It’s November 2016 and we are setting out to visit family for Thanksgiving and to have a food adventure in America. It’s Autumn, it’s chilly and it’s mostly inside weather. We land in San Francisco and explore China Town and the farmers’ market down in the Bay area. Dumplings, seasonal, foraged and preserved foods inspire us. We eat the sweetest persimmons and tangiest goat’s curd. Edible mushrooms – ones I’ve only ever read about – abound.
We drive to Sonoma along the scenic coastal route and see immediately that Sonoma is a wine and food Mecca, quite similar to our own region here in the South Wairarapa, but on a larger scale. The grape leaves are changing colour. A trip to the local supermarket for Thanksgiving provisions is an eye opener; most of the products are packaged in super-sized portions and we struggle to find fixings for a small family of four. We are going to cook our Thanksgiving meal from scratch and it took us all day! But what a delicious day.
We venture out to St Francis Vineyard in Sonoma for a wine meal which is matched with food. A subtle and intriguing difference from the way I often plan meals at home. Other days are spent watching American football, Fox news, diverse commentaries about Donald Trump and the American election. There are lots of cars in the street, but no one is out walking. We are all on holiday.
Our next stop is Portland, Oregon. Food trucks, a walkable city, colder weather, homeless people, an inspiring food, wine and beer culture, bratwursts and with the best book shop in the world: Powell’s.
We are constantly on the lookout for new and interesting trends to try out at the Country Cooking School on our return home, and we are not disappointed.
So, what’s new? What’s exciting? What’s on my wish list for my Country Cooking School students for 2017?
- Dumplings – gluten free wonton wrappers with fillings rich with herbs like coriander, and ginger and garlic. I’d love to try out minced paua with preserved lemon or pork with walnuts.
- Garum – we had to work backwards on this menu item; I remember reading something about anchovies and garum while in Italy, which prompted Biggsy to dig deep into his Latin knowledge (the Romans used this flavouring on everything), before we quizzed the waiter who confirmed this paste had anchovies, clams, mussels and oysters dried and then rehydrated. It’s sure to be wiffy in its preparation, but it transformed the roasted brassicas it was served on.
- A strong focus on seasonal and sustainable ingredients, particularly fish and seafood, as well as super fresh vegetables.
- Foraging! Using wild food and preserving the seasonal bounty using unusual vinegars and old fashioned techniques for “gut health”. (Kimchi, sauerkraut)
- A surprise ingredient that I’d love to try at home – fresh cranberries. An absolute visual delight on the side of the plate and with a sweet tart flavour; tinged with orange zest, consuming left overs is not a problem!
- Späetzle! (German dumplings or noodles)
- Texture – often supplied by nuts; a balance of sweet, savoury and creamy tastes and fresh, wild greens make salads a revelation.
- Fruit used in savoury dishes.
- Vegetables used in sweet dishes. I’m looking forward to developing a gluten free pumpkin pie using the butternut pumpkins we’ve planted under the old, ugly Ranui Lemon tree at Te Puhi farm.
- Winning recipe books purchased from Powell’s: Ruth Reichl, “My Kitchen Year”; “Portland Farmers Market Cookbook”, Marcella Hazan “Ingredienti”.
Planning the next trip already!