Tag Archives: SacTown

Ask: Starting the micro home garden… tips?

Very slowly, I’m reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a narrative that discusses the origins of four meals.  While I’m not finished with the book, the gist is obvious: the current enormous food industry is slowly eating the world’s resources.  The book cheers for local before organic, so in Pollan’s eyes, Farmers Markets are a plus, as well as anything to edibly sustain yourself, such as tiny farms or gardens!

Where we’re living right now, we don’t have the facility for a large scale garden, but every little bit helps.  I introduce you to our current micro-garden formed by the fabulous trio of mint, cilantro, and basil.

Backyard mint Backyard Cilantro
Sweet basil in the backyard

I must confess that this certainly has started off as more of my wife’s project, but one I fully support and I will certainly want to contribute.  We’ve done minimal research here but we are seeing some growth in a very small soil plot we have in the backyard of our home.  We were told that the mint will be one to take over the area, so we’ll be sure to watch out for that.  I’m most excited about the basil though, I think that may be the ingredient I’ll be using the most.  Eventually, if it is space and cost effective, I’d like to add a tomato plant to the garden.

If these plants generate enough of themselves to consume on a regular basis, I will be somewhat surprsied but very happy!  The specific plants we purchased were from a local shop, but I’ve seen basil in pots outside of Trader Joe’s (I love the mentality of that store).  I wonder if Michael Pollan does the same thing 😉 ?  This certainly would be local urban Sacramento food!  What do you other fellow SacTowners have in your garden that grows well here?  Anyone with general tips?

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Grape Escape… I want more!

Saturday June 14, 2008, Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Sacramento hosted its 6th annual Grape Escape wine and food celebration.  It being my first full weekend in SacTown, I bought tickets with my wife to attend (and even had some friends that recently moved to the Bay Area come over).  The Grape Escape site pitches the event as “an opportunity to sample from the region’s best wineries and restaurants for one incredible price!”

I love these types of events and think they’re great festivals to bring niches of the community together to learn about and support local businesses.  This type of event (specifically the theme) is part of the reason I enjoy Northern California, and partly why I wanted to return!

Tickets were about $40/each if you bought them before arriving.  This is probably my only gripe.  I would hope events like this in a downtown park would be free, or closer to that, hopefully as a way for the city to invest in its people, which would in turn invest in the local farmers, restaurants, and businesses.  While free may not be realistic, I do find $40 to be a bit on the high side.  As to be expected though, once we passed through the gates of the park, nothing had an additional cost (except for bottled water <sigh>).

Stephany enjoying local food When you enter, you are given a few of the usual guide flyers, but you also receive a nice wine glass with the Grape Escape logo, as well as a nifty mini-tray/plate that has a groove to hold your wine glass.  Whoever engineered this is genious!  As you see to the right (my lovely wife Stephany), this allowed us to enjoy picking at foods with one hand while still maintaining our plate+glass together with the other hand.  I don’t mean to over-state the simplicity here, but for an event where you’re primarily on-foot, this really helped!  Once we received the glass+tray, we were welcomed by an array of stands that openly marked Cesar Chavez Park, plenty of wine and food was on the menu as we set out to claim our $40 worth admittance fee.

Among California wine’s strengths, diversity in growing regions and varietals stands high on the list.  This combined with a new age of winemakers that is not afraid to experiment in both the vineyard and in the winery creates wines that vary in price, quality, and, of course, taste.  I think Grape Escape did a fair job here, especially displaying the tremendous values of some of the more local wineries closer to Sacramento.  While we did have to filter through a few “duds” (in our opinion), for the price-range presented at the stands (I think mostly sub $20), we found great bottles among more nontraditional varietals like Mourvedre, Barbera, Carignane, and Petite Sirah.  A lot of these grapes are usually blended into Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon to help blend some of their traits into the wine, but lately, some winemakers have begun harvesting these with lower yields with an aim at concentrating them as the main varietal in a wine.  Since these are lower in demand, there are some great opportunities to buy high quality wine at lower prices.  At Grape Escape, we witnessed this trend with the Cabernet Sauvignons being more mediocre than its less popular counter parts.

Food here wasn’t bad at all either – plenty of options to replace a meal including different meats, sides, and dessert options.  Among my favorite were prepared meatballs and the steak-burger.  Additionally, in case if you were wined-out, local brew-houses offered pours of their various beverages to help quench your thirst.

Add the different ambient live performances and the chef’s competition under a tent (with some free tastes if you were lucky), this event really represented Northern California well.  If you compare the price of a meal with various wine and beer choices, the $40 does not seem so bad, though I do think that the city/region could invest in its people just a little more to make it cheaper for us and bring even more people to the local businesses.  It would not be an automatic decision for me to attend the next Grape Escape if the price stayed the same.

I am eager to attend more of these events to learn more about food and wine, especially from those that are passionate and artistic with food and wine.  Taste 3 is another event that describes itself as a “Food Wine Art Conference” – in Napa at the Culinary Institute of America, July 17-19.  This conference appears to be something way over my head, but an event I’d love to attend, simply to hear about the great trends in restaurant, urban farming, winemaking, etc… art and research!  I heard of this event from this Vinography post; while I cannot attend due to the close-to-$2,000 price for this multi-day event, this is part of the greatness of Northern California, and something in which I hope to eventually participate (or maybe something smaller scale).  Any other great local events you recommend?

Hello again California!!! Any tips?

If you haven’t seen the about yet, here’s the quick story.  I did undergrad in the Bay Area, left back to Texas for a while, and came back to Northern California as quickly as I could… I very happily find myself in Sacramento, CA with my wife Stephany.

As my wife will be very busy shortly as an internal medicine intern, I’m stepping up as “head chef” of the household, but I want to do this in a way that embraces foods that are healthy, cheap, local, and organic, and probably in that order.  I liked one of the opening paragraphs of this link:

There exists, somewhere between the fearsome mass-ness of the mainstream grocery store and the high-pitched good works of the coop, farmer’s market, or CSA, a world in which low prices are valued slightly higher than locality of the source but, more than anything, the products must be good. Fair-trade, organic, without trans-fatty acids, with fewer artificial colorings or preservatives or Disney characters than all the other products.

So, back in Texas, my wife and I usually went to one of the big-chain grocery stores (that’s what was available, given Whole Foods is beyond our budget), and simply tried to purchase enough food to last us at least a good 3 weeks if not a whole month.  This would not come out too expensive, and we’d do ok, but we had a lot of food we had to freeze ourselves to preserve, from who knows where, and it was good… not great, but good.

Here, I want to try a different approach, and I hope I can still keep the cost down while investing more locally and organically: I’ll try to shop multiple stores more often.  My aim is to try to buy food for a weekly basis (so that the food lasts about that long), and I’ll try to work up my menu for the week so I can shop specifically for that purpose.  Hopefully I don’t have to freeze anything unnecessarily and can eat items in a fresher state.  So far, I’m in love with Trader Joes (yes, that’s a big deal to me coming from TX, more on that later), and I’m eager to see the farmers market.

So, my current ask to the readers – do you have any tips here?  Anywhere in the Sacramento-proper area that I should check out?  Any good habits?  I’m all ears!