Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fruits of Your Labor

Us city folk often forget just where all of that delicious produce we stuff into our reusable cloth shopping bags comes from.  We don't realize the time it takes these fruits and vegetables to grow, the cycle of the seasons, or the amount of work that goes into caring for and harvesting them.  We take for granted just how valuable this bounty is.  

Many of us avail ourselves of the myriad farmers markets cropping up in our metropolitan areas, gathering produce only one link in the chain away from the soil in which it was grown, taking the chance to meet the farmers who grew that food; an opportunity to shake the hand that shakes the trees, as it goes.  It's a re-emergence of a communal need to gather around food, to interact not only with the ingredients, but the people who grew them.  But a bundle of fresh asparagus or neatly packed box of peaches driven two hours in the bed of a truck from the farm to the market doesn't tell the whole story of how they turned from sunlight into food.

To learn the whole story, you have to get all the way back to the soil, and the neatly planted rows of trees or plants that turn a little bit of water, dirt, and sunlight into bright, fresh fruits and vegetables.  But even if we jaded city folk haven't ever actually seen one, I can assure you that farms do in fact exist.  A group of those farms near Brentwood, California have banded together to give us the opportunity to come back to nature, if even just briefly, and discover for ourselves just exactly where our food comes from.

Harvest Time in Brentwood is a non-profit group of about 40 farms in eastern Contra Costa County working to boost "Agri-tourism" in the area, allowing their customers to visit their farms and pick their own bushels of fresh fruits and vegetables.  More importantly, people can come and feel the soil in their hands, smell the fruit ripening, and hear the soft breeze blowing through the orchards.  It is pretty uplifting to see lines of parked cars and crowds of people moving in between the slow-moving traffic not to get into an amusement park or to see the latest teen pop sensation, but to come pick fruit at a farm.  It's really an ingenious plan:  Save on labor by getting the customer to come to you, and pick the fruit themselves.  Brilliant.

This is the very definition of eating locally; not only is the food not shipped in the back of a refrigerated truck over thousands of miles, but you get to see and touch the trees that bare the fruit, walk on the soil that grew the tree, and maybe even meet the farmer that planted the seeds.  Then you just have to hop in your car and drive home.

The missus and I took one sunny Sunday afternoon to make the hour drive out to Brentwood, and stopped at Bacchini's Fruit Tree, a family farm and fruit stand operating since 1945.  We spent an hour or so under the shady canopy of the cherry trees, snacking as we went.  We came away with about four pounds of sweet, delicious cherries and pluots, not including what we ate.  Each farm grows different crops, and make many of them available for picking when they come into season.  Some crops, such as tomatoes and corn, are left up to the professionals to harvest.

Whether you prefer organic or traditional produce is inconsequential; the less we understand about where our food comes from and how it is grown, the more disconnected we become from what we eat.  Organizations like Harvest Time are helping to reconnect people with the source of their food and the importance of local farms.  So if you can't grow your own, and I strongly encourage you to try, visit a place that does.  Notice how the cherries grow in clusters along the branches or how pluot tree leaves look different from peach tree leaves.  Then pick a cherry off the tree, drop it into your mouth, and taste the bright sweetness as your teeth bite through its soft flesh.  Spit the pit into the cool dirt, and take a moment to realize that this is where your food comes from.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sometimes, You Just Want Cake

So we've been over this.  I'm not a real big sweet junky.  I enjoy sweets, to be sure, but I generally don't seek them out and as fun as it is I save baking them for special occasions.  So when we were graced with an abundance of fresh lemons, the missus decided that instead of making lemonade, we would make cake.  Lemon cake.  Proving that I am not the only one in our family capable of constructing a tasty dish, she put together this little loaf cake with very little help from me.  I did help zest the lemons, but for the most part I just tried to stay out of her way, very important in a tiny kitchen.

She used a recipe from the wonderful little cookbook Baking With Julia, but added a couple of steps to give the cake a little extra lemony kick.  Even for one of Julia Child's recipes, it's a pretty simple and straightforward cake, and good enough that even a picky, non-sweettooth like me would enjoy at least a couple of pieces.  At least.

Lemon Loaf Cake

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Grated zest of 3 large lemons
Fresh squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Lemon glaze:
1/4 powdered sugar
Fresh juice of 1 - 1 1/2 lemons

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Butter (or spray) a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, dusting with flour and shaking out the excess.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt for a minute, until foamy and smoothly blended; whisk in the grated zest and lemon juice.

Whisk the flour into the eggs lightly, (the recipe calls for sifting the flour before whisking into the eggs.  We did not, and it didn't seem to make a big difference.)  There is no need to beat the mixture, so mix lightly while adding flour a little at a time until it is all incorporated.  Whisk the heavy cream into the mixture.  Then switch to a rubber spatula, gently and quickly folding in the melted butter.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center of the cake crowns and cracks and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
While the cake is in the oven, mix the powdered sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl until they reach the desired consistency for a glaze.  Add more juice or sugar respectively as needed to thicken or lighten.
Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Remove the cake from the pan, and rest on a wire rack.  After it has cooled slightly, (the cake should still be warm), pour the lemon glaze over the top of the cake, allowing it to soak in and coat the top of the cake.  Allow the cake to continue to cool.

Cut into slices to serve.  Serve warm, or let it "ripen" for a day before serving.  Your choice.

We both really enjoyed this little cake.  It was just sweet enough, with a nice little lemony tang to highlight the sweetness.  It's a dense, spongy cake, but surprisingly light.  And since we didn't have anyone to share it with, the two of us got to eat the whole thing.  Jealous?


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Little Garden In The Sky

Against the odds, cold San Francisco fog, strong coastal winds and no actual place for things to grow, I've planted a garden.  Better than that, a rooftop garden.  It's not much right now, just two black plastic pots filled with organic potting soil and tiny little green plants.  But providing the sun can break through the fog and the wind doesn't blow too hard, these little guys might do ok.

I'm starting small, just one early girl tomato plant, and two small shallots.  You might ask why I didn't just go for it, all in, fill my rooftop with rows of plastic pots, filled with beautiful growing green things for us eat.  To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how well the plants will survive up there, and I can't be responsible for the deaths of so many plants.  My conscience just couldn't handle it.

So I'll be tending to my little rooftop garden, watering my precious little plants and moving them out of the wind and into the sun.  Hopefully, soon, I'll have some delicious early girl tomatoes and shallots that will not have passed through any other hands but mine.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Great New Snack

My new friends at were kind enough to drop some of their newest product in the mail to me so I could try it out and tell all of you faithful readers about it.  (See what I do for you people?)  Jerky of any variety makes a great snack, especially good for tucking away in your desk drawer at work for when those late-afternoon hunger pangs sneak up on you.'s newest offering of Pineapple Jerky is dehydrated Maui pineapple rounds drizzled in honey.  The pineapple is just the right amount of tangy while the honey's sweetness takes the edge off of the bite.  True to it's name, the jerky is chewy, but comes apart easily and isn't tough at all.  The flavors aren't overpowering, and you won't taste any sulfur with your dehydrated fruit, because there isn't any.  Just pineapple and honey.

These tart dehydrated pineapple rings will be great for those looking for something new to calm their sweet cravings, and just anyone looking for a healthy mid-day snack.'s Pineapple Jerky is available in 1/4 pound packs for $9.99 or in packs of 4 4-ounce packs for $32.99.  While you're visiting, check out's expansive catalog of beef jerky, turkey jerky, and exotic jerkies.

Thanks for hooking up the Tiny Kitchen with such a great snack!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tastemaker Review: Mother's Original Circus Animal Cookies

The good people at Foodbuzz have once again shown favor on a few humble bloggers and showered us with delightful treats.  Mother's Cookies Circus Animals, the pink and white cookies of many a childhood memory are back after a short hiatus off of store shelves.

After spending a few months out of production, Kellogg's bought the name and original recipe and are putting the iconic frosted cookies back onto store shelves.  As one of my wife's favorite all time cookies, it was a pretty fun surprise when the box arrived in the mailbox.  

Just in time for Mother's Day, Mother's Cookies Circus Animals make their return to stores on May 4th.  Thanks, Foodbuzz for giving us the chance to taste these confections again before their re-release.  They were delicious!