Anxious to Purchase a Steer & Trader Joe’s Grass-Fed Ground Beef

traderjoesgrassfed

As soon as Ben and I have space to fit one, we’re going to buy a freezer, one of those large, freestanding jobs that opens like a chest. And then we’re going to buy a steer or maybe half a steer, and come harvest time, we’re going to fill our box with all of its butchered parts, which we’ll subsist on until we run out.

This is the ideal, of course, and one of Michael Pollan’s suggestions in In Defense of Food. Pollan writes, “If you have the space, buy a freezer.” Pollan lives in Northern California, subscribes to a CSA, and purchases meat and dairy from local farms that raise their animals on pasture. He purchases by the ½ steer, whole hog and ½-dozen chickens. I’m sort of guessing about this last detail, but that’s the idea I get after reading the last part of this book.

Like many people, I began eating grass-fed beef after reading Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I have posted several times about animal treatment in feedlots, the health benefits of grass-fed meat, and several dinner parties with friends starring grass-fed burgers.

My reasons for seeking out grass-fed meats revolve more around animal welfare than health benefits. A passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life says it best. Kingsolver quotes Wendell Berry. In his book, What Are People For, Berry writes:

“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable in order to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently shut down a Chino-based supplier of beef after a video showed slaughterhouse workers using inhumane and illegal practices on weak and sick cows. After watching the footage on the news, I find it hard to justify purchasing feedlot meat processed in these types of facilities. And after visiting farms (such as Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm) where animals live just as Berry describes, I find it difficult to support any other type of farming.

Now, until Ben and I acquire the space to fit a steer in our kitchen, or until we start our own farm and have animals living on our front lawn, we’ll have to settle with purchasing grass-fed meats buy the pound. As far as I can tell, purchasing local, pastured meats is relatively easy in Northern California, as it was in Philadelphia — the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market is an unbelievable little stand. I am just realizing how spoiled I was to have, in walking distance from my apartment, a place to buy local, humanely raised beef, pork, chicken and lamb as well as raw milk and raw-milk cheeses.

So far I have found few sources in Southern California for pastured meats. Though I have not researched extensively, Trader Joe’s seems to be the closest source to me for grass-fed beef. I’ve now purchased their grass-fed ground beef twice and have been very pleased both times. I called the customer service line (for future reference: 626.599.3817) to find out where the cows were raised and where the meat was processed. While the woman wouldn’t give me the name of the farm or processing plant, she told me the cows are both raised and processed in Northern California.

Now, I suppose for the real purists — extreme locavores — Northern California might be too far. As I weigh my two options, however — grass-fed beef from Northern California or corn-fed, abused beef from nearby — food miles seem like a trivial criterion. I’ll have to double check with the authority around here, Melanie Lytle (the San Diegan devoting a year to eating locally grown food), to make sure I’m not missing a closer source, but until then, I’ll enjoy my Trader Joe’s grass-fed meat with a clear conscience. View pictures of happy animals on various farms here.

Grass-Fed Burgers
Makes 4 patties

1 to 1.25 lbs. grass-fed ground beef
1/2 white onion,
finely diced to yield a scant 1/2 cup
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
buns
lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, cheese, etc.,
if desired

Note: The package of beef I bought contained 1.22 lbs of meat and I used a scant 1/2 cup of onions for this amount. Adjust accordingly for more or less meat.


1. Spread the meat out in a large bowl as pictured above. Sprinkle evenly with kosher salt. Sprinkle the onion over top. Form into patties about 5 to 6 ounces each. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

2. Preheat the grill to high. Spinkle the burgers on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

3. Place burgers on the grill. Cover grill. And turn heat to medium. Now, every grill is different, all meat is different, and everyone has different opinions about what rare, medium rare, etc. looks like. I cooked these for about three minutes a side and was happy with their doneness — just slightly pink on the inside and still very juicy. I have overcooked these burgers before too, however, and found the meat to be less forgiving than traditional burger meat, so be careful and enjoy!

Burnt Bagels, Tilden Farm Avocados and Las Golondrinas Tortilla Chips

guac

A very funny thing happened to me yesterday morning at Coffee Bean. I ordered my usual, an everything bagel toasted with butter and a medium coffee. For a change, however, I asked if I could have the bagel toasted twice. The girl looked a little annoyed, but agreed.

Well, she showed me. About eight minutes later, the girl called me from my table and handed me a paper to-go bag. I knew something was up. The whole place smelled of burnt onion and garlic flakes. I politely asked for a plate, explaining I would be having my bagel “here,” as I had the past five mornings. “Sure,” she said.

I could hardly wait to see what she pulled out of the bag. She handed me the plate topped with two charred — BLACK — disks, both halves, front and back. She must have toasted it 10 times! I almost burst out laughing. I told her I would pay for another bagel toasted only once. At this point, a manager intervened, throwing the charred bagel in the trash, starting a fresh one for me, no extra charge.

Lesson learned: Watch out for Nicole at 6:00 in the morning. Anyway, I remained on guard for the rest of the day, trying to avoid any more mishaps. And I almost succeeded.

After breakfast, I drove up to Laguna Hills to buy some produce from a farmers’ market. I had been enlisted to make an hors d’oeuvre for 10 people for a gathering Friday evening. The day before, Ben’s Aunt Vicki and her mother, Sy, had described to me a legendary guacamole, one invented by Sy’s husband, Jack. This recipe includes diced onions and finely chopped pistachios, an ingredient that adds an unexpected crunch, an ingredient that leaves tasters guessing — intrigued — hooked.

I was hooked just listening and decided I would purchase Las Golondrinas tortilla chips — best chips ever — and try Jack’s recipe. At the market, I bought avocados and onions, and at Trader Joe’s, I bought pistachios, shell on, as instructed. When I returned home, I set to work, dicing the onion finely, scooping the avocado, and shelling the pistachios. With my prep work completed, I reached for my … Cuisinart, blender, sharp knife, hammer, rolling pin, anything to help me finely chop the pistachios. Alas, all of my tools are still locked up somewhere on Camp Pendleton, in an undisclosed storage facility, a place commonly referred to as Never Neverland.

Jack’s recipe would have to wait. I did not have the patience to chop by hand given the knife I’ve been using cannot slice a banana without bruising it. I ended up making guacamole the only way I know how, with lime juice and kosher salt. And it turns out, that’s all these avocados really need.

I’m slowly putting together a list of my favorite local sources, which now includes avocados from Tilden Farm. At the market, Jimmy Moreno, owner of this Riverside farm, hands out samples of his avocados sprinkled with a little sea salt. He also sells oranges, grapefruits, lemons and a few other varieties of citrus.

Mr. Moreno’s farm is organic in all ways except name. If he paid for certification, he told shoppers, he would have to sell his avocados for $4 a piece. Mr. Moreno explained that almost all citrus farmers are organic because very few pests bother these types of crops, so they need few, if any, pesticides.

As I mentioned above, these avocados need little doctoring, but I will write an addendum to this post once I try Jack’s recipe. And, though I have not made Vicki’s variation yet, I have now savored it on more than one occasion. Vicki adds a splash of Sriracha sauce, which adds a nice kick, and a pinch of garlic powder, a subtle contribution that like Jack’s pistachios, keeps tasters guessing.

Jimmy Moreno standing behind his avocados at the Friday morning Laguna Hills farmers’ market.
Simplest Guacamole
Serves 8 to 10

4 ripe avocados
kosher salt
fresh limes

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise. Remove pits and discard. Scoop out the flesh, and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and lime juice to taste. Mash with a large spoon or whisk. Taste, adjust with more salt, limes or another avocado if, as I did, you’ve made it too salty. Serve with thin, crispy tortilla chips such as Las Golondrinas.

A bag of Las Golondrinas tortilla chips. Las Golondrinas are a local company and have a few shops including one here in San Clemente. These tortilla chips can be purchased at Albertsons as well as the San Clemente Sunday farmers’ market.

Lunch At Cafe Mimosa After Monthly Bout With Verizon Wireless

croissant2

It happens every month. When I see that red and white envelope in my mailbox, my heart begins to race, my blood pressure rises and my face turns red. Before even opening the envelope, I key in the customer service number — 888.294.6804 — one I have perforce committed to memory. After tearing into the envelope, I zero in on the total, then hit send.

And that’s how it goes. For about 30 minutes a month, I turn into a monster, screaming at the poor soul at the other end of the line, demanding “to speak with a manager!” It’s really sort of embarrassing, but I can’t help it — something is always wrong. And I don’t just dispute overage minutes either. I challenge when they inexplicably change my monthly text-message allowance; when they charge me doubly for in-calling; and when they lose checks — two now — and then ask me — twice now — to fax my bank statement proving the check’s clearance. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Every month I swear upon switching services the next available chance. Unfailingly, however, I get convinced to sign on for another year or two. I have now been an unhappy Verizon Wireless customer since 2002, and the end is nowhere in sight.

Anyway, lunch at Café Mimosa proved the perfect antidote to my near heart attack on Avenida Del Mar outside the library. I could barely see straight, let alone read, so I ordered the first sandwich I saw, a vegetarian panini. One bite into this pressed sandwich, spread with artichoke tapenade, filled with perfectly roasted — al dente — vegetables and melted with Asiago cheese, and I felt my nerves calm, the customer service man who suggested I switch to on-line bill pay, a distant memory.

I have now had several enjoyable experiences at Café Mimosa. Last Friday, I walked over and ordered a delectable bowl of lentil soup and a pot of Chamomile tea. As I made my way out the door, I eyed the baked goods in the glass case, spotting some particularly handsome croissants. When I asked if the pastries were made in-house, the bleach-blonde Brazilian waitress nodded. “Every morning,” she said, advising I “come at 8:00,” when, “they’re still warm.”

And that’s just what we did. On Saturday morning, in the freezing cold*, Ben and I walked over to Café Mimosa for croissants, coffee and two scrambled eggs. While the croissants were not warm, they tasted fresh, and made a wonderful treat on this frigid morning. I sense the birth of a Saturday breakfast tradition.

*The temperature had dropped to the low 60s, a nearly unbearable range for this newly adapted California couple.

A More Prudent Farmers’ Market Pasta

prudentpasta

As I mentioned on Monday, I have a new Sunday dinner tradition: Delaney’s Culinary Fresh pasta mixed with anything I find that morning at the farmers’ market. Last week, I could not resist buying a variety of beautiful, wild mushrooms despite a slightly sketchy story about their origin.

Fortunately, I have made a cyber friend, Melanie Lytle, author of the blog Livin’ the Vida Local, who set me straight. On a year-long mission to eat food grown primarily in the San Diego foodshed, Melanie has extensively researched local food producers, from those setting up booths at farmers’ markets to those selling meat, fish and dairy products in shops. Her blog has already been a tremendous resource for me.

After reading in an article Melanie sent me that the mushrooms I purchased last Sunday might actually have been shipped from Japan, I felt quite deceived. I now know, however, on this big West Coast, I must become a more savvy farmers’-market shopper.

And last Sunday I did make some prudent choices as well, including 8 (yes 8) bundles of Swiss chard which I purchased from the Eli’s Ranch (a farm located in Fallbrook) stand. It was a little excessive, I admit, but I had just read in Michael Pollan’s latest book, In Defense of Food, about the importance of eating leaves as opposed to seeds and about how the shift from a food chain with green plants at its base to one based on seeds — a shift embodied in the Western Diet — has had detrimental consequences to our health. (More on this book in an upcoming entry.)

So, I may have fibbed a little. Delaney’s Culinary Fresh pasta has become a little more than a Sunday night tradition. It has been more like a twice-a-week dinner affair, which supplies us with leftovers for lunch at least twice a week as well. The simplest and most delicious way I have thus far prepared this fresh linguini is this: Sauté sliced onions and fennel together over medium heat until caramelized. Transfer to a bowl. In the same pan, sauté Swiss chard with garlic and red pepper flakes until wilted and add to the bowl. Cook the pasta for two minutes, add to the bowl of vegetables, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve. Ben has been very pleased with this combination, loving particularly the toothsomeness of the pasta and the texture of the chard.

As I mentioned above, I will devote an entry entirely to In Defense Of Food, but for now, I’ll give you a little preview. In the last 50 pages of the book, Pollan gives some basic rules to help readers more simply figure out what to eat. Here are a few: Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (such as Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt tubes). Avoid Products that make health claims (because even products such as corn oil can make claims such as, “One tablespoon of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease”.) And my favorite: Have a glass of wine with dinner.

Here’s another good one — one that is particularly relevant to this delectable fresh linguini: Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A.) unfamiliar, B.) unpronounceable, and C.) more than five in number. As a little experiment, I pulled a bag of egg noodles from my cupboard. Here are the ingredients: semolina, durum flour, egg yolks, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. The Delaney’s Culinary Fresh red pepper linguini, on the other hand, is made with semolina flour, red bell pepper, egg and sea salt — ingregients we all recognize and know how to pronounce.

Visit the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh Web site to read owner Jordan Stone’s inspiring story, to find other locations to purchase this handmade pasta, and to read other ways to prepare a wonderful dinner in no time.

Farmers’ Market Linguini II
Serves 4

5 thin slices pancetta (Note: This can be omitted. I’ve made this basic recipe twice now, once with pancetta and once with olive oil, and both are delicious. Substitute a tablespoon of olive oil for the pancetta if desired.)
2 small heads fennel
one onion
kosher salt

two large heads Swiss chard, escarole or kale, washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
red pepper flakes
1 lb. red pepper linguini
purchased, if possible, from Delaney’s Culinary Fresh
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
freshly cracked black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Slice the pancetta into thin strips or cut into small dice. Place in a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cook until the fat melts and the pancetta begins to brown. When the pancetta turns dark brown and becomes crispy, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or tongs, and set aside. (This could take as long as 20 minutes or as fast as 10, depending on how patient you are with the heat dial and how much time you have to spare.)

3. Meanwhile, slice the fennel into half moons. Slice the onion into half moons as well. After removing the pancetta from the pan, sauté the onion and fennel together over medium heat until slightly caramelized. (Again, this can take more or less time depending on patience.) Season lightly with salt. Once slightly browned, transfer mixture to a bowl and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, if using chard, cut the stems from the greens and chop into 1/2-inch chunks. Cut the greens roughly too. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, add the stems and sauté over medium heat until tender, about five minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the garlic and the greens and season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Using tongs, rearrange the greens until nicely wilted. Turn off heat and add fennel-onion mixture to pan. Toss to combine. (If cooking the pasta right away, you can keep the pan on low heat.)

5. Cook pasta for two minutes. Drain, but do not rinse. Place pasta in a large bowl. Add a few large handfuls of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add vegetables and reserved crispy pancetta pieces, and toss. Serve immediately, passing more cheese and freshly cracked pepper on the side.


NOTE: Comments on this post have been closed due to an infiltration of spam. Please email me if you have any questions: ali.c.stafford@gmail.com. Thank you.

Very Cute Seals & Cookies

sealcookies

One time it took my dad 7 hours to drive from New Haven, CT to Philadelphia, PA. Was there traffic, you may wonder? No. How then could it have taken so long? Well, he arrived to Philadelphia proper in about 4 hours, but then spent the next three hours driving around the suburbs, an area he had visited several times, trying to “follow his nose” to his hotel. He was exasperated (who wouldn’t be?) to say the least, when he finally called me from his hotel room explaining what had happened. Our dinner reservation, planned for 3 hours earlier naturally, had long been cancelled, and we decided to meet for breakfast instead.

Yesterday, I felt a little bit like my dad. After spending an hour or so exploring downtown San Diego, I felt a little hungry. I called my friend — the same friend who swears it never rains in SD — who recommended a few lunch spots, one being the Living Room located in La Jolla. I had been to La Jolla once before, and so, like my dad, did not need directions. I headed back on I-5N, got off the exit for the La Jolla Parkway and headed west. The area looked familiar, but one wrong turn led me heading North, so far North I ended getting back on the 5 heading south, so far south I had to get off and turn around to head north. I wanted to scream. I contemplated pulling into the In-N-Out — a place I’m still dying to try — located right off the exit, but decided, like my dad, I could persevere for at least a few more hours.

Fortunately, before too long (well under three hours), I found myself sitting at one of the outside bistro tables at the Living Room, basking in the sun and sipping a very calming mocha, a drink highly recommended by my friend. My BLT arrived shortly after and I tucked in. Still flustered and famished from my journey up and down the 5, however, I forgot to photograph my delectable sandwich, and before I realized what was happening, I had devoured all but one bite of my potential blog entry. Alas!

After lunch, I took a quick stroll around Seal Beach, which I had seen once before but only at night. Seals are so cute! And very tired it seems. A few of them slithered (do seals slither? whatever they do, it looks exhausting) in and out of the water, but most of them lay motionless in the sand. Except for this guy pictured below. Every time the tide reached his underbelly, he arched his back, curling up his tail and head. I could have watched it all day.

In honor of my moment with the seals, I purchased a cookie, pictured above, from Girard Gourmet, another spot recommended by my friend. By this point, I had regained my composure and was able to snap a picture before tasting this yummy and very cute treat. Thanks Chu for a wonderful day in La Jolla!

Farmers’ Market Mushrooms & Melograno Nostalgia

mushrooms

I seem to have been deceived. Contrary to what I believed before arriving to the West Coast nearly three weeks ago, it does rain in Southern California. And it also gets cloudy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. And while I’m not longing for East Coast weather by any means, yesterday, while shopping at the San Clemente’s farmers’ market, I found myself craving my all-time favorite pasta dish — pappardelle tartufate — found in only one place: a little, Italian BYOB, located 2,378 miles away (as the crow flies) in Philadelphia.

I have been mocked by many about my love for Melograno. Whenever anyone I know visits Philadelphia, I point them to the corner of 22nd and Spruce; whenever I learn of anyone living in Philadelphia who hasn’t been to Melograno, I gasp, and then point them to the corner of 22nd and Spruce. I also tell them what to order: the baby arugula and prosciutto salad to start; the papardelle tartufate as an entrée; and the tiramisu for dessert. Melograno serves many other delectable appetizers, desserts (and entrées) too, but the papardelle tartufate —a mix of homemade pappardelle pasta, wild mushrooms, chopped walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle oil — must never be substituted.Anyway, while at the market yesterday, I began chatting with Don of Don’s Farm in Wildomar, CA. Don sells eggs, preserves, honey, apple butter, avocados, squash and a host of other vegetables. He also a variety of mushrooms — maitake, brown beech, white beech and royal trumpet — though I am unsure if he grows or just sells these mushrooms.

In any case, Don briefly described the growing technique: these bunches each grow in a bottle in a temperature-controlled room under a fine mist. They are not hydroponic; they are not grown in soil; they are totally organic. Don tells me, “they” — I’m not sure who this refers to, thus the confusion as to who is growing the mushrooms — are building a multi-million dollar facility to increase production of these prized fungi. (As a supporter of small, diversified farms practicing environmentally responsible growing techniques, I am instinctively averse to the idea of this facility: Is growing mushrooms this way any different than the way Earthbound Farms grows their organic greens, in large facilities requiring huge amounts of energy to keep the temperature controlled to prevent the greens from wilting? I’ll have to investigate further, for now, however, I’ll continue to enjoy these delectable fungi.)

Don recommends keeping the mushrooms in their plastic wrappings until cooking time. Do not wash them, he says, and snip off just the outermost end before cooking.

These are the maitake, meaning “dancing mushroom” in Japanese:
I cannot say this recipe replicates Melograno’s pasta exactly, but it has satisfied my fresh pasta-truffle oil-wild mushroom craving. And this pasta, purchased at the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh stand at the farmers’ market, while completely different than the pappardelle at Melograno, is unbelievable. Last week I bought a pound of the red-pepper linguini and this week a pound each of the lemon basil and red pepper. The pasta will keep, I am told, for up to a week in the refrigerator or months in the freezer. Requiring only two minutes in boiling water to cook, this flavorful pasta remains toothsome and chewy and has already become a Sunday evening tradition.
Farmers’ Market Linguini
Inspired by Melograno in Philadelphia
Serves 4

8 pkgs. mixed mushrooms: I used a mix of white beech, brown beech and maitake purchased from Don’s Farm at the San Clemente’s farmers’ market (Note: I only used four packages and found that was not sufficient for the one pound of pasta. I am doubling the recipe I made today as a result. I would guess that each package of mushrooms weighs about 4 ounces, so a total of 2 lbs. (or 1.75lbs at least) of mushrooms is required for 1 lb. of pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, plus more to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb. fresh linguini (I used fresh lemon-basil linguini purchased from the Delaney’s Culinary Fresh stand at the San Clemente’s farmers’ market, but any fresh or dried pasta will do. I actually think a dried orecchiette or bowtie pasta might be a better shape to toss with the mushrooms, though this fresh pasta is unbelievable!)
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
truffle oil, optional
a few big, thick shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano to top each plate
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat one tablespoon of oil with one teaspoon of butter. When hot, add half of the mushrooms, shake the pan once, then let them cook undisturbed for one to two minutes — this will help them get a nice brown, seared edge. Shake the pan again, and if necessary, stir and rearrange the mushrooms with a wooden spoon. Let cook until tender and slightly caramelized. Add half of the garlic and thyme, kosher salt and pepper to taste, and let cook for one minute longer. Transfer these mushrooms to a bowl then repeat with remaining oil, butter, mushrooms, etc. When all the mushrooms have finished cooking, return the first batch to the sauté pan to keep warm.

3. Cook the fresh pasta for 2 minutes. Alternatively, cook dried pasta until al dente. Drain. Place pasta in a large bowl. Add a dab of butter and a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add the mushrooms and toss gently to combine.

4. Place small mounds of the pasta on all plates. Drizzle each serving with a tiny (or not so tiny) amount of truffle oil, if desired. Top each with the thick shavings of Parmigiano.

Note: Melograno also adds chopped walnuts, which add a nice crunch and good flavor. I forgot to purchase them and so did not include them in the recipe, but they would be a nice addition to this dish.

Captain Mauri’s: New Favorite Lunch Spot

CptMauri

The Avocado N’ Jack sandwich at Captain Mauri’s:
So, I’ve created a nice little routine for myself: I wake up at a leisurely hour; I make coffee and a pot of oatmeal; I walk to the library where I find free wifi and a quiet place to “work”; I break for lunch around 1:00; then return to the library (to continue my job search) until dinner time.

Now, thanks to a little spot on Avenida del Mar called Captain Mauri’s, lunch has become the highlight of my day. On Monday, having had a late breakfast and in the mood for a light lunch, I decided to try an acaí bowl — a bowl of acaí puréed with a little juice, topped with granola, sliced bananas, apple and chopped pecans. I might have preferred just banana and granola, but the mixture was delicious anyway. Yesterday, I savored the above pictured avocado and jack sandwich and today, the veggie wrap, pictured below. All of the sandwiches are served with mayo, lettuce, tomato and sprouts on squaw (? — never heard of it either —) bread, and the wrap was filled with a vegetarian pattie, cucumber, zucchini, carrots, balsamic vinegar and sprouts — yum! Thanks Cousin Jay for another great recommendation.

And I should also mention that on Sunday, before shopping at the farmers’ market, Ben and I stopped by Captain Mauri’s for a cup of coffee. As we placed our order, we spotted a baking tin sitting by the register filled with bran-like delectable-looking muffins, which we couldn’t resist trying. Made with zucchini, blueberries and oatmeal, these muffins are like none other I have ever tasted. I found them moist and delicious too. My husband, however, unable to determine the muffin’s identity — sweet or savory — instantly found them offensive, but he persevered nonetheless, finishing his half, leaving not even a crumb for the birds hovering around our bench to taste.

Captain Mauri’s
149 Avenida del Mar
San Clemente, CA
949.498.8098
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Veggie Wrap at Captain Mauri’s:

Simple Pasta Salad

Kristina's pasta salad

Many years ago, I traveled to the Cape with my aunt Marcy to see my Great Aunt Phyllis’ family. I don’t remember much of our short visit except that I returned home with the recipe for a pasta salad that we soon named after my cousin, Kristina, who had prepared the salad for us during our visit. That summer and for many summers that followed, we prepared this salad often — it’s particularly good warm, when the just-boiled shells melt the cheese, just slightly cook the tomatoes and soak up all the flavors of the olive oil and lemon juice.

Also, feel free to make adjustments based on your preferences: feta may have been used in place of mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted red peppers, etc. This salad can also be prepared ahead and served at room temperature — it tastes better the longer it sits in fact.

Kristina’s Pasta Salad
Serves 6 to 8 as a side

1 lb. shells
½ cup pine nuts
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 bunch scallions (finely diced red onion is nice, too)
3 roasted red peppers (or used jarred)
2 balls (large size) or a small tub of ciliegine mozzarella
1 bunch basil
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 lemon, halved
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook about 8 minutes or until done but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, place pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat. Toast, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat when evenly golden brown. Set aside.

2. Cut grape tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove ends from scallions and discard. Chop thinly, using mostly the white and pale green parts (some of the dark green is ok, too). Chop the roasted red peppers into small strips. Cut the mozzarella into cubes about the same size as the cherry tomatoes (or if you are using the ciliegine, use them whole or slice in half). Set aside.

3. Place pasta in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over pasta until nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add all of the prepared ingredients. Remove tiny leaves from basil stems and add directly to the bowl. Stack four to five larger basil leaves on top of one another. Roll into a tight spiral, then cut into thin strips. Add to the bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the top of the whole mixture starting with just one half. Add a few handfuls of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss gently with a large spoon. Taste, add more salt, pepper, olive oil or lemon juice if necessary.

Tamales at the Carlsbad Farmers’ Market

tamales

So, not much to report over here in sunny San Clemente other than I’ve now been to two more farmers’ markets, one in Carlsbad and one in Oceanside. The picture above shows the goodies Ben and I picked up on Wednesday in Carlsbad, minus the four tamales (pictured below) we picked up from Juanita Fukuda’s stand. Mrs. Fukudu sells an array of both sweet and savory handmade tamales 6 days a week at various farmers’ markets in the area — I spotted her in Oceanside yesterday as well.

Wednesday evening, Cousin Jay joined Ben and me for a small farmers’-market-bounty feast, featuring microwaved (we could not devise a steamer with our limited kitchen equipment) tamales, sautéed Swiss chard, and a salad of greens and tomatoes. I think we all agreed that the tamales, while fun to eat, were not the best we’d ever tasted, though a good dousing of the salsa verde, also purchased at the market, made them far tastier. The Swiss chard and the greens, however, fresh and delectable, inspired me to buy several more bags of each yesterday in Oceanside, enough, I hope, to last through the weekend.

In The Land Of Avocados and Lemons

avos

San Clemente Sunday Farmers’ Market
I feel like I’m on a never-ending spring break: The temperature peaks around 70ºF every day; palm trees line nearly every street I walk on; sunglasses rarely leave my head; and I already seem to have misplaced my Birkenstocks. I suppose, however, nothing has let me know I’m in Southern California for the long term more than the produce — avocados, lemons, oranges, guavas, kaffir limes — spilling off the tables at my new hometown’s Sunday farmers’ market.

Yesterday, Ben’s aunt Vicki and I had a field day, purchasing an array of goods that would soon become our dinner: baby spinach, mixed greens, avocados and cherry tomatoes for a salad; green beans, the miniest patty pan squash and brown beech mushrooms for a vegetable sauté; and wild sea bass caught on Saturday night off the coast of Mexico for our main course. As we walked, we sampled spicy, chicken-filled tamales and rainbow-colored kettle corn; we ooed and awed over a package of freshly made red pepper linguini; and we caved-in at the bake stand, purchasing a half-dozen chocolate-covered macaroons, which I subsequently thought about at least twice an hour until we finally got to sample them at 9 o’clock that evening.

I had never tasted a guava (pictured below) before yesterday. The woman selling them told us to wash them, cut off the stem on each end, and eat them — there is no peeling involved. I can’t find a word other than “tropical” to describe the taste of guava. Small seeds, which I munched on and swallowed, are dispersed throughout the flesh. I have thus confirmed the seeds to be harmless.

In addition to seeing items I had never seen at a farmers’ market before, I also found foods such as kaffir lime leaves and branches of fresh bay leaves I never imagined ever seeing at a local market. View all the photos from the market here.