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Showing posts with label farmers' markets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label farmers' markets. Show all posts

Friday, July 27, 2012

Garlic Sautéed Yellow Squash and Carrots

In summers past, I grew yellow squash with great success. The plants spread to every inch of the garden, threatening to overwhelm tomato plants, the herb garden and a small patch of arugula.
After the vines firmly established themselves, the long, fat squash seemed to appear overnight. What to do with all those squash?

A neighbor saved the day. She loved squash blossoms. She would nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, by picking blossoms before the squash could appear.

Ultimately our best solution was avoidance. We stopped planting squash. Problem solved.

But I missed squash's pleasant crunch and clean flavor. Last week we were gifted with a basket of zucchini and yellow squash from our next-door neighbor's front yard garden. Picked while they were young, before they became watery, the zucchini and squash were unblemished, firm and the picture of health.

There were a great number of ways to prepare such perfect specimens. They could be steamed, grilled or even eaten raw in thin slices or grated. Because I had a beautiful bone in ribeye steak, I decided to sauté them with garlic to use as a side dish.

Sautéing would caramelize and bring out their hidden sweetness. Combined with carrot rounds, the color and texture contrast would add to the pleasures of the dish.

Steak never had such a pleasant companion.

Garlic Sautéed Squash and Carrot Rounds


Time: 30 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients


4 medium sized yellow squash, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" thick rounds
4 medium sized carrots, washed, peeled, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4" thick rounds
1 small yellow onion, skins and root end removed, washed, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, skins and root ends removed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Sea salt and black pepper

Directions


Heat a large frying or chef's plan with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.  Add onions and garlic. Sauté until lightly browned. Add yellow squash and carrots. Sauté until lightly browned. Finish with sweet butter.

Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Variations


Dust with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne for heat.

With the carrots and squash, add 1/2 cut washed, trimmed green beans, cut into 1/2" long pieces.

With the onions and garlic, add 1 tablespoon washed, trimmed shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped.

Once all the vegetables are cooked, add 2 cups cooked pasta, toss, dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve as a side or main dish.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gnocchi and Summer's Best Produce

Walk through any farmers market and the bounty of summer will be on display in mounds of freshly picked carrots, beets, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers, onions, parsley, zucchini, corn, celery, green beans, tomatoes and spinach.
Nearby there will be baskets of fat figs ready to burst, bright pink peaches, sharply colored pluots and plums, nectarines the size of soft balls and clusters of black, green and red grapes, seedless and seeded.
How great is all that wonderful food! Now, what to do with it? That's the challenge.

It's hot outside, so who wants to cook? You've grilled all summer long and while you love grilled vegetables, you need to take a break.

My suggestion is simple, make gnocchi.

If you've never made gnocchi, you're probably saying it's too difficult to make. Only Italian chefs can do that.  The truth is, gnocchi are easy to prepare.  And it doesn't take much time in the kitchen.

For Zesterdaily I wrote an easy-to-make recipe that lays out all the steps to making gnocchi at home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shop at the Palisades Farmers Market for Your Independence Day Feast

What's the 4th of July without great food and fireworks?
The easiest way for some people to throw a party is to order platters from a restaurant or a supermarket. For others, only home cooked food will do.

But with busy lives, how to find the time to do any cooking?

A friend complains when the kids want to know what's to eat, she throws up her hands and says, "Ok, let's go out." But on the 4th, it's more fun if the food is home cooked.

One solution is to use easy-to-make recipes so you're not stuck in the kitchen. And to give you ideas, take a walk around the farmers market and pick out fruit and vegetables that take no time at all to prepare.

A sangria style wine cooler or a fruit salad would be easy to make with the market's abundance of fresh cherries, blueberries, Fuji apples, pluots, white peaches, nectarines, and Valencia oranges. Yum.
Sweredowski Farms - John Sweredowski will offer friendly advice and a helping hand as you pick out leafy greens for a salad--he'll encourage you to think outside the box by showing you bunches of nettles, mustard greens and purslane. If you are an arugula fan, John has fat bunches with broad leaves. He also has peppery watercress and squash blossoms.
Yang Farms - the tomatoes, carrots and asparagus are always sweet. The finglerling and sweet potatoes are good for baking and grilling. Mr. Yang's Persian cucumbers make a crunchy salsa.
Underwood Family Farms - bi-color corn (yellow and white) is available again, along with leafy greens, radishes and beets, as well as green cabbage, perfect for cole slaw.
Givens Farm - pick up Italian parsley and leafy greens to make a tossed green salad.
Capay Organic - has early season heirloom tomatoes, pricey at 3 lbs for $10.00, but so colorful they would make an attractive centerpiece, sliced, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkled with fresh basil leaves.
Tropical Seafood - has a good selection of fish, including sole, salmon, swordfish and halibut for grilling, sauteing or baking. The large peeled and devined shrimp are especially nice wrapped in bacon, marinated in olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and pepper, skewered and grilled.
If you want to prepare a few dishes but not the whole meal, check out the ready-to-eat vendors at the market. Their home cooked food is the next-best-thing to making it yourself.
Sumako at Sweredowski Farms -  uses the farm's produce to make a summer time treat: squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and roasted tomatoes.
The Heritage Kitchen - for appetizers and desserts, former food historian, Ekythe Preet sells a good selection of cheeses from small farms, homemade jams and savory chutneys, and an excellent selection of pastries, including Devonshire cream scones and gluten free amaretti meringue cookies with almonds, flourless chocolate mini-cakes, and organic brown rice crispy squares. Also gluten free are Ekythe's torts, one with orange and almonds (a Sephardic favorite), another made with polenta and almonds with a lemon flavor. Both are moist and delicious. 
Bountiful Bakery - for the holiday Denise Assad has baked lattice-topped cherry pies as well as her regular staple of apple pies, chocolate dipped macaroons, and a two-layer coconut cake with cream cheese frosting, to name a few of her treats. For a savory snack, she will have on hand freshly baked, flaky spinach and feta spanakopita that would look delicious on a dining room table or tucked away in a picnic basket. Given how labor intensive cherry pies are--can you imagine the effort it takes to pit hundreds of cherries--Denise could only pull off such an effort because Megan, her new assistant, has joined her in the kitchen. 


Have a great 4th of July!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What's for Breakfast? Mashed Potatoes and Eggs

A hot breakfast is a smart way to begin the day. But it can take too much time to prepare. Because they're already cooked, left-over mashed potatoes are a quick and easy way to make a nutritious breakfast.

For dinner last Sunday, we had a Caesar salad made with frisee instead of romaine and roast pork (porchetta) flavored with Italian parsley, garlic and onions. Garlic mashed potatoes and roasted whole tomatoes were the sides.  A plate of cut up cara cara oranges and a custard with crystallized ginger and orange juice finished the meal. All in all, dinner was very satisfying.


The next day, the refrigerator was the beneficiary of Sunday's dinner. Considering what was left-over, we were looking at a succession of meals we could have during the week.

Reheated, the porchetta could easily be enjoyed as an entrée or a hot sandwich. The roasted tomatoes would make a delicious pasta sauce. And the mashed potatoes....! They were so delicious the first time around.

Made from King Edward potatoes bought at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the mashed potatoes were sweet and full of flavor. Certainly we could just reheat them to serve again with the porchetta but they would also be good for breakfast.

From my hippie days, I always save the potato skins when I make mashed potatoes because I add them to stocks. It occurred to me that they would also be good sauteed (to crisp up) and added to the mashed potatoes.

Some bacon would be good too.

Breakfast Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Potato Skins and Onions

Using a non-stick pan is the way to go with this dish. Just be sure to use the pan on a medium-low to medium flame to avoid health risks.

Serves 4

Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup skins, peeled from 6 large potatoes, julienned
2 cups mashed potatoes, King Edward, Sierra Gold or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 medium onion, washed, peeled, root, skin and stem removed, roughly cut
1/4 cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped
2 slices cooked, crisp bacon, cut into strips (optional)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a medium flame, saute the potato skins, onion and parsley until lightly browned, add the bacon (optional) and the mashed potatoes, mix together, season with sea salt and pepper and saute until potatoes are lightly browned on top and form a crust.

Serve with eggs, any style.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Eat Like a Rock Star in Your Own Kitchen: Fresh Ravioli With Tomatoes and Butter

Sean Stone and Steve Jenkins serve rock stars through Eat Your Hearts Out catering company
Complaining that busy lives preclude shopping for fresh ingredients and making home-cooked meals, most people rely on shortcuts that include fast food, prepared meals, or bowls of cereal for dinner.

Imagine how you would eat if you were living the life of a rock star, traveling from city to city, performing for hours before thousands of screaming, out-of-their-minds fans.
For big-name musical groups, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll don't cut it anymore. Healthy, freshly prepared meals are the order of the day.

To see just how it's done, I hooked up with Green Day in the fall when they were performing south of Los Angeles at the Irvine Amphitheater.

For Zesterdaily I went behind the stage to check out how chefs Sean Stone, Steve Jenkins and Steve Ricalis keep Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool happy and well-fed when they are on tour.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day-Tripping in Amsterdam

A city on a uniquely human-scale, there's so much to see in Amsterdam, focusing day trips in a single area will help you enjoy the city at a leisurely pace.   

MUSEUMPLEIN AND DE PIJP
Amsterdam is home to dozens of great museums, not the least of which are the Amsterdam Historical Museum (Kalverstraat 92) , the inspiring Dutch Resistance Museum (Plantage Kerklaan 61), the Filmmuseum (Vondelpark 3), the Foam-Fotografiemuseum (Keizersgracht 609), the Royal Palace (Dam), and the remarkable Hermitage Amsterdam (Amstel 51). 

For a day trip, three of Amsterdam's best museums are conveniently within a block of one another in the Museum Plaza (Museumplein) just south of the city center.  

Ongoing renovation has temporarily closed the Stedelijk Museum (Museumplein 10) which houses an impressive collection of modern art. The national art museum, the Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat 1), is also undergoing renovations, but part of the museum is still open. Even though you can't see all the collection, the oil paintings by the Old Masters are on display and well-worth the visit. Don't overlook the decorative arts collection, especially Room 3 with the amazingly detailed dolls' houses of Petronella Oortman.

Half a block away, the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7) awaits you.  The collection is the most comprehensive in the world, as you would expect, given that this is Van Gogh's home.  What is unexpected is the building itself. Light, airy, and spacious, a walk through the exhibit space is invigorating. The museum is one of Amsterdam's most popular.

Having spent several hours in the museums, you're probably hungry.  In the spacious park behind the museums you can have a snack or relaxing lunch at the small stands, like the Kiosk Rembrandt Van Gogh, that serve sandwiches, salads, coffee, and dessert. 

Or, stretch your legs and walk a couple of blocks to the popular Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade 78) and take a tour of the old brewery.  Because of the crowds, it is recommended to make an on line reservation. The price of admission includes two glasses of beer.  

For dessert, De Taart Van M'n Tante (Ferdinand Bolstraat 10) is around the corner.  The cozy tea shop is famous for its elaborately decorated cakes.  

The always crowded Albert Cuypmarkt in de Pijp (the Pipe) is also nearby.  Part country fair, flea market, farmers' market, and food bazaar, the market stretches for blocks with stalls selling an amazing variety of goods, including freshly squeezed fruit juices, farm fresh produce, meat, poultry, cut flowers, ready to eat food--including freshly made stroopwafels (crispy waffles with a caramelized sugar filling) and frites served the Dutch way with mayonnaise--clothing, fabric, sundries, cell phone accessories, thread and buttons, household goods, furniture, and jewelry.  

After you've checked out all the bargains, you might need some peace and quiet.  Walk over to Vondelpark with its expansive meadows and network of ponds. You can picnic with the food you bought at the Albert Cuypmarkt or stop at one of the two outdoor cafes to have a coffee, beer, or sandwich.

THE JORDAAN
Another full day can be focused around the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 267) in the Jordaan.  Bordered by the Prinsengracht and Lijnbaansgracht canals on the western side of the city, the small streets of the Jordaan, originally a working class area, now a favorite home of young professionals and artists, has a unique charm.  

A visit to the Saturday Northern Market (Noordermarkt) is an absolute must.  The market on the northern side of the Northern Church (Noorderkerk) stretches for several blocks and resembles an outdoor supermarket as much as anything else.  Long refrigerated cases are filled with a great variety of meats, cheeses and poultry.  But it is the market on the southern side of the church that you want.

The organic or biologic, open air market on the south side fills the area in front of the church much in the way markets have done in Europe since the Middle Ages.  If the weather is sunny and warm, you're likely to encounter young musicians playing in the courtyard.  For a picnic, you can buy a loaf of just-baked bread, a kilo of ham, and a piece of delicious Dutch gouda.  Or if shellfish is your passion, freshly shucked oysters plucked that morning from the Wadden Sea are offered for €1.50 each.  

Dozens of vendors sell fresh produce, cheese, baked goods, meat, poultry, and seafood alongside others who offer antiques, jewelry, handmade articles, clothing, paintings, drawings, and used cds and vinyl records.

There are treasures to be found at the market.  Not the least of which are the hand-fashioned wool animals made by Josche Mooyman (Beeldend Kunstenaar, Klassiek Portret, Maskers en Dierfiguren, 020/671 21 47) who sits quietly on a stool, making her wonderfully empathetic miniature animals that sell for as little as 1 Euro each.    

The Jordaan is home to many cafes.  If you want to eat authentic Dutch pancakes, which are more like French crepes than the American version, the Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191) is several blocks north of the Anne Frank House.  Dutch pancakes can be savory or sweet, the choice is yours.  You can feast on pancakes, giant omelets or poffertjes, another local treat, soft little pillows of sweet dough, flavored with butter and powdered sugar.

Cafe Winkel (Noordermarkt 43), across the street from the Northern Church (Noorderkerk), is a favorite of locals who flock to the intimate cafe for slices of apple cake with raisins, topped with a generous portion of whipped cream. The bar menu offers soups, omelets and sandwiches, including one with a "filet Americain," a finely ground beef patty with herbs, kind of a fancy hamburger.

Because this is Holland, there is a Tulip Museum (Prinsengracht 112).  Not one of Amsterdam's major museums but a delightful one, none the less.  Fortunes were made and lost in the 17th century tulip trade and the Dutch passion for tulips spawned an important, modern industry.

Although the floating Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) is not in the Jordaan, if you love tulips, you owe it to yourself to follow the Singel canal south to Koningsplein, where you will find stall after stall of vendors selling an amazing variety of tulip bulbs.

The centerpiece of a day excursion in the Jordaan is, of course, the Anne Frank House. There is usually a line to enter the museum, so bring something to read and an umbrella because there is always a chance of rain, even in summer.

Visitors take a self-guided tour through the beautifully preserved house.  Moving together in small groups, sharing the small spaces, ducking under the low threshold of the hidden doorway, and climbing the impossibly steep staircases, it is easy to feel the claustrophobia that the Frank and Van Pels families experienced.  

Walking through the house is an emotional experience shared with Anne Frank herself. Her words are etched into the walls and her diary, with its delicate, precise handwriting, is displayed for all to see.

In an attic section of the annex, portions of a 1967 interview with Otto Frank are projected on the wall.  He talks about reading Anne's diary for the first time after the war and being surprised by her deep thoughts and self-criticism.  The Anne he read in the diary was "quite a different Anne than the one I knew."  From that fact he comes to a realization felt by most parents who have lived far more ordinary lives, "My conclusion is that parents don't know really their children."

The second floor museum cafe has a simple menu of sandwiches, pastries, and beverages.  What is remarkable about the cafe is not the food but the view.  

In one of the quotes from her diary, Anne talks about how she longs to ride her bicycle and walk the streets of Amsterdam without fear.  The cafe's wrap-around glass wall looks out onto Prinsengracht and the pretty houseboats below, exactly the view that was blocked from Anne's view by the blackout curtains that covered their windows.  We can enjoy the view that she was denied.

For other articles about Amsterdam, please see:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Figs Tart Up

A chance encounter with a discounted flat of perfectly ripe figs led to a day of baking in pursuit of a great tasting fig tart for a recipe I wanted to contribute to Zesterdaily.  
Although it might look complicated, because there are a number of elements (tart dough, custard, roasted almonds, fig confit), each can be made several days ahead.  On the day you want to serve the tart, you'll only spend a few minutes putting everything together.  The tart goes in the oven while you're having drinks with your friends.  Easy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eating in Amsterdam

A recent trip to Amsterdam has yielded several articles for Peter Greenberg.  The latest just posted, a piece about the local food scene.  

Dutch Food & the Amsterdam Restaurant Scene
Dutch food in AmsterdamMost travelers agree, you don't go to Amsterdam for the food. The museums, no question. The canals and parks, absolutely. The Red Light District and the "coffee shops," sure, if that's your thing. But the food? Not so much, right?

After all, is there really such a thing as Dutch cuisine, or even GOOD Dutch food? The answer might be ... yes. If you're a roving foodie like David Latt, part of the journey to any destination includes unexpected surprises, and Amsterdam didn't disappoint. Read on to find what he uncovered.

In Amsterdam, restaurant food tends to be hit-or-miss. Most dishes are under-seasoned, but that doesn't mean you won't eat well.

The fact is, you're likely to have good cafe food; meaning great sandwiches, delicious cheeses, excellent coffee, and plenty of good breads and pastries. Meanwhile, Amsterdam's various ethnic offerings continually surprise new visitors. The trick is knowing where to find these spots and getting the local experience while you're at it.

EATING AND DRINKING WHAT'S LOCAL

Interestingly, some Dutch export products consumed at home taste much better when you're in Holland. Heineken and Grolsch, for instance, seem to have more subtleties and depth of flavor.

Kaasland Singel CheeseGouda isn't generally regarded as a particularly interesting cheese, but stop by Kaasland Singel, west of Centraal Station, and have a sampling of the locally produced cheeses. You'll be surprised that the Gouda can have a creamy richness similar to French comte.

What's more, you know you're not in Kansas anymore when you taste Gouda made from cow's or goat's milk and flavored with any one of a dozen herbs and seasonings, including stinging nettle, cumin, pepper, mustard seed, garlic and onions, coriander, Italian herbs (garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and olives), walnuts, hot pepper, garlic, or basil.

Living on the edge of the North Sea, the Dutch have a love of seafood. Walk across the street from Kaasland Singel to the herring shack overlooking the canal for a uniquely Dutch experience: a plate of lightly pickled, raw herring.

Locals will tell you that the best herring is caught in the spring. Purists avoid the traditional condiments, onions and pickles, preferring to savor the fish au naturel. To eat them Amsterdam-style, order your herring whole, pick it up by the tail, tilt back your head, and let the fish descend into your mouth.
Don't miss David Latt's Amsterdam for Americans: In-Depth Amsterdam Travel Guide

Hutspot Dutch food at Five FliesIf you want to continue sampling traditional Dutch food, head to Spuistraat and visit D'Vijff Vlieghen(aka, The Five Flies) and its neighbor across the street, Restaurant Haesje Claes and order the Dutch stick-to-your-ribs classic, hutspot: mashed potatoes, carrots, and onions served with smoked pork sausage, thick bacon, and a super-sized beef meatball.

If you can't get a reservation at either restaurant, the locals know that you can order from the Haesje Claes menu at De Koningshut, the homey workingman's bar next door.

Whatever you try from the extensive menus should be accompanied by large quantities of Dutch beer or, an Amsterdam favorite, Jupiler from Belgium.

LIVE LIKE A LOCAL, EAT LIKE A KING

A good friend who has visited Amsterdam many times says that the best way to experience the city is to rent an apartment, cook your own food and live like a local.

If you do that, then you'll want to shop at the open air markets - the famous Northern Market (Noordermarkt), New Market (Nieuwmarkt), and Albert Cuypmarkt - here you can buy high-quality cheese (domestic and imported) meats, poultry, seafood, baked goods, and farm-fresh produce. The Markt near Vondelpark, located at Overtoom 21 25, reminds one of a smaller, more intimate Whole Foods, with an excellent section of seafood, organic meats, fresh produce, wine, and baked goods.
For more foodie adventures, visit our Culinary Travel section.

Open Air Dutch Market, AmsterdamFor your morning coffee and pastry, you'll want to find a bakery like Vlaamsch Broodhuys on Haarlemmerstraat, between Singel and Prinsengracht, where you can sit quietly, read the paper and start the day as slowly as possible.

In the afternoon or early evening, when you need a coffee, sandwich, or beer, stop by a brown cafe-so called because their interiors are almost entirely brown. Originally, the cafes earned their distinctive color not from paint, but years of accumulated cigarette smoke. Today, however, smoking is restricted to outdoor patios and the coffee shops that sell marijuana and hash.

On the other hand, if the weather is sunny, you will probably want to sit outside and people-watch.

Rembrandt Square (Rembrandtplein) is favored by tourists, with its large, Parisian-style cafes, while Leidsen Square (Leidseplein) at the juncture of Weteringschans, Marnixstraat, and Leidsestraat near the Singel canal is preferred by locals. In the summer when it doesn't get dark until 11 p.m., hundreds of people fill the cafes.

There are also smaller but still crowded cafes at the New Market, and a collection of bars and restaurants with outdoor seating where Spui, Spuistraat and Singel meet in front of the American Book Center and the Athenaeum Boekhandel.
For more, don't miss the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Crea Cafe AmsterdamIf you tire of all the hustle and bustle, there is Crea Cafe, part of the University of Amsterdam's cultural programming organization. The cafe, frequented by students, has a narrow outdoor patio where you can enjoy a coffee and sandwich and watch locals row by in their small boats.

Brasserie Harkema is another oasis of quiet, just a few minutes walk from crowded, noisy Dam Square. The simple bistro menu features comfort food like asparagus soup with ham and open faced BLTs with lots of smoked bacon. The small outdoor brick patio is the perfect place to chill out and sample their extensive wine list, the quiet disturbed only by the sound of passing bicycles and the occasional horse-drawn carriage.

Desserts are widely available, as are chocolates. A particular favorite is Puccini Bomboni with two locations: Staalstraaat 17 and Haarlemmerstraat 12.

Dutch chocolate at Puccini BomboniHere, the chocolates are laid out in great mounds, tempting innocents to lose their self-control. Anyone with a passion for high-quality chocolates should only enter the store with a companion whose assignment is to prevent excessive purchasing and consumption.

ETHNIC FOOD, AMSTERDAM-STYLE


If you're craving ethnic food, there are many Asian restaurants through out the city. Because of the Netherlands' colonial history, Indonesian restaurants serving rijsttafel (rice table) have long been popular. The always crowded, Restaurant Kantjil & de Tijger bills itself as an Indonesian restaurant, but the menu suggests a fusion of many Asian cuisines.

Zeedijk street, from Prins Hendrikkade in front of Centraal Station to New Market, along the western edge of the Red Light District, has dozens of restaurants serving the cuisines of many nations.

If you hunger for large platters of meat, there are Argentinean and Brazilian restaurants. For Asian cuisine, there is Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Nam Kee AmsterdamMany travelers I know insist on "going native," but sooner or later tire of the local cuisine and have an insatiable craving for Chinese food. Nam Kee is the most-recommended with its 17-page, encyclopedic menu offering rice, noodle, curry, meat, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. The waiters don't speak English, a rarity in Amsterdam, and they don't take American credit cards, which is true at most restaurants, so bring euros.

Besides the usual Mandarin and Cantonese menus, there is Suriname Chinese, another remnant of the Dutch colonial experience.

Ethnic restaurants are also found in De Pijp (the Pipe), especially on Albert Cuypstraat where you'll find the delightful Bazar. The Middle Eastern dishes are under-seasoned, but you'll spend hours happily talking and drinking, thoroughly enjoying the eccentric interior.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summertime Fun: U-Pick Blueberries on the 101

For most people, summer means vacation time and, more than likely at least one road trip. We started early this year and took a trip up the coast for a long weekend.

Driving from Los Angeles to Northern California, we usually take the 5.  A boring drive, the 5 is all about getting up the coast as quickly as possible.

This trip we decided to take the 101. A bit slower, but a lot more scenic with the opportunity to interact with the communities along the way.

When I was growing up, my mom’s favorite thing to do when we hit the road was to stop at the roadside stands and buy fruit and vegetables from the local farmers.  What she dearly loved was when we could actually stop at the farm and do the picking ourselves.

One of her favorite places to visit was Cherry Valley, east of Los Angeles, where she would find an orchard that would let us kids climb up the ladders, buckets in hand, and pick and eat as many cherries as we could handle.


Heading up north I remembered those experiences when I saw the signs for Restoration Oaks Ranch's Santa Barbara Blueberry Farm, with its U-Pick option.

Thirty minutes north of Santa Barbara and three miles south of Buellton (home of Anderson's Pea Soup), from May to early August, keep a lookout on the east side of the highway.  There are signs on both sides of the highway but the turn off comes quickly, so be alert, especially on the southbound side where the exit is from the left lane.

Protected from birds by a high wall of netting, the farm grows several varieties of blueberries: Bluecrisp, Emerald, Jewel, Star, Misty, and Sharpblue.  The plants grow in long rows, stretching from the highway back into the hills.

Blueberries grow on low bushes, the fruit gathering in tight clusters on the branch ends.

Walking up and down the rows we passed couples feeding each other berries as if they were on a romantic date.  Then there were the families with kids, who rushed from plant to plant, picking and eating berries, yelling out, "I found the best ones."

For our part, my wife and I approached the task with deliberation. Mostly that meant picking berry by berry, but when we found a perfectly formed cluster, a quick sweep of the branch yielded a handful of berries that clattered satisfyingly into the bucket.

Harvesting blueberries is sweet work. You pick a few and eat a lot as you walk down the rows. We enjoyed them all the more knowing blueberries are healthy and nutritious.

The best berries are plump, firm, and colored a dark shade of blue. Ripe berries are on the top of the plant but also down below, so it's worth the effort to crouch down and check the lower branches.

In addition to all those nice plump, ripe berries, you'll also see ones that are slightly wrinkled.  We had a difference of opinion about those.

My wife didn't care for them, but I did because they have a thick, jammy taste, reminding me of homemade blueberry pie. Because my wife didn't want any wrinkled berries in our bucket, I ate them as I picked.

My wife wandered off in one direction.  I, in another. We walked up and down the rows, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the easy quiet of the rolling hills surrounding the farm.

Walking down the rows, I couldn't get over that there were so many berries!  How could I pass by ripe, perfectly formed blueberries, sweet and luscious and not pick every one in sight?

With a quick grab, I could fill my mouth with great tasting blueberries.  So delicious, so available.

With blueberry stained fingers, I placed yet another handful of berries in my mouth when my wife called out to me.  Actually she called several times before I heard her.  "David," she said, "Come on, you've had enough."

I nodded in agreement but managed to run my hand along another branch and enjoyed a last mouthful of berries before I re-joined her. With our buckets filled, we walked hand-in-hand down the dirt road, stopping at the outdoor sink to wash the blueberry stains off our hands, and then to the shack where we paid for our blueberries.

In 30 minutes my wife and I had filled our buckets.  At $15.00 a bucket (about 2 quarts), the blueberries are a bargain, considering that at farmers' markets small containers cost $3.00-4.00.

At our friends' house that night, we proudly served the berries as the crowning topping to a pineapple-strawberry fruit salad.  The combination was perfection.  Each fruit had a different tartness and sweetness.  Their flavors melded beautifully.

With a large bowl in the refrigerator, everyone in the house made frequent stops to grab a handful.  In no time at all, we had eaten all the blueberries.

With a short growing season and given that it was unlikely we would drive up 101 anytime soon, when we headed back to LA, we left early so we could stop at the blueberry ranch and pick another bucket.

Back home I remembered all those ears of corn, peaches, and cherries, I used to pick with my mom and sister and I was very happy to have a bucket of blueberries in the refrigerator.  What a great way to start the week with a breakfast of fresh blueberries, yogurt, and cereal.