A Meal of Miracles in the City of Different

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imageTraveling by train to New Mexico, I could see that the chapter called Winter had closed. Gone, the force of a spike of a hard rain into the cold, dry ground. As a beloved fruit tree, half-drowned, loses its grip on the earth and falls over. Taking a restorative look at tire tracks where whole pitches crunched underfoot. The way season followed season with the morning frost on the cracked and swollen ground. A hazy sun. After the fires, California looked and felt like the ash of smoldering cigarette butts and sticky cola on a old wooden bar top. The seasons felt fashioned, fast and furious. Cleaving my departure in two with expansive space and the slow pull of earth, I felt a powerful confluence; the lovely loneliness of the desert landscape. The scorched yellow earth and withered desert that is called Summer. I was traveling to the ‘city of different’ for a five day cooking program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is a culture lampooned, illustrious catnip for cowboy worshipers and new-age baby boomers. Many followed the Santa Fe trail, only to go north, vanishing into the tie-dye fabric of America. Mystics have passed down stories of magical realms hidden from mortal sight in this town, bridging the world of nature and spirit. imageLanding late into the evening, I headed to Taberna La Boca, a restaurant who boldly defies Santa Fes early-to-bed reputation by hosting a reverse happy hour from 10-11 pm. After slurping in the South West decor, I ordered Tapas ~ placing emphasis on PEE-koh deh GAH-yoh. Your sense of space and time soon read like a cocktail napkin scribble; fuzzy and incoherent due to the change in elevation @7000 ft.

Sun cracked and solitude wizened, I learned that the Santa Fe trail had a major cultural impact upon the food of this area – The shot gun marriage of Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo Native American, and cowboy chuck wagon all influenced the cuisine of New Mexico. Chiles being the totem of all local food. When New Mexicans refer to chile, they are talking about pungent pods, or sauce made from those pods, not the concoction of spices, meat and/or beans. Gourmet free-loaders can experience the taste of Santa Fe in many ways, but the one-stop-shop starts at the SF farmers market in the rail yard district. On our first morning, after selecting produce from the market, the group walked to the Santa Fe Cooking School and started making chilaquiles, tomatillo sauce and Egg free-TOT-ta. Its a perilous tightrope to walk, but kundalini cooking really kicks in with the combined effects of altitude high, spicy hot chilies, and Van Morrisons, ‘Into the mystic’ playing in your head.

On day two we photo 1-1explore chiles unique culinary and medicinal qualities, learning the different varieties, then donning aprons, aviator goggles and white kit gloves, the group of twelve prepares red and green chile sauce. Using Ah-bah-NEH-roh chiles, it became quite apparent that I was diagonally parking in a parallel universe and relied on affirmative prayer for a positive outcome to this hot and spicy situation. And as I sifted the spiritual wheat from the thou-shalt-not-chaff flour, homemade Keh-Sah-DEE-Yah’s transpired.

On day three, after a long monsoon-drenched Santa Fe day at Santa Cruz Farm, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the group went wine tasting at Estrella Del Norte Vineyard. For ceremonial purpose, the Spanish imported wine, and against all odds, the Spanish Governor passed a law forbidding vines from being planted. It was not until 1669, forty years before California wine production, that grapes grew in New photo 3-1Mexico.There are a number of JB award winning restaurants in SF. One only has to tic-tac-toe through the small town to find them. Most famous is the red and green chile sauce, called “Christmas blend”. Venturing to a restaurant called ‘The Shed’, I realized how one traverses the spiritual landscape to transcend illusion and realize the state of enlightenment in Santa Fe…….. By eating wock-a-MOH-leh* for breakfast, lunch and dinner ………preferably with chi-POHT-leh.

Class dismissed.

It’s Hip to be Square

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photo 1The term foodie is a lot like the term hipster. They both carry the essence of something new, unique and trending….. everyone wants a slice. While foodies are solidly rooted in the ground, they transparently mesh with the earthy hipster. (good God, those manly beards). Foodies are suddenly learning to enjoy culinary textures that would have been profoundly unfamiliar unless necessary to eat. Rubbery, chewy, cartilagey, fatty, tendon, jelly parts.

SERIOUS HIPSTER CRED. Other hip and trending food venues include the emblematic food truck. The forerunner of brake-fast in bedroom and work communities, demonstrating that fusion-fueled food works. And this my friend, is what food today has become. Fetishization of food, of cooking and eating, of watching other people cooking and eating, a selfie-in-itself across all platform’s. Not to forget food shows, where we have become transfixed on watching others eating rubbery, chewy, cartilagey, fatty, tendon, jelly food. HAIL TO THE KALE!

photo 4To the point. There are a number of ways to carve into the beet-nic called food-dom. A good starting point to enjoying food and it’s culture is by taking a food tour. Generally inspired by the neighborhoods explored, I decided my first food tour would be in Orange, Ca. Our tour introduced a unique culinary point of view from each restaurant we visited. One-of-a-kind ethnic eateries to contemporary fine dining and retro Americana were explored. My favorite stop on the Old Town Orange Food Tour was Francoli Gourmet restaurant which features authentic Northern Italian food, and an array of imported wines from every one of Italys 20 regions. Customers can also shop for gourmet specialties such as olive oil, cheeses, ceramics from Tuscany, and an assortment of fine Italian liquors.

photo 2Orange, a square mile historic district sits like a monopoly board surrounded by a plaza with the one symbolic orange tree. It is home to the County’s oldest operating bank and oldest operating soda fountain, and it is hip to be square. Established in 1899, Watsons Drugs is a iconic diner, featuring a 1950’s soda fountain. I viewed nostalgic candy as well as beautifully frosted cakes and pastries for purchase. Also dotting the boardwalk are antique shops where you might find any number of small tokens including a wheelbarrow, thimble, top hat or scottish dog door stop. Orange is also a college town, demonstrated by a number of eclectic, iconoclastic shops financed by the monopoly money of So Cal software tycoons. Stop and don’t pass. Parking is free and there are plenty of three chance spaces on the plaza.The small town is reminiscent of a bygone era and shows no trace of the “frenzied, obscenity-laced, sex-and-drug-fueled back burner ballet of tattooed pirates who brandish spatulas like swords” in trendy Los Angeles restaurants. Roll the dice, take a chance, keep moving forward!

 

Joyeux Noel from Terminal 3

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ARRIVAL TIME NEWARK NJ AIRPORT 5:30 AM
Plan A: GOD SAVE THE CUISINE!

To kick start my Quebec City Holiday, I waiting out the perfect storm with a lay-over in New Jersey Newark Airport. Remaining Beckham poised, I pulled my beret over my brow and dipped my frost-bitten fingers into a hot cup of cocoa while anticipating arrival at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. Envisioning being seated with an incomparable view of the St-Lawrence River where the grey matter that surrendered to the Winter vortex was brilliantly illuminated by elegant chandler lighting.

Anticipating the Tourtiere, a Farm harvest meat pie, I sat at terminal 3 and researched the menu online, noting that it highlight a black pudding with pig tail and arugula with lard. French cuisine predominates in Quebec City, so be prepared to create a diverse media diet when planning to wine and dine from online. Note to self: When traveling, beware of newsy foodies yelping with 4 and 5 stars thus creating a filter bubble in your bookmark file.

Heavy on meat, maple and money will surely make you a Quebecois carnivore and dining can be quite ‘gamey’. You are much more likely to encounter uncommon meats on the menu such as venison, caribou, duck, emu and bison.

Plan B: THIS IS NOT A BANANA REPUBLIC!

The agri-food industry is a major contributor to Quebec’s economy. It is the largest pork producer and third largest cranberry and maple syrup producer……..Aunt Jemimah was never to be mentioned. In celebration of the Belle Apoque Paris Centennial, a food or history tour is a good idea. Noting that a stroll along the cobblestone streets of Quebec City is like a Charles Dickens novel come to life. May I have more porridge please?….. would never pass these lips, Food, glorious food is found on every corner of this Canadian jewel.The 400 year old town of Rue Saint-Jean in Old Quebec is the home to J.A. Moisan, the oldest continuously operated epicure in North America (140 years). I Imagined that fresh bread, pates, chocolate, regional cheese, and crepes would be discovered in iconic places with evocative decor. But without so much as a salutatory pastis, singing angel or gold foil doily, I discovered that the fast food of QB is Poutine, a messy pile of fries, gravy and cheese curds.images
Upon reading Edward Behrs book: 50 foods, the essentials of good taste, I knew when to eat and when to discard the rind of cheese, properly shuck a oyster and when to put down my fork!

NEWARK NJ AIRPORT 12:00 PM

PEACE MEAL IT
It doesn’t matter if you are a hard-core, part-time, aspiring, wanna-be, i-wish-i-could-do-it someday Francophile……..What’s important is you are TRYING. I found that even the French can teeter-totter. The conversation around French cooking remains rooted in its traditions. No one is expecting a thesis, or even a comment beyond: Oh, nice wine, then talk about something more interesting. That’s what most Que-Fre people do.

Posing for a selfie with Santa and the elfie at the air terminal, I felt I was finally cultivating the art of living!

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NEWARK NJ AIRPORT 3:00 PM
To save time, cost and frostbite, it is in ones best interest to eat breakfast and the traditional Christmas Buffet at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. The celebratory Christmas Eve reveillon begins at midnight and ends with the traditional four beggars, consisting of dried fruits and nuts, representing the monastic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinian and Carmelites,……no comment on the irony of this.

DEPARTURE TIME San Diego  6:49PM

Although this crumb of a bag-uette never did make it Quebec City, I gave thanks for all the delicious meal choices I had in the 16 hours spent at Terminal 3.
Foot Note –  My meals included:
Breakfast: Cocoa, bottled juice
Lunch: Apple slices, Cheese, Carrot Sticks, Trail Mix
Dinner: Chocolate Cupcake
MileagePlus miles: 4850 miles

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Quips and Quotes and the Art of Renaissance Cooking in the Twenty-First Century…

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One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well -Virginia Woolf

An appropriate beginning to a love affair with food always starts with a first course quote. “Of course I can never read all the cookbooks I want; I can never be all the chefs I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the cooking skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and taste all the flavors, textures and variations of meals and dining experiences possible in life. And I am horribly limited.” I admit, a misquote from Sylvia Plath’s unique literary style, but I stand strong in the same belief that I too, will never conquer the mountain of whipped eggs that are meringue. I visited the Huntington library in Pasadena recently and believe it to be living proof that Tara exists. “As I walked the garden paths, I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. I was swept back in a time and I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery air, mountains, trees. I thought, this is what it is to be happy.” I came to the Huntington for a culinary program and left with a few quips and quotes on the history of gastronomy.We were an army of aprons, ready to march IMG_8080into a world defined by a period of high art where intricately painted water jugs once separated the commoners and made foods appearance more noble. Namely the Renaissance. Through our introductory slide show and lecture, my journal notes began: Pope Sixtus IV (1484) believed wine should be used for all occasions; to cure aches and pains as well as a body wash. Wrapping myself around that thought, I was reminded that “one should eat to live, not live to eat!”…….The menu of the Renaissance and Baroque period was nothing short of the interest of the chef and his audience, there might be discussion of the etymology of food terms, food practice in ancient times or culinary recipes. With no standard format, ideas of ‘diet’ and ‘hygiene’ usually encompassed not only food and drink but air quality, exercise, emotions and other effectual variables. Journal note: In Picture 2Shakespearean day, gold was commonly used in cooking and a rabbit’s foot often served as a basting brush. With a contemporary tool in hand, the students manned their stations and began the prep work for a five course meal. Pork tenderloin and fennel, butternut squash, arugula salad, egg noodles andplum tart. As the smile of Mona Lisa unveiled, the printed book took shape and the first cookbook was published. Martino of Como, was the most important cook of the 15th century. His book,Libro de Arte Coquinaria(The Art of Cooking) (ca.1465) is cooking classconsidered a landmark in Italian gastronomic literature and a historical record of the transition from Medieval to Renaissance cuisine. Journal note: During Medieval times, a manuscript collection of recipes took the form of a scroll ~with recipes relating as much to medicine as to cooking. Again I was reminded of a quote, “Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.” With our measured and calculating world, I wondered, had we lost the true essence of meal preparation? Naah, because “Life is too short for self-hatred and celery sticks.”

Stacy Poynter ~ The Herbal Gourmet

Here’s looking at you kid……

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San Diego is not chomping at the bit in the boutique industry that is namely cheese, but it is on the trail of tastings in California…… Sonoma and Marin county selectively get the blue ribbon for best cheese category. The place to learn the 101 on cheese is Venissimo, San Diego’s official Academy of Cheese . I attended a Venissimo cheese making class at the ‘Pink Lady’ (for those in the know)…The Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, wrapped in swank retro style design, amidst a sea foam blue horizon. Where upon entering, you envision Humprey Bogart straddling a bar stool wearing an immaculate white tuxedo jacket and sipping a French 75 ~ Our class included Executive Chef Lance Repp, who would cook a meal showcasing the cheeses we made with a modest, “here’s looking at you kid (goat cheese) menu”, locally made cheese is not a grass-fed affair. With the balmy San Diego Mediterranean climate, goats and their off-spring (milk) fair far better in wooly weather – Northern California. For sustainability sake, I wondered if we were making solid milk products using locally produced goat milk? Farms such as North Valley Farms, a Grade A commercial goat dairy farmstead cheese making operation with a free range herd andBodega Artisan Cheesebothbring permaculture practices to their goat ranch through sustainable water and solar systems, tree cropping, native plant restoration, and more. Yes, Goat cheese can be found at San Diego Farmers Markets, Nicolau Farms located in Modesto Ca, serves fresh Chevre available in Plain, Garlic-Chive, and Spicy Red Pepper, a regular at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market. And for all you Naa-Sayer’s cheese making is simple to do. There are many online sites to demonstrate, but one of my favorites is Farmer Henry Milker. Here’s looking at you kid…….

Edible Cabo-forged friendships, slow meals and a sustainable ideal

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I suppose the old adage, “when one door closes, another opens” applies. I anticipated seeping tea leaves with Merida, Mexico’s slow food capital. But due to certain sicario constraints, I maintained my allegiance and arrived at the tip of Baja instead. I enjoy traveling and eating and cooking all wrapped together like authentic beef tamales. But on this journey, there would be no ‘conceptual’ or ‘intellectual’ food on the menu, just spicy, salty, sweet, starchy, crispy things that you crave when hungry. Without keeping constant paralyzing track of your dwindling dollar, you can drink up the warmth and hospitality of Mexico like it was ice-cold beer in a number of way’s; resort style, street style, and now farm style. Although I have nothing, in the traditional sense, to qualify me as a chef, I have an expansive state of deep satisfaction from fresh food that meets my hunger. Los Tamarindos Organic Farm / Cooking School located in San Jose Cabo is an extension of Chef Enrique Jose’s ‘bigger’ picture. It is a growing metropolis of forged friendships, long meals and a sustainable ideal. I tied my apron strings and dove in. The cooking program starts with a cup of mango tea and tour of the twenty acre property. Situated on a hillside, discussion focuses on vegetables and fruits used for seasonal variety and flavor in meals. A nice surprise, the unique aromatic herb, Hoja santa Leaf. Used only fresh, has a heart-shaped velvety texture with an aroma that carries a whiff of black pepper. It has been compared to eucalyptus, licorice, sassafras, anise and tarragon. Native to South America, the herb is commonly used to wrap fish or meat for cooking. It is also an essential ingredient in mole verde, the green sauce originating in Oaxaca, Mexico. On the menu, chili rellenos, tomato cream, rocket salad with heirloom tomatoes and beets, fish Hoja Santa, bulgar wheat with parsley, rosemary flat bread and Jalea De Mango. The guest manned their stations and began prepping while the sweet & smoky scent of baby heirloom tomatoes and rosemary flat bread baked in the wood burning stone oven. Using freshly bundled herbs we brushed the tomatoes with olive oil, chopped vegetables, de-stemmed herbs and rolled dough using an olive oil bottle.The farm also has a packing house that distributes locally to over eight restaurants and hotels. Los Tamarindos is certified organic by both the US and Canada and Enrique anticipates creating and marketing a signature smoked heirloom tomato salsa. Expansion also includes a restaurant that seats sixty people with overnight accommodations.
I also enjoyed a meal in town at one farm to fork restaurant that utilizes Los Tamarindos produce.Tequila was just as charming, located within a patio area sprinkled with twinkling tree trimmed lanterns and garden ambiance. I dined on octopus ajillo, organic house salad and fresh baked bread topped with a signature margarita. End Note: There are numerous Mexican agents along the route who ask you if you are bringing home any food items from Mexico. Telling agents that you are not smuggling in two varieties of mole paste from Mexico is just as much a white lie as when you were a child telling your mother you brushed your teeth thoroughly before bedtime as you breeze past her. Excuse me while I go prepare my chicken mole poblano. Bueno Provecho!

S Poynter ~ Herbal Gourmet

More images of my culinary experience can be found on Facebook

Under The Tuscan Sun

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Arbor at VRG Farm

VRG Farm, an authentic replica of an Italian rustic stone retreat usually found on an Italian fattoria (farm) is owned by Nic Romano, a self-educated man and proprietor who is reclaiming his roots. Given an opportunity to manage and farm the unused areas surrounding the Bella Collina Towne and Golf Club in San Clemente, Nic decidedly wanted a old world feel and started by building a beautiful arbor as the focal point of the garden.

VRG Farm

He explained that most all of the structures within the garden were built using reclaimed wood from the San Diego fires. Unabashedly humble, his vision is to reconnect students and families to the natural environment through organic gardening, fresh food, an artist studio and community engagement.

Leek Flowers

Handing me a a few leek flowers to taste, I was suddenly transformed under the Tuscan sun by the pungent onion flavor. A new sustainable farm concept, utilizing the open space on a golf course, VRG Farm is the only one that features over 30 Italian heirloom vegetables and herbs planted from seeds imported direct from Italy. Fruits and vegetables are grown and harvested for events and cooking demonstrations as well.

Mango Sage Honey - VRG Farm

Gifted with a jar of mango sage honey and a pocket full of leek flowers, I regretted having to leave the old world behind, and look forward to returning to help harvest and enjoy a meal among new friends under the arbor of Umbria.

For more information visit vrgreenfarms. Farmstand open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More images of VRG FARM-

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