Ginger Garlic Paste

IMG_4207.jpg

I like to have this on hand for Asian inspired dishes. I sometimes use it in a marinade, dressing or sauce. But, most of the time I like to cook it in a little oil to eliminate the raw flavor and give it a lightly toasted taste, and use as the base for sautéed or stir-fried vegetables or grains. I also cook it with or without lemongrass before adding stock for a flavorful broth in a simple ramen, soba or other noodle soup. It’s terrific combined with jalapeño and turmeric in Parsnip, Celery Root, and Cauliflower Soup and as part of the spice addition in Turkey Meatballs with Indian Spices.

 

Recipe

Makes about 1 cup

5 ounces ginger, peeled (a spoon is the best way to peel ginger)
½ cup peeled garlic cloves
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

 

Coarsely chop the ginger and garlic and put in a high-powered blender with the vinegar. Blend until smooth, pulsing and scraping down the sides as needed to not overwork the blender.

From everything I have read, the paste has a short shelf life in the refrigerator, so I’ve never left it there for more than a day or two. Line a small baking sheet with plastic wrap. Scoop individual teaspoons and tablespoons onto the sheet, cover the top with plastic wrap, and freeze until solid. Unwrap and put the individual portions into a larger resealable plastic bag for up to 1 month. It’s ready to go when you need it.  

 

Ginger Turmeric Tonic

IMG_4221.jpg

I first discovered this tonic while working with Chef Hannah Grant on the recipe app Simple Feast. Hannah is the chef for the Danish cycling team and has this on hand as a warming tonic that helps boost the immune system. A shot once a day is all you need.

This is a case where organic matter, especially since the ginger and turmeric are unpeeled.

 

Recipe

Makes about 1 ¾ cups

5 ounces ginger, unpeeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
1/3 ounce (1 ¾-inch piece) turmeric
Mineral water or filtered water

 

Put the ginger and turmeric in a high-powered blender. Add enough water to cover by ½-incn, about 1 ½ cups. Blend slowly to keep the blender from overheating and to keep the solids from turning into a paste.

Set a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth over a bowl and pour in the mixture. If time allows, refrigerate overnight to let the liquid slowly drain into the bowl. If needed more quickly, lift the cheesecloth and gently squeeze the cheesecloth to extract the juice through the strainer into the bowl.

The ground ginger-turmeric pulp can be reserved for ginger tea or discarded.

 

Parsnip, Celery Root, and Cauliflower Soup

IMG_4211.jpg

Recipe

Makes about 10 cups

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 large jalapeño, seeds removed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons Ginger Garlic Paste, preferably homemade
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
3 parsnips, about 12 ounces, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 celery root, about 1 ¼ pounds, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 head cauliflower, about 2 pounds, florets removed and cut into ½-inch pieces
7 cups vegetable stock or a combination of vegetable and light chicken stock
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Small cilantro leaves or coarsely chopped cilantro, optional

 

In a Dutch oven or small stockpot, heat a film of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes, lowering the heat to medium to keep them from getting too brown.

Stir in the jalapeño, ginger garlic paste, turmeric, and coriander and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the chopped parsnips, celery root, and cauliflower to coat in the onion mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until they soften slightly and take on a little bit of color, about 10 minutes.

Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and keep at a generous simmer (even bubbles across the surface) until the vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Alternatively transfer in batches to a high-powered blender and carefully blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return to the heat if needed to warm. Divide among bowls and sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if using. (And, if you are like my husband you will add more freshly ground black pepper.)

If making ahead, the soup can be refrigerated, without the cilantro and extra pepper, for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Turkey Meatballs with Indian Spices

IMG_4220.jpg

These meatballs get their inspiration from the chicken meatballs in Masala & Meatballs by Asha Shivakumar. I adapted her recipe to make it work with what I had in the house on a day I could not face the grocery store. Using ground turkey made my mixture quite soft so I chose to bake them as opposed to pan-frying.

Meatballs often call for white bread with the crusts removed, and most of the time I understand the reason why. Adding texture and volume with little change to the flavor profile. In the case of these meatballs I wanted to follow suit and kept the bread addition in the supporting roll. Lucky for me I had some brioche in my freezer. But, for other meatballs, depending on the vegetables and choice of spice, I will use the end of a loaf I have on hand. I like rye bread with ground pork, and whole wheat with ground beef. Also depending on the application, the idea of removing all crusts, unless I want a snack, seems wrong. I generally will remove some, but not all.

 

Recipes

Makes sixteen 1 ½- to 2-inch meatballs

1 pound ground turkey thigh meat
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon with a Microplane grater)
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil
½ onion, finely chopped
1 mild green chile (I used an Anaheim), seeds removed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon Ginger Garlic Paste, preferably homemade
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup ½-inch bread cubes, from about 2 slices
3 tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Small cilantro leaves or coarsely chopped cilantro, optional

 

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Combine the turkey, lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in a large mixing bowl. Let sit while prepping the other ingredients.

Heat a film of oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and chile and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, lowering the heat to medium, if needed. Add the ginger garlic paste, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, and coriander, and cook, stirring continuously until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, stir in ½ teaspoon of salt, and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, put the bread cubes in a medium bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of the cream until all of the cubes are moistened. Depending on the freshness of the bread, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of cream, and let sit until fairly soft. Break up with a fork and stir in the egg.

Add the bread-egg mixture and the cooled spiced onions and peppers to the bowl with the turkey.

Divide equally into 16 meatballs and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Combine the soy sauce and lemon juice in a large bowl.

Remove the meatballs from the oven and put in the soy mixture, carefully turn to coat the meatballs. Sprinkle with the cilantro, if using, and serve immediately.

 

 

Mashed Curried Parsnips and Potatoes

IMG_4213.jpg

I have similar feelings about parsnips that I do to butternut squash. I have one bite and like them OK, but too many, too sweet. I always want it paired with something savory, usually salty. Straight up mashed potatoes will always be my preference, but half potato half parsnip helped me use up the parsnips in my vegetable drawer. Paired with Turkey Meatballs with Indian Spices these rounded out a Sunday supper. My five-year old was definitely underwhelmed, but my husband ate seconds.

 

Recipe

Makes about 5 cups

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
2 ¼ cups whole milk
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

 

Put the butter and oil in a large saucepan (preferably a wider one) over medium heat until the butter has melted, swirling to combine. Add the parsnips and potatoes and cook until they begin to caramelize on the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the honey and 1 teaspoon of the curry powder until evenly distributed.

Pour in the cream and milk. The parsnips and potatoes should be just covered. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir from time to time to be sure they cook evenly.

Remove from the heat. Mash with a potato masher until smooth, but do not over mash. The texture could get gluey. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder to taste.

In Our House We Call It A Riff

IMG_4204.jpg

Yes, my husband is a drummer and we can hear him in his practice during the off hours not being an engineer. But in our house we have kitchen riffs too. Open the refrigerator, survey the contents, and weave them together to make harmony. Sometimes it works exceptionally well and occasionally we get a drag. It starts with the random assortment of produce, maybe there is a cup or so of beans, and then a little pasta or possibly rice. The majority of the time it ends up as soup. Carrot, celery, and onion are almost always a part of it. I learned the terrific trio underpinning of soup from my mom and grandma long before I knew it was mirepoix.

I‘ve been lucky to have a portion of my working life include recipe testing. And along with the specifics of the testing process itself, I have become a skilled grocery shopper. Knowing how to cut down on the number of trips to the store, optimize what is bought, without having too much leftover. But, even despite my best efforts, there are weeks that I have a random assortment of things unused, usually an abundance of an ingredient or two.

Depending on the projects I am working on, the amount of meat we eat varies the most. Generally, we are a highly plant-based family. However, with only a few exceptions, for now, I don’t say no to the traditional proteins. I aim to balance our diets. If we have a day or two with more meat than usual, then we have more meat free days to follow. The concept of meat-free Mondays is sort of the opposite for us. Some weeks it is meat only Monday.

This last week the highlights of what was leftover in the fridge were 1 pound of ground turkey thigh meat and almost 2 pounds of parsnips. The byproduct of a recipe I thought would be tricky, so I bought enough to make it three times and I nailed it on the first take. Also available was celery root, almost a full head of cauliflower, miscellaneous peppers, a big piece of ginger, garlic I had previously peeled, some fresh turmeric, and a couple of lemons. No surprise, there were also onions, carrots, celery and a couple of potatoes to work with.

Based on some dog eared magazine pages, a little internet searching, and a desire to make something out of my newest cookbook purchase Masala & Meatballs by Asha Shivakumar, I came up with our Sunday supper, something for the pantry, and something to give me a head start on the week.

Ginger Garlic Paste
Ginger Turmeric Tonic
Parsnip, Celery Root, and Cauliflower Soup
Mashed Curried Parsnip and Potatoes
Turkey Meatballs with Indian Spice

Auntie Thelma's Crustless Shoo Fly Pie

IMG_4090.jpg

On the first anniversary of losing my dad, I wanted to have a grateful celebration, rather than a sad remembrance. I made my family shoo fly pie. (I also wrote a larger piece about him called The Turtle.)

Growing up, my sister and I would tease our dad a bit about some of his food favorites, most rooted in Pennsylvania Dutch (German farm folk from Pennsylvania) tradition. Some, not the healthiest of choices. But, I have to agree with him on shoo fly pie. And, try as I have to change, it is a recipe that works best with corn syrup. The taste of this pie is totally different at first, but strangely satisfying. Dad loved a good-sized slice with a glass of whole milk, super cold, right out of the “ice box”. I really can still picture having some with him on his front porch, joking about the pie being the perfect cure for fres krankit.

Fres Krankit is short for Fressen Krankheit, the disease of eating or gluttony. I like to think about it a little differently, and less negatively. We’ve all had those days where most things taste really good, but there is still a lingering craving that is difficult to satisfy. To me, that craving is fres krankit.

 

Recipe

Makes one 9-inch pie

Crumb Mixture
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and cold

Filling
¾ cup combined black strap molasses and dark corn syrup (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons each, see method below)
¾ cup boiling water
½ teaspoon baking soda

 

Position the oven rack in the center and preheat to 375˚F.

Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat. Break up the butter with your fingertips until evenly incorporated.

Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch traditional (not deep-dish) pie plate with about two-thirds of the crumb mixture. It will look like a lot, but a portion of the filling will soak in to it.

Pour the molasses and corn syrup into a large liquid measuring cup at the same time. (I am a big fan of Oxo and the cups with the measurement markings on the inside and out.) Try to get an even pour on each. The corn syrup will run a little faster, but a little more or less of one, won’t matter.) 

Pour the boiling water into the measuring cup. Mix with a fork or small whisk to dissolve the molasses-syrup mixture. Sprinkle in the baking soda and mix again.

Pour the hot filling into the crumb lined pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining crumbs covering all of the filling.

Carefully put in the oven and bake until the filling is completely set, with just a tiny jiggle, about 40 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. The top will crack during baking and cooling.

The pie will be soft if eaten at room temperature. Refrigerate for a firmer consistency.

 

The Turtle

This is an adapted version of my eulogy for my father, Barry Walter Burlaga, given in February 2017.
 

As a way to remember our nation’s Bicentennial a Philadelphia radio station asked listeners to write in with stories of how they had celebrated it. This one was written by our dad and was read on the air.

A Most Memorable Summer

Amy and Sally, taken by Barry, summer of 1976

Amy and Sally, taken by Barry, summer of 1976

Like many I recall the bicentennial summer in my own special way. We lived with two smaller daughters on a tiny cobblestoned street in a colonial rowhouse we remodeled. Our block was home to “young urban professionals”, not yet so labeled, who really liked each other. Philadelphia had a delightfully liveable center city.

My company’s purge like most, was badly timed, and hurt our hard earned economic momentum and our spirit. But, that memorable summer my wife began a new career, while my two small sidekicks hiked me around the city so we could get acquainted and grow together. The city looks different sitting on the ground enjoying a puppet show, rather than from a lofty office. Block party food is as good as executive dining room fare. Real queens are as impressive in humility, as corporate royalty and would be kings.

Our lives changed in Philadelphia that summer because we learned a family needs inner direction, community and freedom. We became one of an endangered species, the American family. Philadelphia was a terrific place to live, and must be reclaimed from spoilers, manipulators and exploiters in high places and at sidewalk level, and returned with freedom from anxiety to families and communities.

 

A lot had changed for our family that summer. My dad left banking, my mom went back to work, and sister Sally and I needed to be taken care of with not a whole lot of money.

I don’t think it was one conscious decision, but rather a series of events that brought us to Dad realizing what his family really needed. Him. Specifically for him to actively participate in taking care of us. My parents bought a store in center city Philadelphia, and my dad framed pictures. We were there after school up until we moved to Beach Haven, New Jersey.

Barry was a big believer in things happening for a reason and listening to your gut.

When we moved, I was in sixth grade at Beach Haven Elementary School. It was a bit of a tough entry for me coming into such a tight knit class, but by the spring I had definitely made friends. Then softball season happened. All of my Beach Haven friends played for the Village Pub team. I signed up and was excited to play. Unfortunately the league decided they could not take one more sixth grade player because they were full. I was told I could play for the North Beach Haven team Sink R’ Swim. I didn’t want to, but my dad encouraged me multiple times, with a lot of tears. I am sure he said something about fate or something like that... I also heard him in his booming voice arguing with the coach about the ridiculousness of them not letting me play, and then trying to appeal to her by saying that the move hadn’t been so easy on me. Either way, it didn’t matter they wouldn’t budge and I went to play for Sink R’ Swim.

All things do happen for a reason. I met the girl that would be one of my best friends all through high school. Meeting her brought a whole new group of friends. Friends I probably never would have become so close with.

Years later, the same softball friend, having moved to the Florida Keys, was working on a scuba boat. She was making small talk with a pregnant passenger on the charter boat where she was working. Next thing I know I am sending her my resume and on my way to my first job in New York.  Dad only asked me once if I was sure I wanted to do it. And when I was said yes he said he would drive me to Queens where I would crash on a friend of a friend’s couch. When we got there, he gave me a hug and a kiss, told me to “THINK”, a very Barry thing to do. There I was starting one of the biggest adventures of my life.

Barry was not a quick guy. He thought about things A LOT. He deliberated. He weighed out his options. And always wanted to look at all possibilities. Honestly, it often drove me crazy. And we did butt heads. But, there was one day in particular that I really appreciated these qualities in my dad.

We were at a family event in Bucks County Pennsylvania. When it was over, and I don’t recall why, Sally and Mom went one way and Dad and I went the other. We ended up riding through Upper Black Eddy where he grew up. He started telling me stories about riding his bike through the hills with his friends, outdoor adventures, stuff I had never heard. It struck me as being very “Stand By Me” and I was totally into it. Because as honest and open with us as he was about a lot of things, he didn’t talk much about his childhood.

So here we are riding on a winding road and we both see something. He slows down, and crossing the road is the biggest land turtle I have ever seen. His shell had to have been at least 2-feet across! We were completely mesmerized watching this old timer cross the road. When another car was coming up, Dad flashed his lights, and they slowed down. So now there were two cars watching the very slow, very deliberate moves of this turtle crossing the road. It was one of the coolest things I ever watched. I talked with Dad about the path of the turtle, the fact that he was heading for a creek Dad knew was down below where we were riding, and speculating on just how old that turtle was.

The turtle wasn’t in a hurry. We weren’t in a hurry. This was now totally our turtle. We were completely invested in his journey and success. When he finally crossed the road, we had huge smiles. I think we even cheered a bit. Dad slowly started up the car and we were on our journey again. We stopped for ice cream, listened to the radio, and talked about his grandparent’s farm. That turtle really was so Barry. Slow and steady finishes the race. I gave him a little stuffed turtle for his birthday and it rode in his car until the stuffing came out.

A few years after that, I came home and announced at Thanksgiving I was moving to San Francisco. Again, he only asked once if I was sure I wanted to do it. On the day the movers showed up in Brooklyn, he drove up and gave me one of my most prized possessions. It was his childhood wagon. He completely restored it. New paint job and working lights. He made sure the movers got it on the truck and then sat with me on the front stoop while the rest of my possessions were loaded in.

Of course, there are many more stories and moments in time I will hold onto when I think about our dad, but these are some important ones for me. Sally wrote perfectly in the obituary that to remember our dad invest in your retirement and plant a garden. I would like to add one more. Look at some of my dad’s choices as examples of how to raise thoughtful and strong girls. And, likewise raise thoughtful and strong boys. Those two things don’t have to be independent of each other.

Barry, the gentle giant, was both thoughtful and strong and he taught Sally and I to do our best to be that way too.

 

 

 

“Pumpkin” Bread (or Muffins)

IMG_3769.jpg

When I found myself with six large butternut squash in my garage, I decided to try some recipes I liked with fresh squash puree as opposed to canned pumpkin. I peeled the squash, cut it into large chunks, and steamed until tender. While still warm, mash with a potato masher (or pulse in the food processor) until broken down, but not completely smooth.

A layer of squash in lasagna was good, but didn’t do much to make a dent in my supply. Baking was the way to go. I pulled out a bread recipe I liked from Smitten Kitchen and made some adjustments. I prefer less sugar, like to bake with kosher salt, and find vanilla a much more pleasing taste than cloves.

I can be a creature of habit, particularly on damp days when all I want to do is get the house warmed up and smelling good. Normally I think it works best to combine all of the dry ingredients and then add them to the wet. I liked the SK method of adding the smaller amounts of dried ingredients, like the baking soda and the spices first, followed by the flour. The best part was keeping this a one-bowl batter. Less to clean up.

Along the lines of habit, I love versatile base recipes and expanding on them.  In this case, a batter that yields a moist loaf or muffins. I also wanted to see if I could substitute other vegetables or fruit. First try, applesauce variation, bubbled over and had an even longer bake time, but it was delicious. I made a couple of times and then moved on to zucchini. (See Notes on Muffins and Variations, Below)

I successfully made this for my friend Abi of Abi's Farmhouse Kitchen using Bob's Red Mill's Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour. Err on the side of a longer bake. And my friend Sarah did this with a different flour split. She said, "since I am from Sebastopol" I can never use all a-p. (For those that don't know the Sonoma County town, historically it is home to a lot of artists and farmers, with a lot of different spiritual influences.) Sarah used 1 cup a-p, ¾ cup whole wheat, and ½ cup almond flour. 

 

Recipe

Makes 1 loaf or 18 muffins

1 ¾ cups butternut squash puree
            (or One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil, plus additional for the pan (my preference is avocado)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or paste
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Topping, optional
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Position the oven rack in the center and preheat to 350˚F.

Lightly, but completely, brush or rub the bottom and sides of a standard (about 6 cup) loaf pan with oil. For muffins, see below.

In a large bowl whisk together the squash puree, sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking powder, baking soda, and the salt over the top and whisk until evenly distributed. Add the cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and whisk again.

Add the flour and stir, preferably with a silicone spatula, until just combined, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom. Scrape into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top.

If using, combine the cinnamon and sugar for the topping and sprinkle over the top.

Bake until a skewer inserted comes out clean in a few areas, particularly in the center. If using canned pumpkin it will be about 1 hour 15 minutes. (Tent the top of the loaf with foil if it starts to get too dark.) A looser puree takes longer, 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours.

Transfer to a cooling rack for 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Gently loosen the edges as needed. Carefully remove from the pan, set on the rack, and let cool completely.

 

Cooking Note, Muffins

IMG_3882.jpg

To make muffins: Line 18 standard muffin cups with paper liners. If you only have one muffin pan the batter will hold at room temperature or in the refrigerator while the first batch bakes and the pan cools. Let the batter warm slightly as needed before using.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons of batter into each cup, tap the bottom to even the tops, and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar, if using. A skewer should come out clean after 20-25 minutes of baking. A bit longer if the batter is still slightly cold.

 

Cooking Note, Variations

Applesauce will work, but definitely use less. I liked it with 1 ½ cups of applesauce which results in a more fluid batter, and it does get awfully close to bubbling over a little bit. If that is a concern, put a baking sheet on a rack under the one the loaf pan is on or use a piece of aluminum foil. When it's time to take it out of the pan, it might need some trimming to remove, but I like the statement of the big topped loaf. 

Zucchini on the other hand will give you a much stiffer batter. I recommend using 2  cups of grated (on the largest hole of a box grater), well drained zucchini. (Start with about 8 ounces of zucchini.) Depending on when the zucchini is mixed in the look of the finished loaf is different. I preferred the one where I added the zucchini at the end. Less about the exterior, more about the even dispersement of the zucchini.  Whisk together the sugar, oil, and eggs. Add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then add in 1 ¾ cups of the flour. Toss the grated zucchini with the remaining flour and then mix that in.

All Roads Lead to Facendini Lane

This story was originally published on spoiledtoperfection.com, August 30, 2015

IMG_9787.jpg

“Nobody really grows apples anymore.” These were the words my often crotchety, but very likeable 82-year-old Italian neighbor, Skip, barked at me when I recounted part of my morning visit with Ellen Cavalli of Tilted Shed. “There was a time I could tell ya who owned every orchard, and probably even who planted most of the god damned trees in Occidental and Sebastopol. Now, there’s nothing but (expletive) grapes.” (This, coming from the man who has at least one glass of wine, usually local, every night with dinner and afterwards with his biscotti.) When I told him I was going to Facendini Lane his grimace turned into a huge smile. I knew the mention of Facendini would lighten his mood from past stories he had shared with us. The lane was named for the two brothers that had lived there, who were also the father and uncle of his best friend.

With eighty plus years of living, about sixty-five of them right in the center of what were apple orchards, I can only imagine the changes he has seen, and understand and appreciate the sentiment about the overabundance of grapes. I love living in Sonoma County and am grateful, pretty much every day for finding such a special spot in the world to call home. But I can’t help echoing some of his feelings. Wine is everywhere, and the scale seems unfairly tipped in favor of the grapes when it comes to biodiversity.

I think this is part of the reason I was so taken by both of my meetings with Ellen. Her story resonated and inspired me. When she recounted the decision she and her husband made to leave New York City and live on a farm in New Mexico, but still maintain ties to the mainstream world, part of me wanted to run home and plan a trip to New Mexico. Somehow their decision to get away from the grind gave my own path some justification. Could it be possible to have an emotionally and financially viable career path that still keeps you honest, available to your family, and somehow connect with the land around you? Absolutely.

The golden ring of this merry-go-round is balance, something my Libran sensibility could definitely get behind. The thing to keep in mind, and I think what Ellen exemplifies, is balance can mean different things to different people, and even to the same person at different points during the year, or even their life. Sometimes it is seamless, but on most days it is a bumpy ride. And on most days you get tired, even wrung out. For Ellen, it could be having a bumper crop of apples, holding her son on one hip with one arm and chucking apples into the hopper of the press with the other. It could mean staying up until 2:00 am to meet an editing deadline in order to be ready to get in the car way too early to drive to an event. An event where you have to put on your best face and talk cider.

The morning I drove to Windsor to taste cider, Ellen looked tired, but she rallied and shared her cider knowledge and led me through a terrific tasting. We talked a bit about ourselves and among other things I told her about Skip. As we talked and tasted, we decided a wonderful way to showcase their ciders on the Spoiled to Perfection show was to have the final segment be a food pairing featuring some local products. This would exemplify Ellen’s philosophy of “what grows together goes together.” I went home and wrote up our ideas and passed them onto the team. They were all in! The director and producer decided we would shoot the pairing on the second day of the two day shoot at a communal table beautifully set up in the orchard of one of Tilted Shed’s growers.

When that second day of shooting arrived, I woke up invigorated. The conversation between Garrett, our host, and Ellen couldn’t have gone better the day before. So now it was all about a bit more conversation, a stroll through the orchard, and then the pairing. At my house, lunches were made, dinner was in the slow-cooker, and there was a new batch of homemade play dough ready for my daughter and her sitter for the day. Dare I say, I was feeling a bit cocky. As my family worked our way through the morning routine, things went south and I ended up leaving my very upset three-year-old daughter sobbing at the front door. She was in very capable hands, but I was conflicted as I drove west.

By the time I pulled into the preapproved crew parking spot on Facendini Lane a text revealed my girl was playing happily at home. Things were looking up, and I walked up the lane back on track. Pretty soon after I arrived, I met Laura the owner who had graciously agreed to share her orchard with us for the better part of the day. Apparently, Ellen had told her my Skip connection and Laura was very interested in knowing more about the history of her property and Facendini Lane. I didn’t know much, but I told her about Skip and his wife, and promised if I found out more I would pass it along.

Shooting began very well, but the unfamiliar sight in a drought-stricken California, of rain clouds overhead loomed. Are you kidding me? Rain? I know we need rain, but today of all days! The first bottle of cider was opened and the pairing was perfect. But, there was no question the rain was coming and the decision was made to cut the rest of the pairing segment short. (I would be remiss to not give a rundown of what had been planned. It follows this story.)

I drove home content and was met in the garage by my smiling girl. After dinner we pulled up chairs and visited with Skip in his driveway. I told him about my day on Facendini Lane and described the houses and properties I saw. When I told him about Laura’s orchard he told me, “That was always an orchard. In the 1950’s it was cherries, but the trees ended up diseased and they all came out." Skip was pretty sure that his friend Dino probably planted the majority of the apples on Laura’s property, some in the 50’s and some later. He said, “Old Dino use to make the holes for the trees with dynamite. We nicknamed him short fuse because he always ended up with stuff all over his face, and probably damn near blew himself up more than once.”

I love Skip’s old stories, and loved even more that once my daughter was in bed, I would email Laura to share with her. Just like balance, being connected is something we need to work at every day. Staying connected to our neighbors, our families, and our land takes work, but helps with balance and gives back ten fold when you let it.

The Rained out Pairing

Ellen and Scott have a wonderful network of local purveyors and friends. So it was a given that we highlight some of them in our pairing.

Gravival Semidry Cider

“The Gravenstein [apple] sparkles in this bright, crisp cider. The refreshing acidity is balanced with a touch of sweetness and barnyard funk… This is Sonoma County heritage in a bottle.”

This is the sweetest of Tilted Shed’s ciders, but is far from sweet. It pairs well with just about anything, from cheeses, to oysters, to Indian Food.

Cured salmon with fresh locally grown dill and black bread

Weirauch Farm & Creamery’s sheep’s milk cheese plate; Saint Rose, Mi-Ewe, and Primo Fresco

Inclinado Sidra-Style Cider

“California twist on a Basque sidra… bottle conditioned using fresh juice… to approximate the spritz made by the traditional long pour… dry, deliciously tangy yet restrained.”

This cider has a definite saline hit and pairs well with salty.

Pan seared padron peppers with Maldon salt           

Zazu’s assorted charcuterie plate; Sardegna, Sanguinacio, and Proscuito

Zaz u’s Rodeo Jax, bacon caramel popcorn

January Barbecue Smoked Cider

“… smoked… apples from our farm over oak, pear, and apple wood, then fermented and aged them with a base blend of fresh-pressed Sonoma County-grown traditional cider and heirloom apples… dry, astringent, slightly austere cider with a mellow smoky finish.”

Don’t let smoked in this fool you. Like all of Tilted Shed’s ciders, the flavors are definitely present, but balanced and subtle.

Marcona almonds

Homemade pickles by Joanna Badano (who also set the beautiful table) and Zazu

Gypsy Rose’s washed rind raw goat cheese

Barred Rock Barrel-Aged Cider

“A savory sipper… aged… in Tennessee bourbon barrels. Heady butterscotch on the nose… clove, amaretto, and vanilla notes.”

This cider is the perfect finish to a meal all on its own, but it pairs well with a variety of fruit desserts.

Fig tart

Assorted fresh fruits

* All descriptions written by Ellen Cavalli and appear on their website.