Living in Humboldt County is a culinary bacchanal in many ways. The quality of produce available here is easy to forget until you visit almost anywhere else in the country, where local organic salad mixes and Hokkaido squash are difficult to come by. Our homegrown pork and beef are hard to beat — have you tried the Anderson Kids' Ranch pork chops yet? — sausage casings are for sale in Loleta, and though our local cheese counters could use a little help, we get some good stuff from Cypress Grove and Libation.
In other ways, living here is like being in a gulag food-wise. In the past, we relied on annual trips to The Big City to score such goodies as whitefish and real pomegranate molasses, but now, thanks to the Internet and the slightly horrifying excess of FedEx delivery, virtually any foodstuff is at our fingertips.
Getting food shipped past the Redwood Curtain is expensive and decadent; I reserve it for special items that open up new avenues. There is a multitude of websites that ship anything from endangered animal organs to boiled peanuts (I don't recommend either), but my family uses a few that are worth checking out.
Greek Imports (www.greekimportsinc.com) in Daly City is in visiting distance, but if the Bay Area just isn't your jam, your violent craving for gigantes (giant white beans) can still be sated via their amusing website, which plays Greek bouzouki music through your whole shopping experience ($2-3). Get some giant white beans. They are in a can. Do it. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon and I promise you that is exactly what 10,000 Greeks are eating right now.
Parthenon Foods (www.parthenonfoods.com) has a less charming website, which means that it's less Greek and hence works much more efficiently. Order some fantastic loukoumi ($5-6), or Turkish Delight (in Greece it's just the Greek word for "Delight" — ahem), some trahanas, which is a tangy dried pasta made with yogurt ($4-5), and some Lebanese jallab syrup made from sugar, figs and rosewater ($4). I really like Greek dried oregano, which is subtly different from ours; roasted lamb kebabs just aren't the same without it ($2-3). If you want souvlaki, half-measures will avail you of nothing. Get some real Greek herb.
Durham's Tracklements (www.tracklements.com) in Ann Arbor, Mich. sounds like Christmas to me, because our family orders smoked salmon for the holidays. The North Coast has some nice smoked salmon — acknowledgement Fish Bros. — but friends, if you like smoked fish, you will sympathize when I tell you that since I left New York I have been half a woman without top-quality lox. Get ready to turn your back on eating locally when you taste the Original Highland Smoked Salmon from Tracklements ($59 for 1 1/2 pounds). All ethical and economic concerns will recede into the haze of your old life, as you bite into the most buttery, most tender, most richly, delicately, heavenly fish ever to blanket a bagel.
Istanbul Food Bazaar (www.istanbulfoodbazaar.com) out of New Jersey is just that, a bazaar. I thought I didn't care for Turkish cuisine until I went to Turkey as an adult and realized it's way more than swarthiness. Get some sumac, a lovely red spice with a tangy-fruity-sour flavor that is delicious in vinaigrettes, and both decorative and refreshing on fish and chicken ($6). Expand your sweetener selection with carob or grape molasses ($3-9).
Daria, a friend in Istanbul, turned me onto this epic salad dressing with grape molasses and tahini.
Our friend Daria is an amazing Turkish home cook. She made some impossibly difficult grain-wrapped poached meatballs that are both cloud-light and butter-rich. They're too hard, so make this instead. Turkish green salads are notable for their generous use of chopped fresh dill, and Daria tossed them with something like this:
Ingredients and method:
Makes about 2/3 cup
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
2 teaspoons grape molasses
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Whisk all ingredients vigorously right before serving.