Sunday, April 19, 2015

Strawberries of love, sexy asparagus, glorious fava's in the markets now!

I procured the sweetest little gems of organic strawberries at the Diablo Valley Farmers Market yesterday from Rodriguez Berries out of Watsonville. Perfectly picturesque and they tasted like spring, like love, like candy, like the vision you have in your flavor place memory place in your head good. Yep that good. True season strawberries, not hoop grown with half flavor. Also in hard and strong are local asparagus, favas and green garlic. In my mind one of the holiest of food trinities around and short lived so take advantage while they are local and in our markets.

Long known as a symbol of love and fertility, astrologically governed by Venus closely wound among their tendrils, strawberries are supremely awaited come springtime in the West. Heart shaped, colored in varying shades of pink to red proudly bearing every color of magenta in between, strawberries are representative of love and rebirth, renewal and hope. In South America around 1300 strawberries were used as currency representing life, among other attributes. Romans have long valued strawberries for healing powers reputed to range from gastric ailments to tightening loose teeth. Cherokee mythology romanticizes strawberries as saving their race when the first man and woman quarreled. As she ran away God placed a basket of strawberries in her path tempting her to indulge and as she did her rage turned to love and she returned to her man. Greek mythology firmly places strawberries roots in line with the Goddess Aphrodite whose tears of despair shed by the death of her Adonis fell in little red hearts, strawberries. In the Middle Ages, strawberries were synonymous with temptation and seduction. Chocolate dipped strawberries are one of the most popular selling item come Valentine’s Day second only to the ruby red heart shaped box of chocolates.

Supremely sweet and intoxicatingly fragrant when picked and eaten in season, its no secret that strawberries have long been used as a draw for customers in early spring farmers markets, alluring shoppers as they stroll past fruit laden tables unable to resist the pull of a luscious three pack. Habit forming, when eaten out of the basket, strawberries also have amazing pairing abilities for sweet as well as savory combinations…. Sliced into salads of tender, sweet greens along with local chevre and toasted chopped almonds needing only a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of fruity olive oil this creates a salad rivaling any of the best restaurants offerings. ….. Strawberries macerated in a bit of good balsamic with a dripping of honey spooned over good ice cream could make you swoon and eat a second helping no matter what your brain says. Seduction……Ubiquitous short cake, biscuit style screams for strawberries and sliced fresh figs with fresh orange juice squeezed into the mix to be lavishly garnished with sweetened mascarpone and sprinkled with love to tempt whoever needs tempting.….Grilled strawberries and peaches tossed with lemon oil coated fresh baby arugula showered with toasted prosciutto is a match even Venus could not have dreamed up.  Love, temptation and seduction aside, in season, fresh, local strawberries take the cake and all the frosting for being the most anticipated of spring fruits…..except possibly cherries may be a little competition….


After a long winter, as if by vegetal spirit summons, around mid spring, asparagus makes an ethereal appearance amidst winter vegetable leaden tables at farmers markets. Long or short, thin or fat, as with other important items, size does not matter, personal preference only dictates what lands in heavy shopper bags. Tight tips are a must going from purple to green; firmness does matter, with asparagus having most flavor in the points d'amour ("love tips") that were served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour.
Most of our asparagus heralds out of the central valley of California. Holding great significance in the San Joaquin River Delta, enough so to have Stockton honored with the location of the Asparagus Festival annually, asparagus also figures heavily in Britain with the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire laying claim to title of largest producer in Eastern Europe with an immense weeklong festival honoring the herbaceous spring flowering perennial there too.

Ancient in origin, the medicinal diuretic asparagus is seen pictured in a 3000 year old Egyptian frieze as well as boasting title of mainstay at the Roman festival of Epicurus being used frozen from the previous season. Effects of consuming asparagus relating to scents of urine have long been noted with Marcel Proust stating in a letter to Benjamin Franklin in 1781 that “asparagus transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume.” In A Treatise of all Sorts of Food dated 1702, Louis Lemery says “everybody knows asparagus causes a powerful and disagreeable smell in the urine”. It has been researched well and most scientists believe that it occurs to everyone’s urine but a few are missing an olfactory gene and can’t smell it.
Used as a companion plant to tomatoes, asparagus repels harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants while tomatoes repel the dreaded asparagus beetle. Having opposing seasons of peak production is yet another sweet convenience of nature.

Commencing asparagus season properly requires celebration on all levels of dining…. For breakfast sauté sliced tips and stalks in butter and green garlic and scramble with eggs and chevre consuming with fresh baguette and champagne….. Lunch requires chilled poached asparagus served with mustard vinaigrette and chopped chives while evening consumption demands…. asparagus is tossed with fruity olive oil, garlic and salt and placed on a hot grill to blister tender skins and be drizzled with balsamic. ….Sauté prawns with sliced cremini, sliced asparagus and garlic splashing with vin blanc and enriching with cream to reduce and lap up….. Dipping steamed tips into a soft poached egg sprinkled with cracked sea salt and feathery puffs of grated Manchego serves intimate midnight soirees unforgettably well.

Ancient and exotic, coveted tender, baby pods and big, fat, luscious adults, fava beans are an amazing culinary treat with a short season. Often planted as soil amendment adding nitrogen in infancy and carbon at the end cycle, fava’s are also an incredibly sexy treat to slowly devour. Clip ends off whole baby beans, pod and all, lube up with olive oil and season with salt placing on hot grills. The heat crisps up outer shells while steaming inside pods. In the farmers markets for a few more weeks, their season coincides with green garlic and asparagus creating the spring trilogy so popular among foodies everywhere once exposed. Rack up brownie points for time and energy displayed retrieving those two sumptuous green buds under lush padding. Pop beans from pods blanching a few minutes then ice bath quickly. Slip beans out of yet another shield pondering opportunities. Sautéed simply in olive oil and green garlic is a favorite first of the season prep. Mashed with olive oil, green garlic, lemon and salt and spread on toast, celery or your body, can be breathtaking.  Toss tiny halves into salads combining greens, tangy apricots, chevre and olive oil. Eating seasonally has benefits.



Spring Asparagus Soup w/ Parmesan Toast
2 pounds fresh asparagus, chopped
2 green garlic, cleaned and sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups stock
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
8 to 12 baguette slices
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Sauté green garlic in olive oil until slightly caramelized and transparent. Add asparagus and sauté 3 minutes until bright green. Add stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until asparagus is tender. Add cream, vinegar and nutmeg. Bring back to a boil and turn off heat. Puree with a hand held immersion blender or a regular blender and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle with cheese. Bake in a *350 oven for 8 to 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly and crouton is crispy. Use to garnish soup. Serves 4

Grilled Asparagus w/ Balsamic Vinegar
2 pounds asparagus ends trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Toss asparagus in a bowl with olive oil and salt to coat.
Grill on low heat on a gas grill or on the low temperature end of a charcoal grill.
Grill until the outside skin begins to blister and turn bright green.
Remove from heat and place on a platter. Sprinkle with balsamic and a little more salt to taste. Serves4

Risotto with Green Garlic and Asparagus
1 large red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups Aborio or Carnaroli rice or you can substitute barley for more fiber and protein
about 6 cups stock, heated
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound asparagus, sliced in ¼ in pieces
4 stalks of green garlic, cleaned and sliced
6 ounces of grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly grated pepper
Heat olive oil in a deep, heavy sauce pan. Add onions and sauté for about 4 minutes until they begin to caramelize. Add the rice and sauté for 3 to 4 more minute until the rice becomes opaque and starts to brown. Add a cup of stock and let it come to a boil. Stir well and reduce heat slightly to a simmer. When stock is almost absorbed add another cup and let absorb. Add another cup and keep repeating until risotto is creamy and almost soft. Turn off heat and in another sauté pan heat the olive oil and sauté green garlic and asparagus until both are bright green. Stir into rice and season with parsley, salt and pepper. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 4.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

a short life

Recently there was a really huge loss in our community. A treasured friend's son made a long term decision for a problem that was insurmountable to him. He really and truly felt that this was the only way for him, and he pondered it for many of his 19 years. You really want to go straight to definable reasons and name this kind of devastating action when it happens so close. His Mom does not know what to do. His Dad is suffering. If he could know what his choice would do to his Mom for the rest of her life, would he have chosen death? How can the human mind grasp  this amazing, gifted, sports savvy, talented, funny, seemingly happy young man's decision? How do we explain the unexplainable or reason the unreasonable? Can we accept this choice he made, be sad and move on?  Mental illness and depression are sneaky for sure. We know this now. Jake taught us this. How do the parents move on? Therapy, grief counseling, groups, are they band aids or real tools. God only knows at this point. Its still so raw. It only happened a couple weeks ago. How long until my friend can experience one of her favorite pastimes and joy's in life and let herself listen to music and enjoy it without guilt or simply smile or laugh without guilt? Or anything without guilt? How do you put one foot in front of the other everyday? One other friend who's daughter was tragically killed in an accident last year says fake it till you make it and then a day may come where you notice that you aren't faking today.

I'm a spiritual gal all the way through. My tools include angels, goddesses, tarot cards, flowers, yoga, positivity, anything I can get to help me be a better woman but I can honestly say that I am not sure what I would do in her shoes. I love my friends so much and there is a sense of helplessness in what you can do to help the pain, it will never go away.

If her son had any inkling or was in any frame of mind to have an inkling of the havoc he would wreak, he would not have hurt his Mom like this. So the place we have to go to is once again, mental illness. It is prevalent in our young folks and maybe we could use a little more education regarding this one time solution kids are choosing more frequently these days than in the past. I dont know any answers, I only witness the pain of those left behind to pick up the pieces and move forward. I love this song that Patty Griffin sings and it resonated with me when I was listening to her album for the millionth time and heard it differently. What if this is what Jake meant in his note? "Mom, just climb up to that mountain and listen for God, or whoever your higher power may be. It will help you, I promise". Its what I heard anyway......

RIP Jake. I hope you are supremely happy and navigating your new existence through peace and joy and I'll watch out for your mama as best as I can. Love you kid. Lesley

Patty Griffin - Up To The Mountain (MLK Tribute) - Ver. 2

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kale - It's what's for dinner


All through the Middle Ages Kale was beloved throughout Europe owing to ease of cultivation, nutritional value density in times of depression and bright, clean flavors. Many countries have major traditionally patriotic culinary dishes such as soups and stew that completely revolve around kale to this day. One of the Three Graces in Greek Mythology was named Kale for her tenderness and beauty, a true depiction of Kale, the vegetable. Across Northwestern Spain practically every village boasts huge community gardens burgeoning with six foot high kale and endless potato plants ensuring plenty of love for their regional kale and potato soup, as well as massive fodder for their dairy cows. Celtic vegetable lovers mix sautéed kale with mashed potatoes for the traditional Colcannon, served with sausage and coins to ghouls on Halloween. Savvy Italian gastronomes grow Cavalo Nero or Tuscan Kale as the main ingredient in Ribolitta. During World War ll, kale was acutely present in every victory garden purposely provoking better nutrition during severe food rationing.   
Perfectly composed leaves and stalks filled with sweet nooks and crannies, curly or flat, light to rich algae deep green as well as purple and red tones, kale is an oasis of beauty and nutritionally unfrugal with health invoking attributes. Anti inflammatory inducing big guns such as sulfurophane allow your liver and other organs and cells to better access and detox creating a fountain of youth effect throughout your body. Vitamin K, C, D, fiber, folate, more calcium than milk cup to cup, iron, and protein the list goes on. It’s good for your brain as well owing to a compound called kaempferol working much like resveratrol in red wine creating feelings of euphoria. Kale and chocolate combined could possibly create world peace and life everlasting.

Slice kale stalks and simply sauté in hot olive oil and garlic adding a squeeze of lemon juice to finish for a time constrained narcotic treat. …Tear sweet kale leaves leaving out ribs into a pile and toss with alluring olive oil and sea salt, place on a foil line baking sheet in one layer and bake 325* for 12 minutes creating luminously crunch chips to satisfy pesky crunch attacks…..Boil fresh capallini and toss copious amount of chopped kale into pasta water a minute before draining. Drain all together placing pan back on the flame to add butter and red pepper flakes garnishing with grated reggiano for a divinely inspired illegally fast anytime meal….Chopped kale tossed with sliced white nectarines, sun gold cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and feta, drizzled with fresh lemon juice and lemon oil, salt and pepper creates momentary surrender to logic….. Toss whole kale leaves with olive oil and salt and place on a hot grill for a few minutes to mesmerize with a bit of char and serve alongside herb and lemon marinated grilled prawns or velvety wild salmon napped with fresh tomato salsa…..Ensuring a day’s origins with health and energy completely present in every body particle, the addition of a couple handfuls chopped fresh kale to any smoothie guarantees a lusciously smooth, creamy adjustment of any hunger incurred attitude problems for hours to come. Kale – its what’s for dinner.

Fresh Kale Salad w/ Pomegranate Arils and Fuyu Persimmons
1 large bunch kale of any kind, sliced and washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 to 2 lemons or 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
2 Fuyu persimmons, sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
Sea salt and pepper to taste or Braggs Amino Acids to taste

Toss kale, tomatoes, fruits and green onions in a large salad bowl. Drizzle on lemon juice, zest and olive oil and toss well. Season w/ Braggs or salt. Let sit a few minutes to gently “cook” the kale for a few minutes or up to an hour before serving. Serves 4 to 6.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2015 farmers market lovers calendar is here!!

5th year anniversary of the calendar! Yay! Dave's art is better than ever. Available at Mrs. Dalloways in Berkley, Orchard Nursery in Lafayette, Orinda Books, Rakestraw Books in Danville, Kitchen Table in Walnut Creek and once again in all the 3 Gardener stores in Berkeley, Ferry Plaza and Healdsburg. More locations to come. Also available on my website at www.lelseystilesfoods.com. Also message me at lesleystiles@comcast.net and if possible I will bring it to you!!

Monday, October 13, 2014

persimmons with a chance of rain

As autumn begins to fully engulf the Diablo Valley, it becomes obvious that the sexy fruits of summer are on the wane departing almost as quickly as the seasonal farmers markets close until spring. Tastes must adjust to winter fruits and vegetables and for this writer that is an easy task to accomplish. Apples are everywhere in every shape, size and flavor palette from tart to sweet pleasing all involved. Grapes are massive in their bulk at year round farmers markets and also come in just as many varieties. Thomcord is a really interesting mix of a Thompson seedless, for the sweet no seed person while it is crossed with the Concord grape reminiscent of childhood snatches off the old lady across the streets grape arbor and jam on your P B and J. Seed less, purple and super sweet, brings complete joy with every bite.
Persimmons have gained enormous popularity in the past several years mostly due to the availability of Fuyu varieties. Persimmons are plentiful the world over being grown in over 30 countries for business as well as pleasure. The Unites States doesn't even measure on the export scale coming in even under Iran. Divided into astringent and non astringent varieties both have equal beauty and magnificent taste value. Fuyu persimmons, flat sort of smashed and squat looking translucent orange orbs calyx intact at stem end, are the non astringent kind eaten crunchy as you would an apple. Many different kinds of non astringent persimmons exist out there but most common ones easily found at farmers markets are Fuyu, Chocolate Fuyu and Jiro. Being a little newer to the party than bosom buddy Hachiya, Fuyu’s and friends can be confusing as the massively astringent ones, mainly Hachiya, need to be eaten when totally soft. Not so there but they are still good when they are super ripe and soft to use for baking in cookies and bars….Cut firm Fuyu’s into crunchy romaine and crisp spinach greens along with creamy chevre, toasted almonds and orange segments for a fabulous holiday salad……Any holiday party is enlivened by a bowl of Fuyu’s on the table to be eaten at will.
Elongated heart shaped Hachiya, astringent variety, is sometimes referred to a God’s Pear or Jove’s Apple going back into history when drought or freezes would brutally conquer an area in Asia where they originated, but these trees would be standing with fruit waiting to be picked. Persimmons are extremely generous with healthy agents for our bodies and have staved off hunger over the millennium. Fiber, vitamins C, K, A and iron are present and willing in every one you eat. Hachiya are full of tannins and will cause brutal pucker up if eaten totally unripe. Leave on a counter or if you are in a hurry, place in your freezer till solid and defrost for instant gratification and yummy cookies. Persimmon pudding is a seasonal treat not to be missed. Days of yore had you steam it in a coffee can on top of the stove but I just bake it in the oven for a heartwarming and tummy tingling treat. In Southeast Asian countries after harvesting, 'Hachiya' persimmons are prepared using traditional hand-drying techniques leaving a mysterious white film on the incredibly sugar sweet slices. In some countries fruits of astringent varieties are sealed in jars filled with limewater to get rid of bitterness. Persimmon trees drop their leathery green leaves around October leaving all the bright orange orbs undressed but gorgeously ready for the autumn party.
Until the rains commence, trails on local ridges are astounding in stark beauty. Spider webs caught glistening in the sun, drops of dew trapped by thirsty silk, coyotes frolicking mere yards from you, hawks actively, noisily, musically seeking love and refreshment, owls topping trees of all kinds including us in their secret language among each other, we live in wonderland. Get out and feel it.
Persimmon Cookies
Makes 50 cookies
1 cup butter or coconut oil
¾ cup molasses sugar (from Trader Joes) or turbinado or brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
11/4 cup persimmon pulp (about 2 large or 3 small persimmons)
21/2 cups wheat flour
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fresh ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped and toasted walnuts
1 cup raisins (the dried Thompson Seedless grapes from the Farmers’ Market are awesome)

Preheat oven to 350* and spray cookie sheets with canola oil or line with parchment paper.
Mix flour, salt, soda and spices together and set aside.
Combine butter and sugars and beat until smooth.
Add the egg and persimmon pulp and beat well.
Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated.
Add the raisins and nuts and mix until incorporated.
Drop by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
These cookies are cake like and will seem too soft but pull them out anyway as they will be nice and moist.




more Camino musings

Legs quivering, lungs burning, scaling mountain tops, previously unthinkable to achieve, after an astoundingly steep, rocky climb, we conquer yet another summit. After 350 miles of hiking, we reach the commanding Cruz de Faro. Cross of Light, symbolizing that which is no longer of service to us, can be released to the cross. Worries, troubles, anxieties and anguish can be transferred to a rock, and left under the cross. Accompanying this release of worldly worries, the cross also represents a guiding torch to those who have passed this life before us easing their souls away from sorrow into joyous eternity, leading some to leave a ribbon or gift for those departed loved ones assuring them all is fine down here, no need to worry about us. Traversing the seemingly endless Meseta, plenty of time accrued to transfer cares to our rocks along with wondering how much a rock can absorb. This amazing rose quartz rock, a luminous cross etched in its center, crossed my path, perfect for the long awaited experience of surrender along with a ribbon carried for 350 miles, tying up for Kate and Riley, hoping to ease their worries of family sorrows accumulated in the past year.  
Precariously stepping down the mountain, more difficult than crawling up, the terrain returned to astoundingly beatific, precious villages with winding stone streets, gorgeous stone houses sporting planter boxes overflowing with tender scarlet geraniums delightfully greeted us around every curve. Looking over each valley to cathedral spires in the distance seemed surreal and almost unattainable but there we were looking for shelter and food, a place to wash out our clothes and a glass of wine to complete the day. Scaling two 4200 foot peaks over 6 or 7 hours, we cross into Galicia through the mystical, magical village of O’Cebreiro, imagined or real, images flashed and lost in the same instant of civilizations came before us, guiding us closer to the completion of our journey. Galicia was settled originally by Celts only to be conquered by Spaniards leaving many Druidic traditions intact. Music became laden with bagpipes and kilts were not unusual along with mud made round houses called Palloza’s. As we trudged into Fonfria looking for a nights rest, we came upon the only Albergue available in town and found a room along with a meal. July 25 is the Feast of St. James and we hit it so good. Our hosts had a fiesta planned for the occasion in the manner of the Celts with a Quemate midsummer gathering complete with Aruzo and incantations. Aruzo is white lightning liquor in a pot with apple juice, apples, oranges, peppercorns, coffee beans a whole lot of sugar and some other secret ingredients. Our hostess, Angela of Celtic and Spanish ancestry, holds forth at  the  ceremony, mixing the cauldron and lighting it on fire, issuing incantations meant to release fears holding us back from anything for the year ahead. Lights out, pot ablaze, singing and shouting, we pass a delightfully amazing evening culminating savoring the torte de St Jacques, an almond and orange tart, breathtaking, intoxicating.   
We used every ounce of that ceremony to complete an unkillable distance to Sarria, a brutally hilly, blazing sun day of 20 miles that ended with yet another of these wonderful villages that for some inexplicable reason has 100 steps up, literally, I counted, to get into old town and our pension our evening slumber. Well worth the effort into a village offering traditionally succulent seafood as well as an uncompromising view of town through our window plus the added perk of being shocked awake at midnight by exciting, brilliant fireworks celebrating a local wedding. Sarria represents the last 100 kilometers of the Camino where many people commence their journey as the government awards anyone completing minimum the last 100 km of the trail with the Compostela or certificate of completion. Our trip changed overnight as all the “short timers” crowded the trail as we were following the sunrise out of town the next morning. More people than we had seen in 5 weeks. Smoking, loud, music blaring out of phones accosted us at every turn. Culture shock we needed to get used to. We saw many injuries as people carelessly ran and power walked the 60 miles to get their piece of paper. A few mornings later as we started out with headlamps, chasing the sun, our last day on our path into Santiago arrived. Mixed emotions logically rise to the surface as 35 days of backpacking come to a close. Passing by a huge Albergue, 500 beds, on the outskirts of Santiago, I emotionally tumbled into the enormity of our adventure. Tears filled my eyes as I at last found Santiago in my focus below us. Sorrow and joy, blended into a luscious soufflé of adventure and liberation permeating every cell as our last view of the amazing cathedral appeared on the horizon. Santiago greeted us with live music scattered about the old town along with fireworks and crowds of raucous party people celebrating the last day of July signaling the end of the feast of St. James in the village where his body lies beneath stones in the enormous and hallowed cathedral. After completing the trail with a trip to the end Of The World, Finnistere, on the Spanish Pacific Ocean, with a coastline rivaling our Big Sur’s, as the billowing botefumeiro swayed back and forth spilling incense perfumed plumes of smoke at our final pilgrim mass, I reflected on many wonderful new friends met on the trail with uncountable lessons on survival and endurance in my heart. The Camino De Santiago, a journey for the books and one recommended highly by this unboundingly grateful pilgrim and I vow to use the steely strength I gathered physically and emotionally to embrace new as well as old challenges in my life, overcoming and assisting where I may. Buen Camino.