Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunset Celebration Weekend: Fabulous Frickle, My Favorite Candy, and the Incredible Potato Tower

Ever since I was a kid, I've been reading Sunset magazine.  My mom always subscribed to it, and once I graduated from college I subscribed too. Over the years I've enjoyed the creative, upbeat tone of Sunset and its array of ideas for the Western home, garden, travel, and food. Now that I think about it, it's probably the magazine I've read the longest, for about forty years (egads!).

Sunset's headquarters office is just a few miles away in our town of Menlo Park. Every summer Sunset hosts a Celebration Weekend with a variety of demonstrations, hands-on activities, foods, beer & wine, and exhibits. This year my husband Brad and I took our 10-year-old daughter Amanda to check it out. Among the highlights:

- Numerous food stands where we tried not only the usual lemonade and kettle corn but also Fabulous Frickle fried pickles, Acme bread, Recchiuti Fleur de Sel Caramels and Spring Jasmine Tea chocolates, Straus yogurt, and my favorite candy in the whole wide world, R & J Toffees premium almond toffee. Needless to say, I bought a bag of the toffee! We also bought an Acme walnut loaf, some of the best bread around.

- Gourmet food trucks including Seoul on Wheels Korean BBQ and Sam's Chowdermobile.

- A variety of wines and beers. Brad's favorite beers were the Lagunitas India Pale Ale and the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra India Pale Ale.

- A tour of the Sunset test kitchens where all their recipes are created and perfected. Surprisingly, the food staff is not made up of professional chefs, just really good cooks. They publish about 35 recipes in each monthly issue, and each is tested about five times before it's printed. Since they have 3-12 month leadtimes, sometimes they have to go to great lengths to create their recipes out of season. Our guide told us one time they spent $80 making a strawberry pie!

- Making an original munch mix with Amanda using Post cereals, popcorn, and pretzels. This mixture can then be customized by combining with various seasonings and baked. They have many fun recipes on their website for all kinds of cereal snack mixes.

- Exploring the Sunset gardens and chicken coop, with an emphasis on fruit and vegetable gardening. One of the most clever ideas I saw was the Potato Tower, an ingenious way of growing potatoes that saves space, creates 2-3X the usual yield, and requires no digging! You can just reach in and get your potatoes when they're grown or undo the tower and watch all the grown potatoes tumble out.

We enjoyed wandering around, listening to the live music, seeing the exhibits, and smelling the wonderful foods. Celebrity chefs demonstrated their cooking prowess all weekend, featuring recipes to try for yourself.

What a treasure to have Sunset in our home town. I'm already looking forward to next year's celebration.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Very Berry Crisp with Webb Ranch U-Pick Berries

What could better than picking and eating fresh, delicious, organic berries? We're fortunate to have a local gem of a farm that opens its berry fields for picking every June. The Webb Ranch in Portola Valley has been owned and operated by the Webb family since 1922. They began by planting strawberries and have since expanded to include a variety of vegetables including corn, green beans, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes and bell peppers. The ranch operates a local farmers' market open daily on Alpine Road near the 280 freeway, and its U-pick berry farm is just a bit farther west up Alpine Road. Webb Ranch is widely known for its corn picked hourly. They never sell day-old corn, instead feeding it to their pasture horses.

Our whole family has enjoyed picking berries there for about five years. Some tips for picking:

- Wear sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable, closed-toed shoes
- Pick inside the bush for berries with the best flavor
- Ripe berries come off easily
- Look for the berries with dark coloring
- Bring gloves since some of the vines have thorns

The ranch planted 6,000 new berry plants last season so this year's crop is particularly abundant. And there's an impressive variety of berries available: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and loganberries.

Telltale signs of successful berry picking include berry stains on hands and mouth, purplish lips, and a big smile. Of course the berries are delicious fresh, but we also love them with whipped cream and baked in a berry crisp. One of my favorite desserts is fruit crisp, especially when made with ripe, flavorful fruit. Below is a berry crisp recipe that I've had for so long I can't remember where I got it. Even though I can't trace the originator, I know that whoever created this recipe has left a delectable legacy for all those who have enjoyed it.

Very Berry Crisp

5 cups fresh berries of your choice
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup regular rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, separated
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chopped nuts or coconut

1. Place washed fruit in a 2-quart square baking dish. Stir in the granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour.

2. For topping, in a medium bowl combine the oats, brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour and nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the nuts or coconut. Sprinkle topping over filling.

3. Bake crisp in a 375 F degree oven for 30 minutes or until fruit is tender and topping is golden. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or your favorite vanilla ice cream. Makes 6 servings.

Berry crisp is best eaten outdoors after a nice summer meal. It tastes even better if you picked the berries yourself. Look at the luscious berry colors, smell the intoxicatingly sweet, buttery fragrance, and dig in. It's summertime!