Every year, one third of Farmers Market vendor contracts expire in order to make room for new and old vendors alike to apply, or reapply, through a competitive bid process for a three-year contract at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets.
The contracts were up for renewal on three of the Santa Monica Farmers Markets while the big Wednesday Downtown Market contracts were not. Farmers Market coordinator Jodi Low oversees the annual prepared food selection process and has announced that this year's selection is complete.
La Nogalera walnut oil comes from the combined efforts of three walnut growers in Santa Barbara County. Hibbits Ranch, La Nogalera and Rancho La Viña have orchards along the Santa Ynez River between Buellton and Lompoc in the Santa Rita Hills wine appellation, where deep fertile soils and a cool coastal climate make for not only a prominent Pinot Noir but a premium flavored walnut oil, too.
The walnuts -- older heritage varieties such as Concord, Placentia, Payne and Lompoc -- are roasted before being pressed, resulting in a nutty aroma and flavored blend (from $17) that can be drizzled over salads, pasta, even a bowl of ice cream.
La Nogalera walnut oil is available at gourmet markets and wine tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley, Lompoc, Orange County and Los Angeles regions. The oil is also sold at the farmers markets in Santa Barbara, Solvang, Ojai, Santa Monica and Hollywood.
Pupu, L.A. style: Los Angeles Magazine's Island Style Cook-Off is underway, celebrating pupu this month. Four Angeleno chefs accepted the challenge to creatively interpret the Hawaiian appetizer, and the resulting dishes are on the Web for all to judge. There are also recipes posted to try at home. Voters will determine which two will go to the event finale, where the chefs will vie for the Hawaiian Islands Master Chef title. Taste the pupu creations for yourself and sip some island-style drinks (with umbrellas, of course) when the final throwdown commences June 29 at Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. Tickets are $20 per person, available online at lamagislandstylecookoff.eventbrite.com. Check out the competing chefs and their entries below:
Mark Gold from Eva Restaurant: Roasted foie gras with sushi rice, tea-smoked plum and grated yuzu.
Neal Fraser from BLD Restaurant: Hawaiian tuna poke, wasabi tobiko and sambal crème fraîche.
Eric Greenspan from the Foundry on Melrose: Chile-glazed Spam with saffron pineapple risotto and coconut-crusted shrimp.
Brendan Collins from Waterloo & City: Seared foie gras, char siu tete de Spam, caramelized pineapple sherbet and five-spice brioche.
Taste This! The third annual Taste of Farmers Market, a tasting tour of the market’s restaurants, bakeries, confectioners and grocery shops, returns next month. On July 12 from 5 to 9 p.m., visitors can sample dishes of worldly origins and witness cooking demonstrations by Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW-FM (89.9)’s "Good Food" program. The event is a celebration of the Original Farmers Market, which opened in July 1934. Ticket prices range from $35 to $65, available online at www.farmersmarketla.com or by calling (323) 933-9211.
BBQ in Bommer Canyon: Generally not available to the public, Bommer Canyon in Irvine opens its ranch-style doors July 10 for the annual Bommer Canyon BBQ. Slow Food Orange County will host the event, which features a barbecue chicken dinner accompanied by live music and guest speaker A.G. Kawamura, former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Proceeds will benefit local nonprofits committed to the principles of Slow Food, including community gardens and farmers markets. Tickets are $50 per person, available online at www.brownpapertickets.com. 1 Bommer Canyon Road, Irvine, slowfoodoc.org.
This past weekend, I went to Marconda's Meats, the butcher shop in the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. On the way back to the car, I took a spin around World Market (which I still can't help calling Cost Plus) and spotted this 6-quart glass beverage dispenser for $14.95. I'd been looking for something bigger than a French liter canning jar to expand my red wine vinegar production.
When I was up in Berkeley, I'd investigated buying a wood vinegar barrel at Oak Barrel Winecraft but the prices were more than I was willing to spend. A 1-gallon American oak barrel, for example, is $135, the 2-gallon $145, while a 6-liter French oak barrel is $170, a 10-liter one $200. But they certainly have everything you'd need for making vinegar, even a vinegar-making kit.
For a vinegar-making primer, see food editor Russ Parsons' 1999 article "Mother, May I?"
The beverage dispenser seemed just the right size and price. Plus, because of the spigot, I could easily remove vinegar without disturbing the precious mother. I transferred my red wine vinegar and mother to the new container and cut a square of cheesecloth to put on top. Perfect!
Three days later the jar started leaking around the spigot. I'm returning it Saturday.
“Good for stimulating the blood,” a seller at the farmers market told me once, laughing, as he pretended to beat himself on the shoulders with a bunch of stinging nettles.
Yikes, I’m thinking, as I go skirt the edge of the nettle patch that this year’s rains brought me and a leaf brushes against my ankle. It hurts. I don’t want the nettles to go to waste -- or to go to seed -- before I have a chance to use them, so I'm out here picking them (gloves on, of course).
The other day I made a nettle soup from a recipe in Jonathan Waxman’s book “Italian, My Way“ (Simon & Schuster). Basically you wash and chop the nettles finely, sweat some onions and garlic in olive oil in a big pot, add nettles and a little parsley and cook for a few minutes, then add water, bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool, and put in the blender. Season with salt, pepper and paprika.
The first take was a bit medicinal since the soup is basically just nettles and water. The next day I tried mellowing the taste with a little leek and potato so it didn’t seem quite so thin. I added a touch of cream, not so much that you’d really notice, which definitely improved the taste and garnished the soup with hot paprika and some sauteed fresh shiitake.
That soup, though, barely made a dent in the nettle patch. Next project: nettle pasta from former Oliveto chef Paul Bertolli’s book “Cooking by Hand.” You work the boiled nettles into the semolina dough just the way you would spinach. I remember loving his nettle pasta when I had it at Oliveto years ago.
I want to make a nettle pizza, too.
In Italy, there’s a great tradition of foraging for wild greens, whether it’s dandelion leaves or arugula or nettles. Now I begin to see why.
"The stars have finally aligned," said Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms, who harvested 180 pounds of the fruit on Christmas Eve from an orchard in a remote area north of Tehachapi. He had hoped to sell at the market the last two weeks, but torrential rains turned the roads into rivers.
Ruggless will be offering the fruit at $8 a pound, probably just at the one market Wednesday. Some of the crop has already undergone the peculiar ripening process called bletting, required to turn medlars soft and edible; firm fruits will need to be bletted, ideally by placing them stems down on wooden trays, not touching each other, and storing them in a cool, humid location for up to several weeks. The medlar may be the ultimate slow food, and that's part of the appeal.
L.A.'s ascendent food artisans emerge from their incubator kitchens this Saturday to gather at the Food Rendezvous in Venice. The event represents the collected efforts of Laurie Dill and Dominique Leveuf, two former San Franciscans who were inspired by the underground farmers market movement there. With the Food Rendezvous, the two hope to connect L.A.'s vast food community: a jam-maker who uses heirloom fruits from her grandmother's farm; a blue ribbon-winning baker; an architect moonlighting as a barista. Plus, try bites from established luminaries like Susan Feniger's Street and Altadena's Bulgarini Gelato. Also scheduled are presentations from non-profit organizations, cooking demos, a movie screening, cookbook swap and more.
The Food Rendezvous, inside SPARC, 685 Venice Blvd., Venice; thefoodrendezvous.com. Sat. Aug. 28, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. $10.
Everyone from Top Cheffers to Jamie Oliver to Michelle Obama agrees that our nation's school lunch program is hungry for change. And it's no wonder such prominent figures are ready for the next course of action, given that 1 in 5 children are obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Thursday the "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act" was passed by the House Education and Labor Committee, bringing the nation's kids one bite closer to the possibility of more nutritious meals.
The act aims to improve access to school lunch programs, help schools improve the quality of meals by adding a 6-cent-per-child increase in budget, encourage partnerships with local farms, allow unused food to be donated to food banks, increase access to healthful food outside school hours and improve food safety and integrity. (For a full rundown of the stipulations, click here.) It allots $8 billion over 10 years to achieve those goals, quite a bit more than the $4.5 billion proposed by the Senate Agriculture Committee's Child Nutrition Bill passed in March.
"From our view [the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act] is really the best child nutrition bill that we've ever had. It includes stronger nutrition standards and grants for farm-to-school programs," says Gordon Jenkins, program manager at Slow Food USA. "The amount of funding however, is very modest at the $.06 addition to the current $2.68, which leaves only about $1 for ingredients. It won't be enough to make a significant change. That can be modified on the floor if Congress hears it's important enough."
Both bills have now reached the floor and need to be passed by their respective chambers and reconciled before they can become law.
Jenkins says it's important that the debate be scheduled soon, though. School lunches will be on the back burner during the month of August since Congress is on recess, and the current bill expires in September. "Last year, they had to pass a temporary one-year extension, putting the schools' programs in status quo. The schools will be encouraged but will not have funding. What it really means is that the bill will have to be rewritten and reintroduced again."
Michelle Obama issued a statement urging the House and Senate to take their child nutrition bills to the floor and pass them without delay. "The President looks forward to signing a final bill this year, so that we can make significant progress in improving the nutrition and health of children across our nation.”
-- Krista Simmons
Photo: Kids at Larchmont Charter showing off their school garden-grown tomatoes. Credit: Krista Simmons
Almost everyone who sees a Pakistan mulberry for the first time exclaims, "Oh, my gosh, what is that?" It certainly is bizarre looking, a long, thin, purplish, snakelike fruit, anywhere from 1 to 5 inches long, with 3 inches being typical.
Although not yet exactly common at farmers markets, they're not nearly as rare as they used to be even a few years ago.