Sunday, March 26, 2006

Local Eats in Sonoma County

Since I enjoy cooking, I rarely go out to eat unless I am with a friend. It's a way to socialize and chat. I am usually not there for the food. But I must say that I like trying new restaurants. It is so very unusual for me to eat in 3 new-to-me places in 1 week but that happened recently.

First I met a friend at a new Korean restaurant called Nabhee Cafe. It is located in a nondescript area of 4th Street in Santa Rosa between South E and Brookwoood. The interior is fairly stark with nice golden-hued glass lamps above each table. The menu is compact, especially for vegetarians but they have some interesting offerings. For instance, you can get white rice or mixed grains (very delicious) instead.

Before the arrival of the meal we were offered 8 small dishes that contained spinach with sesame seeds, sweet black beans, 2 types of kim chee, vegetable and seaweed and more. All were fresh and yummy. Then came our large bowl of noodle and vegetable soup. It wouldn't have been anything special but it came with a spicy sauce to pour in and I may have been a bit heavy handed with it but it was very tasty. My friend Barbara and I shared the soup and mung bean pancakes which contained large pieces of onion and mung bean sprouts. After tasting a pancake and sluprping some soup, I said, "I would defnitely come back here."

The table of 3 behind us had defnitely eaten there before. The 2 different women servers were unobtrusive yet friendly, refliling our tea and water as needed. It's a great place to go for mixed couples (meat-eaters and vegetarians).

Later that week I went to Hana, a sushi restaruant in Rohnert Park. I had always heard good things about it. The food was very fresh there, too. I did not have sushi but once again chose noodles. This time it was soba with a slightly sweet broth, and a huge pile of tempura onions and carrots on the side. My friend Patrick remarked how lovely I looked with long strands of vegetables hanging out of my mouth. Frist I had to dangle them on my chopsticks (with which I do have experience, having chosen to eat all my food with them with I was in my early 20s.) If I wanted sushi, even the veggie kind which is all I eat, I'd venture back to Hana.

Meal number 3 was breakfast at Hank's Creekside. On a very rainy weekday morning, you'd hardly expect a wait shortly after 9 a.m. but there was. This is a cozy spot next to a creek in east Santa Rosa. The food is typical breakfast fare but seemingly fresh and not especially greasy. You can get omelettes, scrambles, pancakes, oatmeal, granola, fruit and homemade biscuits, if you care for them. The waitresses are efficient and as young as most Sonoma County wait staff. My guess is that some of them have worked there for a long time. I heard friendly banter at the small couner up front, and waitresses greeting people by name. Although it is supposed to be one of the best breakfast places in Santa Rosa I may not go back only because my favorite breakfasts are eaten early in the morning at my home.

I go out to eat for socializing, not so much for the food. Heck, I know how to cook.

Millennium Restuarant and A Cable Car Ride

I was just reminded by my mother-in-law about my interesting experience in San Francisco when I went to Millennium Restaurant about a month ago. I was meeting my sister and her boyfriend to discuss a project in the works: Wake Up and Eat I was down by Fisherman's Wharf and was supposed to meet them near Union Square to go to dinner for a 6 p.m. reservation. As hard as I tried I could not get a later reservation. Things always work out, just not the way that you thought that they would.

I headed to the cable car turn around a bit late since unbeknownst to me my watch had stopped running. I figured that I could get to Union Square in 30 minutes, although there was a line. And it seemd that the cars sat for a while at the turn around before actually leaving. AND, and this was the big AND my conductor had a tantrum. He yelled at a young passenger and then stormed off the car. This was when I picked up my cell phone and made the first call to my sister and told her about my dilemma, being stuck on the cable car and that I might be a few minutes late. When I realized that it would be longer than that, I called again and also called the restaurant to tell them. They thanked me for the call and said that it was OK.

About 5 minutes later the conductor returned, a bit more composed, and we left the turnaround and headed toward North Beach. We almost took out 2 tourists who ambled in front of the cable car, not realizing that it doesn't stop when you are crossing in front of it against the light. We went 1 more block and the conductor pulled back on the brake that is attached to the cable. It would not catch. At first I thought that he must have been kidding. But as we slid down the hill a bit , and almost into the intersection behind us, I could tell that we were doomed. The cable had stopped running. Faced with impending dinner reservations, mild hunger and a huge hill and many blocks before me at around 6 p.m. I made my final call.

"Donna, why don't you go to the restaurant? I 'll meet you there" I said as I stepped off the cable car. Luckily, I wear sensible shoes. I hoofed my way to Union Square, and then beyond to the theater district where Millennium is located. I had never been there and found the room was a bit hushed and dark with a clubby and romantic feeling to it. It was what I needed. It was 6:30, the time at which I had wanted the reservation. I was so warmed up from my hike up and down SF hills, that I peeled off my scarf, my hat, my jacket and any other clothing that I could. I asked if the wine was there yet (it would shortly arrive), strolled to the restroom to compose myself, and came back feeling much better a few minutes later.

Dinner was mostly fantastic. The plate presentations were wonderfully artistic with an incredible variety of tastes and textures on each one. I bet that you will not miss the meat (if you do eat it) and find each dish intriguing, if not always to your liking. The ingredients are not ordinary. We shared many dishes and at the moment I cannot tell you which was the best but I have a recollection of oyster mushrooms being great. None of the desserts wowed me but I was likely too full and definitely had at least a couple of glasses of wine. I recommend that you go to Millennium when you are in San Francisco if you can get a reservation (even if it's a bit earlier than you'd like).

We left the restaurant and hailed a cab. The ride was short and sweet, and cost only $6 for the 3 of us. But somehow it just didn't compare to my $5 cable car ride and hike, at least not in the story telling department.

My Wonderful Students

Just last week I finished teaching 2 culinary classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. Also, in that same 8 week period I taught 3 four-week cooking classes. The culinary classes are straight academics and do not involve food preparation, only talking about it. I enjoy both types of teaching but getting my hands on the food is what really excites me. But back to the students..

The Culinary Arts Survey class is a brief overview of the culinary world. The students' final group project involves coming up with a culinary concept - bar, restaurant, nightclub, bistro, etc. and presenting it to the class. The diversity of their ideas is incredibly interesing. Life experience definitely plays a role with some of the younger students trying to design a wine list when they don't drink wine. Now, why would they take on the position of bar manager, I wonder?

The projects are always interesting even if not especially realistic. For many of them, this is their first culinary class, along with Sanitation and Safety (which was the other class that I taught). One class is creative while the other fills your head with facts, many of them scary. By the time that I finish teaching the sanitation class I am amazed that we all don't get sicker from the food that we eat. Or maybe we do, and chalk it up to a 24-hour virus.

The students in my culinary classes get letter grades which take me way too long to figure out. All the papers, quizzes and final exams pile up and overwhelm me. I am still working on grades from a week ago, although they are due within 3 working days of the end of class. Just a bit late now but I am not perfect.

My cooking classes are always fascinating because I get a such a diverse group of students. One class had students ranging in age from 14 to 60+. Some students are serious and others just want to eat a good meal once a week, and have leftovers for lunch the next day. As long as they show up, ready to get cooking, I like all of them.

The students in these classes give me a chance to see what people really do when they are in the kitchen. I get to test my recipes to see if students can follow them, how they turn out and taste and what kind of marks I get for flavor acceptance. I get to play with ingredients that I might want use more often. Lately that includes agave syrup, seaweed and colored rice (black, red). Who knows what's next? That's the exciting part of being in the culinary world.

I am almost ready to leave for Seattle to attend the annual meeting of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). The conference is often a who's who of the culinary world. I've had the late Julia Child sit behind me at a luncheon, and chatted with Jacques Pepin, Graham Kerr, Rick Bayless, Martin Yan and more. Some are more personable than others but we're all in the culinary arena for various reasons. Mine is to teach and share my wisdom, and foibles.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Seaweed and More Bread in My Life

I spent the weekend of March 4th and 5th at a Seaweed Convivium. I do realize that seaweed is a foreign substance for most people who think that it ought to stay in the ocean from whence it came. But I have harvested it before on the very clean Sonoma coast and I wanted to learn more -- about it's nutritional and possible therapuetic effects, and how to use it in cooking. And that's what I did.

The evemt was held at a Grange Hall in Anderson Valley, just north of Boonville and south of Philo, here in California. I learned about the grange and that this is the only solar-powered grange around. There are also lots of old hippies in the area and it's quite amazing that the event even took place considering who was doing the organizing. But despite some timing issues on Day 1, the event was a success -- at least for me.

I learned that everyone probably needs to eat more seaweed more often, except for me on that Saturday when I discovered just how much fiber seaweed contains. I think that I ate a tad more than my body ws used to. I didn't get sick but let's just say that I made an extra trip to the bathroom that evening.

I also learned that seaweed can help all of us with the unknown effects of radiation from all the electronic equipment that we use and are exposed to, plus the small daily outputs from nuclear reactors around the world. My goal now is to see how I can eat my 5 grams of seaweed each day. This is about one-sixth of an ounce. Seaweed shrinks down by 5 to 20 times from fresh to dried and then swells up again in your body. The easiest way for me to eat seaweed is to snack on it in the form of Sea Palm which are also sometimes known as Sea Crunchies. They are native to my area.

On Sunday we were treated to 5 cooking demonstrations by some great cooks and chefs. Cherie Soria from Living Light Natural Foods cooking school in Fort Bragg. It's all raw and the food was tasty but it was a chilly rainy day so I found the cooked, warm food much more pleasing. We were treated to Seaweed and Edamame Gnocchi with creamy Oyster Mushroom Sauce from Eric Tucker from Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco, Celery Root and Asian Pear Soup with Baby Nori Flan from James Romero from The Sea Ranch Lodge on our coast, Daikon Involatini from Renee Rohrig an awesome chef from Google (where they have free reign to buy ingredients and create wonderful meals) and last was Barry Horton from The Stanford Inn in Mendocino with his signature dish of Sea Palm Strudel with 2 sauces - Wasabi and Raspberry. I left sated, if not full.

I hope to arrange some kind of cooking demo or workshop at The Stanford Inn this fall so if this is of interest to you, please let me know.

About the bread -- I ended the week with 6 loaves more than I started with. I got 4 wonderfully hearty loaves from Grindstone Bakery in Santa Rosa and 2 from Bruce Bread of Mendocino. Both exchanges happend in the parking lot of Community Market in Santa Rosa where I shop regularly. Now I know why I continue to go back -- I can always use more bread.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Delicious is the key

I often struggle with trying to understand why people would want to eat food that is not fresh and delicious. It doesn't matter if it's my morning whole grain toast with sliced avocado and a sprinkling of gomasio or flax seed or my lunch of Thai Ruby Red rice with pressure cooked veggies and tofu with lemongrass, galanga and kaffir lime but my food must taste great. Otherwise why would I waste my calories?

I will admit to not always making the most healthful choices for I am only human (with some glaring imperfections). So when I veer off course I try to make my digressions delicious ones such as locally produced Kahlua truffles or apple spice muffins or Purely Decadent Soy Delicious in a flavor such as Chocolate Brownie Almond.

If you've never tried Soy Delicious from Turtle Mountain here is your chance to get a pint for FREE. Send me an email at and I will give you instructions but you have to do this by Friday, March 17th which is when this offer will expire. And while you are at it, perhaps you'd like to sign up for my email newsletter. Just let me know.

Now, back to more deliciousness. I think that I'm going to warm up my senses, my soul and my body with a batch of Thai Curried Winter Squash soup that a class made last night. For me it ranked near the top of the fresh and delicious scale.

Parting words...Don't waste your time with bland and boring food if that's not how you see your life.