Friday, December 11, 2009

Guest Blog: My Mother, Dawn Goodman - My Food History

My great-grandparents, Ora and Rolla Goodman, at a family barbecue in Waller Park in Santa Maria, California.

Introduction - My Life in Food

I have very fond food memories from my childhood growing up on the Central Coast of California during the 60s and 70s. I grew up in the near-coastal town of San Luis Obispo. Even though I lived in other places as a child, it's my hometown. My mother, Dawn Goodman, was born in Santa Maria, a town further south on the 101 freeway; and her grandparents, Rolla and Ora Goodman lived in Orcutt, a small town just south of Santa Maria. Most of my memories are of my great-grandparents, their profuse garden and their sourcing of local-area ingredients for family meals. Their home was the locus of all family gatherings and many happy times were spent there. However, my mother, my sister, Traci, and I have our own food history of which I also have memories. My mother recounts much of it in this post: read on...

Recently I celebrated a 'big' birthday. My friend, Karen Roorda, devised the most extraordinary gift for me: my life in food. From childhood all the way up to this blog. She brought a large duffel bag to the party and proceeded to take out all manner of items related to my food, cooking and eating history including a Big Mac, large fries and chocolate shake from McDonald's. Was I surprised by this? Yes!! My mother had told her that we subsisted on fast food when my sister and I were in our pre-teens and teens. Karen had contacted my mother without my knowledge and gathered the necessary information to make this gift-presentation. It was an amazing surprise and a wonderful gift. Afterward I found out that my mother had written Karen an e-mail recounting my food history. I learned a lot from reading it, and remembered things I'd forgotten, and enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be fun to share on this blog. It also shows a bit where I came by my interest in food.

Before I let my mother take it away, I'd like to point out that she did raise my sister and I as a single mother without benefit of financial security. Food and cooking were not really a priority as she had a hard enough time keeping up with everything else. She did get us fed, she cooked often because she had to, we did eat out at fast food restaurants for awhile. I have no complaints. We all survived. I thank her for what she was able to do for us and show us about life. Now then, here's my mother, Dawn Goodman, writing to my friend Karen Roorda (I have inserted my comments in [brackets]):

Charles' History in Food by Dawn Goodman

Hi Karen:

What a wonderful thoughtful gift to give Charles. My problem is trying to remember 30 plus years ago, as well as having given Charles all his history (baby book, school records, photos, etc.) a long time ago, but I will do my best. Charles was nine pounds at birth and as a baby was not picky, he ate everything. At nine months he had to be put on low-fat milk because he was too roly-poly. He remained 'chunky' until junior high school when he shot up to six feet and thinned out. I do not remember him disliking any particular food although I'm sure there were some.

Being a single mother, working full-time, and keeping up the house and kids, I did not have much time for cooking. Also, Traci was a very picky eater, and as result we had a limited diet. I remember using a lot of Bisquick -- in pancakes with bananas, biscuits, coffee cakes, etc. But mostly it was the usual, over and over -- meatloaf, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages (pigs in a blanket), macaroni and cheese (from a box), spaghetti, tuna casserole, fried chicken, pork and lamb chops, turkey, beef stew, potato and macaroni salad, Iceberg lettuce salad, coleslaw, and pizza. We ate a lot of zucchini, in bread, as a pureed soup base, patties and in salads. When pizza first came out it was in a box with a can of tomato sauce and dough. The toppings were up to each person. This was just before pizza parlors became popular. We ate out more often than not. There was McDonald's, Chinese food, Taco Bell, A&W drive ins, Sizzler (they were just starting). I seldom used a recipe only because I made the same things over and over. This was when nearly every recipe was made with one or the other of Campbell creamed soups; and yes, every dessert had some Jello in it. We ate few sweets except for cookies. I did make a banana bread/cake. Traci took the recipe to 1st grade for a Christmas book of recipes the kids made for their families. In it was our 'Rotten Banana Bread,' as the kids called it.

I was not a good cook and did not enjoy cooking. Because I didn't, I think it was in junior high when Charles took an interest in cooking. He made up a recipe and entered it in the once-a-year recipe contest in the local newspaper [Telegram Tribune, San Luis Obispo, California]. He didn't win but it was printed. It was called Pizza Casserole. There was Italian sausage, onion, zucchini, and tomato sauce with Bisquick biscuits on top. We ate it often. It was good. One time I was busy painting the outside of the house when he came out with a picnic lunch he had put together. He made me stop, clean up, and go for a short ride in the country. We had a lovely lunch which I've never forgotten. After he had been in France and come home he started culinary school. When a close friend was getting married he and two other students did the entire reception as a gift. He has always been interested in good food.

We were lucky to live near my grandparents and uncle and aunt. Because the ocean was only a few miles away we had access to fresh fish, clams, and abalone. This influenced Charles more than anything. When he was born there were still clams to be dug up at low tide in Pismo Beach [Clamming is now restricted due to over harvesting]. Grandma Ora made clam chowder and clam cakes. The abalone were on their way out by the time Charles was aware but we did have them from time to time. Grandpa Rollie raised sheep which we ate [I assume it was lamb we ate vs. mutton], and all the vegetables and fruit came out of their garden. Charles' favorite item was the homemade jerky our Uncle Herman made from deer that he hunted. We also had wonderful barbecues at the local park [see picture above], on homemade pits, and even in the fireplace when it was cold outside. It was a way of life fast disappearing. Favorite family recipes made by grandparents and aunts: Tamale Pie, enchiladas, Heavenly Hash - a fruit salad, Macaroni Loaf, Mock Ravioli, Hot Fudge Pudding (I think I've seen this in a box by Betty Crocker now?), Velvet Crumb Cake, plus others.

Dawn Goodman

Please Vote For Me: The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook Contest: I have entered my baked papaya recipe, 'Chef Wally's Baked Papaya,' into the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest. If selected the recipe will be published in cookbook published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. To vote go to the top of my blog to the Foodista icon. Thanks!

My Status:
Continued wet, cold weather here in Southern California which is nice for a change. Planning to make some hearty winter dishes, recipes. Also new cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Cooking The Cowboy Way, a review of the new cookbook by cowboy-chef Grady Spears.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Review: 'Bread Matters'

Bread Matters - The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own. Andrew Whitley. Andrews McMeel Publishing. $34.99. (373p) ISBN 978-0-7407-7373-0

When I was a kid my sister and I baked all the time. That is we baked when weren't running all over Kingdom Come. We were latch key children being raised by a single mother. It was the 60s and 70s in small town California and it was safe to run all over K.C. with abandon, without worry. When we were old enough to care for ourselves my mother gave us house keys which we wore around our necks next to our skate keys on those metal ball chains like soldiers use to wear their dog tags. Running all over K.C. was pretty much a full-time activity but on those days when the weather was inclement, where we had to stay indoors, my mother often came home at five o'clock to two dozen chocolate chip cookies that we'd spent the wet afternoon baking. We simply followed the directions on the back of the Toll House chocolate chips package (still one of the best recipes for chocolate chip cookies ever!) and voila! Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Even though my mother could barely keep up with it all she did manage to always have flour, white and brown sugar, baking soda and powder, oil, butter and Crisco on hand. If we were running low on a precious baking necessity Traci or I added it to the grocery list on the refrigerator. If we weren't making cookies it was cupcakes, or full on cakes from those Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines boxed mixes. We had no fear, we pretty much baked anything. Our solo forays did stop at yeast baking however but I do know that on more than one occasion we made bread with my mother. I have fond memories of slicing the still hot loaves and slathering butter all over them, and gobbling them down. Those were kitchen events where we all baked together as a family.

And then for some reason as an adult I did a whole lot less baking. I did bake massive amounts of sourdough bread at my first restaurant job as a cook which was both a challenge and a lot of fun. The place was called Sourdough Jack's and fresh-baked sourdough loaves were the first item put on a diner's table. But after that both personally and professionally I moved over to savory cooking; cooking the first courses, main courses, and sides. My culinary interests solidified. I didn't actually find the time for yeast baking and it sadly fell by the wayside. So when I received 'Bread Matters' to review from Andrews McMeel Publishing I was excited. I looked forward to reading it and to trying the recipes. 'Bread Matters' is not just a book about baking -- it's a book about a lifestyle. Author-baker Andrew Whitley has owned an award-winning bakery near Cumbria, England since 1976. He has devoted over twenty-five years to perfecting the craft of baking bread. In 2002 he founded Bread Matters, an organization devoted to improving the state of bread. He is also a founder of the Real Bread Campaign in Great Britain which started in 2003 and aims to encourage the increased and local consumption of 'real bread' in Great Britain.

The first three chapters of 'Bread Matters' are devoted to the issues surrounding the production of commercial bread. Whitley believes that store-bought bread has little nutritional value and unnecessary additives, and that it is made too quickly. He advocates that slowing down the process makes for better tasting, more nutritional bread. Chapter Three - Taking Control is a call to action: leave the store-bought, commercial stuff behind and buy or bake your own organic bread. The rest of the book tells you how with over fifty recipes. The book is for all levels of baker from beginner to expert. The first recipe I tried was from Chapter Six - First Bread and Rolls and is titled 'Basic Bread.' For not having made a yeast bread in a very long time it was just like getting back on the proverbial bicycle. It took several hours but they were relaxing hours; once I set the dough to rise on the back of my stove there was a giddy anticipation of will it rise properly, will it work? And it did, my basic bread loaf was a beautiful sight and tasted even better. Whitley's recipe and explanations were clear and straightforward. To have a complete experience I kneaded the dough with my hands vs. a mixer or Cuisinart and I am glad I did. It put me in closer touch with the process and it was fun!

What I like about the book is the detail to which Whitely goes to explain all the technical aspects of yeast cookery. Types of flour, water, yeast, baking equipment, essential ingredients, temperature, ovens, nutritional value, troubleshooting -- he even includes a section on gluten-free baking. While making my basic loaf I had a question about the process and quickly found the answer in another section of the book. I tried several other recipes including Baps (Small Rolls) and a recipe for calzoni; all worked beautifully. Next on my list of attempts will be something with sourdough and possibly croissants. The book is thorough, well-organized and full of great information on baking and yeast cookery. Whitley walks readers through the baking process with chapters like Starting From Scratch, Bread-A Meal in Itself, and Easy As Pie. If you don't already own one of the many yeast cookery books out there, or are looking for a good primer, I highly recommend Bread Matters. If you already have one or more of the others out there, this will make a perfect addition to your library. It's always good to have more than one source, isn't it? Andrew Whitley absolutely knows what he's talking about.

My Status: The cold weather is here in Southern California and I'm loving it. Time to pull put those winter dishes, recipes. Also new cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Cooking The Cowboy Way, a review of the new cookbook by cowboy-chef Grady Spears.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

KCRW & 'Good Food' & Pie Judging Contest

A couple of years ago Robert and I went to the Los Angeles County Fair. I'm not much of a fair person and I wasn't sure what to expect but I actually ended up having a really nice time. My favorite part of the fair was where a lot of the judging took place. We entered a rather industrial feeling building, cavernous, high ceilings; one of many on the fairgrounds. As we turned a corner there was an area full of dining tables all with elaborately designed, over-the-top table settings. The competition was the best table setting for a party. Some of the tables were so overdone and crowded I doubted anyone would have been able to eat at them. We oohed and ahhed and giggled our way through them. The next area we walked through was definitely more to my liking: baked goods. There was display case after display case full of all manner of baked goods; pies, cakes, cookies and so on. All had identifying information: what the item was, who baked it, and occasionally a ribbon if it had placed. As we got there a pie judging was about to start. People were arriving with their pies and setting them before the judges who sat on a raised stage. Something as old-fashioned as pie judging still happened, and people actually entered pies -- in Los Angeles. For a moment the modern world disappeared. I was fascinated.

When I heard this summer that Evan Kleiman of KCRW's 'Good Food' was going to bake a pie a day for one month I was intrigued, in awe, and followed along as she reached her goal. Then when I heard that she was hosting a pie judging contest I just had to go and watch (and next year I'm going to enter). The event, KCRW's Good Food Pie Contest, took place on Saturday, November 14th at the Westfield Shopping Center in Canoga Park. The judges were all local chefs and foodies: Mark Peel of Campanile; L.A. Times Food Editor, Russ Parsons; Stefan Richter of Top Chef and L.A. Farm; Eric Greenspan of The Foundry; Elizabeth Belkind of the Cake Monkey Bakery; Amy Scattergood from the L.A. Weekly; Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook; Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining and Extreme Cuisine; and Clifford Wright, author of Best Soups in the World and Bake Until Bubbly: Casseroles. No cooking slouches here. I'd long been a fan of Mark Peel's, having met him several times, and having eaten at his Los Angeles restaurant Campanile on a regular basis. I'd certainly trust him to judge my pie fairly if I entered one. Now that I write this I see that based on the judges it was actually a tad more elite than what I witnessed at the county fair but the spirit was the same. Home cooks presenting their best possible pie creations hoping to take home a winner's ribbon.

Evan acted as master of ceremonies as 123 pies were set out on long tables. Judging took place in these categories: Best In Show; Fruit & Nut; Cream/Custard/Chiffon/Mousse; Savory; Interpretive (Defies Category). Once the judging started the judges moved from their assigned pies to the next on their list -- they didn't taste every pie entered; each judge had to taste ten to twelves pies. We spectators were held at bay by ropes and stanchions but were close enough to feel like we were in the mix. It was a hoot to watch as they all intermingled, rubbed elbows, and occasionally commented on what they were tasting. An added pleasure of the afternoon was seeing blogger friend Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes in the crowd. I knew she wasn't there as a spectator as she and her blogging partner, Amir Thomas are always cooking. Sure enough she won first place in the savory category for their pie 'Tarragon Chicken and Grape Pie.' A pie they had on their menu when they cooked at Canalé a few months back where I met them. Robert and I were very excited for her. The winning pie (Best In Show) was none other than an apple pie baked by Barbara Treves. Once the judging was complete they lifted the ropes and the spectators were allowed in to taste the pies themselves. It was a fun and relaxing thing to do on a Saturday afternoon in November. And, like I said above, next year I want to enter a pie myself. Guess I better get baking so I can perfect my crust and decide what to fill it with.

Mark Peel, chef/owner of Campanile.

Eric Greenspan, chef of The Foundry.

Stefan Richter, Top Chef and chef of Stefan's at LA Farm.

Robert with Evan Kleiman of Good Food and Angelli Caffe.

Judging is under way.

2nd round judging.

Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes with her first place ribbon in the savory category.

Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes and me.

My Status: Settling into late fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Bread Matters, a review of the new bread book by Andrew Whitley.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009


My great-grandparents, Ora and Rolla Goodman, Orcutt, California

One of my favorite family stories is about how my great-grandmother, Ora Goodman - the inspiration for this blog - fed the hobos on Sundays. Sunday was pancake day at my great-grandmother's house. Every Sunday Gramma Ora made pancakes for the family, and always made extras for the local hobos. They'd come by the back door and she'd pass plates out to them. This isn't something I experienced but my mother did. She has childhood memories of this happening. The town this took place in, Orcutt, California, was a small town back in those days, and it still is. It was a poor town as well. The time period was the early to mid 1940s. The Great Depression was still a recent memory. There were still a lot of people living in poverty. My great-grandparents didn't have a lot but they did have a giving, generous spirit. When I first started reading about 'gleaning' - the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields - I thought of this story. I thought of what I knew about my great-grandparents, and how spreading around the little bit they did have was true to form. It was probably also a more giving time. My mother tells me that the hobos would mark the houses that gave them food. A mark on a fence post, a pile of rocks, who knows exactly how they let each other know that this was a house that gave handouts. I love how the message was spread. Any hobo passing through town could easily find a meal. My great-grandmother's house wasn't the only house in town that gave out free food. Apparently it was a common practice of the time -- and I love that. That generosity of spirit. The helping hand.

Gleaning has been around for a very long time. Historically, going back to biblical times, farmers purposefully left the edges of their fields unpicked, and unharvested for the less fortunate. My mother currently lives in the area where my great-grandparents lived. It's an agricultural area. A lot of produce is grown there. She tells me that after a field is picked any leftovers are taken to local food banks. A practice that has endured for centuries. Ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of welfare. Some ancient Jewish communities required farmers to not reap all the way to the edges of a field so as to leave some for the poor. (Source: Wikipedia) There has actually been an uptick in the act of gleaning recently. Our current economic downturn seemingly a turning point. The desire to live simpler, to reach out to others. An urban gleaning movement has taken hold. Urban gleaners harvest public fruit: like picking from a neighbor's over-burdened tree; an untended orange tree is picked free of ripe fruit; trees that bear fruit in public places, parks, libraries, government buildings are targets as well. A group in Los Angeles, Fallen Fruit, has made it their mission to collect as much public produce as possible and give it to the poor, hungry and needy. Fallen Fruit has a list of gleaning 'Dos and Don'ts':

  • Ask first, or leave a note with your contact information
  • Take only what you need
  • Be friendly
  • Share your food
  • Take a friend
  • Go by foot
Fallen Fruit creates maps to publicly available fruit. Some groups distribute unwanted food to shelters, and soup kitchens. Others collect food that isn't sold at farmer's markets. Volunteers go into farmers' fields to harvest produce that can't be sold. Home gardeners grow extra produce and give it to local food pantries and soup kitchens. One such group in Washington D.C. started a program called 'Grow A Row'. Participants plant an extra row or two in their gardens and donate the vegetables to a local food bank. Neighborhood Fruit helps find public fruit local to where you live. Their homepage states "10,000 registered trees and more get added everyday." Another site Veggie Trader is for those with excess produce in their gardens looking for other home gardeners to exchange with. Food Forward collects backyard produce to donate to local food banks, and has donated 30,000 pounds of citrus to food pantries this year. All of these groups, and there's a whole lot more out there, have taken the Victory Garden concept and created a modern social movement.

Maybe all of this giving, this generosity of spirit, is something positive that has come out of our nation's financial malaise. It reminds me of the story of Gramma Ora's pancakes and feeding the hobos. Her act of 'gleaning.' It makes me think of simpler times when the act of giving was just a part of life. No forethought, no planning. If someone had less than you, you helped. If they were hungry, you gave them food. It's nice to see that giving spirit returning. I thank my great-grandmother for setting the example for me. Those were some very lucky hobos.


My Status: Settling into late fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Bread Matters, a review of the new bread book by Andrew Whitley.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: The Berghoff Café Cookbook

The Berghoff Café Cookbook: Berghoff Family Recipes for Simple, Satisfying Food. Carlyn Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan. Andrews McMeel Publishing, $24.99 (156p) ISBN-13: 978-0-7407-8514-6

Family food history. A slice of Americana. Useful cooking tips. The Berghoff Café Cookbook has it all -- and more. Chef, owner, and author Carlyn Berghoff had me at 'Deviled Eggs with Three Fillings' (page 3). The three fillings: Caper Deviled Eggs, Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs, and Horseradish Deviled Eggs. These are deviled eggs redux.

This cookbook is full of recipes for things we all know well; food we have eaten with our families as children and as adults. Dishes that bring comfort and are 'simple and satisfying' like the cover promises. Ms. Berghoff starts off telling the reader how her great-grandfather came over from Germany in the late 1800s eventually opening the Berghoff Café in Chicago in 1898; and how it ended up in her hands several decades later. As she wends her way through the family history she throws in interesting historical tid bits about food, eating and dining from the early days. Like the story of a 'shot and a wash,' a riff on a boilermaker. A stein of favorite Berghoff beer with a shot of their seven-year old Berghoff bourbon thrown in. It started in previous centuries when water was impure giving whiskey a bad taste. The solution? Drop a shot glass of whiskey into a mug of beer; when drinking it the drinker caught the shot glass with their teeth, the beer masking the taste of the whiskey. The drink is still on the menu albeit updated.

When I first picked up the book I was a little unsure; I guess I am more of a food snob than I want to admit. The design, and the food and recipes inside are more traditional, more down home than where my tastes usually run in cookbooks. I've recently seen too many flashy books by well-known chefs. However, after reading through it, and trying several recipes -- the Potato Soup being a favorite -- I changed my tune. This books embodies the Midwestern lifestyle. It evokes what a downtown, local Chicago restaurant can be. It is warm and homey. Ms. Carlyn's maxim of 'reuse, recycle and reinvent' that she applies in the restaurant works perfectly in the home kitchen.

The Berghoff Café Cookbook offers recipes across the food gamut from bar snacks to paninis and pizzas to yummy desserts. Dishes like Alsatian Onion Soup, Apple Pie Squares with Cheddar Crust, and Westpahlian Ham Panini with Granny Smith Apple and Applesauce are a few of the standouts. Ms. Carlyn has updated the restaurant menu since her great-grandfather's day while also keeping his spirit and food very much alive. She calls it 'tradition with a twist,' and I'd say that is quite apt.

I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for straightforward, comfort food pure and simple. It's all there. Nothing fancy; nothing pretentious. The next meal I want to prepare is from the Daily Specials section: Classic Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Jus Lié and Spaetzle. Salisbury steak is a dish my Nebraska born grandmother made often when I was growing up. Comfort food.

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Local Report - Lotusland

89 miles, about 1.25 hours, from my home in Atwater Village.

Lotusland in Montecito, California is a wonder to behold. I had the privilege of seeing it this past Saturday. Faye, a follower of this blog, and a docent at Lotusland, very kindly invited me up to visit. I took Robert and my mother, Dawn, along with me. Lotusland has nothing to do with food but it is so unique that I decided to write a bit about it here. A 39-acre botanical garden containing subtropical and tropical plants from around the world, Lotusland also includes rare cycads (the oldest plant species in the world), cacti, palms and euphorbias. The place is a botanist and gardener's dream.

A well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, Madame Ganna Walska, purchased the estate that would become the gardens in 1941. She spent the next forty-three years designing unusual displays with exotic plants. A series of gardens takes the visitor through a labyrinth of landscape adventures. There are a total of twenty-six uniquely different gardens spread across the thirty-nine acres. Gardens such as the Japanese, the Aloe, the Fern, the Cactus, the Topiary, the Cycad, and the Succulent to name a few. Her original purpose for purchasing the property was to create a retreat for Tibetan monks. The original name was 'Tibetland' and after the monks never appeared, she renamed the property Lotusland in honor of the Indian lotus that grew in one of the property's ponds. 'Madame,' as she is and was known, spent a lot time and resources seeking out the most unusual species of plants, and often securing the biggest and the best plants available. She was a demanding, intelligent and extremely creative personality. She had a vision of what she wanted and didn't stop until she had it. After marrying and divorcing six husbands designing, overseeing, and working in the gardens became her life work. She worked on Lotusland up to her death in 1984 when she was in her late 90s. She left the property to a foundation in her name, and the gardens are now owned by the citizens of Montecito.

The gardens are truly stunning. My favorite garden was the Theater Garden. A theater with stage and seating all in plants. Curved hedges and a raised grassy area formed the stage. Rows of hedges behind and around the stage formed the backstage areas where props were stored and actors changed costumes. Madame actually staged plays there often. I had heard about Lotusland from my mother who had visited before but I didn't quite grasp the uniqueness of what it was. It's hard to until actually witnessing it in person. The only way to visit Lotusland is to make a reservation to go on a docent-lead tour. As mentioned above, our docent was Faye. Her knowledge of the plants, and the history of the place was astounding. Not only did she know every plant's botanical name, she was also able to tell us where it came from, how it grows, and why Madame chose it for Lotusland. It was a vastly interesting two and half hour experience. One I absolutely recommend.

Me, my mother, Dawn, and Faye, our docent.

Pictures don't really do it justice but here are few we took during our tour.

The following two photos are of my favorite garden: the 'Theater Garden' where Madame put on outdoor plays!

Lotusland is located in Montecito, California, for reservations call 805-969-9990, or e-mail: Website:

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

A Farmers' Market Menu with Chef Michael Reardon, Catch Restaurant

Last week I had the pleasure of joining my friend Lori's mother for a terrific foodie outing in Santa Monica. Lori's mother, who lives in New York City, was given a very nice gift and asked me to be her guest for part of it. She spent three luxurious nights in a beautiful suite overlooking the beach at the Casa del Mar hotel in Santa Monica. On day two of her visit, last Wednesday, I met her at the hotel at 9:00 a.m. and we went to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market with the hotel's chef, Michael Reardon. We helped Chef Reardon pick out ingredients that he then prepared for us that night at Catch, the hotel's restaurant that overlooks the Pacific. We spent forty-five minutes or so walking the market; Chef Reardon looked through the amazing produce, spoke with a few of the purveyors, and listened to our likes and dislikes. Later that night we returned to the hotel for our special famers' market dinner. Here is the menu that Chef Reardon created for us:

Pancetta Wrapped Figs with Wild Arugula, Tomcord Grapes and Taleggio Crostini
Alaskan Halibut with Piperade and Littleneck Clams
Braised Beef Short Ribs with Wiser Farms Carrots, and Potato Puree
Panna Cotta with Local Strawberries

The food was wonderful; perfectly prepared. No fancy tricks here. Good, clean, straight forward preparations and flavors. Honest cooking. The exciting part for me was knowing where the ingredients came from, and being part of selecting them. I knew they were local, very fresh ingredients because I was with the chef when he chose them. Both Lori's mother and I were very pleased with our meal. Every dish was prepared with care and an eye for detail. The short ribs were so good that Lori's mother made a reservation for the next night on our way out so she could have them again. Some of the menu items that Chef Reardon picked out at the farmers' market included the figs, arugula and the Tomcord grapes in the fig dish. I'd never heard of Tomcord grapes before, and just as the name implies, they're a cross between a Thompson seedless and a Concord grape. To make the piperade for the halibut, he used several varieties of peppers from the market. Wiser Farms is a well-known local, organic farm that supplies many of the local farmers' markets and chefs with amazing produce. The carrots and potatoes in the short ribs dish came from Wiser Farms. And the strawberries in the panna cotta came from Harry's Berries at the market. Harry's Berries is a berry farm out of Oxnard, California.

Chef Reardon oversees the restaurants at three properties in the Edward Thomas Collection (ETC) of hotels: Shutters on the Beach and Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, and Hotel Andalucia in Santa Barbara. He has also cooked at Tra Vigne, and Cantinetta and Wine Bar in the Napa Valley. While living on the East Coast he had his own restaurant, Bistro Zella in Upstate New York. His early cooking days found him in the kitchen of the legendary New York restaurant Le Bernardin.

The day and evening were a pleasure. I thank Lori's mother for inviting me to be her guest. And I thank Chef Reardon for a delicious and enjoyable meal at Catch.

My Status: Settling into fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Guest Blog: 'That's The Ticket' by Lori Berhon

First of all, I can't believe it's been a month since my last blog post. How did that happen? It's been a very busy time for me. At the beginning of September I celebrated a milestone birthday. Mid-September was the big bash with family and friends from near and far (Paris even!) to celebrate said birthday. I am in the midst of a major overhaul and redesign of my blog. And I started back to my full-time job as a movie marketing consultant. Ack! Just. Not. Enough. Time. Hopefully, that much time between posts will not happen again. I aim to be sure it does not. In any case apologies for being away. I think I am back.

I have always been interested in both food and film; I have been lucky enough to work in both with some degree of success in each. I started my professional life learning to cook in France; upon my return to the U.S. I worked in the food and restaurant industry for many years. One of the jobs was working for the Italian film producer Dino de Laurentiis (Giada's grandfather) when he opened his Italian-esque food emporium, DDL Foodshow, in New York City. The job started off with many of the Foodshow personnel working out of Dino's film production offices in the Gulf & Western Building on Columbus Circle. It was there that I met my friend Lori Berhon. She was a receptionist at Dino De Laurentiis Productions before coming to work with us at the Foodshow. That was in 1982; we're still friends. Lori loves to cook, try new restaurants, and eat well which we did, and do, often in New York, and whenever she makes it out to California.

As mentioned above I recently had a milestone birthday. Lori came out to Los Angeles from New York to help me celebrate. While she was here she mentioned a food and film piece she recently wrote for her company newsletter. I asked her to send it to me and she did. I so enjoyed reading it, and it is full of such good information on foodie films that I asked her to guest blog it on 100 Miles.

So take it away, Lori...

That's The Ticket!

With summer blockbuster season coming to an end (and where were all the blockbusters this year anyway?), I was planning to take another recession-beating look at rentable substitutes for hot flicks. I began considering Julie/Julia, and I quickly found myself entirely diverted by the subject of food films. There are a lot of them.

A La Cuisine!

Nora Ephron's new film shows how the lives of Julia Child and Julie Powell are changed by French cooking, but this is hardly the first time that particular catalyst has been portrayed on film. Babette's Feast, the 1987 film version of an Isak Dinesen story, shows how French food revitalizes the souls of an elderly Lutheran congregation in Denmark and the refugee they have sheltered. If you heard what Julie Powell was able to accomplish in a kitchen closet in Queens and you think that's impressive, wait 'til you see what Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran) achieves in an isolated 19th century village.

Lasse Halstrom's whimsical Chocolat (2000), based on the novel by Joanne Harris, implies that sometimes even the French need a little gustatory shakeup. Boasting a rich and delicious cast, this counts as Johhny Depp's first 'chocolate' film.

The eponymous Vatel (Gérard Depardieu) of 2000, an historic French chef, is ordered to achieve the impossible in a 17th century castle. While unusually downbeat for a foodie film, this well-researched, opulent biopic provides a setting of spectacle and intrigue for a truly mind-boggling feast.

International Buffet

France certainly doesn't hold a monopoly on cinematic cuisine. The mouth-watering food in The Big Night (1996) is Italian. Like "Julie/Julia," this film features dramatic kitchen action, period glamour and the always wonderful Stanley Tucci (who also co-directed). The piece de resistance, the Timpano, had audiences drooling and the Tucci family recipe for this baked dome of dough, filled with more layers of deliciousness than a 6 foot Italian sub, was published everywhere. If you find yourself with nothing to do one weekend, here's a link: The Timpano Recipe (from 'Big Night')

In the 1993 version of Laura Esquivel's cult novel Like Water For Chocolate (directed by Alfonso Arau), a Mexican woman's hidden passion magically infuses the food she prepares, conveying a galaxy of emotions to those who eat it. For a kind of kitchen magic you're likely to have experienced in your own life, in Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), a beautiful and quietly funny film by the masterful Ang Lee, food is the medium through which a Taiwanese chef and his daughters communicate love. A few of the many other films that linger memorably over family meals: Pieces of April (2003, before Katie Holmes was half of TomKat) takes on Thanksgiving; George Tilman Jr.'s 1997 Soul Food looks at Sunday dinner; and of course there's My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

The chef-protagonist of Sandra Nettlebeck's 2001 German comedy/romance Mostly Martha (aka "Bella Martha") has distanced herself from family and freinds, and form all emotions but anger, until the guardianship of a suddenly orphaned niece forces her to think outside the icebox. Forced to share her restaurant kitchen and to experience life (and food) beyond her control, Martha opens herself up to the possibilities of being human. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because this is the original upon which Hollywood based the 2007 Catherine Zeta-Jones RomCom vehicle, No Reservations.

A different kind of female chef is the downtrodden widow who, while trying to establish the ultimate noodle shop, provides the through-line for the comedy bento box of food motifs that is Juzo Itami's 1985 Tampopo. For the pregnant Southern Waitress of Adrienne Shelly's 2007 indie gem, food - or at least pie - is a metaphor for practically everything.

And for a window into what the landscape was like in the world before The Food Network, check out Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? Based on the novel by Nan and Ivan Lyons, this 1978 comic mystery is a dated, slightly hokey, guilty pleasure. Each of the string of victims is found in his kitchen, and the grisly manner of death is related in some way to the chef's signature dish.

NONE of the films mentioned above should be watched on an empty stomach!

Discomfort Food

On the other hand, there is some foodie fare that might benefit from running on empty: cannibal movies.

Are you imagining Anthony Hopkins relishing "fava beans and a nice Chianti" (slurp slurp)? Or maybe remembering your favorite zombie flick? Sure those have their cannibal elements, but what I'm thinking of is the kind of story that turns tables on the foodie genre.

Eating Raoul, Paul Bartel's spoof of contemporary (1982) L.A. swingers features himself and Mary Woronov as a nice conservative couple who only want to be together and would kill to be able to open a restaurant. Literally. In the end, cannibalism is the only way to dispose of a most inconvenient corpse.

A different type of necessity drives the butcher of a Delicatessen (1991, France) on the ground floor of an apartment building. In this future dystopia, meat is incredibly scarce and people mysteriously disappear. Do the math. Then add the star-crossed love of the butcher's and the Chaplinesque outsider hired as a handyman (and future roast) to the complications of this darkly comic tale of survival.

Love and cannibalism figure again in Tim Burton's 2007 film of Stephen Sondheim's opéra bouffe Sweeney Todd. In 19th century London, Man is ground up by Machine (both industrial and political). Haunted and thirsting for vengeance, Mr. Todd slashes out. The adoring, but always practical, baker Mrs. Lovett observes that it "seems an awful waste" to just chuck the body out when she's got a dusty shop full of meatless meat pies. If injustice begets rage and hunger, which in turn beget a psychopathic spree of mass murder and recycling, "It's man devouring man, my dear, and who are we to deny it here?"

Peter Greenaway turns a lush eye on just about every human appetite in his gorgeous and very nasty 1990 fantasia The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. The fabulous cast is lead by Michael Gambon (yes, there was life before "Dumbledore") as The Thief and Helen Mirren as His Wife, and includes appearances by both Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. Greed rules.

T.V. Dinner

I don't care about Michael Pollan's recent N.Y. Times condemnation of televised cooking as the spectator-sport-of-choice for a super sized population - I love foodie television. Pollan's demographic wisdom states that "how to" watchers are stay-at-home moms: while the rest of us kick back at night with our frozen pizza to watch other people eat what we wish was in front of us. Personally, I find it beyond boring to watch Guy Fieri chomp blissfully down on another huge portion of grease and/or carbs, and more boring still to hear his litany of empty catch phrases ("now that's what I'm talking about!" doesn't tell me a thing about the food other than, gee, he really likes it).

What I tune in to see is chefs, pâtissiers, etc. doing what they do best. The more they know what they're doing, the more I want to watch, and the more I'm running to hit the kitchen. No, I'm not likely to pit myself against another cook to see how many different things I can make out of an artichoke or to make a fabulous meal out of a basket of incompatible mystery ingredients. But I do love to cook and starting back with (yes), Julia Child, television chefs exposed me to new ingredients and unfamiliar cuisines. I learned new techniques (no one ever taught me to cut a "chiffonade" of basil - I saw it on T.V.), and continue to learn better ways to do the things I've been doing for years. I may be too tired to cook every night, but when I see Bobbie Flay do a mac-&-cheese "throw down," I may spend the next couple of months of weekends trying out a bunch of mac-&-cheese recipes to see which one I liked best.

To me, foodie T.V. is not only entertainment but education. I'm not the only one who thinks that - after all, PBS was arguably the first food network and they continue to produce some great shows. Today, several networks offer shows that literally cater to every taste. And don't forget that episodes of Julia's original television show, The French Chef, are now available on DVD. Learn a few tricks and, more importantly, learn to embrace the excitement of trying new things in the kitchen.

Bon Appétit!

Lori Berhon is a New York writer who once or twice a month plays hookey from working on her new novel to blog. Her occasional musings can be found @ Light Up The Cave. Her most recently completed novel, The Breast of Everything (which has nothing to do with food) is represented by Roger S. Williams of Publish or Perish Agency.

My Status: September was beyond busy. I hope October is less so. Fall is slowly coming to Southern California; cooler temperatures. Time to think about heartier food. More eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook and Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sonoma County

Sonoma County reminds me of France. I mean look at the above picture of Dry Creek Valley. It could easily have been taken in the south of France. The Languedoc maybe. Or Burgundy to the west even. It also has a lot of what makes France special. Great food, amazing wine, beautiful countryside. Sonoma County, the step-sister to the more well-liked, more popular Napa Valley, is my preference of the two. Slower, rougher, less populated but just as interesting in the areas of food and wine -- and it also has the stunning Sonoma Coast. So take that Napa Valley!

On a recent vacation to the area I was reminded how much folks in the Bay Area like to eat. I'd always known this; from living in San Francisco during the early 80s through the early 90s, and from working in the food and restaurant business. I sold cheese at Oakville Grocery -- the S.F. food emporium; I cooked at Jeremiah Tower's Santa Fe Bar & Grill in Berkeley; I helped Chef Tower open Stars restaurant in San Francisco; I met all the chefs and foodies in town; I ate at all the great restaurants in the area: Stars, Zuni Cafe, Chez Panisse, Square One, Masa's, Mustard's in Napa, on and on. It was a great time to eat in San Francisco. The food scene during that period was phenomenal. Once I'd left it and moved on, I missed it terribly.

Thankfully I was able to experience it again. Robert and I ate very well during our week's stay in Gureneville on the Russian River. I'd read about Zazu Restaurant & Farm, and Bovolo somewhere on the Internet and knew I wanted to try both. Both places are owned by married Chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart; they also own the Black Pig Meat Co. where they make their own bacon and salumi from pigs that come from a sustainable hog operation, Pure Country Pork, in the Northwest. John is the salumist, studied with Mario Battali, and is responsible for the Black Pig meats, bacon and salumi that Zazu and Bovolo serve. Bovolo is a cafe inside a bookstore in Healdsburg, and Zazu is located on the edge of Santa Rosa and has a kitchen garden.

We ate at Zazu on a Wednesday night. The place was packed. The food was bliss. They describe themselves as a roadhouse restaurant serving playful Americana and Northern Italian inspired food. That is apt and I love the idea of an old-fashioned roadhouse. The place absolutely had that feel. Long and narrow; set just off the two-lane road; a dirt parking lot; and a counter with stools when you first walk in. We started with the Black Pig Salumi - 'Butcher's Plate'; four 'flavors' of salumi: backyard thyme, lomo, harissa, and felino served with pickled grapes. The salumi was rough and coarse and nicely fatty. The four preparations each distinctively different from the other without dwarfing the cured pork flavor of the meat. The pickled grapes? Really interesting -- little grape explosions in the mouth. We shared a "Caesar" -- romaine leaves with Vella dry jack and boccorones, or sardines. Robert had Seared Day Boat Scallops, Orzo Stuffed Squash Blossoms, Fennel Pollen, Backyard Tomatoes and Herbs. I had the Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Little Point Reyes Blue Cheese Ravioli, Ruby Chard. We ended with a house-made Chocolate Gelato with Scharfenberger Chocolate Sauce. I love cooking like this. Using local ingredients (as close as the kitchen garden); earthy and big in flavor and style. Somehow the food is exactly what should be served in the middle of wine country. European country cooking without being in Europe.

Bovolo was as good. The menu more simplified. The menu cover says 'Pizza, Gelato, Salumi.' They refer to the food as 'Slow Food... Fast.' Note the snail on their sign. I ate the World Famous Pork Cheek Sandwich with Roasted Peppers, Salsa Verde. The picture explains it better than I can. I'm still at a loss for words weeks later. The sandwich was served hot; the pork, the peppers and salsa verde all melded together into one crazily delicious taste sensation. These cooks know what they're doing. I also had the White Bean Salad -- spinach leaves, white beans, red onion in a green goddess-type dressing. Robert had the Farfalline Pasta Carbonara, Housemade Bacon, Farm Egg, Parmesan. It was the perfect wine country lunch. We'd spent an hour or so wandering around Healdsburg's town square and finished up sitting in Bovolo's garden eating this food. Napa Valley? Never heard of it.

The rest of the vacation wasn't quite as food-filled as described above. We had our moments of swimming and kayaking on the Russian River; bicycling around Gureneville, and just relaxing. But there is one other food related experience I do want to share. Guerneville, a very small resort town, happens to have a used bookstore. We were at the coffee place next door one day and wandered in. I asked the owner if he had any cookbooks and boy did he. Several shelves full and more coming. A local man who had a huge cookbook collection had died recently; the store owner bought the whole collection at the estate sale. I snatched these books up: 'Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Primer,' 'Beard on Pasta,' 'Food In Good Season' by Betty Fussell, 'James Beard's Treasury of Outdoor Cooking,' and probably my favorite 'La Cuisine de France - The Modern French Cookbook' by Mapie, the Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec! It's over 700 pages long. The copyright is 1964. She was only three years after Julia and 'Mastering The Art of French Cooking'. It's written in English; each recipe has the title in both English and French.

And I'm still not sure if there's any connection to the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec but there must be. I haven't had time to read through it yet. I'll report back. I couldn't leave without this book. The crowning moment in the used bookstore came when I noticed that the owner had a copy of 'Mastering The Art of French Cooking - Volume One' on a shelf behind the register. I asked about it. He said he hadn't had time yet to inventory, price and shelve it; he pulled it out and put it down on the counter in front of me. I opened it: there on the title page were three signatures, Julia Child, Simone Beck and Paul Child. The book was in pristine condition. He was asking $2,000 for it. I left without it. So that's it for my Sonoma County based food adventures for the moment. It's a magical place and I love it there. I can't wait to go again next year. Or sooner even.

In This Post: Zazu Restaurant & Farm, Bovolo, Black Pig Meat Co., Pure Country Pork

My Status
: trying to get back on track after a wonderful vacation. More cooking, eating, dining out, writing and blogging. Thinking ahead to cooler fall weather and praying that the fires in Los Angeles end soon, and that there are not more of them.

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement, and those that are involved with it. Reviews: 'The Berghoff Cafe Cookbook' and 'Cooking Light,' a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'

The Barcelona Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Wine and Life. Sasa Mahr-Batuz, Andy Pforzheimer. Andrews McMeel Publishing, $29.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0740773945

A cookbook about Barcelona? With recipes of all those great things I ate when I was there this spring? When I first heard about 'The Barcelona Cookbook' that's exactly what I thought. Then when I received it for review I discovered that it wasn't that at all. Instead it's a cookbook based on a Connecticut restaurant group: Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurants. The concept is tapas and wine; the restaurants have been around since 1996. The book's subtitle is: A Celebration of Food, Wine and Life. When co-owners Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer opened their first restaurant they decided to name it after the city of Barcelona because of its vibrancy, and colorful lifestyle -- its 'cosmopolitan, pan-European' feel. They wanted to evoke the feeling of eating in a restaurant along the Mediterranean coast. However, the dishes served in the restaurants, and the recipes used in the cookbook, are not solely Catalan or Mediterranean. Mahr-Batuz and Pforzheimer have traveled to Spain often so the dishes on the restaurant menus come from all over Spain, or are Spanish-influenced; Mahr-Batuz is originally from Argentina so there are Argentinian influenced dishes as well.

When I first read through the book I was surprised and pleased to see that Chef Pforzheimer gave credit to Chef Jeremiah Tower, and the Stars restaurant chefs, for teaching him hands on skills he would later use in a successful career as a chef and restaurant owner. Being that I also worked in and have an association with Chef Tower and Stars it was a comfort to see that. I knew right away he had a good cooking pedigree. I was also happy to see that Chef Pforzheimer's menu choices are influenced by what is available from local farmers and farmers markets. Another area I believe in strongly: living life locally.

I have found with other restaurant cookbooks that the recipes don't always work. It can be difficult to translate dishes made in a professional setting to the page for the home cook. Professional chefs cook differently than the home cook; they also have different equipment at their disposal. I didn't find that to be the case in the recipes I tried from 'The Barcelona Cookbook.' The recipes worked just fine. I chose to try recipes that I had recently eaten in Barcelona -- to see how they measured up. One of my favorite dishes on that trip was patatas bravas -- olive oil fried potatoes served with a spicy mayonnaise. It's a very simple dish and the cookbook's recipe for 'Catalan Potatoes Bravas' measured up perfectly. I was momentarily transported back to my favorite tapas bar in Barcelona. Being that it is currently summer I have been overwhelmed with farmer's market produce; needing to use up all those pesky organic tomatoes I made the 'Barcelona Gazpacho.' An easy recipe to follow and execute, and the added touch of a garnish of day old bread, scallions, cucumbers and green peppers made this cold soup exceptional. Since meat is almost a national pastime in Spain I decided to try a recipe for grilled steak: 'Steak Paillard.' The recipe includes a delicious bell pepper and tomato vinaigrette that is spooned over the grilled meat, as well as fried potatoes. Simple, basic and a perfect summer evening meal.

To me the book echoes what Andy and Sasa seemed to have set out to do in their restaurants: offer a fun, festive, colorful place to eat well-prepared food, drink great cocktails, and taste good wine. The book has a similar feel. The color photos are plentiful and well shot; a mixture of ingredients, dishes, kitchen and dining scenes from the restaurants, and photos of Spain. The two men state that the restaurants are foremost about entertaining people; sections of the book are devoted to throwing parties. There's a whole chapter on cocktails and wine. Interspersed throughout are little histories and commentaries on Spanish food, wine, cheese, cured meats, trips to Spain, and the city of Barcelona, among others. They also include recipes for a number of stock Spanish dishes: sangria, cazuela, albondigas, zarzuela, romesco sauce, paella, gazpacho, arroz con leche and others. Well explained cooking techniques for many of the dishes are added value. Looking at the dishes, the recipes, and the ingredient lists that include such things as olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, paprika, cured meats, seafood, and saffron rice I could easily smell and taste the food, and was almost transported back to Spain.

The book covers a lot of ground, and if I was going to offer any criticism that might be it; there's a lot contained in its 202 pages. It might also suffer from a bit of an identity crisis in that I did think it was a cookbook about food from Barcelona; and it does veer away from strictly Spanish food to include dishes from South America. Once the reader understands what the restaurants are about that is easily overlooked. And if one is looking for a serious Spanish food cookbook, this is it. It has most of what you would want and need plus more. I do wish there was a recipe for one of my favorite Spanish tapas dishes: Padrón peppers. But there is enough else to make this a worthy addition to any cook's bookshelf.

My Status: going on vacation for a week to Guerneville-Russian River-Sonoma County. Lunch at pork store Black Pig Meat Co. and restaurant Bovolo in Healdsburg; dinner at Zazu Restaurant & Farm in Santa Rosa; wine tasting at Chalk Hill, Hop Kiln, others in the Alexander Valley, Healdsburg and Sonoma County; canoeing on the Russian River, and more...

Upcoming Posts: 'gleaning,' or the act of gathering public produce, or leftover farmer's market produce, and giving it to the poor, needy and hungry. A history of the movement
, and the groups that are actively involved in it.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Iceberg Lettuce & My Recipes & The Wedge Salad

History captures most people's interest; it does mine. But food history I find fascinating. I've been wanting to write about a favorite salad for awhile now because it's so simple, and because of one chief ingredient. The salad is the wedge salad, and the ingredient is iceberg lettuce. The wedge salad would not exist (as well as it does) without iceberg lettuce. Few other lettuces are 'wedgy' lettuces. Few others have the cabbage-like construction that allows iceberg to be cut into wedges that stay wedges.

This interest in the wedge salad and iceberg lettuce started a few years ago when I was having dinner in St. Helena in the Napa Valley and ordered a wedge salad. Being the food and wine mecca that the area is, this was no ordinary wedge salad. Very unlike those found in your average steak house. The lettuce was somehow different. If it was iceberg it was not iceberg like I was used to. The leaves weren't as tightly packed; the color was a greener hue of green. It just seemed healthier, more appealing than the drab iceberg I grew up with. It was a delicious wedge salad made with top notch ingredients. It was a bit like I was eating the wedge salad reinvented. I wanted to eat it again. First off I wanted to know if there was organic iceberg I could use instead of commercially farmed iceberg. Turns out there is.

Iceberg Lettuce

Like most Americans of a certain age I grew up eating iceberg lettuce. It was just what we ate. There may have been other lettuces available but I don't think we ever bought any. I only remember the pale green, tightly wound, heavy, tasteless balls of iceberg wrapped in clear plastic netting that went into everything that required lettuce. It wasn't until I lived in France that I realized there were other lettuces and salad greens out there. I still to this day have a distaste for iceberg. I've become a lettuce snob. Give me mesclun, frisee, endive, Boston, Bibb, or romaine over iceberg any day.

Iceberg lettuce has quite the history. It is referred to as a 'crisphead' cultivar because it resembles cabbage, and because of its ability to stay fresher longer than looser leaf lettuces. Until the 1930s it was called 'crisphead' lettuce not 'iceberg'. Iceberg is one variety of crisphead lettuce; others include imperial, Great Lakes, vanguard and western. There are several stories, or theories, as to why it came to be called 'iceberg.' The most popular notion is that at the advent of cross continental rail shipping, and before refrigerated rail cars, it was packed in wooden carts with lots of crushed ice making the carts look like icebergs. When the trains pulled into stations the local townsfolk called out "the icebergs are coming, the icebergs are coming" and the name stuck. Another source says the name refers to the 'crisp, cold, clean characteristics of the leaves.'

There is one other piece of iceberg history that I found interesting. I thought, like others I am sure, that iceberg went out of favor in the late 70s and early 80s when California Cuisine hit the nation's radar and restaurants like Chez Panisse taught us there were other lettuces and greens to eat besides iceberg. It turns out it may have started a bit earlier when Cesar Chavez organized a boycott to protest the working conditions of lettuce pickers in the fields of California. The boycott shut down iceberg production in California. Other lesser known lettuces stepped in to take it's place. Then the food movement kicked into full gear moving away entirely from iceberg. Yet, even with those changes, and based on available statistics, Americans today still eat more iceberg than any other lettuce.

Not everyone has an aversion to iceberg. James Beard said this about it: "Many people damn it but when broken up, not cut, it adds good flavor and a wonderfully crisp texture to a salad with other greens." From Nancy Silverton: "I'm proud to love it, and I have always loved it. It's something I absolutely crave."

My Recipes

Since I am writing about the wedge salad, and including a recipe, I wanted to write about a favorite site for recipes: is a wonderful online food portal with over 35,000 kitchen-tested recipes, and food and health-related articles. The site culls recipes from all of Time Inc.'s food titles: 'Real Simple,' 'All You,' 'Cooking Light,' 'Southern Living,' 'Sunset,' 'Coastal Living,' 'Cottage Living,' and 'Health.' Every recipe is tested in professional test kitchens and approved by food editors, chefs, dietitians, and food scientists.

I recently spoke to Anne Cain, a Senior Editor at, about the local, fresh, organic, back-to-home-cooking, slow food, farmers market movement going on here in the U.S. She felt that while it is about economics, reducing our carbon foot print and helping out the environment it's also that the food simply tastes better. "The real reason to eat local is because it tastes better. It's so much fun to know the people who grew, or made, your food. There's no better flavor." Can't argue with that. The site even has a weekly web series called 'Local Flavor' where 'Cottage Living' editor and best-selling author, Kim Sunée, discovers and highlights people passionate about local food. Another feature is the slide series 'Eat For Pleasure, Eat Local' that focuses on the local food movement and includes recipes and links to ingredients made by smaller, sustainable purveyors. Both can easily be found via the site's search features. The site also has a 'search by ingredient' feature. When I typed 'wedge salad' into the search feature several recipes popped up. I often check in with when I'm looking for a recipe, or researching a blog post.

The Wedge Salad

There are so many recipes for this dish out there; having been served in many a hotel restaurant and steak house since the early 1900s it also has a long history. But the main ingredients have remained the same over the years: iceberg lettuce, bacon and blue cheese dressing. I chose to make the dressing from scratch; there are plenty of recipes that tell you to use bottled dressing. I also added fried onions. Most recipes don't call for them. I also learned that organic lettuce does exist; I bought it at Whole Foods. The only organic iceberg Whole Foods had was from Earthbound Farm, located in Carmel Valley, California. It's funny but since I don't buy iceberg lettuce I never actually looked for an organic version when I went to the grocery store. When I did an online search Earthbound and Whole Foods came up. Now I know where to buy it for my next wedge salad fix.


Preparation Time 30-45 minutes

Serves 2-4


1 head iceberg lettuce, organic if possible
1 medium-sized onion, sliced
4-6 slices bacon
6 oz. blue cheese
3 - 4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp. chives, finely chopped

Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels.

Using the same skillet reserve enough bacon fat to fry the onions for 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Remove from heat.

Place the blue cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper, salt and buttermilk into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Use the buttermilk to thicken or thin as needed. Set aside.

Use a knife to remove the core of the lettuce head, or bang the stem end down on your kitchen counter; the core will pop right out. Remove any old outer leaves, and rinse. Cut the head in half then cut those two halves in half resulting in four wedges. For an entree portion for two people place two wedges each on two salad plates. If a first or salad course for four, place one wedge on four salad plates.

Lay the onions across each wedge. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle over the onions.

Drizzle the blue cheese dressing over each wedge, sprinkle with chives, and serve.

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