Girls on Food

San Francisco

Pinot Days in San Francisco 2016

Love Pinot Noir? Then you’ll love Pinot Days, an annual San Francisco festival dedicated to the delicate varietal and the winemakers across the world who craft it. This year, over 100 wineries snuggled into the new Bespoke event space in the SF Westfield to celebrate all things Pinot.

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Yes, that’s right, over 100 wineries representing anywhere between 2 and 10 Pinot Noir and Pinot variations each. We tasted wines with all kinds of stories — from Kickstarter funded wineries to those with generations of family history; wines that spoke of seaside terror and those that told of their epic journey of the drought.

So many people to meet, so many wines to taste, so many stories to share. Here are just a few highlights from my experience.

Betwixt Wines

My very first stop was Betwixt Wines, a husband-and-wife team from the heart of San Francisco. Focusing on small lot vineyards and minimalist winemaking techniques, Tim and Melissa pride themselves in letting Mother Nature be the real artist. With the use of native fermentation, gentle grape pressing, and unhindered barrel-aging, Betwixt Wines are unpretentious, approachable and — tasty.Betwixt 2014 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir

First in the Betwixt lineup, I tried the 2014 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. Straight away I could smell the delicate acidity of the Pinot Noir grape. On the palate, the wine has an initial cooling effect on the tongue, opening up to beautifully light fruits reminiscent of strawberries or raspberries. This light to medium-bodied wine closes with just the slightest tannin, balancing 2013 Betwixtthe overall tasting experience.

Next, I tried the Pinot Noir produced only one year previous: 2013 Helluva Vineyard Pinot Noir. On the nose I could already tell the difference between these two Pinots — this one had just a nudge more complexity, giving off aromas of dark cherries and wood. And the taste matches those initial expectations: a medium body, slightly darker fruits (black cherries, plums) than the 2014, and more apparent oakiness from the barrel aging process. And yet, there is still that underlying cooling effect from the acidity. I suspect that both of these wines, while completely enjoyable today, will age quite well in the cellar for the next couple of years. There’s a hidden depth to these wines just waiting to come out.

Tim and Melissa Tilli
Tim and Melissa Tilli, Betwixt Wines
Ancient Oak 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir
Ancient Oak 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir

Ancient Oak Cellars

While Betwixt is a young, up-and-coming winery (fully established as of 2012), Ancient Oak Cellars carries on an over 80-year old family farming tradition. Owner and winemaker Ken Mohold-Siebert grew up on his vineyard back when it was his grandfather’s modest sheep farm. Today, Ken, along with his wife Melissa and his vineyard team, have won critical acclaim for their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.

I had the opportunity to compare and contrast a Pinot Noir from Ancient Oak’s Appellation Series (yielded from grapes from partnering vineyards along the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma County) and one of their Single-Vineyard wines (yielded from their very own Siebert-Ranch Pinot Noir Vineyard). While the Appellation series contained the beautiful aromas of a classic medium-bodied Pinot (notes of dark cherries, ripe strawberries, hints of baking spice, and a lingering, yet light, tannic finish), the Single-Vineyard Pinot was really quite different — something special. On the nose I could tell it would be much darker, more full-bodied, intense. On the tongue, the wine was a bit dryer (due to a higher tannin content) and brought forth notes of dried cherries and deep purple grapes. But it was the underlying earthiness that sits on the palate from start to finish that truly made this wine unique. It’s as if I could taste the farm the vineyard sits on, the dirt the vines sprang from, and even the sweat from the family whose labor of love went into this wine. A single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Ancient-Oaks tastes like an 80-year old tradition.

 J. Lohr

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines is what I think of as a friendly winery. Their wines are often readily available at local grocers, and — oh yeah — their tasting room is practically walking distance to my house (no big deal). I’m a huge fan of their Chardonnay, so I had to see what kind of special pours they had for me on Pinot day.

JLohr Trio

I started with the 2014 Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir, which is the J. Lohr Pinot you’d find walking into, say, a Safeway or Vons. And it has that kind of everyday, casual attitude in the glass: beautiful purple in color, a deep aroma of grapes coupled with vanilla, and a silky smooth texture on the tongue with obvious oak-age and low acidity. A fine wine for anytime.

Moving on, the 2013 Fog’s Reach Pinot Noir, to me, stood out the most. These grapes are grown along the coast in Arroyo Seco, Monterey. The nose of this wine was fresh with sea air. Breathing it in, I almost felt engulfed by the maritime fog myself. Because of this cool climate, the delicate Pinot grapes can stay on the vines a bit longer, plumping to perfection. The result: a unique essence of seaside terror on the nose and the palate. It’s a lighter bodied Pinot Noir with a medium acidity level that maintains a calming collection of bright, fresh berries coupled with a sandy earthiness from start to finish.

Comparing the Fog’s Reach to the following Pinot, the 2012 Highlands Bench, was quite interesting. While the vineyards of Arroyo Seco are at a low elevation and thus regularly covered in moisture from the bay and ocean, the Escolle Road Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey are at a much higher elevation. This means that the grapes only get so much moisture during the morning, but are exposed to higher temperatures throughout the rest of the day, yielding a more concentrated fruit. The resulting flavor profile is as you’d expect: dark, jammy notes coupled with hints of damp soil are dominant in the foretaste, while the acidity comes along at the finish, lingering on the tongue, and teasing you to have one sip more.

Kendric Vineyards

Those particularly interested in food and wine pairings will certainly enjoy Kendric Vineyards’ offerings. For me, each of their three tastings brought to mind particular cuisine.

aisian food kendricWhoa! Who brought Viognier to the Pinot Party??? Well, like winemaker and owner Stewart Johnson said, if it’s good, you gotta share it. And this Viognier wasn’t just good; it was unique in my book. There was an overwhelming essence of fresh green vegetables as I sipped on this wine as if the vineyard sits among a farm of California’s freshest produce. There was also an underlying aroma of seed or nut oil (I’m thinking sesame?) that rounded out that vegetation. On top of all that, Kendric Vineyards was able to infuse a bit of bubbly into this wine. Perfect pairing: Asian stir-fry — the bubbles will cut through thesalmon salad kendric fat and spice while the fresh components will marry well with both veggies and protein.

Back to Pinots, the 2013 vintage from Kendrics was a mildly complex Pinot Noir. Is that an oxymoron? Let me explain. The hue of this wine was a brownish-red, yet you can see right through it. The dominant aroma is of nuts (pecans, hazelnuts), while the flavors consist of bright red fruits, just a hint of oak, and finishing with an open-ended acidity. There are hints of depth and complexity, and yet in its entirety, the wine is cool, calm, and collected. Perfect Pairing: Steak or salmon salad — let a heavier piece of meat bring out some of the wine’s complexity, while a light side as a salad will compliment the delicacy Pinots are known for.

Girls on grills and boys who BBQ will want to get their hands on Kendric Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve. Even in the glass you get an overwhelming smokey aroma, and that essence pulls through during the tasting as well. Cedar and Maplewood linger on the tongue, while other flavors such as cherry, beetroot, and vanilla add a bit of depth and variety. Perfect Pairing: Anything smoked or grilled — seriously.

 Cheers to food-friendly wine!

smithstory pinotSmith Story Wine Cellars

Smith Story Wine Cellars won my “rosé of the day” at the San Francisco Union Street Festival a couple of weeks ago, so, of course, I had to stop by their table to see what kind of Pinot they brought to the party. I was certainly not disappointed. Besides the fact that co-owner Alison Smith-Story welcomed me with a warm hug, I was also

Smith-Story (double) Selfie! Alison Smith-Story (left) Stacy Briscoe (right)
Smith-Story (double) Selfie!
Alison Smith-Story (left) Stacy Briscoe (right)

greeted by an equally friendly Pinot Noir. The 2014 Thorn Ridge Vineyard displays a beautiful ruby red in the glass with a bouquet of fresh red roses overwhelming the nose. For a young wine, this particular Pinot Noir provides a well-balanced combination of flavors often found in older vintages. Almost creamy on the tongue, strong oak walks hand in hand with soft, spreadable red fruits like strawberry compote, plum jam, and even over-ripe tomato. It’s a beautiful Pinot — that’s the best way to describe it. And if it’s this pretty this young, I can’t wait to see how it will evolve within the next five to ten years.

Patricia Green Cellars

I’m going to get personal for a moment. Many wine lovers are often asked, “What is the bottle that made you fall in love with wine.” Wine lovers, think about it, and I bet you have an answer that’s not just an answer, but a memory, a personal narrative, an event in your life. For me, that bottle was a Patricia Green Pinot Noir I had several 2 pinots - patricia greenyears ago. It sparked in me a passion I didn’t know I had.

So, of course, I stopped by Patricia Green’s table where I tried three beautiful Pinot Noirs. But there was one stand out — not just of the table, but of the day. The Pinot Noir of the day (for me) is Patricia Green’s 2014 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Once the wine was poured, I took my initial sniff and was immediately transported to a field of wild flowers. Think daisies, think dandelions, think poppies, think of those flowers most associated with weeds but maintain a certain beauty in their freedom. That’s the nose of this wine. Once I took a sip, I discovered those bushes also yielded blackberries, blueberries, and currants. And as I held the wine on my tongue, I walked further into the field, finding savory herbs lining the perimeter of the all-to-real imaginary place.

Darker, more full-bodied than many Pinots, the 2014 Freedom Hill Pinot Noir has a depth that truly transports you. Co-owner and winemaker Jim Anderson told me about their “hands-off” winemaking approach, letting the natural surroundings of the vineyard do the real work, resulting in wines that tell the true Oregon terror story. In the case of this wine, the location of the vineyard is in a spot with the perfect ratio of warm weather to cool climate; the soil contains a unique blend of ancient lava sediment and old marine sediment; and Freedom Hills itself is well-established, having yielded wine grapes for many generations. Anderson and his team also practice natural fermentation, keeping their wines organic and natural from start to finish — which is quite apparent when drinking their wines.

When a winemaker is your celebrity. Jim Anderson, co-owner and winemaker at Patricia Green Cellars (right)
When a winemaker is your celebrity. Jim Anderson, co-owner and winemaker at Patricia Green Cellars (right)

Of course, I couldn’t taste everything. And there were a few wineries who had so much to offer; I feel like I need to visit them personally to get a better understanding of their wines and stories. I hope to re-connect with all the talented winemakers I met and brought our audience exclusive interviews, tasting notes, and recommendations.

Cheers to the world of wine — it does bring us closer together!

Ryan Cochrane, I'm coming to the Dogpatch and we're going to talk about this insane 10-wine line up!
Ryan Cochrane, I’m coming to the Dogpatch, and we’re going to talk about this insane 8-wine line up!

MissSemiSweet at the 2016 North Beach Festival

13418571_859081000864617_126244773740404730_oWhen it comes to San Francisco festivals, the North Beach Festival is a must go. Yes, like many festivals, there were vendors located down streets. Yes, there were incredibly talented artists showing their work. Food trucks and food stands galore. One thing, though it seems almost like a “well duh” moment is the permanent buildings and businesses that welcomed you in with open arms. These business which for the most part are only located in North Beach.

North Beach, for those who don’t know, is also nicknamed “Little Italy”. Cafes, gelato shops, restaurants, and bakeries to name a few line those roads. I have walked through North Beach many times mostly staying on Columbus Street making my way to Fisherman’s Wharf and have only seen a very narrow view of this lovely part of town.

One of those shops I found hiding down another street (Grant & Vallejo to be exact) was Le Chat Rouge.
Not only am I sucker when it comes to pastries, but I’m also a sucker when it comes to adorable cuteness. Their theme of an old-timey French Bakery was on point, meaning absolutely perfect. Also, the pastries were that of art and quality. Croissants of different kinds, mini pies, macaroons, brioche, you name it. All of it was made by this adorable French Chef! Who was there and quite charming.
(PS: There is a sign outside that says “If you’re blonde or brunette with blue eyes we have a single baker”).
If any of you readers out there go & hit it off with him, remember me because I want the delicious food at your wedding. Kay, thanks!
IMG_9202Pear, Strawberry, Apricot mini pies from Le Chat Rouge


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El Sur, I make this vow to find you at which ever food event I go too.
While waiting in line, another woman uttered similar (less dramatic) words like those words I wrote above. After taking a bite into the Champinones and the Pollo Saltado, I completely understood why.

Champinones –  filled with mushrooms, creme fraiche, chives, shallots, and provolone

Pollo Saltado –  filled with chicken, onion, tomato, serrano olive, and egg.

That was only 2 of their five delicious empanadas!

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IMG_9154Sonoma Teriyaki had beyond scrumptious pork lumpia. One of my absolute favorites and something I will always buy when going to a food festival..no scratch that, any place that serves lumpia, I will buy lumpia.

The people working in the booth were also incredibly nice and helpful! Visit them and follow on Facebook, they have ten followers and their food is magnificent so something doesn’t add up!
Now you see the lumpia; now you don’t.

IMG_9155Battered French Fries topped with crab and a garlic aioli from Gormet Faire. – yes, please.

I saw that sign from the Sonoma Teriyaki Lumpia Heaven and knew that was next on my list of food to try. Worth it.

It felt like fair food, but a tad classier without the fresh crab on top. Also, battered french fries is genius!
IMG_9224Some of the art I had never seen before and some I had.

IMG_9220Above is the artist who create these beautiful drawings on very incredible old encyclopedia pages. Though the image may be the same, the encyclopedia page used is not. With every picture he draws it is matched with an encyclopedia page that represents the drawing.

I got a Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) drawing matched with the encyclopedia page “assassin” and something else that’s just as fierce.


In summary, the North Beach Festival is a great way to explore different parts of this magnificent neighborhood and see it in a different way than normal. It allows opportunities for new interaction with business owners from that area, but also those who travel just to get a chance to show off their work.

I can’t wait to come back for 2017 and see new faces as well as the old!
XOXO
Miss Semi Sweet

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS73kwsJYBk

San Francisco’s 2016 Rhone Rangers Seminar & Grande Tasting: Pushing the Limits of Syrah

event posters

Let’s talk about Rhones. There are over 20 varieties of grapes grown in France’s Rhone Valley. The most popular of which include Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Petite Sirah, Roussanne, and Viognier — all known for creating great wines on their own or as participants in blends, such as GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre). But these grapes aren’t limited to their French heritage. In fact, almost every varietal found in the Rhone Valley can be found here in the States as well.

Rhone Rangers, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to promoting American Rhone-style wines, supporting the winemakers who choose to put a New World spin on Old World wine, and — of course — educating the public about the unique and versatile wines produced from all of this research and labor. During the 2016 Rhone Rangers Seminar and Grande Tasting in San Francisco, I had the privilege to learn directly from local, West Coast winemakers who work to move beyond common “Syrah-stereotypes.”

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Sipping in San Francisco: The 40th Annual Union Street Festival

Crowd Scene SFUSF

Local artists, unique products, festive food, and of course craft beer and fine wine — this is what San Francisco is known for. And what better place to celebrate all things SF than on trendy Union Street in the upscale Pacific Heights district? That’s exactly what hundreds of Bay Area folks did this past weekend at the 40th Annual Union Street Festival.

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Happea for Green Pea Cookie

Growing up and living in the Bay Area, there are so many healthy options that cater to so many different diets. Even desserts and snacks have stepped up their game with being natural, vegan, and/or gluten-free. Cookies have elevated themselves to the next level, like these Green Pea Cookies I was fortunate enough to get to try! It’s a delicious cookie that is made up of five ingredients. Yes, you read that right: five. And it comes in the cutest little box, ever!

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Green Pea Cookie
http://www.greenpeacookie.com/

The Green Pea Cookie is based on a cookie that was originally made in Singapore, and according to them, was founded by “two food-loving Singaporeans and an imaginative American.” Together, they fine-tuned the recipe with simple, all natural ingredients and then debuted the cookies in Dolores Park! With everyone loving all of these little green guys, they set out to make it a brand that is proud to be a more natural cookie to snack on – that happens to be made with green peas!

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When I opened my box, I will admit, I was a little skeptical. I mean, a cookie with its primary ingredient as green peas? That sounded so strange. I have had sweet peas and salty peas, but those were still considered savory sides instead of a sweet snack. But when I saw these little nuggets stacked together, waiting to be eaten, I was intrigued.

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On their website (where you can shop for all of their Green Pea products), they have the Peater: The Original Green Pea Cookie, the Penelopea: The Cranberry Green Pea Cookie, and Dimpea: The Chocolate Covered Green Pea Cookie. I had a box of Peaters, and I was ready to indulge!

The Peater’s ingredients were: unbleached wheat flour, salted green peas, organic sunflower oil, organic powdered sugar, and sea salt. While their “pea flour” looks very green, they’re actually moving towards using a more organic pea that doesn’t have any dyes in it, so that they can get rid of the artificial dye ingredients. I think it’s awesome that they’re so committed to keeping the ingredients real and all-natural.

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When I bit into them, I found them crunchy and subtly sweet. They reminded me a lot of South Asian cookies that have a kind of crunchy texture though it crumbles easily. When you start to eat more of the cookie, it has a lovely combination of sweetness from the sugar to the saltiness of the peas. They struck the perfect balance of those two contrasting flavors. The box recommends five cookies a day, but honestly, once you try one, you want to eat another one. And another one. And then another one. The cookies disappear quickly.

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From someone who had a mostly pea-free childhood (I hated them for some reason), I think these are an excellent snack! It feels like you’re indulging in sweets, but you feel better since you know it’s all natural without compromising flavor. The nutrition info isn’t outrageous either: it doesn’t go overboard with carbs or sugar. I’ve had them for a pre-dinner snack, and I don’t feel like I substituted the cookies for dinner, which I have with some other snacks. I would love to try the Dimpea some time – chocolate and pea cookies sounds like a fascinating combination!

7th Annual Eat Real Food Festival in Oakland, CA

One of the best things about living in Northern California is no matter which direction you turn there is always something to do. Head north, you can stomp grapes, hike among the redwoods and explore the little tiny towns that connect the dots throughout the upper portion of the state. Look west towards the Pacific Ocean and endless oysters can be feasted upon, whales can be watched until your hearts content and waves can be caught with just a cowardly lion’s thimble full of courage. Look below, towards the south and you can lose yourself amidst the fog as your roam the streets of the city by the bay, cheer on the red and gold at the future home of Superbowl XLIX or chew until your jaw falls off on some of the best saltwater taffy Santa Cruz has to offer. This weekend, however, my compass pointed towards the east. A direction known for Cal Bears, an entire nation who bleed silver and black and a community whose cultural heritage and pride often help to carry them through the most adverse of life circumstances.

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I was in Oakland this weekend for the 7th Annual Eat Real Food Festival, a community celebrating one simple thing… GOOD FOOD!! If a state fair, a block party and a street-food festival had a threesome and created a baby from it… Oakland’s Eat Real Food Festival would be its amazingly beautiful and delicious offspring. With an eye on teaching the public how to support local food systems as well as promoting a stronger and healthier community-run organizations and businesses, the Eat Real Food Festival strives to bridge the gap between the average consumer and their local food producers and growers.   Individual food artisans mingled with national sponsors who in turned rubbed elbows with regional farmers and mom and pop businesses as a way of showing their support for one another. With 100% of the proceeds going to support the Food Craft Institute, a non-profit educational institution which supports the entrepreneurship and economic growth of small traditional food businesses, the Real Food Festival allows the community to sample the offerings of up and coming Bay Area businesses. Which really, when you think of it is a win/win situation for everyone.

The Eat Real Food Festival has, thus far, been the biggest food festival I have ever been to. With over seventy-five thousand people attending the event within a three-day period, there were more than a few mouths to feed. Fortunately, the sweet and savory selections did not disappoint. Over 120 food, wine and spirit vendors showed up with the very best of all types of cuisine. Mexican, Peruvian, Spanish, Korean, All-American, Portuguese, Soul Food, Seafood, French, Italian, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner… you name it they had it!!! Enough to make your head, or really your stomach explode.

One of the first items I happily indulged on was actually not a meal at all. I am a firm believer in dessert first, therefore I saddled up to the West Coast Style Frozen Custard Truck to try my first ever frozen custard. Half custard, half ice cream and all completely heavily (literally I think that is what heaven tastes like), it left me asking one question: How after 29 years of being on this earth have I never tried frozen custard before. Though there were numerous selections to choose from, including vanilla bean and rich chocolate, it was easy for me to pick a flavor. Being a sucker for anything Thai inspired, I immediately went for the Thai Ice Tea flavor with sweetened condensed milk on top.

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With the temperature being over 90 degrees outside, it was no surprise that the creamy treat cooled me down, but even if it was ten below zero I’m sure I would have found myself face deep in the bowl of goodness.

Next up came the paella from San Francisco based catering company ñora. Paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish is known for being cooked in a large round, shallow pan, which allows the rice in the Paella to become extra crispy. Along with aiding in the cooking process, this cooking vessel and the chefs who work the Paella in the pan create quite an exciting spectacle for those waiting to try. Fortunately, the taste was worth the wait… it was absolutely delicious, perfectly seasoned with saffron and not too hot right off the Paella pan.

DSC00334  Following the Paella, I decided to give my tummy a bit of a break so I wondered over to the entrance to the festival where many of the information booths were located. I learned about the importance of urban farming and sustainable food systems from the fine volunteers at City Slicker Farms, a non-profit organization designed to educate the general public about where their food comes from.

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After collecting a complementary package of antique sweet pea flower seeds I quickly made a beeline to the Love A Bee honey stand, where I learned about importance of bees in our ecosystem all while sampled some local varieties of organic honey. I ended my mini farm tour with a visit to some adorable fine feathered friends, baby chicks  DSC00304

brought by Clover Stornetta Farms in Petaluma, where they along with eggs, produce a wide variety of delicious organic dairy products.

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My second lunch (my first being the paella) came from Bombzies Asian BBQ. The Vietnamese BBQ chicken, their original recipe had me at first site.

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Next came giant pickles and marinated vegetable salad from Happy Girl Kitchen Co.

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followed by a demonstration from the Chipotle on how to make their signature fresh guacamole with only six fresh ingredients: ripe Hass avocados, lime juice, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno and kosher salt… yes, please!!

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It was impossible for me to end my day without grabbing a few things to go for my hungry folks waiting at home. That was actually an easy choice. It was organic modern soul food in the form of a BBQ pork belly sandwich from Keenan’s Kitchen for my dad.

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And for my mom, the ultimate mushroom lover, it was wild mushroom and cheese empanadas from the El Porteño, an Argentinian food truck and caterer located out of San Francisco. Empanadas so good, I found myself look up the locations of their food truck for future reference.

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Finally, my last stop before departing the Eat Real Food Festival was to glutinously pick up something which I had been thinking about all afternoon. It was to an unpretentious little popcorn stand I stopped by and quickly sampled at the beginning of my day. The popcorn at the POP Mama POP Artisan Popcorn booth is easily the best popcorn I have ever had, and this coming from someone who grew up on classic air popped popcorn all her life. Their organic locally grown corn paired with the delicious flavors they create is out of this world good. Flavors such as Jalapeno Sweet, Parmesan Garlic, Hot Chocolate and Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper left this life-long popcorn connoisseur coming back for second and third samples.

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I came back so many times the founder Kathleen Hackett, couldn’t help but laugh as I stuffed yet another sample of the kettle corn in my mouth (nearly choking on it in the process.. thanks to the random bystander for the quick smack on the back) Kathleen, who not only makes a good product and was generous enough to indulge my numerous samples, but was also generous enough to have all of the festivals tips go towards the victims of the valley fire. But in the end it was the popcorn that kept me coming back for more, especially the Snickerdoodle flavor. What was once a childhood cookie memory, had been transformed into the ultimate sweet and salty snack. A snack so good I have no shame in admitting that I ate the entire bag I purchased from the festival for breakfast this morning.

To say the Eat Real Festival treated me well is an understatement. If life was being played out in the novel pages of Charlotte’s Web, I was for the briefest of moments Templeton the rat, the errand boy (or girl) set out to bring back to you messages of up and coming, new and thriving food favorites in the area. I and my stomach are more than happy I followed my compass east this weekend. If I had not done so I would have surely missed out on the veritable smorgasbord-orgasbord of deliciousness.

A Trip Down Chocolate Road: Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival in San Francisco

It’s an Indian summer in Northern California. The time of year when we have to pack both a heavy sweater and sunscreen for the unpredictable weather Mother Nature bestows upon us. Will it rain?  Will it be sunny?  Will pea soup fog topple over the Marin County hills and spill into the Bay or will the San Franciscans run into the nearest café in search of cooler air-conditioned temperatures amid an unseasonably warm 85 degree day?  Students are slowly getting used to the sound of school bells ringing, grapes in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys are being picked by the ton and our boys in orange and black are scrambling to pick up as many runs and wins as possible in a last ditch effort to make a break for the playoffs. It is also the time of year when amidst the aroma of salt water and fresh seafood a familiar smell fills the streets of San Francisco… the smell of chocolate.

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Just off of Van Ness, in the heart of one of San Francisco’s busiest neighborhoods is Ghirardelli Square, the location of the famed Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival is a celebration of everything and all things we love about chocolate. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company along with over 60 regional food and wine vendors come out to share with the community the best there is to offer and pair with chocolate. From tea and coffee, to ice cream and olive oil, no cocoa bean is left uncrushed.

Some of the best in the cocoa covered business were out in full force to demonstrate their craft. Chocolatiers such as Ghirardelli’s owner Jenna Fu demonstrated the artistry, delicacy and versatility of chocolate.

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Through her work and chocolaty knowledge she provided viewers with various tips and tricks about working with chocolate, such as combining it with fruit in order to pull out the chocolates sweet and bitter notes.

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For me, one of the biggest highlights of the entire festival was getting to meet the individual chocolate and candy makers who were there to share their love for all things chocolate. Entrepreneurs such as Monica Elzalaki, founder of West Coast Toffee were proud to share their confections with anyone who came with an appetite for something a little different.

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Located out of Santa Cruz, California, Monica explained that her toffee recipes are a product of years of testing and tasting, in order to come up with something that “are a little more chewy” but “even more delicious” then your average taffy. After trying several flavors including the traditional semi-sweet chocolate almond and a little more exotic pumpkin spice with roasted pumpkin seeds it quickly became obvious why her booth had what seemed like an endless line of eager toffee tasters.

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A second purveyor, which was impossible to resist, was Fab Delight Chocolate Truffles. Specializing in special occasion presentations, there eye-catching creations were hard to pass up. They offered samples of various truffle flavors such as Oreo, cookies and cream, caramel apple and my personal favorite, Tiramisu.

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Made every day by hand combined with their use of the best ingredients created a clean yet complex taste that left me in my own little truffle happy place.

As I strolled down what was affectionately referred to as “Chocolate Road” I went from tent to tent trying as much as my belly could contain. Macaroons, petit fours, chocolate tea and of course the best Ghirardelli hot chocolate, it was impossible not to be in a blissful sugar coma at the end of that chocolate road.

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The best part of the entire day, however, had nothing to do with the chocolate itself. The cherry on top of my chocolate Saturday was the reason we were all there to taste. What was almost better than the abundance of chocolaty goodness available to try was all of the benefits from the festival went to an amazing local organization called Project Open Hand. Project Open Hand is a nonprofit organization that provides home cooked meals and groceries to seniors and seriously ill patients living in San Francisco and Alameda counties. For myself personally, as someone with a serious medical illness, this organization is particularly close to my heart. I understand how important receiving good nutrition during a time of healing can be. It was so exciting to see so many people gathered in Ghirardelli Square to not only satisfy their sweet tooth, but also support such an invaluable organization.

Overall the day could be summed up in one word… SWEET! Both a perfect ending to a semi-sweet Bay Area summer or the delicious beginning to a bittersweet Bay Area fall. Either way you choose to sample it, it’s been a delicious journey thus far.

G Festival

SF Eats: Nopalito

 I’ve lived in California all my life. This has influenced me in many ways: I talk fast, say the word “like” more times than I’ll ever admit, and I have a deep, undying love for Mexican food. It makes up a solid 60% of my dining out experiences as it is and if I lived a little closer to this place, that number would skyrocket…
306 Broderick St. – San Francisco
nopalitosf.com
It’s a quaint, casual spot with a menu meant for sharing and a small but potent cocktail list. The margaritas are a given but I found this little gem to be the perfect way to kick off the meal:

 

El Diablo
Pueblo Viejo Blanco, Cassis, Bundaberg Ginger Beer, Lime

 

Totopos con Chile
Tortilla Chips, Salsa de Arbol, Cotija Cheese, Crema and Lime
It’s hard to go wrong with their sustainable, organic menu but there are two things you shouldn’t skip out on. The first is this incredible take on “nachos.” The chips are drenched in the fiery salsa and the cool sour cream with fresh lime is the perfect complement. You’ll be tempted to resist this one so as not to “fill up” before the main courses, but my advice? Just come hungry! You won’t want to miss out on anything because it’s all spectacular…
Ceviche Verde de Pescado
Marinated Fish, Lime, Tomatillo, Jalapeno, Cilantro, Avocado

 

Empanada con Desebrada de Res
Fried Masa Pastry, Grass-Fed Beef, Tomato, Jalapeno, Cabbage, Avocado,
Queso Fresco and Salsa Frita de Guajillo

 

Carnitas
Braised Pork, Orange, Bay Leaf, Milk, Cinnamon, Beer, Cabbage Salad,
Pickled Jalapeno and Salsa de Tomatillo
Carnitas is basically my favorite thing on every menu it makes its way onto, and it’s especially good here. The same goes for ceviche. I’ve ordered both every visit and plan to continue this trend.
Whatever you choose though, be sure to pace yourself because the second thing you mustn’t skip out on (no matter how much you’ve had to eat or drink) is dessert.
Mexican Coffee: Siete Leguas Anejo, Araku, Whipped Cream, Orange, Canela
Popsicles: Cafe con Leche & Dark Chocolate Cinnamon
The popsicle flavors rotate but the dark chocolate cinnamon has been on the menu every time I’ve been and it’s incredible. They also serve Blue Bottle coffee, which is fantastic by itself but I highly recommend the tequila spiked version above. I’m not really a “dessert cocktail” type of person, shy away from the sweet drinks for the most part, but this is one I could begin AND end every day with.
Mexican Wedding Cookies

Oh, and did I mention dessert comes in two courses? They save their amuse-bouche for the end of the meal! This single, perfectly crumbly bite will put a smile on your face as you walk out the door, already dreaming about your next trip back.

Homemade Cheese Class: Latin Cheeses

So I’ve decided to become a cheesemaker. I got the idea wandering about a cheese shop in LA and when I found classes in San Francisco taught by someone known as “The Milk Maid,” that sealed the deal. My new hobby was born.
To prepare for my first class I decided to dedicate the entire day to cheese. This wasn’t hard to do as the classes are held at the Ferry Building, which is like a mecca for the creamy delicacy. My first stop was Hog Island Oyster Co. where for the first time I managed to resist their amazing Kumamotos for a shot at their ultra rich grilled cheese…
Mezzo Secco, cave-aged Gruyere and Fromage Blanc
w/house made pickled vegetables
This is a serious sandwich. It’s not all doctored up with clever fillings, just fabulous bread stuffed with a perfect combination of sinfully delicious cheeses. The pickled vegetables are a brilliant side too (and my next hobby – stay tuned!).
Cheese Left to Right: Capriago (Sebastopol, CA),
Herbiette Tomme de Bordeaux (France), Pleasant Ridge Extra Aged Reserve (Wisconsin),
California Crottin (Redwood Hill Farms)
That’s right, I kept going. I followed a meal of bread and cheese with a snack of, well, bread and cheese. I did swap the Cava for Pinot Noir though. And it was after a couple hours of shopping, maybe one. My favorite was the Capriago, an Asiago-style cheese made from goat’s milk.
After a long afternoon enjoying all the Ferry Building has to offer, it was time for class. Just outside the doors a table of illustrations and smiling faces led me to the CUESA Dacor Outdoor Teaching Kitchen, where Urban Kitchen SF holds the events. Here’s a peek at my first adventure with queso…
Meet Louella Hill, the Milk Maid. She’s my cheese hero.
In her hands, fresh Queso Blanco. They were slicing and frying this upon arrival!
Fried Cheese: the perfect way to start, well, anything.
Reacting to perfectly set milk.
My fellow classmates cutting the curds.
Heating and stirring the curds. This takes 20 minutes so while switching off
stirring duty we enjoyed a taco intermission…
Freshly grilled tortillas from Mijita (in the Ferry Building) topped with avocado,
cilantro, lime and Queso Fresco.
Draining the whey. (Save it! There are several uses for whey,
Louella made ricotta with it after class.)
Salting the curds.
After squeezing and working the curds thoroughly, packing the fresh cheese.
At the end you can add flavors, this batch has dried peppers.
Take Home Kit: Lipase, CaCl, Rennet

This week I’ll begin my Queso Fresco/Blanco experiments. I’m feeling pretty confident but this may be because Louella is a fantastic teacher and made it look very easy. These are good starter cheeses though, and I’m determined. Once I get the hang of it I’ll post my favorite recipes. Wish me luck!

Brunch Three Ways: SF, Folsom, Sac

Bananen Weizen

(Hefeweizen w/Banana Juice)
Much like fellow blogger Marcie, I’m a big fan of brunch. Weekend mornings should be spent sleeping in followed by a leisurely late breakfast with a bubbly beverage. I’m constantly on the hunt for new spots that can fashion an egg in surprising and delightful ways. (I’m a savory over sweet breakfast type of girl.) Here are my latest favorites…

 

Suppenkuche
525 Laguna St. – San Francisco, CA
suppenkuche.com
This popular German spot near the Civic Center has been on my list awhile and the second I laid eyes on the “Mixed Beer Drinks” menu I was thrilled I finally made it a priority. I’m not really a beer drinker any time of day, certainly not breakfast, but when given the option of lacing it with banana juice, lemon soda or raspberry syrup – I’m all in! Champagne who?
I was equally pleased with the breakfast menu. There were quite a bit of intriguing options but I couldn’t pass up the bread dumplings, which ended up being more like slices of bread meatloaf. They spoiled me for toast. Fantastic.
 

Gebratener Semmeknodel mit Zwieblen Ei und Bratwurst
(Sauteed Bread Dumplings w/Two Eggs, Potatoes and Sausage)
Karen’s Bakery Cafe
705 Gold Lake Drive – Folsom, CA
karensbakery.com
I’ve yet to taste something on Karen’s ever-changing menu that I don’t love and I’ve been a regular for eight years. So, yes, it’s good. And quiche is one of the things they do best.
BLT Quiche – Bacon, Basil, Tomato
Grange Restaurant & Bar
926 J Street (The Citizen Hotel) – Sacramento, CA
grangesacramento.com
Smoked Chicken Hash
Bacon, Peppers, Butternut Squash, Onion, Potatoes
and Poached Eggs w/Chipotle Hollandaise

I can’t speak to many items on the menu because once I ordered this, I couldn’t order anything else. After basically licking my plate clean the first time around I’ve started ordering the hollandaise on the side so I can control myself, and feel less guilty about licking the plate clean every time since.

Prison Food: Alcatraz

A short break from my standard post, for something a little darker…
After a far too long stint on my bucket list, I finally made
it out to The Rock! It was just as you might imagine, equal parts fascinating
and disturbing. We did the audio tour with voices of prisoners and guards
leading you with sound effects of prison life as you move through the space, which I highly recommend. Morbid stories of solitary confinement, escape and murder were offset a tiny bit, at
least in my mind, by some surprising tidbits about the kitchen!
Apparently, this place that locked up some of the worst criminals in the country served them up some of the best food in the entire prison system! The guards quickly learned that with mealtime being the most dangerous scenario – convicts all together wielding silverware and bad food being the number one reason to riot – they better serve to please. They hit all the major food groups in their dinners: soup, veggies, a starch, meat, AND they didn’t skimp on dessert! They also set this food rule, which I love: Take all you want, eat all you take.
Knife Lock Box: Complete with outlines of each to quickly determine if any are missing… Chills.
Equipment: What the prisoners used to cook for their fellow inmates, supervised.
This of course made me think about one of my all time favorite ways to peek inside a person’s soul, the admittedly dark question: What’s your death row meal? It may seem like a simple question of favorites, but it’s much more complex. If you were faced with one last chance to enjoy the simple pleasures this world has to offer, what is the one dish that would make your daunting fate a little more acceptable? Is it the best thing you’ve ever tried or something mom used to make you as a child? Something that shocked you or something that comforts you? Something you can’t live without or something you’ve always wanted to try?
I’ve shared mine here before: a perfect Quiche Lorraine. I saw Anthony Bourdain share his at a talk in Santa Rosa: bone marrow on toast.
Now you’ve had a peek into both of our souls. Share yours?

Bay Area Bites: Tea Room Cafe & Sol Food

My little sister just got married! (Congrats Lacey!!) The event brought me back to the Bay for an unforgettable day of fun and, of course, fabulous food.

Tea Room Café
316 Western Ave

Petaluma, CA

tearoomcafe.com 
An incredible breakfast kicked off the day’s events…
johnnycake – savory green chile & cheddar cheese corn cake

Their johnnycake is basically my dream version of corn bread – thin and crispy, full of flavor with the chiles. This should be on every breakfast menu, a perfect shared starter before your main course…

avocado omelet w/goat cheese, tomato & basil
roasted potatoes, toast w/homemade apricot jam
A perfect omelet. I’ve been here twice and ordered this both times. The goat cheese is fantastic. In fact, a helpful tip – if you’re in Petaluma, order anything with goat cheese. If there’s more than one item featuring this local delight, order them all!
Fast forward eight hours – laughs, toasts, makeup, dress up, photos, vows, rings, the kiss!, tears, smiles, more toasts – to dinner…
Sol Food – Puerto Rican Cuisine
901 Lincoln Ave
San Rafael, CA
solfoodrestaurant.com
baked chicken thighs marinated in oregano & garlic vegetable casserole  frijoles negros – black beans simmered with peppers, onions and cilantro habichuelas rosadas – pink beans stewed with herbs and Spanish olives mixed greens with lemon-garlic dressing steamed rice with Pique – homemade hot sauce maduros – the world’s most delicious sweet fried yellow plantains!
This is hands down the best wedding food I’ve ever tasted. Everyone was blown away, I can’t wait to visit their restaurant!
And, like every perfect day, it ended with something sweet. I’ve raved about Sift cupcakes here before but they deserve another mention for this adorable display.
The cake was their “Battle Royale” and the cupcakes are all on my favorites list from the previous post, including the “Stud Muffin.” Yes, my sister ordered the beer cake topped with bacon for her special day. That’s my girl!