We learnt, around this time a year ago, that our third offer on a house was accepted. If all went well, we would be homeowners in a matter of weeks. What began as a preliminary exploration into the possibility of home ownership had, after two unsuccessful bids, countless open houses and even more Negronis, become a very real and serious prospect. We were about to own OUR FIRST HOME. An actual spot of land on this massive earth. It all felt very GROWN UP and momentous, due in large part to how quickly everything came together. Between our first conversations with the mortgage broker and the day we got the keys, a mere ten weeks had passed – a blink of an eye when house-hunting in a highly competitive real estate market.
To the inexperienced palate, tea is a complicated business. Or not, depending on your preferences. Up until a few years ago, I was perfectly content with heapfuls of Mariage Freres’ Earl Grey Imperial for an afternoon brew. Sure, I’d drink any tea if you put it in front of me, but if I had to brew it myself? That stout black tin would be the one I’d reach for. I’m a simple girl with simple tastes, after all.
Things changed after I did a piece for Etsy about a two-generation, family-owned artisan tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Over a leisurely tasting of oolong, white and green teas, I discovered the delicate beauty that is Taiping Houkui, from China’s An Hui province, ranked as one of the top ten teas in China and a common choice for diplomatic gifts. Whereas my beloved Mariage Freres earl grey derives most of its character and aroma from bergamot oils, the fragrant nose of a cup of Taiping Houkui is entirely reflective of the quality of the leaf. Good leaf, good flavor. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
In my previous post I mentioned my eye-opening experience with Community Grains’ Floriani Red Flint Corn Polenta and, well, here it is. Waxing poetic about any edible item has its risks, but this particular cornmeal, each kernel milled whole and never sifted, thereby retaining every ounce of flavor and nutrition, is worth every bit of the superfluous accolades I’m about to throw its way. You see, many years ago when I was in the pre-amateur home cook stage, I decided to tackle the mammoth task of making Marcella (bless her soul) Hazan’s osso bucco with polenta. It was really just an excuse to put my newly-purchased Staub cocotte to use, and, for a cooking vessel, it performed exceedingly well (of course). The polenta, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well at my inexperienced hands. M and our dinner guest gamely (and kindly) polished off every bit of it, but one spoonful was more than enough for me. I swore off the ingredient for many years until that fateful lunch at Oliveto, where I knew I had to sample something new from the Community Grains product line. One bite of this polenta, and the lunch turned momentous, of the eye-opening, palate singing, Facebook-update-raving variety, because I had just discovered that, contrary to expectations, polenta could actually be delicious, in all its rustic, creamy, earthy, nutty, heirloom-corn worthy glory. I even flirted with the idea of growing this corn varietal in our backyard, but why go to that trouble when you can order a bag (or two) of the stuff? Eat it simply, with a fried egg and some chili oil, or use it as a bed for a hearty winter stew. Regardless, it’s going to be <insert appropriate superlative here>.
This post is long overdue. The year turned out to be a marvellous whirlwind with lots of work, and, in the middle of it all, we jumped, head first, into house-hunting and bought a house. Yup, an actual house with a back and front yard. Given that this was something we were merely considering at the start of 2013, the purchase and subsequent remodel left us both shell-shocked, elated, and also, a little more aware of the limits of our home improvement skills. Before life swept me up in its chaos however, I carved out some time in late-Spring to chat with the folks at Community Grains, and spent an afternoon at Front Porch Farm, one of their partner farms in Healdsburg. Their stories follow, accompanied by images from the farm.
Community Grains was a project born out of curiosity in 2010 that very quickly took on a life of its own. Bob Klein, founder and chief gourmand at Oakland’s Oliveto restaurant took an active interest in grains and their flours, and sought to answer the question: Can grains be more exciting? Can they taste good? “No” was not an acceptable answer, so the quest for flavor took him down the rabbit hole of heirloom varieties, milling processes and, now through Community Grains, an effort to bring more transparency to the production and processing of grains: the variety, where it was grown and how it was milled.
“It became mission-esque”, said Bob, of his whole grain journey to date. “I wanted to understand grains in a whole new way and to work more closely with grain farmers. To do this, we needed new infrastructure to obtain the information necessary for understanding the full potential of whole wheat grains according to each baker’s need. For commercial bakers, they’d be keen to know about each flour’s protein composition and gluten strength. For home cooks, it would be to understand how different flours work and their flavor profiles. It’s endless.”
The city of Oakland has been, for a while now, my preferred destination for a ‘night out’ with friends. Perhaps it’s got to do with the fact that some of my favorite people live (or have lived) there, but I know that the smaller crowds, ease of parking and competitively-priced restaurants (compared with a night out in San Francisco) more than compensate for its distance from where we live in Silicon Valley. I’ve pretty much spent the past two years making frequent, 50-minute drives up to “the East Bay”, and though tedious, each trip has always proven worthwhile, both for the people and for the culinary delights that await. While San Francisco is a stalwart in the mainstream food world, Oakland’s been hard at work birthing its own food culture, one that’s as varied, independent and exciting as anything you can find in its more famous neighbor. And it’s starting to show, with the city’s culinary scene making the New York Times’ list of the Top 45 Places To Go in 2012. Read More >>