Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fish! A Week of Sustainability Education and Cooks Confab Deliciousness

If you like seafood, if you care about the future of seafood, the health of our oceans, and the future of our planet -- and you love great food -- the week of June 1 is going to be important to you. The Cooks Confab has joined together with Passionfish and Slow Food Urban San Diego to present several delicious and enlightening events, culminating with a big Cooks Confab dinner on June 6 at 1500 Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado.

First up is Fish! Facts. This is an appetizer reception hosted by Chef Andrew Spurgin of Waters Fine Catering, Cooks Confab, and Slow Food Urban San Diego. It will feature several Cooks Confab chefs, guest chefs, a short lecture by world renowned marine ecologist Dr. Jeremy Jackson, and a showing of "End of the Line," a documentary that examines the firsthand effects of the global love affair with fish as food that premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

The reception is from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Fibonacci's Campus Pointe Bistro, 10300 Campus Point Dr., SD, 92121. Tickets are only $15 and available online at All proceeds to go Slow Food Urban San Diego.

On June 6 is Fish! Forum from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Hotel Del. The non-partisan, multi-media organization Passionfish is hosting and engaging and educational forum called Fish! on the urgent issue of seafood and ocean sustainability. I'll be on the panel along with Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products; Kristin Goodrich, Board Member, Slow Food Urban San Diego; Martin Alberto Hall, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission; Nigella Hillgarth, Ph.D., executive director of the Birch Aquarium; Don Kent, President of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute; Logan Kock, vice president at  Santa Monica Seafood; Carl Rebstock, Executive Director of (and our moderator); Robin Siegle, Esq., Director of  the Business Center at the National Conflict Resolution Center; and Andrew Spurgin, Exec. Director/Chef of Waters Fine Catering.

This is a free public event and there will be time for an audience Q&A.

Finally, dinner! Enjoy an evening of responsible, delectable seafood. Appetizers will be served from 6 to 7:30 on the lawn with a panoramic ocean view and the iconic Hotel Del as a backdrop. From 7:30 to 9 pm., enjoy a four-course dinner in the dining room. The event is preceded by our free Fish! Forum, a Socratic dialogue about sustainable fisheries. Go to the Cooks Confab site for more information and a list of the participating chefs and their dishes.

Tickets are $125 per person, which includes appetizer reception, dinner, all beverages, gratuity and tax. A portion of the ticket sales will be donated to Slow Food Urban San Diego. Make your reservations by calling 619-522-8490.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cooking with Kids

I'm pretty sure that my very first memory goes back to when I was about three or four years old. I was in the kitchen with my dad, being carefully held by him over the stove and trying to gently stir scrambled eggs as he patiently instructed me.

My sister, brother, and I were raised in the kitchen by two parents who love to cook, still excel at it, and came by it honestly. My dad's family owned The Park Manor, a kosher catering hall in Brooklyn, from the 20s to the 50s. Both my grandmothers were stellar cooks, and my maternal grandmother also was a fabulous baker. As the oldest grandchild I was recruited as sous chef from a very young age. As the oldest child, I was expected to help make family dinners (and clean up afterward). There was nothing precious about it. It was simply a part of our lives, like making beds or vacuuming. Okay, it was better than making beds and vacuuming, but it was a skill set we were expected to master that also became something all three of us naturally loved and incorporated in our adult lives.

Today, it seems that not as many kids are expected to develop kitchen skills. They know how to use a microwave to heat frozen food. They know how to use can openers. And, they can open a wallet to buy takeout. I have one friend--a single working mom--who has believed that by doing all the cooking for her children she was giving them love and attention that compensated for time away from them. And yet I tend to think giving them essential life skills and a love of nutritious food they created themselves would be just as loving.

I asked people on Facebook and Twitter about this and happily learned that, in fact, there are still  parents who are encouraging their kids to try their hand in the kitchen.

Sydnie Ross Moore says that, "My kids started cooking when they were around eight (third grade). They have used knives the entire time, but with careful supervision. Now they are 13 and 15 and I let them cook on their own, as long as it is fairly simple. For Mom's Day they made Poached Halibut with Fresh Veggies and Bananas Foster for dessert."

From Jan McLane Rieger: "My son is a natural chef. Honor their creativity. Expose them to many food types. Get them tours of kitchen at restaurants. Rave!"

From Leslie Wolf Branscomb: "My girls, now age 12 and 14, have been taught to cook since they could understand it. To the amazement of some of our overprotective friends, who won't let their kids touch the oven or stove,  I let my kids bake and cook from the beginning to end. I've been careful about making sure they understand the importance of sticking to a recipe exactly, and that they understand the difference between T and t and that they let the oven heat up, and turn it off when they're done. The first time they cooked a whole meal for themselves was about two years ago: I was seriously sick with the flu and my husband was out of town. The oldest, then 12, made mac n cheese in a large plastic measuring cup, and from the evidence I found in the sink the next morning, they ate it out of the measuring cup with chopsticks.  I was so proud.

"Now, my 14-year-old cooks most of her own breakfasts and lunches, and sometimes dinner for the whole family.  She considers herself a vegetarian, and often uses tofu and black beans in her recipes, which include egg whites and/or free-range chicken. Not something I would choose, but I don't judge because her choices seem healthy. The 12-year-old still needs some supervision; we made pancakes today and will make bread tomorrow." 

From Cindy Romney-Payne: "My daughter, now 11 years old, loves to cook. When she was a baby, I would cook dinner with her in a baby back pack and I'd have her taste and smell ingredients as I would add them, garlic, parsley, basil, etc. She now has an great palate and can pick out several ingredients I've used in the dishes she tastes. She took up baking when she was five and now bakes for us quite often. My waist line is suffering a little, but it's such a joy to see her grow up loving the culinary arts."

And, from Eilene Zimmerman: "My son and I make 'kitchen sink' cookies. We use the regular Tollhouse recipe and then throw in anything we happen to have on hand or want to try in a cookie--so he feels like they are not only his creation, but totally original, like peanut butter chips, dried fruit, chopped up Hershey's bar, etc. "

Then there's food writer Erika Kerekes, who loves to cook with her young sons. Want some inspiration? Her 11-year-old son Emery guest posted on Mom's blog, In Erika's Kitchen. Here you'll find his simple recipe for avocado hand tacos with Meyer lemon and chipotle.
So, what does it take to help a child develop confidence and enjoyment in the kitchen? Chef Rick Bayless, whom I interviewed earlier this spring, believes the best approach is to never tell them they should cook or dictate what they should make--and did this with his own daughter, now 19. "We always let her create her own dish," he says. "I still ask her what she wants to make and let her create it on her own."

Children at Olivewood Gardens learning how to crack and beat eggs for zucchini pancakes.

My mom had a very different approach. She set the menu and we were told what our tasks were--and she supervised closely at first. She took us to the market and taught us how to select ingredients. We made salads, we roasted chicken, we mushed up meatloaf, stirred soups, and boiled rice. We learned the basics and we learned how to make traditional Jewish dishes like kugel, kreplach, matzoh ball soup, and matzoh meal popovers (alright, my Nana taught me that). My mom was cookbook collector and always experimenting so we learned about unusual ingredients and how to follow recipes. We baked bread sometimes, usually challah because it's so easy, but the most fun, of course, especially as small children, was making cookies, brownies, and cakes. That helped us with math skills, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving. Plus, it tasted good. Looking back, I'm sure as we became teenagers that cooking together also became a way she and my dad could get us talking.

Teaching a child to cook can give a child self-confidence and, perhaps, even a future career. Julie Darling, owner of Just in Time Catering in San Diego, recalls cooking family meals often. "Cooking was the only thing I remember doing as a kid where I ALWAYS got a 'good job' and kudos. It's why I'm a caterer today."

At Suzie's Farm learning about squash via the Alchemy/Albert Einstein Academies Culinary Program

I asked for tips from some local chefs who give their time teaching children cooking skills and got a variety of suggestions:
  • Chef Ricardo Heredia of Alchemy: Well you really have to understand how kids' focus shifts. I try to keep them interested with familiar topics that lead to unfamiliar facts and techniques. I ask a lot of questions to keep them stimulated and allow them to think independently. And of course make them laugh! Knife skills depend on each individual. I like to start with the peeler to get the hand-eye coordination exercised. Nine is a good age over all to show the proper way to hold your knife and how to hold what you are cutting in the proper manner. It can be very stressful let me tell you, but we just take our time and I constantly adjust them until they have the right posture down.
  • Also from Chef Heredia: I like to start with some tasting exercises to stimulate the use of all their senses in relation to food. Baking is always a great start cookies, bread, pizza and calzones. These are all valuable scientific lessons along with easy introduction to familiar foods. I then move to some more not so familiar items like eggplant salad, squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, Swiss chard calzones. You really have to find the balance of familiar with unfamiliar to keep them learning about new vegetables.
  • Chef Tina Luu of The Art Institute of California-San Diego: Kids are highly distracted, so whatever task you give them has to be short - something that can be executed quickly or they lose interest. If a kid has a knife - someone has to always be with them hovering. Too many potentials for accidents. Finger foods are excellent.
  • Chef Brian Myers, currently looking for a kitchen: Let them occasionally choose the menu. They'll be more excited about making things that they WANT to eat. Let them open stuff, measure stuff, mix stuff, taste test along the way. My mom used to bake bread for us as kids and always made one mini loaf (the Little Red Hen Loaf, she called it) that we as kids got to eat as soon as it was cool. Oh yeah with homemade strawberry jam. Funny we hated that bread as kids and now I'd kill for it.
  • Chef Amy DiBiase of The Glass Door: Be creative with names. Chef DiBiase made a delicious pureed cauliflower soup for fifth graders visiting Olivewood Gardens. At the first class the kids wouldn't touch it. For the second class she called it her "famous white soup." The kids happily lapped it up.
  • Chef Chad White of Roseville: With my girls I have them pick out vegetables and fruits according to their favorite colors. Then when we cook together they are less apprehensive about  trying new things. After they eat what we cooked I tell them what it is. Also Bella, my oldest, used to fight with me on veggies. So I started cooking them in two to three different ways. Nine out of 10 times I could get her to like it something she says she doesn't like. LOL. A little creativity goes a long way!  
  • Chef Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove: I think if you cook at home with your kids on a regular basis and don't make things specifically for them, they learn to enjoy the process and the outcome. Kids like to do things with their hands and they are curious, two important qualities to being a good cook. I see it as a natural that they enjoy working with food but like anything it can be treated like a "fun" thing to do or like something we "have" to do. Too many people look at food as a have to and don't find the enjoyment in its preparation and that is passed down to their  kids. Let them help you shop by asking them what vegetables should we have with our halibut tonight? Guiding them in their choice then letting them help in the prep gives them ownership and they are more likely to want to eat it than if you plop it down and tell then they have to eat it. As we all know kids rarely want to do what we tell them but if it's their idea they are into it. I also think variety helps so they don't get bored. 
    Highlights of cooking with my girls include making pizza (we have a pizza oven), making ravioli then freezing it for later, learning to flip eggs (we have chickens), them not asking for corn until they see it at Chino and then getting super excited and wanting it with scrambled eggs, making any kind of dessert, making our own french fries and chicken strips so they know what good ones taste like makes them not want to eat them elsewhere, hearing them say they are looking forward to tomato season. If it's a natural part of your life it will become part of theirs.  
Chef Chad White making fruit juice drinks with students at Olivewood Gardens

Now long ago public schools had Home Ec classes -- for girls, of course -- but that's where a lot of young women had their first exposure to kitchen arts. For the most part these classes are just a memory but there are a number of places in San Diego offering cooking classes geared to children:
  • Captain Cook's Culinary Academy: This is a mobile cooking class that can go to your home, school, or another venue and teach kids how to cook interesting, kid-friendly food using natural, organic ingredients.
  • Camp Culinary Creations: Affiliated with Camp Science Safari, Camp Culinary Creations partners with local chefs, culinary schools, hotels, restaurants, bakeries, and Julie Darling's  commercial kitchen in Clairemont to offer one-of-a-kind culinary experiences for kids age six to 12. 
  • College for Kids: MiraCosta College for Kids offers hands-on cooking classes in the summer. Nutrition and the history and culture of food is also discussed.
  • Great News Discount Cookware & Cooking School: Interspersed with adult classes are the "Calling All Kids" classes. The next one, all about Independence Day Picnic dishes, will be taught by personal chef David Church. It's partially hands on and for kids age seven and up.
  • Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center: This is a special place, a six-acre garden and house located in National City that brings in kids from neighboring elementary schools for sessions on gardening, nutrition, and cooking. Julie Darling of Just in Time Catering recruits volunteer chefs like Diane Stopford, Amy DiBiase, Chad White, and Andrew Spurgin to teach. And -- full disclosure -- I, too, am a volunteer instructor. Darling is hoping to organize a cooking camp for kids throughout San Diego County at Olivewood.
  • Alchemy/Albert Einstein Academies Culinary Program: This is a partnership between the South Park restaurant Alchemy and the Albert Einstein Academies. The culinary program, taught by Alchemy chef Ricardo Heredia and managering partners Matt Thomas and Ron Troyano, covers the fundamentals of food preparation, nutrition, serving etiquette, food safety, and sustainable farming with trips to local farms like Suzie's Farm.
  • Cups: Beginning in June, Cups Culinary will present several single-session cooking and baking classes, beginning with a Mommy (or Daddy) and Me baking class on June 5th.
And then there are books. Here are cookbooks geared for kids:

The Healthy Start Kids' Cookbook: Fun and Healthful Recipes That Kids Can Make Themselves by Sandra K. Nissenberg

Junior Leagues in the Kitchen with Kids: Everyday Recipes & Activities for Healthy Living by Favorite Recipes Press, Association of Junior Leagues, and Mary Margaret Andrews


The 2nd International Cookbook for Kids by Matthew Locricchio

Mom and Me Cookbook by Annabel Karmel

The Everything Kids' Cookbook: From Mac n Cheese to Double Chocolate Chip Cookies by Sandra K. Nissenberg

Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen by Susie Fishbein and John Uher

The Kids-Did-It! Cookie Bookie: A (fun) cookie-baking cookbook for kids, illustrated by kids by Michelle Abrams and Glen Abrams

Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up by Mollie Katzen and Ann L. Henderson

Michelle Cox of Olivewood Gardens and I were on These Days on KPBS on Monday, May 24 from 10 to 11 a.m. to talk about cooking with kids. Listen online at

And, by the way, check out this incredible documentary for kids called "What's on Your Plate." It's basically Food Inc. for kids. Over the course of a year the film follows two 11-year-old girls in New York City as they take a close look at the food systems in and around the city, talking to each other, food activists, farmers, storekeepers, and their families. We should try to get a screening of the documentary in San Diego.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Little Farm in Pt. Loma Feeding Tender Greens Diners

From the street, the hilltop Pt. Loma property of the Reeb family looks like just another suburban home. Sitting on a cul-de-sac over a canyon, the house was built in 1937 and has the old-fashioned charm of a place that was built for family living. Even stepping into the back yard -- with its pool and grass -- doesn't reveal the scope of what Paul Reeb and his son Steve are up to: gardening for the masses. Or at least for the masses who eat at local restaurant Tender Greens literally across the street in Liberty Station.

Reeb has taken land, now owned by his mother, that's just under an acre and turned it into a produce oasis with a little greenhouse and even a little vineyard that produces grapes that he, in turn, crushes to make wine. And that wasn't easy since much of the property slopes steeply down into a canyon.

I first met Reeb late last summer at a dinner hosted by Tender Greens to show off Reeb's bounty. A graphic designer by trade, he's long had a yearning to be a farmer. Living just a few blocks from his mother's house means he can spend a lot of time working this land when he's not doing his "day" job. Having  23-year-old Steve help out when he's not working at Tender Greens himself is a huge help, Reeb says. And chef/owner Pete Balistreri buys everything Reeb grows, including tomatoes, greens, zucchini, radishes, and artichokes.

Reeb has recently finished his winter crops so most of what's in the ground currently are young plants just getting started for a summer harvest. Zucchini is in the ground around the pool, tomato plants are almost everywhere you turn and there are about 25 heirloom varieties, plus 10 Reeb is experimenting with -- about 200 in all, including Abe Lincoln, Dr. Whyche, Risentraube, German Pink, Hillbilly, Black Krim (which Reeb says is the best tasting), Omars Lebanese (which get huge), Bonnie's Best, and Blonde Kopftashen.

"I grow these for taste not looks," Reeb says. "Taste is number one."

Reeb gets his seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, plus he harvests his own. With all those tomatoes, his wife often freezes the tomatoes whole to use in the winter for soup or sauce. Or she dries them.

Up near the house is a little greenhouse where a sea of micro greens, mostly daikon, is growing. Behind the greenhouse is a tiny man-made pond filled with bluegills and crawdads. The nitrogen they produce in the water fills a gerry-rigged irrigation system constructed by the Reebs.


Surrounding all this are beds brimming with tall, swaying anise, fragrant lavender, and mounds of Easter Egg radishes. Anaheim and poblano chili plants are just getting a start, along with onions and green beans. There are some citrus trees, an ancient, still prolific, avocado tree, and, well, a lot of weeds.

The canyon garden is what's most impressive. Seven years ago the men started clearing out what was long a fire hazard, cut down some diseased Torrey Pines, and began the job of terracing and planting grapevines down the steep slope.

Right now the chardonnay, zinfandel, and pinot noir grapes are just popping out. Around them are colorful nasturtiums, bushy sage plants, fennel, mounds of cardoons -- which has thistles that look like artichokes but you don't eat the thistle, you eat the stalk -- and artichokes.

While Reeb is harvesting many of his plants, the big harvest comes in late July and into September. Reeb invited me to return then, when I can see the "after" of this "before" visit. Stay tuned.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Adams Ave. Farmers Market: A Bountiful Moveable Feast for San Diego

Catt White calls herself the Market Maestra and this past week she wore the mantle well. White just opened the Adams Avenue farmers market and has recently taken over management of the North Park farmers market.

At both markets are many of the regulars found at her Little Italy Mercato. But, at least at the Adams Ave. market, these vendors found brand new enthusiastic customers. The place was mobbed and most vendors were sold out before the 7 p.m. closing time.

There's probably no better time to open a new market than spring and the farmers had their spring best out. Sage Mountain Farms was laden with sweet juicy strawberries, their beautiful peachy colored baby potatoes, fat orange and yellow carrots, radishes and gorgeous greens. Owner Phil Nobel's son Justin was representing dad at this market and sales seemed brisk. I picked up a basket of the berries and a pound of those pretty little potatoes.

Smit Orchards with their apples and Red Brooks cherries was nearby, along with Heritage Family Farms, Lisko Imports, and, oh, the scent of peaches that led to Lone Oak Ranch's booth. The trip from Reedley (near Fresno) was worth it. The white and yellow peaches, nectarines, and apricots were sublime and being taken up by everyone drawn in by the fragrant peaches.

Suzie's Farm was also there and with their greens, squash, beets, and tiny bits of tasty nutrition -- garbanzo beans and sprouting wheat berries among them -- along with bright yellow squash blossoms, perfect for stuffing.

George and Mary Palmer of Taste Cheese made their farmers market debut at the Little Italy Mercato just a couple of weeks ago, but they're now celebrating their appearance at both the Adams Ave. and North Park markets. (Sign up for their newsletter so you can learn what cheeses they're bringing to the different markets.)

At the Little Italy Mercato I enjoy Dennie Giles's avocados and woven baskets from his Paradise Valley Ranch. So, it was nice to see him at the Adams Ave. market, but this time he had some unusual fruit I hadn't seen before: Kalamansi lemons.

These lemons, originally from the Philippines, have hues of yellow, green, and orange on its skin and orange flesh -- thanks to the marrying of lemons with tangerines. They're sour sweet and used for everything from juice to squeezing on fish or into soup. I bought a basket of them for one dollar and used several to make a marinade for chicken.

The marinade also included champagne garlic mustard made by a new vendor, SoNo Trading Company. Owned by Zach Nagin (who I had met months ago when he was working at Halcyon Tea) and James Magnatta, SoNo has four "mostly organic" mustard varieties for sale -- Cilantro Lime, Sesame Ginger, Spicy Hatch, and the Champagne Garlic.

The partners also make a thoroughly enjoyable but extremely spicy pickle. These "Sweet Spicy Pickles" are wonderful chopped into a salad or sandwich.

The guys do this with their Cuban sandwich, grilled on the spot and made with ham and pork from Da-Le Ranch. In fact, they talk about this venture as being "about community" so they also use products from their fellow farmers market vendors -- Suzie's Farm, Spring Hill Cheese, Richie's Chiles.

Me? I added the pickles to a chopped salad I made from a mix of my market finds and other produce from Henry's: white corn, tomatoes, a yellow bell pepper, shelled green peas, cucumber, yellow onion, and mint from my garden. A homemade vinaigrette with Sherry vinegar, Temecula Olive Oil, smoked sea salt, more of that champagne garlic mustard, chopped garlic, and maras pepper was the perfect marinade. Top it with burrata cheese from Taste Cheese, scoop it up with pita from Baba Foods or slices of sourdough baguette from Bread and Cie (both at the market) and you've got a refreshing, delicious, healthy dish with a bit of a kick to it.

But, maybe you're in the mood for meat. Dave Heafner of Da-Le Ranch is at the Adam's Ave. farmers market with some new products: Canadian bacon and sausages. He's got Chicken Apple, Nurenburger Bratwurst, Hot and Mild Italian Sausages, Turkey Breakfast, and Smoked Bratwurst. Of course, there's always his tempting tri-tip. That was on the grill while I was there and it's truly delicious.

But perhaps what you really want is seafood. Poppas Fresh Fish is in attendance and this week they had live blue crabs, salmon, clams, and a wide assortment of other fish.

Plus, Mark Lane, the owner, made a couple of ceviches. One with white sea bass and mango was terrific, but my choice was the chopped shrimp with watermelon--reminiscent of Urban Solace's tasty watermelon salad.

It was great to see some other familiar faces there -- Eclipse Chocolat, Viva Pops, Loic Patisserie, Baba Foods, and my buddy David Wasserman of Joe's on the Nose.

The Adams Ave. farmers market is bound to grow, but first it must find a place to land. Originally set to be held on 40th just off Adams Ave., the market ran into permitting issues with CalTrans that must still be resolved. This week, it was in the Rite Aid parking lot near Cherokee, but that was just a temporary fix and White now has to identify a new spot for next Wednesday. So, let's call this new community treasure a moveable feast and stay tuned for the announcement of its next temporary home.

On Thursday, the North Park farmers market looked very different from the past. For one thing, White switched around the physical layout, creating aisles in the opposite direction to help the farmers with the bright sun beating down on them but also to better organize the types of vendors there. She's also said good-bye to some vendors she just didn't feel were still a good fit and added others. So, Suzie's Farm, Valdivia Farm, J.R. Organics, and Smit Orchards were some of the familiar produce vendors with more to come. SoNo was back as were Taste Cheese, Baba Foods, and H and B's Guac Shac. Majestic Garlic is there as is Kettle Corn, She Sells Sea Salts, and Gourmet Tamales. It's a promising re-start for the community market and worth re-visiting if you haven't been for awhile.

The Adams Ave. farmers market is held on Wednesday afternoons from 3 to 7 p.m. -- with the location still changing. The North Park farmers market is held on Thursday afternoons, also from 3 to 7 p.m. in  the CVS parking lot at University and 32nd St.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two New Farmers Markets for San Diego This Week

Two new farmers markets open in San Diego this week, with an additional management change in another.

On Wednesday, May 12 at 3 p.m., Catt Fields White of the Little Italy Mercato is opening the new Adams Ave. Farmers Market. This week's opening will be at the Rite Aid parking lot at 3650 Adams Ave. (Thank you very much, CalTrans). The market's permanent home will be a few blocks away on 40th St., just south of Adams Ave. (from the traffic light just past the I-15 on-ramp down to where the street dead ends at Madison). Catt says there will be "lots of farmers, most of our usual suspects, and a couple of newbies -- flowers, food, cheese from Spring Hill and Taste, and Da Le Ranch meats."

Catt has also assumed management of the Thursday North Park Farmers Market. The changes she's made already are evident. "We added a few vendors, a few farmers (Taste Cheese, Paradise Valley Ranch, and Black Dog Farm) and changed the layout in our first and second week," she says, "and it already feels completely different. We put farmers front and center. We lost some non-food vendors that didn't fit. It's all new energy. We've gotten a great response from shoppers and participants. It's continuing to grow and evolve."

In North County, market manager Bev Cassity is launching the Del Sur Farmers Market and Family Festival on Thursday, May 13 at 3 p.m. Located at the corner of Camino del Sur and Lone Quail Road, the farmers market is sponsored by the Del Sur Educational Foundation and benefits the children of Del Sur Elementary School. There will be more than 70 vendors, from certified organic farmers to specialty food booths. And, like Cassity's other markets, there will be other non-food items sold, like baby items, women's clothing, sandals, purses, jewelry, home decor, Avon, Tupperware, and silk flowers.

I'll be at the opening of the Adams Ave. market and will report back on it later in the week.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Filipino Cuisine: Mysteriously Eluding the Mainstream

Given that fusion and global cuisine are so hot and are such a direct reflection of our national experience, it's hard to understand how one of the most fundamentally melting pot of food traditions seems to keep eluding mainstream popularity.

I'm talking, of course, about Filipino food, a cuisine that embraces Southeast Asian, Latin (Spanish and Mexican), Chinese, and native traditions. With a tropical climate, multiple languages, diverse geographical zones (including 7,000 islands), and over 120 ethnic groups, according to the wonderful blog Pleasure Palate, there's already going to be a tremendous variety of natural resources. Add to that Chinese trade with the Philippines that began around the 11th century, the arrival of the Spaniards several centuries later, who ruled for 377 years (1521 -- with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan -- to 1898 with the U.S. defeat of the Spanish in the Spanish-American War), and then the influence of Americans (sadly, mostly around convenience foods) and you have a cuisine that embraces multiple cultures and ingredients to create a distinctive Filipino style of food. And, perhaps a style hard to define.

I can't pretend to be able to break it down myself. I'm still a novice to this food but I've been won over by a couple of bloggers and their recipes, as well as a local San Diego market that serves the Filipino community.

Seafood City is in the heart of Mira Mesa, just off the 15 freeway at Mira Mesa Blvd. With the Filipino bakery Red Ribbon just next door, it's the go-to shopping spot for the local Filipino community and has many of the unique products essential for creating traditional dishes.

When I was there, the produce department was bursting with fresh chiles--everything from skinny Thai chiles to long plump green Anaheims, petite serranos, and your basic jalapenos. There were sliced bamboo shoots, banana blossoms, and lemongrass. Long beans and bitter melons were alongside long, thin Chinese eggplants and shorter, plumper Filipino eggplants, a couple of which I bought to make an incredible dish called Tortang Talong. Essentially a multi-dimensional eggplant omelet, Tortang Talong is easy and fun to make thanks to very thorough recipe on the blog, Burnt Lumpia.

Back to the produce section: There was also a seductive selection of roots and tubers that seemed to be organized by color: taro, yucca, potatoes, and jicama among them.

I found myself drawn to a plantain relative--fresh "banana pears" or saba from Mexico. Their squared edges intrigued me.

Like plantains, you need to cook these before eating them and I found a terrific recipe for Saba Banana Caramel on Home Cooking and Baking. I loved the flavors and textures--perfect for topping ice cream. Of course, they're also delicious all by their lonesome.

In a refrigerated section near the produce were duck eggs--some raw and some preserved with salt and black tea. And further along that wall was a vast selection of packaged dried fish and bags of meat balls--from beef and pork to fish, scallop, cuttlefish and fried shrimp. Cuttlefish in particular are common in the Philippines, often sold by street vendors, who skewer and fry them, and serve them with a sweet-and-spicy sauce or a thick black sweet-and-sour sauce.

Among the products that caught my attention was the collection of frozen leaves that included bitter melon, jute, cassava, pepper, horseradish, and banana. I would love for someone to explain the uses of many of these. I gather some are traditionally for medicinal purposes, although many of us are familiar with the culinary uses of banana leaves as a wrapper for cooking dishes like pad thai and tamales or anything else for which you'd use parchment paper or foil.

On the other side of the freezer section from the leaves is a long line of various types of, what else, lumpia. These delicious egg rolls are probably the first dish that comes to mind -- other than pansit noodles -- when Filipino food is mentioned. Here you can find pork and shrimp, chicken and shrimp, and chicken varieties in small packages or enormous Costco-sized packages.

I loved the aisles with the sauces and vinegars. I bought some banana ketchup, which is quite sweet, but passed on the various fish sauces since I already had a couple of bottles. Since I couldn't decide which vinegar to buy, I got several and am still trying to work out the differences. Known as "suka" in the Philippines, they can come from palm, coconut, and cane and that's just for starters. But it doesn't end there. Some are clear, others are cloudy or even a deep amber. I'm sending you back to Burnt Lumpia for a good overview because why reinvent the wheel? I suggest you try several (they're very inexpensive) and find flavor profiles you enjoy.


One of the biggest reasons to visit Seafood City is, of course, the seafood. Like its Vietnamese  neighbor, Lucky Seafood, there's a huge selection of colorful fish, crabs, shrimp, and other ocean favorites.

You can pick up tiny wild freshwater crabs from Vietnam and perhaps a half dozen types of shrimp, including Mexican white shrimp, black tiger, and water prawns. On ice are milkfish, barracuda, carp, mullet, and rainbow-colored parrotfish.

Along with seafood is a large butcher shop section, where you can find chicken, beef, pork, and even goat. I bought chicken there, which I turned into what is probably considered the national dish of the Philippines, chicken adobo. It's easy to make and I chose my recipe from Jaden Hair's terrific book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. The sauce is made with simple ingredients: vinegar, peppercorns, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and bay leaves. And, it's done in one pot. Serve on rice and you're good.

You can also pick up that most Filipino of sausages, pork longonisa.

You can find different versions of them, some so pinkish red with food color they don't look quite real. Some look rather colorless, like bratwurst and some are a more natural red color.  They can be sweet or spicy and are reminiscent of Spanish chorizo, though they aren't as heavily spiced as chorizo. I bought a package of spicy longoniza, which I used to make the Tortang Talong.

Before leaving, I had to check out the breads. I love traditional pan de sal, which they carry. But I had to buy a big loaf of ube bread. This soft loaf has a swirl of sweet ube--a purple root vegetable--that is a wonderful surprise when you cut it open and then devour it. It's lovely toasted with just a schmear of cream cheese or butter.

There's a little take-out joint off to the side of the store that had some nice lumpia and selection of different noodle dishes. The prices are very reasonable and the food was good.

I hope those readers who are Filipino or are familiar with Filipino food will weigh in on some of the dishes they enjoy and ingredients they like to use. And, can you suggest some local restaurants that serve authentic Filipino cuisine?

Seafood City is located on 8955 Mira Mesa Blvd. and three other locations in San Diego as well as Los Angeles, Northern California, and La Vegas. You'll also find useful recipes on the site.

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