November 9, 2006
A sure sign of the coming of winter is the fact that most of the North Coast Growers Association's many farmers' markets have closed for the season. My favorite, the Saturday Arcata Farmers' Market on the Plaza, has just two weekends left to go, with Nov. 18 the last chance until spring to stroll around the square chatting with friends while sipping Los Bagels' limeade or Feral Farms' fresh-squeezed juice and munching on Brio pastries or one of those great Celebration Catering shrimp tamales. (Added bonus for that last Arcata market: African music by Djialy Kunde Kouyate. Folk-rocker Eileen Hemphill-Haley and her band play this coming Saturday.)
While there used to be a farmers' market dead zone between November and April, there's a change this year. The marketeers won't all have the usual winter-long hibernation. Instead, those growers and food vendors who have product year-round will have a place to sell through the winter at the new Eureka Co-op. After taking Thanksgiving weekend off, the Saturday market gets underway there Dec. 2, with market day running from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. (The market is currently running there Thursdays from 4-7 p.m.)
There was some controversy among the growers when the Co-op deal was initially proposed, and there's more now. As reported in the most recent NCGA newsletter, "The Eureka Co-op Market [got] off to a slow and jittery start with many issues that need to be worked out. The huge parking lot with an unlimited number of vendor booths that the Co-op told us about is just not the reality. The reality is that there are probably 12 spots available."
An additional problem: The covered area promised fell by the wayside during construction. When I visited on opening day in October, Co-op General Manager Len Mayer explained that rather than the planned permanent overhang, some sort of awning would be erected to protect from the weather. While it's not exactly what the farmers were dreaming about, and a supermarket parking lot is a far cry from a walkable plaza, at least there's a place where we can continue to buy local produce direct from the growers in the off-season. Me? I'll probably find something else to do with my Saturday mornings.
They call it the First Annual Conservation Unlimited Wine and Cheese Gala, but as the Journal's old copy editor, the late Howard Seemann, always pointed out nothing is annual until its second time around.
"We're hoping it will be a big success so we can do it again next year," said event coordinator Jeanette Griffin, a senior wildlife major at Humboldt State.
"They're actually our cheese sponsor," said Griffin. "Our main wine donors are Moonstone Crossing and Robert Goodman. We'll also have wine from Elk Prairie, mead from Chico and Pinot Noir from Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino County. Then there are auction items from a lot of other wineries."
It's not a dinner, but there will more than just cheese, said Griffin, noting that a lot of the students are bringing in game meat nosh. "We'll have venison, duck, pheasant and some salmon -- one of our students is from Anchorage, so she'll be bringing fish that she and her family caught up there. And we'll have bread and pastries from local bakeries and some things made by a couple of students who've gone to culinary academy before switching to wildlife."
Among the wine to be auctioned off: a sought-after bottle of Duckhorn Vineyards estate-grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. You can also bid on animal-related items, like a tour of the PAWS Ark2000 animal sanctuary in San Andreas up in Gold Country, or (showing the flipside of wildlife conservation) a Brant goose hunting trip with one of the students who works at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Griffin noted that Conservation Unlimited is a campus club at HSU. "We're actually one of the oldest clubs. We formed in 1946, so we're celebrating our 60th year," she said, explaining that the group assists students participating in various Wildlife Society events.
"We're considered an athletic team, because our students also have a wildlife quiz bowl team that competes against other schools with wildlife trivia." Griffin is studying up on "wildlife minutia" to see if she can make the award-winning team next session. What sort of trivia? "They might ask what year was the Lacey Act enacted. That's the act that prevents interstate commerce in illegally obtained animal parts. I think it was 1934." (She has more studying to do. While she's right about the purpose of the Lacey Act, is was actually passed on May 25, 1900.)
The Conservation Unlimited Wine and Cheese Gala is Saturday, Nov. 11, from 6:30-10 p.m. at the Wharfinger Building on the waterfront in Eureka. In addition to wine and food, the event will include dancing to music by Eureka Brass and a talk by Professor Jeff Dunk.
For those wondering about the (formerly) annual College of the Redwoods Autumn Vintage Wine Gala, which usually happens at this time of year, it's on hold. Wine lovers should also note that the date for the next KEET-TV Wine Tasting and Auction (the 9th annual) has been changed to Saturday, Feb. 24, 2007, and it's moving to the Blue Lake Casino's Sapphire Palace.
There's an unusual meal coming up next Wednesday, Nov. 15, something called "The 250 Mile Potluck." Presented by HSU's Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT), the Humboldt Peak Oil Action Group and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, the event is conceived with an eye towards the buy-local mindset, with diners invited to share favorite dishes made from ingredients grown within 250-miles of Arcata.
This offers a bit more leeway than the "Hundred-Mile Diet" Shannon Tracey discussed in her "Talk of the Table" column, "Extreme Local Eating" (read it online in the Journal's March 9, 2006 edition), but it's still a challenge. CCAT supplies a list of available local ingredients on its website (www.humboldt.edu/~ccat/); looking at it I'm guessing you'll probably see a lot of salads at the Grange and maybe some sort of amaranth dish. (Paul, are you going? Hint. Hint.)
CCAT also offers a list of foods not available within 250 miles, among them bread, flour, most grains, including wheat (unless you drive to Scott Valley), vegetable oils, baking soda, baking powder, most citrus fruit (um, we have lemons in our yard), pasta, salt and pepper, sugar, chocolate, tea and coffee. I don't think I'd ever make it in a post-peak oil world -- I need my hot morning beverage. The 250-Mile Potluck takes place at the Bayside Grange at 6 p.m.
While we're on the topic of local foods, I should mention the Sunrise Rotary Club of Arcata's Taste of the Holidays coming up next Thursday, Nov. 16. The emphasis of this event is on Humboldt County's specialty food producers, so expect samples of things like Cypress Grove chevre, Henry's Olives or those yummy Laceys chocolate/toffee cookies from Desserts on Us, along with a wide array of local wines and brews. Taste runs from 5-8 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center. Admission is $20, and they prefer only those 15 and older attend. (Doesn't that seem like an unusual cut-off age?)
By chance, around the time I heard about the 250-Mile Potluck, Beverley Wolfe from Avalon sent me an invitation to "Humboldt Harvest Night," a special night at the Eureka restaurant along somewhat similar lines, but presumably without the global politics. The idea for the dinner was to have an "all-local" menu (although it wasn't totally different from the place's usual fare, since, like many area eateries, Avalon strives toward buying local when it can). The cooks at Avalon admittedly fudged a little here and there with occasional ingredients like bread and chocolate that show up on CCAT's banned list. As Beverley put it, "one MUST have chocolate!"
What did they have? Appetizers included wild mushroom pâté, Kumomoto oysters (raw or grilled) and butternut squash-black truffle raviolis made with toasted pumpkin seeds, garlic, basil, arugula, crispy leeks and sage brown butter. (I'm guessing the black truffles were not local.) Among the entrées: butternut squash risotto with local wild mushrooms, organic free-range chicken pot pie, pan roasted black cod in an heirloom tomato broth, leg of Kramer lamb stuffed with wild mushrooms and chard and Barkdull's grass-fed T-bone steak with a wild mushroom demi-glace. (Just typing this up is making me hungry.) Unfortunately, the official Humboldt Harvest dinner was on Monday earlier this week (it's actually happening as I finish writing this), so you'll have to wait and see if they do it again. (And to avoid any confusion, I should also note that Avalon is not typically open on Mondays.)
If nothing else, these concept dinners night may inspire a new attitude on the part of Humboldt diners. How about this idea? Next time your waiter is listing the evening specials ask them: What do you have that's local?
Above: A Farmer's Market shopper peruses fresh flowers
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