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Kulinarya Cooking Club: Maligayang Bati at Manigong Bagong Taon edition

Happy Lunar New Year, folks! Once again, I dropped off the face of the earth, but at least I’m re-emerging to post for this month’s Kulinarya Cooking Club challenge. It would be extra embarrassing if I didn’t participate this time around, too, as Pearl of Sassy Chef and I were the two bloggers hosting this challenge!

The KCC challenge for January that the two of us cooked up was this one:
This month’s theme is a celebration– of good health and of new beginnings!
Words and Nosh’s big 3-0 is this month, so we dreamed up a birthday challenge:
What dish (entree, dessert, drink, merienda, whatever!) do you always request,
or wish you could have, for your birthday?

As a twist, how would you modify the dish to make it more healthy? It’s the new
year, after all, and it’s time to get back on track with good eating habits! You
can make your dish vegetarian/vegan, lower fat, dairy-free, low sugar or however
else you want, so long as it’s a little bit healthier for your body and the
planet!

I had every intention of posting earlier, but alas, since it actually was my birthday last week, I’ve been out and about, with no time to even think about cooking! Finally, though, I got it together and whipped up my own take on rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish) with sauteed kangkong (water spinach), one of my favorite dishes. Not only is it easy to make, healthy, and delicious, but also pretty enough to serve for a special celebration.

 

Now, you’ll notice first off that the fish I’m using here isn’t bangus at all, nor is the green vegetable kangkong. In keeping with the theme of the month, and with my general outlook on eating and cooking with local, sustainable, and organic ingredients as much as possible, I branched out a bit; I preserved the essence of the Filipino flavors but switched the ingredients up a bit. Moreover, I tried to reduce the oils and sodium as much as possible so the typical post-Filipino meal swelling wouldn’t plague me again!

Between Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the local farmers market, I was able to source all the ingredients for the meal. Though organic is often synonymous with overpriced, by sticking to in-season ingredients and whole fish (instead of fillets), the total check was <$20 to serve 2 people. [The rice, garlic, patis, and shallots were already in my pantry so that doesn’t count!]. I’d like to think I honored Ilokano frugality by keeping the cost low!

For the fish stuffing, I mixed up the following:

  • 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 shallot (thinly sliced)
  • small handful macadamia nuts (chopped, in lieu of traditional pili nuts)
  • 1-2 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 tbsp. patis (fish sauce)
  • roughly 1/3 cup cherry tomatoes (coursely chopped)

 

Then I simply stuffed it into two dressed rainbow trout, along with halved small Mexican limes (kinda calamansi like, though not exactly the same), cilantro, and some green onions. To the outside of the trout, I squeezed some more lime, sprinkled a little sea salt and pepper, and a very light spray of olive oil spray.

I then baked the fish in a 400 degree oven for 20 mins, to make sure it was all cooked through but not dried out.

[An important aside on the fish: I decided to go with rainbow trout over the other whole fish available at Whole Foods not only because it was the most cheaply priced ($6.99/lb. with these two fish coming in just under one lb.) but because farmed rainbow trout is listed as a “best choice” fish by the Seafood Watch Program. That means that it is the most sustainable choice, that commits less environmental and ecological harm than other species and sources of fish. I strongly recommend that you check out Seafood Watch– they have printable cards and even smartphone apps to help you make better seafood choices when shopping or eating out.]

While the fish was baking, I prepped and cooked the greens, which were actually broccoli rabe and not kangkong. I was actually surprised at how much the rabe reminded me of kangkong in this meal, the flavors went so well with the fish.

For the broccoli rabe, you simply wash and shake out (but not fully dry off)  a large bunch of the rabe, and add to a pan where 3 minced garlic cloves have been sauteed in 1/4 cup of olive oil on med-low heat for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle red pepper flakes, sea salt, and some white pepper to taste and raise heat to med-high. Once temp is up, lower heat to medium and cover pan for about 5 minutes. The rabe should then cook itself down, the excess water from washing helping to steam it a bit. I removed the rabe when it was al dente, but you could cook it down more if you like!

 

It never happens usually, but somehow both the fish and the veggies cooked at the same time, so they were both perfectly hot and ready to serve in half an hour after I started cooking! With some steamed brown rice, it was a perfect way to end my weekend.

Hope you enjoyed my little cooking adventure, peeps! Will try to post again soon, but no promises…

 

Cultivating Food Justice… for whom?

Two weekends ago I attended the 4th Annual Cultivating Food Justice Event (not conference, as they were so keen to remind us), a free two-day extravaganza of panels, workshops, keynotes, and of course, delicious food put on every year by San Diego’s most staunch advocates for food justice. I went to this event last year for the first time, and while last year had the (worthy) glitter of the illustrious Raj Patel as keynote speaker, this year’s event was vastly improved (though hardly perfect). In lieu of a huge write up, because once again I’m running so behind, here are a few thoughts on the great, the good, and the things that need a little (or a LOT) of improvement.

THE GOOD

City Heights community garden

  • The change in location from SDSU to City Heights

Last year’s conference was on a college campus, and while it was super convenient, it also felt very remote and removed from, you know, the world outside the ivory tower. Not so this year. Basing the event in the heart of City Height’s business district was fantastic– “home base” was at the Farmer’s Market (more on that later) and other workshops were held at community centers such as a locally-run aquaponics farm, a community garden, a health center, local churches, etc. Spreading out the venue probably meant that some folks got lost, but that’s ok. I think that forcing people ostensibly interested in food justice– many of whom probably have never been nor never intended to go to City Heights before– to walk around a “food desert” composed primarily of working-class people of color is a necessary eye-opener. Did it actually change the dialogue on food justice that day? No, from what I saw (again, more on this below), but it’s perhaps a start to get privileged “foodies” out of their bubble.

city heights farmers market

  • Lunch  and workshops at and about the City Heights Farmer’s Market

On day one, folks were responsible for getting lunch on their own. It being Saturday and the day of the weekly City Heights Farmers Market, it was a perfect opportunity for conference attendees to visit the market and pick up produce or prepared foods from the vendors. One thing I noticed immediately was how small the market was compared to the massive Hillcrest Farmers Market, or even the North Park Farmers Market, one of the newer weekly markets just a mile or two down the road. A workshop I attended the next day facilitated by Fernanda De Campos really clarified for me why this was so– she is one of the organizers responsible for creating and maintaining City Heights Market, and it’s been a struggle just to get permits, permissions, and EBT access, let alone all the work that goes into drumming up vendors and farmers who will commit to a market without a “built-in clientele” (code speak for bougie folks with disposable income) to charge high prices for organic produce. Educating and organizing the community is also something Fernanda and others have been working hard at–  basic education on nutrition and the value of fresh fruits and vegetables over much cheaper processed foods, and then more awareness building on the upsides of organic and local produce. I can only imagine the kind of labor and time this takes, and huge props to Fernanda and the other organizers for taking on this role!

The second day of the event, a vegetarian lunch was provided by conference organizers. Not only was it delicious and good for you, it was also FREE! This day, instead of the usual market vendors, there were tables manned by community food justice groups, non-profits working against hunger, seed-swapping collectives, and socialists and anarchist groups. It was a very positive energy seeing local folks coming together to talk food politics, create sidewalk murals, and just hanging out. It would be nice to see this kind of thing more regularly at all our San Diego farmers markets, but I’ve heard from Fernanda that every 3rd Saturday there will be a Cultivating Food Justice tent at the City Heights Farmers Market, so maybe that’s a start…

fresh salad at sunday lunch

  • More diverse group of volunteers, planners, speakers, and workshop topics

At last year’s conference, from the opening check-in to the keynote closing speech by Raj Patel, I kept looking around the room for people that looked like me, and saw very few that did. From the volunteers to the workshop leaders, I noticed a dearth of under-30s people, and a shockingly low number of people of color in the mix. Not so this year. The average volunteer range must’ve been in the early- to mid-20s, and a good number of those folks were women of color. I don’t know for sure what came first– the planning of the conference or the rise of younger folks of color in the planning committee, but I for one felt a big difference and for the better in the energy and focus of the entire conference.

The issues being addressed, especially in the keynote talks, were issues that really hit home for me, whereas last year I felt alienated by a lot of the talk to “buy green” and “build victory gardens in my front yard” when I’m a) not a home-owner and can’t legally build anything on the property I live on; and 2) can only buy green insofar as I can afford it. This year, unlike last, there were far more workshops on the schedule that addressed questions of structural barriers to access and food equity, food justice projects being taken up by immigrants, refugees, and other communities of color, and on direct production/farming and not just consumption of organic food. There was still plenty of focus on living sustainably and “urban homesteading” (ugh, I hate that term!) but it wasn’t the only focus of the conference to the exclusion of necessary discussions about who gets to live sustainably and who is barred from it.

The keynote speakers this year really hit it out of the park. It was really empowering that both speakers this year were local organizers working in their communities for real change: N. Diane Moss of the People’s Produce Project, a multifaceted community organization working in Southeastern San Diego,  and Bilali Muya, a refugee from Somalia who is a leader in the New Roots Community Farm, an urban farm expressly for refugees in City Heights to sustain themselves and their families. Their talks were invigorating, empowering, and most of all, real. They made the stakes of their work very clear– that food justice is not just for individuals with enough purchasing power to buy green and live sustainably in their hybrid SUVs, but is part of broader systemic change, for entire communities to be able to survive and thrive in the face of economic, political, and cultural barriers to access, education, and livelihood. Don’t get me wrong, I love Raj Patel (his book Stuffed and Starved is a must-read), but this year’s speakers really solidified the need for local solutions to seemingly-insurmountable global issues.

aquaponics farm overlooking community health center

TO BE IMPROVED


  • Publicity- where was it?

Once again, this conference is amazing… if you can find it. I didn’t see any promotional materials up in local farmers markets or in the community beforehand, and didn’t even see any love on twitter! Last year’s conference had its own Twitter account and hashtag, but while I searched and searched beforehand, during, and after the event, I still think I was the only person tweeting about this event in real time. I’m hoping it’s because everyone that needed to be there was already there but I’m not so sure about that. The only way I found out about the event was through an email, sent days before, asking prior attendees if they’d like to volunteer this year. I can only hope the organizers did a better job promoting it in the local City Heights community and elsewhere.

  • Cancellations and other logistical oversights

I’m kind of anal (no surprise, right?) so I get kind of twitchy if I feel like I’m missing key information. Namely, that registration is ongoing throughout the day, and not just from the 8-9AM timeslot listed both on the website and in the printed program. I almost skipped the event the first day because I thought there wouldn’t be a booth after 9AM to register to get the information about the day’s events, especially since locations for the workshops were not listed online either. Luckily that wasn’t the case, but I wonder how many other people didn’t show because they thought they missed their opportunity.

Also, I know it’s beyond the control of the organizers, but some of the last-minute cancellations really bummed me out. The cancelled workshops were high on my list too as they were on topics explicitly dealing with farmworker conditions and “on-the-ground” projects by people of color. I wonder what could have been done, if anything, to keep these folks from cancelling, or being able to replace them with similar workshops?

  • Bad academics who had no business leading workshops

I really respect the work of food justice organizers, even those whose focii are not necessarily my own. I think that the more people the merrier doing this work, and that folks from all backgrounds– from scientists and specialists, to farmers, to blue-collar workers, to students, and so on– have a place in the struggle. BUT. If you are going to hold a panel ostensibly on food trucks, fast food, and Los Angeles, and proceed to give a jargon-y, avant garde performance-y, totally historically ungrounded talk instead, then I say you’re a terrible person who is doing real violence to theory, to Ethnic Studies as an academic field, to food justice organizing, and to communities of color all at once. It’s not even worth getting into the details of this talk except to say that I was probably one of the few people there who’s read the Deleuze, complexity theory, literary theory and Chicana Studies scholarship this academic claimed to base their work in, as well as have had the community organizing experience and food justice politics background to boot… and this talk still didn’t make real sense. The things that one could take away from the talk, moreover, were just plain wrong and could lead to the perpetuation of more violence against immigrants and communities of color. In a word, NO. Also: please never let this person speak at this conference again. Kthanx.

  • Finally: why do white folks take up so much space? Are we speaking another language? A meditation.

Throughout the weekend, at different panels and workshops of various topics ranging from victory gardens to refugees in San Diego, there seemed to be the same group of people taking up a lot of room in the Q&A, asking the same three questions. These folks were either really peppy undergraduate students from one of the two large public universities in San Diego or older middle- to middle-upper class white folks wearing similar shades of pale clothing suitable when home gardening. I consistently saw them talking over others, shouting out questions while people of color were politely raising their hands and waiting to speak. Moreover, their questions were not always relevant to the discussion at hand, and in fact seemed to move us, always, towards the same discussions about legality (“how can we legalize these community gardens so everyone can plant a garden?”), procedure (“what is the paperwork process like to make your community garden/farmers market/fruit stand legal?”), and environmental safety (“why doesn’t your community garden/farmers market/fruit stand have organic certification? what kinds of fertilizers/water/planters do you use to keep away bugs without harming the environment?”).  These questions are not necessarily bad but hearing them over and over again really made me realize:

Many white “food justice” activists literally and metaphorically speak another language: that of “environmental sustainability” and not that of “food equity” or “food sovereignty”

I need to write much more about this, but I guess the clearest example of this was in the final workshop I attended, run by the community leaders involved with the New Roots Community Farm. There were three main speakers from different refugee communities who work at the farm– Bob Ou (Cambodian), Hermalinda Figuerroa (Chicana), and Khadija Msame (Somalian)– and a fourth speaker, Amy Lint, who works with the International Rescue Committee and has been instrumental to the continuation of New Roots. Both Hermalinda and Khadija had interpreters as they did not speak English well or at all. Hearing Bob, Hermalinda, and Khadija speak was one of the highlights of the weekend- about what farming has done for themselves and their families; of the challenges they have faced but also of the satisfaction of producing what they need to survive. Khadija especially was so fierce– even in translation, it was clear how passionate she is and about how much she wants to empower the Somalian community in San Diego.

When it came time for the Q&A, however, four older white folks asked all the questions, and they were all about the logistics, legality, and enivronmental sustainability of the farm. Some of these same folks were in earlier panels I had attended on Victory Gardens, and the questions were nearly the same. Not a single question came up dealing with the fact that these farmers are not the middle-class homeowners the green movement paints as “urban homesteaders”; there was no discussion of what makes New Roots Farm different from most other community gardens we see in San Diego— the farmers themselves. The conditions the New Roots Farmers are working in, their stakes in the farm, are so much different because of their positionality, because of their race, class, and nationality– how could this basic fact be so overlooked? Moreover,  the questions were primarily directed at Amy and not to Bob, Hermalinda, and Khadija. Did the audience members think they wouldn’t understand their questions because of the language barrier? Because of the cultural barrier? Because they weren’t trained like Amy has been, or is perceived to have been? Not only was it patronizing, it was infuriating. This kind of interaction happened throughout the conference, but this incident was the icing on top of the proverbial cake. Disappointing, definitely, but it also crystallized for me the need to continue working on food justice issues, and on getting us speaking the same language. Or, at the very least, getting some folks to be silent sometimes, and listen and learn from others.

So much for not writing a huge post– I guess I got carried away. Even with some of the disappointments, this was a fantastic event to attend– I learned so much, especially from the following individuals and groups, who deserve a special shout-out:  The New Roots Community Farm; The City Heights Farmers Market and Fernanda De Campos; N. Diane Moss and The People’s Produce Project; and finally, Lacie Watkins-Bush, whose “Race and Class Deconstruction” workshop I had the privilege of attending last year and who continues to inspire and instruct me in how to teach compassionately yet critically about race, power, and food justice. It’s definitely an educational and eye-opening experience every time, and I hope to see you there next year!

(The photos I took, above, are of farming and agriculture projects started by and for City Heights community members. Even in a food desert do flowers and plants bloom.)

Talking about food justice, hitting a wall

[Note: I had originally posted this on my Tumblr, but decided to repost here for better documentation and possibly more discussion. There was a news article I referred to that immediately preceded my own musings– for clarity, I just added an external link here. Would love any thoughts and feedbacks on this quickly-written musing!]

I had a challenging time last night trying to facilitate an educational discussion about food justice in the SD Fil/Am community with some friends of mine that I volunteer with (we are in a progressive Filipino/American high school student mentoring program together). I tried to get us all thinking about ours and our families’ shopping and consumption practices as a gateway to talking about structural barriers to getting affordable, healthy food, but we never seemed to get beyond a discussion of “cultural differences” between Filipino markets like Seafood City versus mainstream shops like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or even Von’s. “Cultural differences” became the explanation for why prices are lower and why Filipino folks keep returning to ethnic groceries, and that alone was the answer.

Now, while it’s true that there are things that ethnic grocers can provide many services, products and relationships that puti markets can’t, to claim that a cultural difference alone keeps prices lower and products varied at Seafood City is to ignore the vast structures underlying food production and consumption in the US and around the world. To say that Filipino/Americans just “aren’t used” to buying organic food or even lots of vegetables (organic or not) is to defer a conversation about why our national or cultural diet might be so poor— about why many in our community have limited financial means or access to fresh produce and meats; about the colonial and neo-colonial origins for many of our so-called “unhealthy staple foods” (such as SPAM and sisig); about the linked causes for hunger and obesity in communities of color in the US with the growing international food crises in places like Korea and the Philippines. The conversation wasn’t able to progress to even begin discussing these things, and I self-critique for not being able to facilitate in a way that could get us there.

I guess it was so hard for me to have this discussion about food justice and communities of color without getting into everything— the FDA complicity with corporate ag; the neo-imperialism of land and labor exploitation on Third World plantations (aka the Philippines); white middle class privilege in demanding “good food” at the expense of poor immigrants of color who are being paid below living wage to produce it; and so on. These are all huge topics that at the very least folks should ideally read a little about before we engage in a (BRIEF!) 30 minute educational discussion about it, but in the absence of that, what else could I have done? Lecture? Brought in a news article like the one above as a piece to center our discussion?

Even in a very short news article like the one above, you have so many issues at once intersecting— gentrification, white privilege (and white guilt), different cultural discourses on what qualifies as “healthy food” and “diverse neighborhoods,” and that’s just hitting the surface. Even bringing in these two paragraphs seems overwhelming, when folks are coming from different places and have different viewpoints on all these topics…

Meh. I’m not trying to figure it all out now, just venting/processing a little on this blog. More or less, I’m frustrated with my own inability to translate my “intellectual work” (whatever that means) into real talk, to actually work with the community instead of me continuing to talk “at” them.

Sunrises, sunsets

Two weeks ago I went to Hawai’i. I celebrated a wedding, my birthday, but ended the week with a funeral. Let me rewind.

I went to Hawai’i for the first time ever as my friend D’s date to a family wedding. It was a rainy week in Honolulu, so we spent more time eating than sunbathing, but I did manage to get in a few scenic runs and enjoy the beach nonetheless. This being a food blog and all, I’ll show you a few highlights of the week’s eats:

Haupia (coconut cream) malasadas from...

We OD’ed on the malasadas from the famed Leonard’s Bakery. While the haupia was a bit too cream-filled for my liking, the plain sugared malasadas were pure dough-y heaven. D’s family loves these malasadas so much that we brought a  whole box to the wedding as an extra snack! I love a family that loves food as much as I do.

Of course we sampled classic Hawaiian fast food fare: moco loco and pork chops with gravy from Rainbow Drive-in, hot and spicy shrimp from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore…

and lots of shave ice. While we made sure to make our pilgrimage to Matsumoto’s on the North Shore, I actually preferred the extra smooth and creamy shave ice with custard (aka leche flan!) at Waiola Shave Ice back in Honolulu. The folks at Waiola make their syrups in-house, and were sweet enough to serve me and D. even though we arrived a wee bit after closing time:

coconut and mango flavored shave ice

Two experiences stand out from my brief stint in Honolulu. Both very, very different from each other but amazing just the same.

While D. and I stuck to cheap eats most nights, we made an exception to visit Town, a buzzed-about  eatery that’s supposedly “bringing the locavore movement” single-handedly to Oahu. While I’m not sure I buy all that, and was initially skeptical about a place outside the mainland trying to do “American comfort food” with local ingredients, this meal was truly delicious. So good, in fact, that I’ll share with you photos of nearly the entire meal that D. and I shared.

Simple olives, bread, and a huge pat of butter in olive oil. If you can make this exciting, then I know I’m in for a good meal! We were then served an extremely fresh tuna tartare on tiny grit cakes, and a big bowl of mussels in what tasted like a pure butter sauce:

D. and I split our main course too, but the portion size of my half was plenty. This was the most interesting dish of the night- a beef shank in mole sauce, with hominy and greens. A little bit Southern, with a classic Mexican sauce done fancy, but amazingly it didn’t taste out of place in Hawaii.

We closed out with a yummy chocolate pie, featuring pretzels and sea salt as a contrasting twist! Like my favorite compost cookies from Momofuku, but with more chocolate-y goodness.

Can I just say that the lighting at Town is just made for food bloggers? The pinlights over each table highlighted the food perfectly without creating a glare off the white dishes in photos. Why can’t more restaurants design their lighting schemes with us in mind? 😉

After dinner at Town, I wasn’t sure my birthday dinner two nights later could top it. I wasn’t looking for anything fancy- just a good, solid Malaysian meal, something near impossible to find in the mainland US. A quick Yelp search on my phone pointed the way to the Green Door Cafe, and I knew as soon as I called for a reservation that we were in for something unique. The phone call went something like this (I’m speaking in italics):

Hello?
Is this Green Door Cafe?
Yes, hello.
What time are you open until tonight? We’d like to make a reservation for two if possible.
Um…What time did you want to come?
7:30-8?
Ok, I’ll stay open for you then. 7:30. See you! (Click).

I wasn’t sure what we’d walk into after that conversation, but it definitely piqued our interest. A little more internet sleuthing revealed Green Door Cafe to be a one-woman operation, with a tiny capacity of 8 patrons, but it didn’t fully prepare us for actually meeting Betty and dining here.

When we walked in, the place was totally empty, except for Betty who was sitting behind the counter, texting or otherwise playing with her phone. Behind the counter was a tiny space, a make-shift kitchen like I’d only seen in Hong Kong or Manila back alleys- with a fridge, a propane burner, and a huge rice maker making up the bulk of the space. Betty cooks everything to order, with a tiny menu written on a white board, kept small so she can focus on doing those few things well with local ingredients. At her recommendation, we ordered the Singaporean noodles and the day’s special- chicken with oyster mushrooms, since the mushrooms were fresh from the farmer’s market that day. What were you saying about introducing the locavore movement to Honolulu, propietors of Town?

I wish I had better photos of the food (served in plastic take-out containers with the lids ripped off), but it was just so dim in here. But, in this failed photo of me, you can actually get a good look at the kitchen set up at Green Door, which is the most interesting part:

Betty's kitchen

Totally unpretentious, excellent and fresh Nyonya Malaysian food, for a quarter of what we paid for the meal at Town. I couldn’t ask for anything more… only that I wish we had a place like this in SoCal, so I could get my fix without having to try (and fail!) at cooking it myself.

The day after my birthday, our last full day in Honolulu, D. and I went to tea at the Moana Surfrider, where we had stayed the night before in an unexpectedly-upgraded suite with crazy views of Waikiki and Diamond Head:

We got as far as sniffing and choosing our teas and taking gratuitous photos of ourselves when I got a call.

 

 

I picked it up, wondering why my cousin, whose call I had missed once already that morning, was trying me again. I mean, we’re close enough, but not that close, y’know? I picked up, and before she spoke I already knew something was really wrong. As she told me that my lolo had passed away just a few hours before, I remember thinking that I wish I hadn’t picked up the call and could just enjoy this tea. Shock set in, I actually sat through the tea service and ate the food, then immediately went to rearrange my flights to leave early from HI and to fly home to be with my family.

I definitely wasn’t expecting to spend the end of my birthday week at a funeral home, and I’m still grieving over my grandfather’s passing, so this post is a bit bittersweet. I’ll always remember this Hawai’i trip, for some wonderful times with friends, but also as the last time I spoke with my lolo on the phone (he called me on my birthday) and as just before the worst week of my life thus far.

2011 is certainly proving to be a mixed bag so far.

weekend in San Francisco

As a birthday present for the hubs, the two of us made a quick jaunt up to the Bay Area this past MLK weekend. Good eats and drinks with great company followed, with lots of fantastic pictures courtesy of the new (to me) Leica D-Lux 3 I purchased from Pim of Chez Pim fame! Highlights included:

Eggs benedict and a sweet risotto from a lovely Saturday brunch at Slow Club:

* Crazy good chilaquiles from the Primavera Tamales stand at the Saturday Ferry Market (if only I had enough room to enjoy the panuchos and tamales too!):

Proper xlb (aka xiao long bao or “Shanghai soup dumplings”) at Shanghai Dumpling King in Outer Richmond. It was better than the xlb I had in Hong Kong this past summer!

“Imperial rolls” at Out the Door in the Westfield San Francisco Centre Food Emporium. Yes, I know it’s a mini-chain, in a food court no less, but this was tasty! FYI, this is how food courts in the bougie malls in Manila look like to a T.

The “EAT” sign at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher was the highlight of the meal here, a quick snack we picked up before heading to the airport. Though my patty melt (on fresh, dark rye) wasn’t bad either.

But the highlight of this past trip… finally getting some of that famous Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream. Holy mother. Here’s me enjoying two scoops, of Earl Grey and peanut:

A priority on this trip was to choose eateries that featured ingredients which were local, sustainable, and organic. It was a bit challenging, especially when looking for “authentic” Asian food, a point I want to write more about soon. In general, being more conscious of the provenance of our foods, while still sticking to a budget, is one of my main goals/resolutions this year. If only my wallet (and my waistline) could handle eating like this every weekend!

* photo taken with my old camera, a Panasonic Lumix

Most Improved: The Linkery

Hello, lovelies. Hope you’re all enjoying the holiday… I wish I could say I was, but alas, am down to the wire on a major project so have been working through the weekend. That being said, I did make time for a date night with the Mister on Friday, and decided to pop on over to the Linkery in North Park.

Linkery just celebrated their one-year anniversary at their 30th street location this weekend, but they’ve been around a bit longer than that. Since they opened in the old space, the Mister and I have been popping by every six months or so, to see what they’ve been up to. After our last visit in the fall, the Mister and I came to a sad consensus: that, despite its aspirations, the Linkery was just failing to excite us any more.

Lo and behold, they must’ve read our minds, because after this last trip, we’re more thrilled with the Linkery than we’ve ever been before. A big part of this is their expanded menu– where it was fresh sausage all the time before, they’ve now thankfully diversified, and with great success.

Win No. 1: Seafood!

Linkery oysters

Where the Linkery once had a huge black hole, they’ve now filled with some beautiful seafood. These Baja oysters were incredibly sweet and very clean- no briny flavor, no sediment. It was served with lime and three minuets- green garlic, and two others I’m forgetting just now. The ‘pink one’ was very nice– fruit based, I think. Six for $13

Score No. 2: More weird cuts o’ meat!

pickled pigs ear

Pickled Pigs Ear. Yep, you heard me right. Hey, it was $2 and who doesn’t like an adventure? It was served with just a touch of hot sauce, a nice complement to offset the acidity of the pickling juice. I enjoyed these, but the Mister wasn’t a fan. I guess you have to be used to the texture of soft cartilage– a bit like tripe, actually.

The excellent Linkery blog had alerted me beforehand to the restaurant’s featuring of stone fruit throughout the weekend, so of course I knew we had to order this:

lonzino and peaches

Hampshire pork lonzino, wrapped around raw Snow Queen peaches, with a bit of Brooks cherries on the side and a very light splash of olive oil. $7 for three pieces (the Mister ate one before I could snap the picture) and worth it– the pork was fantastic. I actually liked the pork better without the peaches, but eaten with the cherries. That stone fruit *was* beautiful, guys. Great find.

Finally, it was time for the mains. And this is where the Linkery has really improved the most. See, in past incarnations (or at least the previous times we’ve been there), the menu has primarily revolved around whatever three or four fresh links they had for the day– you’d choose your link(s), and a preparation- in a ‘picnic plate,’ as part of a choucroute, etc. There was a smattering of other options- I think a burger or two, maybe a few interesting sides– but that really felt like it. I could be wrong, but if there were other main dish options, they certainly weren’t interesting enough for us to remember.

But now it feels like a whole new game. Several vegetarian options, an entire section for burgers and sandwiches, five or six different main entree options (and not all featuring sausage!), a section for flatbreads… I could go on. Very exciting growth, and I was so excited to keep it light on the sausage for a change. I know, it’s probably sacrilege, but since the Mister’s been making his own sausage at home, I think I’ve been getting spoiled.

Oh, right. So back to our dinner. The Mister, consummate New Englander he is, couldn’t resist the boiled seafood:

lowcountry boil

This “lowcountry boil” was the priciest item on the menu, topping out at $29, but it was a whole lotta plate for that price. Lots of fresh manila clams and slamming shrimp, along with corn, two kinds of potatoes, and a heaping helping of corn bread. They did us right and served it on a large flat tin plate, with wax paper.

As good as that was, I think my entree was the stand out of the night:

grass fed Talure beef

Tulare cherry-braised grass fed beef ($20).

Forgive the graininess of the photo (it was dark in there!) and just try to imagine succulent cuts of organic beef, with a bit of a crust but falling -apart soft, in a sauce so delicate it could be an aus jus if not for the extra bit of sweetness from the Tulare cherries. The fresh baby carrots and red potatoes were roasted to perfection as well, and just…. damn. So friggin’ good.

I made it through about half of my dish before giving up, and would’ve left it at that except for the dessert menu. I just had to try the LICS:

LICS

And that would be a Lardo Ice Cream Sandwich. With a slice of carmelized bacon on top. Um. Seriously. I think that alone was a week’s worth of cholesterol and fat intake. It tasted a bit like olive oil gelato only, you know, made with animal fat instead. So much for healthy eating! But oh, so so worth it… or at least half of it.

The Linkery’s also built up their wine and beer list quite a bit since our last visit. They have a large selection of local brews and wine– very nice selection, and I enjoyed my Cucapá Obscura beer (from Mexicali) a lot. Nice brown ale in the German style, like Bohemia and other good Mexican browns.

At the end of the night, our grand total came out to about $130- not cheap, but not bad for the quality of food we had eaten. At the Linkery, all tables pay an upfront 18% charge, so they don’t accept extra tips. If tips are left, they donate it to a local charity. Sweet deal, I think.

I’ve always really appreciated what the Linkery’s been doing for the San Diego food and bar scene. They’ve always put local meats and produce first, and cook seasonally based on what’s available at market. Now that they’ve diversified the menu, we’ll definitely be back more often. And hey, you gotta love a restaurant that’s as keen on blogging as we fatties foodies are! Pay them a visit and let me know what’s on your menu!

The Linkery
3794 30th St
San Diego, CA
619. 255. 8778

Summer Lovin’ at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market

farmers market

Just came back from a massive fruit and veggie run at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market, just a hop skip away from home. Though it was super crowded due to the holiday weekend, there was still plenty of beautiful produce when the Mister and I rolled in around noon.

Now, I never remember the names of the different farms selling at the farmer’s market (oops) but I do have my favorites– as long as their booth is in the right place, I know where to go! I saw some new(er) additions this time around- one of the standouts was Spring Hill Cheese Co., all the way from Petaluma. They put out tons of samples, and the goat cheddar and jersey garlic jack were delish. I held off on buying since I’ll be heading to the land of cheese pretty darn soon (I swear, I’ll get to telling you!), but I hope Spring Hill sticks around the farmer’s market for a while.

I think, though, I was most excited for this booth..

cherries

After dining at The Linkery on Friday night, where they were featuring stone fruits throughout the menu, I just needed more of these beautiful Rainier cherries. I also found some beautiful white peaches and snagged those up too. Seriously, having access to stone fruit like this in the spring and summer is one of my favorite things about living in California.

Just so you know how buck wild I got at the market today, here’s a list of the haul the Mister and I brought home:
– 3 Philippine mangoes ($1 each)– best kind of mangoes ever, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise
– bag of squash blossoms – another SoCal favorite
– 1 basket of garlic ($2/6 heads)
– six (beefsteak?) tomatoes
– bunch carrots ($2)
– bunch green onions ($1.50)
– red and green peppers
– 1/2 lb cherries ($2.50)
– 2 white peaches
– bananas ($3)
– 4 hass avocados ($5)
– small bouquet of wildflowers ($2.50)
– 2 10oz. flatiron steaks from Brandt Beef ($10 each)- also ridiculously amazing
-plus iced coffee from the Joe’s on the Nose coffee truck and the best fresh tamales in SD for a quick lunch.

Whew!

What’s your favorite farmer’s market, and what have been your best finds there?

Update: for farmer’s market newbies, a helpful video with tips for shopping your local farmer’s market is here!

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