Saturday, October 22, 2005

Saturday Market Recap - Volume 03

Been a while since I provided a Market Recap, but here we are with volume three. Some event had brought out a bunch of costume-clad kids and prompted some rearranging of the stalls. With Halloween a week or so away, you could still find peaches and plums - though most were poor specimens.

Before heading down to the market, I mentioned to several friends that I was pretty sure heirloom tomatoes were done and gone for the year. Not so. Several stands hand them for the going rate of 2.00 a pound. After a one week hiatus Wild Boar Farms returned with their beautifully distressed and obscure heirlooms (at left). The one reference to Wild Boar I was able find, indcates that they usually give with selections from over 70 varieties of tomato through early November.

In addition to making the Farmer's Market rounds, our Saturday ritual includes a stop at the Arizmendi Cooperative. Arizmendi emerged as a sister co-op to the Cheeseboard back in 1997. In a typical week we'll grab two Zampano, a piece or two of the always changing Saturday Focaccia, an Oat Scone, and some olives and cheese. If we're lucky, we'll get out for under 20.00.

The Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook indicates that Eggplant should be in season from mid-summer to early fall. Somehow eggplant didn't get my attention until this weekend though. I picked up four types including a couple thai varieties, a straight-up old school eggplant, and some Japanese eggplant. I got these all from Tip Top Farms who, after weeks of suggesting it might happen, were suddenly and totally out of Sugar Plums.

Bread: Arizmendi Cooperative: Zampano

When I arrived in Berkeley back in the early 90's, one of the few indulgences I could routinely afford was the Cheeseboard Cheese Roll. For $1.25 you got a dense, wheat sourdough roll shot through with gobs of asiago cheese. The crust could be so crispy that I had friends who feared it. After a few years of this though, I was ready for an occasional change-up. It arrived one day in the form of a Zampano. Somewhere along the way, I moved away from North Berkeley and to Oakland. The Zampano became my Saturday morning mainstay.

The best ones will have a darker bottom crust, that is almost chewy - studded here and there with corn meal. Even when relatively dark, the crust is never more than golden brown. The light sourdough roll itself tastes strongly of olive oil. If you bite into one the toppings will immedaitely be transferred to your face. The Parmesan will fall off in big sheets, leaving mostly red pepper and salt. The same thing happens if you slice it before eating.

A couple of words of caution if you are inclined to head out in search of a Zampano. Be sure to consult the daily bread schedule of your local Cheeseboard sister-cooperative before doing so. Also, at the Lakeshore Arizmendi they are not part of the morning pastry line up - you may have to wait if you get there much before 10:30 or 11:00.

Bread: Arizmendi Cooperative: Sourdough Beer Rye

My wife suggested that we pick one of these up. I was game despite certain childhood associations(1) with beer bread and rye bread. Suspecting all the while that some New Belgium Brewing Company beer must be involved. The guy at the counter brought me back down to earth though. They'd used some Samuel Adams Holiday beer for their starter.

Ingredient quibbles aside, what's tremendously appealing about an artisanal bread like this is the visual and tactile experience of a thing that most super market bread can only reference. Rought crust peeling back from the peak of the dense and heavy round. That kind of thing.

The rye taste of this bread was somewhat secondary to the sourdough, perfect for my sensibilities(2) though.

(1) Shortly after my mother met my dad, they went on a beer bread kick. I was 5 at the time. About all I remember was that you baked the beer bread in a clear glass tube that may or may not have been part of some kit. They baked a lot of it, and I recall liking it. In restrospect I am suspicious that it might be some dead giveaway of an economic or cultural handicap.

(2) I have childhood memories of rye bread as well — of not enjoying the taste of caraway.

Vegetable: Beets: Red Ace

In the course of a year, we eat a lot of beets. There was a four month long period in the spring where there were always beets in the fridge. I pickled, fried, and roasted them. Roasted beets hold a special place in my wife's heart, owing to her time at Chez Panisse (where they figured prominently in staff meals).

I like the flavor and color of the common or Italian beet, and will occasionally pick up some orange or pink chioggas. Red Ace's are fast-growing (maturity takes about 2 months), flavorful, and particularly sweet. Some websites refer to them as a Short Top Detroit hybrid variety. Couldn't find much background on this distinction.

After I'd snapped these photos, a certain Beet Fan was ready to shun the entire batch. Something about the photos looking "too commercial." This has something to do with the color of the beets, a really shocking red, but also my camera's tendency to amp up reds.

Vegetable: Greens

Don't know much about these yet. Saw them at the stand next to Hamada Farms and thought they might be ramps - wrong season, wrong shape, but a guy can always hope. The guy at the booth told us the 3-word name twice, but none of the variations I am remembering turn anything up in google. He also pointed out that the flowers were edible.

We nibbled the small yellow blossoms as soon as we got home, a delicate flavor akin to nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). The leaves of this mystery green are very smooth, and relatively tender. None of the spines of rapini or nettle, and not rigidly wrinkled like kale or some pe-tsai varietals of chinese cabbage.

I'll have more to say after I prepare these, in the mean time here's the soft-focus background goodness. You'll notice the roots in the foreground, most things sold at the stand where we picked these up have roots attached.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fruit: Apples: Pink Lady

My sources say that the Pink Lady is a natural hybrid of Golden Delicious and Lady Williams apples, originally developed as part of a breeding program in western Australia and introduced to consumers in 1985. Write ups on Pink Lady apples tend to describe them as crisp, tart, and sweet. For my money, a good Fuji will be more crisp and any number of apples could be described as more tart (Granny Smith, Pippen, maybe even Braeburn).

That said, the flesh of this apple is atypically dense and it has an aromatic quality that borders on floral. I negatively associate this with the Delicious varietals. If you're into that kind of thing, then this may be a more interesting way to get your fix. The Pink blush and pale spots seen here are typical of the variety, and are generally attributed to cool evenings. Harvest dates are mid to late October.

Fruit: Apples: Fuji

According to Produce Pete,"This variety is a cross of Red Delicious and Ralls Janet bred at a Japanese research station." It was introduced to the American market in the early 1980's.

I will permit myself a brief digression on the level of discourse you can expect when reading up on Apples. Almost all of the online resources I found for apples, were thinly veiled opportunities to plug the growing conditions unique to Washington state or the grit and pluck of Washington Apple farmers. Phrases like,"Washington State is the birthplace of the world's best apples" are thrown around without the slightest qualification.

I had my first Fuji apple relatively recently. I picked one up at Berkeley Bowl a few years ago and fell hard for the consistency. I've heard people describe Fujis as "super sweet", though I think what they are noticing is actually the lack of a prominent tart or tangy element. I've also not been able to find a good description of the taste that I think of as unique to these apples; definitely clean, but almost savory as well.

While the Fuji is a late-season apple, in the Bay Area you can find them pretty much year round. I picked these up at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market, from the stand where I got my Pink Lady and Crimson Gold apples.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wine: Rose: Les Paillieres "Au Petit Bonheur" 2004

Earlier this year I dropped by Kermit Lynch and picked up one bottle of each of their rose wines. It was an odd time to do so. I took home a magnum of the previous years Domaine Tempier Bandol, and some things they had just gotten in - about a dozen bottles in all.

A week later we had friends over, and they brought along a bottle of the Les Paillieres "Au Petit Bonheur". This is the first year that the wine had been made, and it hadn't been in stock when I stopped by. Kermit's notes on the wine are in his July Newsletter. Vinography has a good account of the relationship between Kermit Lynch and Les Pallieres (as i understand it, Kermit has a 50% stake).

The wine is tart, the slightest bit cranky, and about as tasty and dry as one could hope - fruit leans to strawberry for me. This photo doesn't do the label justice, but does capture the color of the wine.

Wine: St. Estephe: Chateau Les Ormes de Pez: 1994

This is another bottle I picked up in the Old and Rare section at K and L for right around 20.00. Forget what we ate with it, but recall it tasting very french after the Dehlinger Syrah. Bright red color, straight-forward strcuture, with a leafy aspect that I enjoy in lighter cabernet-based wines.

The remarkable thing here, and with a surprising number of 10+ year old Bordeaux, is just how affordable they can be at K and L. The complexity of the drinking experience, if not necessarily the wine itself, simply increases with 10 years of bottle age.

Restaurants: Oakland: "B"

Ate at "B" for lunch yesterday. The restaurant is located across from Cafe 817 in Oakland's Old Town district, and is owned by a very nice guy named Kevin who also owns Box Lunch Company in San Francisco.

When we sat down for lunch, we noticed that between the six of us we had 3 different menus. When we brought it up, Kevin sat down at our table and explained that the menus were very expensive to print up each week (the cool looking "B" that is there logo is embossed into each of them), talked us through what was and wasn't on the menu, and described what was good and available that day.

This is the sort of thing that you will either find charming or annoying, but know going in that the restaurant is still finding its way - they were also out of the first two beers I ordered.

Our waitress --standing underneath a circular chandelier fashioned from bright white antlers-- offered up that they had plans to stay open later on weekends, to have DJ's, and generally bring people to downtown Oakland.

Just in case the food and Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel for 46.00 a bottle might not be enough. I saw a good range of dishes, including the following:

· Slow-roasted baby artichokes
· Wood oven roasted Calamari, with chili aioli
· Meat on a stick (Painted Hills Beef), with chili aioli
· French Fries with herbs and garlic
· Asian pear and Brie Sandwhich
· Roasted beet salad

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fruit: Apples: Crimson Gold (crab)

Picked these up on a whim last week at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market. It had been expressly communicated to me that if I were bringing apples home, I'd be eating them on my own. My wife was willing to entertain the idea of pears, but just wasn't ready to acknowledge the departure of summer in the way that 3 pounds of Fuji apples can make you acknowledge.

The sign over these apples called out in black magic marker that they were "tart not bitter". And this was true. I have just a few memories of pulling crab apples off a tree and biting into something that was wholly tannic, and tasted slightly of dirt.

I've had full-sized Crimson Golds before and been underwhelmed by both the taste and texture. These were only pleasantly tart, already sweet, and redolent of archetypal apple.

Wine: Syrah: Dehlinger: Goldridge Vineyard 2000

My first exposure to Dehlinger wine came about 3 years ago, stumbling across a few bottles of 1986 Cabernet at North Berkeley Wine. I'd dropped by North Berkeley just after they'd moved into their new digs at MLK and Cedar, and hadn't really got their collection - a lot of which was still in boxes that crowded the aisles. A year or so later I came back by and they seemed to have a lot of older wine that didn't cost much more than current vintages. I picked up some bordeaux, including a '64 Chateau Beychevelle, and one bottle of the '86 Dehlinger cab.

It was inky stuff, with more vegetal character than I'd grown accustomed to in wine from the Russian River area. It had been just over 35.00 a bottle though, and I promptly went back and picked up 3 more. It was elegant in a way that was difficult to articulate, something to do with the perverse fecundity of rotting leaves.

Onto 2000. I picked up this Syrah at K & L for 39.99 - they indicate that the wine originally retailed for 59.99. My notes and Robert Parker's aren't all that different, though I question whether a wine this big and deep can objectively be described as "medium-bodied".

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Belgium Follow-Up

Our friendly neighborhood Bay Area Beer Ranger stumbled across my post about "2° Below Winter Ale" - the seasonal beer that New Belgium will distribute in bars and restaurants beginning this week. If you haven't already, be sure to check out his comments on that post for the scoop.

He was also kind enough to drop by an entirely custom and thoroughly limited edition 6-pack of 2° Below for the misses and I. As the beer will only be available on tap, between now and January, thought I'd share the branding with you:

Tomatoes: Purple Plum: Wild Boar

The Wild Boar Farm folks, from Suisun Valley, refer to these as Evan's Purple Plum tomatoes. They also describe their tomatoes as,"Soon to be world famous." I've eaten a lot of tomatoes this year and this was the first time I felt I had to photograph and come up with words.

The flavor is appropriately sweet and tart, and manages to be meaty without the starchy density of some varieties. In smaller tomatoes of this type, the seed and juice to flesh ratio is probably more akin to a cherry tomato than a traditional plum.

What got me was the incredibly deep hue of the tomatoes --an intensely dusty purple and red-- and the blemishes on the fruit. Even the heirlooms I pick up at Berkeley Bowl or from other vendors at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market adhere to a more traditional notion of aesthetic appeal.

Some of this may be self-inflicted; if I'm dropping 4.00 to 6.00 a pound on produce, I do expect it to be pretty. Something about these Purple Plums though redefines the terms of that expectation.

Rather than some idealized notion of a tomato, they are a tomato that appears to have come from a specific place at a specific time - a kind of vegetable terroir that is only heightened by their being in the last week of the season.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Fruit: Figs

I'd be remiss if I let a whole season of figs go by without a photo. I've mentioned figs here a few times now. Should note that the season appears to be pretty much over. Stores are likely to have them for a while, but the Farmer's Market was running on fumes this morning.

Price hanging steady at 5.00 a basket, the stall where I tracked them down presented them in such a way as to imply scarcity. Two baskets occupying a wide open stretch of table top, three more baskets hidden behind a sign advertising persimmons.

My online research turned up at least one other person (click at your own risk) who feels as strongly as I do about figs:
The Supreme Court of the United States has proven that the law is a barren garden where nothing grows -- except for fig trees. It is Satan's orchard. Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are the tree surgeons in the abominable nursery of evil.

Of course.

Wine: Zinfandel: Haywood Estates: 1997 Los Chamizal Vineyard

It's unlikely that a quick glance at this blog would convey just how much I'm into wine. This has something to do with how difficult it can be to photograph wine. Generally I drink my wine in the evening, and what with glass being a reflective surface it can be hard to capture the glass and not also your own reflection.

That said, folks who know me will likely be surprised that the first bottle to drive me to post was this conglomerate-owned Zin. While the bottle relates the story of Peter Haywood planting vines on the steep terraces of a sonoma hill back in 1976, Haywood Estates belonged to Allied Domecq until Allied Domecq was acquired by "Pernod Ricard in partnership with Fortune Brands."

Have a history with this bottle though. Shortly after being dot-commed back in 1999, we tasted this wine at the Buena Vista (another Allied Domecq brand) tasting room in Sonoma. After stopping at Ravenswood, and being told by the room staff to not bother buying any of there wine there because Cost Plus carried most of it for much less, Buena Vista seemed stuffy. The 5.00 charge for the premium tasting seemed positively Napa-like.

The Haywood Estates zin made it all worth while though. Bone-dry nose that smelled like dust, dark fruit with pronounced acidity, more elegant than you'd expect for a '97 coming in at 14.5% alcohol. We splurged 40.00-worth on a single bottle. A year and a half later, with me laid off and considering everything from moving to Portland to taking up teaching, we drank it. It wasn't everything we remembered, but we'd been on a tear through our cellar.

Flash forward a few years. Stopped at Buckingham Wine and Spirits this past Friday, on a whim after a meeting with our real estate agent. Seems like they almost always have one bottle on the shelves that has no business being in a small liquor store on at Buckingham Wind and Spirits on Lakeshore avenue. This time around it was the 1997 Haywood Estates Los Chamizal Zin.

The cork on this bottle had seeped a bit, but the nose was just as I remembered.

Beer: Lagunitas: Seasonal Release: Crispy Summer Ale

Seasonal schizophrenia extends to beer. Picked up our first bottle of Lagunitas Brewing Company's Crispy Summer Ale on the last day of September, one week after sampling New Belgium's seasonal release for winter.

Have a soft spot for Lagunitas, and am a huge fan of their "homicidally hopped" IPA. Berkeley Bowl generally has a good selection of their seasonal and limited release beers in 22oz bottles.

This beer though is a flavorful, if relatively light, ale with some toast around the edges. Had it with several grilled fish dishes. Reminded me slightly of Blue Paddle, a New Belgium pilsener lager.

Mushrooms: Oyster

These were the first 'exotic' mushroom that I purchased regularly. In 1991 they were already widely available in Berkeley (we're talking Safeway) and cost just a dollar or so more a pound than various button mushrooms.

I got these at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market last week, and didn't get to cook them until Thursday. I was prepared for the worst, but they were still dense and moist - something to do with all that stem matter.

Tom Volk's deep-dive on Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) can be found here. Some notes on the taste here:
The common name "oyster mushroom" comes from the white shell-like appearance of the fruiting body, not from the taste. The taste of the oyster mushroom varies from very mild to very strong, sometimes sweet with the smell of anise (licorice).
Usually when I buy Oyster Mushrooms from a store they are a feint grey color. These were a ghostly white. They've always felt fragile to me, but these were particularly thin-skinned. They seared to a golden brown after 30 seconds or so in oil that was still a ways away from smoking.

Fruit: Sugar Plums

First came across these at the Two Girls stand, about halfway down the northern-most row at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market. Not the sort of thing that would catch my attention, but my wife's curiosity was piqued.

The plum flavor is dense, and predictably sweet, but also more tart than I would have expected. The skin color may not really be evident in the photo, a deep muted purple. These have worked their way on to the weekly must-have list.

Google search results that don't have to do with visions of the things dancing in people's heads are hard to come by. So, the only added reference point I can provide gushes thusly:
Its golden flesh is followed by nature’s second honey that comes rushing forward to greet your taste buds with every bite. This fruit's sugar at harvest ranges from 18% to 25%, and it has been said "the rays of the sun have been captured and stored beneath the flesh of this singular fruit to only be set free when tasted."

Not sure about the availability comment on that page. I didn't notice these much before mid-Sepetember. Since then I've seen them at Berkeley Bowl and the Market Hall Produce Shop.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Food: Italian: Opah 'Crudo'

The New Yorker's annual food issue came out in September, and a colleague was kind enough to give me their copy. The most intriguing story for me was the piece on Dave Pasternak of Esca in New York. The article related how Mario Batali and his business partner Joseph Bastianich wooed Pasternak into opening an Italian restaurant with a fish-focus back in 1999.

Before opening the restaurant, the three of them toured the southern coast of Italy extensively, and we're surprised to find that people were eating a whole lot of raw fish. Often served with just olive oil, herbs, and peppers. Based on the descriptions in the magazine, some menu items from the Esca website, and the photos from their gallery I decided to give this a whirl.

I picked up some Opah ( aka moonfish or Lampris regius), a naturally fatty and mild fish native to the pacific. Slicing the fish thinly enough that it was transparent, was relatively easy. Sharp knife, cold fish. I sliced along the long dimension of the hunk pictured at right. This may or may not be the correct way to slice. The longer pieces did break along the fat streaks.

After placing the fish on the dishes you see below, I poured a teaspoon of olive oil over each, and added some minced mint from my herb garden, along with finely diced peppers that a friend had given us. The overall flavor of the dish was pleasant, even unexpected, but still very mild. Salt helped punch it up some, next time around I may also go with white pepper.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Beer: New Belgium Brewing Company: Seasonal: Winter 2005

My wife wore a Tour De Fat t-shirt as we made our weekend market rounds last week. We'd attended the event two years ago as the guest of a friend who works for New Belgium Brewing Company. One of the folks at Arizmendi noticed the shirt and struck up conversation, mentioning that our friend had just dropped by bottles of this winter's seasonal ale. Not even labeled yet.

As luck had it, we were having the New Belgium guy over for dinner that night. He came bearing two bottles of what he described as a "double-hopped" ale, atypical among the belgian-style ales that they are known for. It also happened to be right up our alley. Winter Ales tending to be either too sweet or cloyingly spicy for our tastes. Good stuff.

Not knowing really what the beer will be called, or when it will be generally available, I can only tell you to keep an eye out.

Fruit: Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undatus)

Bought my first Dragon Fruit (aka pitahaya) last weekend at Berkeley Bowl. I picked one up because it was so crazy looking, and then put it in my basket because it had satisfying heft.

Before slicing it in half, I had done some googling. Even so, the opened fruit looked an object escaped from a cartoon. It reminded me of cars I had seen growing up in and around Los Angeles. Bright pink with zebra skin upholstery, that kind of thing.

The fruit is not very flavorful but is pleasantly sweet and refreshing when chilled. The white pulp is water soluble, and the black seeds can apparently be cultivated into cacti.

Here's the cultivation skinny, brought to you by Trade Winds Fruit:
A vining, terrestrial or epiphytic cactus, with fleshy stems reaching from a few inches up to 20ft long (in mature plants). The plant may grow out of, and over the ground or climb onto trees using aerial roots. It grows best in dry, tropical or subtropical climates where annual rainfall ranges from 20-50" per year.

Fruit: Grapes: Mourvedre

Berkeley Bowl's grape selection is pretty pedestrian. Lots of red and green seedless varieties and some concords (also seedless). One standout though, that for some reason is over by the lettuces, is these Mourvedre grapes. We have a house bias toward Mourvedre as it is the dominant grape in Bandol wines.

As table grapes, they do pretty well. Good dark color, tight clusters, and a flavor akin to but more tart than the ubiquitous Thompson. Like Concords they can be eaten as a 'slip' grape, i.e. you can hold onto the grape and suck the insides out - watch for seeds.