The tropics. White sand meets picturesque blue water. Palm trees heavy with coconuts, fields of sugar cane, sweet tropical fruit. A lack of seasons means flip-flops year round; a golden tan that never truly fades. So many of us daydream of a tropical island as our permanent home. There was a time in my life when I thought I was meant to be an islander; I was twenty. A year spent abroad on the shores of Australia had me convinced it was the way I was meant to live. Twenty years later as I approach forty, with two kids and a mortgage, it’s a daydream I sometimes still revisit; a “what if” that creeps in when days are long. As the depth of summer sends images of tropical locations across my social media feeds, I have been thinking about ways to bring its allure into my own life. What happened is I discovered the ways a couple of iconic Oakland names went after their own tropical dreams; the first of which was a man with a wooden leg who turned his Oakland watering hole into a Polynesian-themed empire.
Recipes & Tips
It’s National Pollinator Week and I just read an amazing fact; one third of all agricultural output in the United States relies on pollinators. Isn’t that unbelievable? Without the help of pollinators worldwide, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, we wouldn’t have coffee. Or chocolate. Or tequila! It’s funny, my husband’s favorite beer is Pliny the Elder, an IPA named after the famous Roman naturalist and produced by Russian River Brewing Company. I therefore find it ironic that as I read about pollination today I came across a quote by Pliny the Elder, “Nature is to be found in her entirety nowhere more than in her smallest creatures.” Its profound and true. Seventy-five percent of all of the plants on Earth rely on pollinators. Yet as industry, population, and pollution increase, their colonies are being threatened and destroyed at a disturbing rate. Its something to think about as you watch a bee buzz from flower to flower. I chose to honor pollinators this week in my own way; a trip to our local urban farming store for a jar of their honey, produced by their own honey bees. A day later I have a pitcher of honey lemonade to enjoy on this perfect summer weekend.
I often forget how close Oakland is to the coast. Not just to any coast, to the amazing Northern California coast; to Highway One, teal colored water, rugged cliffs, and quaint coastal towns. I was determined to partake in berry picking season this year. I lived in Portland, Oregon for several years and used to always head to the farms just outside the city limits to pick red, purple and blue colored berries when the season hit. When I reviewed lists of recommended spots to pick berries in the Greater Bay Area, I knew the coast was going to be preferred over inland spots. What resulted was a family day trip to Pescadero last Saturday. An early departure meant no traffic. Blue skies equaled that teal-colored water. A list of recommended stops yielded delicious indulgence. Eighteen pounds of bright red organic strawberries meant I had work to do when we got home.
To experience pleasure through our senses is critical to health and well being. I know that I often take my five senses for granted. I try to focus on small pleasures in the form of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell; it is an exercise in slowing down. I move so fast on a daily basis, to take just 5 minutes can rejuvenate and reenergize me. Since I have been trying to focus on slowing down recently, lavender has been on my mind. It has always been one of my favorite scents; its ability to help with relaxation and sleep is why I use drops of its essential oil at bedtime. A recent trip to The Gardens At Lake Merritt with the kids was an opportunity to visit the lavender varieties in the sensory garden, and to allow all my senses the opportunity to find pleasure. While lavender’s scent induces calm and its little purple flowers add pops of color in perennial form, its flavor is a quality I hadn’t considered. Honey, tea and herbes de Provence are ways in which lavender can make its way to our palete, but I was curious about how to use it in baking. During my recent visit to Oaktown Spice Shop I saw bags of the little dried flowers and decided to try my hand at baked donuts.
As someone who loves food, loves Oakland, and loves inspiring local retail, I am ashamed to admit that I had not stepped foot into Oaktown Spice Shop before last week. As I have visited local restaurants and bakers over the past months, the shop’s name has been mentioned time and time again as the go-to spot for spices to bring amazing flavor to our town’s taste buds. Perhaps the idea of a shop dedicated to spices intimidated me. While I know it’s an artful combination of spices and herbs that make me pause during a meal to wonder how a flavor is achieved, I am still daunted by experimentation in my own kitchen, and cautious of the expense that a well stocked spice rack can bring. My visit to Oaktown Spice Shop has changed that. With surprisingly reasonable prices, a staff ready to help and guide your choices, and a website loaded with recipe ideas, Oaktown Spice Shop is a local gem that will be added to my shopping list.
It’s a little white lie to call this Irish soda bread. Any true Irishman or Irishwoman will tell you that a traditional Irish soda bread is strictly flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt. There is even a whole website dedicated to the preservation of traditional recipes. In Ireland, you will often see it simply referred to as “brown bread”. As the rest of the world strives to honor the Irish on the day chosen to celebrate St. Patrick, many of us have taken the traditional and gussied it up. We owe Ireland an apology. I tried to stick to the classic version, I really did. However, my tendency to complicate things took over; my desire to do justice to the lovely sample of local flour I had been given by Community Grains got the better of me. So here sits a whole wheat Irish soda bread done my way; with a touch of honey, a shaving of butter, currants soaked in Irish whiskey, and chewy apricots scattered throughout. To the Irish, I say I am sorry.
Wheat. The idea of enjoying this foundational whole grain in as “whole” of a way as possible has appealed to me recently. So much attention is given to its fancier counterparts these days; farro, quinoa, barley, amaranth. While all these wonderful grains deserve a place in our diet, I have been interested in the classic version. When I think of wheat my mind conjures up ideas of midwestern fields, wispy wheat grass blowing in the wind, farmhouses, tall silos and mill stones. Flour dusted aprons, the smell of freshly baked bread, rounds and rectangles lined up on a bakery shelf. I love to bake, and I love to try to find new ways in incorporate whole eating into my family’s diet where I can.
It’s here. I purchased my first bunch of the season last week. Asparagus is a telltale sign that spring is just around the corner. Just as the daffodils have burst through our rain drenched soil to open up and smile at us, asparagus and their tender tips have popped up like little soldiers to say “Come on spring, we’re ready for you”. While the season doesn’t officially start for four more weeks, we can enjoy the combination of the sunny February days we have been blessed with, along with these crisp stalks, to remind us that spring will soon be here. Here are a few recipes and fun tidbits to help you enjoy this delicious veggie.
I saw this grain salad with asparagus and Meyer lemon on the kitchn earlier today, a perfect way to enjoy the end of the citrus season along with the arrival of asparagus.
I can’t do an inspiration board without including my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen. I made this simple asparagus pizza last year, and will surely be doing it again. Although I might be tempted to add an egg this time.
While looking on her site for the above, I came across this recipe for asparagus with yogurt and almonds that looks lovely.
I saw Ina Garten do this asparagus with prosciutto and egg on Barefoot Contessa one day…it looked like heaven.
Serious Eats is a great resource for all things food & cooking…they have given me these delicious ideas:
Tartine sandwiches with asparagus, ricotta and mint…yes please!
Grilled asparagus dipped in 3 different aioli options…yum!
Roast chicken with asparagus panzanella…I will admit I would probably cheat and buy a rotisserie chicken :o)
And here is 20 more…I will be trying the caesar and farro salads myself.
Asparagus and Gruyere come together in tart form in several places on the web, but they all seem to be descendants of Martha’s version.
Lets make sure we also cover off some very important questions and facts:
Do you peel your asparagus? I don’t. According to this survey, I am in the majority.
Do you snap the ends off, or not? I do…some say you loose too much of the stalk that way. According to The New York Times, you can still be left with tough, stringy ends if you snap. They recommend cutting 6-7 inches down from the tip. To me, it’s just too fun, and too easy.
According to this article in Smithsonian Magazine, even Benjamin Franklin commented on this strange side effect of eating asparagus back in 1781. Just why, oh why, does it make our pee smell? I always assumed it happened to everyone. Eating just one stalk does it to me. However, I guess some folks are spared.
And just for fun…
Etsy and eBay are full of vintage French asparagus plates. How “French” is it that they have special plates just for asparagus? If I could afford it, and had the space, I would be all over this set. The color is gorgeous.
Maybe I will just take this cute vintage french crate label instead… :o)
Top Row (from left to right): Daffodil – TANAKA Juuyoh via flickr / Wild Daffodils – Vince Alongi via flickr / asparagus – liz west via flickr
Middle Row (from left to right): asparagus – liz west via flickr / Asparagus – Michael Leland via flickr / Daffodils – Keith Todd via flickr
Bottom Row (from left to right): white and orange daffodil, taken by my wife – Martin LaBar via flickr / Daffodils in Spring Sunset – Nic Taylor via flickr / Asparagus – Steve Cavrich via flickr