Recently in USA category

Meat? No Meat?

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When I was young and had no deadlines or mortgages (or a blog), I was footloose-and-fancy-free right after I finished college. So just about the day after graduation, I hitched on a backpack and headed to Europe. In was the 80’s and it was the thing to do. As I traversed the continent, I met scores of other kids my age doing the same thing and we world-wise travelers (or so we thought of ourselves) were a friendly bunch and would easily meet up and just go off and travel together. My fondest memory was when a small merry group of us banded together and decided to hitchhike through the former Yugoslavia with the intention of ending up in Turkey where we’d explore the entire country in one exhilarating month.

One fellow that came along was a very, very blond fellow named Kaj, who was from Finland. His hair was stark-white and wherever we went, people would drop everything, stop and gape, having never seen locks so blindingly void of color. Occasionally, their curiosity would get the best of them and the locals would reach over and caress his hair. In addition to his popular noggin, Kaj was a vegetarian, which made dining out a challenge. Luckily the Turks are very friendly and they were happy to take us into their restaurant kitchens to look over what was available so we could decide without deciphering the menus. Speaking no Turkish, Kaj would point at the various pots and cauldrons simmering away and ask, “Meat?” while pointing at one. Then “No meat?” while pointing at another. Then “Meat?”…No meat?…Meat?…”, while working his way through all the dishes simmering away.

It because a source of amusement during our travels and the question would crop up at the most unusual times. Whether we were sitting on a bus taking one of our many long voyages, shopping at the Grand Bazaar, or just sunning ourselves on a pristine beach, one of us would completely out-of-the-blue pop the eternal question…“Meat? No Meat?”

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I don’t know where Kaj is now, but he would have not been very content traveling with me this time during my recent US tour. I ate so much meat that I’m about to get fitted for a turban and become a card-carrying veg-head for a few weeks. Yes, I think I’ve reached my fill of ‘ol Bessie. But let’s face it, it’s hard to beat meat. She’s an integral part of American cuisine. We Americans are real meat eaters and in between the most exceptional plates of beef ribs I had for lunch in Fort Worth, Texas at George’s Bar-B-Q, to the beef brisket I had at Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas, I sampled the best of the best.

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The original Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas opened in 1910. Nowadays the parking lot is full of pick-up trucks and once you step inside, it’s pandemonium trying to reach the counter to place your order. Even though I live in France and am used to people trying to wedge in front of each other, I assumed that it’s not prudent here to cut in line…especially after eyeing the fully-loaded gun racks in the trucks parked in the dusty lot outside.

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Seeing as I left my overalls back in Paris, I did my best to fit in and ordered a combo plate, speaking with a bit of a drawl. My platter was some soft, warm slices of beef brisket and turkey (I added the turkey since I’m beginning to sport a ‘muffin-top’ after this trip.) But I couldn’t resist those jumbo, cripsy onion rings, which tasted every bit as good as they look.

The past week has been an orgy of meat, and it all began at Salumi, in Seattle. I was attending a culinary conference and my friend Judy proposed a multi-course lunch there, how could I say no?

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Armandino Batali is the owner of Salumi. And if his name sounds familiar, his son is the muffin-man himself, Mario Batali. After years of working as an engineer for Boeing, Armandino packed up and went to Italy to learn the art of air-curing meats and making sausages. And when we showed up, the line was out the door with locals waiting for warm sandwiches crammed with slices of porchetta and spicy oxtail meat.

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As we crowded around the table, the family-style meaty platters began descending on the table. The first sausages were thin rounds of mole salami, with a curious chocolate flavor from a good dose of Guittard cocoa powder (which Armandino told me was very popular with the local Mexican community.) There were also slices of prosciutto made with flavorful lamb and cured pigs cheek, called guanciale. Armandino used to teach a class, ‘Make Your Own Prosciutto’, which sounded like great fun. On the first day, you’d be presented with a pig leg, then you’d return each week to rub your leg with spices and whatever else goes into making prosciutto. He had to discontinue to classes since he no longer has the time.

He then presented us with enormous, steaming bowls of tiny French green lentils from Puy, topped with warm rounds of cotechino sausage, softly-scented with real vanilla. The course that really got the most comments were little toasts covered with just-melted aged cows-milk cheese, topped with crunchy nuggets of salt. Yum! Was that ever good. And I ate pig’s ears for the first time (I abstained from eating the stewed tripe so I figured I needed to keep my ‘cred’ and not look like a lightweight with all those famous eaters around the table.) So I ate all my pig’s ears, which were really quite good. Served on a pile of mixed salad greens, the crunchy slivers of pig’s ears tasted like faintly-cooked, crunchy onions, but with a bit more ‘bite’.

Taking a non-meat break, we had a fabulous platter of giant white beans tossed with tinned white tuna, finely-sliced red onions, all tossed in a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar. It was great, and I made a mental note that it would make an easy, and nice summer salad if Paris ever warms up.

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At that point, I was begging to stop so Judy reached in her purse (is there no end to what a woman will pull out of her purse?) and brought out the Italian secret weapon: grappa.

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Packed like cigarettes, each cylinder was a thin glass tube of grappa, a perfect shot of this high-test liquor, which primed us for the few more courses that were to follow.

Finally, after eating way too much and trying to scribble notes, we all begged ourselves away from the table before Armandino could set another platter amongst us.

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Salumi
Pioneer Square
309 Third Avenue South
Tel: (206) 621-8772

Sonny Bryan’s
Visit web site for locations.

Pay Dirt!

Why is it when you order French Fries, a disappointing majority of the time they come out in a limp heap, underbaked, greasy, and soft.
Does anybody really like their fries that way?

Anyone?

(start rant) I always want to take the plate back into the kitchen, present them to the cook, and ask why they didn’t leave them to cook until deep-golden brown and crispy? And don’t get me started on undersalted fries. French Fries need to get salted immediately when they come out of the blazing-hot oil, so it clings to the crunchy fries. (end rant)

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So imagine my surprise when my friend Dylan whisked me away from the recent culinary conference I was attending in Seattle to walk me a few blocks away to the Baguette Box.

The Baguette Box is a little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, owned by chef Eric Bahn, who also owns Seattle’s Monsoon restaurant where I’d eaten the night previously. I will spare you the details of the dreaded conference lunches I was forced to endure, but will let you know that it took very, very little prodding to get me to come along (and Dylan’s mom is the famous Fran Bigelow of Fran’s chocolate, inventor of the most amazing grey salt caramels, dipped in chocolate, and finished with smoked sea salt.) So since there the possibility of chocolate in there, it took little encouragement on his part to get me to play hooky for a few hours one afternoon.

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The Baguette Box is basically one long communal table with a chalkboard above the open kitchen announing which sandwiches were on offer that day. Feeling like I needed a break from all the meat I’d eaten in Seattle (more about that in a later post), I chose the Tuna Salad Baguette with Sliced Boiled Egg, which came with crisp-sliced radishes. Dylan wisely chose the Salmon Gravlox Baguette which looked delicious but once you pick up one of these hefty sandwiches, if you put it down you risk it spilling its contents all over the place.

But the French Fries were what really astounded me. A pile of just-fried French Fries were piled into a nice-sized paper cup and generously sprinkled with very good salt. In fact, it was just the right amount. They were dark brown and crackly-crisp. Outstanding, and when I told Eric that I they were the best French Fries I’d ever had in my life, I don’t think he took me seriously (he obviously doesn’t read my blog!) but they were. And at $2.50, they were the best bargain in town. Hedonists can opt for a drizzle of white truffle oil, but I think that might ruin the sheer perfection of les frites.

Baguette Box
1203 Pine Street
Seattle, WA
Tel: (206) 332-0220

Inside The KitchenAid Factory

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“You’re going to flip out.”That was the message I got from a representative and friend from KitchenAid when he found out I was finally going to visit their factory. It was a visit I’ve been waiting years to make.

I’d been meaning to visit the KitchenAid factory ever they brought up the idea to me a few years ago, asking me to give a baking demonstration there as well. I can’t imagine life without my KitchenAid mixer and most other bakers I know feel the same way (and I love seeing how things are made, anything. I just find it fascinating, no matter what I’m watching being put-together.)

And if you have a KitchenAid mixer, you know what I’m talking about. It’s without a doubt the one essential tool that most home bakers can’t live without. The mixer we used at Chez Panisse was a solid performer after twenty years of hard restaurant use (it outlasted me!) and my personal mixer has been in service for well over 15 years. When I began doing baking demonstrations over a decade ago, I was so enthusiastic that I reached my arms around the one that I was using and gave it a big, generous hug.

Word of that hug reached KitchenAid headquarters and ever since then, I’ve been lucky to get to know many of the terrific folks who work for KitchenAid, both in the United States and Europe. And when they heard I was heading to the US this month, we worked in a date to visit their factory for a private look at how the mixers are put together. They gave me special permission to take photographs so much of what you’ll see here was generously allowed by KitchenAid.

A visit to the factory begins with a viewing of some of the classic stand mixers. The first produced was the Model H, introduced in 1919 and sold until 1927. It weighed a hefty 60-pounds and stores were so skeptical of its saleability that it was lugged door-to-door by housewives, hoping to convince other homemakers of its value.
The price? The Model H sold back then for $199 which is the equivalent today of about $1400.

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The First Ever KitchenAid Mixer


Over the next several decades the designs changed to reflect the times, with my favorite being this one, totally streamlined with swoops and curvilinear lines, suggesting speed and industrialism. Someday I hope this one is re-issued as a Special-Edition, since I think it’s the most beautiful of all the models ever produced.

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I love the graceful curve of the (useful) handle, which you grasp to lift the head of the machine. And I love the little ‘fin’ that’s affixed to the back.

Others models were made of materials strong enough to withstand the rugged KitchenAid motor within.

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There were contemporary mixers on display too, including custom models made to commemorate certain events, including this one. One hundred of them were made and donated as thank-you gestures to the New York City Fire Departments for their efforts and heroism after September 11th.

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Another 100 were made later and sold on eBay, with the proceeds going to 9/11 charities.

I learned that KitchenAid is the only company in America which still makes counter top appliances in the United States. All others brands are made overseas, although a few select KitchenAid appliances like the heavy-duty Pro-Line Espresso Maker (which I seriously envy) is made in Italy. Each and every KitchenAid appliance manufactured out of the United States is taken out of the box, vigorously-tested, then re-sealed before it’s ready for sale.

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The first thing that I saw when I entered the factory are the newest models and colored mixers lined up, practically floor-to-ceiling! They ranged in hues like sunny Meyer Lemon, Martha Green (named after…), Caviar (black with silver flecks), a cheerful Green Apple, Olive, and colorfully-red Bing Cherry.

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Mixers Ready To Be Dipped in Paint

If I didn’t already own several mixers, I would have tried to sneak out the brilliant-yellow Meyer Lemon model under my jacket, although it’s being considered for retirement. New colors are constantly introduced, then retired, so that new ones can be added. So if you ever see a color that you like, get it while it’s hot. One enduring color that’s been offered for years, with a new expanded product line, is the pink mixer, with 10% from the sale of each going to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. There’s no plans to retire that one, and in fact, they’ve added other products in that color range.

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Each KitchenAid mixer takes about one-day to assemble. The actual building of the mixer is done in several stages: The engines are assembled and installed in the cast-metal housing by one team, the parts are heavily oiled (using three-times the amount of lubrication required for a lifetime of use), then sealed tight by another group, then the mixers are tested in another area, replicating 30 years of normal home use. Once they pass inspection, they’re packaged up and ready to be shipped off.

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Blenders Are Tested With Cubes of Ice, Which Are Perhaps the Hardest Things You’d Put In a Blender.

Each person in the factory makes an average of 92 standing mixers per day, with 22 people working on the line at any given time. Christmas starts in June at KitchenAid, when temporary workers are hired to assemble mixers to meet the upcoming holiday demand.

I left my resumé.

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One of the newest improvements to the KitchenAid standing mixer is their sturdiest whip yet. Unlike the dough hook and paddle attachments, the whip has several different parts affixed together, making it the part that takes the most abuse (sometimes I think I know exactly how it feels.) I watched how each individual whip was spun around while a woman patiently threaded each wire, interlacing them and securing them to the core.

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A Woman Wields Her Whip


The happiest folks in the factory are not on the floor, but in a special, plusher chamber. These are the “call girls”, as they’re known. These happy cookers spend their days servicing clients, tirelessly, one right after the other. They’re the on-site customer service team, helping customers seeking advice about their appliances. Although the main call center is elsewhere (in Michigan), KitchenAid likes some of their customer service workers to remain in the factory, keeping them in touch with the manufacturing process, so they can respond to requests quickly and accurately.

So when you call KitchenAid, you can ask to speak to someone in the factory in Greenville. You’ll get connected to one of the highly knowledgeable service team members there (…and tell them I sent you…they’re not likely to forget me!)

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Is your mixer making a funny sound?
Hold the phone to the machine while it’s operating and they can diagnose it for you.
Wondering how you can raise the bowl so that the whip reaches the absolute bottom of it?
There’s a tiny screw located underneath the mixer head that you can turn counterclockwise (on the K5) that’ll do the trick. I’ve been using my KitchenAid mixer for years and never knew that.
Of course if I had read the instructions…and we all read instruction manuals, don’t we?

Just a short ride away is the KitchenAid Experience, an interactive center where everything that KitchenAid makes is available to try out and play around with.

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How Do You Decide?

There’s also a teaching kitchen with demonstrations throughout the day. I did one, making all sorts of chocolate treats for guests, including chewy Chocolate Financiers, Rocky Road with Homemade Marshmallows, Peanuts, and Cocoa Nibs, and Double Chocolate Ice Cream with Stracciatella, using the brand-new ice cream attachment, which works with all KitchenAid standing mixers.

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Homemade Rocky Road, Recipe From The Great Book of Chocolate


Each and every appliance is available on the floor to play around with and bargain-hunters should descend to the lower-level, a room packed floor-to-ceiling with factory refurbished mixers and blenders.

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When a KitchenAid product is returned to a store, it’s sent back to the factory. The box is opened, the appliance removed and thoroughly inspected and tested. Then it’s re-sealed and offered for sale at a substantial discount: Each appliance meets the same rigorous standards as a spanking-new model.

I saw hyper-powerful 6-quart KitchenAid mixers available for slightly more than $200 and chrome blenders being sold for less than half the retail price. And there was lots and lots of mixers and other appliances in colors that had been retired or in various experimental finishes that you won’t find anywhere else.
If you can’t make it to the KitchenAid Experience, you can shop find your own bargain on a reconditioned model at Amazon.

Big thanks to the staff at KitchenAid for taking the time to show my everything, as I poked through boxes and rifled through bins of parts. They answered all my questions and I’ll never rev up my KitchenAid standing mixer again without thinking of what went into it before it became a fixture in my kitchen and my life.

Related Links:

Bargain KitchenAid Mixers & Appliances

You can find amazing bargains on reconditioned KitchenAid appliances at Amazon, such as powerful K5 mixers for only $129, and gorgeous chrome-plated blenders for only $39, which will save you hundreds of dollars.

The KitchenAid Experience

The KitchenAid Experience is located in Greenville, Ohio, about 45 minutes from Dayton and 2 hours from Cinncinati.

The KitchenAid Experience
423 South Broadway
Greenville, Ohio
Tel: 1-888-886-8318

Factory Tours of KitchenAid

KitchenAid
1701 KitchenAid Way
Greenville, Ohio
Tours given Monday through Friday, at 10am and 1pm (subject to change, so call ahead.)

Local Bed & Breakfast

St. Clair Place
224 E. Third Street
Greenville, Ohio
Email: stclairplace@earthlink.net

110V-220V, and International Questions

Will my KitchenAid Mixer Work Abroad?

KitchenAid International

LA is a Helluva Place

Way back when, hotelier Leona Helmsley was charged with tax evasion and she became Public Enemy #1. A clever ad campaign lured guests back with the line…

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“Say what you want, she runs a helluva place!”

That’s the way I feel about Los Angeles.
I don’t know why, but I used to harbor suspicions about the place, that it was all just a big phony façade.

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But a peek underneath that glittery surface, like Jessica and Nick’s marriage, and you’ll find there’s more going on beneath that slick exterior than you might imagine.

Aside from the gorgeous fruits and vegetables available in markets, there’s terrific restaurants, easy parking, the World’s Best Movie Theatre (which also has freshly-made caramel corn), abundant sunshine, and some of the best examples of facelifts gone wrong to gawk at (Skip the Polo Lounge…the Whole Foods across the street from The Grove is by far the best place to get a closer look.) But the real LA, to me, is found in the juxtaposition of incredible wealth and over-the-top excess, just next to small Mexican food joints, and chest implants (on both men and women) so big they’re in another zip code.

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And smack dab in the center of LA is the old Farmer’s Market. You’ll find old-fashioned ice cream parlors, candymakers pouring and slicing giant slabs of hot toffee, powerful mixers grinding deep-fried salty peanuts into peanut butter, and jovial butchers with a rather fine sense of humor.

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But the best attraction at the market is the Loteria Grill. Tiny Mexican women, barely able to reach the griddle, spend hours chatting and patting out fresh corn tortillas, tossing them on the hot grill, then piling on savory fillings such as cochinita pibil, or pulled pork with pickeled red onions.

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My dining companions had the most beautiful plate of stuffed chilis I’d ever seen…

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Unfortunately, I hate chiles (when cooked, they taste like acrid, wet cardboard to me), but I was convinced to have a bite of the filling, which was a mix of pork and almonds. It was very, very good, but I was getting full since I almost I single-handedly polished off a jumbo platter of chips and guacamole.

And like the crowded freeways, there’s lots of directions to go for something sweet…

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Nibbling some crisp, buttery almond toffee, my friend Anne and I, took her big ‘ol Cadillac out for a spin in search of more.

Our first stop was boule.
Since I needed permission from the manager to take photos (permission denied!), I had to take our stash outside to give you a look.

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But our first impression, before going in, was the place seemed to have a patina of something foggy on it. The ultra-modern interior perhaps needed a good Windex-ing.
Few of the sleek chocolates looked interesting; most were painted with edible colorings and the contemporary fruit tartlets failed to excite. The dude serving us was very nice and offered samples of the ice creams, such as Cocoa Nib (good, but the custard needed more oomph0, Caramel-Cardamom (nice), and bitter Chocolate Sorbet (a bit grainy.)

My fascination, of course, was with les macarons

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I liked the dense, creamy chocolate macaron the best, and had high hopes for the Pecan Pie, but the taste was no improvement over the real thing…so why bother? I ordered an espresso, which seemed to confuse everyone behind the counter. One little cup was made, then was passed around amongst the staff, while they discussed at length whether it was right or not.
It didn’t give me much confidence. (Pet peeve #85: Espresso not served immediately after it’s made.)

We then took a ride over to a Mateo’s ice cream shop, where we were literally dazzled by the selection of ice creams and fresh fruit ices our south-of-the-border neighbors come up with. In spite of all the weird crap that people are calling food these days, I’ll bet you’ve never seen…

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Although the flavor was faint (perhaps thankfully?) I think it would be intriguing paired with sweet, juicy-ripe strawberries. I tried the Cajeta ice cream made from caramelized goat milk and a scoop of cafe con leche. There was also Queso (cheese) and Guanabana (or, cherimoya…which I had an regrettable experience with on a trip to Mexico some time back and was not to eager to, um, re-taste it, since I tasted it for several days after the trip…if you know what I mean.)

The last stop was in Beverly Hills to sample some treats from Sherry Yard, the pastry chef at Spago.

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Sherry’s one of the brightest lights in the pastry world and never fails to impress me when the dessert is presented. On my last visit, she sent out tiny chocolates filled with a gelée of Concord Grapes. There was also a Huckleberry Custard that showcased the intensity of the tiny, powerfully rich berries that was memorable. When I stepped in the kitchen, Sherry was crushing peppermint sticks and wearing a pink chef’s coat in support of Cook For the Cure. When I asked where she got it, she described how she filled her hot tub with pink dye… tossed her chef’s coats in, then turned the jets on!

I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind doing that.

Except someone from LA.

Loteria Grill
6333 West 3rd Street

Mateo’s
4222 West Pico Boulevard

boule
420 North La Cienega Boulevard

Santa Monica Farmer’s Market

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Tiny little heads of cauliflower, no bigger than a dolls-head. These were the most colorful I’d ever seen in magnificent shades of vivid purple and deep orange.

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Although America is known as the land of HUGE food, these tiny baby carrots are tender and very sweet. My first week as a cook at Chez Panisse, I spent a few hours peeling a case of them…only to discover later they were going to be blended up and made into soup!

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The actresses (and wannabes) trolling around Hollywood aren’t the only things nicely stacked in LA…

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Potatoes

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These are Improved Meyer lemons. The original Meyer lemons were disease-prone so they were re-hybridized, hence the name Improved Meyer lemon. They’re often mistakenly called a cross between an orange and a Eureka lemon since they’re as sweet, juicy, and aromatic as an orange, but with a lemony tang. But they’re not.

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Beautiful winter squash

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Stinging Nettles, which have lots of tiny prickers…ne touchez pas!

For more information on the market, visit the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market web site.

Winter in SoCal

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Sonoma County

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Just a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Sonoma County is a gorgeous winemaking region about an hour north (unless you’re me and have a horrible sense of direction and get lost…then it will take longer.)
But once you arrive, you’ll find that Sonoma boasts world-class cheesemakers like Ig Vella who makes Sonoma Dry Jack, a hard grating cheese whose exterior is rubbed with cocoa powder for ripening. There’s Craig Ponsford’s Artisan Bakery too, which won the Best Baguette in, gulp, Paris…of all places.
As you can imagine, that was quite an upset!

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The last of the persimmons, barely hanging on the tree.

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It isn’t California without Caesar Salad. But bread and butter alongside? Trés americain!

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This is ‘French’?
I’ve never seen taffy in France…or a goofy mug like that either.

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Just-harvested olives, to be pressed into California extra-virgin olive oil.

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Lucky plants…
Even they get chocolate too!

Seattle, con’t…

In case you’d like to read a first person account of my Holiday Chocolate Baking class in Seattle, Gluten-Free Girl came by to visit and posted about it at her site

And Sam posted about my class (and proposal) at Becks & Posh in San Francisco as well.

Seems like I’m leaving a few broken hearts in my wake!