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My favorite things about San Francisco…

27 Mar

Yesterday was Cesar Chavez Day,  a California state holiday and luckily, a day I did not have to go into work. I love having weekdays off and I decided to take an early morning walk. As I was wandering around, I saw many of the things that remind me of why I really love San Francisco. At least on days like yesterday.  Though one thing I encountered yesterday I found quite shocking! A parking enforcement officer  was driving around and instead of just ticketing everyone, was giving everyone an opportunity to pay the parking meters and even calling into some local shops to say “If this is your car, you better come and pay the meter!” Astonishing!

The Elders of the Community

One of the things I enjoy most about San Francisco are the older generations. Watching them congregate in the many parks dotted around the city teaching each other how to waltz, practicing Tai Chi or just enjoying the day gives me a sense of calm and community that, frankly, I wouldn’t mind having now.

Hidden Treasures

San Francisco has many hidden treasures; staircases, gardens, courtyards and tiny neighborhoods that few people have heard of.  It always feels like a privilege to catch a glimpse of one of these or like I’m in on some great, local secret.

Telegraph Hill

In its own right, Telegraph Hill is a bit of a hidden treasure and rarely visited by anyone that’s not a tourist or resident. The hill is covered with gardens, steps and a surprisingly large variety of wildlife including wild parrots, mice, skunks, raccoons and the mosquitos and bees that the rest of San Francisco is oddly free of. Whenever I see this hill from a distance, it always seems quite exotic and lush.

The Quiet and the Waterfront

I love being close to the water and I love the docks and piers and, once again, some of the hidden spots to sit and watch the bay. this photo was taken near Fisherman’s Wharf which is probably the largest tourist area in San Francisco. It is much nicer to visit at 8:30am and in my opinion, the morning and the sea are perfect companions.

The Fog

aka The Weather

I don’t think there is anyone that can convince me that the weather in San Francisco is anything less than wonderful. Of course there are cold days when there should be warm days and warm days when there should be cold days and each neighborhood seems to have its own micro-climate but I really enjoy these parts of Bay Area weather. In fact I think we are really quite lucky here. Fresh, local produce is available year round and within driving distance there are mountains, temperate rain forests, beaches and deserts.

And the fog? Simply beautiful.

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Food & “Farm” Update – Summer 2009

19 Sep

This summer has been very interesting and busy! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Garden:

  • Two tomatoes plants (out of the original 4 varieties that I planted in March) have produced fruit – the Tomatoberry and the yellow Marvel Stripe heirloom – those most are still green.  I have one (color TBD) bell pepper still growing, a row of too-tiny-to-mention purple carrots and a handful of fava bean plants that may or may not be unhappy. All but two of the other plants that I bought as seedlings have survived in pots for months and are now happily residing in a big pile of soil enriched with the compost I’ve been preparing for months: oregano, sage, mint, strawberries and two kinds of lavender. The 3rd kind of lavender was trampled by a construction worker and the basil – well, so far I cannot get basil to work in the clay and debris filled soil back there. See garden photos here.

Events:

  • Eat Real Fest – held on the weekend before labor day in Oakland, CA. It was hot. No, I mean HOT – like nearly 100 degrees and for the Bay Area… that is HOT.  But it was much more interesting that the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco last year. Eat Real Fest was all about food for the masses – not just the people who could afford to spend hundreds of dollars for exclusive tasting events.  The food was great – local, organic and inexpensive. Street food vendors and taco trucks filled Jack London square and sold a variety of dishes – all $5 or less. The also had a large indoor farmers’ market. I’d definitely go again.  See pictures here.
  • Ghost Town Farm tour – This was held on the same weekend as the East Real Fest as both were in Oakland. Novella Carpenter and her partner Bill are essentially squatting on a lot next to the apartment in which they live and have turned it in to a little urban farm. Novella has since written a book, Farm City, about her experiences with developing the farm and raising plants and animals in such an urban environment. It’s a great read and a great inspiration. I think what I love most is how they put something together pretty much out of nothing and created not only a garden, but a community as well. Her blog is here and my pictures are here.
  • A reading from the book, Cooking Beyond Measure,  by cultural historian, hippie, cook and writer Jean Johnson.  The reading was a joint venture between the Culinary Historians of Northern California and Omnivore Books in San Francisco. I have been to a few CHoNC events now and usually feel a bit out of place since most of the other members are professional chefs, food writers and culinary historians and even though Jean is a bit of all of those, I feel like she could make anyone feel at ease. She came of age in the 60’s, lived for a decade on Native American reservations in the Southwest and is just a genuinely nice person. When the reading was over I went up to her and said “You’ve just written the book I was planning on writing in a few years after I got my act together.” Somehow, I’d love to grow up to be the combination of Novella Carpenter and Jean Johnson! Jean’s blog is here.

Classes:

  • UrbanKitchenSF is my new best friend! With one-off, 2-3 hour classes that are fun, informative and inexpensive. They are all about slow food and cooking styles for the urban dweller. My first podcast was about their first pickling class and I plan on doing an interview with the founders of UrbanKitchenSF in a future podcast. I’ve taken all but two of the classes – one I had already taken and one I missed – including kombucha, pickling, butchery, cheesemaking and bread baking. I have pictures of most of the classes here. My kombucha and homemade pickles have turned out quite well!

Books:

  • Occassionally, I lament the fact that I never got my undergrad degree. While the study of food history and culinary anthrolopogy are becoming more well known and wide spread, it is a challenge to find classes for the beginner or hobbyist. So, instead of allowing myself to pine, I finally got myself a Library card. Seems a bit sad since I’ve been living in San Francisco for 7 years now. My first two books are Food in the USA and The History of Taste – both a relatively large collection of essays and heavier than most of the school and college books I’ve had over the years. It does make me happy to know that there are others like me – who are fascinated by the evolution of food and its impact on human development, society and culture and who can explain it a heck of a lot better than I can.
  • Wild Fermentation – not only a cookbook but a really good read as well. As the title states, this book is about fermentation and not only provides many, very approachable recipes, but talks about the health benefits, taste and history of the craft.  I have successfully made a bright pink sauerkraut and am now trying a batch of kvass which seems like a lovely way to use up stale bread!

Food:

  • Ah, well, I am always trying new experiments and recipes. Lately, it has been all about sourdough and some of my favorites of late I have found online and am happy to share them!
  • I have also just tried my hand at sprouting grains and as I type, they are slowly toasting in the oven. Studies suggest that sprouts are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and the act of sprouting (as well as fermenting) breaks down the harmful but natural enzime inhibitors present in seeds. My first try was with some local red wheat berries which, when sprouted, kinda tasted a bit like grass.  But since wheat is a grass, this makes perfect sense.

Ok, well that’s all for now!

Good food & friends!

MindfulCast #1 – Fermentation: The Final Frontier

19 Jul

After years of thinking about it, I have finally created a podcast call “MindfulCast”. The goal of this podcast series is to discuss the rewards and challenges of living a balanced life in these modern, urban times. The first episode, Fermentation: The Final Frontier, focuses on a recent Pickling Party workshop hosted by UrbanKitchenSF and Happy Girl Kitchen Co. To subscribe to the podcast feed, check the box at the top of the sidebar!

The workshop was held on a pier under the Bay Bridge…

From left to Right: Todd Gonzales and Todd Champange from Happy Girl Kitchen

Chopping and filling jars

and adding salt water…

Pickled Cherries, Lemons and Spicy Carrots

mmm.. Pretty Pickles…

Getting Local Food, Locally Part II: Chipotle

20 Jun

Chipotle is a chain of Mexican Style fast food restaurants in the United States – and they don’t buy their pork from factory farms. That is only the start! While they are not 100% organic or sustainable yet, they have a fantastic “Food With Integrity” philosophy which includes “unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal” foods.

There is a great Nightline Segment from 6/16/09 all about this Chipotle philosophy with a cameo from Joel of Polyface Farms.

The craziest thing about all this is that I have not yet been to this restaurant! Fortunately, we have two in San Francisco. We sent an email to Chipotle asking about their produce and rice as this is not discussed on their website as much as their meat and beans. They sent us a great response!

“We have currently committed to buying 35 percent of one bulk produce item for all of our restaurants, when seasonally available, from local farmers. We’re looking to build on this program for the future. Last year, when we began the program, we sourced 25 percent of one bulk produce item used in each store from a local farm. This year we have upped our goals to 35 percent so we are making some progress.

We need a lot of ingredients. Unfortunately these better suppliers are more of a niche than a mainstream. Our plan is just to start small, just as we did with our naturally-raised meats, and to grow the program from there as supply increases to meet demand.

With our program, our produce is generally coming from within 200 miles or less of our restaurants. This might also be on a seasonal basis. As you might be able to imagine, it would be quite a challenge to buy certain items, such as romaine lettuce in Minneapolis, in the middle of the winter.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you specifics for rice, lettuce or tomatoes as different restaurant are focusing on different things that will work better for that region. However, we are really focused on making a difference. As part of our Food with Integrity initiative, we are trying to operate our restaurants in a manner which is better for the environment, better for the animals, and better for the farmers who raise the animals and grow the produce. We also happen to think fresh food tastes better. In this way, we hope it is also better for our customers.”

www.chipotle.com

Spotlight: Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market: A Photo Story

9 May

Though the farmers’ market I usually shop at is the Heart of the City, I stop by the Ferry Plaza a few times a year. This is not so much for the produce, as I find that the fruit and vegetables at the Heart of the City are quite fabulous and much less expensive, but for the items that are harder to find, The Ferry Plaza Market is great!

Since today was such a lovely San Francisco day, I decided to head out early to see if I could get to some of the market goodies that tend to vanish before 10am, beat the lunch crowd and take some photos.

I am also starting to keep a list of the farms that I learn about and how far they are from San Francisco. To see a map of North California farms that travel to or sell in San Francisco markets click here: Northern California Farms

http://www.massaorganics.com/ Chico, California

Massa Organics

Massa Organics

I have been a fan of Massa Organics since I first encountered them. They are one of the few grain producers in the area (currently brown rice and red wheat berries) and their almonds are wonderful too! You can even follow them on twitter now @MassaOrganics and get updates direct from the tractor. Which, if you are an agro-nerd like me, will make you giddy. But maybe that is just me. ..

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Getting local food, locally. Part I. Cafe Divine

7 May

I’ve been seeking out local restaurants that provide information about using local, seasonal produce. I hope that one day I will have a long list of restaurants to recommend, but for the time being. I intend to mention establishments as I have the opportunity to experience them.

Cafe Divine – North Beach, San Francisco http://cafedivinesf.com/

According to the Cafe Divine menu: “We Support Small Farmers And Use Sustainable Products Whenever Possible.” Situated at the corner of Washington Park in North Beach, Cafe Divine has big windows and a comfy, somewhat artsy, coffee shop feel. The service is pretty good (but not great) but the food is very good and fresh and a decent price. I was a bit disappointed the first time I ate at this restaurant. I believe we had brunch, something like an omelet with a fruit bowl. It was in the winter; the time of apples, pears and oranges in the bay area, but my fruit bowl was still full of out-of-season melon balls – even though the display case was full of the season fruit I mentioned.  It’s also a bit sad that they don’t feel confident enough to proudly advertise their support of local agriculture on their website (it’s only on a scan of their menu) but at least they do mention it.

Eaten by the Chronophage

22 Nov

It’s been months since I’ve written anything of any interest, and much has happened: Slow Food Nation, an unexpected move, the presidential election and the Green Fest. All of which I will touch on at some point in this post. It’s been a tumultuous 3 months and I now feel that I am finally settling down a bit and after some periods of stress and worry, disappointment and disillusionment, I am now feeling hopeful and more inspired. Thank goodness.

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