When you’re looking for something hearty and warming — but also simple and healthy — as days become shorter and colder, look to the Japanese dishes called nabemono. These “simmered dishes” are often cooked in one pot (called a “nabe”), sometimes in the middle of the dining table over a portable burner. In the West, the most famous nabemono is probably sukiyaki — beef and vegetables cooked in a broth of soy sauce, mirin (sweet sake), and other flavorings. All over Japan, you’re likely to see steaming pots of another famous nabemono called oden in convenience stores during the colder months (and, of course, oden makes plenty of appearances in standard restaurants and at home, and on some phone you’ll find an oden emoji).
A nabemono that I like to cook at home is a stew of root vegetables, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and squash in a flavorful broth enriched by umami-packed miso and vegetarian broth. One might call it a “supercharged miso soup:” much thicker than that generic cup at the Japanese restaurant and packed with vegetables.
When you think of extra virgin olive oil, do images of the Old World come to mind? Do you imagine of rolling hills with ancient gnarled trees, massive stone presses driven by donkeys walking in circles, and a workshop of vintage machines? For one reason or another, those were sometimes the pictures in my mind until I visited an olive oil processing plant and saw the real situation: lots of stainless steel, clean concrete, and very large machines built specifically to process oil.
On the second part of the olive oil excursion organized by the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC), the group of food bloggers got an quick tour of Boundary Bend’s1 relatively new, $15+ million processing plant in Woodland, California. Although the 2017 olive harvest was a few weeks away, our timing was good because the plant was in the middle of “practice runs,” where they use low-grade olives from various sources to test the equipment — the team needs to make sure that each machine is working right, that every employee knows his or her job, and so forth. These rehearsals are important because when the 2017 harvest hits their loading dock, it’s show time.
This is part 1 of a 2-part series on a visit to an olive grove and olive oil processing facility in Yolo County, California. The second part will appear soon.
“I absolutely love these trees,” mused Peter Hunter of Longview Ranch in Winters, California. Standing in a grove of 10 year old olive trees with a group of IFBC attendees, I could see why he might feel such strong emotion — the myriad green hues of the leaves and the gentle sound of the wind through the branches was lovely for the eyes and ears. It was close to harvest time and trees were studded with pale green olives — some so dense that they bent the branches.
This was the first stop on our pre-conference “Olive Oil Excursion,” snacks and beverages in the early evening while we learned about olive farming from Mr. Hunter, Adam Englehardt from Cobram Estate (an Australian company that recently launched U.S. operations), and various other farm and Cobram representatives. As a food and farming nerd, I found it fascinating to hear about olive growing in California, how olive oil is produced, and how California is maintaining world-class quality standards.
It was a long hot drive to Sacramento for the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) — a searing 95 F and increasing traffic intensity as I reached the city’s outskirts. Construction and some one-way street problems increased my irritation. And so, once I everything was loaded into my hotel room, I was ready for some fresh air. By that time, temperatures had started to drop, so the scorching day had turned into a pleasantly warm evening (something rare for a Bay Area resident like me, where we start piling on the layers as the fog rolls in at the end of the day).
Central Sacramento is a nice place to walk, thanks to an orderly street grid, low levels of traffic noise, and a mostly pleasant vibe. On this visit I discovered that it offers much more to the aimless ambler: murals — murals covering multi-story buildings, murals under parking lots, murals in alleys. Sacramento is becoming a city of murals and they offer the observant explorer new visual delights all over the city.
Mexican food is hugely popular in the United States — salsa has been outselling ketchup for years, some of the fastest growing restaurant chains sell Mexican food, the taco truck craze is at its peak — but it took a many years and many innovators for this to happen. Gustavo Arellano’s Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (2012, Scribner) is an ambitious and entertaining book that reviews the history of America’s love of Mexican food using profiles of business people, restaurateurs, cooks, and more.
Reports from the farmers market and about seasonal food are common today: for example, KCRW’s Good Food has a weekly farmers market report, the San Francisco Chronicle covers seasonal produce in the Sunday Food and Home section, there are apps about seasonal produce for your phone, and guides printed on paper. I have been following these reports for a long time, and I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like the market report that I found in an 1886 edition of Good Housekeeping. The beginning of the report, titled “Seasonable Table Supplies (Gathered from New York Markets…)”, could be mistaken for a reports from last week, starting with a summary of the best items in the local markets (“Grapes of many varieties made a luxuriant show”). But when I got to the “poultry and game” section, it veered into foods that aren’t sold in any markets that I know of: wild ducks, shorebirds, and other game birds.
Zucchini is the bane of many gardeners — it grows fast, seemingly doubling every time you turn around, quickly turning from flavorful to bland pulp — and so it has a slightly bad reputation. I have memories of huge home-grown zucchini and the struggles to use them. These days, though, my source of zucchini is the farmers market, where the vegetable is far more petite, and sometimes even the tiny “baby” kind, so I actually look forward to zucchini season, which means zucchini fritters, ratatouille, and various Mexican dishes (like this stew of zucchini, tomatillos and corn). This summer, I added another tasty vegetarian stew with Mexican flavors: seared zucchini in a spicy tomato sauce, with frozen tofu for texture and protein.
One of my summer dessert favorites is zucchini bread, something that could be called zucchini cake if it was baked in a shallow cylindrical pan instead of a loaf pan. It’s something I seem to only bake in the summer when zucchini is at the farmers markets, even though it would take an exceptionally skilled taster to determine that the zucchini was at its peak when I baked it, so imported winter zucchini would be fine.
The recipe I share below has been in the family for a few decades. It’s reliable, easy to assemble, and creates a moist and flavorful bread/cake. I suspect that the use of liquid vegetable oil instead of butter as the fat could help — while vegetable oil is 100% fat and a liquid at room temperature, butter is an emulsion of fat and water, and can small create problems with breaking, difficulty in incorporation, and so on.
Before magazine designers and editors could use lots of photos to enliven their pages, they needed other methods. In the late 19th Century, Good Housekeeping used decorative initials at the start of each article. Unlike typical initials, these weren’t simply larger or more ornate, but were creative depictions of letters that related to the magazine’s themes, like a wisp of steam above a cup of tea that looks like a W, or a table that looks like a T.
The gallery above has a few of the more creative initials that I found in the May 15, 1886 issue, as well as the W that I found earlier in an 1889 issue.
As printing technology changed and design decisions evolved, the thematic letters turned plain: 1903 issue has plain initials, but then in a 1909 issue they are mostly decorative (e.g., an I with botanical flourishes around it). The next issue I could find was 1922, which had plain initials.
But back in October 2007, Melissa Clark was introducing the concept to many for the first time in The New York Times: “If a chef dares to offer something as unappealing as, say, a raw kale salad, chances are it’s fantastic,” she wrote in an article titled If It Sounds Bad, It’s Got to Be Good. This article was all about the curious, addictive raw kale salad at Franny’s in Brooklyn (also published in Saveur the same month), which seems to mark the launch point for kale salad to catapult into the food trend hall of fame.
After reading the Food52 article, I wondered if there were earlier versions of kale salad, and what they looked like. To get the long view, I headed over to one of my favorite quick-research tools — Google Books — to look for much older versions of “kale salad.” I was not disappointed, finding a handful of recipes from 100 years ago and more. And I also found some old books that could be at home on bookstore shelves today (after a lot of updated design and new photographs).