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Welcome to 100 Miles, an exploration of sustaining life by going no further away than 100 miles to gather the things we need to live. This web log is my journal of food-based experiences, memories, thoughts, and recipes. I hope you enjoy reading it. To subscribe, so as not to miss each new edition, please enter your email address.

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      Cristina’s from Spain

      June 14, 2011

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      The food of Spain has more and better cachet, and major food cred as time goes on. Lagging behind sister European countries like France and Italy due to the slow return from Francisco Franco’s dictatorial ways, Spain’s foods, cuisine and chefs are now hitting their stride on the world stage. Only due to lack of exposure this writer hadn’t fully experienced the wonders of Spain’s food until the last few years.  Assuredly much like many others who pride themselves in eating well, traveling and experiencing new things.

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      A basket of jamon and chorizo at a Cristina's from Spain booth.

      Cristina Rodriguez, owner of Cristina’s from Spain, was born and raised in Madrid.  She has lived for the last seventeen years in Los Angeles.  Missing many of the foods and flavors of her youth she sought out U.S.-based importers who were already importing some of her favorite things to eat from Spain.  She and her husband Tony Testa sell cheeses, jamons, chorizo, tortilla, almonds, olives and other delicacies at various farmers’ markets around Los Angeles.  The difference between what she sells versus what you may find at big box stores like Costco is that she went back to Spain, found the items she remembered she loved so much, then located the items through an established importer.  As a child she remembers a manchego maker in the countryside outside Madrid that sold his cheese village to village on a donkey.  She found him, he’s still making cheese and now she sells it in Los Angeles.

      A basket of cheese at a Cristina's from Spain booth.

      A basket of cheese at a Cristina's from Spain booth.

      All the items that she and Tony sell have a similar story.  After tasting one too many mediocre versions of something Cristina knew tasted better back in Spain, she and Tony set out to find the highest quality version of that specific item.  Among the many foods they offer are quince paste, olives, marcona almond flat bread, chorizo, serrano ham, manchego, goat and blue cheeses, and the Spanish favorite tortilla (a potato and egg fritatta).  The couple made sure each item was up to snuff by having Cristina’s mother in Madrid give her approval.  If she didn’t like an item they were considering it wasn’t added to the inventory.  When Cristina and Tony visited Cristina’s mother, Tony took copious notes.  He’s now the official cook in the partnership.  Anything the couple sells that is prepared is Tony’s doing.

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      Cristina’s goal is to share the flavors she remembers growing up; to find those Spanish delicacies that are a step above the rest; those that taste of the place they come from, the terroir which always affects the flavors in endless nuanced ways.  With the help of people like Cristina and Tony the glorious flavors of Spain will reach more and more willing and hungry mouths.

      Tony Testa manning the Cristina's from Spain booth.

      Tony Testa manning the Cristina's from Spain booth.

      Spanish tortilla. The recipe is Tony and Cristina's.

      Spanish tortilla. The recipe is Tony and Cristina's.

      Cristina’s from Spain (323-719-1974) can be found at these Los Angeles-area farmers’ markets: Tuesdays in Silver Lake, Saturdays at La Canada, and Sundays in Atwater Village.

      *A version of this post was previously posted on Honest Cooking.

      A Market Meet-Up with Michael McCarty

      May 31, 2011

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      Michael McCarty, chef/owner of Michael's restaurant, at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market.

      A shopping and eating adventure with a world-renowned chef and restaurateur: Michael’s Market Meet-Ups — where friends, food and flavor come together.

      Chef Michael McCarty is hailed as a pioneer of the California Cuisine movement that began in the early 1980s.  He and a group of California chefs started sourcing and cooking local ingredients only; those solely grown or raised in California.  And a movement was born.  Chef McCarty is the owner of Michael’s Santa Monica, a restaurant that has been at the same location on 3rd Street for thirty-two years.  Chef McCarty prides himself in only serving the best seasonal ingredients and is known for his personal connections to local growers.

      Michael’s is two city blocks away from the world-famous Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.  He and his chefs make weekly visits to the market to see what is in season, to decide on menus, and to buy produce for the restaurant.  Considering his knowledge of ingredients and his familiarity with the purveyors it comes as no surprise that he can easily lead a tour of the market, and that he knows virtually every vendor.

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      Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms.

      Michael’s Market Meet-Ups are monthly tours of the market led by Chef McCarty followed by a lunch prepared from items purchased at the market.  On the most recent meet-up seven of us met Chef McCarty at Michael’s at 8:30 in the morning for coffee and house-made cinnamon buns.  Shortly thereafter we set out for the market where he introduced us to his favorite vendors while also grabbing items for that day’s lunch.  Since it’s spring in California it was all about spring ingredients: English peas, fava beans, ramps and morel mushrooms.  As we toured the market Chef McCarty offered lessons on produce of the season, as well as tips for navigating the market and selecting the best ingredients.  We met Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms, a McCarty favorite.  We stopped by Pudwill Berry Farms, another McCarty recommendation, where his executive chef bought berries for the restaurant.

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      Buying berries at the Pudwill Berry Farms stand.

      When we returned to Michael’s for lunch we were served Morel Mushroom Wonton Soup (English peas, fava bean wontons, ramps, tempura morel in a morel mushroom broth), followed by Warm Spring Salad (ramps, pickled English peas, morel lardons, and a poached egg in a mustard and fava bean dressing).

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      Morel Mushroom Wonton Soup

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      Warm Spring Salad

      The final hurrah was receiving a copy of McCarty’s cookbook Welcome to Michael’s and having him personally autograph it.  A fun, educational culinary outing with one of California’s best-loved chefs and food personalities.  Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday morning.

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      For more information on Michael’s Market Meet-Ups, and to find out when the next one is scheduled, check the Michael’s Santa Monica website ~ http://www.michaelssantamonica.com/

      *A version of this post was previously posted on Honest Cooking.

      Pancake Breakfasts

      May 5, 2011

      003

      This sign went up recently in a Wells Fargo parking lot in my neighborhood.  It brought back so many memories.  When I was little before my father left, and even after he left, Sunday was pancake day.  The day my father made breakfast.  It was always pancakes.  They were nothing fancy.  He used Bisquick pancake mix.  They were thin and he made big stacks of them.  It seemed like I ate five or six at a sitting but that could be my memory exaggerating.  I loved putting loads of butter between each one and dousing them with syrup.  Again, it was Log Cabin syrup, nothing fancy.  When I cut into them with a fork all the butter and syrup would squish up, the pancakes acting like a saturated sponge.  It was starchy, buttery, syrupy pancake heaven.  I looked forward to Sunday all week.  I ate until I was sick (literally once!).

      After my parents divorce my father would still come around on the occasional Sunday to make us pancakes but as time went on, and he remarried that ceased.  That’s when we started going to pancake breakfasts put on by the Lions Club, or the Kiwanis, or some other men’s social group.  Just like the one in the picture, they took place outdoors if the weather was nice, or in a church hall if it wasn’t.  There were long tables with chairs to sit at and eat.  The men’s club members made the pancakes, and I believe some of them were all-you-can-eat.  They were also inexpensive so for my mother raising two children on her own it was the perfect outing.  Food her children loved, away from home, we might have gone with neighbors or friends so it was social as well.  I grew up in a small California town so these pancake breakfasts had a real community feel to them.

      Living in large cities all my adult life I’d forgotten about them until I saw this sign.  I just might have to go this one.  The area of Los Angeles I live in, Atwater Village, has a small town vibe to it so a Lions Club pancake breakfast fits right in.  I’ve lived here for five years, this has been going on for sixty-seven, I’m not sure why I never noticed it before.  I’m glad I did.  It’s brought back some very nice memories.  If I do end up going, I’ll report back, and post some pictures.

      Are there pancake breakfasts in your community?  Do you go to them?

      100 Miles Shout Outs! Local events, mini-reviews, and mentions of things happening in the world of food:

      #1 – Honest Cooking ~ I’m now a Contributing Writer to the new online food magazine Honest Cooking.  My most recent story is “L.A. – Casa Vega, Hang With The Stars on Cinco de Mayo.” I’ll be writing several pieces a month about the L.A. food scene.

      #2 – Los Angeles ~ Sunday, May 15, 1 pm – 5 pm, ~ Taste of the Eastside 2011, an all-star regional tasting event with a diverse array of Eastside restaurants at Barnsdall Art Park.

      My Status:  Enjoying the arrival of spring in So Cal and the new spring produce: artichokes, asparagus, peas, spring garlic.  Continuing to blog, cook, and eat.

      Upcoming Posts: More on my great-grandmother’s garden, and my California childhood.  A visit and tour of Ojai Valley citrus grower Friend’s Ranch. More The Local Reports. Cookbook Reviews: Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig, and Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

      *The Local Report – Lindy & Grundy Local, Pastured & Organic Meats

      May 2, 2011

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      7.7 miles, about 20 minutes from my home in Atwater Village.

      Lindy & Grundy, Local, Pastured & Organic Meats opened a few weeks ago in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles.  The shop which was sorely needed and highly anticipated opended to throngs of customers and rave reviews.  Owned by wife-and-wife team, Erika Nakamura and Ameila Posada, Lindy Grundy (as it’s affectionately called), only sells pastured and organic meats sourced within 150 miles.  “Lindy” and “Grundy” are the women’s nicknames: Lindy is Posada aka the Shop Mama, and Grundy is Nakamura aka Meat Maven.  The Tokyo born Nakamura learned the butchering trade from Josh Applestone of Fleisher’s Grass-fed & Organic Meats, a sustainable butcher in upstate New York.  Posada, a native of the Los Angeles-area, oversees the day-to-day operation of the shop, and is also a food activist committed to teaching America how to eat.

      Lindy Grundy practices nose-to-tail butchering, allowing them to use the whole animal which produces very little waste.  The small, family farms they source their meat and poultry from never use antibiotics or hormones, and the grass the animals eat is not treated with pesticides or herbicides.  In addition to the beef, pork, lamb and poultry they carry, they make their own sausages and charcuterie.  Because they only sell from whole animals running out of stock is always a possibility which happened in their first week.  The anticipation in the community was such that by the end of the first week of business they had sold out of almost their entire stock.  This is not only a good sign, it’s a great one.  It speaks to the high-quality one can expect when shopping at Lindy & Grundy.

      Los Angeles can never have too many small, neighborhood, and in this case artisan butchers so welcome to Lindy & Grundy, and best wishes for much success.

      Lindy & Grundy Local, Pastured & Organic Meats, 801 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046, 323-951-0804, http://www.lindyandgrundy.com/

      **A version of this article was first published in Honest Cooking, April 14, 2011.

      *The Local Report(s): are occasional blog posts on restaurants, and/or businesses that either support the idea of one-hundred miles, and ‘living life locally’; or are small, localized businesses in my neighborhood, and/or within one-hundred miles of my residence, that I prefer to support over the larger, national, corporate chains. For other The Local Report(s) please go the Archives section of this blog. Also, I’d love to hear from my readers about businesses that they support in their neighborhoods: write to me at charlesgthompson@100miles.com, or leave a comment here.

      Follow The Local Report on Twitter: @TheLocalReport

      100 Miles Shout Outs! Local events, mini-reviews, and mentions of things happening in the world of food:

      #1 – Honest Cooking ~ I’m now a Contributing Writer to the new online food magazine Honest Cooking.  My most recent story is “L.A. – Grilled Cheese Invitational 2011.”  I’ll be writing several pieces a month about the L.A. food scene.

      #2 – Los Angeles ~ Sunday, May 15, 1 pm – 5 pm, ~ Taste of the Eastside 2011, an all-star regional tasting event with a diverse array of Eastside restaurants at Barnsdall Art Park.

      My Status:  Enjoying the arrival of spring in So Cal and the new spring produce: artichokes, asparagus, peas, spring garlic.  Continuing to blog, cook, and eat.

      Upcoming Posts: More on my great-grandmother’s garden, and my California childhood.  A visit and tour of Ojai Valley citrus grower Friend’s Ranch. More The Local Reports. Cookbook Reviews: Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig, and Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

      Honest Cooking

      April 30, 2011

      Image from iStockphoto.com

      Image from iStockphoto.com

      No, not Honest Cooking, the new food news website I’m writing for but as in do I suck as a cook?  I think so all the time!  I really shouldn’t because I have both professional training and experience in restaurant kitchens.  I’ve also been cooking since I was in my late teens (37 years).  As my regular readers know I recently decided to (re)embrace my inner chef so I started this “food” blog.  This means I’ve been cooking more than I had been.  Cooking nicer meals, using exceptional ingredients, focusing on getting it right.  So when it goes wrong — and it goes wrong a lot — it really stings.  When I cooked in restaurants I never attained the title of “chef” but I can I say I was a “cook.” Meaning I know my way around a professional kitchen and certainly a home kitchen.

      Things I Have Trouble With

      Over-salting.  I guess I have a heavy hand.  I’m always surprised when I taste the dish and it’s too salty.  Happens too often.  Overdoing it may be part of my nature in general.  Guess I need to keep it in check.  Meat temperature.  I used to be able to determine meat temperature by touch.  Poking at a piece of cooking meat with my index finger to test for rare, medium rare, well-done.  I get it right two out of three times.  Recipes and cookbooks.  I tend to be too reliant.  There’s nothing wrong with using cookbooks and recipes but I’m not good at pulling away from them.  I could stand to be more spontaneous.  More willing to make substitutions.  I do cook a lot of meals not using cookbooks or recipes.  I have my own dishes I’ve made up but I still default to cookbooks and recipes more often than not.  Robert, the man I share most of my meals with, likes when I cook without using cookbooks or recipes.  Other recent mishaps: overcooked meat, or poultry; burned food either on the stove top, or in the oven.  I’d like to blame it on the stove and oven but I doubt they’re the culprits.  Since we’re passing blame: a lot of recipes don’t work.  Be careful when using recipes off the Internet.  I’ve found a number of those I’ve tried patently don’t work (and led to many of my cooking mishaps).  I’ve even found cookbook recipes with missing ingredients.

      A Non-Perfect Cook?

      The issue here, the reason I’m so hard on myself, is that I’m a perfectionist (for you astrologers out there I’m a Virgo, the sign of the nitpicky-perfectionist).  I’m afraid of my cooking not being perfect.  In fact it’s so bad that I don’t have people over because I’m afraid I’ll screw it up (it’s happened).  It’s a cook’s version of stage fright.  I’m supposed to be this skilled, knowledgeable cook, but what if I’m not?  How could I ever live that down?  Throw into the mix eating out, having professionals cook for me, which only makes doing it myself even more challenging.  I  then think that I can’t cook that well, or how can I ever rise to their heights?  I make comparisons.  I’m being a bit over-dramatic here but you get the point.  The bottom line is cooking well is a skilled craft, and it takes a lot to perfect the craft.  Home cooking regularly absolutely helps; no doubt.  It is truly about practice, practice, practice — and more practice.

      A Rusty Period

      My reasons for writing this are to fess up; to admit my own cooking shortcomings.  I also suspect that there are others out there like me so I wanted to share my fears, mishaps, and concerns.  You’re not alone.  I do know that making mistakes is a big part of cooking, and that it happens often even to the best cooks.  I also know that I have to learn to stop expecting perfection so I can learn from my mistakes, move on and try, try again.  I keep telling myself I’m just going through a rusty period.  But a two year rusty period?  When will it be over?  The answer to that is: never.

      Spaghetti, Please!

      I recently made a very spontaneous red sauce for pasta because I wanted to replicate a dish we often ate when I was growing up: Spaghetti.  To us the word “spaghetti” was about the whole dish not just the noodle.  My mother made it with hamburger, canned tomato sauce, dried herbs, and we always ate with spaghetti (I never knew there were other pasta shapes until I left home).  The one I made was very different but still satisfied that yen for childhood flavors.

      Red Sauce for Pasta

      This recipe is meant as a template.  Please alter, add, remove, adapt as you see fit based on your own tastes and ingredients at hand.  The ingredients, quantities, and methods are also loose suggestions.  (You may substitute homemade sauce in lieu of canned.)  Be as spontaneous as possible!

      Serves

      2 – 4

      Preparation Time

      1 hour

      Ingredients

      1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced

      1 onion, sliced

      4 cloves garlic, chopped

      2- 4 Tbs olive oil

      1/2 lb. ground beef

      1/2 lb. ground pork

      *2 – 8 oz. cans tomato sauce

      *1 – 6 oz. can tomato paste

      1 tsp herbes de Provence, or your herb(s) of choice

      Salt & pepper, to taste

      *or equivalent in homemade sauce

      Method

      Sauté the onions and garlic in 2 Tbs olive oil in a medium sized sauté, or frying pan.  When the onions and garlic are cooked, opaque in color, about 4 minutes of cooking time, add the mushrooms.  Add more olive oil if necessary.   Sauté the mushrooms until well-cooked, about 5- 7 minutes.  In a separate medium sized sauté, or frying pan start cooking the beef and the sausage together.  You can add a small amount of olive oil at the start of cooking.  Once the meat is cooked, add the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, the herbs, and the onion and mushroom mixture and stir together well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Let the sauce cook over low heat for 15 – 20 minutes.  Serve over your choice of pasta, or refrigerate or freeze to use later.

      Print Recipe

      100 Miles Shout Outs! Local events, mini-reviews, and mentions of things happening in the world of food:

      #1 – Honest Cooking ~ I’m now a Contributing Writer to the new online food magazine Honest Cooking.  My most recent story is “L.A. – Grilled Cheese Invitational 2011.”  I’ll be writing several pieces a month about the L.A. food scene.

      #2 – Los Angeles ~ Sunday, May 15, 1 pm – 5 pm, ~ Taste of the Eastside 2011, an all-star regional tasting event with a diverse array of Eastside restaurants at Barnsdall Art Park.

      My Status:  Enjoying the gradual arrival of spring in So Cal and the new spring produce: artichokes, asparagus, and the tail end of winter produce: amazing citrus, kale, collard greens.  Continuing to blog, cook, and eat.

      Upcoming Posts: More on my great-grandmother’s garden, and my California childhood.  A visit and tour of Ojai Valley citrus grower Friend’s Ranch. More The Local Reports. Cookbook Reviews: Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig, and Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

       

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