Paradise Found

I drove around National City this morning around 8 am trying to find the Olivewood Garden and Learning Center. I cursed Google Maps and used my spidey senses to find it, parked my car and then just sat staring.

The first thought that burst into my mind was that of my mother. I couldn’t help but wish she could have lived her life in a place this peaceful and full of the simple beauty and joy that so many of us crave. For you see, I was staring at a stately Victorian home surrounded by what seemed to be acres of every type of flower, fruit and vegetable known to man. It reminded me a perfect farm on Farmville.

Camera in hand and perma-grin spread across my face I began to wander the grounds without even checking in with anyone.  And to what to my wonderous eyes did appear? A flock of  not so tiny chickens peacefully doing their chicken  thing under the watchful eye of a very handsome rooster. I wandered around just never wanting to leave, admiring the veggies (Oh Jessica,you would love this!), feeling not envious but just overjoyed that such a philanthropic place exists.

But I was there to lend a hand to one of my newly found passions; helping others learn to make healthy food  choices. You see, this Garden is run by the International Community Foundation and just recently, thanks to the efforts of Chef Julie Darling , Michelle Duggan Cox and many others, is now hosting local school children at the garden to learn about cooking with the organic goods found at the garden. The program has now expanded to include guest chefs who volunteer to teach groups of children about food, health, choices and cooking.

As always, I met some wonderful people to include Chef Chad White and Chef Andrew Spurgin.  My good friend Chef Basil Hernandez was there and soul sister Michelle Duggan Cox, who runs the Learning Center at Olivewood.

The day started with Julie lending me one of her Chef coats! Man, I am such a sucker for that stuff. The coat was actually really comfy and I kept it on all day. I wonder if my niece, the future Chef Alex Ashforth ,likes her coat? I’m guessing yes!

yep, thats my elf ear. learn to love it!

Will this be my only chance to ever dress up like a chef? hmmmm.

Yes, there was some early goofing off and breakfast eating and of course I wanted to open the wine that was in the fridge, but cooler senses prevailed and we soon all got to work.

Several bunches of kids came in throughout the morning learning about and helping to make Chef Chad’s Grapefruit Soda. Each group would then rotate outside and work with the Master Gardener of the property, Martha and then stop by and crowd around a table set up by Chef Andrew that was set up with good and bad food choices and exotic fruits that were donated by Specialty Produce for the kids to try. I admire these people so much, very busy professional Chefs giving back in a way that really matters.

The very patient Chad White teaching the kids to squeeze a grapefruit

Chef Andrew want to know "what side of the table are YOU on?"

Chef Julie explains why we are making grapefruit soda

Soon after, a group of donors to the foundation came through and it was the main event. We were to serve lunch with the help of the kids and there was quite a whirlwind of activity although a lot of prep had been done beforehand. We set a nice area up near the pool and had the kids serve these philanthropically minded people the grapefruit soda. Meanwhile, the kitchen was a last minute frenzy as lunch came out and was carried down to the pool area to be served.

All in all the event came off nicely and the meal that Chefs Chad, Julie and Basil put together was beautiful. It was really fun to see how proud the kids were of the soda they helped make. I really hope it helped to encourage the donors to bug their friends for more donations.

menu, recipes and party favor of garden herbs

I just want to say thank you to Michelle,can you believe that she put down on the card that I’m a “Food Writer”? I love her! It was a thrill to see my name next to that dream job! Of course, I covered it up with rosemary in this picture, but who cares? I brought one of the cards home with me 🙂

I learned so much today and absolutely fell in love with Olivewood. As far as my chef friends go, how did I get so lucky to meet such wonderful people at this time in my life?

Luann Harris Gould

Food Writer

Don't worry, that chicken will never be dinner!

Thanks for reading and commenting!


One More Reason to Love the FMB!

Ah, the beauty of a simple, customer satisfaction based service!

I’m not getting a bag this week, and no I didn’t forget this time. Truth is, I’ll be out of town Wednesday and Thursday and then I’m Baby Sitting my little (actually, BIG) Grandbaby Dog, Stella for a couple of days. Seemed like a good time to take a one week break from ordering my bag and clean out my fridge. So, I didn’t order my bag….and it’s no problem! That is one of the huge differences between the CSA offered through Specialty Produce and the typical ones you can sign up for at local farmer’s markets.  Order when you like and pay as go, perfect for someone on a tight budget like me.

My fridge is a bit heavy with baby Leeks, Green Garlic and few left over root vegetables and I still have some lettuce left from last week. I will be doing a post a little later on about ways to use up your veggies that may not be so perfect anymore besides the obvious use of turning them into broth. I’m looking forward to completely emptying the fridge and getting rid of that bad breath it gets from having Chinese Chives in the drawer (pee-yew!).

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening this week and finally have the 30 baby cucumber plants for future pickles for the Porchtime Pickle Project in the ground and well as the dill started and about 20 or so Pepper seeds planted in the ground.
I love looking down at the newly planted pickle and pepper patch from my porch and imagining all beautiful jars of pickles I’m going to create. I think that next week I better get started on experimenting with the recipes.

Until next time, Thank you for reading and commenting!

Dill-icious: My Big Fat Greek Rice Dish

Update! Chris and Kelly from Specialty Produce made my day by securing me an FMB today even though I forgot to order one. I love the personal service that everyone gets from this awesome LOCAL company!

So onward with the show! (I mean, blog)

It’s cool and cloudy out now, so no problem turning on the oven for dinner. I still have a large bunch of the Dill left from last week’s bag and I will be making that dish that I told you about  in an earlier post that my brother-in-law loves. It’s a Feta Cheese and Dill Rice Bake. For us, this dish is a little rich. But we have had an extremely light eating day and it’s the sum of all the parts that matters to us, not just one meal or one day.

First, chopped Onions and Peppers are sauteed in Olive Oil . We recently watched a show highlighting Greek cooking and were surprised to find out just how important wild greens have been in the Greek culture. We, of course, have a bounty of Mustard Greens right now and so adding some to this dish is perfect because it uses up some of those greens and makes it more nutritious AND deliscious. We sauteed the greens after the onions and peppers.

After the onions and peppers have become nice and soft, the rice is added and stirred to coat with the veggies, then transferred to a large baking dish with the cooked greens, the feta cheese, milk and PLENTY of minced Dill. The rice cooks in the oven and absorbs the milk, resulting in a firm rice pudding-like texture with a beautiful Dill fragrance.

What’s amazing to me is how much greens cook down. The picture on the left shows what they looked like in the beginning of the cooking process. Look how much they shrank down:

Looks like they lost about 2/3 rds their volume. Too bad people can’t do that! Here’s the rice mixture almost ready to go in the oven to bake to golden brown cheesy yummy-ness:

The results! A dill-icious comfort type food that works well for using up bonus greens and a large amount of fragrant dill. Oh, and leftover idea: Cook yourself a Greek Style Fried Egg and eat it on top of the warmed rice casserole for breakfast.  mmmmm.

Something Good

And doing so you can recreate yourself and you can also come up with something that is not only original and creative and artistic, but also maybe even decent, or moral if I can use words like that, or something that’s like basically good.-Lester Bangs

That is exactly what I’m going to do here, create something good! Something really good. Something so good you will hopefully become inspired to create something good for yourself! Along the way, I hope you learn something new, laugh, share with your friends, create, try new foods and discover for yourself maybe a passion you didn’t know you had.

I would say my passion level for food in general is “high” to “obsessive”. I have recently become obsessed with Local Food, specifically the Farmer’s Market Bag available from Specialty Produce. So much so that I have become inspired to jump on the blog bandwagon and share my passion with you.

Sunday evenings, my party partner (also known as my husband, Shawn) and I place an online order for a “Farmer’s Market Bag” or “FMB” from a local wholesale produce supply company,Specialty Produce. Every Thursday we walk down with our very hairy child (also known as our dog, Missy) and pick it up. Every week, the bag is filled with different goodies from local Southern California Farms. And every week, that’s pretty much what we base our meals on.

It works a lot like CSA (community supported agriculture) that is available at many farmer’s markets. The basic idea is to help support local farmers by committing to purchase a certain quantity of product.

I am so excited to share with you my ideas for meals based on the FMB of the week, recipes made with the goodies from the FMB, cooking and storing techniques, food wisdom and resources. In a way, I guess I’m virtually feeding you, which makes me happy.

I hope to be adding video very soon of some cooking demonstrations I plan on putting on for you every week, but for now, no video camera (darn!).

Please leave a comment or a question any time. I appreciate the interaction!


Spring Forward Pizza

We all love the eventual payoff of  longer sunlight hours after the initial pain of losing that precious weekend hour, but I don’t need to tell you that we all have our internal clocks screwed up for awhile.

The clock says it’s 11:30 already, so in an effort to get on the schedule asap, we are having pizza for Sunday Brunch today. Shawn and I often collaborate on our meals, but Pizza is really his gig. Looking in the fridge this morning, Shawn was happy to see that he had his pizza dough (yes, it’s homemade)  thawed already from the freezer, and so the idea was born for a Greens Pizza for Brunch. I helped out by remembering the Asparagus and Baby Leeks from this week’s bag, and going down to the garden to harvest a little Swiss Chard and Kale.

We then remembered we had some awesome Organic Mushrooms left and some Chinese Garlic Chives and Sundried Tomatoes to round out our Pizza.

Shawn like to make pizza dough in batches and freeze a couple for just such occasions.  I will post that recipe asap. Today’s pizza is made with a whole wheat dough that is rolled out quite thin. It ends up very cracker-like.

Shawn sauteed the vegetables first as the oven was heating up. We always put our pizza stone in the oven to get nice and hot while the oven heats up. That’s the greens, mushrooms, leeks mushrooms and Chinese Garlic Chives cooking away. It’s very important to let the vegetables cook long enough to “throw” their water. You do not want a soggy pizza, now do you?

Next, the dough is rolled out and placed on the hot stone. The sauteed vegetables are added, grated Pecorino Romano, and the asparagus. Shawn’s no sauce pizza tip: make sure your veggies are glistening with olive oil and no additional sauce or oil will be needed on the dough.

See? that is what he means by glistening. Our bodies need oil, you know, and olive oil is a great way to get beneficial fats into your diet.

Notice how the dough has a golden tint to it? It’s the whole wheat flour.

The topping is spread out fairly evenly, the cheese added and then we worked together to arrange the asparagus. Normally, we would cut the ends off of the asparagus so we could put it on the pizza like the spokes of a wheel, but this is pencil asparagus and there is no need (at least I don’t think so) to cut the ends off. The entire thing is sweet and tender. I actually snacked on quite a few pieces while the man wasn’t looking.

Just pop this bad boy into the hot oven and in just a short 10 min you end up with this piece of art for brunch…

Thin crispy crust, awesome with the fresh veggies and sundried tomatoes

So that was it, just add some crushed red pepper and eat!  We usually eat the whole thing between the two of us, but if you added a salad it would go a little further. Shrimp would be a tasty addition.

Note: if you don’t have the greens, spinach would work fine.  Just get that water out, ok?

(Don’t forget to order your FMB by midnight tonite for pickup on thursday)

Till next time, lovelies!

“Yuzin” My FMB, Asian Style

the din-din

We picked up our bag today and were disappointed that SP had run out of the beets and turnips. But, like all great customer based companies, we were more than compensated with a beautiful Artichoke, peas and some black radish.

I was really curious about that Yuzu that was in the bag this week. Looks like a yellow really big tangerine to me, and it peeled like one too.  Thinking about the Yuzu made me in the mood for an Asian inspired day. I ended up making Vietnamese Spring Rolls for lunch, but that’s another story.

Let’s stick with din-din, shall we?

First off,  I already knew that I was making one of hub’s all time favorites, Broccoli Fritters in Sichuan Pepper-Salt, but, I had that Yuzu stuck in my mind and I became INSPIRED.  In the bag this week, we got some beautiful little baby bok choy and green garlic.  So, I decided to make a little something to go with the Fritters by using the Yuzu for a sauce on the bok choy.

By the way, my all time best tip for making Asian food (or Indian for that matter), is to prep. If you have it all laid out, it really is one of the quickest and most delish ways to cook veggies.

The Broccoli Fritter recipe is one of the very few that I follow to the letter. It is just one of those perfect ones that doesn’t need anything else. It’s from Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking (IA book I recommend HIGHLY). My husband ranks this preparation right up there with King Crab Legs, Prime Rib and Fois Gras (blech!).

Broccoli Fritter makins

So here we have everything ready to prep:  Mix up the batter and let sit for 15 min, cup up the broccoli. The seasoning mix I have already made. Note: have a large bottle of Sake handy to keep you going in case you  “lose faith” in your efforts.  And yes, I know that Sake is not Chinese.  I like diversity, goddamit!

Next, I took one of Martin’s suggestions from his book to par boil the bok choy before stir frying. Great idea. I cut up some pieces of King Mushroom and parboiled those as well.

Beautiful FMB Bok Choy

Isn’t the Bok Choy just so pretty? And just as pretty are the mushrooms sizzling away in the Yuzu/Hoisin sauce….

Organic Local King Mushrooms absorbing Yuzu/Hoisin Sauce

Next,par-boiled bok choy was added in to warm up and get some flavor. So Easy. I kept this dish warm while I worked on the fritters.

Like I said, these dishes are really easy as long as you get all stuff ready before you start your wok heating up. I also had my rice all ready going on the back burner and all my serving pieces out before I started frying.

For the Yuzu sauce, I “yuzed”  hoisin, green garlic, yuzu juice, garlic chile sauce and lite soy sauce.  I finished the dish with a little zest from the Yuzu. Pretty!

Baby Bok Choy with Mushrooms and Yuzu/Hoisin Sauce

I really thought the Yuzu smelled a lot like grapefruit, but Shawn said it smelled like “pleasant” cat pee.  WTF? Weirdo. But then he told me that some folks liken Sauvignon Blanc to cat pee. Hmmm.

The Bok Choy with Mushrooms and Yuzu/Hoisin Sauce fall into the category of “Luscious! Let’s make this again!”

Thank you for reading and commenting everyone!

‘Till next time….


Farmer’s Market Bag for Tomorrow, 3/11/2010

Hello everybody!

As we all know, Wednesday’s are good days for a variety of reasons with the denomination of “hump day” being the most popular. For me, it’s because I get to see what local produce I get to use this week. Wanna See?   Watch the video from Specialty Produce: This week’s bag.

Nice!  Lot’s of root veggies, and I have a great recipe in mind for the dill (no, not the hollandaise again!) It’s a feta cheese/dill/rice bake that my brother-in-law absolutely loves.

I am especially excited about the Yuzu. I had never heard of it, so of course Wikipedia came in handy. I’m not sure what I’m doing with it yet, but I will be sure to let you know. 🙂

I am really glad there are no mustard greens or chard this week, I have it coming out my ass from my own yard. That is, what the gophers aren’t eating. Organic gardening has it’s small (and furry!) drawbacks.