Friday, December 24, 2010

A Coffee History – Part Deux (Hooray!)

So last we had heard of the Tale of Coffee the Dutch had smuggled the coffee bean from the Middle East to the island of Java… (thanks again to the Green Mantle for great great Factoids)
  • So apparently coffee drinking in Europe began in Venice in the 17th century (they were the first port to receive the Dutch coffee imports). But what really kicked coffee drinking into high gear was when the French King Louis the 14th (the Sun King) became a fan. His gateway to the world of caffeine either came via the Turkish ambassador in 1669 or the Mayor of Amsterdam in 1714 (depending on what story you follow) but regardless of origin the French were hooked like Black Tar Heroin. In a jiffy coffee seedlings were being grown in Paris at the Jardin des Plantes and the first Parisian coffee shop Le Procope was opened in 1686 (it’s still open today).
  • It was also the French who were responsible for promoting coffee to the North American colonists early in the early 18th century. Americans fell in love with coffee in a way that their English homeland (but only for a few more decades…) never would. But all during this time coffee prices remained under the control of the Dutch (with a limited number of growers keeping the prices artificially high). Thus, coffee drinking was still largely a luxury to be enjoyed by only society’s wealthy elite.
  • It seemed that smuggling was a necessary evil for the coffee plant but its trip to South America (now the largest coffee growing region in the world) was far more romantic. Like the Arabs in the earlier centuries the Dutch were determined to maintain their coffee monopoly and (naturally) they prohibited the export of seedlings from their territories. But as fate would have it in the 1720s a Brazilian emissary to the Dutch coffee-growing colony in Guyana had an affair with the wife of the governor. The mistress secretly hid coffee seeds in a gift of flowers to her Brazilian diplomatic lover when he departed. It was this token of affection that created Brazil’s coffee empire and allowed coffee drinking within the financial reach of ordinary people.
So what did we learn today Kids?

Remember to thank l'Amour for your Java fix!

I Heart Cast Iron Pans

You want to make an amazing quesadilla? Invest in a fifteen-dollar cast iron pan (or eight-dollars if you get it from the flea market) that will last forever (and ever!) So for all those intrigued here are some great Factoids (Factoids!) to get you through the process:

The Why: (Why Cast Iron)
  • Cast iron pans are ideal heat conductors, cast iron cookware heats evenly (no Hot Spots!) and consistently.
  • Cast iron pans can be used on top of the stove or to bake in the oven (or one to the other and back again). This is one of the reasons that the pioneers (Hello Oregon Trail!) swore by these pans. Just be careful to use a towel or potholder because they can get hot!
  • It’s an old fashioned way to cook fat free! If your cast iron pan is well seasoned it will be stick resistant and need no additional oil to cook (like Teflon but without all those nasty nasty chemicals).
The Who's: (The Cooking and Seasoning)
  • Curing (or seasoning) a cast iron pan means filling the pores and voids in the metal with grease of some sort which then gets cooked in (this is the reason for the non-stick surface). Seasoned pans have multiple thin coats of oil on them.
  • If your cast iron pan sticks than your pan is NOT seasoned right. It needs to be re-seasoned.
  • Always preheat your iron pan before frying in them.
  • Remember, every time you cook in your cast iron pan you are actually seasoning it by filling in the pores and valleys of that pan’s surface. The more you cook, the smoother the surface becomes!
  • To Season (and Re-Season) apply a light coating of oil (you can use vegetable oils, shortening or, uggh, lard) to the pan while it is still warm. Rub off the oil with a cotton cloth (if you don’t rid the pan of excess surface oil than the extra oil will become rancid within a couple of days, gross).
The How: (The Cleaning)
  • Wash you pans daily with warm water and steel wool (NO SOAP). Never ever wash it in the dishwasher (not a problem of mine since I’m sans dishwasher).
  • Towel dry immediately (Do not let your cast iron air dry, as this can promote rust!).
  • Store in a cool dry place (the oven is a great place, just remember to remove it before turning it).
  • If some well meaning but clueless relative who’s visiting (sigh) washed your pan with soap and it developed rust spots just scour with steel wool or sandpaper and re-season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

History of Coffee (Hooray!)

Hey Guys, Coffee and alcohol… those seem to be the two things that will really help you get through the holidays with your family. Coffee to get you through last night’s hangover, the last minute present shopping where you run into that person you haven’t seen from high school in forever (and of course you’re not wearing makeup!), and the endless and endless amounts of grocery shopping. The alcohol is to get you through those family dinners that end up being full of more grilling than the CIA’s interrogation technique. Which leads us right back to coffee! That being said I recently read the Green Mantle by Michael Jordan (not the basketball player sportsfans...) and found out some amazing Factoids (Factoids!!!!) about the history of coffee and thought I would share.
  • Coffee is the second most widely marketed source of caffeine (behind tea). The average cup of coffee delivers between 65 and 115 milligrams of caffeine (tea is unlikely to contain more than 60 milligrams).
  • Historical records from as early as 900 BC show that the Arab nations were the first to drink a beverage made from the crushed beans soaked in boiling water (coffee is even mentioned in the Koran).
  • The best-known legend about how coffee was discovered is about is an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi (not having a ton of distractions as a goat herder) began to notice how lively and energetic his goats became after eating some reddish-colored berries. Kaldi was tempted to eat some of the berries himself and when he did he discovered that it was not only the goats which remained alert and active. So being a good servant of God Kaldi passed his newly found secret to the local monastery. The monks were naturally interested in any stimulants for staying awake during long periods of meditation and prayer, so they began to experiment for themselves. Even though they quickly learned that chewing the beans was definitely not the most enjoyable way of taking coffee it took several centuries for the advantage of roasting the beans to gain approval (probably somewhere around 1000 - 1200 AD).
  • Coffee cultivation began sometime during the 1600s in Yemen, and from the beginning the industry was carefully controlled throughout the Middle East (much in the way tea was in China or petroleum is these days). The coffee-growing countries placed a strict prohibition on the export of coffee plants or seeds that could be germinated, only allowing the sale of infertile sun-dried or roasted beans. The Arab monopoly remained strong until viable saplings were smuggled out of the Arab port of Mocha (the origin of the name Mocha coffee) to Amsterdam during the early part of the 17th century. These illegal plants were then shipped to the Dutch East Indies and the first coffee production outside the Arab world began on the island of Java and Amsterdam became the internationally recognized trading center for coffee.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mea Culpa

Dear ES Readers,
Sorry I have Mos Def been lagging in the posts. Things have been a little crazy getting Pics of Peps up (my new art blog - 365 drawings by moi of Peppermint the Kitty Cat). But, I swear I have some great stories in the pipeline (including an interview with photographer Kris Korn (who just helped Bob Blumer on his new cookbook) but until then here's a couple of Pics of Peps to appease the blog updating Gods.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Food Forward

With the Holiday Season upon us I want to give a shout out to a great LA Charity: Food Forward! Food Forward is an amazing all volunteer grassroots group of Angelenos who care about reconnecting to our food system and making change around urban hunger.

But first an interesting factoid or two about volunteering... It will make you a happier person. (Hooray!!!)

In 2008 Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School, published research in the journal Science, that proved that money will buy you happiness... that is if you give it to other people. He and his research team questioned 632 Americans about how much they earned and how they spent their income. They also asked them to rate their own happiness. Regardless of income level, those people who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not. In a second study, the team also gave 46 volunteers either $5 or $20 to spend. They instructed the participants to spend the money on themselves or someone else. Again, the altruistic group reported feeling happier, whatever the size of their gift.

Food Forward is what I call a Win-Win. They convene at private homes and public spaces they have been invited to and harvest their excess fruits and vegetables, donating 100% to local food pantries across southern California (such as SOVA and Mend Poverty) and all fruit donors receive a charitable contribution tax receipt for their excess oranges and grapefruits. (Plus you get to climb trees which is one of my all time favorite things in the world to do!)

So What You Can Do to Help (And Thus In Doing So Make Yourself a Happier Person!!!):
-- Pick some Fruit! Food Forward is always looking for energetic volunteers who are interested in fruit picking at both small properties and large orchards, community outreach, volunteer leadership, property scouting and coordinating and much more.
-- Donate Some Fruit! F.F. is also looking for neighbors with mature fruit trees, multi-tree private orchards or gardens with excess fruit and vegetables to share with those in need in our own community.
-- Donate Materials! They are looking for garden and equipment donations such as: Lightly used vehicle, 6, 8, 12 foot lightweight aluminum ladders, Garden gloves, Gardening sheers, and Tree pruners.
-- Donate Money!
(Parts of this post are reprinted from the Santa Monica Observer article on Volunteering)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Organics: SM-1/4-Lib-Pan-Series

Hey Guys. I covered the Santa Monica Farmers Market Quarterly Library Panel Series for the Santa Monica Observer. The all star lineup debated the subject was organics. (And (again) the most beautiful picture of an apple that Kat Thomas has ever drawn!)

So What’s the Deal With Organics…?

Organics. Even for the informed food consumer it can bring up quite a question mark. So it’s was with this quandary the Santa Monica Farmers Market Quarterly Library Panel Series tackled the question of organics a few weeks ago. Moderated by Laura Avery, Farmers Market Supervisor, the panel consisted of three farmers: one certified organic (Chris Cadwell of Tutti Frutti Farms), one formerly certified organic (Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms), one not certified organic (Molly Gean of Harry's Berries) and a chef (Neal Fraser, Chef/Owner of Grace and BLD).

But first a little background of the history of organics. Organic farming practices began in the 1970s when like-minded farmers wanted to create accepted practices for growing healthy food. In 1973 the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) was created with farmers certifying each other and making sure others had the CCOF seal. Fast forward to 1993 with organic farming becoming the fastest growing part of food industry; but it was a patchwork of organic standards because different organic practices varied from state to state. The year 2000 saw the creation of national organic standards. There were massive public hearings over the definition of what could technically be labeled organic. Initially big agriculture tried to have this definition to allow irradiated food, sewage/sludge and GMO (genetically modified organisms) to be included. But over 230,000 individuals wrote in and the final definition excluded these items. Thus in 2003 the national definition of organic was integrated. “In California you need to be registered organic,” explained Laura Avery, Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market supervisor. “You need to pay to play; you can’t say you’re organic unless you’re certified organic. That means a third party agency to check your farm. They are the ones that give you a CCOF certification.”

Turns out if you’re not certified than you can’t touch that word with a ten-foot pole. “People ask us all the time, we want to get organic, is everyone organic?” continued Laura Avery, referring to the Santa Monica Farmers Markets. “The Wednesday market has 18 organic farmers. The Saturday market has more. But even if they’re not certified organic the majority has no pesticides or no chemicals.” “We say chemical free,” explained Molly Gean of Harry’s Berries, who is not organic but utilizes natural farming practices. “It doesn’t matter what words you use as long as it’s accurate.”

So why would a farm chose to grow organically, but not get certified organic? Plain and simple: it ain’t cheap. “I understand why you wouldn’t be certified. It’s pretty expensive,” Chris Cadwell of Tutti Frutti Farm, which is organic. “I’ve always been certified since it came in. I was always thinking of the big picture. There’s too much chemical damage to the soil.“ As Molly Gean of Harry’s Berry’s (which has positively the most amazing strawberries ever) explains it, “the reason we haven’t certified organic is we’re small family farm. We’ve sold 100% of our produce at farmers market for last 13 years. Because we sold everything we grew there’s no reason to pay if everything is being sold anyhow. This is because we could tell our customers what we grow. We’ve relied on our personal relationship. You ask, we tell you, you trust us. That is kinda the simple quick answer. We don’t market ourselves as organic, or use it as a marketing tool.”

As Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farm, who at one time was organic but not at the moment, explained it, “We’re a medium size farm. We do farmers market, but also do wholesale to restaurants, retail, and Whole Foods. It was 9 years ago we were organic, but we still farm with organic principles: rotation, cover cropping, using organic materials. There were a lot of small reasons not to be organic. A lot of varieties we wanted to grow we couldn’t get the organic seeds. It became a management nightmare, the cost of separating things. We had to label this is organic, and this isn’t. We needed to invest in infrastructure, we needed some tractors. In the end it was just management, and cost. So even though we’re no longer organic we believe in what we grow and you can taste it. The best food is the fairest cleanest food.”

“Organic always demands for farmers to jump through hoops, explained Weiser. “We saw examples of what Molly does. Putting yourself and home farm as the brand. It’s not always black and white. Local certified organic is great but it’s going to cost you more. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat an apple if it’s not organic but it’s local.” But being organic can help you on a larger level. “I understand Molly’s position: that works if you have good local customers. But I was selling to stores,” explained Cadwell. “We ship to Whole Foods we want to keep that going. Internationally everyone is following organic practices especially in countries like Germany, Denmark, and France.” “Are they looking for American products because they can’t keep up with demand? Do you look it as an emerging market?”” questioned Avery. “Absolutely,” answered Cadwell. “But more importantly the world should be organic. You need laws and paperwork so that people will follow them. So that they obey the law.” “We’re always looking to bring back our organic label,” noted Weiser. “Especially now my nieces are graduating college. But until then we do chose to use traditional farming techniques.”

“Seems the demand is growing almost too quickly. When certain farms can’t fill the demand they start to cut corners,” noted Avery, referencing the large organic company Earthbound issues with E. Coli. “To me if the brand is more important than what they’re doing than something is wrong,“ explained Cadwell. “Earthbound is multi state; it’s huge. It was really simple, they were making salsa and they didn’t clean the water that washes the stuff that goes into it. But, on my farm every single box is marked with the day it was picked, which field it was picked from, and where it’s going. If they find Salmonella I can ask what field? It keeps quality up, but it’s horrible for me because I became a farmer because I never liked paperwork. Why would Molly want to do that stuff if she didn’t have to?”

The panel then slid over the question of organic in restaurants. “I eat almost totally organic at home,” noted Neal Fraser, “But it’s different in a restaurant. If we go to a restaurant we usually don’t want know. People don’t want people telling them what to eat. They don’t want to make a political message when they’re going to dinner. They want to have a cocktail and be transported. I would love for everything in all my restaurants to be certified organic. At the same time our menu prices are the same as Citrus was 20 years ago with product costing 3 times more. You need to weigh out what you want to use. I like to use local and American, but I do what I can afford. We pay $34 for eggs we could buy $12 from Sysco but people can taste the different. Free range egg tastes very different.” Fraser noted that the most popular question asked at his restaurant BLD is if the salmon is farm raised? “We can’t afford wild salmon at our price point. We can’t use Copper River salmon that’s $25 a pound with the skin and bones. You can’t serve that for $27 a plate.”

The cost, that is one of the biggest complaints that people have about organic farming, certified or not. “People ask why are you charging so much money? But it’s for the flavor,” explained Avery. “We have school tours. We give kids a conventional strawberry grower and then we gave them Molly’s. And their eyes lit up! You got the product picked yesterday for you today. If their strawberries are not sold, which never happens, they never sell the next day.” “We only farm 30 acres but for that 30 acres we have 30 employees,” explained Gean. “All seconds are culled out and go into the compost pile. I’ve had chefs who love our product but I can’t afford it. ‘I can’t pass it on to the customer’ they tell us. But our strawberries are just more. They’re always fresh, always ripe. With us you’re going to eat every berry in the basket. “

And then there’s a question whether something sold as organic is truly organic. Another thing that healthy eating requires is trust (something that can be totally hard to come by when talking about food these days). In September NBC Los Angeles did an in depth investigation on farmers who were lying about whether they truly did not spray their produce with pesticides. “We’re vehemently opposed to cheating,” noted Gean. “If people ask,” Laura Avery explained, “we tell them our farms have to fill out a form and have to be certified with the CCOF.” “You just have trust us,” continued Gean. “Our livelihood is based on our relationship. The trust is the keystone to the relationship. If we didn’t have the trust you couldn’t have the relationship.” Ted Galvin manager of the Saturday Pico market and an audience member noted, “I’ve had a relationship with most my farmers for at least 15 years. I know 95% of them week in and week out. If anybody’s otherwise suspicious I’ll check him or her out.” Another member of the audience noted “I worked for Whole Foods for seven years in the marketing department. They are so afraid of lawsuits so if it says organic it’s probably organic.” But trust is much easier to find if you have a relationship with your food provider. “The more informed the consumer is the better,” noted Avery.

And who’s right? All of them. And that’s the hardest part. Sure in a perfect world we would all eat organic all the time, but that’s not always the case. The real issue with organics is that it’s not a cut or dry situation (and everyone likes cut and dry situations, it makes for nice and easy choices…). But this is not Rock, Paper, Scissors where one always trumps the other. Local vs. organic, industrial organic vs. small farm… the permutations are mind-boggling. So on this debate you need to take a step back, considered the options, and make an informed decision on what works best for you. And in case you missed it, the watchword for the last sentence was “informed decision” because, as was noted at the end of Food Inc.,“you can vote to change this system. Three times a day.” Just as long as you chose to think.

Kat Thomas is a writer who loves it when people make informed decisions about what and how they eat. Her Food Blog is

Monday, November 15, 2010

South Central Farmers' CSA

Hey Guys! This was an article that ran a few months ago at the SM Observer, but I was having a conversation with a friend who was looking for a Westside CSA so I thought I'd post the info for all to read. Enjoy! (And also enjoy the pretty pretty picture of a carrot that I drew!)

Community Supported Agriculture for a Cause

Each Saturday Santa Monica residents head over to a local Sunset Park home to discover what surprises lay in store for them in their South Central Farmers’ Cooperative CSA boxes. Boxes brimming with organic vegetables and fruit that they will take home to be sautéed, baked, and grilled. Recent boxes have included a rainbow of colors Red Kale, Blue Kale, Armenian Cucumber, Yellow Squash, Zucchini Squash, Purple Basil, and Okra. “I think you can just taste the difference,” notes Liz Chavez, a Santa Monica resident who helped bring this CSA to Santa Monica. “It’s the healthiest Chard you can ever imagine, the sweetest Carrots. You can taste the care that the farmers put in to growing these vegetables.”

For those who aren’t up to speed with their acronyms (which always seems to be the case…) CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If going to the farmers market is al la carte than a CSA is the pre fixe menu. Developed in the U.S. in 1984 in response to food quality and the urbanization of agricultural land, the consumers buy direct from the farmer through a membership. A CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support of a farm operation through a set fee, a sliding scale in case of the South Central Farmers, in exchange for a box of fresh, locally grown, organic produce. This produce is delivered weekly to twenty-two possible pick-up locations including the Santa Monica Pico pickup point. “There are so many benefits,” notes Chavez. “It’s what the experts are telling what we should do for our own health. It’s environmentally sustainable because you don’t have to use oil to transport the food.”

The CSA arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer. For the farmers it includes getting to spend time marketing the food early in the year, having an opportunity to meet the people who eat their food, and (most importantly) receiving steady payment for their produce, which can help with ups and down of a farm’s cash flow. For consumers along with advantage of ultra-fresh food there’s the exposure to new vegetables and cooking (most CSAs post recipes for their more unusual items on their website) and the time spent not having to pick out individual items at a market. The government does not track CSAs, so there is no official count of how many CSAs there are in the U.S, but the trend is definitely growing. In 2008, 557 CSAs signed up with the website Local Harvest, which has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, and in the first two months of 2009, an additional 300 CSAs joined the site. Local Harvest now has over 2,500 listed in their grassroots database.

For the South Central Farmers CSA all boxes are the same size (some CSAs do large and small) enough to feed (approximately) a family of four for a week or a single/couple for two weeks. “You don’t have to make long-term commitment. You can do week-to-week, monthly or six month,” explains Chavez. “You can make it work for your budget.“ The price of the box varies depending on someone’s ability to support the farm financially from $25 a box to $15 for low income families. The South Central Farmers CSA encourages folks to pay, via Paypal, at the highest level they can. For $40 you can buy a box for yourself and support a community member in need, half of this purchasing price is tax-deductible. “What always strikes me with the South Central Farmers is the profound sense of community. In this wake of economic and environmental disasters it’s what we all need to cultivate more: something bigger than us, the sense of community,” notes Chavez.

This becomes even more profound when you learn a little history about the South Central Farmers. Although now located near Bakersfield the farm’s moniker is not without reason.
It was an oasis in a desert. Established in 1992, in the aftermath of the Rodney King Insurrection, the South Central Farm became the largest urban agricultural landscape in the nation. Ten of 14 acres at the urban site, in the middle of a warehouse and wrecking yard district, were intensively cultivated by over 300 low income farmers with more than a 100 different species of unique Mesoamerican heirloom row crops, medicinal herbs, fruit vines, orchard and sacred ceremonial trees, and cacti. “It’s eye opening. There’s no supermarkets in South Central, only liquor stores and fast food. It’s called a food desert,” explains Chavez. “And with severely limited access of fresh food this results in a high rates of obesity and diabetes. With the garden they had control of their own food production.”

In 2003, The South Central Farmers organized a campaign to save the farm from developers. The farmers resisted eviction until June of 2006. This eviction occurred despite the fact that the South Central Farmers successfully raised the $16.5 million the landowner was asking for the purchase of the land. The origins of the farm and the 3 year long campaign against eviction became the topic of an Oscar-nominated documentary film, The Garden. “They’re the hardest working people I’ve associated with. Working nonstop pulling together,” Chavez says with more than a bit of pride. “When the city of LA couldn’t find the political will to support them they got donors till. They worked to the bone to get the land at 41st and Alameda: it was tragic that they got evicted.”

Over the past four years since the eviction, the South Central Farmers have gone on to establish a farm near Bakersfield in the community of Buttonwillow, about two hours north of LA (quite a daily commute). Last month, the farmers had a ceremony attended by Congresswoman Maxine Waters to initiate the opening of the irrigation system to water the 80-acre Buttonwillow site. However, the farmers seek to return to their urban roots, while continuing to build the broader movement for food sovereignty through the activism of their "community-based agriculture" project in Buttonwillow.
And hopefully someday they will. By joining their CSA you have a voice on how your food is grown while helping to keep the now approximately thirty farmers that run the South Central Farm Cooperative in Buttonwillow employed and closer to working closer to home again. “It’s really a matter of social justice supporting our farmers, the hardest working people out there,” continues Chavez. “It’s delicious produce that’s healthy, organic, and local. It’s about food and food sovereignty. They’re the leading edge of the urban farming movement.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Something to Check Out: The Garden School Workday

Hey Guys, Unfortunately this got canceled. But check out the info b/c they'll have another work party in December! --Kat

Let's Get Dirty!

The Garden School is having their Saturday Workday this Saturday (duh!) November 13th from 9-12. What's the Garden School, you ask? It's an organization created to combat the Los Angeles Food Desert issue. Wait, what's a Food Desert? I am glad you asked...

A Food Desert is a location in a city where there are no access to healthy "real" food and is instead populated with with unhealthy "fake" food. In layman's terms: Whole Foods Ain't going to low income areas... these are areas where the only place to buy your food is at a fast food joint or a liquor store. So in certain parts of the city, probably not where you live Yuppie if you're reading my "food blog," kids don't know what a fresh vegetable looks like.
But luckily some Foodie-types got together to do some do-gooder work, Hooray! They built a garden at the 24th Street Elementary School so that kids can learn what a tomato is (and have a great outdoor space to run around)!
And once a month you're welcome to show up to help plant seeds, turn beds, and generally just play the outdoors and get nice and dirty while earning some good Karma.
Check it out. Below are the Deets!

Saturday, November 13th, 9am-12pm.
Bring your shovels, gloves, sunscreen (Mos Def!), water and your favorite gardening tools.
Address: 24th Street Elementary School 2055 W 24th Street Los Angeles, 90018
Directions: From the I-10 Freeway: take the "Western Avenue" exit (3 miles west of downtown) and head south on Western. Take a right turn on 24th Street. The school is one block down on the right, and the parking lot entrance is just beyond the school. There is plenty of street parking as well.
If you want bring anything or if you have questions you can contact Julia at:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Something to Check Out: Santa Monica Farmers Market Quaterly Library Panel Series Tonight!

It's time for another Santa Monica Farmers Market Quarterly Library Panel Series tonight. The last couple of I've attended have been totally packed so get there early. I recommend a lot of events, but the Library Panel Series definitely my favorite. Free, fun, super educational, and great food at the end of it (also free)! Deets are below!

Is It Organic?

Organic Growers - who "CERTIFIES," who doesn't, and why. Meet three farmers: one certified organic, one formerly certified organic, one not certified organic and a chef who are asked this question on a regular basis and learn why all their answers are correct.

On the panel tonight are:
-Chris Cadwell - Tutti Frutti Farm - Certified Organic
-Alex Weiser - Weiser Family Farm - Formerly Certified Organic
-Molly Gean - Harry's Berries - Not Certified Organic
Neal Fraser - Chef/Owner - Grace and BLD
Moderator - Laura Avery - Farmers Market Supervisor

November 4th · 7:00pm - 9:00pm (these events are first come first serve and always fill up some get there 15-20 minutes early!)
Santa Monica Main Library MLK Jr. Auditorium 601 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 458-8600

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yes, Another Reprint: Food Trucks in S.M

I know a bunch of reprints at the moment (thanks again courtesy of Santa Monica Observer), but this is also timely since today (Tuesday night) is Food Truck night in Santa Monica. So if you're into Food Trucks (and what Angeleno isn't???) go check them out (it's for a good cause!)

Finally! Food Trucks in Santa Monica! (And Saving the Day for the Californian Heritage Museum!)

By Kat Thomas
Perhaps you’ve heard the news, but Gourmet Food Trucks have finally made it to Santa Monica! Thanks to a temporary three month permit, from 5:30-9:30 at the California Heritage Museum and Victorian parking lot (home of the Sunday Santa Monica’s Farmers Market) the residents of Santa Monica can enjoy such exotic fare as Cubano Sandwiches, Vietnamese Pho, and Don Draper flavored ice cream (comprised of Vanilla, Bourbon, Carmel, and Smoke!) And although the event has been rained out twice since starting a little over a month ago, there’s nothing but smiling faces on the friends of the California Heritage Museum as this event is helping financially save both it and its Main Street neighbors.

“About six months ago we began working to have Food Trucks in our parking lot on a day of the week that Main Street is typically very very quiet,” explains Tobi Smith, Director of California Heritage Museum. “It was suggested first to our staff and then to our directors that having these Gourmet Food Trucks would be a non traditional means of supporting museum, but also support the Main Street merchants.

The Heritage Museum has tried very hard from the being to have the approval of the neighborhood, making sure to get the support of the Main Street Merchants Association and Ocean Park Association. “We did some research on other areas that were already offering Food Truck evens, such as Abbot Kinney’s on First Fridays. And discovered that a good amount of people ended up dining in restaurants and going into stores because a lot of people don’t want wait in line,” explains Smith.
Tuesday nights are normally very sleepy on Main Street, especially in this economy, but two weeks ago (since last week’s event was called due to inclement weather, a continuing chagrin for the museum who was hoping to start their offerings during the summer’s sunny skies) restaurants in close proximity to the event such LaVecchia, Lula, and Finn McCool’s were definitely bustling more than usually.

Everyone has a different take on how to enjoy the trucks. A hipster couple on a date might use the trucks as a source of appetizers and then go somewhere else for the main course. A group on a double date might dine at the trucks for dinner and then end up at the Galley for dessert. And some people just look at it as the ultimate option in take out. “My brother who lives nearby comes to the lot, buys the food, and takes it home, so he doesn’t have to worry about cooking,” notes Smith. And along with the benefit to the nearby restaurants the museum is also hoping for a spillover to retail side of Main Street. “If we can bring a lot of people to the street than the Main Street stores might keep their doors open later in the future,” states Smith.

And for those who are not residents, there are a many reasons for the Food Truck followers to make Santa Monica their destination choice, such as the comfy al fresco dinning. “Instead being forced to stand up while eating,” explains Smith, “you can picnic on the museum’s lawn (as long as it’s not raining); we’ve just put new lighting so it’s now very well lit out there.” Another great perk of the Tuesday night Food Trucks is the option to imbibe alcohol. “You can go out to the Victorian and can actually get a beer or wine to enjoy with your meal.” Definitely a perk for the wine loving SoCal crowd. And for those who fancy another drink afterwards, there is the option of going downstairs to the Tavern, the basement bar at the Victorian, and enjoying their offerings.

The Gourmet Food Trucks are somewhat of a litmus test for the Heritage Museum into nontraditional forms of fundraising. “Times are tough for everyone. We normally have the Heritage Award dinner in October but we already knew ahead of time, that with the economy being what it is, we didn’t have enough people for it to be profitable for us so we decided to push it to the Spring of next year.” In the past, ironically, the one day of the week that fully features the museum, the Sunday Santa Monica Farmers Market, has also caused the biggest financial obstacle. Because of the business of the market there is a lack of Sunday parking for the California Heritage Museum, typically the most popular day for museum attendance. “The museum is not as accessible on Sundays as it is any other day. We don’t have the handicap parking, or even normal parking, available that we do any other day of the week. Plus even though the market ends at 1:00 it isn’t really packed up till around 3:00.”

Add on top of this that many people (including yours truly) did not even realize that the museum was open on Sundays (FYI: they are open Wed – Sunday 11-4). “In the end, we lose at lot of money with the Sunday Farmers Market, the city used to pay rent to us, but they haven’t done that in a long time.” So the Tuesday Food Truck night is a win-win fundraiser that falls under the visible radar for many Santa Monica residents. “With the food trucks people can enjoy gourmet food, and most of them don’t even know that there supporting us. Plus the Food Trucks Twitter to their fans advertising to their Heritage Museum location to their followers, people who are not the our typical audience.”

As most foodies know Santa Monica has dragged its feet for quite awhile on the Food Truck phenomenon. Even when the Santa Monica City Council finally gave approval for mobile food trucks to create “food courts” in private parking lots it still took quite awhile. “We were talking about this six months ago. Everyone was very helpful and nice, but it took awhile because… well it just takes awhile.” Since it’s everyone’s first time numerous things had to be added as the planning went on. “Initially we didn’t have bike valet,” notes Smith. “We hadn’t budgeted for it, but the city required it. So the Victorian has generously donated the money so we could offer free bike valet to the residents of Santa Monica. And for those who can’t walk or bike we have parking at the museum along with ample of street parking, a lot more than Abbot Kinney.”

Along with the working diligently with the city, the California Heritage Museum also united with Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association and it’s CEO Matt Geller. With about ninety members, the association makes sure that the trucks featured at the museum are up to snuff, meeting all the health code restrictions required by the association’s rules. Every week there are ten trucks featured, but what makes it interesting is that the association does a Round Robin. “So one week we have ten trucks, and next week have ten completely different trucks.” You can go to museum’s website each week to read about the Food Trucks available for that week. “I’m allergic to garlic,” notes Smith, “so since the museum has links to all of the Food Truck’s menus so I can check out their menus and see what options work with my diet.”

So far everyone has been super supportive of these Tuesday nights. “Our first week, one of the neighbors came by and ended up giving us a check for $1,000. It was amazing. He’s a neighbor who wanted to support the museum and what we're doing.” Smith hopes that with the Tuesday Food Truck night their Santa Monica neighbors will be reintroduced the museum and get to know their exhibitions. They have recently wrapped their skateboard show, which was the most popular exhibit the museums ever had. “We’re in between exhibits at the moment, but our next show will be starting on November 6th. We try and do exhibits that everyone in the family likes. Next summer we’re going to do a surfboard show featuring Short Boards from 1967-1982. This is Dogtown, this is where all the surfing and skating happened. It’s Ocean Park, we’re in the middle of it.”

But for all this to happen the California Heritage Museum needs to pay its bills. And hopefully the families, hipsters on dates, and people who just don’t want to cook on a Tuesday night will help them do so, while also helping their neighbors. “We’re trying really hard to make it successful so that people enjoy themselves and help out the Main Street. We want it to be a destination spot. Come to Santa Monica, eat, and walk the streets. Participate.“

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Today: Día de los Muertos in Santa Monica

If you're looking for something to check out: the largest Día de los Muertos Festival is running at Edison Language School from 1-5pm today. Below is a reprint of my article that ran in the Santa Monica Observer this week. Check it out and help a good cause!

Día de los Muertos

This Saturday October 30th from 1-5pm both the Hispanic and non-Hispanic community will come together at Edison Language Academy to honor the dead. Edison, Santa Monica’s dual language elementary school, will hold their biggest fundraiser of the year. This fair includes such traditional Día de los Muertos events as altars, decorated by their kindergarten through fifth grade students, that honor those who have passed away and Sugar Skull creating and decorating. Along with these cultural events food lovers of all different demographics will enjoy such treats as homemade tamales made by the school’s PTA and a Cakewalk, the equivalent of musical chairs involving cakes. All this, along with live music, crafts, games, and a Halloween haunted house, makes it the largest Day of the Dead Festival in Santa Monica.

Edison Language Academy is one of the longest running dual language immersion programs in California, and one of only a handful in the United States. At Edison ninety percent of Kindergarten and First Grade are taught in Spanish to both Spanish and English speaking students. The school focuses not only on Spanish language skills but also on cultural holidays from the Hispanic culture, and Day of the Dead is one of the granddaddy of all events.

“The day of the dead is very significant in the Hispanic culture,” explains Lisa Mead, mother of two, third and fifth grade respectfully, Edison Language Academy students. “Some people might look at our Festival and think of as Halloween event, but it’s much more than that.” “While the holiday falls near Halloween, it is a very different,” explains Lori Orum, Principal of Edison Language Academy. “What we know today as Día de los Muertos has its roots among indigenous peoples in modern day Mexico and Central America and goes back 2,500-3,000 years. Traditional belief was that over several days in November, the lines between the world of the living and the world of the dead blur so that the souls of loved ones could come back for a brief annual visit. Where this holiday is observed, families will often decorate a table in their homes with pictures and the favorite foods of the family’s departed members, clean and decorate graves. And sometimes hold vigils and celebrations in the cemetery.”

“It’s a really important ritual in Mexican culture to celebrate and honor their ancestors and relatives who have died recently. It’s a joyful thing in the Mexican culture, something that can sometimes be hard for us Protestants to wrap our heads around,” jokes Lisa Mead. Principal Orum notes that Edison’s observance of this holiday is rooted in the fact that rituals for remembering the dearly departed can be found in nearly every human culture. “People burn candles, sit shiva, display photos, take flowers to the cemetery, observe anniversaries, name children after departed relatives, etc.”
The most impressive part of this annual event are the massive altars that the 460 students of Edison Language Academy help create that fill the entirety of the school’s Cafeteria. “Our commemoration of Día de los Muertos includes the custom of the household altars,” states Principal Orum. “In our case, each class decorates a table with offerings to remember people (and sometimes pets!) That were special to the children in that classroom.” There are so many different types of offerings. You may see food and water, candles, works of art, notes, and Marigold flowers on the altars. Traditionally many families will also offer big bottles of tequila to their male ancestors, but naturally the school isn’t so down with that part of the tradition since the event involves elementary students.

Each classroom creates a unique altar having the kids bring pictures relatives who have a passed away. “It is really a great way to do genealogy in the family,” explains Lisa Mead. “Through researching their relative’s histories the kids learn something about their ancestry. In the past Michael and Jackson have brought in pictures of grandparents and great great grandparents. I had a nephew who passed away over the summer and Michael, my oldest, wants to bring in picture of him for his class’ altar to honor him.” But the altars don’t always have to honor people that the students personally know. “Sometimes the displays are dedicated to people who are not family members but whom we want to remember,” explains Principal Orum. “Particularly that year victims of a flood or earthquake, victims of war, people who have been great inspirations to others, etc.”

But Edison’s Day of the Day event is not just about honoring the dead; it’s about bringing out the community to enjoy the moments of being alive. “The Day of the Dead festival is really for the whole community,” notes Lisa Mead, “not just for those connected to the school.” The festival offers a variety of opportunities of learn and enjoy more about traditional Hispanic cuisine. The Thursday before the Día De Los Muertos Festival, the PTA mothers and fathers come together for a Tamalada, where they make all tamales for the festival. The Hispanic moms who traditionally make Tamales teach the families that aren’t so well versed on the subject.

Another Day of the Dead tradition to be experience at the festival is the creation and decoration of Sugar Skulls. Sugar Skulls traditionally represent a departed soul, can have the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home Ofrenda or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit. Students make them, or buy them at the Hispanic bakery on Oceanpark, and colorfully decorate them. Sugar Skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. Festival goers can sample is the Pan de los Muertos, a sweet egg bread, similar to Challah, with a figurine of a Saint stuck in the center. Another fun food event is the Cake Walk. Similar to musical chairs participants walk around in a circle to music with donated cakes in the middle. When the music stops, if you are in front of a cake you win it.

The economy being what it is, it’s a given that school budgets are tight. Along with being an event for the community the Día De Los Muertos event is also the largest fundraiser for the Edison Language Academy. This is especially true for the 5th grade class, who are traditionally in charge dessert and drinks for the Day of the Dead event. The profits from the festival raise money allowing the fifth graders to visit Catalina Island for 3 days in the Spring where they are able to experience nature in action and study such subjects as marine biology.

So if you’re interested in seeing how the Hispanic culture honors their deceased loved ones, seeing how you fair at decorating a Sugar Skull, or just want a chance at winning a homemade cake in a Cake Walk, mark you’re calendars for this Saturday from 1-5pm.

Admission is free, with a fee for some events. Edison Language Academy, 2425 Kansas Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Food Event, the Recap

“Yum and Yay!”

My little Sis’ comment pretty much sums up last Sunday’s outing at L.A. Mag’s The Food Event 2010 at Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu. There were tons of amazing restaurants and wineries to sample along with a demonstration tent and a conversation lounge.
In the consuming department the Thomas Girls’ personal highlights included:

** Blue Hubbard Squash Custard with Pomegranate Relish and Bacon Apple Strudel by Palate Food and Wine in Glendale (my number one dish of the event).

** Red Velvet Truffle by the Bread Basket Cake Company. (This one was my little Sis’ top) described as a “unique blend of rich Chocolate Ganache, Red Velvet Cake, and a hint of Brandy it was pure heaven (and totally a great idea to keep in mind for the holidays!)).

** Qupé Grenache “Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.” (A biodynamic wine (Hello!) whose spicy cherry flavors are intense to the point of almost being racy).

** Sweet Rose Creamery’s mini Ice Cream Sandwiches (We tried both flavors: Old Fashioned – Chocolate cookie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Lover – Gingerbread Cookie with fresh Ginger Ice Cream).

** Quady’s Essenia Orange Muscat. (I brought this last year to Thanksgiving dinner and it was an awesome compliment for all those autumnal desserts).

** Susan Feineger’s STREET’s Street Food (Don’t ask me what was in it… all I know it was a fusion of a ton of different cultures and was healthy… and it was Frakin’ awesome).

And it wouldn’t be a stellar food event if I didn’t learn a thing or two:

I was able to check out Rory Herrmann’s demonstration of Bouchon Beverly Hills. Rory was giving a lesson on Braising and this is what I was able to glean:

** The reason you carmelize meat at the start of braising is to lock in the juices. When carmelizing meat don’t even bother taking the skin off garlic cloves. Just cut them in half and toss them in (this protects them from becoming bitter).

** The great thing about braising is that you can do it all in one pot and the longer you cook it the better it tastes (every guy looking for a great date meal please take note).

I also caught the Wine and Cheese Pairing event with Ian Blackburn of and Andrew Steiner of Andrew’s Cheese Shop. Sure this talk was amazing b/c of the shared plethora of knowledge between these two men and learning how to pair their two specialties better, but really we were both blown away by how amazingly good the wine and cheese tasted. Some fun Factoids from this event:

** Andrew Steiner, who started cheese service @ Patina, credited the Atkins Diet with starting L.A.’s cheese revolution. “Everyone was skipping dessert and started choosing cheese.” He noted he can stay slim, even though he eats about a ½ of cheese a day, by eating cheese and only cheese (none of those fillers like crackers or bread…)

** Steiner also noted if you’re planning a dinner party and you come to his store looking for Big Cheeses to go with your Big Wines like Barolos and Cabs he’ll try and steer you in the other direction. “You should have a very simple wine with a Big Cheese. Look for wines with acidity to feature a cheese such as Champagne or Prosecco Sparkling goes with every cheese!”

** Or beer! Steiner does a Grilled Cheese and Beer night that sells out every month. “Beer is an amazing pairing with cheese.”

** There is an art form to pairing cheese and wine: 1. Take a small nibble of cheese. Enjoy. 2. Take a sip of the wine. Enjoy. 3. Put a small piece of cheese under your teeth and swallow the wine to check the pairing. Enjoy the absolute heavenly balance of the sweetness of wine and the saltiness of cheese.

** Stichelton Blue Cheese will blow your mind! Stichelton (the original name for Stilton) is an aggressive English Blue Cheese with earthy components. Plus its unpasteurized (as cheeses should be in my opinion) so you can serve it to your lactose intolerant guests.

And to finish off the event we took pics with Chaz the coolest camel I’ve ever hung with!
The Food Event 4

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Toast of the Coast" Review Session

Checked out LGO’s (La Grande Orange’s acronym) “Toast of the Coast” on Monday night in Santa Monica (I posted it as a “Something to Check Out” item last week) and had an absolute blast! (the pic for this post really represents it all: Fun, Colorful, and a little more than fuzzy…)

This event is definitely the only game in town for Santa Monica when it’s held (so far every other month on a Monday night). Total deal. Total way to get schooled.

For those who missed the Math Lesson: 25 wines (unlimited) for $25 = an absolute deal (and you don’t have to check your totem on this one, it’s definitely real.)

For those who missed the Geography Lesson: “Toast of the Coast” featured wines from up and down the West Coast: Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Monterey, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Willamette, and Columbia Valley. (The quality level… well let’s put it this way, there was a whole table of Justin offerings (Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Cab (yummy yummy), Justification (Cab Franc and Merlot Blend), and Obstuse (Port style)))

For those who missed the Home Ec Lesson: Mini Sliders (With Homemade Buns, Fraking Amazing), Sushi (Spicy Tuna and California), Edamame, Blisted Padron Peppers, and Tempura Green Beans
So now that we’ve had our Review Session I suggest next time you hear about LGO’s Toast of the Coast (or read about it in my amazing amazing blog) you actually check it out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Something to Check Out: Toast of the Coast "Fall Finds" hosted by LGO

LGO (or La Grande Orange for those who don't live within walking distance of the Santa Monica local) is hosting a "Fall Finds" edition of their monthly Monday night Toast of the Coast event.
The math is really simple:
$25 = 25 (unlimited) Wine Tastings + Signature LGO Hors D'oeuvres
The "Fall Finds," happening this Monday the 18th @ 6:30PM, will have imbibers tasters an assortment of fall varietals from Santa Barbara straight up the west coast to Oregon and Washington (without even having to put on a raincoat, and believe me I was in Portland last week, you need to). Plus for those who like equation wine + education (which, Nerdling that I am, includes me) there will be wine connoisseurs on hand from different vineyards to chat about each varietal (allegedly to divulge the alchemy of each boutique varietal).
So if your interested Sushi and Slider, along with a heck of a lot of wine options check it out. The Deets are below.
Toast of the Coast "Fall Finds" @ La Grande Orange October 18 @ 6:30 2000 Main Street.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Food Event

Hey Guys, if you’re looking for a fun time involving food and wine (and who isn’t) you’ll get both (and an amazing amazing view) at the Saddlerock Ranch in the hills of Malibu on Sunday, October 24 from 1-4 pm so look no further than LA Magazine's 5th Annual "The Food Event: From the Vine". The day features unlimited food and alcoholic beverage from more restaurants and wineries then I can type (although there’s a Short List below). It also includes Chef Demos by Philippe Chow (Philippe), Mark Gold (Eva), Rory Hermann (Bouchon), Walter Manzke (formerly of Church and State), Mark Peel (Campanile), and Laurent Quenioux (Bistro LQ) in the Snyder Diamond Sub-Zero/Wolf Kitchen (one of the sponsors). There’s also panel discussions all day long with topics including: TOP CHEF MASTERS moderated by Los Angeles Magazine Dine Editor Lesley Bargar Suter and WINE AND CHEESE PAIRING with’s Ian Blackburn and Andrew’s Cheese Shop’s Andrew Steiner.

Oh and did I mention they have horses, llamas, and zebras (Hello! The ultimate date events always includes Zebras.) Below is the Short List of Food and Wine offerings and the Deets on how to check it all out:

FOOD: Akasha Restaurant Bar & Bakery, Beso Hollywood, Bulgarini Gelato Artigianale, Coast Restaurant & Bar, Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, Kate Mantíliní, ¡Lotería! Grill, Malo Cantina Suavecita, Michael’s Restaurant, Noir Food And Wine, Palate Food + Wine, Rosa Mexicana At L.A. Live, Susan Feniger’s Street, Sweetsalt Food Shop, The Foundry On Melrose, The Penthouse At Huntley Hotel, Tra Di Noi, Barbix, Bread Basket, Cake Company, Café Habana Malibu, Eva Restaurant, Gotta Have S’more, La Mill Coffee, Magnolia Bakery, Matteo’s La, Mo-Chica, Onsunset Restaurant, Public Kitchen & Bar, Rosti Tuscan Kitchen, Sweet Rose Creamery, Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant, The Lobster, Tierra Sur At Hertzog Wine Cellars, and Westside Tavern

WINE: (Ian Blackburn & is the winery curator for the Food Event.) Aldelaida Cellars, Ampelos Cellars And Vineyard, Cantara Cellars, Cellers Melis, Coho, Coquelicot Estate Vineyard, D’anbino Vineyards & Cellars, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Farella-Park Vineyards, Fontes & Phillips, Hope Family Wines, J&J Cellars, Millesime Cellars, Quady Winery, Rosenthal-The Malibu Estate, Semler, Star Lane Vineyard, Sweeney Canyon Vineyard, The Malibu Vineyard, Zaca Mesa, Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, Ahnfeldt Wines, Casa Dumetz, Cielo Malibu Estate Wineyards, Colcanyon Estate Wines, Malibu Cornell Winery And Tasting Room, Dierberg Estate Vineyard, Écluse Wines, Flying Goat Cellars/Ynot, Herzog Wine Cellars, Hoyt Family Vineyards Malibu, Jaffe Estate, Niner Wine Estates, Qupé/Verdad, Saddlerock Solsticio, Surfrider Wines, Tercero Wines,The Paring

THE HOW TO: Tickets are $95, $100 with a L.A. Mag subscription, and $110 at the door (this includes all demonstrations, food, beverages, parking.) It’s 21+ with absolutely no infants, children, or pets (Ah, you gotta love LA, that they even had to say that you can't bring your Rhinestone wearing Chihuahua… ) allowed.

To purchase tickets and for more information:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wine with the Ultimate View

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on the new restaurant at the Santa Monica Place Sonoma Wine Garden. 

Wine with the Ultimate View

There are now almost ten new restaurants at the two month old Santa Monica Place 2.0, and of all them Sonoma Wine Garden has the best view, hands down.  From brunch overlooking sparkling ocean waves to drinks at sunset to dinner during the lighting of the iconic Santa Monica Pier, this is a restaurant that will always be busy based on the view alone.  (And since the market for ocean view restaurants isn’t that big in Santa Monica to begin with I can definitely see it giving The Lobster and Casa del Mar a run for their money on Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve).

Now, with a name like Sonoma Wine Garden you know that fermented grapes are definitely meant to be imbibed.  This is a wine garden (read casual yet sophisticated) (but definitely not as casual or sophisticated as a beer garden… at least according to most wine drinkers).  The list has a few California offerings but definitely sides on that of a global passport with choices from Italy, France, New Zealand, and Austria (Executive Chef Roman Petry’s homeland).  And also, with the one of the best sunset ocean views in Santa Monica you know you’ll be paying top dollar for those fermented grapes.  On the wine by the glass list there is nary a glass under ten dollars with some of them going as high as $19 (although, I have heard that the bottle list was a little bit more reasonable). I started out with Assyritiko Sigalas Santorini Greece, which was congenial, but would have be positively delightful if it had been ten degrees warmer (it was during our super chilly summer, before we got into this heat wave of an autumn).  Luckily there was a fire pit right behind me so this lack of warmth was not a truly pressing issue.  My dining companion went for the Malbec Navarro Correars Alegoria Mendoza Argentina, an earthy cherry and plum flavored wine that was definitely more deliciously weather appropriate.
Now, all you have to do is look at Petry’s resume to understand why the wine list reads like United Nations roll call.   Roman Petry, executive chef of both Sonoma Wine Garden and Ozumo Santa Monica (another one of the restaurant choices on the third floor of Santa Monica Place), was born in Erding, Germany.  His culinary career started in his native Germany as student at the Bavaria Hotel Management School in Altoetting, which led him to a training position at the established Alois Dallmayr in Munich.  From there Roman went on to work at some of the top restaurants in Europe such as the Two Michelin Star rated Obauer in Werfen, Austria and Tristan in Mallorca, Spain.  During that time he acquired the skills and experience needed to form his own creative style so at the young age of 20 he became the Executive Chef of the One Michelin Star rated Christian`s Restaurant in Kirchdorf, Germany. During his tenure there he was awarded 2nd place in a national competition as Best Young Pastry Chef in Germany.
Driven by his passion for Japanese food and culture he joined the renowned Zuma Restaurant at London`s Knightsbridge in 2005. In 2007, Zuma selected him as Sous Chef of the opening team for the company’s first opening outside of London at Zuma Hong Kong. Within its opening year Zuma Hong Kong was voted to 99th place on the list of the Top 100 Best Restaurants Worldwide.  In 2008 Roman joined Roka Akor as Executive Sous Chef to establish the first American counterpart of London’s award-winning Roka in Scottsdale, Arizona.  During Roman’s time as Executive Chef at Roka Akor, the restaurant was voted as one of the Top Ten Spots for Sushi in the United States by Bon Appétit magazine.   Petry then joined one of the Bay Area’s foremost contemporary Japanese Restaurants: Ozumo.  So when Ozumo decided to open another location at our fair two-month-old mall, Petry jumped on board and decided to create Sonoma Wine Garden to boot!
Petry’s culinary philosophy is using only the best products and letting the flavors speak for themselves (but really what chef would argue for the opposing viewpoint of this?) and it is prominent for on the menu.  He enjoys restaurants which are relaxed and serve as informal gathering points (and I can happily note that Sonoma Wine Garden is both of these, which definitely not always the case when you’re working with a view).   With that in mind, naturally Sonoma Wine Garden has an extensive (but not overwhelming) choice of Cheese, Charcuterie, and Oyster for their wine (read smaller) plates.

We decided to start out with a couple of oyster tastings. The Fanny Bays, hailing from British Columbia, were meaty and smooth with is supposedly a cucumber finish (my oyster palette just isn’t that refined yet…).  By contrast the Lunas from Carlsbad were delicate and sweet, more of a dessert oyster, which paired great with the temperature thrown aside Assyrtiko.   Our oyster choices came with cocktail, horseradish, and grilled lemon but not Mignonette sauce (sigh, my favorite).  Another choice foray into the seafood small plates was the Chilled Wild Prawns from Baja California served with a selection of Champagne Vinaigrette, Sonoma Cocktail Sauce, or Mustard Grain Aioli.  The prawns were ginormous and cooked and chilled to perfection, for there is nothing worse than a totally overcooked shrimp (other than an overcooked scallop…)


As I said before Roman Petry hails from Austria and its apparent in details of a good amount of dishes on the menu.   Some details are big, one such example is the Liptauer, a petite jar of Austrian cheese spread made of soft cheese, paprika, and caraway seeds served with artesian bread.  According to our server, this dish is quite popular both in Austria and at Sonoma Wine Garden.  So maybe I’m in the wrong but for myself, and my dining companion, the taste came off as strange, almost hodgepodge like.  Other details are smaller, such as the meat friendly Nectarine and Burrata Salad with Brentwood Farms Corn was served with Prosciutto (but really where is Prosciutto not on the menu these days when wine is featured).  But my personal favorite is of the five cheeses offered at Sonoma Wine Garden one of them (the cow based Oma) is made by the von Trapp Family in Vermont (yes it’s totally the same singing and dancing Austrian von Trapp family you’re thinking of).
There’s something about the energy of a new restaurant.   Sure everything isn’t perfect, but that’s okay because everyone is so excited and their enthusiasm makes up for their foibles. The night we were there we met both the GM and Wine Director of Sonoma Wine Garden both were nothing but effervescent.  Our server Ryan when talking about the purveyor of carnivore options for the restaurant, with the complete earnestness a modern day Jimmy Olsen, blurted out “our Butcher is totally Rad!” (Yeah he really did use the word Rad, it was really cute). 
Our next round of wine, by this time now viewing the illuminated lights of the Santa Monica Pier’s roller coaster, included the Pinot Noir, Littorai, Sonoma Coast (ironically the only offering on the Wine by the Glass list actually from Sonoma).  This wine was super super smoky, but paired great with our two dinner entrées: a Prime Rib Eye Steak, crusted with garden herbs, Russian River sauce, and parsley potatoes and the Maccheroni with braised rabbit and asparagus. The latter was the standout dish of the meal (I absolutely adore rabbit).  It had perfectly round flavoring and was hearty without being heavy.  I also absolutely adored the side dish of Truffle Fries.  Yes, I know they are now offered on many many (many) menus these days, but I still ate every topped with Parmesan Cheese and garden Parsley one of them.
Sonoma Wine Garden sophisticated, casual, lovely.  Cause really there’s no worry that a glass of wine, an amazing view, and the use of late 1990s catchphrases couldn’t replace with a smile. 
Kat Thomas is a writer who eats food and cooks food.  You can check out her out more at her blog, the

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The SoCal Raw Milk Raid

I know this is somewhat old news (the raid on Rawesome Foods occurred at the end of July), but what happened (the FDA shutting down the store with guns drawn because they were selling raw items such as Raw Milk. Something which by the way is legal in California, but isn't in almost two dozen states in the US) keeps coming up on conversations so I thought I create a post for another who wanted to check out the LA Times article

It's definitely been a hot button year for the topic of Raw Milk. On March 12th of this year Whole Foods removed all raw milk from their shelves. The official explanation was that they were exploring the subject, weighing their options (there's a big insurance issue with a food item that is legal in some states but not others). It has since been completely banned as a company wide policy.

Most of the time E. Coli is cited for these Raw Milk bans, but if anyone has seen (or smelled) a feed lot (or watched the news about people getting sick because of contamination from these lots) know that's not the whole truth.

Truthfully, I have since been drinking Raw Milk for almost five months (thanks to places like Rawesome and the Santa Monica Co-op) and am perfectly fine (actually better than fine since my skin has cleared up quite a bit) If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the California Raw Milk Association (CReMA) notes studies that have found that drinking raw milk reduces the risk of Asthma and Allergies. Along with it's health benefits most people who drink Raw Milk cite its superior flavor and creaminess; in the ultimate foodie country of Italy you can even find it in high end vending machines.

So I think it's better and I drink it.

But that's just my opinion. You too can have an opinion, but having an one requires that you have choices. Remember, if the FDA shuts down stores and food clubs (with guns no less) that sell Raw Milk it's taking away your choice. So whether you chose to try out Raw Milk, the more important point of this blog entry is to be informed.

For me, one of the most memorable moments of Food Inc was at the end of the film when the following words appeared on the screen:
When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we're voting. You can vote to change this system. Three times a day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Neal Fraser and the Best Scallop Risotto Recipe (Ever!)

Neal Fraser
As I said in my last blog I was lucky enough to attend the Los Angeles Magazine and Synder Diamond’s “In the Kitchen” with Neal Fraser (Executive Chef and Founder of BLD and Grace). “In the Kitchen” allows aspiring “home” chefs in Los Angeles to learn innovative cooking techniques, food and wine pairings, and creative menu ideas from top culinary experts. Fraser made the most luscious Sautéed Day Boat Scallop Risotto, Midnight Moon, and English Peas (and we’re all lucky enough that he offered out the recipe, it’s below so don’t change that dial!).

Along with Neal Fraser, wine expert Ian Blackburn (Founder and Wine Educator was there giving great wine advice and teaching us the ins and outs of Bubbly (specifically Domaine Caneros by Tattinger).

So with that in mind let’s get on with the Entrée of informative Factoids (God I love the Factoids…) so then we can get to the Dessert of the Risotto recipe.

Here’s Some Things You Might Not Know About Sparkling Wine….
  • You need cold to make Champagne; it’s the Northern most region of France because of this the grapes must be harvested before they are fully ripe. Thus, their sugar content is too low to make a strong alcohol (remember the little buggers eat the sugar and turn it into alcohol). For this reason Champagne has sugar artificially added to it so that the yeast can get their fill of sugar.
  • Higher Class Sparkling Wine includes a Vintage (the year that all the grapes came from). If there’s no Vintage on the bottle they use grapes from a variety of years to get a specific taste (kinda like how a French Fries taste exactly the same at every McDonalds around the country because of tiny vials of flavoring…)
  • I have always heard the smaller the bubbles the better the Sparkling. Not always true, but rest assured if there’s big bubbles in that bottle the Sparkling was probably not made in the Champagnois style and was instead it’s likely was made in huge vats.
  • If it’s made in the Champagnois style all of the mixing is done directly in the bottle, a real good bottle of the Bubbly usually gets about 5,000 hands touching it over it’s lifetime (but don’t call it promiscuous).
Here’s Some Things You Might Not Know About The Stuff That Goes Into Neal Fraser And His Risotto Recipe….
  • Make sure to buy Day Boat Scallops (which means they were harvest and landed in the same day). Many of the Scallops sold in supermarkets are preserved in a chemical that helps it keep longer (but dries it out like no other, and if you no anything about me you should know how much I hate an overcooked Scallop).
  • Scallops should be sautéed in a cast iron skillet (it holds the heat in an even balance, plus it helps the Scallops caramelize real pretty like). They shouldn’t be crowded because then they won’t become caramelized.
  • Scallops should be cooked in grapeseed oil since it has a high smoke point (when oil burns it becomes a carcinogen, Bad News Bears!). They should also be seasoned with salt and butter (for color) at the last minute otherwise it will dry them out.
  • Grace is closed at the moment, but will reopen in 2011 in downtown LA.
  • The Risotto ratio is always 1 part rice to 3 parts liquid. Neal says it should take 20 minutes from start to finish, but truthfully my dining companions and me noted it always takes us about 25-30.
Okay I know this is getting long and since I don’t want you to get your panties in a bunch here’s the AMAZING Scallop Risotto!

Sauteed Day Boat Scallop Risotto, Midnight Moon, and English Peas
  • 12 each u-10 Day Boat Maine Scallops (u-10 means under 10 in number in a pound)
  • 6 oz Butter
  • 2 oz Olive Oil
  • 4 oz frozen English Peas
  • 1 gallon Chicken Stock
  • 1 Yellow Onion Minced
  • 3 Garlic Cloves
  • Kosher Salt, Diamond Crystal
  • 6 oz White Wine
  • 2 oz Midnight Moon Goat Cheese
  • 1 oz Butter
They way this Recipe goes is in a bowl Sauce First, Risotto Second, Topped off with 3 Scallops. Yummm (with three Ms as my little sis would say!)

For the Sauce: Sauté 1 oz of the chopped onion and garlic (forgot to tell you to chop than above, well do it!) until translucent. Add 3 oz white wine and reduce until dry. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and cook onion/garlic mixture until soft. Add the peas, a touch of salt, and cook for 3 more minutes over a medium flame. Place all ingredients in a blender (Frazer recommends a Vitamax, “they’re the best”). Add 3 oz butter and blend until smooth. Taste for salt and add more if you need it. Strain thru a chinoise and keep warm.

For The Risotto: Heat olive oil with the remainder of chopped onion in a large enough pot to hold the risotto and the stock you are going to add. Cook onion till translucent. Season with a touch of salt. Add the rice and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the remainder of the wine and reduce until absorbed. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and cook until absorbed. Add stock one more time and cook until al dente. Finish with midnight moon, butter, and salt as needed.

For the Scallops: Heat a well-seasoned iron skillet until hot. Add grapeseed oil and place the scallops gently in the pan. Add 1 oz of butter and salt to help the scallops caramelize. When golden brown, flip over and cook for 1 more minute.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Save the Date! Santa Monica Farmers Market Panel Series: Organics

Santa Monica Farmers Market Logo

I ran into a couple of the gal's from the Santa Monica Farmers Market at Synder Diamond and LA Magazine's Up Close and Personal with Chef Neal Fraser on Tuesday night. They let me know that the next Santa Monica Farmers Market Panel Series will be on November 4th and the subject is Organics.

The details aren't posted on the SM Farmers Market website yet, but as it gets closer they'll probably announce the lineup. As I've said before, I cannot repeat enough how amazing it is that we live in a town that does these food events, and does them for free! Plus they usually have amazing foodie snacks afterward made by one of the panel chefs. (These events are first come first serve and always fill up some get there 15-20 minutes early!)

Go educate yourself!

Santa Monica Farmers Market Panel Series: Organics
November 4th · 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Main Library MLK Jr. Auditorium

PS For those looking for a great organic factoid: If you're at a store and not sure if something is organic check the PLU number. If the Sticker starts with a 9 then it's Organic.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I HEART Michael Pollan

Omni Dilemma

Just finished rereading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (although is it really rereading if you only got through 15 of a 400 plus page book the first time around?).

Scary eye opening stuff; Scary enough that I recommend every person and their brother (or sister) pick up a copy.

Below are some scary figures that it would be great to bring up at your next family dinner (I swear you’ll totally super super popular mention any of these factoids in conversation.)
  • 3 in 5 Americans is overweight: 1 in 5 is obese.
  • Since 1977 American’s average daily intake has jumped by more than 10% (an additional 200 calories).
  • The Food and Drug Administration ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants makes an exception for blood products and fat.” (which means that most of the meat you eat are cannibals dining on other cows in the form of tallow from the slaughterhouse).
  • There are 45,000 items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them (11,250 items) now contain Corn.
  • The typical Iowa farmer is selling Corn for a dollar less than it costs him to grow it.
  • The longer the ingredient label on the food, the more fractions of Corn and Soybeans you will find in it.
  • 19% of America’s meals are eaten in the car.
Explore. Think. Eat
The Edible Skinny

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


A new article for the SM Observer on Richard Sandoval's restuarant ZENGO at the Santa Monica Place.


Richard Sandoval’s Classic and/or Modern Restaurants at Santa Monica Place           

Once upon a time my father was a builder (and don’t worry, he’s a building inspector now so he’s moved up in the world!).   During his time, Dad was always imparting words of wisdom about the houses that he constructed.   Growing up in a beach community he built a good deal of summer homes, and one thing that always stuck with me was how he noted that people want stability in their first home, but that they’re always willing to go more out on a limb, to be more fantastical, with their second home.   This concept popped into my head dining at Richard Sandoval’s two new restaurants at Santa Monica Place, La Sandia and ZENGO.  If La Sandia is the two bedroom, two bath than ZENGO is Falling Water (it’s even evident in the fact the ZENGO is only spelled in all capital letters).  

It might be an understatement to say that Richard Sandoval has become somewhat of a name in the food scene.  Sandoval, who is internationally recognized as the ‘Father of Modern Mexican Cuisine,’ elevated Mexican cuisine to gourmet status when he first opened Maya in New York City in 1997.  He’s received numerous awards, including Bon Appetit’s prestigious Restaurateur of the Year in 2006.  He was named one of the “Best Chefs of 2003” by New York Magazine, and Maya and Pampano (co-owned with opera star Placido Domingo) are the only two Mexican restaurants to have been awarded two stars by the New York Times. International accolades include the National Toque d’Oro, Mexican Chef of the Year, and the MENA’s Best Fine Dining Restaurant award for the experience at Maya, Dubai.  Richard Sandoval Restaurants now owns and operates more than a dozen different restaurants in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago, Mexico City, Acapulco, and Dubai.  

“Opening two restaurants in my home of Southern California is like the fulfillment of a dream and the project of a lifetime,” said Sandoval.  Sandoval makes his first foray into Southern California with La Sandia, featuring “approachable” modern Mexican cuisine in a relaxed setting. ZENGO, on the other hand, is a Fusion restaurant – Latin Asian in this case.  Neither are completely reinventing the wheel for Sandoval since they have both have previous locations in cities such as Washington DC and Denver.  

La Sandia (which according to my friend’s eight year old means watermelon in Spanish) is the more classic of the two new restaurants. “At La Sandia, I am reaching a wider and more diverse group of diners by offering my signature flavors in an approachable setting.   The menu features my interpretation of familiar yet authentic Mexican dishes, all at affordable prices,” explained Sandoval.  Friendly service in a chic yet laid-back setting makes all guests feel welcome.” 

The menu is definitely more simply stated of the two.  The classics of Mexican food are all there: Margaritas and Mojitos, Tacos, Empanadas, and Mole.  The drinks are a mix of classic and infusions with Sangria, Hibiscus Margaritas, and Lime Mojitos being featured on the drink selection. The bar (which offers a happy hour for those with monetary issues…) offers 250 Tequilas and smoky Mezcal. Tequila tasting flights and infused tequilas are also available. 

You get what you’re looking for at La Sandia.  The Guacamole is made table side in a Molcajete (a traditional cured lava rock stone).  It was spicy (if you ask for it) and tasty, but definitely needed a little more salt.  The Chorizo Empanadas were hearty, wrapped in very thick pastry dough.   The Chicken Mole had a lovely deeply complex chocolately flavor.   Served with friend plantains and rice, which was actually good, a surprise since it is usually a throwaway side dish at most restaurants.   For an ending sweet we partook in a mini dessert sampler of Tres Leches, Flan, Sopapillas.

It was perfect if what you’re looking for is tradition.   The problem with that word, traditional, is that a lot of times people will look at it and translate it to boring.   But boring is not the case with La Sandia, instead you’re getting what you expected with reliable quality: another statement that many people might yawn at, single people.   For as a friend pointed out to me recently where this makes all the difference in the world is when you have young kid.  Young picky eater kids.  Than words like reliable, traditional, expected become Godsends.  Another bonus for the families choosing to dine at La Sandia the prices are a little less costly (for sit down dining at Santa Monica Place) with the entrees running between $11.95 - $24.95.

With all that being said it is no surprise that I (being a single gal with no children) was more drawn to the fantastical elements of the Latin Asian fusion of ZENGO.   Zengo, as it was reiterated to me numerous times, means “give and take,” and with that approach in mind comes the good-humored tug-of-war between two culture’s cuisines.  “The potential of Latin cooking is endless, and by combining native ingredients with unexpected, Asian flavors, a whole new world of possibilities is born,” explained Sandoval.  “ZENGO is meant to be unexpected, playful and an experience shared amongst friends.”

The drink menu alone is like “Its a Small World,” cocktails are categorized by their main Latin-Asian cocktail ingredient: Sugarcane, Agave, Grain.   The wine list’s bottles are from Latin-American vineyards, as well as some Spanish highlight, and a good amount of Sake choices.   I chose the recently renamed Cucumber Mojito (up recently ZENGO’s signature cocktails had confusing Japanese titles).  Composed of Bacardi, Mint, and Midori it was a perfection of refreshing and cool, perfect for a hot summer afternoon (one of the only ones it looks like we’re getting this summer….).

Simple: definitely not (you need to speak both Japanese and Spanish to fully navigate the menu), fun: absolutely.  I began my United Nations dining adventure with ZENGO’s Ceviche Sampler this included both the Seafood Ceviche (Shrimp, Octopus, Calamari, Aji Panca, Heart of Palm, Orange, Serrano) and the California Sea Bass Ceviche (Aji Amarillo, Red Onion, Cucumber, Apple, Tomato Shiso) served with Corn Chips and Daikon Chips.  Go all that?   Both Ceviches were great, the latter being light and sweet, the former being my preference since it’s chewier (when I think Ceviche I just think chewy…)
ZENGO has a free flowing kitchen, it’s not coursed, so the food arrives as it comes out. Every dish was more fantastical.   The next dish to arrive, off the Dim Sum and Antojitos section, was the Peking Duck –Daikon Tacos, comprised of Duck Confit, Curried Apples, Orange Coriander Sauce.   A fun twist on a standard Asian tradition the shaved Daikon radish made up the shell for the taco.  This dish was standout, fresh, healthy, and totally tasty.  For the Asian side ZENGO offers sushi rolls.  I took my server Danielle’s suggestion and went for the Torched Wagyu Beef Roll, comprised of Tamgo, Scallion, Masago, Truffled Ponzu Sauce (but luckily not too much Truffle Oil, TO overkill is something that seems to be quite a hazard at a good amount of restaurants in LA these days).  Soft and buttery this roll is what every mediocre mini-mall sushi roll aspires to be.  The Chipotle Miso Glazed Black Cod with Daikon Radish, Lemon Togarashi Aioli was a lovely delicate delight.  But with the side dish of Roasted Sweet Plantains I had finally hit my fusion breaking point.  Topped with sesame seeds and drizzled with an excess of honey I looked and though longingly for simplicity.   
Both La Sandia and ZENGO have their shared location going for them (something that can be a little confusing when you’re trying request a table and realize you’ve been waiting to talk to the host at the wrong restaurant).   Although not seaside, the view of the Promenade, especially at night with the twinkling lights, is definitely pretty.   And if it ever gets hot this summer (thank you global warming) the breezes will definitely helping with cooling. 

Give and take, ZENGO’s namesake can really be applied to both of Sandoval’s new restaurants.  In a Ying-Yang Zen-like perspective - one restaurant is neither better nor worse than the other.  It all depends what you’re looking for in that moment:  a trip through a culinary Latin-Asian Wonderland or No Place like (a Mexican) home.    

Kat Thomas is a writer of life, sometimes focusing on food.   Check out her blog: