Saturday, August 11, 2007

stags' leap winery


While there's no bad time or place for a glass of Cabernet from Stags' Leap Winery, a particularly good time would be sunset on a summer evening in August, and a particularly good place would be among the Estate Cabernet vines at the Winery. (And winemaker Kevin Morrisey would be particularly good company.)


I've always believed in immersing myself in the products that I work on. When I consulted for an air purifier company, I kept up to date on EPA regulations for ultra fine particles. I ran humidifiers, lit candles, and played ScentStories in my apartment to immerse myself in the experience of my personal indoor air.

For the three months that I worked on a project for a greeting card company, I scrutinized my own relationships with others in the world - and sent out more cards, emails, e-cards, text messages, and handwritten notes to friends and family in those months than I had in the previous three years combined.

Hotel bedding, GPS devices, breast cancer, birthday cards, nuclear power plants, bipolar disorder, ATV helmets, fried years as a consultant have allowed me to delve into a number of different worlds, each as fascinating as the last, to someone perpetually curious about different things and people.

Fortunately, the company I work for shares my belief that one must understand a product deeply - who makes it, where it is made, how it is made and why it is made in such a way - in order to market and sell it. As such, my work periodically involves "kicking the dirt" at our vineyards. Learning that story behind the brand is critical...and fun.

Stags' Leap has a particularly good story. (Have you heard about the ghost?)

June 29. 2007

August 15, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

vegan muffins

with coconut, mango, & olallieberries

We felt very lucky when Didi Emmons, former chef at Pho Republique, Delux Cafe, and Veggie Planet, came on board at Haley House Bakery Cafe.

Soon after she joined, Didi invited me over for dinner to discuss some of the marketing and business planning work I had been doing for Haley House. I looked forward to the experience of eating in the home of a real chef, and when the day came, I arrived with a carefully chosen 7-Grain pullman from Iggy's Bread of the World.*

Didi introduced me to Henry her cat (for which one of her Veggie Planet pizzas is named). We stepped over her yoga mat and made our way to her kitchen, which was older, more cramped, and much more inviting than I would have expected for the work space of a chef. She returned to pulverizing walnuts with fresh arugula and parsley..."Pesto," she said, in between blasts of the processor.

"I always think pine nuts and basil when I think pesto," I said, trying to keep in step with a professional foodie.

"Walnuts are pretty fun to play around with." Didi shrugged and tasted the pesto. She paused in thought, then drizzled in some olive oil from a little green bottle.


Didi's spunky and creative approach towards cooking is one that has had great influence on me over the years. Didi cooks with an open mind, without judgment, driven by personal intuition, curiosity, and hunger.

Didi and I once had a conversation about muffin making. A baking instructor had taught me about the grave repercussions of over-mixing (over-developed gluten toughens your product and creates those unsightly air tunnels). We were encouraged to implement delicate muffin batter-folding techniques.

As I watched Didi make muffins one day, I inquired about her carefree mixing, and its implications for her gluten structure. She looked at me inquisitively, "I stop mixing when everything comes together." Then she poured the batter into pans and baked them into perfect little strawberry muffins, moist with a soft and crumbly texture.


So, back to California. Recently, twenty lovely friends joined me on an olallieberry picking expedition to Swanton Berry Farm in Pescadero, CA.

When we returned late in the afternoon with juice-stained hands, 30 pounds richer in ollalieberries, Johanna made cake, and Juliann made pies. Cowboy made pancakes. And I took out Didi's cookbook, flipped to "The World's Best Vegan Coffeecake", and, in the spirit of Didi, played around with the recipe until it suited my whimsy.

Vegan Muffins with Coconut, Mango, and Olallieberries
adapted from Didi Emmons' Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

1 cup almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dried coconut flakes
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 small mango, cut into small chunks
2 cups olallieberries (raspberries, blackberries, or boysenberries will also do fine)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line 12 standard muffin cups.
2. In a food processor, finely grind almonds. Transfer to a large bowl and add flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and mix well. Mix in coconut.
3. Make a well in the center and add soy milk and canola oil. Stir until the mixture comes together.
4. Gently fold in mango and berries.
5. Divide the batter among muffin cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool in pan about 10 minutes.

I don't believe a non-vegan version could be any better. And I have to say, there is something extremely satisfying about eating food you picked from a bush.

*Note: The 7-Grain loaf has been a favorite of mine ever since my summer selling Iggy's bread at the Boston City Hall Farmers' Market. For those who don't know, Iggy's is to Boston as Acme Bread is to San Francisco.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

haley house update, summer '07


I was recently back on the East Coast and was overjoyed to find the Haley House Bakery Cafe doing better than ever. Though I wish that I could be as involved with this program living out here in California as I was during my years in Boston, I am proud to report that, with the strong leadership of Didi, Bing, and Kathe, as well as the dedication and spirit of all the staff and trainees, this non-profit bakery cafe in Dudley Sq. has continued to grow and thrive, both with respect to its community-based social mission, as well as its sustainable food philosophy.

The Bakery Cafe has partnered with the Boston Police to host periodic cooking classes for inner city youth as part of the G.R.E.A.T. Program (Gang Resistance Education and Training). This programs uses cooking as a vehicle for teaching youths to appreciate different cultures (through making Chinese dumplings and Puerto Rican gazpacho, for instance), with the hope that greater understanding will stem prejudice before it is able to take root within the youth community.

Much through the dedication of Bing Broderick, Bakery Director, Haley House has also continued to deepen its relationships with the Boston arts community. The cafe walls exhibit unique and thought-provoking works by local artists on a rotating basis (most recently, self-portrait quilts made at Rosie's Place, a women's shelter in Boston). The cafe has also begun to host independent film screenings and live jazz performances during Sunday brunch.

from Rosie's Place

Both Kathe McKenna, Executive Director of Haley House, and Didi Emmons, Executive Chef, have been diligently testing new sources of local, organic ingredients to add to the menu. [Pssst! Organic beer and wine recently added!] Didi's cafe menu continues to change with the seasons, and, on August 15, Haley House will host a benefit dinner for the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets.

The Job Training Program itself has grown, as trainees are now taught skills on the prepared foods and catering side of the business, in addition to the bakery side that has always formed the core of the program curriculum. This shift has given the Bakery Cafe the flexibility to continue growing its catering business to meet the unexpectedly high level of consumer demand.

I visited during Sunday Jazz Brunch and stayed the afternoon to catch up with the Haley House community over fresh strawberries, carrot raisin/vegan cranberry walnut muffins, and Fair Trade coffee (w/soy). I also picked up a copy of Didi's second book, Entertaining for a Vegetarian Planet, an IACP award-winner in 2004 (International Association of Culinary Professionals - my first recipe experience to follow in my next post).

I encourage readers in the Boston area to drop by Haley House to taste its delicious baked goods, organic/Fair Trade beverages, and creative selection of fresh and flavorful salads and sandwiches. Produce comes from local, organic farms (as much as possible), and prices are extremely neighborhood-friendly ($5.75 for a curried chicken wrap w/grapes+coconut and a side of "Haley's Healthy Slaw"). Haley House also has a great catering program - to support your needs at work or at play.

So please go to Haley House and have a muffin for me. Nourish yourself, and support the Bakery Cafe in its mission to become a self-sustaining non-profit organization supporting happiness, health, and economic independence in the Boston Dudley Square community.

12 Dade Street
in Dudley Square, Roxbury
Boston, MA

Mon-Fri: 7:30am-4pm
Saturday: 9am-3pm
Sunday: 9am-10:30am Early Bird Special;
10:30am-3:30pm Jazz Brunch

Logo by Boston design firm Continuum (pro bono)