Heirloom Tomato Festival: Tomatofest in Carmel, California Aug 2008

October 1st, 2008 yum Posted in Ca, California, Carmel, Festival, Vegetables, tomatoes 4 Comments »

This summer I was intrigued by the mention of the “superbowl of heirloom tomatoes, Tomatofest” in a newsletter put out by Cynthia of the Heirloom-tomato paradise Love Apple Farms. Since the founder Gary Ibsen was retiring this year, it seemed like my last opportunity to attend. Before I knew it I’d ordered two tickets and informed the DH of our future engagement.

How could I resist, with a promised “350 tomato varieties from around the world, delicious tomato dishes created by 60 of America’s best chefs, a tasting of 200 of California’s finest wines, a “Salsa Showcase” tasting, and an International Olive Oil Tasting” (Tomatofest)

I had the strong feeling that some of those attractions would contain gluten, but I thought it would be worth it even if all I could have were the promised heirloom tomatoes. When we finally arrived that Sunday at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, Ca, I was impressed with how large the event was. I had imagined an indoor conference room and instead found myself facing rolling green lawns and large tents everywhere. We waited in line while Barbershop type singers strolled up and down the waiting line, but unfortunately we couldn’t hear a single note from our vantage point.

DH and I sat down in the grass and prepared for a long wait, but we were pleasantly surprised when the organizers opened the gates for regular admission a bit early and we got to go in, clutching our little goodie bag containing the event program.

We were torn whether to start with the heirloom tomato tastings or the gourmet restaurant stations. Ultimately we couldn’t resist the gorgeous pyramids of fresh, perfect tomatoes and bite sized cubes in colors ranging from brown, red, orange, yellow, and green. Some had stripes, others were shaped like perfect little round berries, or like miniature pumpkins, and still others were oxheart shaped. Either way, as I tasted each one I marveled at the difference not just in appearance but in flavor. I loved Aunt Ginny’s Purple, the unbelievably sweet Watermelon Beefsteak, and the tasty Evergreen. It was also fun to come across old favorites that I’d previously bought from Cynthia’s farm like Russian 117 or Tigerella. Best of all, you could purchase seeds for most of the 350 heirloom tomato varieties.

Besides the great fun of snacking on tomatoes that tasted like cereal, pineapple, chocolate, or carrots, there were many booths by companies like Trader Joe’s, Mozzarella Fresca Amy’s Kitchen, and Just Tomatoes. (And no, there wasn’t much in the way of Amy’s GF goods, alas.) The salsa booth was fun, although it was all very mainstream and pre-packaged. I was happy that they served the salsa with clearly labeled corn chips, sans gluten. The most fun part of the event, though, were the booths by elite California chefs. Each restaurant had sent one of their chefs (and assistants) and each one served an original dish inspired by beautiful heirloom tomatoes. All of the chefs were right behind the booth, so I was able to ask about wheat or gluten-ingredients from each one and feel completely confident in tasting their dishes. Many dishes very obviously were not gluten-free, with pizza crusts, bread bases, or crackers, and still others were not veg/pesc friendly. However, there were a surprising number of dishes perfect for a gluten-free pescatarian, such as the Heirloom tomato shrimp and scallops cevishe, seafood cocktails, risotto, and seared fish. It was more difficult to find true vegetarian dishes, but there were some lovely gazpacho, creative dishes like heirloom tomatoes with crystallized wasabi and ginger-shiso syrup (a real flavor explosion in your mouth!) and my favorite, Millennium Restaurant’s dish of arepas with smoked gold tomato coulis, a corn ragu and green grape tomato salsa.

All together it was a lovely, gourmet experience. I can safely say I’ve never had so many different exotic variations on the tomato at one time (or any other food!) in my life and I enjoyed every surprising bite of it. There was also a BBQ tent with more comfort-food style offerings such as baked beans, colorful corn on the cob and cole slaw. I was excited by the corn until I tasted it and found it tasted like nothing so much as lighter fluid. Yum yum. Needless to say, I wasn’t the only person that left it on their plate, barely touched. I also was saddened by the fact that the only way to taste the olive oil was with big crusty slices of wheat bread. Besides for these two minor disappointments, DH and I had an absolutely delicious time. We thoroughly enjoyed sipping on local wines in between nibbling on gourmet dishes and sampling pomegranate dessert vinegar. It was one of the best “dates” we’d been on in a long time and the best part was that everything was so easy, and included in one ticket price. (The only thing not included in the price were take home gifts, tomato seeds, and (weirdly) coffee. Otherwise, all food and beverages (Even fiji water!) was free.) There were also less people than at the Gilroy garlic festival, making it a much more relaxing experience. On our way out we passed by buckets of assorted gorgeous heirloom tomatoes for a mere $12 and couldn’t resist taking one home. We savored them for the next week, and I’d say that last splurge was worth every penny! Gary Ibsen, the founder and director of TomatoFest, retired this year so there may not be another tomatofest, but if anyone picks up the tradition or you have the opportunity to go in your area, I would definitely recommend it. You too should have the opportunity to establish your stance on chocolate brown tomatoes, icy glacier tomatoes, and traditional German varieties… But I warn you, after an experience like this, you won’t be quite as satisfied by off-season supermarket varieties!

View the Tomatofest Fun

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Mariposa Gluten-Free Bakery Party in Oakland, Gluten-Free Beer tasting, and GF tomato bruschetta Recipe

September 16th, 2008 yum Posted in Bay Area, Ca, California, Gluten Free Beer, Gluten Free bakery, Mariposa Bakery, Oakland, Party Food, Restaurant Review, tomatoes 7 Comments »

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the anniversary party of Mariposa Gluten-Free Bakeshop in Oakland, California. I found out about the event from the Mariposa monthly newsletter, which promised scrumptious gluten-free food samples, sparkling champagne and festive live music. I don’t need much of an excuse to go visit my favorite gluten-free pizza bakery, so I marked it on my calendar and even persuaded some gluten-free “taste-testers” to accompany me. :) Patti, the owner of Mariposa, was true to her word, serving a delicious spread of gluten-free baked goods like Peach and Spinach pizza, Tomato Basil Pizza, gluten-free baguettes for bruschetta accompanied with tomatoes or peach chutney, gluten-free dairy-free chocolate chip cookies, and other baked sweets. They also had refreshing fresh fruit and chilled champagne, as well as delightful italian blood orange soda and sparkling water. The best thing? The bakery was absolutely hopping with fans of Mariposa’s tasty gluten-free offerings. There’s nothing I like seeing more than a gluten-free bakery with lots of customers. Soon after we got there, a local band started playing outside, adding to the festive atmosphere.

The sophisticated peach and spinach topped pizza toppings won my heart, and I also thoroughly loved the simpler marguerita style tomato and basil pizza. I probably gobbled more than my fair share (cough cough) but it’s just so hard to hold back when faced with the best gluten-free pizza in California! I also thought the chocolate chip cookie bites were absolutely divine- I’m not sure, but they seemed a slightly different formula than I remembered from before. At any rate, the chocolate chips were big, chocolaty and melty and they were worth any amount of guilt. The other baked offerings were tasty, but I already have my favorites (not on sample, alas). I just can’t resist their nut-meal cookies (drool, almond slices and plump raisins- they taste too good to be bad for you!). And don’t even get me started on the completely addicting dairy-free lemon-coconut bars. I bought four nut-meal cookies and four lemon-coconut bars. Turns out the lemon bars are from a family recipe that Patti converted to be gluten-free. Yummy! I also bought one of each of the frozen, topped pizzas. At $12 they are not inexpensive, but worth every penny and a world away from commercially available gluten-free frozen pizzas like Amy’s Rice Crust pizza.

Haven’t made it to Cafe Mariposa’s Gluten-free Bakery yet? Here’s their vital stats:
5427 Telegraph Ave, Unit D3,
Oakland, CA 94609
tel: 510.595.0955
fax: 510.595.0966
Don’t forget, you can also order their products online!
Monday – Friday 9am – 6pm
Saturday – Sunday 10am – 4pm

My First Review of Cafe Mariposa
My Second Review of Cafe Mariposa

But there were even more gluten-free delights available besides the regular baked goods. During the party, Mariposa’s neighboring business The Wine Mine had a $1 gluten-free beer tasting in his awesome wine shop between 12-2pm. Apparently this booming local business has found it advantageous to stock some of the more exotic gluten-free beers, as well as a wide selection of tasty wines. For a mere $1, we were offered samples not only of the mainstream Redbridge and increasingly well-known New Grist, but also Green’s Belgian beer in three styles.

Here’s my entirely subjective Review of Gluten-Free Beers:

Anheuser-Busch’s Redbridge beer is becoming a classic in the gluten-free community. Some drinkers compare it to a mass-market beer like Coors. It’s fairly easy to drink, but does have a slight bitter aftertaste thanks to the sorghum base.

New Grist is my latest gluten-free beer discovery, and I find it an extremely drinkable light-tasting beer without much of an aftertaste. According to their web site, “New Grist is the first beer brewed without malted barley or any gluten-containing products to be recognized as beer by the U.S. Government.”

Green’s Belgian Discovery Gluten-Free Amber beer was an extremely pleasant surprise. It’s tasty and beer-like without a nasty aftertaste and has a complex, golden body. My fellow gluten-free taste tester with a taste for beer liked it the best of Green’s beers, and I had to agree. Well worth the effort to hunt this beer down! i liked it so much I bought one to take home.

On the other hand, Green’s Belgian Endeavour Gluten-Free Dubbel might appeal to those who like a dark beer, and it certainly had a strong, distinctive taste. However, to my taste buds it tasted unpleasantly medicinal, and my fellow taster thought that it was weirdly “sweet.” After the first dainty sip, I literally could not drink any more, but it’s important to remember that tastes vary and you might enjoy it, so it’s definitely worth a try.

Green’s Belgian Quest Gluten-Free Tripel Blonde Ale is quite fizzy and somewhat sweet. It’s easy to drink, and pleasant with an almost perfume-like flavor. It had a slightly bitter aftertaste. I bought one to take home, but more for the sake of comparison than anything- I couldn’t see myself drinking it regularly.

Have you tried these gluten-free beers? I’m just working on developing a palate for beer, so you might have a much different impression of them. Please tell me what you think of them in the comments!

Interested in visiting the Wine Mine and buying your own gluten-free beer? Here’s their info:
Wine Mine
5427 Telegraph Ave
Oakland CA
Monday: closed (except 11/24, 12/22 call for hours)
Tue – Fri: 11:00 – 6:30pm
Saturday: 11:00 – 6:00pm
Sunday: 11:00 – 4:00pm

For now, I’ll leave you with the recipe for Patti’s delicious and easy tomato bruschetta. Hopefully I’ve whetted your appetite for Mariposa’s tasty gluten-free baked goods. Remember, I don’t have any affiliation with these folks- just an appreciation for some quality gluten-free goods. In fact… I might just have to bake one of those gluten-free pizzas for dinner tonight. :)

Did you go to the Mariposa Cafe One Year Anniversary party? Tell me about it in the comments!

Mariposa Tomato Bruschetta Recipe
1 container Trader Joe’s refrigerated Bruschetta Sauce
lots of finely diced Roma tomatoes
olive oil to taste
a dash of sea salt and white pepper
a smile while it was being prepared. (Food always tastes better when made with a smile! :-))

*Sea’s note: a little fresh basil would be tasty, too!

1 Gluten-free baguette (Mariposa’s or your favorite homemade baguette recipe- I often make Bette Hagman’s rapid-rise french bread, but Mariposa’s baguettes are more nutritious), sliced and toasted (if bread is not fresh out of the oven) A

Combine topping ingredients in a medium or large bowl, tasting as you go to adjust seasonings. When it tastes perfect let it sit for a few minutes (or half an hour) to let flavors marry and then serve on toasted baguette slices OR let guests spoon their topping onto fresh slices to taste.

A simple and fun party appetizer!
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