Berkeley Bowl Marketplace in Berkeley, California is justly famous for its vast array of produce and their avocado selection is no exception. They sometimes sell five or more different sizes — I have seen pee wee, small, medium, large and extra large. Of course, each size has a different price and they are always sold by the piece, never by weight.
Seeing the array of avocados, I wonder: 1) does the edible fraction depend on the size of the avocado? and 2) what are the relative costs of the different sizes? To answer these questions, I bought almost 20 avocados of various sizes and weighed them with and without skin and pit.
My plastic container bin used to be loaded with 1-quart yogurt containers, and I felt packaging guilt whenever buying a new tub, even when it was local and organic.
I knew that it wasn’t too hard to make yogurt at home — I had mental images of electric yogurt makers from the 1970s — but a “coincidence of information” (i.e., a series of web articles) showed me that I didn’t need an electric device or any fancy equipment.
Homemade yogurt is not as easy as grabbing a tub at the market, but there is something satisfying about doing it yourself, and it’s a chance to reduce your use of plastic.
Warm, Heat, Cool, Mix, Wait
Making yogurt at home is relatively easy but requires some organization and time. The process can be summarized as warm, heat, cool, mix and wait.
Many of us have old recipes that we love to cook — perhaps they have been passed down through the generations on index cards, or are from old community cookbooks with frayed corners and well-worn covers. But few are as old as this post’s recipe for carrots simmered with cumin, mint and vinegar.
This recipe is really old: it’s derived from a book written more than 1,700 years ago, around the days of Caesar, Augustus, and Tiberius.
In fact, it was the recipe’s age that first attracted my attention as I was browsing through Deborah Madison’s The Savory Way. I’m not usually a big fan of carrots, but after I tried it once, it was on its way to becoming one of my kitchen standards. The background of cumin and mint, a hint of sourness from vinegar, and the sweetness of the carrots meld into something delicious. And knowing that it might have been enjoyed by Caesar, Cicero, Augustus, Livia, and other Romans makes it even more exciting.
These days, kale’s most iconic role is in kale salad — one of this era’s hottest salad trends (though they were also making kale salads 100 years ago). Massaged with salt, dressed with a sharp dressing, tossed with all manner of vegetables, nuts, and other tasty items, it is often delicious and nearly always healthy (kale might even be a superfood).
But on a chilly autumn or winter night, you want something warming, something hearty and nourishing. Something like a bowl of soup. Something like a soup with kale, beans, a touch of warm spices, and perhaps some toasted bread at the bottom of the bowl.
Winter squash are legendary for their versatility and hardiness. Ideal for soups, roasting, stews (Japanese or French to give two examples), and even some baked goods, they also are relatively resistant to damage and have long shelf lives — no padded carriers or stress when bringing home a few from the market.
The sweetness and solidity of winter squash makes it a great partner for the sharp and tangy flavors found in Mexican cooking. One delicious way to make this pairing is by simmering squash in tomatillo, tomato and chipotle chile sauce for a tasty vegetarian side dish, burrito filling, or taco filling.
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 about seasonal food from the farmers market 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 report 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.