Welcome to Lily Belli on Food, a weekly food-focused newsletter from Lookout’s food and drink correspondent, Lily Belli. Keep reading for the latest local food news for Santa Cruz County — plus a few fun odds and ends from my own life and around the web.
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… Thank you to everyone who came out to Santa Cruz Cider Co. in Watsonville on Sunday for apple pressing, cider tasting, Gizdich apple pie and a peek into South County’s long apple-growing history. This was Lookout’s second foodie-themed Inside Santa Cruz event and was free for members (the first was at H&H Fresh Fish Co. earlier this month). Cider sisters Natalie Henze and Nicole Todd shared the story of Santa Cruz Cider Co. — the first dedicated cidery in Santa Cruz County — and how they source their apples and turn them into hard cider.
I really enjoyed meeting everyone and connecting over a slice of Gizdich apple pie. One attendee, author and amateur historian Kathryn Miller, kindly gifted me a copy of her book, “Blossoms into Gold: The Croatians in the Pajaro Valley,” about the Croatian immigrants who brought the apple industry to Watsonville.
If you missed these special events, more are on the way! Watch this newsletter for an announcement.
… Now this is cool, literally: Time magazine named Cruz Cool, a new environmentally friendly shipping product from Santa Cruz-based company Cruz Foam, as one of the Best Inventions of 2023.
The magazine specifically highlighted the Cruz Cool cooler, which can insulate frozen goods for 48 hours and is made from chitin, a polymer found in insects, fungi and shrimp shells. The technology is intended to replace climate-polluting styrofoam, which takes over 500 years to decompose, with a biodegradable alternative. Cruz Foam partnered with Atlantic Packaging to distribute its environmentally friendly packaging material to businesses nationwide. Check out the full list at time.com.
… Downtown vegan-friendly restaurant Café GSC, formerly known as Café Gratitude, has closed after 13 years in business. The closure took place earlier this month. Read more on Lookout here.
… The start of the commercial season for Dungeness crab has been delayed for the sixth year in a row in order to protect migrating humpback whales that could become entangled in the crab traps. While the opening is traditionally in mid-November, it will be delayed until at least Dec. 1, and the situation will be reassessed on or before Nov. 17, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
Last year, the season was delayed until New Year’s Eve and ended in April, a month earlier than normal. More on this as it develops.
… A holiday reminder: Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away and it’s time to pre-order any goodies from local businesses. There are too many to name here, so check your favorite bakeries, delis and grocery stores for their pre-order cutoffs.
… Chef Jessica Yarr of pop-up Chickenfoot and Felton restaurant The Grove Café squared off against celebrity chef Bobby Flay on “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network last Thursday, Oct. 26. In the show, two chef contestants first compete against each other to create a winning dish with a mystery ingredient; the winner, as judged by the hosts, gets to challenge Flay to a battle to create the best version of their signature dish, whatever that might be. The final round is judged by other professional chefs and celebrities.
Yarr was a natural on screen and it was so exciting to see Santa Cruz represented on the show. She beat her first opponent, a sous-chef from Washington, D.C., in the first round by creating a shaved asparagus salad marinated in a dill yogurt sauce served over a creamy asparagus purée using the secret ingredient, white asparagus.
In the second round, Yarr challenged Flay to a competition to create her signature dish, pierogies. Unfortunately, Flay won, but truly, she was robbed. A frantic, unorganized Flay sealed his pierogies, which should be pressed together with your fingers, with a fork, and hosts Anne Burrell and Eddie Jackson — and me, yelling at the screen — decried his creations as empanadas. Yarr made a delicate leek-and-potato-filled dumpling, but the judges preferred Flay’s boiled, bacon-stuffed abominations (yes, I’m bitter) to Yarr’s pan-fried version.
Don’t take their word for it: I’ve had Yarr’s pierogies many times and they are life-changing, simultaneously light as a cloud, filled with seasonal ingredients and satisfying in a grandma-made-it-for-you kind of way. And they are on the new dinner menu at The Grove — check it out for yourself.
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Despite the closing of Café GSC, a wave of new food businesses is coming to downtown Santa Cruz. Vegetarian burger and breakfast joint Pretty Good Advice is opening a second location, on Pacific Avenue, and Monterey-based Rock N Roll Donuts is going into the old Starbucks location a few doors down. And a new food-based tenant is coming to the former Cafe Limelight spot on Cedar Street, joining Bad Animal, Honey B Market, Penny Ice Creamery and more in a growing gourmet corridor. Check out all the new additions in the pipeline in my story from Friday.
Wine & Roses returns to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds this Saturday, Nov. 4, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Now in its 40th year, Wine & Roses is Community Health Trust’s annual fundraiser for health and wellness services in the Pajaro Valley and one of the premier wine-tasting events in the county. Taste unlimited samples from notable wineries and breweries as well as appetizers and snacks from local restaurants. Tickets are $100 per person or two for $160.
LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
My son, Marco, has always been a selective eater (the parenting experts tell me I’m not supposed to say “picky” anymore). He’ll nibble a new food now and again, but his diet has been pretty much the same for the past two years despite my best efforts. I’m at peace with it — I keep offering a variety of different foods and have faith that he’ll choose vegetables and protein that doesn’t come in sausage or meatball form one day.
But Cecilia, 7 months old and just starting solids, already eats almost anything I put in front of her, including wedges of ripe tomato, cucumber spears, shredded pork, roast eggplant, broccoli and rice mixed with yogurt and a bit of curry sauce. I didn’t eat half of these things until I was a teenager (yes, I am an ex-picky eater myself), so I’m thrilled. We’ll see if her tastes change when she gets older but it’s a fun journey.
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ In this fascinating deep dive into the history of pasta, much is revealed, from the dish’s true origins to the creation of spaghetti and meatballs and macaroni and cheese and the difference between dried and fresh pasta. (The Atlantic)
➤ Saison Cellar & Wine Bar, a new project from respected sommelier and Ben Lomond resident Mark Bright, opened in Scotts Valley on Friday. The wine bar is the newest sibling of Saison, Bright’s restaurant in San Francisco with two Michelin stars. He’s excited to bring his considerable knowledge and love of wines, particularly those from Burgundy and the Santa Cruz Mountains, to his community. (Lookout)
➤ Can agriculture help California’s water crisis? In the Pajaro Valley, some farmers are being paid to return stormwater to the ground via groundwater recharge basins. Participating farms receive a cash rebate for the captured water, and early results are promising — but challenges remain. (Lookout)