A year-round growing season offers Central Coast residents an abundance of fresh fare
BY K. REKA BADGER
Prior to 2005, when a group of Berkeley-area foodies coined the term "locavore," the word may have conjured vague images of lunacy or avarice, but certainly not eco-minded sustainability. Since that time, the oddly perfect word has come to describe an ideal strategy for reducing waste and pollution, while its practitioners enjoy fresher, tastier meals.
Defined as "a person who eats food grown or sourced from within 100 miles of where they live or are staying," locavore combines
the Latin roots "loca" and "vor" to form a concept that roughly translates into "place eat." The gist of the neologism points to the often-neglected fact that the best food usually originates close to home.
A new planning guide encourages exploration of the local culinary scene and celebrates the locavore life.
|IMAGE COURTESY SANTA BARBARA CONFERENCE & VISITORS BUREAU AND FILM COMMISSION|
It's estimated that the components of today's average American meal travel about 1,500 miles from source to table. These mostly unnecessary miles involve traffic-congesting trucks, internal combustion, and bulky packaging, while the whole, unwieldy system contributes to the loss of vital nutrition through each product's processing, shipping, and time it spends languishing on a shelf.
In Santa Maria, livin' la vida locavore doesn't take a millionaire's wealth, or even much planning. With a year-round growing season and ever-industrious farmers, fresh meat, poultry, fruits, and veggies are readily available from area grocers and at the weekly farmers' markets.
There's ocean-fresh seafood from coastal catches walnuts, pistachios, and almonds from local groves and fragrant oil cold-pressed from regionally grown olives. Ranchers bring in beef, pork, and sausage, while family-owned dairies on the Central Coast turn out fresh milk and cheeses.
Neighboring fields abound with spring crops of artichokes and asparagus, followed by strawberries, sugar snap peas, fava beans, and cherries. Summer brings loads of apricots, plums, corn, squash, and heirloom tomatoes and later, figs, peppers, melons, and grapes for both eating and pressing into wine. Culinary herbs thrive in backyards and commercial fields alike.
In an effort to strengthen the locavore movement, the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission recently released the Get Fresh on the American Riviera Culinary travel planner, a guide to food and drink in Santa Barbara County. It includes listings of everything from cooking classes and regional specialties to U-pick farms and wine trails, and is available gratis online or via snail mail.
The planner--which notes area restaurants, bakeries, markets, food forays, and tours of both conventional and biodynamically farmed wineries--provides useful information for newcomers, out-of-town visitors, and even locals who want a fresh look at their own town and county. Though its title cites the "American Riviera" (a reference to the South Coast), the planner includes tips for exploring the Santa Maria Valley, arguably the Burgundy of the Central Coast, what with its acres of vineyards and stellar Pinot Noir.
Among the events highlighted in the planner are Global Gardens' in-store and outdoor tastings slated for the first Saturday of every month in Los Olivos (693-1600, or www.globalgardensgifts.com). These gatherings feature samples of new items from the store's gardens and Buellton-based commercial kitchen, as well as tips for using its fruit vinegars and extra virgin olive oil.
According to the planner's calendar, blueberry lovers can pick the plump fruit right from the bushes at Restoration Oaks Ranch, near Gaviota, from May until mid-September (623-2143, or www.restorationoaksranch.com), while at Morrell Nut & Berry Farm (688-8969) in Solvang, the raspberries and blackberries are ripe and ready for plucking at about the same time.
To encourage exploration of the Central Coast's culinary scene, the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau Website also offers printable coupons for deals and discounts on area events. They include certificates for wine tasting at Hitching Post II tickets to "Vines to Steins: Tasting the Perfect Elixirs in Santa Barbara County," hosted by Breakaway Tours and Event Planning and bookings of the tempting "Vintners' Escape Package" at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott.
The locavore movement originated in San Francisco and was intended to reconnect diners with their local farmers. In 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary named the term Word of the Year, but here on the Central Coast, we've been living the locavore life for ages.
To get a copy of the Get Fresh on the American Riviera Culinary travel planner, contact 966-9222 or log onto www.santabarbarafresh.com. For more information about the locavore movement, visit www.locavores.com.
Mediterranean Pipeline Pasta
from Executive Chef Jerry Wilson, Endless Summer bar-cafe, Santa Barbara
In a large stockpot, bring 16 cups water, 1 tsp. olive oil, and 1 tsp. salt to boil. Add 1 lb. Italian penne pasta, cook 12 minutes or until done. Strain, rinse, and chill in cold water. In a large bowl, toss chilled pasta with 2 chopped tomatoes 1/2 lb. crumbled Feta cheese 1 cup each Kalamata olives, chopped and pitted, and chopped sun-dried tomatoes 1/4 cup fresh, chopped basil and 1/2 cup each balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh Parmesan cheese, grated. Salt and pepper to taste. For an entree, add grilled shrimp skewers or chilled bay shrimp.
K. Reka Badger likes to keep things fresh. Send your locally grown ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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