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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Picking Hops at Sauly's

Last Saturday, I had the chance to go pick some hops from the hop bines of my long time friend Saul. Saul and I went to school together in junior high and high school. As it turned out, I eventually landed about 6 blocks away from him, in our mutual new home town of San Leandro. And it was here, that Saul planted 5 hop rhizomes, and has nurtured then along for many years. He has a mix of Cascade and Nugget hops, which I have already had the chance to brew with, but, now had the chance to join in the harvest. Here are the bines, all wired up and ready for picking.

Hop Bines

So, that shows the bines, prior to harvest. A note, I know how to spell. Hops grow on bines, technically, a bine is a plant that climbs by entwining a support structure, as opposed to using aerial roots or tendrils. The bines in the above image, are on a 25 foot tall supports structure, with an ingenious pulley system, that not only allows harvest of the hops, but, allows for growth exceeding 25 feet. As the bines reach the 25 foot mark, Saul lowers the ropes through the pulley, giving him more room. These bines were actually closer to the 35 foot mark.

Hop Clusters

Here are the hops still on the plant, the actual hop that we are interested in, is a flower, that grows in clusters, hanging from the terminal of the branches of the bine. The hops appear as cones, and are often mislabelled as flowers, In truth, they are strobiles, cone structures that house the reproduction for the plant. The resin, which is what makes hops so valuable to brewers, is a yellow powder that is located along the central core of the hop. These are actually quite beautiful structures as they hang amongst the dark green leaves.

Hop Strobile/Flower/Cone

Just a glamour shot of a large and quite lovely hop strobile. This is something you never see at a brew shop, the large, fresh, hydrated version of the little green pellets or smashed up petals in a vacuum pack. These are far less delicate than they look, but, so valuable to a brewer, you want to take a little extra care when handling them anyway. I also found out, that the billions of tiny hair like thorns on the bines, which I blithely ignored (after all, I am the son of a rose grower) actually scratched up my arms so much, it took two days for the feeling of burning to calm down. Next time, long sleeves.

Tub o' Hops

And the end result, this is actually around 2/3rds of what was on the plants. Saul estimated that this would make about 5 batches of ale. These will be air dried and then Saul vacuum packs them for use throughout the year. I ended up with about 15 ounces to take home, which will end up as around 3 ounces of hops once dried. I will be brewing a Saul ale at that time. What a great time I had, both with the fact that I got to experience the harvest of an integral part of one of my hobbies, and for the fact that I was able to catch up again with my friend Saul and his lovely wife Carla, whom I also went to high school with. There are not a lot of better ways to spend an afternoon.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Food Trends Week

This past week was spent on the move, from Carmel, CA to Willits, CA, and hitting the home base for a day or two in between. And due to that, there was precious little cooking, but, a fair amount of eating that was accomplished. One of the key things for my life, is good coffee, which I have yet to find a great place in Willits, but, I do love the Carmel Roasting Company for very decent coffee every morning. I did sneak in a visit to Blue Bottle, for a latte, and they never disappoint. One of the best pulls anywhere. Along the way:

The Parkburger with Fried egg

Park Burger in Oakland, is one of the latest additions to the upscale burger trend in Bay Area food, and this place did not disappoint. It was not cheap, and it was not a challenger for what I consider to be my benchmark for burger joints in the Bay Area, that would be Kronnerburger in San Francisco. But, this was quality meat, and excellent presentation, they offer a fried egg, huge plus there. The fries, onion rings and sweet potato fries were all excellent. Definitely a place to go to again. It successfully fits into the local burger scene, by being both trendy and distinct.

Shorty Goldstein's Pastrami

Yet another addition, to the trend of house cured meats and pickles, Shorty Goldstein's in the Financial District of San Francisco, featuring their own cured corned beef, and smoked pastrami, house sour pickles, that are clearly soured and not dill, and a house mustard that has a great kick of horseradish. All great stuff, the pastrami sandwich I had used a cracked seed Rye bread, and the pastrami was terrific. As good as any I have had, tender, chunky, salty, all things it should be. I am lukewarm about sour pickles, so that these being great sour pickles, means I am greatly lukewarm about them. The cole slaw, though, is a different story, and exceptional slaw, that worked great as a complement to the pastrami. I would buy this slaw if I was cooking pulled pork. This was the second great slaw I have had in a week, with my friend Hiroo's edging it out, but, both being very original.

Main Street BBQ

I created for myself a little embargo on BBQ restaurants for this season, and have been pretty good about not going into any BBQ place since April. This was the exception, it was 110F outside in Willits, and I did not want Mexican food, so this new BBQ joint was the place. And it was a surprise. I consider brisket to be the measure of how good a cook is, in terms of BBQ. Pulled pork is too easy, ribs as well. Have the patience and understanding to cook and hold a good brisket and you get my attention. The couple running Main Street BBQ in Willits, CA are doing a great job. The brisket flat was excellent, tender with that dry edge of real smoked brisket. They serve it unsauced, and offer a thin, vinegar and pepper heavy red sauce, or a uber-tangy mustard sauce. I tried both, and both were excellent. I associate thin, vinegar and pepper heavy sauces with Kansas City and mid-south BBQ. The couple hail from Georgia, and this reflects in the cooking. The slaw was creamy, which I associate with foods other than brisket, but, it was tasty as well.

I am not travelogue writer or restaurant critic, instead, what I found with these three distinct food places, was that there are folks creating their own spins, on classic foods, looking to raise the bar on local and everyday foods, in such a way as to appeal to our memories of foods, while elevating past fast foods, or the mundane of yet another burger, yet another mass market pastrami or just copying BBQ from some other place. I love the story of cooks who care about making good food.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day on the Bay-Dead Oyster-style

Tomales Bay, that is. Today found four of us on Tomales Bay, with some unlucky oysters and clams, several different sausages, a couple of different sauces and some beer. It was a beautiful day to be waterside at The Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Kevin has prepared a mignonette of some form, along with some "Rockefeller Mix", some Tabasco and some Chinese BBQ sauce. The plan was to just hang out, enjoy the day and play around with food. This is always a good plan.

Bag of Smalls

 Naturally, we started with just popping them open, adding a little lemon, Tabasco and some of Kevin's Mignonette. Raw oysters from Tomales Bay are always sweet and mild. From there, we started some charcoal, and started roasting things. Some oysters were filled with the "Rockefeller Mix" and roasted on the fire, then I arrived and more of the same occurred.


Some sliced Portobellos and sausages were then onto the grill, which was a fortunate thing, as these make a great complement to oysters, and to the clams that were soon to follow. We actually coated the mushrooms partway through with some Chinese BBQ sauce, which comes in a large tin, and appears to be a mixture of oil, ground dried fish and roasted shallots. Intense, to say the least, it melted onto the mushrooms and tripled the umami. Then the clams were dumped onto the grill.

The Mixed Grill

 And here we have a mess of food, the mushrooms just about done, the clams popping, some of the filled oysters roasting and of course, the sausages. Everything just sort of trickled off of the grill over the period of an hour or so, the open spaces filling just as slowly. The clams made a great complement to the sausage, a classic pairing of briny clam and salty pork, if you slid a bite of mushroom in there, you have an 'off-the-grill' version of a Classic Chinese dish I know as Clam Sycee.

I really enjoyed the day, and that is always enough, to be with friends, to meet some new people, eat some good food, that is always a good day. Interestingly though, joining my friends Kevin, Jason and I were a couple of guys from 'over the pond'. And they brought up an interesting point. They mentioned the fact that they couldn't believe that we could get so many oysters from such a small bay. In explaining to them about the bay, it reminded me of what an amazing location the Bay Area is, and really, how we benefit so much from living here. It is easy to take for granted, until a person with a new viewpoint reminds you of the great resources we have around us.