Breakaway Cook

SF Zen Center Turns 50 — Come Celebrate at Green Gulch

Wow, I never put it together that I’m the same age as the San Francisco Zen Center — what a nice little coincidence! We’re having a big benefit bash at Green Gulch on Saturday September 8 to celebrate the milestone, and to pay homage to the incredible farming that’s gone on at Green Gulch for much of that time. These zen-inspired farmers were way, way ahead of their time, and have been doing sustainable organic farming for the past 40 years. The farm-to-table luncheon will feature GG produce in an elegant menu written by Annie Somerville, the charming and long-time executive chef of Green’s Restaurant, and prepared by Aaron Jonas and paired with some very creative non-alcoholic cocktails specially created for the event by wine guru Mark Ellenbogen.

The event starts at 11 am, and goes till 2:30. Lots more info, including how to purchase tickets, here. For additional info about the event or even to sponsor it some form, contact Scott McDougall,  who happens to be a matcha maestro and incredibly nice person, at [email protected] And speaking of matcha, we’re trying to arrange a tasting of our Blend 97 near the dessert course, so even more reason to book a seat or two. Proceeds from this event will help support the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center’s Cloud Hall renovation project.

I’ll be a featured speaker, as will legendary organic farmers Wendy Johnson and Sarah Tashker. Other speakers include CUESA’s Dave Stockdale, and 18 Reason’s Olivia Maki.

Don’t miss it! Afterward you can take the surreally gorgeous walk from Green Gulch to Muir Beach, which has to be one of Marin’s most magical. See you there!

 

Photo by Gyokuden Steph Wenderski 

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Daily Candy Discovers Breakaway Matcha!

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Any Daily Candy fans out there? To our great delight, their curators have discovered Breakaway Matcha. They often feature great stuff — check them out. It’s a big coup for us, for sure — lots of new matcha family members already.

Who is Daily Candy? From their website:

“DailyCandy is dedicated to helping you live the sweet life. DailyCandy editors scour the corners of the U.S. and London to deliver the very best in style, food, fashion, and fun for free via email, video, and the Web. Want the latest and greatest? Sign up for the DailyCandy email. Need help navigating your city? Visit DailyCandy.com, the new one-stop for what to do, shop, see, and eat in your city and beyond. It’s your life — curated by DailyCandy.

Lots more on beautiful matcha at Breakaway Matcha.

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Matcha and Chocolate Tasting at TCHO SF, September 24, 5pm

Artisanal matcha is one of those drinks that’s best imbibed on its own; most foods just interfere with and often obviate the delicate umami and acid structures of the tea. Matcha is almost like a food itself, really, with its chewy and creamy textures; it really doesn’t need much, if any, accompaniment.

But there’s one big exception to that rule: great chocolate. Artisanal chocolate and artisanal matcha play incredibly well together.  The combination is a rare one, one whose sum is far greater than its parts. Both are laden with umami, have perfectly balanced acid structures, and have long finishes. Taken together, the experience intensifies into a calm elation that must be experienced to be believed.

I’m really happy to announce that Breakaway Matcha has partnered with TCHO chocolate, the SF-based obsessive makers of some truly dreamy chocolate. It’s almost scary how well our matcha goes with their chocolates.

So come taste! It’s only $20 to sample all three matcha blends and the complete TCHO line. The event takes places at TCHO’s trippy and wonderful headquarters on Pier 17, and we’re limiting it to just 20 people so that it can be as intimate as possible. From 5 to 6 pm on Saturday, Sept 24.  Write Tyler at [email protected] to reserve a spot. It will be a perfect unique start to your Saturday evening! Check out the cool flyer they made for the event. And come join us!

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My Yoga Journal Essay on Fish, Umami, and Veggies

This article on the declining role of fish in my life was written for Yoga Journal. I  hope you enjoy both the essay and the three new recipes from the new vegetarian book. They did a terrific job with both the styling and the photography (and the editing, for that matter).

It was a little tricky to embed the PDF file I got from my editor there, but it should be readable — to increase the font size, hold down the control key while hitting the + sign.  Would love to hear your comments and opinions!

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More Zen Cooking, March 20

If you’re free on Sunday, March 20, please consider joining me at the San Francisco Zen Center for an afternoon of umami-driven vegetarian cooking. It’s a wonderful opportunity to check out the Julia Morgan-designed Zen Center and its alluring (and immense) kitchen. I’ll be co-teaching the class with zen maestra Dana Velden, who also writes a lovely and soulful blog at The Kitchn, which is part of Apartment Therapy. We will of course be eating all the things we create. The building is on the corner of Page and Laguna, in San Francisco. Please sign up early if you can, since we’re limiting the class size to just 20. Hope to see you there!

For those of you who don’t know this strange-looking citrus, it’s a Buddha’s Hand citron; my tiny little tree just keeps cranking them out. I like to cut the fingers off and dry them, then pulverize them and combine with sel gris for an extremely tasty finishing salt. I also make my annual Buddhacello by infusing vodka with plenty of fingers, adding syrup, and freezing. One of my all-time favorite desserts!

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The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen … 99 Cents Till Monday!

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The good people at Vook are offering some love: a Valentine’s Day special on the Breakaway Japanese Kitchen. For anyone who doesn’t already have this fun little app for Iphones, Ipads, and the web, it features a bunch of videos of me making dishes from The BJK, with full recipes.  I don’t think it’ll ever get cheaper than 99 cents.

Happy Valentines Day to everyone — cook something nice for your sweetie, please.

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Thank You Itunes! + Matcha Is Shipping

A few noteworthy items besides this comforting local hachiya persimmon tree.

Itunes just named The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen one their Top Five “Enhanced” books of the year! Very excited about it. For those of you with Ipads, Iphones, and Kindles,  please do check it out. Thank you Apple!

Also please note that all three grades of Breakaway Matcha are ready to ship — they make one impressive xmas gift!  30 cups of antioxidant-packed epicurean wakefulness. Web ordering still not quite there, but you can write me if you’re interested and I’ll give you the lowdown on the three grades. I also have the matcha toolkit (electric frother, sieve, and bamboo scoop) ready to go. If you get your order in this week,  the matcha will arrive in plenty of time for the holidays. Hand-crafted matcha ceramics are, alas, not quite ready: they’re being fired as I type, and will be available sometime in January, it looks like. The shapes and glazes are nothing short of stunning, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

I hope everyone can find the wherewithal to focus on what matters during this utterly wacky time of the year. It’s as if we all feel compelled to cram into the next two weeks everything we’ve somehow neglected to do before bell of the calendar year rings for the final time. Not a bad time to breathe, do a little yoga, maybe even take a day or two off to just sit and watch, as the world spins frantically on. Don’t get swept away by it: enjoy it!

And one final note:  a friend hand-delivered a tin of the Blend 100 Breakaway Matcha to the Obamas last night and served it at the White House. The President is a fan of matcha ice cream, so I’m really hoping he and Michelle become aficionados. Better governing through matcha!  :^)

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Commonwealth Club Talk, November 30

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And a quick reminder: I’m VERY excited about my upcoming talk at the Commonwealth Club in SF, next Tuesday (November 30). Details on the event are here. I’m going to be talking all about the elusive concept of authenticity, and about how important it is to be a beginner in cooking. Many of us have cooked for decades, and have quite fixed opinions  on our likes and dislikes, and have largely closed our minds to new taste experiences. We’re going to do some blind tasting, too. It’s limited to 40 people — I’m not sure how many have sold so far, but if there are any seats left and you can be in downtown SF that day at 5:30 pm, please try to make it — it will be a talk unlike any I’ve given before. Hope to see you there!

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A Few New Public Cooking Classes

What does this post have to do with our family trip to Toronto (here, Niagara Falls)? Nothing, but it’s been a while since I’ve posted a Daphne picture!

I’m doing a few public classes around the SF Bay area in October that I want to mention. As always, I’d love for you to come to one (or more!) if you can. Make sure you introduce yourself, too, if we haven’t yet met in person.

October 7, 6:30 – 8:30 pm: Homeward Bound, in Novato, CA. A fantastic organization that helps homeless people, including families, in dozens of ways. They’ve set up an impressive culinary training center, which is where we’ll do the class. They were even kind enough to send me a few free tickets for this event, so if you’d like to come and really can’t afford it, let me know. If you can, though, they can really use the support.

October 23, 2 – 6pm, followed by dinner: San Francisco Zen Center. More zen cooking! A vegetarian class, co-taught with maestra Dana Velden, who also led the Tassajara cooking retreat we did a few months ago. Another remarkable setting, in the Julia Morgan-designed ZC building on the corner of Laguna and Page. This will be a slower, more deliberate class that I know will strike all the right chords for many of you.

October 28, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, Draeger’s Cooking School in San Mateo. An autumn-inspired menu, for folks in the south bay.

Hope to see you at one of them!

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Sea Change Radio Interview + “Ethnic Organic”

I recently did a fun and in-depth interview with Alex Wise of Sea Change Radio called “Eat, Drink, and Be Sustainable.” The whole thing is here.  In one segment, I talk about an essay I wrote years ago on why more “ethnic” restaurants and markets don’t make the plunge into the organic world, and some reasons why the organic movement seems to focus on the culinary traditions of Italy and France, and not so much on the cuisines of Japan, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia (the mainstays of breakaway cooking).

The essay was buried so deeply in the site that I myself couldn’t find it! So here it is, at Alex’s request, below. Would LOVE to hear some reactions — I know it’s much longer than usual, but sometimes a little extra depth isn’t a bad thing . . . . Please let me know what you think.

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It’s Time for “Ethnic Organic”

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I get dizzy just thinking of the thousands of newspaper and magazine articles written about food in California. It’s a flood that never stops. But if I had to reduce ALL of them—and we’re talking many millions of words here—to just two words or phrases, I’d probably choose “seasonal/organic” and “ethnic.”

When I consider what makes food in California unique and special, I first think of Chez Panisse, The French Laundry, Gary Danko, and many other great restaurants here that use artisanal, often organic ingredients, and I think of the farmers’ markets that supply them. But just as quickly the thousands of Thai, Indian, Japanese, and many other nation-based restaurants that make up such an important part of our contemporary culinary identity pop into my mind. We can walk outside, seven days a week, and eat just about anything, from just about anyplace, and expect it to be not just good, but really good. We take all this for granted, but it’s astounding how many options we have to eat.

With all this cross pollination going on, we’d expect to see more of a seasonal, organic influence in all the ethnic food, and more of an ethnic influence in all the organic food. Yet, we see very little of either, which is a bit of a mystery to me. There is this rather stark divide between the ingredient-driven organic movement, which tends to showcase cooking that is in essence based on rustic French and rustic Italian traditions and the wines that go with them, and the equally ingredient-driven cuisines of East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America; it’s just that the “ingredients” of the latter are often prepared concoctions like miso, tamarind, preserved lemons, adobo, pomegranate molasses, oyster sauce, and dozens of other intensely flavorings from around that world that I call “global flavor blasts.” At least in the United States, the emphasis is more on these bold flavors than on the highest quality produce and meats available, though I think eating produce and meats in the countries of those traditions is a more pleasant experience than it is here, because it’s almost necessarily all local stuff.

Considering the ubiquity of farmers’ markets and ethnic markets, then, it would seem utterly natural for California (home) cooks and (restaurant) chefs to combine these two pillars—the organic and the ethnic—and a few exceptional restaurants have, but for the most part our ethnic communities have not embraced the organic movement, and the organic community has not embraced ethnic foods. This is baffling, given the intimate mingling of the two, and it seems destined to change as the world and its national culinary boundaries inexorably continue to shrink.

The organic movement—and by that I mean people who produce and consume sustainably raised produce and meats, ideally purchased and eaten within a few hundred miles or so of where they are grown—has not been quick to adopt nonEuropean ingredients and techniques. Farmers, of course, aren’t responsible for what chefs do with their product. But, at the same time, a lot of the farmers, especially the higher-profile farmers who sell their wonderful goods to the higher-profile restaurants like Chez Panisse (which has pioneered symbiotic and direct relationships between farmers and chefs) are becoming increasingly influential, and I can’t help but wish that they would familiarize themselves with some basic global flavor blasts and begin recommending their use alongside their gorgeous, sustainable product.

Visit the Ferry Plaza on Saturday mornings, or the Marin farmers’ market on Sunday mornings, and you will see what is surely some of the finest and most varied raw food available anywhere, no question about it. But if you ask the farmers what to do with all this great stuff, they’ll inevitably tell you the same thing. They’ll say, “oh just sauté it with a little olive oil and garlic, salt and pepper, maybe a little dash of lemon at the end. It’s great.” And it IS great. The Euro-inspired preparations for all of that artisanal produce are magnificent. We really cannot say enough flattering things about them.

But I think we can take it all to even further gastronomic heights by increasing the global flavor tools at our disposal while still keeping things familiar enough to be cozy and comfortable. Corn on the cob? Instead of the classic butter treatment, try drizzling on some fruity olive oil and sprinkling a little salt that’s been blended with kaffir lime leaves. Lightly tinged green, perfectly organic eggs that come from happy chickens? Poach them, then combine matcha (finely powdered green tea) and salt and dust the eggs with it. You’ll never go back to eating them any other way! Seasonal, wild-caught salmon? Spoon on pomegranate molasses and olive oil and roast it in a hot oven. All are nearly instant ways to enjoy the foods we love in vibrant and easy new ways, with the simplest of little borrowings from other traditions.

Moreover, unlike many of the seasonal, organically driven restaurants and bistros, who often boast of the origins of their ingredients right on the menu (“Grilled Wolf Ranch quail with Chino Farm vegetable medley ragout”), it’s rare—even almost unheard of—to go into a higher-end ethnic restaurant and find a lot of emphasis on locally grown, sustainably produced things (though Dosa, Aziza, and the Slanted Door are three notable exceptions). It’s more about technique, tradition, and global flavor blasts, even though fresh vegetables do indeed play important roles. So why is it that the great chefs of these traditions are, by and large, slow to join the organic movement?

For starters, they tend to rely heavily on ingredients from home. Japanese food, especially, requires ingredients like miso, umeboshi (pickled, salty apricots), konbu, mirin, and many of the fish needed for a “proper” meal of sushi. It’s more or less imported and prepared in toto exactly as it is in Tokyo, except … it loses something along the way. The same might be said for much Southeast Asian food, for Indian food, and for Middle Eastern food. We in the United States have this notion that, unless we can get more or less the exact same fare as that found in the home countries of those cuisines, it won’t be “authentic” and is thus unworthy of our attention. Notice that we don’t feel as strongly about getting perfectly authentic versions of Mediterranean food; we somehow give ourselves license to adapt these cuisines to local conditions. And in California, that increasingly means local, sustainable, and, if possible, organic.

Can you imagine if some of the higher-end ethnic restaurants began to take good produce more seriously? It would be a wonder to walk into an Indian restaurant and look at a menu , and instead of seeing pretty much the exact same list of foods that you’ve seen in the last 20 Indian restaurants you’ve visited, some of them would try some new local things, and also to brag about the quality and origin of their produce (“Aloo Gobi made with new Marin Roots potatoes and organic cauliflower from Full Belly Farms”).

The organic and ethnic worlds have not yet embraced, though I detect the beginning movements of a mating dance, and think it’s inevitable that it will happen. Why? Because the world is getting smaller every day. A lot of us today have had the experience of traveling and eating in what used to be called “exotic” countries. Flights are significantly cheaper than they used to be if we adjust for inflation (and even sometimes on an absolute basis), and it’s just not that exotic or daring or unusual anymore to walk with hill tribes in Laos, to visit lemurs in Madagascar, to trek in Nepal or Tibet, or to island-hop around Indonesia and the South Pacific. Cheap fares, more wealth, and Lonely Planet guides have ensured that nearly all of us nowadays have experienced some kind of travel tinged with exotica.

Today, it’s just not as “other” to experience the cuisines of these far-flung countries as it used to be. Has anyone reading this not had Thai cooking? Younger people especially, who have grown up with this huge panoply of ethnic restaurants, find it difficult to imagine a world without them—it’s that much a part of their cultural make up. And as time goes on, this trend is only going to get stronger–it’s not as if, all of a sudden, global travel and global cuisine are going to get more esoteric and harder to find. In short, it will get less “other.”

It is this “otherness” that, in my opinion, prevents ethnic cuisines from entering the mainstream organic movement. Even in a place as culinarily sophisticated as the Bay Area, many of us still have a good deal of trepidation when we walk into an Indian market; there’s the woman with the sari, the ragas are playing, there’s a heady mixture of cardamom, coriander, and chiles from the lunch she’s just prepared that’s filling the store. It’s still an “other” experience; it’s not that easy to just waltz in, browse the shelves, and let the experimentation begin. Oddly enough, however, it might be stores like Whole Foods or even Trader Joe’s, and their ready acceptance of more and more ethnic ingredients and ethnic-inspired prepared food, that will bridge the gap. We somehow feel more confident buying unfamiliar ingredients in a more familiar space.

Part of this dynamic, too, is that these ethnic communities used to have really wonderful produce sections, back in the 70s and 80s. One would go there for quality produce—it was actually much better than what you could get at Safeway at the time, before the rise of farmers markets. Nowadays it’s a very different story. It seems like it’s all about the cheap—whoever’s got the cheapest access to the crap they sell from the Central Valley, where price is absolutely Almighty, sells the most. It’s sad, but it’s an accurate description of the produce available at most ethnic markets these days. Ethnic markets are of interest to us not for their fresh vegetable and fruit selection, but for their global flavor blasts.

It’s such an exciting time to be a cook, and an eater. It’s high time we learned to accept and play with what may seem slightly exotic ingredients today, but which are destined to become more mainstream and add sparkle and excitement to our meals. Does anyone even remember when sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil—products that couldn’t be more common today—held that edge of the new and exciting? The same trajectory is in place for global flavor blasts like lemongrass, tamarind, miso, saffron, unusual citrus fruits like yuzu and preserved lemons, pomegranate molasses, matcha, umeboshi, and many, many more.

I, for one, can’t wait.

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