Gabe, Baron and I along with my parents are enjoying a relaxing week on the beach of Mission Bay. I think of it as a sort of last hurrah before baby #2 arrives. Not to say that when he comes our lives are over, but rather life will become all the more hectic. Packing our already over-the-required-weight-limit bags and hopping on a plane is about to become a bit more of a chore. So we are relishing this time we have to spend with each other, our first-born and our family in beautiful Southern California.
In anticipation of this trip I of course set out to find the favored food finds of the locals. What makes San Diego unique from a food standpoint and where can I sample the best?
A couple things stood out among the extensive Internet research I did. First of all fish tacos are a must and the elusive California burrito, which is made up of carne asada and French fries and is legendary around these parts. We have yet to cross these food finds off of our vacation checklist but rest assured that I will not leave this state without sampling a hefty burrito stuffed full of juicy, marinated steak and crisp, fresh from the fryer fries.
The other must do item on my list, and I was very adamant about this one no matter how long the drive, was to visit a farm made famous for the beauty of its produce.
While working at Spago in Beverly Hills I can still remember the thrill and excitement the kitchen crew felt when produce was scheduled to arrive from this Southern California farm. The berries from this farm were minute in size but the flavor that inhabited your mouth with one bite was as big as the sun which gave them their sweetness.
Among the most memorable were the Frais du Bois. These wild strawberries are famous for their intense sweetness. Their little strawberry bodies contain an intense strawberry flavor that makes my favorite Washington berries bow down in admiration.
These little berries held a position of honor. They were treated with the same amount of care and respect as our famous diners. The moment these beauties were hand delivered into our kitchen they were plucked from the crowded berry basket and laid out side-by-side on an impeccably clean and soft towel lined sheet tray. Each berry was inspected for mold so we could quickly remove any damaged fruit to ensure that it would not contaminate any of its delicious friends.
During our time living in Los Angeles, Gabe and I had often talked about visiting this farm where these berries and other amazing produce originated. But my days were primarily spent working in the kitchen and later my days off were devoted to helping Sherry with her book she was then working on. So with great sadness we left our home in L.A. having never visited the produce Mecca.
Now you can better understand my pressing desire to make the pilgrimage to this highly respected birthplace of beautiful fruits and vegetables.
The farm itself was a scenic thirty-minute drive from our condo. With our GPS in hand we embarked on this journey not knowing what to expect except that this particular farm is not clearly marked. But as we drove around a bend in a beautiful country studded with prickly cactus and immaculate horse stables, I spotted rows and rows of varied goods. I recognized the humble stand from magazines and TV shows that have highlighted this farm.
My mouth watered and my mind raced with endless dinner possibilities as I perused the variety of fresh from the earth vegetables. We were probably asked three times if we needed any help before I finally began to commit to exactly what was going to make the cut. I wanted to take everything home.
The carrots were stacked pristinely in hues of oranges, reds and deep purples and sat next to the diminutive beets of red and gold.
The vast array of greens screamed to be turned into a lightly dressed salad and the large in flavor but small in stature brussels sprouts were calling my name (they also told me that they wanted to braise in cream – and who can argue with that).
My knowledge of citrus varietals was humbled as I picked up what I thought to be the most amazingly scented lemon – imagine my surprise when I was told that the yellow as the sun fruit that I held in my hand was actually a lime, and the lemons that I sought were actually the color of oranges.
Sadly the strawberries that I remember so fondly were small in numbers (literally, we bought the last three) but were still as tasty as I recall.
Three large bags full later we walked away from the farmstead eager to delve into this bounty.
I did very little to the vegetables as the artists who took the time, care and energy to create the perfect conditions to raise such gorgeous food had done the work for me. The carrots and beets were tossed in oil, salt and pepper and roasted until tender. The cauliflower was cut into quarter inch slices drizzled with oil, salted and roasted until crisp.
In olive oil and butter the minute brussels sprouts were sautéed until caramelized then, obeying their wishes, braised in heavy cream until fork tender.
We picked up some red and green butter lettuce, arugula and mustard greens and gave them a quick toss in a shallot mustard vinaigrette. The salad was topped with grilled chicken and steak.
The three strawberries were devoured before we got into the car and finally the citrus has found it’s way into a tasty batch of rosemary lemonade which we have been enjoying as we are now back at the condo once again overlooking the bay and enjoying the time we have left of this sunny vacation.
My sincere appreciation and respect goes out to all of those who take great pride in their life’s work to grow and produce food the way in which God intended us to enjoy it. I hope that through my cooking, baking and tools such as this blog I can encourage others to care enough about what they eat to value the work and dedication of those who have devoted their lives to gifting us with such bounty.
Shallot Mustard Vinaigrette
1 tsp good quality mustard
3 tsp minced shallot
½ tsp honey
2 Tbl White Balsamic Vinegar
2/3 c Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Add the first four ingredients then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also add a squeeze of Meyer lemon if desired.