nepenthe Restuarant, 48510 Highway One, Big Sur, California, 93920, (831) 667-2345,

'Nepenthe' means 'isle of no care' in Greek. Original Nepenthe owners Lolly and Bill Fassett and their five children settled into a cabin on the property called the Log House in 1947. The Log House's most recent owners had been Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles neither of whom lived in the house due to their filing for divorce soon after they bought it. Once settled in the Fasset's proceeded to slowly build what is now Nepenthe. The original vision was for 'an open-air pavilion with good food and wine and dancing under the stars.' A place where people from up and down the coast would come and forget their cares.' [from the Nepenthe website]. Lolly opened the Phoenix Shop, now a gift shop, so local and traveling merchants could show and sell their wares. The family lived an idyllic Bohemian life surrounded by artists, crafts people, writers, performers and travelers. Like the Henry Miller Library, Nepenthe is still a gathering place for thinkers and creative types both those living locally and those traveling through; as well as for the endless stream of tourists traveling down Highway One who stop in for a drink, some food and the bewitching view. Nepenthe is like the cream on top of the Big Sur bohemian pie. One does have to wonder if Big Sur would be 'Big Sur' without Nepenthe. I have to say that it would not -- Nepenthe is such a part of the history and fabric of Big Sur that without it, it would be something else entirely. [While relatives of Lolly and Bill run the day-today of the restaurant], granddaughter, Romney Steele, has taken over the running of Nepenthe and has [recently] published a book about the history and food of the famed restaurant: 'My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur.'

Easlen Institute, 55000 Highway One, Big Sur, California, 93920, (831) 667-3000,

There is one other remarkable and fun thing that we did in Big Sur that I want to mention: visiting the hot springs at the Esalen Institute. Esalen, an organization and retreat center, "...was founded in 1962 as an alterntaive educational center devoted to the exploration of what Aldous Huxley called the 'the human potential,' the world of unrealized human capacities that lies beyond the imagination." [from the Esalen website] Now comprised of twenty-seven acres perched on the cliffs above the crashing Pacific ocean, the institute holds a wide range of classes, workshops, and retreats offering introductions to Gestalt, massage, sensory awareness and meditation. And then there's the natural hot springs that pour forth from a seaside cliff. Because the institute allows registered guests top priority in using the hot springs, they are only open to the public from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. I'd heard about the springs before, and I knew admittance was in the middle of the night, but Robert and I still wanted to go. We took a nap and went. We are so glad we did. The springs are set atop a cliff right over the ocean. While soaking in the hot springs we watched the waves crashing on the rocks below us, we looked out into the dark sea, and at the stars twinkling above us. It was a magical two hours. Two hours that I hope to experience again. In fact the whole weekend was a magical experience I hope to experience again. One I also highly recommend.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Cochon 555 Napa, a write up of the amazing pork festival that I went to in Napa. Reviews: My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 4, 2010

*The Local Report - McCall's Meat & Fish Co.

1.9 miles, about 5 minutes, from my home in Atwater Village.

There's a new butcher in town and boy am I happy. It seems that the neighborhood butcher has gone by the wayside and that more and more people are relying on supermarket butchers. While the guys at my local Whole Foods are very helpful and knowledgeable, there's nothing quite like the personal rapport one develops with a local, neighborhood butcher. Like the one I am establishing with chef-butchers, and husband and wife team, Nathan McCall and Karen Yoo. I have been in several times and appreciate the hands on service they have given me. Whether it be advice on what cut to buy, or how to cook it the duo is more than accommodating. McCall and Yoo both have backgrounds as professional chefs; McCall cooked at Los Angeles restaurants Café Pinot and Sona; he also spent time in the kitchen of Spain's Michelin three star restaurant Arzak followed up with time at Daniel Boulud's Restaurant Daniel in New York City. Yoo, trained as a pastry chef, worked in the kitchens of Campanile, Sona and Restaurant Daniel. Given their experiences in professional kitchens they should be the go-to-butchers for both the professional chef and the home cook. Who better to buy meat and fish from than those who have the experience cooking it? It's a great combination.

To add to the package they only source their meat, as they state on their website, 'from traditional farms where animals are naturally and humanely raised on the best feed without the use of hormones or chemical enhancements.' Their 'fish is wild-caught and/or responsibly raised in the most natural environment.' They stock CAB (Certified Angus Beef) Beef, Kurobuta (Berkshire to us) pork, lamb, locally raised poultry (from KenDor Farms in Van Nuys), eggs, house made sausages (pork-fennel and garlic-paprika), and sushi grade salmon and tuna among other seafood. Check the chalkboard specials for such items as duck, rabbit, squab and leg of lamb. They also sell a hand picked selection of gourmet oils, vinegars, salt and pepper, and other specialty cooking products. Given their propensity to be local and sustainable they could almost be a butcher my great-grandmother went to albeit without the sawdust on the floor and the banging screen door. And that is a comforting thought. I'll be going to McCall's often. It is so close to home. Welcome to the neighborhood Nathan and Karen!

Chef-butchers Karen Yoo and Nathan McCall

McCall's Meat & Fish Co.
2117 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, California 90027
323-667-0674 (ph.)
323-667-0802 (fax)

*The Local Report(s): are occasional blog posts on restaurants, and/or businesses that either support the idea of one-hundred miles, and 'living life locally'; or are small, localized businesses in my neighborhood, and/or within one-hundered miles of my residence, that I prefer to support over the larger, national, corporate chains. For other The Local Report(s) please go the Archives section of this blog. Also, I'd love to hear from my readers about businesses that they support in their neighborhoods: write to me at charlesgthompson AT 100miles DOT com, or leave a comment here.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Cochon 555 Napa, a write up of the amazing pork festival that I went to in Napa. Reviews: My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: 'Venezia: Food & Dreams'

Venezia: Food & Dreams. Tessa Kiros. Andrews McMeel Publishing. $34.99 (288p) ISBN: 978-0-7407-8516-0

Venezia: Food & Dreams is a love letter to Venice. Reading it and cooking from it is a bit like looking at a Caravaggio painting. The dreamlike colors of the photos, the lovely setting of Venice, the simple yet forthright recipes. This book is written, photographed and designed in a dreamlike fashion; one that is so often associated with Venice. Tessa Kiros knows her subject well. In addition to the wonderful recipes, Kiros sprinkles in her thoughts, and comments; her experiences in the city in the form of poetic moments. Many of the photos are of the city itself and its citizens, or of the colorful buildings, or of Carnival; not only of food and recipes. This book is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have come across in a long time. And the food and recipes, as I came to find out, are as delicious as the book is beautiful.

Kiros divides the book into sections that mirror an Italian menu: Antipasti, Zuppa/Pasta/Gnocchi, Risotto, Secondi, Contorni, and Dolci -- with additional sections on Essential Recipes and Cicchetti, small bites unique to Venice. As she unfolds the sections she weaves in her thoughts and comments about Venice, about a dish, a little history, or a moment in time. In one she describes trying to stand up in a gondola like the Venetians do; feet apart to steady yourself so you won't fall down. She mentions that a sure sign of a tourist is one who sits versus stands. Standing up allows more people to ride. I loved reading this. I laughed when I saw in the front of the book in the Essential Recipes section that the first entry is Polenta with recipes for both 'fast' (using instant) and 'slow' preparations. I like that it's the first thing you see and that she offers both ways of cooking the dish. It's a nice starting point. From there it's a slow, leisurely roller coaster ride through an Italian menu via the dishes of Venice. As Venice is known for its seafood many of the recipes have fish and seafood in them. Sardines, scampi, octopus, baccala, anchovies, clams, scallops, branzino, crab, calamari, appear in every other recipe. Dishes like Spaghetti al Nero de Seppie, (Spagehtti with Squid Ink) to a simple, ubiquitous Mista de Pesce (Mixed Grilled Fish). Other interludes involve her trying to get the locals to divulge their recipes; she writes that while Venetians offer up directions at the drop of a cappello, getting them to give up secrets to their cooking is not so easy.

Over a recent weekend I cooked several recipes from the book: Polpette di carne (Meatballs), Bigoili in salsa (Healthy pasta with anchovies & onions), Brasato con amarone di valpolicella (Braised beef with amarone), Radicchio al limone (Radicchio in lemon), Fast Polenta. I can say that they all worked beautifully and were huge hits with my dinner guests. At one meal we ate the braised beef, the raddichio and the polenta: the oohs and ahhs didn't stop until the last morsel was consumed. It was truly, restaurant outings included, the best thing I've made and eaten in a very long time. I chose the beef dish as I wanted to buy meat from a new local butcher McCall's Meat & Fish Co. located in the Loz Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. The piece of chuck that butcher Nathan McCall sold me was perfection. Combined with the amazing recipe it was an incredible thing! A dish I will make again, and again, and one I highly recommend. And it couldn't have been easier to prepare. The radicchio (sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper then simmered in lemon juice for ten minutes) was a beautiful combination of bitter plant, tart lemon juice, olive oil and saltiness: so simple yet so satisfying. The next night for Sunday dinner I made the meatballs and the pasta. The pasta dish was wonderful; a slight hint of the sea due to the anchovies, the cooked-down-to-sweetness onions a perfect compliment. This dish would be great for a light meal, add a green salad = perfetto! The meatball dish was the only one I had any trouble with but I think it may have had more to do with operator error than a flaw in the recipe. For some reason (my guesses: too much oil, not hot enough, meatballs not cold enough, pan too crowded, ratio of beef to potato wrong) I couldn't get the meatballs to stay together when I cooked them. I would have liked the recipe to offer a tad more guidance during the cooking process. That's my only critique. We still ate them, they were still very good.

I love this book. There are so many recipes I still want to try. Dishes I've eaten on my travels in Italy, or at restaurants here in the U.S. but have never made at home. I've never made anything with squid ink, I'd like to try Maiale al latte (Pork in milk) because I've heard of it before and it intrigues me, and I've never made a salt cod preparation at home either. So one day soon, back in the kitchen with Venezia: Food & Dreams, and more Venetian cooking, eating and dreaming.

Buon appetito!

Brasato con amarone di valpolicella

Radicchio al limone

Upcoming Trips: Napa Valley - 2/27-3/1 - Cochon 555 ~ 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers ~ 2010 US Tour. Big Sur - 3/5-/38 ~ Dinner at Big Sur Bakery.

Upcoming Posts: An Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Offal (Not Awful) & Nose To Tail Eating

My great-great grandmother Martha Cloud's husband, Sam Miller, circa 1941, Modoc County, California

'Offal is a culinary term used to refer to the entrails and internal organs of a butchered animal. The word does not refer to a particular list of organs other than muscles or bones. People in some cultures shy away from offal as food, while others use it as everyday food, or even in delicacies that command a high price.' -- from Wikipedia. 'Nose to Tail Eating,' a term seemingly coined by British chef and restaurateur, Fergus Anderson, involves food preparation using the entire animal (or plant) from nose to tail. Chef Anderson, author of the book, 'The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating,' owns St. John, a restaurant in London where according to 'he serves up the inner organs of beasts and fowls in big exhilarating dishes that combine high sophistication with peasant roughness.'

I think I'm a pretty good eater; I don't shy away from too many things. But like most of us I have my likes and dislikes; more likes than dislikes. I abhor any kind of dried fruit; I simply don't eat it. And I don't like cooked apples so not a big apple pie eater. My dislike of dried fruit disallows a goodly number of cereals, granolas, trail mix, and some baked goods and desserts. I've learned to check first to avoid the interminable picking out of unwelcome items. The reason I don't like dried fruit is textural. I hate that it sticks to my teeth -- end of story. I can't get beyond that. I can't exactly explain my issue with cooked apples just that they're oddly, uhm, slimy. I hate apple sauce. Again, it's a textural thing; how it feels in my mouth affects how it tastes. Offal can and does fall into the textural issues category but I've still eaten my fair share of it. I wouldn't say I'm an avid consumer of it however. Living in and traveling often to France I've had many French offal preparations, liver and kidneys, among others that I've enjoyed. I do like sweetbreads, and blood sausage a lot and will order them in restaurants. However if there are offal dishes on a restaurant menu invariably I'll choose a non-offal dish. Recently I've noticed that there seems to be a much keener interest in offal here in the U.S. -- at least in restaurants, in food journalism and in foodie circles. It's almost as if offal is replacing pork this year as the favorite food item? This offal uptick has me wondering why I don't eat it as often as I eat other animal protein, and I've decided there are a few reasons.

The first is related to the dried fruit issue: textural. A lot of offal is gelatinous, sinewy, and chewy in ways a well-prepared steak is not. Depending on what gland or organ is being cooked the feel of the food is different too: liver, kidneys, tongue, brains, tripe and so on. It has a different texture, and often a different smell, than cuts of beef, pork, lamb or chicken. These differences have always given me pause. And then there's the cultural issue. I wasn't raised eating the stuff. It wasn't a part of my diet growing up in the '60s and '70s. It was a part of the diet of my relatives, a generation before my mother. My great-grandparents, my grandfather and great-uncle ate it. They had a ranch; they raised their own chickens and sheep. My great uncle hunted, butchered and prepared deer. My mother tells the story of watching my great-grandfather chop the heads off of chickens and how they ran around headless until they died. That was normal to them. I've never seen an animal killed let alone butchered. We bought our chicken already cut up, wrapped in plastic in a styrofoam tray. If we did buy a whole chicken the giblets were wrapped in a small sealed paper bag which was easy to just throw away. Fast food did not help my palate adjust to eating offal either. Just think of the textures in fast food: 'soft' comes to mind first; with flavors that are 'bland,' 'salty' and 'sweet.' We ate a lot of fast food when I was a kid and while it probably contained offal we didn't know it. My mother did cook us a fair amount of liver and we hated it; it wasn't until I left home and lived in France that I first understood that offal could be tasty and interesting. I ate my first blood sausage at a French friend's house: broiled blood sausage, couscous, a green salad and cheese. It was a revelation to me. I ate a few other offal dishes the year I lived there. After France when I was first back home in Sonoma County, a friend and I went to a 'fancy' restaurant and we both ordered sweetbreads, and they were delicious. Besides the liver I ate as a child and the dishes I ate in France those sweetbreads are the first offal food memory I have. I've eaten sweetbreads over and over ever since.

I hate to admit this but I think I'm a picky offal eater. I am not, I have come to realize, the type of 'I'll-eat-anything-put-before-me' eater that Anthony Bourdain is. I have foodie friends who are very adventurous who will eat almost anything. I admire heartily the enthusiasm of Bourdain and my food-obsessed friends. I fully appreciate the nose-to-tail movement as it is economically sound and environmentally conscious. It easily fits into the '100 miles' philosophy: when possible use all of whatever we take from nature. I have eaten pigs feet; they were good, I enjoyed them. I will eat them, and other offal and nose-to-tail dishes again. Many cultures use offal and nose-to-tail ingredients in their cuisines. What better hangover cure is there than menudo? I'll keep trying new things, new dishes, domestic and foreign. My point here is that if I'd lived during my great-grandparents,' and grandparents' time my palate and diet would have been more acculturated to eating the whole animal. More than likely I would have been involved in the slaughtering and butchering of the animals. For economical reasons we would have used the entire animal. Sadly, I grew up in the industrialized grocery store, frozen everything, fast food era. That's not to say that I won't eventually become more adventurous, and I do know plenty of people who grew up the way I did who are 'eat anything' eaters, but for me right now: I am a picky-less-adventurous-offal-eater that's willing to grow. I have friends who will lead the way. You know who you are!

Upcoming Trips: Napa Valley - 2/27-3/1 - Cochon 555 ~ 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers ~ 2010 US Tour. Big Sur - 3/5-/38 ~ Dinner at Big Sur Bakery.

Upcoming Posts: An Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes, owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

*The Local Report - Forage

3.0 miles, about 9 minutes, from my home in Atwater Village.

Foraging? There seems to be a new movement afoot in the food and restaurant worlds. Or is it simply an expansion upon sustainable and local eating? Gather what is closest to you versus buying ingredients that come from thousands of miles away. Eat fresh, seasonal, locally produced goods rather than the stuff that sits in ships and trucks for weeks on end. And when possible forage what you can yourself. Go to your local outdoor spaces: fields, mountains, streams and pick the edibles you find there. Harvest your backyard fruit and vegetables, and donate them. There is a mini-movement happening, or at the very least foraging is gaining a more public face. There are more and more Chefs that forage themselves, or rely on foragers to bring them ingredients; organizations that encourage picking public fruit are appearing. Among restaurants Chez Panisse is the most famous for foraging. They have long had a policy of accepting goods at the restaurant's back door from people who forage in the surrounding area, or grow produce in their backyards. The local person who brings them mushrooms, or backyard strawberries, or edible greens from local mountains that all end up on that day's menu. On a recent trip to San Francisco we ate at S.P.Q.R. and we had raviolis with locally foraged nettles in them. The chef, Matthew Accarrino, forages his own edibles across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin headlands. When he was at Craft in Los Angeles, he worked with forager, Kerry Clasby, to learn the art of foraging. Fallen Fruit is an amazing group that promotes gathering public fruit. Fruit from trees that are in public areas or that hang over sidewalks. The group says this about themselves: "Using fruit as our lens, Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community." They sponsor Public Fruit Jams, bring your homegrown fruit and participate in communal jam making; Community Fruit Tree Plantings; and most recently they've started EAT LACMA in conjunction with LACMA -- "a year-long investigation into food, art, culture and politics." Food as a protest movement? I'll join up.

Now Los Angeles has a new restaurant that combines foraging and urban harvests: 'Forage.' The restaurant actively encourages backyard farmers and gardeners to bring in their bounty to be used in the food they prepare. Since its recent opening it has been very active on Twitter and Facebook; I've seen a lot of posts about what has been brought in by customers and how it will be used. They even post who brought what in on the specials chalk board that hangs near the cash register. They see this as a collaboration between the restaurant and the customer. To further this interaction they hold 'harvest calls' every Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. Bring in items from your personal harvest; they will taste them and decide with you how they might be used in an upcoming menu. The Forage website also has a running list of produce they are looking for: garlic, onions, shallots, limes and avocados are on the current list. If you have them, bring them in, they will probably use them.

I have eaten at the restaurant several times and it has been very good each time: fresh, clean, bold. No fancy foams or exotic preparations here; honest food, simply prepared. On my first visit I ordered the Combo Plate -- One Small Protein with Two Sides. I chose Chimichurri Rubbed Flank Steak (grilled natural Angus served with nopales tomatillo salsa), Honey Mustard Chickpeas and Greens (sweetly spiced chickpeas with raw mustard greens), and Citrus Beets (citrus marinated beets with goat milk feta and arugula). At lunch today I discovered my current favorite Los Angeles sandwich: P Belly Sandwich (Niman Ranch pork belly on a crusty baguette with cabbage, tomato, fennel pickles and green garlic aioli). The flavors all combined together almost made me swoon. And it was very popular; every other person seemed to order it. For dinner tonight I grabbed one of their roast chickens, Jidori Chicken from Our Rotisserie (here's the description on the menu: "Jidori, translated from Japanese means 'chicken of the earth.' They're raised locally on a family farm, and we gently roast them with herbs and garlic.") I added a side of Maryanne's Broccoli (baby broccoli with chile, shallot, and garlic) and a slice of Chamomile Honey Vanilla Cake. I'll let you know how it all is tomorrow. Owner and chef Jason Kim, most recently sous-chef at Lucques before venturing out on his own, has the necessary cooking experience to pull this off. It has only been open a short while but so far it has really taken off. There are frequently lines out the door. I like it because it's local, sustainable, seasonal and most importantly involves the customer in the harvesting and menu planning of the food they will eat. How cool is that to see your backyard fruit or produce become a delicious dish on Chef Kim's menu? Pretty damned exciting I'd say.

And it's only three miles from home!

3823 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026-1529

*The Local Report(s): are occasional blog posts on restaurants, and/or businesses that either support the idea of one-hundred miles, and 'living life locally'; or are small, localized businesses in my neighborhood, and/or within one-hundered miles of my residence, that I prefer to support over the larger, national, corporate chains. For other The Local Report(s) please go the Archives section of this blog. Also, I'd love to hear from my readers about businesses that they support in their neighborhoods: write to me at charlesgthompson AT 100miles DOT com, or leave a comment here.

Upcoming Posts: Interview with Chefs John Stewart & Duskie Estes owners of Zazu & Bovolo restaurants in Sonoma County. Reviews: Venezia: Food & Dreams by Tessa Kiros, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur by Romney Steele, The Spirit Kitchen: Everyday Cooking with Organic Spices by Sara Engram and Katie Luber and Kimberly Toqe.

Bookmark and Share