olives on trees
(Via Pixabay)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Branching into olives, fungus fair and skipping Thanksgiving experiments

Want to stay on top of the latest local food news? I send text alerts every time I publish a story. And you can text me back! Share your thoughts, send tips and give feedback. Sign up for texts from me here. Thanks to those of you who’ve already subscribed! And check out all my recent work here.

Lily

… A lesser-known harvest is about to take place in the Santa Cruz Mountains: The olives are ripening in the orchards and are almost ready to be pressed. Olio nuovo, the first olive oil pressing of the year, is the most precious. This first fresh, bright green oil that runs straight from the presses has a bold and bright flavor profile that’s distinct from other olive oils, and should be enjoyed within three months.

If you’d like to get your hands on some, local olive oil companies Wild Poppies, based in Aptos, and Pleasant Valley’s Dos Aguilas are releasing small batches of their olio nuovo. Wild Poppies is accepting pre-orders now through Friday and will ship around Dec. 12. Go to wildpoppiesoliveoil.com for more info. Dos Aguilas will be ready to take orders Dec. 10. Find out more at dosaguilasoliveoil.com.

This special oil would make a wonderful gift, but let your loved one know not to cook with it — olive oil has a low smoke point and high heat ruins many of the flavors in a good olive. Instead, drizzle it liberally on anything and everything within your reach.

The Mini Fungus Fair will take place at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History on Dec. 10.
(Via Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History)

… Heads up, fun guys and gals — for the second year in a row, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, in partnership with the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz, will host a Mini Fungus Fair, on Saturday, Dec. 10. This free event celebrates the fascinating world of mushrooms through displays, discussions, fungus-forward food and family-friendly activities. Check it out at santacruzmuseum.org. The FFSC is also hosting a virtual fungus fair Jan. 10-14, which includes a series of events and remote discussions via Zoom featuring talented mycologists on a range of topics.

But wait — what happened to the mushroom extravaganza that, for many years, took over the London Nelson Center in downtown Santa Cruz for a weekend in January? Richard Rammer, prime minister of the FFSC, said the organization lacks the people power needed to run and coordinate the three-day event. “We lost or had incapacitation of many core members who used to handle all of this in prior years and we need to find new people to step up to fulfill these roles,” he told Lookout via email.

Are any local mushroom hunters and lovers reading this? If so, this is your call to action. See if you can lend a hand to bring back this iconic, educational and fun event to our community. Email Phil Carpenter and Dano Tishler via hotline@ffsc.us. More info at ffsc.us.

… Restaurant owners, chefs and patrons, I need your help. Most often, my reporting focuses on restaurateurs and chefs, but as the end of the year approaches I want to showcase and honor the staff members who keep our favorite culinary businesses open. Do you have a dishwasher on your staff who shows up for every shift? Or an all-star line cook who executes every dish with precision and care? Do you know an unflappable server who never fails to make even the most difficult customers feel at ease? If these valuable members of the hospitality industry didn’t show up, our restaurant world would crumble, and I’d like to share their stories.

Do you have someone in mind? Email me at lily@lookoutlocal.com by Friday, Dec. 2, put “Industry Nomination” in the subject and share why they deserve to step into the spotlight.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Faultline Brewing's new Scotts Valley outpost
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Last week, I visited the new Faultline Brewing in Scotts Valley. While the pub-style menu with a few modern twists was mostly tasty, there were some inconsistencies. Nevertheless, I’d happily return to this sports bar and restaurant to enjoy a crisp pint and watch the game. Check on my experience in Friday’s Eaters Digest.

NOTED

$14,000-20,000 — The new estimate for the cost to build one of the City of Santa Cruz’s preapproved parklet designs, down from an original estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. Read Thomas Sawano’s update on the new parklet ordinance after last Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“A lot of people talk about Santa Cruz becoming this Los Gatos on the water. When you look at the price of homes here and the cost of living, what’s really shifted through COVID is that there is a lot more money coming into this community. I think that it’s important that we build a network here so that we start supporting all these independent businesses — not just our restaurants, but all the restaurants.” Sam Woods, executive director of operations at Santa Cruz Sky, Alderwood Santa Cruz’s parent company. She says the company has a clear goal: to be at the forefront of revitalization in Santa Cruz, particularly in the downtown area. Read the full story here.

LIFE WITH THE BELLIS

I tried to add a salad to my family’s Thanksgiving menu this year, and it was resolutely vetoed by all members. At first I was surprised by the pushback, because my family is usually adventurous and enjoys trying out new recipes. I thought a fresh, crunchy salad with a zippy vinaigrette might lighten up the carb-heavy meal, but it turns out that the Belli-Stoicheff household just isn’t interested. My mom made a point: Every time we make a salad it never gets eaten anyway.

She was right, and it got me thinking about how it wasn’t the first time a new Thanksgiving recipe I tried had fallen flat, either. Last year, after believing Samin Nosrat’s insistence that the Thanksgiving meal needs more acid, I folded sour cream into the mashed potatoes. It didn’t go over well. One year my dad and I decided to make a cornbread-and-oyster stuffing to see what it tasted like, and sadly found it so unappetizing that we left most of it in the pan.

Dirty Girl Produce display ad
(Advertisement)

It made me think that despite the fact that I love experimenting in the kitchen, maybe Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the place to do it. Maybe the traditions behind the dishes and their familiarity can be more important than having a magazine-worthy feast. This thought stuck with me over the past few weeks as I watched the parade of headlines for new and improved Thanksgiving recipes — said to be more vibrant, more flavorful, more interesting. It actually made me feel a little protective over my family’s version of the Thanksgiving meal. Maybe it’s a little carb-focused and traditional, but it’s just as much a reflection of our past Thanksgivings as it is about the present day. For example, every year we have two cranberry sauces on the table — my beloved chipotle cranberry sauce that I started making back in high school and Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce, served on a plate still in its can-like form, because it’s what my mother, a chef with impeccable taste, grew up eating.

Almost every year we do make some small tweaks (this year I’m trying a new stuffing recipe), but when it comes down to it, we can’t bear to make dramatic changes. As much as I admire the beautiful Thanksgiving side dishes and extravagant turkey preparations that I can tell those recipe developers worked so hard on, at the end of the day we are going to make pretty much the same Thanksgiving dinner we do every year.

And you know what? Despite what the magazines and influencers would have you believe, that’s fine. It might actually be the best part.

Having said that, I am making one small change this year …

THIS WEEK, I’M CHANGING IT UP …

… and trying a new stuffing recipe. Specifically, this one that recipe developer Eric Kim created for the New York Times. Kim tested more than 20 stuffing recipes (aka dressing, since it isn’t stuffed), and took the best of everything to create the ultimate Thanksgiving stuffing. With just 10 ingredients, it looks deceptively simple, but with brown butter, crispy sage, both white and corn bread and whole milk instead of stock, it promises big flavor. How could I not try it? If you want to give it a go, read about Kim’s process first.

FOOD NEWS WORTH READING

Top 25 Restaurants: Where to eat in the Bay Area, Fall 2022 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Andrea Nguyen on Thanksgiving and recipe for cháo bồi (Food & Wine)
In defense of a bland Thanksgiving (Eater)

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving break!