Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Agritourism

Online Paso Robles wine country trip planner

Online planner makes trips to Paso Robles easy
OK, next time I get an email forwarded from a friend of a friend saying they’re headed up to Paso Robles the next day and want to know where to taste and to eat, I’m going to save myself some trouble and refer them to pasowine.com. That’s a new trip planner with all the information anybody could possibly need all in one place -- maps, tasting rooms, wineries, places to stay and to eat, directions. You can print out a map with local wineries (or order a printed one free by submitting your details).

Check the calendar for any events that might be happening while you plan to be there. You can even add olive oil producers to your itinerary.

The guide is put together by the nonprofit Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance made up of wineries and wine-related businesses.

Looking for a place to stay or somewhere to eat? Check the hospitality map which shows you where all the various hotels, inns and bed and breakfast establishments are located. Information on these, though, is pretty much address, phone and website. 

I’m happy to see my favorite wine shop up there, 15 Degrees C in Templeton, as the first listing under specialty shops. But you’ll also find a beef jerky producer, Firestone Walker Brewing company, a source for dry-farmed walnuts and walnut oil, and a downtown Paso Robles cheese shop as well.

You can’t beat the price: free.

Paso Robles Wine Country. And don’t forget to check the weather report at the top of the home page before you set off.


Summer events: Poolside brunches, wine tastings and sweet deals

Why I love Italy

Test Kitchen tips: Homemade gelato

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


Survival cooking demo at High Desert Test Sites workshop

High Desert Test Sites workshop

Artists Danielle McCullough and Gabie Strong will lead a sun-print cyanotype-process workshop, "Blast Site: A Workshop for Conjecture," on Nov. 12 at the High Desert Test Sites headquarters in Joshua Tree.

The workshop explores survival in the high desert, primarily grounded in post-apocalyptic science fiction, plant guides, archaeological archives and 20th century art history. The day's itinerary includes a guided hike through Blast Site, a cyanotype-process printing demonstration using sunlight and materials gathered from the desert floor, a survival cooking demonstration and a barbecued vegetarian lunch.

The lunch is part of an overall arts experience, incorporating native vegetation. Mushrooms marinated in a homemade vinegar and desert aromatics will be seared on hot rocks in a fire pit and served on mesquite flour flatbread, with pickled nopalitos, homemade yogurt and pinion seeds. Alcohol-based tinctures and teas derived from an assortment of local desert plants will be served to workshop attendees too. 

Registration for the workshop is $120 per person. Highdeserttestsites.com.


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-- Caitlin Keller

Photo credit: Gabie Strong and Danielle McCullough, Blast Site: A Monument for Future Failures, 2011. Cyanotype fabric, painted leather, slipcrete, silver, ash, paint, pallets, wood, 16mm film with pen and ink,  and 16mm projector. Installed in at Shangrila, New Moon exhibition, Joshua Tree. Photo courtesy of Gabie Strong.

Finding authentic trattorie and osterie in Italy

Osterie book cover Putting away the reference books from my last trip to Italy (over a year ago now), I picked up my copy of "Osterie & Locande d'Italia: A guide to traditional places to eat and stay in Italy" from Slow Food Editore. If you're headed to Italy this summer, you must have this book. Translated from Italian, it's yet another fine travel guide from Slow Food Editore, based in Piedmont.

Slow Food has done tremendous work in identifying small trattorie and locande (inns) that serve traditional dishes based on regional ingredients. These are not the sorts of places with international menus. They may not, and probably won't, have menus in English, but they will give you an education in traditional cuisine.  

For example, you can be traveling through the remote reaches of the Maremma in Tuscany and come up with a place to eat that stands out in memory. Most are small, modest places, like the little trattoria in Treiso, Piedmont -- where you could go for rabbit stewed with peppers --that only the locals knew until Slow Food started publishing its guides. Sadly, that place is now gone, but there are hundreds more in the book.   

If you care about wine, a wine-bottle symbol next to a listing indicates a place with an excellent list of regional wines. Wine bars are included too, and the write-ups for each place are concise and informative, pointing out the kitchen's strengths.  A snail symbol next to an entry indicates "an address that, in terms of cooking and atmosphere, reflects the philosophy of Slow Food." There's a cheese symbol too, for addresses that stock "a particularly interesting selection of cheeses."  

When I'm wandering around the countryside, I often use the book's listings to find somewhere to stay -- a bed and breakfast, small hotel or agriturismo (holiday farm stay).  

My copy of "Osterie & Locande d'Italia" dates from 2006, I realize (how time flies). The 2007 edition, which appears to be the last edition translated into English, is in stock at Amazon and possibly in bookshops with a well-stocked travel section. Even better, pick up the 2011 edition of the original Italian edition at bookstores in Italy for 20 euros, or about $28. Not to worry: What's most important are the addresses, and with the help of an Italian dictionary you can translate whatever dishes you don't already know.


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: Slow Food Editore

Harvesting honey on Kangaroo Island

In this Sunday's Travel section, I wrote about harvesting Ligurian honey on Kangaroo Island, just off the coast of South Australia. My experience at the Island Beehive was possible because of a program called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where travelers volunteer five to six hours a day on organic or sustainable farms in exchange for food, accommodation, knowledge and a one-of-a-kind food-centric experience.

Here's an excerpt from the article to whet your palate:

"Unzipping my bee veil, I popped a piece of fresh honeycomb in my mouth. The nectar, warmed by the South Australian winter sun, was delicate, perhaps because it's produced by the only purebred population of Ligurian bees on the planet. Or perhaps it's because I, a worker bee from the city, harvested it."

WWOOFing helped me travel the globe, volunteering on all sorts of farms, from coffee plantations in Thailand to wineries in the Barossa Valley. It's a great way to give back to the farming community while having a truly unique agrotourism experience on the cheap.

-- Krista Simmons

More photos after the jump:

Continue reading »

Meet Your Maker: Farmer John Muller and his 1,200-pound pumpkins

Ksimmons_halfmoonbay54Half Moon Bay is home to Giant Atlantic pumpkin enthusiasts, who grow squashes that can weigh in at more than 1,000 pounds (a world record was recently set by an Ohio farmer with a 1,725-pounder). One of the town's famed growers also is its mayor, Farmer John Muller. He lives for two things, he says, "politics and pumpkins."

At last week's weigh-off, one of his hybrid pumpkins weighed in at 1,200 pounds, setting a record for the county.

Muller also imports rare Italian pumpkin seeds that date back to the 1700s and uses them to grow over 50 colorful, oddly-shaped varieties of squash on his farm just off Highway 1. You can see some of these big boys at the Half Moon Bay Arts & Pumpkin Festival this weekend.

Check out video, photos and the full article at Brand X.

--Krista Simmons

Photo: Farmer John Muller and one of his Giant Atlantic pumpkins, which he's named Miss Pretty Ida. Credit: Aaron Avila

The Find: Amalia's Restaurant in L.A.

Just north of the traffic-tangling intersection where Beverly, Temple, Virgil, Commonwealth and Silver Lake merge sits Amalia's Restaurant. Secreted away in a refurbished bungalow on a shady stretch of Virgil, it's a surprising oasis where Amalia Zuleta's longtime dream, one that began with her arrival from war-torn Guatemala in 1984, is finally being realized.

The little house has been opened up to create an airy dining room. There are fine wood tables, a modest chandelier over the long service bar and specialty herbs growing outside the kitchen. On the adjacent leaf-shaded patio, tables draped with Guatemalan weavings under glass give a hint of the cuisine's Mayan origins.

Zuleta owned a small catering company in her homeland, but here in Los Angeles, as a kitchen helper at Mi Guatemala, she made little use of her skills. Later, her talents blossomed as head cook at Rinconcito Guatemalteca. There she attracted a loyal clientele that followed her when, in 1995, she opened a simple cafe (not far from her current one), Antojitos Chapines Amalia's, which has since closed.

Those familiar with Guatemalan food won't find Amalia's menu unusual. It's Zuleta's elegant refinements, her talent for fine-tuning mole-like sauces and her selection of good ingredients that turn what is basically rustic cooking into an urbane cuisine that's a magnet for her longtime devotees.

To read the rest of Linda Burum's story, click here.

Photo: A chile relleno at Amalia's Restaurant. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

On the hunt for truffles in Western Australia


Reporting from Pemberton, Australia -- The treasure lies in the Great Southern Forests region, in groves of oak and hazelnut trees, away from the typical tourist spots of Oz. Sometimes, I think I am the sole proprietor of this secret, but then I remember that Thomas Keller, Ferran Adrià and Michael Mina know it too -- so well that they're already using Western Australia's Périgord black truffles, this black gold, this diamond of the kitchen, in their restaurants around the world.

France has historically been king of the Périgord truffle, but unexpectedly low yields there, coupled with a huge projected harvest from the Southern Forests township of Manjimup, have turned this corner of Australia into the promised land for foodies, chefs and mycologists, the branch of botany whose focus is fungi.

As a curious gastronome and hands-on-learner, I've come here to learn more about the cultivation of this fungus, which, with a few swipes from a grater, transforms a dish from "ho-hum" to "oh yum!" It's been a few years since my last visit to Western Australia, where I worked at vineyards and sustainable farms, trying to absorb as much gastronomic knowledge as possible. The emergence of the black truffle industry -- and the hunts organized for tourists -- has brought me, and other travelers, here:

Photo: Krista Simmons / Los Angeles Times

Pack your bags: the cheapest cities in the world


San José, the capital of Costa Rica, caters to a bustling tourist industry. Foreign visitors enjoy its lush green mountains and forests, which are ideal for taking canopy tours and volcano hikes and seeing exotic wildlife. It's also one of the cheapest cities in the world -- here's a photo gallery look at some other budget destinations.

Looking for something a little more upscale? Well, it will cost you. Here's a look at the world's most expensive cities.

Photo: A busy Saturday afternoon at the Mercado Central, San Jose. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

Under the Tuscan Sun... with Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan. Credit: Library Foundation of Los Angeles Imagine walking through the verdant Tuscan countryside discussing the ethics of burrata production with one of the world's foremost thinkers on the politics of food, his every word a pearl of wisdom spilling from lips undulant as an archer's bow. Suddenly, he says, "Signora. Please stop being so sad. If you continue like this, I will be forced to make love to you."

Rewind. Sorry. Got my dreams all mixed up.

Yes, there will be Tuscany, Michael Pollan and plenty of sunlight, but probably no Hollywood-style romance at the Petraia Sessions, a series of foodie retreats. Hosted by La Petraia, a 900-year-old organic farm in the Chianti Mountains that's been owned and operated since 2001 by chef and author Susan McKenna Grant ("Piano, Piano, Pieno") along with her husband, Michael Grant, each retreat will feature an "intimate week" with a leading chef or food lover.

Hoping that the sour economy hasn't curdled the market for luxury agrotourism, the first Petraia Session will take place in mid-July and feature five days of cooking classes, formal lectures, hiking, foraging for mushrooms and more. You'll get to prep and eat food (not too much, mostly plants) with the author of "In Defense of Food," "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "The Botany of Desire" as you explore how to best nourish the global population. There are only eight spots and each costs 4,995 euros ($6,777) per person (airfare not included), so sign up now. Or perhaps you prefer to wait for the second retreat, which will take place in October and will star Jamie Kennedy (the chef, not the prankster comedian).

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: Michael Pollan (Credit: Library Foundation of Los Angeles)


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.