Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Good Coffee, Creatures at Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a Flying Submarine

But before jelly fish, there was coffee.

It was coffee of the Barefoot variety, modeled here by Motorcycle Cop Jana. It makes me happy to have a good coffee roaster nearby. Look out for that Jana, though.

Then there was Monterey Bay.
And its famous aquarium.
There were tiny little fishies swimming in perfect circles, and big fishies looking menacing. There were octopuses with suckers and eels poking their heads out of rocks. There was a wise old turtle that flew through the water. And there were teeny-tiny little seahorses hiding in the shrubbery.

And there were jellies. I love these guys. So weird and beautiful. And stingy. But mostly beautiful.

Hello, tunas! I would like to eat you!

But wait, what's that lurking behind you? Egads!
Craziness. Sheer craziness.

At dinner, we had one more surprise.
A flying submarine! Sadly, the lift-off controls were out of order.
If you're ever in Santa Cruz and find yourself thirsty, I recommend a stop by the Cellar Door, the restaurant of Bonny Doon Vineyards. Sit at the bar with its view of the flying submarine and order yourself the wine or beer of your choice along with the chef's pizza of the day. You won't regret it. We certainly didn't.
Points of Interest:

Barefoot Coffee
5237 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Santa Clara, California 95051

Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940

Cellar Door - Bonny Doon Vineyard
328 Ingalls St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Friday, September 16, 2011

One Last Zucchini Salad For Summer (Or, How I Learned to Love Zucchini)

I am not what you might call a zucchini girl. It's one vegetable I've never really understood. I kinda looks like a cucumber, but it's not. It's kinda watery like a cucumber, but it's not. It's also kinda mild-flavored like a cucumber, but its not. And I'm not really a cucumber girl, either, so the whole concept of the zucchini was pretty much doomed from the start for me.

And then there's summer squash. Of which zucchini is one. And of which That Yellow One is another. Why doesn't The Yellow One get a name? That seems unfair and makes me feel rather sympathetic toward The Yellow One, despite the fact that it basically tastes the same as a zucchini. (Also, can summer squashes really be its own category if it really only contains two examples? I mean look at winter squashes. Now those squashes have their act together, hoo boy! But I digress.)

But despite having all the cards stacked against them from the start, I have finally discovered the one application of summer squash(es) that is totally and completely worth it. My friends, it is this: squash ribbons.

Perhaps you are already familiar with squash ribbons, a.k.a. squash fettuccine, a.k.a. squash noodles. I had never tried them before this summer on the vague principle that a dish of noodles should contain actual noodles and not vegetables disguised as noodles. The event that brought them to my attention was dinner at the house of some new friends. I am a sucker for any food someone else makes for me, and the fact that this was a dish of cleverly-disguised zucchini was no exception. Also, my momma raised me polite.

You see where this is going. The squash ribbons were delicious. The lemon and mint in the dressing was the perfect companion to the slightly sweet flavor of the summer squash. Their spongy texture, often so troubling in vegetarian menu options, was completely transformed by the simple shift from wedge-shape to ribbon-shape. The chewy bits of parmesan on top added that final touch of salty richness. The whole dish was just so clean-tasting and refreshing. Yum.

Back home, I looked for the recipe, but couldn't find the exact one my friend said she had been using for years. The internets were eager to provide me with other recipe suggestions, but none of them seemed quite what I was looking for. No choice but to make up my own recipe!

In truth, this is more of a template than a recipe. The key players are your summer squashes, some kind of vinaigrette, some kind of herb-alicious enhancement, and a sprinkle of cheese. Within these categories, feel free to go crazy. 

This here's the version my taste buds have craved this summer. It makes an excellent side dish to grilled fish or roasted chicken. Plus a glass of pinot grigio if you're feeling classy. (And when are you not?)

Cheers, Summer! Until next year!

Squash Ribbons with Lemon and Mint
Serves 4

This recipe is built for four people, but you can scale it up or down as you so desire. Shoot for one squash per person and adapt the vinaigrette to match.

4 summer squashes - a mix of zucchinis and yellow squashes are nice for the colors
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced mint leaves
2 tablespoons Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling on top

To make the ribbons, run a vegetable peeler down the entire length of the squash. Rotate the squash between each cut, going around and around until the squash becomes too thin to peel. Aim for thick ribbons of even width, but no need to get fussy. (P.S. The stumpy middle pieces that you're left with after ribboning are an excellent meal-prep snack if dipped in a little salt.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, mint leaves, and parmesan, along with a healthy three-fingered pinch of salt. Give the vinaigrette a taste and adjust any of the components as needed. Pour the vinaigrette over the ribbons and toss to coat. Let the salad stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Serve on individual plates with a second sprinkling of parmesan on top. Leftovers will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hooked on the 'Buch

That would be 'buch as in "kombucha." Which is a fizzy, tart, mildly-fermented tea that was all the rage in China and Eastern Europe for centuries before landing squarely with the natural foodists and hipsters in the last few decades. What, you haven't heard of it? Trust me, you will.

People can get pretty evangelical about kombucha. They'll tell you that it strengthens your immune system, aids digestion, cures the common cold, makes your hair shinier, and graces you with feelings of bliss and tenderness toward your fellow human beings. They'll encourage you to drink it at least once a day for maximum benefit, and then they'll pour you a glass right then and there.

That may all very well be true, but I just think it tastes good. To me, it has the tart freshness of good apple cider with an edge of mild sweetness and an underbelly of earthier spice flavors. The actual tea-flavor fades into the background, and the fizziness makes it seem more like drinking very tasty soda or mild-flavored beer. It actually reminds me a lot of a Belgian lambic or gueuze, minus the alcohol. (Though, yes, kombucha does have a wee drop of alcohol after it's done fermenting. Shhh!)

My market research for the kombucha chapter in my brewing book has rapidly taken on a life of its own, such that I have moved up the schedule on developing those recipes so as to curb the constant flow of pennies from my pocket to GT's Synergy Kombucha HQ.
Kombucha Mothering
Step #1 has been to grow my kombucha mother, or SCOBY (short for "Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast." Poetic, right?). The mother is responsible for making the magic happen in that bottle of kombucha, kind of a like a sourdough starter for sourdough bread. It looks like a wobbly flat pancake and has the consistency of fresh squid. Yum!

You can order fully-formed kombucha mothers online or beg them from a kombucha-brewing friend, but it's also pretty straight-forward to grow your own. You just need one last $3.50 bottle of GT's Synergy Kombucha and a batch of extra-sweet tea. GT's is a raw kombucha, which means that it still contains the live bacteria and yeasts used for brewing the kombucha (you can actually see them in the form of that little blobby thing awkwardly hanging out in the bottom of the bottle). With new food in the form of sugar, those bacteria and yeasts will gradually come together in a new SCOBY.
For the first few days, nothing happened. The jars of sweet tea sitting on my counter looked like...jars of sweet tea. Because I am a worrier, I worried. I fretted. I hovered. I had the following conversation with a kombucha-brewing friend over Facebook:
Me: So I'm in the middle of Day 3 of starting my own kombucha mother and don't see anything happening yet. Do you think I did something wrong? Or should I just sit tight and stop being so impatient?
Her: You need to give it somewhere between 7-14 days for the scoby to form. Cover it with a breathable cloth and put it out of your sight (and the light :).
Me: Yup, it's covered with a cloth and out of the light. So...I guess what you're saying is....I just need to sit tight and stop hovering.
And then, right around Day #6, it started doing stuff! And y'all....I'm not going to's "stuff" looks pretty gross. Like a primordial swamp in my Mason jar. Take a look at this thing around Day #8:
Who would ever think this could make delicious brews? Not me.

But I have faith. Faith that this swamp of bacteria and yeast will come together into a squid-textured pancake that will mother my sweet tea into tasty bliss-gracing kombucha. Will it work? Will Emma finally kick the GT habit and successfully complete a chapter of her book? Who knows what evil lurks in the jars of brewed teas? The Shadow knows... [cue music...fade to black...and end scene.]