The SFPFS Blog

Salt Event at Williams Sonoma

SFPFS Salt Tasting 6-2015-1

To quote James Beard, “Where would we be without salt?” But these days deciding which salt to use can be overwhelming.

Table salt, sea salt, rock salt, flake salt, sel gris, Himalayan salt, salt plank, seasoned salts, finishing salts. From the beginning, salt has been an important and integral part of cooking. But what is the best type of salt for what application? How do you use a salt plank? Amanda Haas, Culinary Director for Williams Sonoma and her staff demonstrated the different uses and types of salt.

Participants enjoyed delicious and generous samplings of food prepared on the salt plank and then rotate through different tasting stations to experience a variety of flavored salts.

Tasting SIG May 2015

By Sophia Markoulakis

Sometimes the most mundane topic spurs the most discussion, which is what happened at our recent tasting SIG. The topic—Vegetable Broth—has the means to solicit a collective yawn by many, but when discussing vegetarianism, substitutions for chicken broth, and the integrity of our most trusted brands, you have the makings for an interesting evening.

We went in to this knowing that the broth would have to be heated to accurately assess and compare, and member Nancy Kux not only procured our assortment, but also brought samples in unmarked Mason jars that were kept warm in a water bath.

The tasting was an eye opener for the seven of us that gathered, all confessing that we seldom used vegetable broth, either because of unfortunate past experiences or lack of brand awareness. We all acknowledged that we have our favorite shelf-stable chicken broth brand, and we were curious to see if those trusted brands delivered on a vegetarian option.

Most of us agreed that we opted for water in place of broth when cooking vegetarian, enhancing the flavors of a dish by using ingredients like tomato sauce, mushrooms, and other umami-like substitutions.

As we slurped our unidentifiable broths, it was clear which ones were flavored with certain vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, celery, herbs). It was also eye-opening to learn what went in to the brands we tasted (starch, yeast, sugar, chemical preservatives).

In all we tasted seven broths, which are ranked below, from the group’s number one favorite starting the list. All were purchased at Molly Stone’s; price and sodium amounts listed below.

1. Aneto, Spain, $8. 674 mg (Notes: rich, not too salty, herbal, well balanced)
2. Swanson, $3.49. 800 mg (Notes: sweet, carrot, tomato, salt)
3. Imagine, $3.99. 520 mg (Notes: chicken, fatty, pepper, bland)
4. O Organic, $2.49 570 mg (Notes: salty, tin-like, no fragrance, many ingredients)

The last three brands each received one vote.
5. Trader Joe’s, $2.39. 330 mg (Notes: watery, tart, flat, salt)
6. Emeril’s, $4.59. 570 mg (Notes: stuffing, cloudy, unappealing)
7. Pacific, $4.89. 540 mg (Notes: sour, salty, spoiled potatoes, citrus)

I’m not sure if it was the subconscious reference to vegetarianism that inspired everyone to bring a vegetarian dish for our Vegetable Broth tasting SIG, or just a sign of the times—either way feasted on Indian-themed food like Prawn Pulau (prawns don’t count as meat, do they?), Bhei Puri (a Mumbai street food) green bean curry with rice and a couple Mediterranean-inspired dishes like grilled asparagus, grilled artichokes, and feta and tomato toast.


Wine SIG May 18, 2015

Thieves, dirty and rowdy, a couple of banshees and cheap sex
By John Wiest

Monday May 18, 2015, the Wine SIG gathered at the lovely home of Spring Kraeger in Corte Madera. Our assignment was to taste two flights of wines from new, smaller and some might say eccentric winemakers. Sean Timberlake curated the assembled wines from his personal and professional connections and international travels. (Ask him about his upcoming guided exploration of culinary Emilia-Romagna this autumn.)

Per the protocols established by new wine SIG leaders, Victoria Green and Toby Baird, all wines were tasted one at a time with in-depth back story provided by Sean. Our tasting panel patiently sipped and salivated in anticipation of some extraordinary appetizers, salads, mains and sweets.

Little did we know what lie ahead. As my brother in the 49th State says, there’s a reason a person moves to Alaska – and there’s a reason why people start their own wineries: they want to be different and want other people live and sip differently. And so the politics began.



Sean took great pains to identify unique wineries and winemakers that are starting their own family stories. Unlike scions of historic wine families or those who had significant funds to start up, all of these winemakers are coming into the process from unique and personal origins, often starting in their basements, garages or even dorm rooms. All are bootstrapping their way to success by lending their distinctive voice and winemaking to the market. To learn more about their stories, please refer to the final table for the full names of wineries and wines.

Now, the tasting.
Chardonnay, bah you bellow, it’s been “done before”, but wait until you taste the freshness of a no malolactic Sonoma Coast chardonnay (Les Voleurs, ”the thieves”) or the grapes also from Sonoma Coast and famed Heitz Vineyard (Banshee) for refreshing fruit and little oak to get in the way. Two winners.

Then came the quirky and quince-y Roussanne from Justice Grace Wines of Berkeley. Each of this winery’s progeny features a political / social justice theme in its title and label art. So, this is Solidarity with a rather uncharacteristic taste with grapes from the Sierra Foothills and seemingly wild yeast with a consequent wandering flavor profile. Bit of a head scratcher for nearly all tasters. I guess we’re not political at these meetings.

Dirty and Rowdy, founded by two independent minded couples, started in San Luis Obispo and has found a new home in Napa. There, they’ve chosen alternative styles, which in this case, a 2014 Semillon, unadorned by artifice: more than 90% organic grapes, no new oak and surprisingly, 14 days on the skins. Take a look and you’ll see a slightly cloudy, of course, unfiltered, wine with a 180 turn from sweet semillon to a grapefruit forward palate. Our tasters puzzled.

Going back to Chardonnay, (yes, our tasters are very flexible, yogis of wine tasting), we discovered a SLO Down wine, “Broken Dreams”, blending grapes from Napa, Sonoma and Lodi. To understand and appreciate the winemakers’ irreverence, visit their website. The wine, with a “guidance counselor told you so” Monkey on the label, it doesn’t quite deliver on its swagger – but offers plenty of citrus. Not a typical California chardonnay with or without oak.

After a brief pause, the thieves, aka Les Voleurs, returned with a quite pleasant Pinot Noir, 82% from Sonoma Coast grapes. This wine had a very light nose, crisp berry fruit (cold-soaked grapes at harvest) with a pleasant but noticeable tannic kick.

Another Sonoma Coast Pinot, this from Banshee, had more straightforward strawberry overtones and a tinge of tannin for a well-balanced wine.

Ratcheting it up a notch in flavor, the Shoe Shine Petite Sirah from Justice Grace, named for its extremely dark inky color, delivered flavor aplenty – as it also promises to deliver hope to the working poor. To gain recognition, this wine is capped with a cloth wrapper, hand applied. Shoe Shine was a tasting favorite, for the flavor, presumably.


And while you might expect a Mourvedre to have a Rhone-like palate, the Dirty and Rowdy 2014 offering is 100% Mourvedre with a very tight nose. While finished in a 100% sugar cane “cork”, the flavor profile hints at pear or currant, but stops well short of its promise. Some tasters note that it has many voices, but they never sing together.

Finally, well almost finally, what you’ve been waiting for, the sex part. Even better is sex and chocolate, or Sexual Chocolate, a blend of zinfandel, syrah, petite sirah and petit verdot which present a lavish fruit forward finish. Sexual Chocolate, produced by SLO Down Wines was a standout, and at $40, while not cheap, is a quite reasonable liquid liaison.

So, which wines would our tasters buy? Our top three were in fact four, with two ties.

Tasting Results – May 2015 – Notable Very Independent Winemakers (To enlarge, click on table.)


A delicious repast followed. Regrettably only a few were captured visually.




April 27, 2015 Book SIG

Note: Book SIG Co-coordinators Mary Margaret Sinnema and Linda Carucci will be passing on the leadership torch to Pam Elder and Frankie Whitman, starting with the coordination of the next Book SIG meeting on Monday, July 20, locations TBA. If you would like to host a regional Book SIG meeting, please contact or The book selection for July will be announced soon on the SFPFS Facebook page.

On Monday evening, April 27, three groups of SFPFS members met concurrently in Oakland, Belmont, and San Francisco to discuss the vast writings of MFK Fisher. Each group was fortunate to welcome a special guest who had known Mary Frances, the prolific and prickly author who passed away at 83 at her home in Glen Ellen, CA in 1992.

Antonia Allegra was the guest presenter at Linda Carucci’s home in Oakland. Jeannette Ferrary, who wrote a book about her friendship with Mary Frances, opened her Belmont home to host the South Bay group. And retired editor of Sunset magazine Jerry DiVecchio discussed her longtime friendship with Mary Frances at the San Francisco gathering. With thanks to Dianne Jacob, Erica Peters, and Mary Margaret Sinnema, respectively, here are the reports of each gathering. For a poignant and insightful Youtube video of Mary Frances, click on the link in Erica’s report.

Toni Allegra

Toni Allegra

Jerry DiVecchio

Jerry DiVecchio

SFPFS Book SIG, East Bay
Report prepared by Dianne Jacob and Linda Carucci

Linda Carucci hosted the East Bay gathering of the Book SIG, featuring guest speaker Antonia (Toni) Allegra. Our members brought wine and dishes to share: Grilled sirloin steak with MFKF’s steak sauce (Pam Elder); Provencal chicken with farro pasta (Frankie Whitman, inspired by Fisher’s memoir about Provence); wine and chicharrones (Linda), the latter paying homage to a story by MFKF about the first cooked food consumed by humans in China. There was also chicken with rosemary and butter (Lili Rollins); two asparagus sides (Victoria Greene and Dianne Jacob); Potato Gratin Dauphinoise (Jolee Hoyt), fresh-picked salad with MFKF’s caper vinaigrette (Alison Negrin); strawberry-rhubarb tart (Suzy Farnworth); and almond shortbread (Jennie Schacht).

Antonia brought a bowl of clementines to pay tribute to the writing in Borderland from “Serve it Forth,” an evocative story that takes place in a Strasbourg hotel room during WWII, in which she describes her distinctive manner of savoring the glories of a simple tangerine. After painstakingly peeling the fruit, she’d place the segments on the radiator until their membranes dried out just so. And then, just before popping them into her—or her husband Al’s—mouth, she’d tuck them into a drift of snow outside the windowsill.

As we all feasted at a long dining room table, watching the sun go down and the fog roll in over San Francisco, we savored tangerines (sans radiator or snow) and had a lively discussion about MFKF’s books and rather prickly personality.

Toni said she met “Mary Frances” in the last five years of her life and often visited her in her home in Glen Ellen. Fisher died in 1992. Toni brought various books by the author, a sexy photograph of her by Man Ray (as well as a photo taken much later in her life), her walking stick, and a framed letter that Fisher had typed to her. Toni remembered Fisher as a strong personality and feminist, who wrote for a living and never thought of herself as a food writer. Fisher was born a good writer, Toni believes, and kept retelling her story in many memoirs. She was also capable of writing straight cookbooks, such as “The Cooking of France,” which she wrote for Time-Life Books. She decided to call herself by her initials instead of her first name because she wanted to be published in the New Yorker, and thought it would be easier if she was perceived to be a man. Her bookshelf contained many books by Elizabeth David, which may have accounted for her narrative recipe style. Several in our group felt rather uninspired after reading the simplistic recipes contained in the various Fisher works that we read.

Once installed in Glen Ellen, Fisher drank Glen Ellen White, the “local juice,” as she called it, often putting aside the fine wines brought by friends and guests who seemed to arrive frequently in a pilgrimage to her house. Among these were SIG participants Alison Negrin and Pam Elder. Fisher was very proud of her distinctive, art-filled bathroom, and sometimes took—or directed—her guests into it, where she enjoyed visiting with them. Both Toni and Pam noted that Fisher was remarkable for her ability to speak in fully formed paragraphs, in a matter-of-fact manner.

Toni read aloud the moving introduction in “Here Let us Feast: A Book of Banquets,” as well as passages from Borderland from “Serve it Forth.”

At the end of the discussion, participants suggested books to read for our next gathering which is scheduled to take place on Monday, July 20. Among the suggested books were:

Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg
The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jabar
Best Food Writing of 2014
Orange Blossoms & Rosewater (a Lebanese cookbook/memoir) by Maureen Abood

There was some consensus that even though our Book SIG does not read cookbooks as a general rule, after having delved into the canon of work—and the life—of MFK Fisher, it would be a welcome shift for our summertime gathering to read the newly released Abood cookbook and have each participant prepare a recipe from the book for our potluck discussion. Keep your eye on the SFPFS Facebook page to find out which book we’ll read next.

SFPFS Book SIG, South Bay
Report prepared by Erica Peters

We had a great discussion at this SIG gathering, thanks to our generous host and friend of MFK Fisher, Jeannette Ferrary. Our group was split between people who knew a lot about MFK Fisher and enjoyed sharing their favorite aspects of her writing, and other people who hadn’t known much about her before, and felt that they learned to appreciate her writing.

Early on one person ventured that Fisher seemed a bit of a curmudgeon, and Jeannette cheerfully agreed that the author could be quite irascible, especially towards anyone who treated her as “just a food writer” rather than a “real writer.” People then shared from what they had read, from The Gastronomical Me, Consider the Oyster, Serve it Forth, An Alphabet for Gourmets, the collection, A Stew or a Story, and her annotation of Brillat-Savarin, as well as the authors Joan Reardon, Luke Barr, and our own Jeannette Ferrary, writing about Fisher.

There was not much overlap in what we had chosen to read, but we all got a sense of her distinctive approach and how she used a sensual, earthy style to explore the quirky side of life and love. At many stages we stopped to read each other our favorite snippets of her writing, and then while we ate dinner, we watched an excerpt from an entrancing documentary called “M.F.K. Fisher: Writer With a Bite” — it’s available on Youtube at Perhaps the highlight of our evening was when Jeannette quoted Fisher painting a vivid word-picture of an impossibly ghastly bouillabaisse tureen Fisher had somehow purchased in Provence one Christmas, and then we actually got to admire the tureen itself, a gift to Jeannette from Fisher’s family after the author’s death.

SFPFS Book SIG, San Francisco
Report prepared by Mary Margaret Sinnema

Gathered for the San Francisco location of the April Book Club SIG, were Jen Nurse, Chris Bonomo (host), Susan Patton-Fox, Lorraine Witte, Linda Anusasananan, Kathy Lassen-Hahne, Rene Matthew, Mary Margaret Sinnema and our esteemed guest Jerry Di Vecchio, friend of MFK Fisher’s.

In Chris’s beautiful home, we feasted and discussed the life of MFK Fisher and her writing. Much of our discussion was about her life and career – thanks to Jerry’s generosity of sharing several personal stories, which were so enlightening and encouraging to us all to read more of her work.

Some highlights of our discussion included the following:

• She was a writer of the senses, and included rich imagery which could put you right there in the moment.
• She was a complicated woman – competitive, flirtatious, acidic, quiet, intriguing, forthright and proper.
• She loved to misdirect in her writing.
• She was a beautiful woman.
• She was hard on herself as a writer, but was naturally gifted from the beginning.
• She had a difficult relationship with her mother and her daughter.
• She wrote to make a living, and if she were working today, would likely partake in blogging, because she was relevant and hard working.

We all enjoyed MFK Fisher’s humor and discussed her notions of a perfect dinner party, the ideal kitchen, and a good meal. We were impressed by the volume and breadth of her writing, and how today it sounds as contemporary as it did then. Interestingly, she was not an exceptional cook, but knew good food, and appreciated the simplicity of good food. A 1990 Bill Moyers interview with her was recommended, wherein “The celebrated essayist and memoirist speaks frankly about growing old, the aesthetics of eating, and living well.” (available on Amazon)

(photo of Jerry DiVecchio in 5/25 email from Mm re SF)
(photos from Linda of East Bay SIG, 5/26 email)

The Future of Food

Insects in the mainstream food chain will happen quickly. In five years the picture will be totally different. It will not be like the big entrenched systems for meat productions but organic change, making smarter new systems from the ground up. It will be more about just getting people used to eating insects, for their health benefits and neutral or good taste. They are not a dare food or a fear factor. We need to make them beautiful and approachable with non-threatening packaging and presentation. Big brand adoption will help legitimize insects in the food chain, as will the support of well-known chefs like Tyler Florence. People could have insect farms in their homes as it takes so little space to grow them. A coat closet could provide all protein for a family and a good beginning would be to replace one meal a day per week.

The exciting evening hosted at Veritable Vegetable in SF, featured three speaker presentations with cocktails provided by the Brentano family (The Cochineal – Prosecco with Campari, colored with cochineal a carmine dye from the female scale insect) and dinner from El Sur featuring two varieties of empanadas (sliced mushroom, shallots, créme fraîche, provolone and chive and swiss chard, spinach, onion, five cheeses, olive, egg) and Earthbound Farms kale caesar salad (with shredded parmesan, sunflower seeds, multi-grain croutons and dressing).
SFPFS member Thama Brentano introduced the speakers stating “Often considered a delicacy, there are 2000 varieties of insects around world. The United Nations is supporting insects as a source of food to feed an exploding population, projected to be nine billion by 2050. The problem for the West is the “ick” factor, with the advantage being they are ecological as a food source. They eat less food, are cold-blooded and can consume difficult waste products. In terms of health, they provide protein, vitamins and amino acids.”
The speakers included Monica Martinez, Don Bugito. In 2009 she began an edible insect farm inspired by Mexican pre-Columbian food traditions leading to an art installation/groundbreaking culinary event, and today is producing insect snacks and a protein bar; Megan Miller, Bitty Foods. Global travel led to curiosity about insect use in baked goods. Bitty produces flour and baked goods that are familiar in form and flavor: four large cookies @5 grams provide 20 grams of protein and Andrew Brentano, Tiny Farms Working to provide a model for insect production grounded in science, technology and ethics for others to follow. Tiny Farms is planning to build an industrial cricket farm along the 580 corridor to get people to try insects.
Insect samples served included Don Bugito chocolate covered crickets and spicy Superworms, Bitty Foods cookies made with a blend of flours, including cricket flour.

Andrew Brentano, Tiny Farms
There are thousands of edible species including ants, butterflies, crickets, worms, etc. that will fit into the food chain at many levels as they convert efficiently into high-level protein. There is great economic potential but we need to figure out how to produce more of them.
Water usage, not just feed conversion, is a key issue. It takes 2500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, an acre to raise a cow. A pound of crickets might use one gallon of water, and a pint for processing. A 6,000 square foot building could produce 60,000 pounds of crickets per month. The whole cricket is used with no nutrient loss. Currently, it is fairly expensive/manual labor intensive to raise food grade insects. You need a room full of 2’ x 8’ shelves, egg cartons to contain them and attendants to take care of them. Better habitat designs and better food with some automation is the model Tiny Farms seeks to create to produce 10,000 tons per month. There are now four food grade production facilities: farms in California, Texas, Ohio and Montreal. They are going above and beyond for transparency in the food chain in case of recall. Because of the ecological base for the whole industry, building a new system will be less cumbersome than existing food systems.

Monica Martinez, Don Bugito
The cultural story in Mexico includes insects as seasonal delicacies. Monica’s interest in Industrial Design led to the creation of utopian little farms for crickets and mealworms. In 2009, this was presented in a gallery next to a Brooklyn kitchen where dinner was based on Mexican Hispanic cuisine, receiving publicity in The New York Times. Also in 2009, the La Cocina incubator had her write a business plan about insects for food production. She entered their program, tested recipes, had a food stand, pop-ups, worked off the grid and then began packaged production and catering, working with four types: crickets, mealworms, agave worms and chilaquile worm (umami flavor). Worms eat bran and do not need additional water. It takes just three months to raise edible adults. Most available insects are consumed as pet foods and for fishing, so they are inherently suitable for food consumption.
Aspire Food Group, their favored supplier, is trying to start insect farms globally for wider availability, and to be less expensive. They have new maple cricket granola bars, with two trail mixes coming soon.

Megan Miller, Bitty Foods
In 2012, with a background in trends and development, Megan discovered and began pitching ideas about insects as food while travelling in Asia. Chitin (a modified polysaacharide that contains nitrogen), starch and protein are bound together and made into powder. At home she fed peat moss to the insects that tasted awful, so then fed them oatmeal and apples resulting in a good taste. Selling the edible insects idea before she had a product, she took pre-orders on cookies and then began delivering to 20 countries and went to Expo West in 2014. Cookies and flour are sold on the Bitty website.
Bitty Foods’ approach: introduce innocuous flavors in familiar foods so that people will not be intimidated, then expand usage and offerings as the public learns acceptance. Bitty cookies are Paleo, have no grains and are gluten free by default. Most Bitty consumers are Midwest moms that cannot find healthy alternatives for their families.

Crickets are raised with no lids on the containers that hold them – they could leave but like to congregate so do not. They are fragile; if conditions are not optimal they will get sick and die. They need clean bedding, proper temperatures and air circulation. They are omnivores but need balanced carbohydrates, fats, etc., similar to the needs of chickens. Location of the farm is critical as they need a warm environment, and reach adulthood faster in warmer places, like California. They create hormones, like a protective shield, with complex, fragile internal ecosystems, and are completely removed genetically from humans. Food possibilities could include brewers grains left after boiling sugar, vegetables, restaurant kitchen scraps.
In terms of taste, crickets are neutral in flavor while the palm weevil, a large tail grub, tastes like bacon-wrapped shrimp. Earthworms taste like pork, so if you grind them, it’s like a burger.
Crickets are slaughtered by putting the whole bin into cold room. Since they are cold-blooded, they go immobile. Within two hours they can be re-animated but after that will go into hibernation, then temperatures are lowered and they die. Not all insects are edible. Bright, hairy insects may be toxic.
Written by Karen Urbanek

Wine SIG March 2015

By Penni Wisner

On a March evening at host Frankie Whitman’s house, the Wine SIG explored Pinot Noir wines from Sonoma, Mendocino, and the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It was our inaugural meeting under the new team of Victoria Green and Toby Baird.

Toby, our wine guide for the evening’s tasting, had prepared a comprehensive “white paper” on the varietal as well as detailed tasting sheets on each of the wines. Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape that typically yields light colored and highly perfumed wines. The Pinot Noir wines of Burgundy, especially those from the top vineyards of the Cote D’Or, are considered some of the very best in the world and also the most expensive. Thus the hunt—by vineyard owners, winemakers, and consumers alike—for sites in other parts of the world that might reliably produce delicious wines at a more reasonable cost. And still taste like Burgundy. A tall order and Toby described many of the characteristics of the grape that make it so challenging to grow and vinify.
Many years ago, a winemaker described Pinot Noir approximately thus: If Pinot Noir were a person, it would have a diagnosis of multiple personality disorder. Toby told us that more than 200 clones of Pinot Noir exist vs. about 12 for Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot Noir grows best in cooler winegrowing regions such as Sonoma’s Russian River area, but it is also very frost sensitive. The vine produces tight clusters that, especially in Burgundy where it often rains and/or is humid during harvest, can rot. The grapes always need careful sorting at the winery.

Once safely in a fermenter, the problems only continue. Partly due to the 18 amino acids contained in Pinot Noir grapes, the wines can ferment too rapidly, “boiling” up and out of their fermenters. Since the skins are thin, color extraction can be difficult. If the fermentation gets out of control, the wine might have less color and less aroma, too. Another complex choice vintners must make is the type, amount, and length of oak aging. The group was interested to note that usually, for the wines tasted at least, the amount of new barrels was often limited to 30% or less.

Despite the riches of wine shop choices, Toby simplified his shopping and purchased all the wines—six Pinot Noirs, one Pinot Gris, and one Chardonnay—from Whole Foods. The two whites acted as aperitifs, sure, but also as introductions to the wine regions we would explore later. Both whites prefer cool climates and rose to prominence in Burgundy. Pinot Gris is now the principal white grape and wine of Oregon, home to the wine we tasted, the 2013Adelsheim from Willamette Valley ($19.99). It was a lovely wine, crisp and floral.
The L’Oliveto 2013 Barrel Fermented Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($19.99) surprised the group. For many of us, “barrel fermentation” in Chardonnay can connote overly rich, buttery wines. Yet the L’Oliveto showed itself as complex in flavor with fruit and flintiness with a long finish balanced with good acidity.

We managed to pull ourselves into order and away from the hors d’oeuvres and began on the “meat” of the evening: tasting the Pinot Noirs. The first, the 2013 Bench Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($21.99) Toby provided maps of the viticultural regions, one of which showed the Sonoma Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), extending over 100 miles from the county border with Mendocino down to the edge of San Pablo Bay. The grapes for the Bench was sourced primarily from the southern most reaches of the region, near the bay. The wine displayed so many of the maddening and delightful complexities of the grape: it was very pale in color and yet intense, lovely fruit and floral aromas. In the mouth we found flavors of red summer fruits and perhaps a little cola balanced with fresh acidity. While it did not place in the group’s top three, it was a very close fourth with many of us agreeing that this would go wonderfully with many dishes because of that acidity.

The second wine tasted was the 2013 Hook & Ladder Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The vineyard was originally planted in 1973 on the cool western Sonoma County plains where the fog and wind come over and through the Petaluma Gap to the west. In it we tasted some of the barnyard or “funk” we often associate with red Burgundy as well as juicy black cherry and spicy black pepper flavors. It had a rich, cherry red color and finished with oaky tannins. These, for the group, threw the wine out of balance and argued for more bottle age before drinking.

The 2012 WALT Blue Jay Anderson Valley Pinot Noir was the most expensive wine ($40) and our #2 wine of the evening. Anderson Valley, too, is a cool growing region (as well as picturesque) in southern Mendocino County that stretches from north of Navarro to south of Boonville. The information sheet on this wine, sourced from vineyards growing at both ends of the valley, told of a high-risk/high-reward style of winemaking: the use of native, wild yeasts (no commercial yeasts are added to cause fermentation) and the choice to leave the wine unfined and unfiltered. In the glass, the winemaker’s choices resulted in a wine with a rich ruby color and aromas and flavors of cherry jam, cinnamon, vanilla, and herbs with a good balance of acidity and tannins in the lingering flavors. We talked of it as a contemplative wine to drink and appreciate on its own. But not only that, we wanted to have it with cheese such as Epoisse (also a Burgundy native), or with white beans with greens, or roast duck, or cassoulet. Why not?!

The 2013 99 West Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (($18.99) was the most controversial of the wines we tasted. Its bright cherry color held all the way to the edge and the aroma was bright with Dr. Pepper notes for richness. The structure in the mouth was very tight with tannins hitting mid-palate and building through the finish where acidity also became apparent. This led to a question: Was it just too young and would settle down and show more of itself with bottle age? Or would the tannins always overpower the fruit?

The 2013 Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley ($25.99) was our #1 wine and a surprise, in a very good way. Ponzi is one of the oldest wine names in Oregon. Having started small, the winery production is now large, with 12,000 cases alone of this one wine. The wine itself was quite pale in color but the perfumed aroma of soft, warm, red fruits, orange blossom, and herbs leaped out of the glass. In the mouth, the wine tasted fresh and vibrant with just the right amount of tannin and acidity extending the finish. We hankered after roast salmon to partner the wine.

The last wine of the tasting was also our third favorite, the 2013 Purple Hands Pinot Noir also from Willamette Valley and provided by member Jennie Schacht at the advantageous price of $25.99. The color was rich and in the mouth the flavors were of ripe black fruits plus tobacco and leather. Interestingly, this was the lowest alcohol of all the wines, 12.5%. It was fermented with native yeasts in open-top tanks and used just 10% new oak barrels and 90% older barrels for aging.

Finally! It was time for our potluck supper and more fun discussions. As often happens when the wine and food are good, the conversations rattled along well into the evening. Big, big thanks to Toby Baird, Frankie Whitman, and Victoria Green and to all who gathered around the table to create a memorable evening.

Food Photography SIG March 26, 2015

By Shveta Berry

Members of the Food Photography SIG gathered at the home of Jennie Schacht on the evening of March 26. The topic for the evening was drawing inspiration from beautiful food photography and how to re-create key visual elements. Members brought photo examples to emulate from cookbooks, blogs, and websites. Finer points of discussion included lighting–both natural and artificial, styling, and perspective.

The group discussed a few technical issues, including correcting color, both with the camera, and in post production using tools such as Lightroom and Aperture. (As some members of the group did not know how to do this, or even that it was possible to do in post production, this could be a good topic for a future meeting.) Rosemary Mark suggesting using an Eye-fi card to wirelessly transfer images to other devices.

Also discussed were online tools for learning more about photography, such as CreativeLive ( And Jeannette Ferrary shared this interesting article, which she brought to the meeting:

The group enjoyed a potluck dinner that ended, quite deliciously, with Rene Mathew’s miniature crèmes brûlée. The mini custards were the favorite photographic subject for the evening, as evidenced on the SFPFS Facebook page.

Finally, an announcement: Our new SFPFS Food Photography SIG liaisons are Shveta Berry and Alison Negrin . Thanks to Alison and Shveta for your leadership!

Tasting Coffees from the Best New Devices

With at least six machines, our Members and guest had plenty of coffee to taste on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at Williams Sonoma – Union Square. We quickly realized that the technology of great tasting coffee has dramatically changed.
Our host, Glen MacDonald, Manager for this store recruited Emily Wann from Breville and several store coffee associates, Monica and Carlos for the tasting. In addition, they provided plenty of fresh sparkling water, mini plain butter scones and palate refreshing Citrus quick bread.

New Coffee Devices - August 2014

Penni Wisner with Glen MacDonald, Williams-Sonoma Carlos and Jeff Clinton

Representing perfection in conventional drip technology, Technivorm Moccamaster Grand Coffee (and its cousin, single-serve version) are handmade brewers with unique copper core water heating elements for highly precise and ideal 200F temperature. While producing a delightful cup, the Technivorm revealed the nature of the Illy medium roast beans chosen as our standard for this comparison. Many tasters found this coffee a bit bitter to their palates: a faithful expression by the machine of the bitter flavor favored by Italian-targeting Illy.

Next we had two super automated espresso machines, the Oracle from Breville, an impressive stainless device looking right at home in a café; and the Miele CM500, a powerful espresso processor and milk steamer in a large but sleekly designed black cabinet. Both have automated and adjustable grinding, brewing and steaming. Glen MacDonald explained that these brew utilizing steam at about 12-15 bars of pressure – considered ideal for a slow steady and creamy extraction. With the Illy coffee, many tasters found these brews more bitter than they typically drink. So, while not perfect for all palates, these high end machines – faithfully capture the essence of those beans as intended by the roaster.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Joan Cavanaugh and Alison McQuade Greg & Sophia Markoulakis and Gypsy Achong

The balance of the brewers, Nespresso Vertuo, Nespresso-Delonghi Latissima Pro and Starbucks Verismo 600 utilize the same core Nespresso technology. It’s based on using coffee pods, containing real coffee, not concentrate, and expressing the coffee out of the pods with high 19 bar pressure. That results in fast and efficient brewing. For this tasting, these machines did not use the Illy coffee, but coffee from Nespresso – with anywhere from a dozen to 20 varieties and from Starbucks with at least a half a dozen roasts. So, if you choose this Nespresso technology, you will need to appreciate the European or Starbucks roast agenda. If you like a Peet’s, Blue Bottle or something else, you’re out of luck.

But with these pods, smaller espresso ‘shots’ and larger American cups, you get coffee quickly – in only a minute or two from a dead-cold start to repeat brews in seconds…and merely pop in the next pod as the other gets dropped into a recycling bin. Yes, recycling. While there is some concern about creating more landfill, in fact, the pods can be returned by mail, to the store or via other coffee services. Pretty darn easy. For any of you considering a machine for an office staffed with colleagues who are not frequently fastidious, this is a slick “no muss” solution.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Sleek new Vertuo

New Coffee Devices - August 2014

Emily Wann with Breville Oracle at Williams-Sonoma

Looking at each model, the Vertuo is the lastest, a most curvaceous addition to your “counter candy”. It also features a separate matching milk warmer-frother. The Latissima Pro is a cute cube-like structure with a detachable milk bottle with steamer top. This is an ingenious way for you to make a single fresh latte, with real milk, and return the bottle to your refrigerator – saving milk, storing it safely and keeping your counter clean. The Latissima also has a hot water spout attachment, neatly stored, for tea or Americano drinkers.

Finally, the Starbucks Verismo is a straight up sleek espresso and coffee brewer. To make a latte or hot milk, you need to use their own pre-portioned pods. Unlike the other Nespresso machines, here you get to use Starbucks more American roast style.

So, how did our Members score the machines?

Taste & Convenience Ruled – Our top selection (6 “favorites”) is the Nespresso DeLonghi Latissima Pro ($599). It does it all and with a minimum of cleanup and with many flavor options.

Close Second (5 votes) – The luxury automated espresso machine, Oracle from Breville ($1,999), grinds fresh beans for each cup. It’s fully adjustable with moderate pressure for that thick super flavor-saturated crema.

Tied at Third (2 and 2) – If you like drip, the Technivorm ($279) is your choice. If you want that fresh espresso, a modern design and full roast perfection, Miele CM5000 ($1,299) is a good call.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Taste Still Rules Ratings…with convenience a requirement

On a further note, at the end of the tasting, our host replaced the Illy beans in the Oracle and Miele machines. As a regular Peet’s drinker, I was so happy to get that familiar roast with every bit of flavor from each bean – and creamy. So, I believe that there might be some alternative results if all the machines had been brewing one set of (Peet’s) beans. And that too is one of the important decisions you must make if you elect the new super convenient Nespresso systems. You have to love their European-roast beans.

– John Wiest

June Tasting SIG: Mango Chutney Madness

by John Wiest

Always, the hardest part is getting started. Tasting SIG leaders Micki Weinberg and Sophia Markoulakis had done all the legwork in pre-shopping and selecting the most interesting Mango Chutneys in the Bay Area for this Tuesday evening June 10 event . Their criteria for inclusion were twofold: the chutneys had to be primarily comprised of Mango and that they must be available in retail stores.

Tasting SIG event June 2014

Mango Chutney savory and sweet

Thanks to host, Micki Weinberg

Delicious dining following Mango Chutney tasting SIG June 2014

With nine chutneys chosen, the SFPFS Tasting SIG set about with its usual relish, or I mean chutney. In fact, we were delighted to have a special guest and new Member, Lawrence Dass, Founder of Akka’s Handcrafted Foods. His mango chutney, one of nearly a dozen of his firm’s relishes, sauces and chutneys, earned a high ranking among the range tasted anonymously. He explained that chutney comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to lick’ and ultimately from Hindi to connote ‘seasoning’ or a condiment.

There are a huge variety of chutneys, with their common denominator that they are typically made of fruit or vegetable with vinegar, citrus, tamarind, or lemon juice added as natural preservatives, or possibly fermented in the presence of salt to create acid. Thus, we discovered that while most of us know chutneys as sweet, authentic chutneys have quite a range of sweet, salty, a bit sour (acid) and even musty-smoky.

All tasters completed the tasting in one fixed sequence, yet, what we found was that no two tasters had the same preference, no matter the order. However two of the favored products were tasted first: one that was very mango-y and balanced salty-sweet, based on a mango paste with a ginger finish; the other a bit non-traditional chutney with sweet peppers, raisins, hot chile (chili) and good bits of fruit.

Tying at the next level were two quite different products: Akka’s quite yellow, lots of mango pieces with a real cumin seed kick; and Deep (of India) Mango & Green Chili a soft almost eggplant textured, curry influenced pickle.

The evening’s top pick might surprise: a market leader, Major Greys (Cross & Blackwell, produced by Smuckers). This almost mango jam had complex layers of mango intensity with lemon-lime high notes and, as later revealed, aromatically pumped with plump cardamom pods.

Tasters envisioned using Mango Chutneys on many foods: often with a cream cheese or sour cream to spread on breads (we enjoyed Indian naans), topped on meats at table service or in a savory fashion to enhance vegetables. Each chutney evoked different accents, and not so much pairings.

Finally, as pictured in our Facebook page, after the formal tasting Members rewarded each other with a variety salad, fermented delights, chilled Mango soup and finished with several sweets.

Mango Chutney Tasting Results (click on table for clearer image)


Members’ Only Event: Foraging

by Karen Diggs, Nutritionist + Therapeutic Chef;

Foraging finds from May 2014 Members Only Event

Foraging finds from May 2014 Members Only Event

Foraging for food in the wild has always fascinated and scared me. After all, I grew up gathering my food, that came in tidy sterile packages wrapped in plastic, by roaming up and down the supermarket aisles.

On May 17th, other intrepid SFPFS members and I met Kevin Feinstein in Lafayette and learned how to identify almost ten plants that can be eaten. It was literally an eye opening experience, because once Kevin pointed out the many edible fauna in the landscape, it was as though these plants magically come into my field of vision and consciousness. Now, everywhere I go, one or two of those plants pop up at me. For example, I see elderberry blossoms everywhere. And other edible flowers such as nasturtiums and wild chamomile beckon to me on my morning walks.

Kevin is the co-author of the Bay Area Forager. I was encouraged to learn that he did not grow up frolicking in the forest gathering berries and mushrooms. He confesses in the book that his childhood was filled with fast food, and TV video games. It wasn’t until his early twenties that he started to become interested in the natural world. So, there’s hope for the rest of us who may have spend their youth playing Nintendo and eating pop tarts.

Of all the wonderful plants that Kevin guided us to, my absolute favorite was
wild mustard blossoms. They appeared in an open field and stood about four feet tall with abundant sprays of golden flowers gently swaying in the wind. The flavor was definitely peppery, finishing off on the palate with a delicate tang.

Of course, not every plant is healing or edible for humans. One that stands out is hemlock. Prior to Kevin pointing out the plant to us, I had no idea that it grew so abundantly in our landscape. Indeed, there was a huge crop of it right off the trail where we were, and it looked like an innocent frilly plant with leaves that are very similar to carrots. Which brings me to the cautionary part of foraging: if you are not sure about the identity of a plant, don’t eat it. Therefore, I highly recommend that, if you are interested in foraging, take a class from someone like Kevin. In addition, one must forage with sustainability in mind. Our guide made it very clear that whenever you take plants from the wild, never take away too much because we must leave enough there for the plants to propagate for the next season and all the seasons to come.

After our foray into the wild, we gathered at a picnic table and enjoyed a bountiful feast of many delicious dishes brought by the participants. It was a perfect ending. I believe that we all walked away with a deeper respect and appreciation for Mother Nature’s gifts.

I think that Kevin expresses it best in his book,
” Foraging isn’t just about eating wild plants – it’s about understanding that food comes from living things with which we are connected. I forage for sustainability, self-reliance, health, and enjoyment.”

Kevin’s website is:

Wild mustard a frequently foraged item in the Bay Area

Wild mustard a frequently foraged item in the Bay Area