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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Udder Fun: 10 Excuses to Visit a Goat 

IMG_5371(1)Before spring begins its do-si-do with summer, I wanted to herd my family up to a goat farm to witness baby goat (kid) goodness and participate in a farm tour. I singled out Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol – producers of some of my favorite goat cheeses.

What was only supposed to be an hour car ride doubled, as my inner GPS and sheer stubbornness made several wrong turns. Thanks to a ‘book on CD’, a patient husband, and entertaining child theatrics, we arrived in good form.

The unexpected happened. This excursion topped the charts as one of the most memorable and enjoyable family adventures we’ve had to date. I kid you not.

10 Excuses to Visit Redwood Hill Farm

1. No excuses needed, really. Baby goats. Outdoors. Community. Cheese. What’s not to love!? It’s an udderly fun country-mouse excursion for any city-mouse family.

2. Essence of barnyard! We all need a whiff for the soul from time to time.

3. An opportunity to picnic in the shade of an apple tree and delight in a much needed down-shift with family, not to mention an opportunity to sample one of the many delectable Redwood Hill Farm cheeses. We inhaled the California Crottin, enjoyed with just picked cherries from a local farm stand.

4. Spring on display in all its gorgeous glory: blossoming apple orchards, a kaleidoscope of colorful wildflowers, and new birth in countless forms.

5. A chance to let your ‘kids’ milk a goat with their own city-bred hands.

6. A live bluegrass performance in an apple orchard.

7. Design your own wildflower ensconced fairy wand at the craft table.

8. Watch a goat milking demonstration; an opportune time to ask questions about farm life from one of the founding farm family members.

9. Grin from ear-to-ear while surrounded by baby goats. Kids are extremely personable, energetic, entertaining, and they come in an assortment of unique personalities. Diva. Picky eater. Snuggle-bug. Social butterfly…

10. Hug a goat. Brush a goat. Have your hair nibbled on by a goat. Just don’t attempt to leave the property with a goat. They catch you (ahem).

Herd on over to Redwood Hill or a local visitor-friendly farm for a tour. You’re bound to have a goat time! Kidding! So cheesy!

Tour details.

10 Fun Facts About Goat Kids from Redwood Hill Farm.

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

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.

Images of Autumn

imageA happy accident landed me in Calistoga for the weekend. A Saturday morning stroll led me to the Calistoga Farmers Market. Markers of my most beloved season abound.

Nuns hawking baked goods, rustic bread, artisanal sausage, gorgeous seasonal produce. Locals greeting one another with warm embraces and the latest news. Just-made exotic food scents wafting down the aisles. A live bluegrass  soundtrack. This is something special. This is autumn…
 
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Land O’ Cheese at Outside Lands

IMG_1832-1.JPG Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of sardine-packed concert venues, large crowds, contact highs, and Jumbotron-sized speakers blaring bands that I’ve never heard of. Schlep into San Francisco on a bone-chilling, foggy day only to be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of intoxicated young adults. Not so tempting. However, sweeten the deal with an opportunity to volunteer for Culture Magazine and be surrounded by an impressive selection of cheese for an entire day, not to mention be in the entertaining company of Lassa Skinner, the owner of Culture Magazine, and her merry band of cheese passionistas, and I could be swayed.

I’m grateful to Mateo for taking the kids around the city, while I spent the day volunteering at Cheese Lands, pretending I was a cheesemonger for the day – slicing and prepping cheese, then assembling enticing cheese plates for the masses of surprisingly sophisticated palates wandering Outside Lands. As long as I was within the confines of the cheese booth, surrounded by great people and copious amounts of amazing cheese, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. IMG_1833-1.JPG IMG_1830-2.JPG IMG_1835-0.JPG