Category Archives: Foodie Musings

Eat Real Festival = foodie heaven

My plum-cinnamon jam did not win.¬† ūüė¶

It’s okay.¬† That woman with the raspberry jam had better watch out because I’ll be back next year!¬† ūüôā

The festival in Oakland was so much fun — and tasty!¬† There were gourmet food trucks everywhere, and because the philosophy of the festival was that wholesome, locally sourced food should be affordable to everyone, no item could be priced higher than $5.¬† But the fives add up when you graze throughout the day, as I did.¬† I devoured the following during my six hours at the festival:

  • Grilled cheese with brisket sandwich from Osteria Stellina
  • Spicy corn dog from Tante’s
  • Five spice grilled chicken banh¬†mi¬†from Little Green Cyclo
  • Lamb gyro from The Whole Beast
  • Beef tallow fries from Belcampo Meat Co.

Wow, when I list it all out, I see that I was pretty keen to the red meat yesterday!  No inhibitions when I know that the animals were sustainably raised!

I also had a few mason jars of locally crafted wines and beers.

Did I mention that I was in foodie heaven?  I wish I had photos to share, but my Blackberry does not perform at par.

I purchased some canned goods from the vendors at the festival’s market — I was choosy in that I only bought items that¬†wowed me when I tried them and¬†that I did not know (yet!) how to make myself.¬† I bought these tasty items to add to our pantry:

  • horseradish-leek saurkraut¬†from Farmhouse Culture, a company that specializes in saurkrauts
  • Early Girl tomato jam from Blue Chair Fruit Company (the sweetness of this jam combined with deep tomatoey flavor really surprised me!)
  • sa’or, which (I was told) is an Italian condiment of caramalized onions and currants preserved in olive oil (I can see this pairing very well with a grilled cheese sandwich)
  • caramelized¬†garlic hummus from ‚ô• & Hummus
  • dark chocolate bar with figs and anise from Vice Chocolates

Yum, yum, yum.¬† Hubby was pleased to see the intriguing items that I brought home.¬† I want to figure out how to make the sa’or and try my own tomato jam next year,¬†now that I know it is tasty and not weird!¬† (Hmm, next year’s Jamboree Contest entry??)

I watched a¬†demonstration on cooking with beef¬†chuck, a kids Iron-Chef-style cooking competition (secret ingredient: basil!) and I watched a “Flyin’ Knives” butchery competition, in which three teams of professional butchers had 45 minutes to break down a quarter steer into commercial cuts.¬† Fascinating.

There was an info booth on keeping backyard laying hens.¬† I was so excited and texted hubby: “Got info on chicken coops!¬† We can totally do it!!”¬† Well, as it turns out, the Man (the City of San Jose) says, “not in your tiny backyard, Huynhs!”¬† A home chicken coop must be kept 15 feet from any residence.¬† Given that we are immediately neighbored by three other condos and homes, that will not work out.¬† A few years from now, when we hunt for our next house, “backyard big enough for chicken coop” will be a must-have criterion!

Finally, I was pleased that Happy Girl Kitchen, Co.,¬†was at the festival.¬† ¬†(Their workshops¬†taught me how to make jam, pickles and canned tomato goods.)¬†¬†The Happy Girl folks¬†teamed up with Farmhouse Culture to put on a saurkraut-making workshop which, sadly, I missed because I did not arrive in time.¬† But I visited Happy Girl’s booth at the end of the day¬†and I purchased this awesome t-shirt:

Indeed.¬† Can’t wait for Eat Real Fest 2012!

tips for the home brewer (or, how I’m pretty sure I messed up my brother’s beer)

My brother and I recently brewed beer.¬† As novice brewers, we used a kit and followed all the instructions carefully, but we still encountered road blocks and ended up learning more about how to mess up beer than how to make it.¬†¬†If brewing beer is¬†an art — nay, a craft — then we’re pretty sure that what we made is the beer equivalent of a finger-painting.

I’ll let my brother, the beer enthusiast, post instructions and¬†illustrative photos on how to¬†home-brew beer.¬† To compliment his post, here are my tips for the¬†aspiring home¬†brewers:

1.¬†¬†It’s important to keep sterile¬†everything that will come in contact with the beer¬†after it is cooked and before it begins the fermenting process.¬† That being said, you will quickly realize how unsterile you and your home environment¬†are.¬†¬†What, you sterilized all the tubing, spoons,¬†thermometers, etc., in a big bucket of sterilizing solution?¬†¬†That’s great, but what will you do when (a) your natural tendency is¬†to put the spoon down on the counter (dammit!), (b) you forget that you’re not supposed to put the spoon on the counter and do it again (dammit!), (c) you touch the end of the spoon with your¬†unsterile¬†hand (dammit!!!), (d) you need¬†both hands and now you gotta put the spoon down somewhere (DAMMIT!!!) . . . you get the idea.¬† Keep a big bowl of sterilizing solution on hand to dump the tools in as you work¬†so that you can keep them sterile and resterilize them when you inevitably “contaminate” them (over and over again).

2.¬† If your plan is to cool the pot of boiled wort in a kitchen sink filled with ice water, make sure your brother’s roommate did not throw out the stopper for the sink.¬† Just saying.

3.¬† Don’t touch the inside of the fermenter¬†bucket with your unsterile¬†hands.¬† Don’t touch the inside of the wort pot while the wort is cooling.¬† Don’t touch the bottom of the fermenter¬†stopper just before your brother plugs it into the fermenter.¬† You know what, either sterilize your hands or just keep back already, Carrie!!

4.¬† Watch the heat and stir the wort frequently if you’re using a pot made of a super-conductive material like aluminum.¬† Alternatively, tout your finished product as having “smokey” qualities, certainly not a scorched flavor . . .

5.¬† Set your expectations low for the final product, which you won’t get to taste until the beer finishes the four-week fermenting process.¬† Plan to try your beer on a Friday night so that if it makes you sick you will¬†have two days to recover.¬† Actually, go ahead and put in for a day off the following Monday.

musings on the Midwest “taco”

I believe a life-long Californian would be horrified to taste what passes as a “taco” in some parts of this country (read: places where there are no Mexicans).¬† In the Midwest, tacos are made with ground beef.¬† Period.¬† (It is cattle country.)¬† Every taco that I ever encountered, whether in my mother’s kitchen or at a friend’s house, started with browned ground beef, water and this key ingredient:

McCormick taco seasoning

That’s right, taco seasoning mix.¬†¬†The Hamburger Helper of tacos.¬† “The Taste You Trust” (when you have no idea how authentic tacos should taste).

By my mid-teens, I was a master of preparing this meal.¬† Brown the hamburger.¬† Check.¬† Add water and taco seasoning; simmer until absorbed.¬† Check.¬† Meanwhile, put Old El Paso taco shells on a platter and shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced black olives, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream in bowls.¬† Oh yeah, taco night is awesome.¬† (And not too different from Taco Bell.)¬† If I still ate red meat today, these “Midwest tacos” would be one of those guilty-pleasure comfort foods that would make my husband raise his eyebrows.

While I’m on this tangent, I need to raise the issue of Taco Pizza, another Midwest classic.¬† The first time I had this was during my senior year of high school, when my Spanish class (all white kids, naturally)¬†celebrated Cinco de Mayo by scarfing down three large taco pizzas from Godfather’s.

Godfather's makes the best taco pizza

Ah, the authentic south-of-the-border flavors of hamburger and mozzarella pizza topped (after baking) with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese.  My husband never heard of this.  No Californian has ever heard of this.

My point is this: the Midwest hamburger “taco” concoctions are delicious, but they are not authentic (hopefully no one believes that they are).¬† Once you try authentic tacos, all that stuff looks like Taco Bell and you can’t go back.¬† (Unless you want guilty-pleasure comfort food.¬† See above.)¬†¬†I’ve seen so many kinds of tacos in California: shredded chicken, shredded pork, shredded beef, carnitas, lengua (beef tongue) and fish.¬† I had no idea what I had been missing!

Buen provecho!

the pursuit of made-from-scratch-ness

Pumpkin pie filling.  Spaghetti sauce.  Applesauce.  Broth.

Is this¬†my grocery list?¬† No.¬† But,¬†if I needed one of these items, a grocery store is likely where¬†I’d go to get it.¬† Duh.

A few months ago, however, it occurred to¬†me that I’ve taken¬†for granted the fact that pretty much any foodstuff that I might need or desire is¬†available for me to purchase at a nearby grocery store.¬† And I don’t mean¬†“take for granted” in the way that most¬†Americans never experience hunger or any¬†want of food–for this fact, we truly are blessed, and we should be mindful of that.¬†¬†No, I mean¬†the phrase¬†in the sense that¬†I live in¬†a society where modern technology, agribusiness and economies of scale make possible the mass production, transport and sale of¬†food throughout the country.¬† What I have to eat each day¬†does not depend on what my husband and I can grow, harvest, butcher, preserve and store for¬†ourselves; the marketplace does that for us, and we only need to purchase it.

My mother used to jar her own pickles and jams.  Those were delicious treats that we could enjoy for a limited time each year, until the supply in our basement ran out.  Then we bought some Vlassics and Smuckers to refill our cupboards.  The supermarket was always on stand-by.

I recently began to wonder: what if I did have to make every thing that¬†I ate from scratch and preserve fruits and vegetables at harvest time if I wanted the pleasure of eating them in the winter?¬† Well, as a lawyer and an urban dweller, that would be a difficult lifestyle to keep up.¬† But I am interested in trying out the traditions of food preservation and other realms of made-from-scratch-ness.¬† ūüôā

I’m starting this blog as a way to document and share my experiences trying food preservation techniques and other cultural and made-from-scratch food preparations.¬† For a long while now, I¬†have enjoyed¬†cooking meals as a way to relax and slow down at the end of a long, busy work day, to accomplish something wholesome and to¬†create something nourishing for myself and¬†my husband.¬† In recent months, I have found myself leaving my busy week of litigating¬†and entering the weekend with a plan for what my “food project” would be for that Saturday or Sunday.¬† (For example, last September,¬†my¬† husband and I went to a local farm, picked organic San Marzano¬†tomatoes, paid a¬†per pound price and then took the tomatoes home to simmer, sieve and freeze as a¬†big batch of¬†tomato sauce.)¬†¬†I approach each food project as a novice and explorer, and learning a new skill and completing a food project is so satisfying.¬† It’s exciting to make the sort of food that, if you shared it with friends, they would say “You made this?” and they would be impressed because people these days just don’t prepare such foods–they¬†purchase them.

I hope my blog inspires others to try their own food projects!