Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shortbread Cookies Extraordinare!

Photo by Rick Starkman

Just before Christmas, photographer Rick Starkman, and I did a photo shoot a bit outside of the norm. We actually shot for Quilt In a Day, an amazing quilting company run by an incredible female entrepreneur who started the firm 30+ years ago, when women's careers limited to nurses, secretaries, and librarians. She was way ahead of her time, but that's a whole different story that I will tell you about later.

Although my Mom did some quilting I never knew much about the craft, which indeed is quite an art form unto itself. Interestingly, there are a number of quilt patterns that relate to food: crab apple, cherry basket, sugar cone, squash blossom, memory fruit, cheese box, pork and beans, and hearts and gizzards (my personal favorite because I think the word "gizzard" is rather funny and it makes people giggle unless they are a chicken farmer).

Quilt In a Day's founder, Eleanor Burns, has written over 100 books detailing quilt patterns. For the most current book, she thought it would be fun to use a photo of the food referenced in the quilt's name along with its recipe on the page facing the quilt pattern. Since I did all the cooking for the shoot, I got to sample all the recipes, and her shortbread cookies, are BY FAR, the best I've ever had, and so simple to make.  They are, most definitely, Shortbread Cookies Extraordinare!

The recipe is courtesy of the Julian Tea Room.

Almond Shortbread Cookies

Yield: Will vary based on size of cookie cutter used

1 pound butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 - 2 teaspoons pure almond extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almonds, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add almond extract and beat until well mixed. Stir in almonds. Roll between parchment or on a floured board to 1/4-inch thick. Cut dough into shapes.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet or parchment-covered cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cookies should not brown. Cool on a wire rack.

If you want to decorate the cookies with sugar or sprinkles, decorate before baking. If you choose, you can dust them with powdered sugar when they are cool.

Alligator Pears

It's pretty simple to see how avocados got the name alligator pears, but what's even more interesting is how the word avocado made it into the English language. Those of you who know me realize that I am somewhat of a geek. I think etymology is fascinating (my high school Latin teacher is smiling in heaven right now). Another passion, food history, fascinates me because food plays such a huge role in every culture, revealing much about its social and economic structure. Consequently, you'll find me telling stories about food throughout history.
Returning to avocados, it's generally believed the fruit originated in central Mexico; the oldest evidence found in a cave in Puebla, that dates back to 10,000 BC. (How could anyone not find that amazing?)  The word "avocado" comes from the Spanish aguacate which in turn comes from the Nahutl word ─ühuacatl; Nahutl is an ancient language of Central Mexico spoken by the Aztec, and the word translates to testicle, because of the shape of the avocado. The Aztecs also referred to it as "fertility fruit" which makes sense based on its meaning. The word avocado came from the Spanish word for advocate, which is a folk etymology, meaning it is a replacement of the original word that has nothing to do with the original meaning. That's it for history and etymology for now.....(Aren't you relieved?)

Growing up in a small town in northern Ohio in the 50's and 60's, avocados were nowhere to be found on our grocery shelves, but in 1973 when I was 19 I went on my hippie journey and lived on a small  communal farm just north of Ft. Collins, Colorado, but that's a whole story onto itself. My housemates introduced me to this most divine fruit, and I immediately fell in love with its subtle flavor and creamy texture. Fast forward to 2003 and I find myself living in the Avocado Capital of the World, the great claim to fame of Fallbrook, California, about 50 miles north of San Diego where the Mediterrean climate is perfect for cultivating avocados.

Kelli and I smiling for the camera
Photographer Bruce Jenkin, who recently moved his studio from Orange County to Fallbrook,  contacted me about a week ago to see if I'd be interested in styling some food shots using avocados to present to a prospective client. We decided on an omelet and a salad, so I showed up with my kit, three dozen eggs, a half dozen  avocados, and a few bags of fruits and vegetables. Bruce has an amazing studio with a chef's kitchen and a huge collection of food props that spans the walls of the studio. Kelli, his wife, selected a few items for us to look at on set and graciously volunteered to help me in the kitchen, which made for great company and lots of laughs. Kelli has a charming sense of humor and spending time with her s always a real pleasure.

Omelet with Cheddar Cheese, Multi-Colored Peppers, Mushrooms, and Avocado
After making a few omelets, I chose the "prettiest" and proceeded to drape it around a folded taco shell so it would hold its shape and give me more room for fillings.

Bruce and I went through the shots and selected our favorites, then on to salads.
The photo on the right is just me playing with my new iPhone, and the real beauty is Bruce's below. Because it looks so colorful and luscious, I thought I'd add the recipe.

 Salad with Avocados and Mandarin Orange Vinaigrette
Because I'm not one for following recipes exactly unless I'm baking, and salads can be composed with a handful of this and a sprinkling of that, consider this recipe as a guideline and play with as you like. To serve it as an entree for two, you can add sliced chicken breast.

Yield: about four servings or two entree servings

1 bag spring mix, 5 - 8 ounces
2 tangerines, satsumas, or mandarins; or 3 clementines; or 1 can of mandarin oranges drained
1 cup fresh blackberries
1/2 small red onion, sliced into thin rings
1 large avocado, sliced 

Tangerine Vinaigrette
1/3 cup good quality olive oil
1/4 cup tangerine (any type) juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey or orange marmalade
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients to blend well. Drizzle over salad.

Variations: now for the fun part: 
If you want to impart an Asian flavor add 1 - 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
For a smoky flavor add 1/2 - 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
For a spicy flavor add a dash to 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle
For a Mexican flavor add 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
For a subtle Indian flavor add 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What's a Gaffer Anyway?

If you haven't been on location shooting a TV commercial, this might be a fun post for you. And for all the old timers who do this for a living, just turn the page......

A Gaffer is an electrician, sometimes head of the electrical department, responsible for the execution (and sometimes the design) of the lighting plan for a production. The gaffer's assistant is the Best Boy Electric.

To understand what a gaffer does, let's look at the entire crew and see how the players interface with one another. Did you know production companies often rent a person's home for a TV show, commercial, or film shoot? It's often less expensive than building a set for a production, so a Location Scout or Location Manager will offer the production company a number of properties from which to choose. Lisa Rothmueller, Location and Production Manager of San Diego Locations can find the best spot for anyone coming into San Diego. She's a spunky, can-do kind of gal who you can always count on.

Last week we shot a commercial for Kroger in this San Diego home to introduce a new line of organic products to their stores. (Out here on the West Coast we know them as Ralph's.)

I'm sure I had the best view in the house! I set up my kitchen on the second floor patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Not a bad way to spend a day on location!

I shared the patio with Chris Andrus Lighting and his crew. He's got a fabulous group of guys who make me feel special, even though they know they're not getting any of the food I'm making for the shoot.

Grips are the technicians who handle all the lighting and rigging.

They work closely with the camera department to provide camera support, especially if the camera is mounted to a dolly, crane, or in an unusual position, such as the top of a ladder. Some grips may even specialize in operating camera dollies or camera cranes.
The second main function of grips is to work closely with the
electrical department to create lighting set-ups under the direction of the Director of Photography. Often there is a Key Grip as well as an assistant, the Best Boy Grip.
Looking into the back of Chris Andrus' truck.

The DP showing the Food Stylist placement of the items on the grill.
There is also the DP, or Director of Photography, who is responsible for the overall look of the production and the translation of that look to the Gaffer.

With the camera fixed on the subject, everyone can see exactly what the "camera sees" by looking into the monitor, so everything and everyone can be strategically placed to best convey the story to the eventual TV viewer.

This is an extremely important part of production because our eyes will never see the set exactly as the camera does since we can't be in the exact same angle as the lens. Nor can our eyes capture depth of field (what's in focus and out of focus). Looking at the scene through the monitor also allows the lighting to be tweaked to insure there are no unwanted shadows or glare.

The Director is ultimately in charge making sure the entire vision of the production is carried out successfully. The Executive Producer is responsible for the overall quality control of the
production, and for ensuring that final product conform to
the project's specifications. The Producer is in charge of the overall shooting and post production of the commercial (or film, TV show, etc.). He takes  the job from concept to completion and has a
creative say in the project. The Producer may have a PM or Production Manager to assist him with the managing the crew. Ticking away madly at his laptop is the Production Coordinator who handles all the paperwork for the shoot: invoices, release forms, schedules, and anything else funneling through the office. Money matters are handled by the Line Producer who usually hires the key members of the crew and is the one responsible for every line item in the budget.

The Sound Designer does the sound recording during the shoot. He will also handle the interjection of music, voice overs, or special sound effects in post production.

We Food Stylists make all the food in the shoot look appetizing on camera. I had the great pleasure of working with one of my favorite Food Stylists, Heather Bowen. Now semi- retired, Heather comes into town for her VIP clients. Working with her is a dream. She's fun, thorough, highly skilled, and a brilliant stylist. (Can you tell I'm fond of her?)....and no, we
don't shellac the chicken, but we certainly doll it up with food-safe  dyes like Kitchen Bouquet, soy sauce, bitters, and other agents. 

The Prop Master searches out every single prop used in the production, and the prop tables are laden with a multitude of choices for the Director and Producers to choose from. For something as simple as a salad bowl there might be ten or more to select from: glass bowls, wooden bowls, round bowls, square bowls, large bowls, small get the picture. The Prop Master, wanting to offer the best possible selection for the the Director and Producers will have tables of props laid out for easy selection. So now image the huge array of props needed for a commercial where the set is the kitchen! Every gadget and gismo is on those tables.

Props and more props
The Wardrobe Stylist(s) and Hair and Makeup Stylist(s) dress the talent/actors. The Wardrobe Stylists come with racks of clothes, steamers, irons, and a bag of tricks to customize fit. The Hair and Makeup Artists have color pallets of eye makeup, foundation, blush, brushes, blow dryers, curling irons, and everything you can possibly think of to make the talent look fabulous on camera. They are also constantly making touch ups to be sure the actors always look their best.

And then there are the Production Assistants, or PA's, who do anything that needs to be done to make shooting go as smoothly as possible. They serve as the runners or go-fers of the production, and often work the longest and hardest of anyone on the crew. God bless all the PA's, because without them, life on set would be miserable. Sadly, they often get the least credit, so here's a big fat BRAVO for the wonderful, life-saving PA's! That means you Chris Speed!

By far the most beloved people on set are Craft Services or Crafty, as they're sometimes called. They feed us breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner, keep us caffeinated, hydrated, and energized with every possible snack imaginable, including the ever present Peanut M&M's. They have bandaids, gum, aspirin, and breath mints for the actors. They are the "moms and dads" who take care of all of us.

So now you know what the gaffer does, along with the rest of the crew. So when you see the credits roll at the end of the film you can say, "I know what that guy does!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

It Doesn't Matter if the Dog Gets the Chicken

Photo from Animal's World
So you've never hosted a family dinner at your home and you're in a panic! But, think about it, what's the worst thing that can happen (excluding family dynamics): you burn everything, the dog gets the perfectly roasted chicken when it slides off the serving dish, or you drink so much wine to calm your nerves that you fall asleep with you head on the kitchen table before the guests arrive. Simple solution: order pizza. It would certainly make for fun family memories (even though you could possibly be so humiliated you'd hide in the broom closet until the guests leave).

Newbie dinner hosts have gone all kinds of crazy before company arrives. I know a gal who racked up hundreds on her credit card buying all new china, glasses, silverware, and linens to impress the in-laws before hosting her first Thanksgiving dinner. What's the point to making ourselves into a nervous, anxious wreck before hosting dinner with people we feel we need to impress? We can be so hung up on perfectionism that we turn a dinner gathering into an anxiety attack.

Admittedly I grew up cooking and I owned a catering company for eleven years, so guests always expected to be wowed when they came to dinner. Yet the first time I entertained my future mother-in-law I was beside myself with fear and deer-in-headlights paralysis. I was having terrible allergies (damn that ragweed and goldenrod in October) and my Benedryl-fogged brain couldn't figure out how I could possible organize dinner, feeling as poorly as I did, but it was the first time she was coming to our home and I was determined not to cancel. My future husband thought the best solution could be found in the Whole Foods prepared food section. With a Rudolph-red nose, runny swollen eyes, and a box of Kleenex under my arm, I decided his idea was my best solution. I came back laden with a three-course meal, set the table, and put an icy washcloth on my face hoping to calm my sinuses and my nerves.

Nancy and her beau arrived and dinner was served. She was very impressed with the potato leek soup and bragged to her partner about the wonderful cook I was. I fessed up and told her I didn't make the soup. Then came the main course, and again she told her boyfriend of my culinary prowess, and again, I explained that I had nothing to do with the meal except reheating it in the microwave. By the time we hit dessert it was a foregone conclusion that I had nothing to do with it beside putting it on a pretty dessert plate.

And to add insult to injury, I looked like a bad excuse for a Halloween pumpkin...swollen red nose, splotchy complexion, sneezing, snotty, and teary-eyed. I didn't even bother to put on makeup; mascara would have been running down my cheeks and lipstick smeared across my face. And Nancy was always so perfectly put together: coiffed hair, makeup, classic outfit. I felt sure she was wondering why her son chose this ugly mad woman to spend the rest of his life with?

But Nancy wasn't thinking any of those things. In truth she was so very happy that David and I found one another and that we were building a life together. The fact that dinner was prepared by some anonymous Whole Foods' chef didn't matter a lick to her. That we could share a meal in our home and be together as a family mattered. All my shame, fear, and worry was a lot of wasted energy.

Nancy, David, and I in 2000
I came to really love Nancy. I knew she adored me as I did her. On our wedding day when we were in front of all our friends and family, she caught my eye from her seat in the front row and mouthed, "I love you." That is one of the sweetest memories from that very special day. Sadly Nancy passed suddenly with pancreatic cancer. She went to the ER with a stomach ache, was diagnosed, and passed within a week. I was with her in hospice when her beautiful spirit passed from her body into the ethers. "Fly with the angels, Mom," I whispered.

Bottom line: it doesn't  really matter if you burn everything or if the dog gets the perfectly roasted chicken. And if your guests think it does matter, don't invite them to dinner again, and don't even bother to order that pizza. Because sharing a dinner has less to do with the food you serve than it does with the love that flows around the table.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pizza! Pizza!

Stone Flats sausage & mushroom pizza. Photo copyright 2012 Carl Kravats.

Who doesn't like pizza? There's something about the combination of bread and melted cheese with all those flavorful toppings that makes people crave it.

I grew up in an Italian and Greek family and homemade pizza was the only kind of pizza I ever tasted until I went away to college. I think we had one small pizzaria in our little Midwest town, but I never would have thought of going there to buy a ready made pizza! Probably sounds absolutely absurd to you younger readers, but I grew up in the 60's and 70's and my family was a make-it-from-scratch old world family.

As an aside, I'm thrilled that we're going back to more of that lifestyle that focuses on bringing family and community back together around the table. With the Slow Food movement, small organic farms, CSA's (community supported agriculture), and the ever-increasing farmer's markets we're making great strides.

But the heart of this story lies in my mom's kitchen, where she still makes her pizza from scratch. The art of making pizza was a nurturing, loving process that my Great Aunt Rose taught my mom. My father's side of the family was Italian, so my mom needed coaching on how to make the pizza my father grew up eating, and my Great Aunt Rose, my grandfather's sister, was the grand matriarch of the kitchen. The dough was always made from scratch.

I can still hear my mom passing down the recipe to me, "First you put the flour on your work space, and then you make a well." Remember Red Star fresh yeast? That went into a cup of "warm, not hot!" job. Then the kneading, rising, and punching down (also my job) until she could finally work the dough into a large rectangular cookie sheet and slather it with olive oil. Then back to rise yet again.

Finally it was time for the toppings. First finely chopped garlic, a slathering of olive oil, and a light dusting of salt, then the tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone, and Romano, and finally fresh basil, mushrooms, and pepperoni for my dad. Then back into the oven until the edges were golden. Ahhhhh...biting into a warm cheesy slice, I knew it was absolute perfection and it was part of my family tradition.

My Great Grandmother, Aunt Rose's mom, came to the US from Calabrese, Italy. We called her "Old Grandma", I suspect because we had two other grandmothers and she was older than either of them. She had a soft round face etched with time and struggles. Her white wavy hair was always neatly tucked into a fine mesh hairnet as thin as spiderwebs. When she was young with eight small children making every penny count, she would make several huge pizzas that filled the white oak table in the kitchen. But during these times, the toppings weren't lavish, simply olive oil, garlic, and salt. My grandfather told me he and his brothers loved to sneak in the house from playing soccer in the yard to steal the softest center slices. I can only imagine the silky texture and pungent garlic flavor of those first slices.

These days, my husband and I try to eat all organic because we believe it is better for us and for the planet. Since my husband is gluten free, going out for pizza, as we know it, isn't always an option. Sad, sad, sad......until we found Stone Flats where we were treated to a gluten free crust with basil, tomatoes, sauteed marinated mushrooms, goat cheese, and black olives. It is marvelous, delicious, fabulous, and irrestible. Can you tell I like it?

This modern day version is quite a stretch from my roots, but for today it gave me a great excuse to dote on another sweet memory from childhood.

If you haven't been to Stone Flats yet, you MUST! You can check out their menu at their website. They are located at 272 N. El Camino real in Encinitas. There are loads of shops in the area; they're in the same center as KFC. The staff is great and the food superb!

Monday, December 10, 2012


Kabocha squash
 I drove by a beautiful pumpkin patch yesterday. The green leaves and vines had all dried to a sandy tan color leaving behind a whole array of magnificent orange pumpkins. Those chubby round squash got me thinking about soup. Squash soup! As the days get shorter and night time creeps into the late afternoon, I start thinking about making soup. I love soup, all kinds of soups, and I make vats of it in the fall and winter, but I could never bear the thought of laboring over a steamy kettle in the midst of summer.

Kabocha. A very fun word for a very wonderful fall squash.  Kabocha is also called Japanese pumpkin and is shaped like a big round squat green-striped pumpkin with golden yellow-orange flesh.  I love this orange-fleshed goddess of the autumn harvest. I only discovered this marvelous vegetable a few years ago, and I never tire of the sweet mellow flavor. It reminds me somewhat of roasted chestnuts, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes all rolled into one. 

"Ka-bo-cha!" is also a fun word to say out loud. Sounds like it could be a formidable order when spoken with force. I can hear the storybook king screaming, "Kah-boo-chah!" instead of "Charge!" when the he issues a war cry to his troops. (Maybe I've seen too many movies about the Middle Ages.)  If you put the accent on the middle syllable it can also sound like a blessing you'd say when someone sneezes. "Ka-boo-cha!"

Enough about the word itself. Let's talk Kabocha Squash Soup..... I came up with this recipe last winter and I love the way the squash and apple flavors meld with the toasted garam masala. The soup tastes like autumn. I hope it warms your heart and your belly.

Kabocha Squash Soup

Yield: Depending on the size of squash about 4 quarts (16 cups)

2 medium kabocha squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small or 3 medium apples, (I prefer Fugi) roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala 
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cream sherry (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut squash into quarters and remove seeds Put squash pieces, cut side down, in a large roasting pan and add about one-inch of water to the pan. Roast squash for about 40 minutes until very soft

Simmering apples and onions
Put olive oil in a large soup kettle over medium-low heat. Add onion and apples and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until they are soft. 

Add broth, turn up heat to medium, and let simmer while the squash is baking. 

 Put all spices except salt in a small sautee pan over low heat and warm until fragrant. Remove squash from oven and spoon flesh out of the skin and add to the soup mixture. 

Aromatics before toasting to enhance the flavor
Add the spice mixture. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until creamy and return to kettle on low heat. Add salt and sherry, and simmer 5 minutes to cook out the alcohol.

Optionally garnish with a dusting of cinnamon, a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream, or a teaspoon of sherry.

Tips for new cooks:
  •  The squash is extremely difficult to cut. Use a sharp chef's knife, cut on a level surface, watch where you put your hand that isn't holding the knife and be sure it's nowhere near the cut or the knife blade. Firmly hold the squash with the stem on the top. Insert your knife under the stem and cut downward toward the bottom. Your knife is probably not big enough to cut all the way through, so remove your knife, turn squash around so the uncut side is facing you and cut just as you did on the first side.
  • If you feed the birds or squirrels in your yard, you can put the squash seeds out for them. They love 'em!
  • When blending a hot mixture, only fill the blender half full and use care. The mixture expands and releases a lot of steam. Keep the lid on the blender and cover the top with a kitchen towel.
  • This soup freezes well.
Oops, forgot to take a photo of the finished soup. Oh well, next time.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Persimmon Salad with Beets & Bleu Cheese

Persimmon Salad with Beets & Bleu Cheese. Photo copyright Carl Kravats 2012.

 Persimmon Salad with Beets & Bleu Cheese
This is a quick and easy salad that has autumn all over it.
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients for the salad: 
4 fresh ripe Fuyu persimmons
4 red beets, roasted or steamed
2 scallions
6 ounces Bleu cheese, 2 ounces crumbled; 4 ounces cut into wedges

Ingredients for the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one orange, about 1/3 cup
1 clove of garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions for the dressing:
Whisk together all ingredients. Let sit at room temperature for a few minutes for the flavors to meld. Remove the garlic clove before using.

To compose the salad:
Remove calyx from persimmons. Using a mandolin or a sharp vegetable peeler, cut the persimmon into paper fine rounds. Slice beets into rounds. Slice scallions vertically into thin strips. Plate beets in center of plate and surround with persimmon slices. Top with Bleu cheese crumbles. Drizzle dressing over salad. Garnish with scallions and Bleu cheese wedges.

It's also excellent served with sugar spiced pecans or walnuts.

Persimmons: Fruit of the Gods

Persimmon grove in Southern California. Photo copyright Carl Kravats 2012.

Perhaps one of the reasons persimmons are still so foreign to Americans is because of an unpleasant persimmon experience, likely with a native American persimmon or a Hachiya (Asian persimmon). If you were dared by your Uncle Eddie into tasting an unripe astringent persimmon as a child, I’m sure you were horrified by its unpleasant tannic flavor. Your tongue felt like sandpaper and the inside of your mouth felt like a dried up beach towel, and it stayed that way for a few minutes! But had you tasted a ripe Fuyu persimmon it may have become one of your favorite fruits. There are two types of persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. Fuyus are non-astringent allowing them to be eaten when they still have a crunch to them. Native American persimmons and Hachiya persimmons are of the astringent variety. Sadly, everyone’s first taste wasn’t a Fuyu.

The poor little orange Fuyu persimmon is sadly misunderstood in this country, and many people have no idea how to eat them or use them in cooking. In many other cultures outside of North American, persimmons are a valued and prized fruit.

The one quandary I have about persimmons is describing the flavor of a ripe Fuyu persimmon to someone who has never tasted the fruit, because a persimmon tastes like a persimmon and nothing else! It’s not a fruit that can be hastily described as one so often hears certain meats described as “tasting like chicken.” It has a unique sweetness that is very delicate and luscious. It seems Thomas Hariot, a scientist in the second Roanoke expedition to the New World in 1585 agreed. He described the persimmon, "as red as cherries and very sweet: but whereas the cherrie is sharpe and sweet, they are lushious sweet." He clearly tasted a very ripe Native American persimmon.

Persimmons. Photo copyright Carl Kravats 2012.
Fuyu's season is very short, and they are at their perfection now. By January they will be much harder to find in the markets. Pick some up at the market, let them ripen so they yield to light pressure (similar to how you'd test an avocado for ripeness), and eat them just as you'd eat an apple. Ummmmmm, luscious, creamy, and sweet........

An excellent source of organic persimmons is Beck Grove AKA LaVigne Organics in Fallbrook, CA. You can reach them at 760-723-9997 or at their website but you better hurry because there aren't many left!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three Mules

Three Mules - Photo from

I was driving out of a parking lot in Fallbrook today and there was a man and three pack mules walking along the side of the road. They stopped in a vacant lot beside the library to rest. I went up to him to talk, but he seemed to want his privacy so I moved on, but I was
deeply touched as I watched them walking along the road. On one of the packs there was a web address: Here's the text from the one-page site:

To answer the most asked questions: Who are we? Where are we from? And where are we going? We are mules. We are from the outside. We live outside all day , every day. Where are we going? Nowhere, we're here- the outside, the web of life- the beautiful earth, a place like no other. We have come to this place-a place of golden sparkling light, a place for anybody and everybody. Give your faith, hope and energy to this place at which time you connect to it and receive the magic and endless possibility of infinity. As you walk in this place with these mules you spread the awareness that this beautiful earth like no other can only be protected by the way we live one day at a time.

Seeing this fellow walking along a busy road with three mules following behind, something touched me deeply. The feeling was one of peace and reverence. I was deeply moved. Others have seen him walking throughout Arizona and California. Perhaps he blesses everyone he passes....
Walking along a California roadway with three mules - Photo from

Monday, December 3, 2012


Photo Copyright Ryan Beck Photography 2012

I had some of the most luscious ravioli I have ever tasted thanks to Pasta Mia. Enrico Sentatore, the corporate buyer for Pasta Mia worked with photographer Ryan Beck and me to create a new photo for their Salmon Ravioli with Asparagus and Grana Padano Sauce. Enrico walked into the studio with a cooler full of fresh ingredients: a full side of beautiful fresh iced Atlantic salmon, a huge pound wedge of Grana Padano cheese, a fistful of fresh parsley, a huge bag of ravioli, and three containers of Grana Padano Sauce. I picked up fresh asparagus at the market on my way to Ryan's studio. We had everything we needed to create a new packaging shot for Pasta Mia.

The pasta is golden yellow because of the egg yolks and the filling is made from flaked salmon, fresh whole mik ricotta, and tender asparagus. By handling, cooking, and tasting the product it was easy to see the high quality standards that are so important to the company. Enrico told me they try to source the very best ingredients locally, but if they can't find a product that meets the their criteria, they will import it from Italy. I believe the huge wedge of Grana Padano was from Italy.

Currently most of their wonderful pastas and sauces are served in upscale resaturants, but I was happy to find out they are expanding their line into the retail marketplace and we will be able to find it in Costco shortly.

Because I'm such a lover of food history, I did some online digging before I met Enrico. I wasn't familiar with Grana Padano and wanted to know more about the cheese. Turns out, it is one of the best loved cheeses in Italy. It's also one of the world's first hard cheeses, created nearly 1,000 years ago by the Cistercian monks whose life focus is on manual labour and self-sufficiency. Many abbeys have traditionally supported themselves through activities such as agriculture and brewing ales. The monks used ripened cheese as a way of preserving surplus milk. By the year 1477, it was regarded as one of the most famous cheeses of Italy. It lasts a long time without spoiling, sometimes aging up to two years, and is made in a similar fashion to Parmigiano Reggiano. It is a semi-fat cheese that is cooked and ripened slowly, for at least 9 months or up to 20-24 months for the fullest flavor to develop.

There was an extra added pleasure to this photo shoot that I should mention, I got to listen to the magnificient music of the Italian language all day. Even though I couldn't understand a word Enrico said in conversation on his cell phone, I listening to the melodic flow of the words. I completely understand why Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love absolutley had to learn Italian.

Photo from the Pasta Mia website,