Candy Cap mushrooms give these Far West Fungi cookies a sweet, maple flavor.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

EATERS DIGEST: Rethinking holiday menus, fungi for dessert & preaching a Buy Local mantra

Lily Belli talks possible substitutes for Christmas Eve crab, candy cap mushroom cookies, chili crisp bliss that isn’t over the top and a ton more in this week’s roundup. Stay tuned for the kickoff of our Buy Local series on Sunday.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thursday, and that you’re set up to enjoy some leftovers. You had pie for breakfast this morning, right? Today is Black Friday, but I like to think of it as Small Business Saturday Eve. This holiday season, it’s crucial that we spend our dollars locally, and my colleague Wallace Baine and I are going to show you how.

Lily

It’s a sad truth that we will probably face continuous annual delays for the crab season. If crab is usually a much-loved part of your holiday gathering, maybe it’s time to bring in a new tradition? I also recommend a mushroom cookie that’s out of this world, and my new favorite locally made condiment.

Food news

We say it every year, but this year there really is no excuse not to buy local. Between supply chain issues, labor shortages and sticker shock, online purchasing has become a headache. Plus, with the delivery mayhem this year, there’s a good chance all your loved ones will be opening is a picture of the thing you bought them, to arrive sometime in the spring.

Thankfully, Santa Cruz County is flush with artisans who have created myriad real, tangible, beautiful gifts, perfect for everyone on your list. They need our support now, while our credit cards are out, but they’re not always easy to find. In this spirit, Wallace and I will be releasing a series of Gift Guides this week that focus on local makers, creators and artists. In addition to Wallace’s picks, I’ve curated selections of Edible Gifts, Drinkable Gifts, and Gifts for the Kitchen & Home that are all made locally.

As Wallace articulated so well in his Sunday column, there are so many benefits to buying local. This year, let’s actually do it.

The commercial season for Dungeness crab has been delayed until Dec. 1, and quite possibly longer. This is the fifth year in a row that the season has been pushed out. Last year, it didn’t open until Dec. 23. I completely understand the need to support crucial marine life, but a part of me is sad to know that a holiday crab feast is probably out of the question this year.

My family traditionally eats Dungeness crab, artichokes, sourdough bread and Caesar salad every year on Christmas Eve. It’s a meal I look forward to all year, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized how truly Californian it is. I have friends from the East Coast for whom blue crabs are the norm, who have no idea how to eat an artichoke and have never had sourdough bread. Caesar salad, a Mexican invention, is a nod to our state’s Hispanic heritage, plus it goes great with crab.

Crab traps cannot yet be used off most of the California coast.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The past few years, in response to low availability or astoundingly high prices, my family has reluctantly pivoted our plan at the last second. Now, I think it might be time for a new tradition — something delicious that celebrates the abundance of the Central Coast but is more affordable and less environmentally dicey. A holiday cioppino made with local rockfish and mussels, perhaps? Maybe with a few dozen fresh Pacific oysters? Let’s save the crab feast for later in the winter, when they might be more available and the pressure is off.

What do you think? Will you be changing up your holiday plans, or will you be waiting with bated breath, ready to pay any price should crabs become available at the eleventh hour? Write me at lily@lookoutlocal.com.

Far West Fungi on Laurel Street.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Eat this

The other day, I ate a mushroom cookie from Far West Fungi that totally tripped me out. No, it wasn’t the effects of psilocybin (they’re not those kind of mushroom people), but the flavor of Lactarius rubidus, aka candy caps, that blew my mind. These small, reddish-brown mushrooms exude a rich, heady aroma that tastes and smells exactly like maple syrup, making them one of the few mushrooms that lend themselves to sweet instead of savory applications.

Far West offers a soft, snickerdoodle-like cookie spiced with candy caps, which store staff kindly warmed for me. It was an absolutely delightful fall treat. Head over to the Laurel Street shop to see for yourself. You can also purchase dried candy caps through Far West if you’d like to try experimenting at home. $2 at 224 Laurel St., Santa Cruz.

Pork, chili and green onion gyoza.
Chili crisp highlights Full Steam Dumpling’s gyoza.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

If you’ve walked past Full Steam Dumpling’s farmers market booths and seen the jars of chili crisp on the table, glowing round and red as poison apples, and not bought one, you are making a mistake. Yes, it’s spicy, but not nearly as spicy as you might think. Chili crisp is a crunchy, flavorful condiment made with umami-packed ingredients like shiitake powder, Chinese cardamom, garlic and fermented black bean.

The hot, forward heat from the chili flakes is followed by a cool heat from Szechuan peppercorns that lingers on your palate. It’s delicious, and the texture elevates it to something more than a hot sauce.

Full Steam serves chili crisp generously over its gyoza dumplings at its pop-ups at the Food Lounge, and I’ve found dozens of ways to use it at home, on eggs, pasta, rice bowls, salmon, and any roasted vegetable. Grab a jar for $10 at Full Steam booths at the Downtown, Westside and Live Oak markets.

Events

The famed pizza-spinning performances at Kianti’s Pizza & Pasta Bar are returning on Saturday after a long pandemic-induced pause. Three talented staff members will put on a four-and-a-half-minute show featuring incredible dough-spinning and -tossing theatrics coordinated to music. These high-energy shows are pure fun, and a treat for kids of all ages. The show starts around 7 p.m. at 1100 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.

Guests are invited to “don their gay apparel and come out” to the Holigay Market at Greater Purpose Brewing Company on Saturday from 4-8 p.m. This market will feature at least 10 small LGBTQ+ owned vendors, and a donation of $3-10 is requested for entry.

Santa Cruz Hillel is hosting a community Hanukkah party next Thursday, Dec. 2, from 4-7 p.m at 801 High St., Santa Cruz. Latkes, libations, songs and simcha will be provided at this outdoor party. Tickets are $18 for community members and free for students or those on fixed income. RSVP here.

That’s all for this week. Got food news? You can reach me at lily@lookoutlocal.com, and on Twitter and Instagram.

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