For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Central Coast Oyster Festival 2013

I can slurp a raw oyster just fine. Follow it down with a swish of sparkling wine, even better. But last Saturday I discovered oysters in a new light. At the Second Annual Central Coast Oyster Festival, San Luis Obispo County chefs and restaurants elevated these shell bearing bi-valve mollusks to new culinary heights.

Barbequed, wrapped in puff pastry, served as ceviche, escabeche...you name it, oysters were the edible star of the show. Gobbled up all day long at this live music festival by thousands of guests, serenaded by the nifty sounds of musical acts Smallpools, Vokab Kompany, Diego's Umbrella, TROPO, Forrest Day, and He's My Brother She's My Sister, local oysters rocked the house. 

Sojournersmany under the guise of food and music enthusiasts, others masquerading as locals and out-of-towners who just wanted to hang out in the relaxed atmosphere and listen to live tunesconverged on the inviting green grasses of the Morro Bay Golf Course. Surrounded by modern art installations; rows of food, beer, wine and art vendors; and studded by the SLO Brew Music Stage, this noon-to-eight party brought the ultimate field day.

Located just a stone's throw from Morro Bay Harbor, coastal fog and a cool atmosphere made an appearance, only to get squashed by the sun's shimmering arrival. But no matter what the sky delivered, the mellow, contented crowd jived to the melodic tunes and indulged in the audacious oyster fare that was par for the course. 
Oysters, oysters, and more oysters were the hotand colditem of the day. Pictured on the far right is the cool creation of Executive Chef Neil Smith of Windows on the Water in Morro Bay. Oyster ceviche! An elegant fusion of papayas, tomatoes, coconut milk, macadamia nuts and micro greens accompanied this raw, citrus-marinated, tasty bite from the sea.

Hot-off-the-grill giant oysters! Morro Bay's Tognazinni's Dockside Restaurant kept the hungry crowd coming back for more of these freshly shucked giant monsters, smothered in butter, garlic and lemon.

SLO Brew, a major sponsor of the Central Coast Oyster Festival, served up specialties from their brewpub and produced the music stage. I imbibed in their spunky Reggae Red, a dry-hopped red ale made with wheat malt and roasted hemp seeds.


At this gratifying festival, there was something for everyone. Everything from cigars, artwork, beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks, oysters galore, as well as tasty bites from the land were available for purchase. After I'd had my fill of oysters, I sat down on a plush red velvet chair at Granada Bistro's Gypsy Caravan and devoured a tasty beef slider covered in delectable melted cheddar cheese.


The art installations set up for the day's spirited event, rigged by Bamboo DNA and SpinCycle, granted striking symmetrical bamboo structures and shady lounge areas. 
Supposedly Casanova used to breakfast on 50 oysters. The Aphrodisiac Lounge was the place to hang for a shuckin' good time.
Pictured from left to right, musical greats: He's My Brother She's My Sister; Diego's Umbrella; and the headliners, Smallpools. The idyllic golf course presented the perfect backdrop for guests to set up chairs and take in the sounds.
This colorful critter rocked to the sterling harmony of indie pop band, Smallpools.

Oysters. Music. The Central  Coast. 

Shuck on!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Delicate Soup

If you've never had delicata squash before, you're missing out. I won't try and explain the flavor, but let's suffice to say that this variety hits home for me. Maybe it will for you too. 

With a light, striped outer color and a soft orange fleshy interior, once cooked, this squash is delicate in taste...just plain good. Over the past few weeks I've received a few of these pretty fall favorites in my weekly produce box from Talley Farms Fresh Harvest box. 

My mom recently sent me a recipe for kabocha squash soup, which planted the seed for the following concoction. I threw the following elements together Sunday evening and thoroughly enjoyed the aftereffect. In addition to the delicata squash, this recipe encompasses the yams, carrots and green onions that also helped fill this week's carton from Talley.

I'm not even going to tell you that this recipe is delicious, healthy, reminiscent of the autumn season, and something good you can do for yourself. It just is. 

SLO DELICATA SQUASH SOUP RECIPE

Serves 2


Ingredients:

1 delicata squash
1 yam
5 small carrots
4 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper 
Dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
32 oz. vegetable broth 
1 stalk green onion, chopped (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel the yam, carrots and delicata. Scoop the seeds out of the squash and cut these three vegetables into bite-sized chunks. Place in a large glass baking dish and add the peeled garlic and olive oil. Toss to coat the oil evenly then add the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir and then place in the oven for 50 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to toss the medley every 15 minutes or so. When time is up, remove from the oven and transfer the roasted veggies to a soup pot. 

Add the broth, beans, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and ginger to the pot. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low, cover with a lid and let simmer for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat for 5 -10 minutes and let it stand. Get out your blender and puree about half the soup mixture and add it back into the pot. Taste and adjust for seasonings; serve individual bowls sprinkled with chopped green onion. 

Revel in the warm fall flavors.





Sunday, October 13, 2013

SLO Harvest

Once in a while it's nice to let someone else make the decisions. As a new patron of Talley Farms Fresh Harvest box, once a week I have the pleasure of picking up freshly harvested fruits and vegetables that have already been selected for me. No choosing, no shopping, just a huge carton of lovely food that I can utilize throughout the week. 

Since 1948, Talley Farms has been growing fresh produce in Arroyo Grande, and in 2012 they launched their terrific harvest in a box program. With convenient pick-up locations around San Luis Obispo County, they deliver a taste of in-season crops. This past week they produced cartons full of carrots, radishes, artichokes, yellow beans, heirloom tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, basil, green grapes, raspberries, avocados, lemons, bell peppers, as well as delicata and yellow squash varieties. Most of their allotment comes from their own farm, some is sourced from other local Caifornia growers, and a lot of what ends up in the box is organic. Works for me.

The red and green bell peppers I received in my shipment were the largest I've ever seen (these two giants were the equivalent of four regular sized), and I knew what I had to do: roast and char these beauties to bring out their distinctive flavors. Below is a recipe that my brotheran accomplished home cook who lives miles away in Europemade for my family when visiting a few years ago. Here is my version of his wonderful pasta dish.

SLO PEPPERS 'N PASTA RECIPE

Serves 2 - 4

Ingredients:

4 roasted bell peppers (different colors are fine)
1 handful fresh basil leaves (stems includedjust rip off a handful from a large bunch)
1 handful freshly grated Parmesan cheese (roughly 1/3 cup)
1/4 - 1/2 cup heavy cream
I - 2 garlic cloves, pressed (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
12 oz. dried penne pasta 
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions: 

Set your oven on broil. Place your whole, washed bell peppers on a baking sheet to roast under the heat. The amount of time will vary depending on the size of your peppers, but expect anywhere between 15 - 30 minutes. Watch the peppers carefully, turning with tongs as each side starts to char and blacken. You will know when they're done as they will be evenly charred on all sides, their juices will start to leak, and they will be soft to the touch with the tongs. 

Remove from the oven and place in a glass bowl, then cover with saran wrap. This will cause the peppers to steam, the bowl will collect any juices, and 20 - 30 minutes later when they are cool enough to handle, you can peel the skin off. When you discard the skin, pull out the stem and scoop out any seeds you find. Whatever you do, don't rinse them off in waterthis washes away flavor. 


When the peppers are ready to be peeled, heat up water to boil the pasta. After peeling the peppers, place the flesh in a blender (as well as any juices from the bowl) with a bit of salt and pepper, 1/4 cup of cream, and a handful each of the basil and cheese. Add the pressed garlic if you'd like a bit of zing. Blend until well incorporated and taste. This is one of those recipes where you need to adjust until you please your palate. The consistency should be slightly thick and taste absolutely delicious when you taste-test with a spoon. Add more seasonings and/or cream if desired. 

Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente consistency. When pasta is done, drain and then add back to the pan with the olive oil and pepper sauce. Stir and heat through for a few minutes. Serve garnished with a bit of basil. 



SLO Peppers 'n Pasta. An easy decision.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Cambria Scarecrow Festival 2013

Every October, Cambria's modest population of less than 7,000 creeps up a bit—at least temporarily. During this autumn month, community spirit rouses new inhabitants who line the streets of this way-out town's East and West Villages. Some of these short-lived guests have familiar faces, others resemble figments of the imagination, and some are just plain scary. But all have one thing in common: They are the Cambria scarecrows

As a tradition that began in 2009, this year's nearly 400 fanciful harvest helpers adorn the art shops, churches, restaurants, beverage houses, and other beguiling businesses that make this California Central Coast town such a favored stop on Highway 1. During this season, when many parts of the country slip quietly into brisk fall weather, Cambria's neck of the woods shines bright in the midst of its warm Indian Summer. 

My visit over the weekend granted blue skies touched with light, feathery clouds and temperatures that inched up to around 80 degrees—perfect conditions for scarecrow stalking. Lured by these intriguing, fleeting villagers who bask in the glowing weather, as well as the promise of rolling landscape dotted with fresh pine trees and a dazzling coastline, San Luis Obispo County's small Bohemian town was well worth the visit. 

  During October's thirty one days, Cambria's Scarecrow Festival drives community spirit to come alive.
The town's businesses welcome their annual scarecrows, as well as scores of visitors.
Santa Rosa Catholic Church brought bystanders this class act of Scary Habits.

The Wise Owl conceived of its own, unique nocturnal bird of prey, while a local 4-H group breathed life into a tin man. Slabtown Rollers wowed everyone with a spoke-turning, spinning group of "cyclists through the ages", while The Painted Lily Gallery displayed Heavens to Betsy, an exquisite creation by local artist Sara Blair-Field.

You probably recognize Marilyn Monroe and Mary Poppins. But who's on the left? That's actor Jimmy Stewart and his invisible friend Harvey.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo sits outside Las Cambritas restaurant, while the beloved character Edward Scissorhands helps lure customers in need of a haircut at the Hair Port.
Cambria, neatly tucked away between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is the home to many inventive businesses. Wives, feel free to drop off your husbands at Cambria Ale House while you take in the rest of the free-flowing shops.

The artful scarecrows found their way to other parts of Cambria. The hotels and restaurants on Moonstone Beach Drive also got into the act.  From left to right: a great white shark devours an unfortunate fisherman at The Sea Chest Oyster Bar; a plein air artist captures the local view at Pelican Inn & Suites; a skydiver meets a tree at Fog Catcher Inn.

These poor souls took their last ride at The Blue Whale Inn and Little Sur Inn.

I don't suppose my day of exploration would have been complete without some wine tasting. Beckoned outside by a vinous vixen, I howled with the moon at Twin Coyotes Winery on Main Street. Within the cool interior of their tasting room, I found the crisp white vermentino, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay particularly alluring on this warm fall afternoon. Twin Coyotes belongs to the Pacific Coast Wine Trail, a group of seven coastal wineries that stretch from San Simeon to Cayucos. I have no doubt that I'll be back for more reconnaissance.

Even though I don't visit Cambria as often as I should, I'm pleased that I went out to experience the local wine...the fabulous weather...the community spirit...and especially, the imaginative scarecrows. After all, these festive events bring a little splash to life.
Wave splash at Moonstone Beach in Cambria.


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