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Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Tomato Red Alert, a summer podcast playlist and Watsonville leads in compost

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… Last spring, I reported on California’s new compost mandate and how it would roll out in Santa Cruz County. This week, I’m working on an update to see how things are going – expect it later this week – but Tami Stolzenthaler, Watsonville’s senior environmental project analyst, shared some statistics with me that are too surprising not to share. Not only has Watsonville successfully supplied all commercial and single-family residents with organic waste containers, the city now collects 24 tons of food waste from commercial businesses and 15 tons of organic waste from residential clients every day, five days a week. A staggering 1,170 tons of organic waste has been diverted from the Buena Vista Landfill since April – the equivalent of taking an estimated 2,669 cars off the road, according to Stolzenthaler’s calculations on carbon emissions. And there’s more to come – residents of multi-family complexes will receive their organic waste service later this summer. The program has been well received by residents and Stolzenthaler and puts Watsonville ahead of the curve. Says Stolzenthaler, “here’s an example of a Latinx community really stepping up and being leaders in new technologies and environmental movements. Even though Watsonville may be lower-income that surrounding areas, our city is ahead in organics collection.”

How does this compare to Santa Cruz and the rest of the county serviced by GreenWaste? Watch for my story later this week, and let me know any questions you have about the composting. Sign up to receive a test alert as soon as it’s available.

… Now that we are squarely in July, Tomato Watch 2022 has begun. Stone fruit and strawberries are out in full force at local farmers markets, but I have yet to see any sign of the most iconic of summer fruits. I’m one of those devout tomato worshippers that only eats them during the summer when I can buy them from local vendors at their peak of freshness and would rather die than store my Brandywines, Early Girls and Sungolds in the fridge. I know, I’m insufferable, but fellow tomato fanatics reading this are nodding their heads.

Whether you’re a more casual tomato lover or a superfan, expect to start seeing tomatoes at your local Santa Cruz County farmers markets as early as this week, although some vendors won’t have tomatoes until early August. Dirty Girl Produce in Freedom will bring the first-of-the-season Early Girl and Dirty Girl tomatoes to the downtown Santa Cruz and Live Oak farmers markets starting this week, says owner Joe Schirmer. Next week, their tomatoes will be available for Early Girl’s CSA and online for delivery within Santa Cruz County or for pick up at their farmers markets. At Live Earth Farm in Corralitos, the sweet Early Girl tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes are just starting to ripen – a few weeks ahead of schedule, according to the business manager at Live Earth. Normally tomatoes are ready in August, but CSA customers will begin to see them in their shares in the next two weeks and farmers market customers can find them at the Felton, downtown Santa Cruz, Westside and Scotts Valley farmers markets before the end of the month. In Soquel, expect an abundance of tomatoes from Everett Family Farm in mid- to late-August, which is typical for the climate in the Soquel Valley. They planted tomatoes about a week late due to a spring frost, but it hasn’t slowed things down much. The dry-farmed tomatoes are ripening right now and will be available in limited quantities in the next two weeks while heirloom tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes will come around early August, says farm manager John Desideri. Find these and other organic goodies at the Everett Family Farm Stand, open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2111 Old San Jose Road in Soquel.

… I have collected a backlog of food-related podcast episodes to share with you. Rather than leak them one at a time lower in the newsletter, I’m offering them to you here. Consider this Lily’s Summer Food Podcast Playlist – perfect for a long road trip or hanging out on the beach.

“A Quick History of American Barbecue,” by The Sporkful. Cookbook author and culinary historian Michael Twitty traces the origins of barbecue – and his own family’s history – in America through slavery and into West Africa, with incredibly moving results. And, host Dan Pashman visits Uncle John’s BBQ on the south side of Chicago to discuss how the Great Migration created a new barbecue tradition

“How Ultraprocessed Food Work,” by Stuff You Should Know. “Ultraprocessed” has become synonymous with “junk food,” but there’s a lot more to know these scientifically derived foods – if you can even still call them that. Discover how they’re made, why they were invented and what eating them can mean for our health.

“Micahel Pollans ‘The Ominvore’s Dilemma,” by Maintenance Phase. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was a huge influence on me when I read it as a college student and opened my eyes to American food systems – the good, the bad and the really gross. But I haven’t revisited it in the last 15 years. Host Michael Hobbes offers a smart criticism of some of Pollan’s assertions about our food system that are biased or have not aged well.

“Martha Stewart w. Sarah Archer,” by You’re Wrong About. I thought I knew a lot about Martha Stewart, but I was wrong. This deep dive into Stewart’s meteoric rise, fall and resurrection – from her role as the Domestic Goddess during the era of women’s lib to her friendship with Snoop Dogg – is fascinating.

My Lily Belli on Food newsletter launched six months ago – that means for half a year, timely, critical – and often fun – reporting on your local food and drink scene has arrived weekly in your inbox. If you’ve enjoyed reading, this is the time to become a member. We are now offering 20% off membership with offer code Lily, or click the image below. Only members get full access to all of Lookout’s content, including Eaters Digest, released every Friday with dining news, reviews and the best food and drink events in town each week. Lookout strives to create a better Santa Cruz County with high-quality, trustworthy local news and information, and this includes sharing the stories of the people behind our food. Become a member today.



A dining table set up outdoors under a string of lights

Farm-to-table and winemaker-driven special dinners are in full swing and I just added two more to my guide that are happening later this month. On July 24, Persephone restaurant in Aptos will pair up with iconic Ridge Vineyards to bring guests a six-course meal paired with exquisite wines from the Monte Bello estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains. And a Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains “Taste of Terroir” dinner series event that was supposed to take place in May has been rescheduled for July 24 as well. On that night, chef Brad Briske of Home restaurant in Soquel will head up to Big Basin Vineyards in Boulder Creek for a four-course feast. Tickets are still available for both events. These events are more popular than ever post-pandemic and will continue through the fall – use my guide to help you plan which ones you’ll attend.


For years I had avoided the Capitola Mall. Every time I walked through its halls, the empty storefronts and corporate retail outlets creeped me out. So I was pleasantly surprised when I returned a few months ago to take my son to the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery and discovered that there are now some cool places to grab a bite in there. No, I’m not talking about Chili’s. This week, I’m talking to general manager Brian Kirk on how the mall is working to attract local businesses, including local food vendors to its food court.


“We can still call them “pét-nats.”” John Locke, winemaker at Birichino winery, on his winery’s take on pétillant natural wines. He and co-owner Alex Krause put their own spin on these fun, natural sparklers, and nicknamed their version “pétulant naturel”. Birichino’s new pét-nat made with old-vine zinfandel tastes of pink lemonade, raspberries and pink grapefruit with a lively effervescence. Discover more about these fizzy wines in Friday’s Eaters Digest.


The view from the table at the Outstanding in the Field dinner at Forlorn Hope Winery in Murphys on Saturday, July 9.
(Lookout Santa Cruz)

On Saturday, after years of staring at stunning photos of long, family-style tables on beaches, in orchards and on idyllic farms, I attended my first Outstanding in the Field dinner. The event was in Murphys – my hometown in the Sierra foothills – and took place at Forlorn Hope, a winery about two miles outside of town. I actually grew up across the street from it, when it was still owned by original owner and Calaveras County native Bardon Stevenot, and spent my childhood swimming in the historic pool, exploring the nearby creek and stealing crackers from the tasting room. It was nostalgic to be back and see how new owner Matthew Rorick is reviving the estate. Sacramento chef Kevin O’Connor created a beautiful summer feast – a dish of creamed corn topped with frilly, crispy maitake mushrooms and our entrée of seared, braised pork belly with plums were standouts – which we enjoyed at the top of a hill surrounded by stunning 360-degree views of vineyards. It was a lovely, warm, memorable evening that I’ll treasure. Follow me on Instagram to see a video of the event.


… salmon! It’s back – but only for a few days. As I reported last spring, the season has staggered dates this year – it reopened for California King salmon on July 8 and closes today, July 12. If you’re reading this, rush down to H&H Fresh Fish at the Santa Cruz Harbor or your local fishmonger to grab some over the next few days, because the season won’t open again until July 21 through 25. The aim of these staggered fishing days is to protect the salmon populations.



Peet’s Coffee takes the cultural appropriation approach to bubble tea (San Francisco Chronicle)
Blue Hill at Stone Barns Tells a Beautiful Story. Former Employees Say It’s Too Good to Be True. (Eater)
The Best Orange Wines to Drink Now (Food & Wine)

Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.