Posts Tagged ‘Real Food’
For years California has derogatorily been referred to as The Land of Fruits and Nuts.
We will ignore the derogatory meaning and focus on how this phrase can apply literally to our bounty of agricultural products that feeds the world and yes, we embrace alternative thinkers, lifestyles, and diets.
As a native Californian this makes me proud. As a business owner in this beautifully crazy state it means we have to be educated on the varied needs of our clients. As a person who loves knowledge and exploration this makes me very happy.
Fancifull has been located in the heart of Hollywood since 1987. Being centered in and catering to the entertainment industry has lead to interesting requests. We have watched diets and designs change dramatically over the three plus decades we have been here. Evolution is a key to survival, so we dedicate ourselves to keep up with trends as well as realizing when trends morph into lifestyles. Pretty much every gift basket we design will have something that is vegan or gluten free, especially if it is designed for a group. Let’s go over the various diets briefly so we all understand them better and see how they can be deliciously incorporated into the perfect gift basket.
Vegan is hugely popular. This is a plant based diet with no animal products of any kind: no honey, no milk (as in chocolate too), sometimes no white sugar, no leather (as in containers). Keep it clean. This is not daunting at all. There is so much good food for vegans which is why it is so easy to do. We love hummus and our organic Flamous Falafel Chips as a start. Good dark chocolate works just fine as do most nuts and fruit as long as there is no coating that might have an animal based product like honey peanuts. Speaking of peanuts, peanut butter is fun! Uncle Eddie’s Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies are one of our favorite cookies in the shop. Once the package is opened you can’t stop until you are holding the package upside down to get the crumbs. We always focus on organic and sustainable which usually coincides with a vegan recipient’s viewpoint too. Our fruit is mostly organic bought from local farmers. We make most of our vegan gift baskets not in baskets at all but reusable or easily recyclable boxes to cut down on waste. We also have biodegradable cellophane to wrap them in. We keep it all as natural as possible since many vegans eat that way from a desire to have a more sustainable lifestyle. We are here to help them.
From the Celiac Disease Foundation: Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale ( a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. Celiac Disease occurs when the ingestion of gluten causes an autoimmune reaction that damages the small intestine. The body just can’t handle it.
Some people choose gluten free not because they have celiac disease, but to cut inflammation in their joints or they feel better without it in their diets. It can be hidden in beer, crackers, baked goods and even snacks with coatings that may have a flour base. No problem. Fancifull can deal with that. We generally keep out foods that have been processed in facilities that also produce wheat products because cross contamination can occur. Luckily there is a large variety of great food that can be sent. Cheese has no gluten, neither do most potato chips, nuts, popcorn and chocolate. We carry Cybelle’s Gluten Free (and Vegan) cookies that are as good as any cookie with or without gluten. Fruit, tea and coffee all work well for a gluten free diet. The falafel chips we use in our vegan baskets also work in gluten free, along with hummus or salsa. Adding fresh flowers or a plant is a good alternative to just food.
At Fancifull we don’t believe in limits to our creativity!
Kosher foods have to conform with Jewish dietary laws. They carry symbols of certification that distinguishes them as such. There are foods that are never kosher such as pork and shellfish. We do have kosher cheese and wine in our shop as well as a host of other kosher foods. Our Shiva Condolence basket is filled with fresh fruit and kosher foods to send along with words of comfort. We keep up on the laws as much as possible and are aware of times when those who are orthodox can’t receive gifts due to the Sabbath – we don’t deliver after sundown on Friday and all day Saturday to respect their laws. Not all of the Jewish faith keep kosher, but we get this request often because if one isn’t sure it is better to be safe than sorry. Our favorite kosher food is the Cinnamon Babka and the Black and White Cookies from Lily’s Bakery. We just love our Kosher Classics which has both of these items as well as some coffee and great Rugelach!
Our job is to make both our clients and their recipients happy. Fancifull is built on trust – that we will send a quality gift, get it there on time, and fill it with amazing food and gifts that the receiver will love. It takes a bit of research, which we jump into with passion. It helps us understand this world and the people who live in it a bit better and that is a win for all concerned.
“Eureka! There’s gold in them thar hills.” That was the cry of the 49ers who came to California in the 1800s looking to score a fortune in the gold rush. Now up in the hills of Marin and scattered throughout the state, is gold of a different kind. It still of the land, but in the form of milk and dairy products.
Northern California has long been considered a food epicenter focusing on family owned farms producing organic product. The establishment of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) helped assure that the area of Marin would continue to support farmers and green space rather than being overrun by condos. You can learn more about MALT here: http://www.malt.org/
The call of gold lured me and Wally to load up our wagon and head up north to those very same hills in March to attend and help with the California Artisan Cheese Festival which was held in Petaluma from March 22nd-24th.
The weekend was filled with tours of local cheese makers’ facilities and farms, seminars (beer and cheese at 9:30 am anyone?), tastings, meals, and a Marketplace on Sunday. We attended our first festival last year and immediately became members of the Guild which gave us the opportunity to help set up and run their booth at the Marketplace. Having to be there at 9 am was difficult, but talking about the work the Guild does and the classes they offer in conjunction with the College of Marin was gratifying.
Since we teach classes and hold tastings in our shop, we like to get as much insight as we can from the Cheesemaker perspective to share with our students. This lead us to the New Kids on the Block Seminar early Saturday where we got to listen to and ask questions of four Cheesemakers who were bringing new cheese to the market. They spoke frankly about their development process and the challenges in introducing a new cheese to the American public. Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle lead the discussion with the cheesemakers and asked pointed questions to keep the info flowing. One of our favorite new cheeses is Point Reyes Bay Blue. Cuba, the cheesemaker for Point Reyes, talked about how he has refined this recipe for years before releasing it. While visiting Point Reyes two yeas ago we had the opportunity to try it in its first stages! Patience pays off. The new Bay Blue is astounding and already winning awards. But it took over two years to get it right! That is a lot of time and effort. We felt fortunate to be able to experience its evolution, it gave us terrific insight into the process of taking a pretty good cheese and turning it into a great one.
Luckily for our Fancifull Customers we have an in with the dairy, so they shipped us a wheel even though it wasn’t in wide distribution yet. Nice to have friends in high places.
Toward the end of the seminar, our moderator, Janet Fletcher, let us know that she had just released her latest book: Cheese and Beer . I bought one immediately (and had her sign it). It has lots of information that should contribute to some tasty classes at Fancifull.
At lunch, we shared our table with the folks from Cypress Grove, another of our favorite cheese companies. Wally would eat Humboldt Fog every morning if he could and I have to say the same about Midnight Moon.
The afternoon held a wine pairing seminar with old world and new world cheese and wine. Old World basically means Europe while new world speaks to the U.S. and Australia. The class was very similar to what we offer in our classes at Fancifull but it was fun to be a student rather than the teacher. There is always so much to learn and Laura Werlin, author of several books on cheese, was a terrific tour guide.
This cheesy weekend left us brimming with ideas and new product to bring into our shop. There is just so much great cheese out there, how do we sell it all? Answer: One wedge at a time. One gift basket at a time.
There he stood, tough looking but with kind eyes a striking amber color. With the name Thunder along with his long black goatee he resembled a character out of the show Portlandia – northwest urban hip. He was just missing the required piercings and tattoos. Oh yeah, and he is a goat.
Thunder was one of the many acquaintances we made while touring Vermont and striking out on the Cheese Trail. He is the main stud at Fat Toad Farm, that magical place where they make the goat milk caramel our students swoon over at our cheese classes. This small family farm, (they have about 100 goats just next to their red cottage), also makes phenomenal fresh goat cheese. I love the one with Maple – but they only sell those locally, out of a shed they’ve turned into a tiny shop.
A goat named Jupiter, who was over with the other females, stole my heart. She nuzzled and cuddled and made me want to move from my modest Hollywood home so I could have a few goats of my own.
Over on the Western edge of Vermont on the banks of Lake Champlain we had the good fortune to get a private tour of Shelburne Farms, a farm and educational center set on an old Vanderbilt Estate. Set amid acres of farmland and trails butting up against the lake there is a glorious hotel with huge porches in what was once a summer home for the Vanderbilts. There are also animals, a petting zoo, a farm, classrooms, an old milking barn that hosts performances, a world-class cheese making facility and some of the cutest brown cows I’ve ever met. Cute to the point of being distracting.
So cute that while talking to the herd manager I was oblivious to the fact that this little creature with the huge brown eyes had managed to consume the majority of my long gauze skirt. I looked down and there it was in her mouth! I slowly pulled it out, like a magician with the scarves coming out of his sleeve; it just kept coming and coming. A little slime here and there but no harm to the skirt. Alison, our tour guide, said a cow had once gotten most of her jacket. They’ll eat anything. Ah, the hazards of hanging with the animals.
The Vermont Cheese Trail had been on my to-do list for a long time. Yes, I am a nerd, as is my husband Wally. We spend many of our vacations talking to the producers of our products at Fancifull, meeting with winemakers, cheesemakers, chocolatiers and such. Traveling to the areas where our food is made gives us sense of place. We get to see the operation personally, talk to the people making the food, smell the air, pet the animals, and feel like we are part of a community.
We are very much a part of the community that celebrates American Craftsmen, while also supporting people around the world who grow food responsibly.
I feel very strongly that they are the stewards of the land. They are growing food that is healthy while also taking care of the health of the planet. They ask us almost as many questions as we ask them. What do our customers like? Is the organic label important? This is a big question because, as one farmer said, “to do that you have to let the government run part of your business.” It isn’t because these people don’t farm organically. But the cost and the rules, often inane, can make operating a small farm with limited resources difficult.
We were encouraged when a farmer in the Hudson Valley told us that more and more young people are coming back to the farm rather than going off to college and on to new careers elsewhere. And they are coming back armed with new knowledge and better practices that make farming viable again. So, whereas a decade or so ago many farms were abandoned, now you have some flourishing due to the renaissance of American food. Yes you may pay a little more for artisanal food, but when we meet these farmers and see all the work they put in, we are getting a bargain. For most of them it is a passion, not just a job. They deserve to live comfortable lives as do their animals. The food they are producing is also higher in nutrients, so this is of personal benefit to all of us.
I will try to stay off my soapbox, which I keep handy at all times, but I do think this celebration of American Food is vital to all of our survival. Organics and sustainability makes sense for our planet at large. I often get asked, “Is this fascination with food just a trend?” I hope not. I don’t think it is a trend at all. Fifty or sixty years ago this was not “artisan” food, it was just food. Big industry came in and took over and often went for the cheapest solution, not the best. I think producers will come and go and maybe our zeal will lessen as this becomes the new normal. With any new movement there is bound to be some overdoing. We all don’t necessarily need to know where every particle of food comes from and we certainly should never be pretentious or snobby about it. The people we meet aren’t. They are hard workers who want to create great food. My theory is that once you begin to eat real food it is hard to go back to industrialized food as your main diet. The stuff that is being created by Artisans the world over is just too darn good. And I intend to keep meeting them, one by one, so I can better understand the process and help bring their food to market. That is my passion.
If there is just one thing I love about my husband (and there are many) it is his attention to detail. This trait of his is one reason he is known for his Cheese Bread. He’s made it ever since I’ve known him. Even when on the road with his band in the 70s, Wally had an electric skillet in the bus so he could make it.
Yes it is simple, but the taste is in the details.
He toasts the bread (sourdough) just so, fits the cheese like a tile layer putting together a mosaic, then the salt… I’ll let him give you the full rundown, if he will indulge.
If every chef has their star dish, this would be Wally’s. It has been his staple for breakfast for many a year. Our kids grew up on it. Today I watched him as he grabbed the Point Reyes Toma, like an artist with new paint. “Ahhh…Toma and my fresh tomatoes….”
Cheese Bread. I like the fact that it still excites him after more than 35 years of making it.
But that is another thing I love about him…
Wally: How I Do It.
Ah, so much hoopla about so little.
The first and most important thing is to start with good ingredients.
Bread: No light, airy, squishy breads, please. I generally like a good sourdough although a bit of the fig bread from the Breadbar is also a wonderful choice. (The Fig Bread is also available at Fancifull and is finding its way into many of our gift baskets.)
A good cheese: Almost any kind of cheese works – but nothing pre-sliced! Cheddar, Brie, Goat Cheese – and today’s choice Toma, are all great.
Options: Fresh tomatos from your garden are a great addition. Fresh herbs if you like. Slices of hard boiled egg would be great, too.
1) Slice the cheese thinly – 1/8th inch. Could be grated but it’s easier to use slices.
2) Slice the tomatos, chop the herbs and have ready any other ingredients you might want. Tomatos need to be at room temperature. (They should never be refrigerated anyway.)
3) Turn on the broiler or toaster oven to 400 degrees.
4) Toast the bread lightly in a toaster. For a richer version you can pan fry the bread in butter lightly on each side. Mmmmmm… Today I just used the toaster.
5) Lay out the cheese slices on the bread. I try not to leave any gaps. Don’t let the cheese hang over the edge – it will melt off and fall into the oven. Cover the bread completely with the cheese.
6) Place the bred in the oven – you can put it on a piece of foil to catch drippings.
7) Let broil for 2 – 4 minutes. Time will vary depending on the type of cheese! Watch it. When it’s melting over the entire surface it’s ready.
8) Pull the rack out and add the tomatos.
9) continue to broil for up to 1 minute.
10) Add fresh basil if desired. A pinch of salt if desired.
11) Enjoy the aroma while the cheese cools enough to eat!
You remembered to make your tea or espresso, right?
By the way, it was delicious! And my tomatos this year are absolutely mahvelous.
We are really happy that several of our favorite cheese makers won big awards at the American Cheese Society Meeting and Contest held recently in Montreal, Canada. We’ve been championing and selling their cheeses for years, so it’s really fun to see them getting the accolades they deserve for their delicious products and dedication to their craft.
Among the winners was Point Reyes Toma cheese for Best Original Cheese. We’ve been including this in our gift baskets for some time now as well as sampling and selling it at our local Farmers Markets. Their fabulous Mozzarella, which we got to taste last week when we visited their creamery, won a second place award. Unfortunately it’s currently only available at the creamery in Point Reyes, CA. We’ll let you know if that changes. (Meaning we’re going to get it if we can!). Their Original Blue cheese also won a big award recently when it was awarded the title of Best Dairy or Cheese Product of the Year at the Fancy Food Show in Washington, DC. Go Point Reyes!
Another big winner at The America Cheese Society was Beehive Cheese which is located in Utah. They won awards for their Barely Buzzed, Seahive and Promontory Cheddars, all of which have been included in our gourmet gift baskets. You can read more about their cheeses in an earlier blog we wrote on Beehive Cheese.
Flavio DeCastilhos of Tumalo Farms in Bend, Oregon also won awards. His Classico, a Gouda style Goat Cheese, is simply amazing. Just this morning I greated some of it very finely and cooked in in with some scrambled eggs with fresh basil and some chopped Jeaune Flamme tomatos from my garden. Ooh la la la la, I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it. I published the recipe in a previous blog on Tumalo Cheese.
And then there’s Beechers Handmade Cheese of Seattle which won awards for three or four of their Cheddars. We carry their Flagship cheese – rich, full flavored, creamy, and extremely popular with everyone who tastes it. I’d recommend this in any of our beer gift baskets. It also makes for a killer macaroni and cheese.
Haven’t yet tried any of these cheese yourself? Call and order some from us – you’ll be very, very, very happy!
Is there some cheese you know of that we should try? Please let us know! If there’s good food involved, we’re interested.
See you at the table!
Terroir is an important concept in wine. I believe it also translates to food. Here is a good definition of Terroir from the Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil:
“This French word means the total impact of any given site: soil, slope, orientation to the sun, and elevation, plus every nuance of climate including rainfall, wind velocity, frequency of fog, cumulative hours of sunshine, average high temperature, and so forth. There is no single word in English that means quite the same thing. Generally viticulturists believe that soil indirectly bestows flavor (and relative quality) only insofar as it is one of the voices in the chorus of terroir.”
Wines from different vineyards, coffees from different plantations, cheeses from different regions, indeed all real foods everywhere exhibit the effects of their terroir. This is one of the things which makes the foods we carry in our shop so interesting.
It doesn’t matter what you are eating, whether it is a hamburger and fries or foie gras and champagne – it is the ingredients used that make each one marvelous or mediocre. At Fancifull that is what I look for when choosing what goes into our gift baskets. Fresh natural ingredients, organic, no odd chemical fillers. Because you want to taste the food, not the chemicals. I’ve tried cookies where the butter leaps out at you because it is so fresh, and then I’ve tried ones – in beautiful tempting packaging – that taste like cardboard. For example: Americans have a style of chocolate, as do the Europeans. Both have great chocolates. I can’t argue that a fresh truffle is better than a perfect peanut butter cup if both are made with good ingredients. And why argue anyway? Eat them both and enjoy. We will always be searching, tasting, and finding the best ingredients the world has to offer so you can send the best gourmet gift baskets.
Genuine, real, not fake. I like to travel because I like to experience authenticity in the world at large. For instance, I love being in the countryside of Italy and eating what is grown locally. I want to smell the air, meet the people, find out how they have been making this food for hundreds of years and why it is so good. This is true of anywhere I go, whether it be close to home or in far away lands. Even more so, I love to bring these experiences back to share with friends and family. I cook meals similar to those I’ve had on my culinary voyages and bring back jars of ingredients to taste. I find this is a better snapshot of a country than a photo. My joy in Fancifull is that I get to delight you with the pleasures I have found. I get to stock my shelves with the foods and wines I’ve tried and share them with you and your friends. Welcome to the family.
Gourmet gift baskets and wine gift baskets containing genuine artisanal wines and foods can be purchased online at www.fancifullgiftbaskets.com, in our store at 5617 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038, or by phone at 800.350.4437.