The Great Goat Cheese Giveaway!

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My love for cheese, namely French cheese has remained no mystery here.  In fact, I recently made and chronicled two pilgrimages to France, specifically to explore and taste French cheese.  I spent the majority of that time in a state of transcendent bliss, savoring many examples of uniquely shaped French goat cheese.

Fortunately for you, there is a wide range of goat cheese – both domestic and international available in the U.S.  From fresh chèvre, to runny and pungent triple crème styles, to firm aged goat examples.

To learn more about goat cheese as well as great pairings, head over to the Culture Magazine site.  Today you’ll find my post with two recipes: one for Stone Fruit Chutney which pairs beautifully with Le Chevrot and another for Pasta with Chèvre d’Argental and Slow Roasted Early Girls.

GIVEAWAY!

I am giving away 5 French goat cheeses so you can test, taste, and create your own recipes. You will also receive a package of tried and true recipes for inspiration, trivia cards so you can learn a little bit of history on French goat cheeses, and temporary tattoos to wear your love for Original Chèvre.

TO ENTER: Write a Haiku about your love for French goat cheese. A Haiku is 3 short lines (1st line 5 syllables, 2nd line 7 syllables, 3rd line 5 syllables). Post your Haiku in the ‘Comments’ section of this post. You MUST leave your email address in the field where it is requested, it will not be visible to the public, only to me. Do not leave your email address in the body of your comment. You can also enter to win on the CWC Facebook page – there, simply leave your Haiku, no email address, and I’ll make contact if you’re the winner. The winner will be selected on October 1.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Culture Cheese magazine and Goat Cheeses of France for sending me goat cheese samples and providing me the opportunity to participate in this promotion, I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post on the blog. 

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Southern Hosptality in Central Berkeley

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I devoured some mighty fine ribs and brisket today at Smoke Berkeley. My tongue is still tingling from the full-flavored barbecue sauce, slathered atop perfectly smoked pork. Oh and the sides. We ordered two: slow-cooked baked beans and creamy, spicy mac n’ cheese. Each worthy of an encore.

There has been much well-deserved buzz about this new, unassuming BBQ joint located at 2434 San Pablo Avenue Berkeley. Had it not been for my dad’s urging to join him on a new rib joint expedition, I likely wouldn’t have ventured over to Smoke. I’m so pleased I did.

What I was most taken with was the authentic Southern hospitality we encountered just as soon as the doors opened at noon. It was down right refreshing. Sean, our way-hip and amiable host (also the son of the restaurant’s owner Tina Ferguson-Riffe), welcomed us with his warm smile, a slight Texas drawl, and genuine graciousness. He proudly displayed an heirloom photo of his ancestors from Texas, pointing to his great-great, as well his great-grandfather. It felt like being welcomed into someone’s living room…a very smoky living room. Thank you kindly for the pie and the Southern hospitality, Sean. We will return.

 Sean, our gracious pie pusher, sitting beside a photo of his ancestors from Texas.


Sean, our gracious pie pusher, sitting along side a photo of his ancestors from Texas.

My dad Manny, with a perfect portion of ribs and some sweet tea.

My dad Manny, taken with his perfect portion of ribs and some sweet tea.

A New Generation of Curd-Nerds

Cheese 101When locating your true calling, a commonly asked question is “what opportunity would you jump at whether or not you were paid?” The answer that trips effortlessly off my tongue is “share my insane passion for cheese, most ideally with children.”

This summer, I had the privilege of doing just that; teach two sessions of Cheese 101 For Kids at the A Little Yumminess Around the World Summer Camp in San Francisco. When my friends from the blog-o-sphere Simran and Stacie, the camp producers, presented the opportunity, I did a graceless pirouette and leapt at the chance.

In preparing for my sessions, I received valuable guidance from Lassa Skinner, owner of Culture Magazine who was also generous in providing free issues as a takeaway for campers. I offered four cheeses for tasting: fresh goat cheese (chevre), French camembert, Basque sheep’s milk cheese, and gorgonzola dolce. I wanted the campers to sample three types of milk: cow, goat, sheep; and a range of textures from soft, perishable fresh chevre to firm alpine-style cheese.

When I stood before the class of eager campers for the first time and introduced myself as a self-described “cheese nerd,” I knew in that moment that what I was doing felt very right.

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Before tasting, I encouraged the campers to utilize every sense in the process. First, look at the cheese; pick up and touch the cheese to analyze texture; inhale the aromas; finally, place the cheese on their tongue and savor before gobbling it up. I was most impressed with the adjectives (goaty, stinky, tart, mushroomy, etc.) that these sophisticated city dwellers used to describe the selections and encouraged them to write their impressions on tasting notes that I created in partnership with Stacie the resident artist and co-director. One camper amusingly described the aroma of an aged goat cheese by offering “it smells like hotel room.” Wait! What?

We ended our discussion by pondering what recipes we could create using each of the cheeses: pastas, pizzas, salad toppings, not to mention grilled cheese sandwiches and mac n’ cheese.

Not every cheese was loved by every camper, but they were adventurous in sampling each offering. I felt honored to share in their impressions and have the opportunity to infect them with my love for cheese. As I was preparing to leave the last of the two sessions, a boy walked up to me and volunteered “I think I’m going to be a cheese nerd!” I responded in kind with a super geeky high-five, then walked out into the street, beaming with pride.

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Inhaling India

Ordinarily, I don’t shy away easily from ethnic home cooking, but there is something about a long list of Indian spices, the need for a special spice grinder, exotic ingredient procurement and preparation – inevitably involving a trip to Vik’s Market in Berkeley – that stops me in my tracks when pondering a home-cooked Indian feast.

Enter Simran and Stacey of A Little Yumminess fame – both friends, fellow bloggers, passionate home chefs, and kindred spirits.

On Sunday afternoon, I participated in their Flavors of India class at one of my favorite destinations in San Francisco for breaking bread with community, 18 Reasons. My hope was that these gals would demystify Indian home cooking for me. They took on no small task in teaching this class. The lengthy list of recipes included: Channa Dhal, Homemade Madras Curry Powder, Shrimp “Curry in a Hurry,” Indian-Spiced Creamed Spinach, Spiced-Roasted Cauliflower, Turkey Chappali Kebabs, Carrot Raita, Coriander Chutney, Parantha, and Chai Masala.

In close quarters with fellow enthusiasts from all walks of life, we were walked through each recipe with patience, passion, and humor. Simran described each spice that we would soon be cooking with, then passed fragrant jars around for inspection. I stood there inhaling India.

The class soon divided into smaller groups and in the adjacent kitchen, we began to cook. With Stacey and Simran at our side, assisting and tasting with their trained palates, we swiftly and successfully prepared a lavish Indian feast. Before long the veil of mystery had been lifted.

I can envision recreating many of these dishes at home with Caleb and Sadie, the most memorable included the Carrot Raita, Turkey Chappali (in place of lamb for availability) simmered in a spicy cream sauce, and the Shrimp “Curry in a Hurry.” Truth to tell, every recipe was outstanding and tasted better than most dishes I’ve ordered at Indian restaurants. Demystification accomplished.

Part I: What Happens in Paris…

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…gets blogged about the moment I return!

Just home from three days in Dublin, followed by a week in Paris with my family, I am basking in the glow of every moment spent exploring together. We’ll call it ‘the taste of two cities’ or ‘the Soltero walking and eating (and eating and eating) tour’.

The Food in Paris

Both Caleb and Sadie were amazing, hiking for miles around the city, day after day with little to no kvetching. The trick? Promises of flaky croissants and warm chocolate chaud….and some French cheese for good measure.

When we were on to a good lead, the food in Paris was phenomenal: from a buttery croissant just out of the oven, to an ice cream cone enjoyed on Île Saint-Louis, to onion soup – gooey melted cheese atop a slice of bread soaking up the soup beneath, slow cooked lamb stew, buttery, flaky mille-feuille, poached egg spilling over a batch of white asparagus, escargot with parsley pesto, perfectly ripened unpasteurized goat cheese shmeared on a baguette de tradition…I could go on and on.

Experiencing Paris through Caleb and Sadie’s eyes (and taste-buds) was a rare treat and I was impressed by their utter sense of adventure, especially when experiencing new cuisine. Paris is certainly the city to fall or be in love…and in love I was with my amazing family.

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A Cheese Making Class for Kids? Moooo!

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One point has been established repeatedly on this blog…I love cheese…I’m a cheese luva…I frequently obsess about the next piece of cheese to savor. If I’m going to be considered any kind of enabler in this lifetime, I’m down with ‘cheese pusher’ and my children are easy prey as they love almost any variety of cheese I put in their path. I don’t think you need any further convincing.

Last weekend, I brought Caleb and Sadie into the City for a workshop called Cheesemaking for Kids at 18 Reasons in the Mission District. I have participated in many cheese making classes, but this is the first one I had seen that was geared toward children. I wasted no time and registered both kiddos and I volunteered to photograph the class, simply to get a contact high off the experience.

DSC_0339Louella Hill, known as the Milk Maid and owner of her eponymous business, teaches adults and children how to make a variety of cheese, including fresh chevre, burrata, mozzarella, ricotta to name a few. The class, which was made up of a very diverse group of pint-sized city dwellers, started out with a rather sophisticated cheese tasting. Caleb especially did not shy away from even the most pungent of offerings. I kvelled a little. Before long, Louella was instructing the students on how to make crème fraiche, basic cheese, and mozzarella.

All of the children, including several parents who hung around, asked great questions and were genuinely excited to learn about the science of cheese making. Louella, a skilled instructor, did a fabulous job packing a ton of great lessons in a short period of time adding an equal dose of levity and fun for good measure. Caleb and Sadie came away with a few samples of cheese they had actually made in class and they were proud of their accomplishments. I am just thrilled that they both seem equally primed to follow in my cheese-addicted footsteps. There are worse fates to wish upon your children.

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18 Reasons

Ardenwood Farm Adventure

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Last weekend, our family paid our first visit to Ardenwood Farm in Newark. What I should be asking myself with a critical finger wag is, “What took us so long!? ” Ardenwood is a not-to-be-missed outdoor family destination. Just across the road from several big-time offender fast food chains, this pristine property is truly a century’s leap back in time. It stands in stark contrast to the modern world surrounding it.

The farm was originally owned by the Patterson family from the 1850s and continues to grow the same kind of produce that was farmed in the region in the last 100 years, utilizing agricultural practices from that time. The centerpiece of the property is a grand and well cared for Victorian home (not pictured), which housed the family for three generations. They have since bequeathed the farm to the City of Fremont and it has been operated by the East Bay Regional Park District since the 1970’s.

We didn’t have a chance to tour the home on our first visit, but we traversed the grounds and attended a Monarch butterfly puppet show, followed by a walk to the Eucalyptus grove on the property. There, we were surrounded by a colony of deep orange and black winged beauties. Our group, made up mostly of families with young children, stepped tenderly through dark green clover in the cool shade. Occasionally, we would pick up a shivering butterfly and walk it carefully over to a sunny patch where it would be lovingly released. Overhead, hanging from the Eucalyptus canopy, we spotted clusters of Monarchs with the help of telescopes provided by the guides.

We will return to Ardenwood in spring when the property is sure to be flourishing with new growth. We’ll also get a chance to ride the train — currently in hibernation — through the property. In the depths of winter, our family needed a day like this to connect with nature and with each other.

Majestic Beltane Ranch

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Everywhere you turn at historic Beltane Ranch near Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley, your eyes feast on countless photo opportunities.  Following our Thanksgiving meal in Sonoma this year, our family returned to Beltane after visiting at this time last year.

Autumn is on full display in all of its kaleidoscopic glory and I was feeling giddy and snap-happy with my Nikon throughout our stay. More sweet family moments and enduring mental (and actual) photographs than can be counted.

The crisp fall air filled with smoke from a wood-burning fire in the main house. Deep orange ornamental persimmons hanging from leafless trees. Morning mist intensifying the beauty of everything it washes over. Luke the massive Black Labrador dropping a slimy tennis ball at your feet at every opportunity and then blocking any attempt to pick up the disgusting thing and throw it because you know your role in Luke’s world.

Heavenly homemade breakfasts with ingredients sourced from Beltane’s organic garden and hen house. Warm and amiable guests to chat with around the large wooden family table. I am so enamored with this magical place, I dream up ways to own it or recreate it in another location.

Endless opportunities to hold hands, lay on a hammock, swing from a porch bench, kiss your loved ones on their heads while wrapping your arms around them – never, never wishing to let go. This is a family tradition I could get very accustomed to.