Archive | February, 2012


28 Feb
by FrancineA photo of Oatcakes

I’ve mentioned before that I love River Cottage…the tv show, the cookbooks and all the great food activism the River Cottage crew leads.  If you’ve never seen River Cottage, there are clips on youtube. (As US residents we can’t see the official clips because they are on a UK website, since it’s a UK show.)

When I borrowed River Cottage Everyday from the library a month ago, I devoured the recipes.  But the one thing I’ve made many times since is Oatcakes.

I really like this recipe because it can be made two different ways.  You could take it in a savory direction and end up with oat-y crackers, or you could take in in a sweet direction and end up with a treat that’s cinnamon-y and similar to American graham crackers.  I enjoyed topping the savory version with cheese and the sweet version with honey or jam.  Below is my adapted recipe.


(Adapted from River Cottage Everyday: Bill Rona’s Oatcakes)
  • 1 1/3 cups oat flour (oats pulsed in the blender until flour-like)
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1/3 cup ground flaxseeds (whole flaxseeds pulsed in the blender until flour-like)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper, if you are making the  savory version
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. sugar, if you making a sweet version
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, but you can use any high quality oil of your choice
  • About 3/4 cups boiling waterA photo of the oatcakes with coffee

Mix dry ingredients together.  Make a well in the center and pour oil into the well.  Stir.

Then very slowly add boiling water and stir until a firm dough is formed.  Be careful with this step because you may need more or less than 3/4 cups boiling water.  (If you add too much water you can repair the dough by adding more oats.)

Once you have a firm dough, shape into a ball and let rest for a few minutes.  Place the dough ball on one sheet of parchment and cover the dough ball with a second sheet of parchment.  Roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick. 

Then cut with a large round cookie cutter.  I didn’t have a cookie cutter so I made one by rinsing out a pineapple can I salvaged from the recycling bin.

According to the original recipe, “the more you work the dough, the more crumbly it will become,” but I didn’t encounter this problem.  I reshaped the dough into a ball and rolled it out 4-5 times without it becoming crumbly.

Place oatcakes on lightly floured or parchment lined baking sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 mins. After 20 mins turn the oatcakes over and bake 10 more mins or until lightly browned.

You can top the oatcakes with jam, honey, cheese, cream cheese, deli meat, peanut butter or anything else you think would be tasty.  They keep for about a week if you store them in an air tight container.

Have you ever had an oatcake?  Would you be willing to give this British recipe a try?

C CASA: Napa, CA

23 Feb
by Francine

C Casa: Napa, CA (in the Oxbow Public Market)A photo of C CASA

This taqueria is one of the many delightful eateries in the Oxbow Public Market, which is just across the river from Napa’s main downtown. On C CASA’s  website it describes itself as an innovative kitchen and warns eaters that they’ll become addicted to the food served up.  After a dinner of guacamole, chips, a piled high taco and a pineapple agua fresca, I agree that C CASA is an innovative kitchen and a great restaurant.

Localness: 3

The menu and website mentions that sustainable ingredients are used (grass fed beef, free range chicken, etc.) But I didn’t notice any producers or suppliers listed on the website or menu. I have no doubt that they are doing what they are saying, but it could be great to know which sustainable producers they are supporting.

Flavor: 4

I was impressed by the innovation of C CASA. The menu is filled with unique taco creations. I had fresh guacamole and a spiced lamb taco that was piled high with mixed greens. It wasn’t the easiest taco to eat because it was very tall, but I didn’t mind using a fork to scoop up the yummy bits.  I quickly crunched through my chips and guacamole   None of the flavors in my meal crunched me over the top, but I appreciated that there were so many different flavor combinations offered.A photo of my taco

There were a few creations posted that weren’t on the regular menu. When I visited a few weeks ago, I think it was an Asian fusion type of taco. I noticed that just now on the website they are offering two dishes as their ever changing Seasonal Dishes. There’s a crab salad with ruby grapefruit, avocado and fresno peppers all tossed with a jalapeno lemon vinaigrette as well as a duck taco with blood oranges, goat cheese, avocado, and a meyer lemon serrano salsa.

Also they have rotiessere duck and chicken. If I lived in the area, I’m sure I’d stop by every once in awhile to get a whole roasted duck to go. (I used to get this from my neighborhood roast duck vendor when I lived in Dalian, China.)

Pleasant Suprise: YES

For those of you who try to or have to eat gluten free, you know how difficult it can be to find baked goods that are devoid of gluten. I was super excited to see that C CASA offers a number of gluten free baked goods and sometimes even dairy+gluten free ones. When I visited, they had a massive chocolate-y gluten free brownie.  If I hadn’t already eaten enough chips and guac to feed a small family, I’m sure I would have tried a gluten free baked good. ;)

Comfort+Coziness:  4

The Oxbow Public Market is basically a giant food court. It’s lined with a variety of restaurants, and there are open seating areas scattered throughout the middle of the market.  Some restaurants have their own designated seating areas. And some also have outdoor dining, I noticed that C CASA has patio space set aside for their customers, but since it was a rainy day I wasn’t keen to eat outdoors.  A photo of the chips and guacSince it could be hard to find seating and because the noise level varies depending on the time of day you visit, I’d say the atmosphere (and that of the entire Oxbow Public Market) is fairly comfortable, but not cozy.  Also, the service at C CASA was friendly and prompt, which always makes for a pleasant dining experience.

Overall Rating:  11+

I would certainly return to C CASA if I lived in the area because there are many menu items and specials I’d love to try.  A detail from my mealWhile I didn’t get much of an impression of being connected to the food (there weren’t any locations of farms listed on the menu), this is the type of place I hope to encounter with increased frequently.  People often rely on fast food chains, but I hope consumers can come to rely on places similar to C CASA… places with fresh options, sustainable ingredients and creative menu items.  It’s tons more fun to eat healthy quick food than greasy factory made fast food.

If you live near Napa, stop by C CASA and think of me as you enjoy a creative taco, piled high with fresh and sustainably raised ingredients!

FoodieBytes Restaurant Deals, Menu and Reviews

C CASA An Innovative Taqueria (The Oxbow Public Market) on Urbanspoon

Southern SAWG Conference 2012: Little Rock, Arkansas

21 Feb
by Deanne

 When Steve and I worked for corporations, we often attended conferences, each in our own professional areas: me in training and development and Steve in production agriculture or beef production. I like conferences because I enjoy networking with others in my field. Steve didn’t really like them because he would have rather been at home with me and the kids(…what a nice guy.)

Now that we have a new profession and we’re working together, we decided to make the first week of our winter vacation a learning vacation by driving to Little Rock, Arkansas to attend a sustainable farming conference. We had hoped to attend a pre-conference session by a somewhat famous urban farmer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Will Allen. Unfortunately his hands-on session was sold out.

A photo of me helping in a school gardenInstead of putting our hands in the soil and learning about worms, we went on a tour of two community/school gardens near Little Rock. We put our backs into it and learned how to make a French Intensive row for planting at a school that is part of the Delta Garden Study with FoodCorps and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

 Steve did attend Will Allens breakout session and was impressed with his energy and passion for being able to take any surface, even asphalt, and grow things.  His ability to grow food anywhere relates to his ability to make excellent compost. This session made us wonder if we could grow crops on our parking lot.

During the two day conference Steve was drawn to attend sessions focused on the operations of growing food. I was drawn like a magnet to sessions based on food access, food hubs, and restaurant/farm partnerships. So even though we were together, we went our separate ways.

A map of the confernce attendees

We have noticed before that when we go to conferences we feel a bit overwhelmed at the time and don’t really feel like we learn anything new. I think it comes from being introverts. We both need time by ourselves to process information.

Now that we have been home for about a month, we can say that what we gained most is a commitment and new-found confidence about the steps were are taking to transform our business from a traditional restaurant into a food establishment that strives to educate as well and feed our hungry customers.


Zzest Market & Cafe: Rochester, MN

17 Feb
by Deanne

Zzest Market and Cafe:  Rochester, MN

While in Rochester to visit a friend who was seeing doctors at the Mayo Clinic, we decided to look for interesting places to eat.

Zzest caught our attention with this tag line: Market by day, Restaurant by night. We were unsure if they had food at lunch, but we decided to drop in and check out the market a little before noon on a Saturday. The menu looked interesting and the place smelled good so we were motivated to stay for lunch.

Zzest is easy to reach from various locations around Rochester; it’s near the Apache Mall and next to the Trader Joe’s parking lot. A photo of Zzest

Review: (See Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 3

Both local ingredients and speciality food items sold in the market are used in the restaurant.  My take is that they cater more to foodies than locavores. For example, you are as likely to see asparagus and octopus, which is very far from local to Minnesota, as you are to see braised local pork and fall veggies, which is what I ordered.

We don’t mean to speak poorly of this approach. It highlights the fact that true foodies seek the best in taste and dining experience, and they know that local is often the best way to get quality ingredients.  The purpose of our restaurant reviews is to seek out “real food” and the food at Zzest was carefully prepared using quality ingredients…some local and some exotic speciality items.

Flavour: 3

The Roasted Vegetable Salad was very good; best described by my friend as having “layers of flavor.” The roasted vegetables, which included one beet, some Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, were lovely. The pure deep taste of roasted vegetables came through. Underneath the roasted vegetables, the greens were laced with balsamic dressing and which brought forth another unique flavor. My pork was wholesome and enjoyable but provided no lingering memories.

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

When we walked through the door we found ourselves in a kitchen/gourmet food shop. We wandered around and then saw people dining in the restaurant area. Soon we discovered that the menu changes twice a day. This is an ambitious undertaking which requires creativity and fresh insight on the part of the three chefs.

We had a chance to look at the evening menu from the night before and the lunch menu for the current day. The dining room attendant explained to us that when the evening chefs arrive they figure out what they plan to cook that evening and then the menu is produced.

My preference is to “discover” things as I go, so I was pleasantly surprised to uncover more and more about the place. If you like to know what will be on the menu before you arrive, you might not find this approach a pleasant surprise.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 2
A photo of the menu

The restaurant and store was a fun place to shop and dine; however the service was a little cool for Minnesota, which my friend, from the East coast, had experienced as a land of helpful and caring people. It seemed like the person in charge didn’t want to get too close.

Since we visited at lunch, we were told to order at the counter and serve ourselves water. Afterwards I checked online to see what others were saying. Mostly I wanted to find out that if you visit in the evening would the service be different. From what other reviewers posted, the service, in general, seems to be a bit spotty.

Overall Rating: 8+

Even though the overall rating is lower than the other places we’ve visited and reviewed, I would still recommend visiting Zzest Market & Café when you are in Rochester. It is part of the Creative Cuisine Company which owns several restaurants in Rochester. Next time I head back to Rochester, I’ll visit again and see what’s on the menu and poke around in the shop.

FoodieBytes Restaurant Deals, Menu and Reviews

Red Button Makeover

13 Feb
by Francine

Hi friends!

This post doesn’t have anything to do with food or cooking, but it does have to do with real…buttons!

I decided to replace the boring tan buttons on one of my sweaters with an assortment of red buttons I found in my grandma’s button jar. (Some of the buttons are probably from the 50s or 60s.)  It’s made a rather boring sweater into a darling one. 

I love changing the buttons on clothing; it’s a simple way to make something unique. Also, I’ve found that thrift stores often have packs of unused buttons for super cheap.

A photo of the red buttoned sweater

Have you ever given your clothing a button makeover?

The Moringa Tree and Ghana

11 Feb
by Deanne

On a chilly Wednesday night during our vacation, we bundled up and ventured out to our vacation neighbor’s house. As guests at Fern Hollow Cabin, near Decorah, Iowa, we were invited to attend a benefit house concert at a nearby home.

We didn’t know what to expect as we were directed down a snowy lane and up a steep hill to a half-built house standing like a beacon among the bare winter trees. But, hey, it was for a good cause and I do love adventure! (And what could be more adventurous than listening to a band you’ve never heard of, in a  home where you don’t know a soul?)

The gracious hosts of the house concert have a nanny who has traveled to Ghana. Her name is Janine. She has a friend from high school whose husband has a band. It is one of those crazy connections that is a bit hard to follow, but here is the good news…

The band, called Andy Juhl after the lead musician, is a fantastic bluegrass band. They performed intelligent and original songs that demonstrated their passion for social justice and peace.

A photo of the scarfJeanine got up half way through the performance and spoke about Drive Aid Ghana.  She told the audience about the moringa plant. We learned that to Africa and the world at large; the moringa plant’s value cannot be over emphasized. It is known by several names; the miracle tree, Drum stick, Mama’s best friend among other names.

The tree is beginning to be identified as a solution for Africa’s poverty…it provides health and agricultural opportunities as well as being a source of income/employment for the rural poor.  Here’s more detailed information about all the plant can do. Drive Aid Ghana is just one of the many organizations dedicated to spreading the good news of what moringa trees can mean for communities struggling poverty.

Jeanine is an artist and she’d created a painting, some jewelry and a silk scarf to raise funds for the organization. She incorporated the patterns of the moringa leaves into the design of the scarf. I bought the scarf and gave it as a gift to my colorful scarf wearing daughter, Francine.

Have you heard of the moringa tree?  Do you also love colorful scarves?

The French Laundry

8 Feb
by Francine

As I wandered around Yountville, CA last week, I decided to stop by The French Laundry, the landmark restaurant in Thomas Keller’s restaurant empire. Just to let you know how well-known this restaurant is, Anthony Bourdain of TV and restaurant fame has remarked that it is “the best restaurant in the world, period.”A photo of the French Laundry

When I say, “stop by” I mean, take photos and marvel at their beautiful garden, in which they seem to grow every vegetable imaginable and maybe even raise chickens (I heard clucking in the distance).A photo of the French Laundry's garden

The downloadable menu on their website lists the price for a one person nine course tasting menu as $270(!!!). At this moment in my life, there are about a million things I would throw $270 at…a plane ticket to England, visa fees, new shoes, but a once-in-a-lifetime meal does not make the list. ;)A photo of white strawberries in the garden

But oh how delightful it would be to eat there, I’d love to find out what they do with white strawberries.

Their website also mentions that everyday they create two 9 course tasting menus, with no single ingredient used more than once.

It’s their goal that “their guests say, ‘I wish I had just one more bite of that.’  And then it’s gone, and then the next plate arrives and the same thing happens, but in a different way, a whole new flavor and feel and emotion.”

Have you ever splurged and eaten at an ultra-fancy restaurant? Have you ever had one bite of something so amazing that you wanted more, but it’s gone, never to be tasted again? I haven’t, but it sure does sound amazing…maybe even worth $270….le sigh, perhaps someday…;)