Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Exploring Renewal   Leave a comment

September 1, 2018

   I remember my first trip to California. The year was 1972, I flew in from Chicago, as I was about to begin a new career. The fabled terminal at LAX was a fraction of the size it is today. The horseshoe design of the access road was already in place, but the terminals were one level in those days (vs. today’s two and three-story buildings swallowing up departing passengers and spitting out the arrivals.) Over the dozen years I lived in Los Angeles, I occasionally drove south from Los Angeles to San Diego or north to Santa  Barbara. But any other in-state travel was of the “fly-over” variety.

A few years ago (2014) I actually drove to Los Angeles from Mendocino County (mostly on I-5) to attend a memorial service for a dear friend. That Friday night I stayed with friends in the Hollywood hills. Saturday morning we all went to the memorial—in typical L.A. fashion—in numerous separate cars. As quickly as I arrived, Saturday afternoon I found myself back in my car and headed north on I-5. Neither the drive south on Friday or the return on Saturday motivated me to consider the beauty of this state’s “agricultural engine”, that enormous food-producing region covering the central part of the Golden State.

For some reason, as summer 2018 began I felt the urge to make contact. I reached out to one of my friends from that October 2014 visit. Harold Childs has been more than a friend. Hell, we worked together for a couple of decades. The call felt good and after a couple of months of trying to find the perfect moment we finally found a weekend that would work for us both.

Leaving Mendocino County on a Friday morning (again) I headed south, this time down the coast through Jenner, across the Russian River, over to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed), past Point Reyes Station, which I once described to someone (as a good thing) as a “coastal town that time sorta forgot”. I continued south through Olema and on to the Golden Gate Bridge. From there I drove past Golden Gate Park to Highway 92 and headed toward Half Moon Bay. Finally I was going to once again be enjoying the ocean views.

    Part of my motivation for this route was the wonderful news that a beautiful stretch of Highway One near Big Sur had been repaired, reopened, and ready for traffic. I should have expected that with the highway reopened, a few thousand of my closest friends would also be headed to Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, and other points south.

     Somewhere just north of Monterey my iPhone’s GPS suggested—I guess most of these devices have learned to make suggestions to we puny humans—that I move over to Highway 101. It would be faster, and as it was now past noon, and I had hundreds of miles to go, I should get a move on.

In short order I found myself speeding down a wide-open 101, glancing left and right to take notice of the vast agricultural land I heretofore had only sped past at night or high above in a Boeing jet. It was sunny and beautiful (albeit  90+ degrees outside) and as I passed Watsonville I thought about the green vegetables and fruit often labeled as having come from this particular part of the state. When I read the highway sign that said “Soledad, 10 miles” I decided I’d had enough of the hot and dry ag-land and would head back to the coast. Once you’re past Soledad, Gonzales, Greenfield or dozens of other towns you realize there is no quick and easy route back to the coast from 101. Never mind. I still had my iPhone and even if this was miles from the coast, the drive might be worth it.

As I turned west from Greenfield, I navigated my way along a series of two-lane blacktop highways with names like Elm Road (no elms to be seen), Arroyo Seco (a dry creek it was), and Carmel Valley Road, which gave me some confidence that my general direction was west. Observing so many hard-working men in the fields, orchards, and vineyards, I was reminded (once again) how lucky I’ve been.

Some twists and turns (and perhaps 2 hours  after leaving 101) I suddenly found myself in the charming town of Carmel Valley. It’s about 15 miles from the coast and the parts of it I saw were just plain lovely. I quickly began reorienting myself from the dry roads, valleys, and hills and focused on this oasis. Clearly the real estate was well out of my league, but I had no interest in moving here anyway; and a stop after so many hours of driving seemed like a very good idea.

I turned right into the parking lot of the Corskscrew Cafe, with a sign telling me that lunch was served until 4:00pm. Glancing at my watch and seeing it was 3:30pm, the decision was easy. A glass of wine, a salad, and at 4:30pm I was back on Pacific Coast Highway. Sightseeing was becoming less and less of a motivation, as I knew I had many miles to go to get to Oxnard before midnight.

PCH became Cabrillo Highway, and I observed names and places that, had I not been so tardy driving this far, I would be stopping to take them all in. I looked up to see (in the distance) the great American cabin in the woods known colloquially as Hearst Castle at San Simeon. I waved to the ghosts and continued south traveling through towns like Harmony, Cayucos, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and Pismo Beach. By the time I reached the outskirts of Santa Barbara I was tired but feeling like I was actually going to make it to Oxnard.

Arriving at my Air B&B I can only say that it was better than the Alkistis Hotel in Athens but not by much. (The Alkistis was $10 bucks a night in 1976 and way overpriced then). Never mind. I won’t bore you with my whiny accommodations story; perhaps another day.

    Saturday morning my friend Harold picked me up and we started our day at a local coffee spot. We then spent the next ten hours catching up. Some wine, some food, a personally guided private tour of Oxnard—did you know it was founded by Henry Oxnard, or that the Navy not only maintains a base in Oxnard (Port Hueneme, actually) but there is a museum dedicated to the amazing work of the Sea Bees. If you don’t know, it’s the name given to the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions). ox photo (1)We had dinner at a local favorite (in Ventura, as I recall), and then another Lyft car to get us back safely. Oxnard is a nice place to live and I can see why Harold likes it. Close enough to greater Los Angeles to stay in touch with friends and family but better air, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

     Sunday Morning we had more coffee, said our good-byes and I was on the road again. I drove straight back to Mendocino County, taking 101 most of the way. When I got home I didn’t need anyone to remind me how much I like living up here. But I will say, reaching out was a great idea. Most importantly I renewed a friendship that I’ve treasured for 40 years. And I was reminded, along the way, what a great state California truly is. There is so much here to explore and discover, and none of us will live long enough to see it all or even half. But while you’re busy making plans, take a turn. Stop in a small town. explore a museum. Gaze at the ocean. And visit with an old friend. It’ll make you feel young again. Really.


Posted September 15, 2018 by Jazzdavid in Food, Media, Technology, Travel, Uncategorized

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The Farmers Market   Leave a comment

Fresh Food. Mmmmmmm.

October 1, 2017

     I don’t really recall my first visit to a farmers’ market. It was probably a local outdoor summer market when we lived in Wonder Lake, Illinois. (Yes, the town is actually called Wonder Lake, and there really is a lake.) In those days McHenry County was one of those postcard-esque pastoral places oozing with charm, farms, lakes, streams, and people (like us) who worked in Chicago but wanted to enjoy living in the country. Our home was an 800 square foot A-frame situated between the Lake and Nippersink Creek. We lived there for two years, and thought about whether we’d find something as charming in Los Angeles. (A&M Records was moving me to California to work out of the ‘home office’ in Hollywood. But that’s another story.)

In a way, we were hearing the distant voice of newspaperman Horace Greely who encouraged one and all to “Go west.” In part his thoughts were wrapped up in an idea of what to do with an abundance of veterans of the American Civil War, finding themselves all too often displaced. The publisher of the New York Tribune may have had another motivation for encouraging westward movement: “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

With our own move west, we were ready to see what change would bring, but were nevertheless apprehensive. Once we began looking for a home, we learned that Greely was at least part right. Housing prices were high and headed higher still. The food wasn’t bad but there was plenty of dust in the Santa Clarita Valley, about an hour north of my office in Hollywood. As for the morals, most of my extended family who today live in the midwest would probably chime in that Hollywood’s morals are still deplorable.

Our home purchase budget was limited as we entered the red-hot southern California real estate market of the 1970s. It was not unusual to look at a $60-70,000 tract house on Actor-William-S.-Hart-as--007Saturday, think about it for a few days, and find out five days later that the price had gone up by $2000. So we jumped in. As lovely as it was, Wonder Lake had no real claim to fame. Our new hometown, Newhall, was probably best known as the home of the William S. Hart estate, now a park. Hart was an early silent film star, making many movies and making lots of money between 1915 and 1925.

While working in Hollywood, one of my good friends from Chicago was now also in Hollywood and also working for A&M. Jayne Neches (later Neches-Simon) and I were going to have lunch, and as to “where”, she had a suggestion to make.  We drove south from the A&M offices at Sunset and LaBrea to the general area of 3rd & Fairfax, the location of L.A.’s Farmers Market. Ignore Amish men and women selling produce in Pennsylvania in the 19th century, or any other example of an “original farmers market”. In Hollywood, history is created anew all of the time. And the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax was (and is still) touted as the “original”. When we got there, Jayne looked for a parking space on Fairfax and then opted to have the valet park her car. Yes. Although there was street parking in the area, Jayne found the one (?) lot that had valet parking. As Randy Newman sang, “I Love L. A.” Today that Farmers Market has somewhere close to 100 merchants, offering cell phones, stickers, and keys, and restaurants ranging from Moishe’s Restaurant to Mr. Marcel Pain Vin Et Fromage. It’s like the Galleria Mall from Sherman Oaks was picked up, moved, and re-branded as a farmers market.

Back on earth in Mendocino County, we have numerous farmers markets, and guess what? Almost every stand—produce, bread, coffee, meats, plants, jams, and more—is owned by a local person selling local food or local products. Go figure.

IMG_0313     Last week’s Saturday market was one of those fantastic coastal days. (By the way, we get a lot of those days here on the Mendocino coast, but don’t tell anyone.) The sun was shining, and all of the usual people had set up their tables. Donna had her jams, vegetables, and seaweed products; Allan was offering grapes, green apples, leafy goodies, and micro-greens while Astrid was selling tarts and waffles cooked fresh at the market. A young couple (sorry, didn’t get their names) were selling fresh bread, and I do mean fresh. The plant lady was there selling house and small garden plants perfect for our climate, which means they don’t require an excessive amount of water. Tom was selling his Little Green Bean coffee. A musician was playing his battery-powered electric keyboard, the handmade jewelry stand was open. Wing and Zoe of Westside Farm  had set up their tables (above, right), and Abby and Sammy from Oz Farm (left, below) were getting their IMG_0316goods ready. Both Westside and Oz displayed their beautiful food as if there was a competition to see who could make their produce for a photo shoot. On this Saturday, it was a tie.

The market officially opens at 9:30am, and we reluctantly recognize the official start time. That doesn’t hold back the ‘drool factor’  as the regular shoppers begin to gather near  the tables, all the while voicing varying levels of desire. “I want her heirloom tomatoes.” “I want those bell peppers.” “Did you see those raspberries?” “The apples look amazing.” At 9:15am the early shoppers—me included—hover like sharks waiting for the right moment to strike. Then all at once, at exactly 9:30am, there’s a mild frenzy, almost always good natured. Having spent my $40 budget for the week on large garlic, fingerling potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, green beans, rainbow chard, winesap apples, basil, and Russian kale (holy shit, I actually bought kale. My mother would be so proud and also probably dumbfounded). As always I get a cup of Tom’s coffee to go. By 10:30 the second wave of sleepier shoppers show up, but the early shoppers have already headed home. We got the good stuff.

The glitz of the stores at 3rd and Fairfax belie the reality of just what constitutes a farmers market. As corporate farms continue to pump out tons of red this, green that, and yellow somethin’ else, they’re often just selling ‘stuff’ that may look good as in, for example, tasteless rock-hard tomatoes from Florida. Here on the coast we continue to lament the last day of the farmers market around November 1, and start counting the days until our fresh local food returns in April or May. To Allan, and Astrid, and Donna, and Abby and Sammi, and Wing, and Zoe, Tom, and everyone else, thank you.

David Steffen

©2017 David Steffen

Everything Old Is New again   Leave a comment

What Songwriter Peter Allen Knew Forty Years Ago

October 26, 2015

In the late 1960s I was in college at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Working for the campus radio station I volunteered to do a series of occasional interviews which ranged from singer/actor Dick Kallman, to John F. Kennedy speechwriter and advisor Ted Sorensen. One interview was with a relatively young yet obviously seasoned performer who, at the time, was one-half of the Australian cabaret act Chris & Peter Allen. CPAllenThe duo was performing at the lounge atop Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel. Peter was about 23 at the time and little did I know then that our paths would cross again less than a decade later when he signed a recording contract with A&M Records. Sitting at the piano in the home of A&M Records President Gil Friesen, Peter entertained about 30 of us in this rather intimate setting. I saw peter-allen-02Peter in concert time and again over the next 10 years, as his songwriting and collaboration produced an amazing body of creative work including “Just Ask Me I’ve Been There”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Go to Rio”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, “Bi-Coastal”, “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love”, and so much more. Epitomizing his inherent cabaret flair was a song titled “Everything Old Is New Again”. The music and the lyrics came to mind this week as I considered some recent events because, as we’ve seen, everything old is new again.

Fats 2.0: Fats have been a part of my diet as far back as I can remember. I’m old enough to recall butter on or in everything; steaks fried in oil on the stove (the grill was for sissies.) Lard was a principal ingredient in most cooking. Whole milk on my Sugar Pops. And then we were told that fats are bad. So I spent the next 40+ years listening to my doctor and a family full of nurses ask “how ya doin’ avoiding those fats?” My usual response was “I’m working on it.” This past weekend I was making dinner of fatspan-seared Tilapia with Safflower oil, Romaine lettuce, and an olive oil-based salad dressing. Good effort, so I have only myself to blame for picking up the New York Times and reading an article titled “The Fats You Don’t Need to Fear, and the Carbs That You Do”. Give me an effin break. 1000 words telling me I can have fats. I’m not certain I have enough years left to undo all of the damage done avoiding fats the last 40 years, but I pledge with my right hand raised and my left hand wrapped around a chocolate eclair, that I will do my part.

Deja Vu, eh?: The news from Canada on October 19, 2015 was striking. The Toronto Star carried a photograph of a handsome young couple with picture-perfect children. The dashing 40-something father in the photograph just won a trudresounding victory in Canada’s national election. I rubbed my eyes to be certain I was awake in this century as I read the paper’s proclamation: “Ontario delivers Trudeau his Liberal majority“.  What? Pierre and Margaret are back? Not really. Our friends to the north elected the son of the dashing late 20th century Canadian leader Pierre Elliot Trudeau. In the 1960s America had the Kennedys. Jack was dashing in his own right and the era was dubbed “Camelot”. In the 1970s it was Pierre who charmed Canada, and the charm oozed south across the border into the United States. The elder Trudeau was a rock star. And now his son Justin will become Prime Minister of Canada. Lineage doesn’t guarantee success, but there’s something good coming from Canada as outgoing conservative (Tory) PM Stephen Harper departs in a stunning loss. Liberal Trudeau will take the reins of the Canadian government. Bonne chance.

What Me Worry? Part 1: Farther south a different story has been making the front and near-front pages of newspapers and websites around the United States. Hell, it’s probably in this week’s edition of My Weekly Reader. Continuing his “I’ll Say Anything” tour, Donald Trump opened his mouth and, believe it or not, a significant unspoken truth fell out. The October 16, 2015 New York Daily News reported the utterance from “The Donald” and the unbridled disbelief expressed by a Bloomberg News talking head:

“Donald Trump stuck a shiv into the Republican establishment Friday by suggesting that former President George W. Bush bears some of the blame for the 9/11 attacks. ‘When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time,’ Trump said on Bloomberg TV. Anchor Stephanie Ruhle appeared stunned by Trump’s remark. ‘Hold on, you can’t blame George Bush for that,’ she said. But Trump, who is leading the pack of Republicans running for President, would not budge. ‘He was President, OK?’ the GOP front-runner said. ‘Blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was President. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.'”

The GOP faithful began to go into apoplectic fits. The same Republicans who can attack Hillary Clinton for the Benghazi attacks cannot bring themselves to connect President “W”—then 9 months in office—to the most significant terrorist attack on American soil since the British burned the White House and Capitol in 1814*.

What Me Worry? Part 2: A few days after Trump’s declaration that the 9/11 attacks occurred on George W. Bush’s watch, he added another truth to the discourse:  “Jeb, why did your brother attack and destabilize the Middle East by attacking Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction? Bad info?” Good question. Democrats have been significantly more vocal on this topic than Bush’s responsibility as Commander in Chief on September 11, 2001. Republicans can defend “W” all they want, but the historical view isn’t getting prettier for “the decider”. And his subsequent decision to destabilize the Middle East was a mistake that has generated catastrophic results. Bush’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is the poster child for chaos theory.

Forget “W” not understanding Shia vs. Sunni. How about if Bush had just understood the concept of unintended consequences, perhaps even he would have thought twice about invading Iraq. Author Rob Norton reminds us that “The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Kennedy School of Government professor Linda Bilmes gave the Iraq War close scrutiny. Their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict pegs the dollars wasted on the Iraq War at $3 trillion—and counting. (By comparison, Bush Administration officials projected $50 billion. That’s a $2 trillion, $950 billion difference. Even Enron did better planning than Bush, Wolfowitz, et al.) Those of us who marched through the streets of New York in February 2003 to try and stop the deliberate march to war in Iraq felt a small measure of satisfaction that the stupidity of invading Iraq is at least being spoken out loud these days. Even if Trump is the mouthpiece.

George Santayana, in Life of Reason, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Peter Allen’s “Everything Old Is New Again” is no less prophetic. But at least it’s a musical gem reminding us in a gentler way. Perhaps we need to send a copy of Allen’s recording to each member of congress at the start of every new term. Then again, maybe the song they need to hear is “Just Ask Me I’ve Been There”.

David Steffen

© 2015 David Steffen

Note: an edited version of this essay appears in the November 2015 issue of the Lighthouse Peddler coastal newspaper.

*Technically in 1814 the residence was known as the Presidential Mansion.

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