Music, memory, and crepes in Santa Cruz

Music, memory, and crepes in Santa Cruz

Back when Kid Two was a tot, I had a gig for several months writing for the food section of our local newspaper. They gave me $50.00 and free rein to eat somewhere and make a  story of it. The editor knew more what he didn’t want – no reviews or recipes, for example – than what he was looking for. This was a fine thing for me, as I had both permission and freedom to experiment with food writing. I took my friend Bridget on the gig I’m sharing with you below, a friend from my midwestern high school whom I followed out here to the Golden State. We went to The Crepe Place, a Santa Cruz institution that serves mostly only enormous, filling crepes in appetizer, entree, and dessert form. The years flew by, and Bridget and I recently ate there again – for only the second time together. The occasion was a quick dinner before a Kasey Chambers show. (Readers, you probably do not live in Santa Cruz and may not have a reason to make crepes, but PLEASE check out Kasey’s music. She’s an Australian country singer-songwriter, a phenomenal talent and an engaging performer.) At the time, I don’t think either one of us remembered eating there together for that writing gig. But we did remember they also serve lovely small loaves of homemade bread with their salads:   Here’s the story, as it appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel – when? 2004? I’ll have to find my hard copy, as it was definitely before they had a digital edition. It’s funny to read this now – our situations...
Modern midden at the MOMA

Modern midden at the MOMA

The very best part of fourteen years as an elementary school parent were the field trips. Are all California public schools as open and enthusiastic about off-site learning, or did we just get lucky??? It seems there wasn’t a mission, museum, or state park in a three-county radius we skipped, from fall’s monarch butterfly walks and county fair pig races to winter’s elephant seal viewing to spring’s steelhead release into local rivers. Each year, the teacher had at least five or six trips lined up, and I drove on every one of them, happy and lucky to learn right along with the kids. It was on one of those school outings that I learned about middens. Our group trotted single-file along a dirt trail lined with live oak trees dotted with woodpecker holes on one side and duckweed-covered wetlands on the other, where snowy egrets waded and dived for food. Our docent gathered us around her in a field and pointed out a raised mound near her feet where blue-green bunch grasses grew from between broken bits of shell. “That’s called a midden. It’s an ancient trash heap left by the Native Americans,” she informed us. “Archeologists sift through these to learn more about what they ate and how they lived.” The kids appeared to be unimpressed. I was fascinated though, completely taken with the realization that we were standing on wild land still bearing traces of people who came before us. Way before – hundreds, even thousands of years ago – parents stood on this very spot, creating briny feasts for their children from local oysters and clams...
Pike Market, Seattle

Pike Market, Seattle

Soulard Market in St. Louis was my first farmer’s market experience, and as a girl I thought the whole experience quite alien – instead of linoleum floors and neat aisles, we’d walk the chilly concrete open-air hallway past stalls heaped with produce, whole fish piled on ice, beef tongue behind scratched glass cases and packets of novelty chocolate-covered insects to tempt. The bustle continued inside, with fresh cut flowers and kittens for sale and real fountain sodas against the far wall. Those memories popped into my mind after stumbling across Seattle’s Pike Place Market one Thursday evening. I’d flown into Seattle for BlogHer Food ’12 and was wandering along, getting my bearings, and there it was – a super-sized Soulard chock full of fish, flowers, and a multinational array of food. There was chocolate pasta and fresh garlic scapes, a Polish Pottery stall, one selling Middle Eastern spices, a woman selling ocarinas. It was marvelous. I didn’t take anywhere near enough pictures, but here you go – a few of the sights....

The Simpsons’ Food Blog Rap

Anyone who rhymes kimchee with confit and Colicchio with carpaccio gets extra points in my book.

I sat that as a thank you to the writers of The Simpsons for their episode “The Food Wife,” one right up my alley, with a guest appearance by Mario Batali (love!) as well as this very funny song, “The Food Blog Rap.” It’s a takeoff on Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind, a song I do have on my iPod. Now I’ll have this one, too. Click through to watch the music video.

Novelty snacks at the art supply store

Novelty snacks at the art supply store

The other day I wrote about the unexpected natural flavorings in food and my objection that the legal definition of those “natural flavors,” as we seen in an ingredient list, could be any one of a variety of things. Whether from from plant or from animal, the inherent vagueness in that definition prevents us as consumers to actually know what we eat when choosing a processed food products. Then today I was in line at my favorite art supply store and actually laughed out loud when I saw the items pictured below stacked on the impulse purchase shelf next to the register. I don’t know what to call them. Novelty snacks? I love them, though; they’re so wonderfully, blatantly . . .  fake. The kind of thing that can only exist to fuel kids and dares. With completely honest nutrition facts and ingredient information . . . nothing wrong with that. These roast beef gumballs get their flavor from artificial roast beef flavor.   Likewise, artificial dill flavoring gives this its pop:   Artificial cumin flavor:   Artificial corndog flavor: And the stomach-curdling foie gras bubble gum. Sugar, corn syrup, gum base, and artificial liver flavoring. Artificial liver flavoring! Who knew there would be such a thing? But it will certainly come in handy when the foie gras ban goes into effect.   The very fact that these exist at art supply store, as opposed to the grocery or corner liquor stores, says perhaps these are to be enjoyed visually as opposed to digestively. Art that is safe to chew. Either way, check out Accoutrements to see...

Who figured out a beaver’s behind tastes like raspberry?

By now you may have heard, thanks to Jamie Oliver and Dr. Oz, that castoreum is a natural flavor behind some of the products we consume. I use the word “behind” literally, since castoreum is the product of a beaver’s anal glands. Castoreum is totally unique, chemically speaking, to the beaver – not to be confused with that stinky defensive spray that comes from a skunk’s anal glands, or reason dogs walk in circles sniffing each other’s rear ends. Same place, different thing. Urban myth or no?

From French Chef to Fat Chef in fifty years

Fifty years ago Julia Child celebrated butter and cream, teaching us how to craft soufflés and beef Wellington on The French Chef. When her show was originally on the air, the average weight of an adult woman then was 140 pounds. In 1997 the International Federation of Competitive Eating was founded, and a few years later Man v. Food showed us how you can make a living by traveling and allowing yourself to be filmed stuffing as much food into your body in one sitting literally as humanly possible. Now the Food Network takes Fat Chefs and teaches them how to not eat quite so much and how to work off the calories. Today the average weight of an adult woman today is 164 pounds. There is, I think, connection here. Frank Bruni has been writing some thoughtful essays recently about how we are most likely genetically programmed toward weight gain, pointing out that the way in which we’ve become experts at processing food crops has led to the creation of a tremendous array of irresistibly salty, sweet, tasty, calorie-dense, and cheap things to grab and munch on at will. (Read the piece – he’s got some excellent points – then read the comments, which are also quite insightful.) This is Michael Pollan’s big point in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, showing how we take the million of acres of corn we grow and not just feeding it to the animals we eat, but reformulating it into almost a dozen more components of processed foods: For modified or unmodified starch, for crystalling fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and...
Bacon for dessert!

Bacon for dessert!

I took a small, happy gang – the boys, their visiting cousin, Mija, and her little sister – to Marini’s for ice cream last Friday night before the GLOW fire art festival started.   Marini’s is a great candy store – they’ve been making saltwater taffy on the Boardwalk for almost a hundred years. The shop is lined with lights and mirrors, all color and candy and energy. Stuffed animals and jellybean dispensers, Pez dispensers and crunchy pale necklaces, homemade fudge and saltwater taffy. Caramel apples. Even espresso and creamy cappuccino if you prefer your kick from caffeine. It’s one of those places where you smile just walking in the door.   Even a candy shop needs a secret to long-term success. Marini’s doesn’t just have great old-fashioned salt water taffy – I’m certain they’ve been in business since 1915 because they evolve to meet currents tastes and trends. Witness their newest creation: (drum roll on the desk, please . . . ) the Bacon Sensation Sundae. Can you even imagine such a thing? Featuring Vegan’s Nightmare Ice Cream – chocolate covered bacon strips mixed with maple ice cream – and topped with bacon, bacon, and more bacon. Mmm . . . bacon.     If you ever have one, be sure to and let me know how it tastes. (And while you’re in Santa Cruz, look me up, I’ll meet you to document it!) I appreciate the idea but it sounds as good to me as bacon lip gloss or bacon frosting. We got all sugared up on chocolate cub ice cream and mochas and then went to watch people play...

How many calories in a Doritos Locos taco?

I’ve gotten a tremendous number of hits the last few days from people doing a Google search about the calories in a Doritos Locos taco from Taco Bell, all because when I heard the fast-food-meets-junk-food object of desire was being test marketed in areas with relatively low overall incomes and high overall health problems, it set me off on what qualifies as a rant for me. You don’t have to dig around any more. Here is the answer to the question you seek, straight from Taco Bell: Doritos Locos Taco: serving size: 78 grams calories: 170 calories from fat: 80 saturated fat: 3.5 grams total fat: 9 grams trans fat: 0 grams cholesterol: 25 mg sodium: 340 mg carbohydrates: 13 grams dietary fiber: 2 grams sugars: 1 gram protein: 8 grams Doritos Locos Supreme Taco: serving size: 113 grams calories: 200 calories from fat: 100 saturated fat: 4.5 grams total fat: 11 grams trans fat: 0 grams cholesterol: 35 mg sodium: 370 mg carbohydrates: 15 grams dietary fiber: 2 grams sugars: 2 grams protein: 9 grams Taco Bell managed to keep the Doritos Locos taco calories exactly the same as its crunchy taco counterpart. The sodium in the Doritos Locos taco is 50 mg higher than the crunchy taco. What does it all mean? I like this, from a great analysis by Johanna Weiss of the Boston Globe: In truth, when you examine nutrition data on the company website, the Doritos Locos Taco is no worse for you than the rest of the menu. It just sounds more disgusting, which is part of its appeal: A taco to eat...
Mita Gourmet

Mita Gourmet

When you land in Loreto, Baja California Sur, once you get through customs and settled into your casita or cabana, it will be time to get your bearings over a bit of dinner. Mita Gourmet is an excellent place to start. Located at the eastern edge of the historic plaza, it’s easy walking distance from anywhere you may be staying in town. Sit outside, take in the activities on the square, and sip your first margarita. Hopefully, guitarist Herzon Rivera will be there too, picking his way through a set that ranges from “My Way to “Wish You Were Here” to “Hotel California.” He’s awesome – make sure you have an extra 200 pesos to buy his CD. Be sure to order a bowl of crema de almejas with a side of flour tortillas. Chef Juan Carlos makes the luscious, velvety clam chowder with béchamel and chocolate clams, a local specialty named for the color of their shell, not the taste: The menu is quite extensive if you’re still hungry; it’s very old-school steakhouse with a Mexican flair and as much heat as you can handle. LL’s fresh halibut Veracruz, packed with chocolate clams, shrimp, olives, onion, and pepper in a zesty tomato sauce topped with a scoop of rice, was also quite tasty. Sadly, the photo doesn’t do it much justice: Mita Gourmet, like most of the restaurants in Loreto, does not take credit cards. No worries, though; there is an ATM on the opposite side of the square where you can get pesos from your credit or debit...
What to do with that Halloween candy

What to do with that Halloween candy

Never mind your leftover Halloween candy – what are you going to do with all those candy wrappers? If you’re one of the few among us with a more rarefied vision of the world, you may already be saving them to create some objects of beauty like the M&M Matador: It’s stunning! Shimmery and perfectly constructed, it made me feel . . . Ole! – as opposed to “melts in your mouth and not in your hands.”  Artist Charlotte Kruk specialized in wearable art made from candy wrappers and other miscellanea that may otherwise line a landfill. Check out this video; I especially love the Peach Nectar dress at 1:35: embedded by Embedded Video The M&M Matador was part of the eye candy at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History last Friday night. The place was hopping; some of the artists from UCSC’s Digital Arts and New Media were there for a one-night showing of their work. Kid Two really liked the interactive surfboard:   A camera superimposed Kid One’s washed-out image in the video of big waves breaking. His perfect balance on the board was rewarded by a perfectly pitched version of “Wipe Out.” Less centered people trying it heard a sped up, slowed down, or otherwise warped version of the song; imagine if your Wii Balance Board was somehow in sync with your iPod and the pitch and tempo of your music changed as you got off track. Totally rad. Kid Two was also, surprisingly, into the Guerilla Grafters demonstration. It may be the next logical step in a collective culinary consciousness after community gardens and...

Dorito loco taco, or taco asqueroso

How many kinds of wrong is this? Mythical Doritos taco shells surface in Fresno – latimes.com. According to yesterday’s LA Times, Taco Bell started selling Doritos Locos Tacos, a taco made with shell of nacho-cheese-flavored Dorito shell.  Mythic? Legendary? A beautiful thing? Sounds like a nightmare to me. Time to pull my zucchini-stuffed head out of the sand for a bit here and step up to protest. Start with health wrong-ness. A Livestrong analysis weighs a 4.5 oz (127.6 grams) Taco Bell taco shell in at 150 calories 6g from fat (of which 3g are saturated) 21g from carbs (of which 2g is dietary fiber) 2g from protein 5mg sodium. Got it? Not too bad, really. Ok. Now compare to a 4.5 oz serving of Nacho Cheese Doritos. Livestrong’s nutritional analysis lists serving size as 1 bag weighing 49.6 grams. Assuming the new Taco Bell Nacho Cheese Doritos shell is the same serving size as the original and the same recipe as the chips, it takes 2.6 servings to make a 4.5 oz taco shell. Multiply the nutrition facts for 1 serving by 2.6 and you get a taco shell that contains 650 calories 33.8 grams of fat (of which 7.8 are saturated) 78g carbs (of which 5.2 is dietary fiber and 5.2 is sugars) 10.4g protein 806mg sodium Given my assumptions and calculations are correct, the new shell provides 500 calories more than their standard taco. This lady has eaten one every day for a week; she’ll be surprised next time she steps on a scale. That extra 500 calories per day equals about a pound of weight gain per...
Ancient Aztec superfood!

Ancient Aztec superfood!

I saw this yesterday walking down the bread aisle yesterday and actually did laugh out loud. Other people smiled, but that was probably because of the crazy lady taking photos of bread with her cell phone. But look – what’s your first thought? Chia bread? No way – I thought Chia Head! SNL’s Chia Head skit was the first time I’d ever heard of chia (ok, I didn’t watch a lot of TV in the ’80’s), and it was a few months before I understood that there really was a chia head, and chia pets, and it was a whole . . . thing. A thing I just snickered at. Turns out, though, chia bread isn’t made from recycling your old chia Sponge Bob. Proud owners of Chia pets are having the last laugh. The seeds of the chia plant or salvia hispanica, are packed with protein, calcium, and antioxidants, stabilize blood sugar, cause no allergic reaction, and – wait, there’s more! – they contain HUGE amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Imagine heart health without fish burps. Sprout the seeds, grind them for flour, mix with dried fruit for a crunchy trail mix – you name it, chia goes with everything. First flax, then hemp, now chia – chia is poised to become this year’s culinary equivalent of the new black. I’m a closet ethnobotany nerd and have discovered that chia isn’t a joke at all – it’s a quite fascinating plant. Native to Mexico and Central America, it was well-documented in both the Mendoza Codex and the Florentine Codex, texts created in the mid-16th century by Spanish explorers intent on...