Monthly Archives: July 2010

Sonoma Marin Fair: The Food

One of the fascinating things about fairs is the way the equipment and entertainment rolls up in trailers and trucks, rolls out onto midways and fields, and rolls on to its next destination. Indeed, it can be quite a sad experience to stand on the midway of a once-busy fair the day after it’s been packed up to move on.

The middle of the fair is something else of course. And in the middle of the midway is the food. Strange, storied, remarkably unhealthy, uniquely American, offered-nowhere-else-in-the-world fair food. And that just covers the food for sale to eat. There are also various food-creating and food-eating contests, which each have their own culture of participation and judging.

Here are some of the offerings from our local Sonoma-Marin Fair. (See these posts for more about the Fair’s Animals and the Fair’s Rides and Games.)

Hubby, “Hamming” (gamming?) it up.

Love the burger cake! Baked by a young person, too.

… And the classic funnel cake eating contest.

Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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Mill Valley Paint-Off

A 20-year tradition in my town of Mill Valley, CA, the annual Paint-Off is open to anyone who wishes to create art in the town square over a Summer Saturday — the one rule being that you depict what you see within the time allotted. The Paint-Off is a lot of fun for both the artists, who plant themselves in various spots to create, and the spectators, who mingle and watch the art happen. It’s relaxed and filled with camaraderie and talent. When brushes and other implements stop, public and artist balloting begins, and a winner is declared. (And, yes, the original idea came from the Pillsbury Bake-Off!)

Lots of artists depict the Depot Bookstore, the focal point of the Square. It used to be a train, and then bus, depot.

There were plenty of other scenes.

Looking further up the same street:

These trees were made with fabric that was sewn on and then cut.

More images of the day:

Look closely at the painter, below, and the picture, above.

We all watched as the ultimate winner was announced.

My personal favorite, this beautiful ink and watercolor painting by David Savellano called “Mill Valley in the Round”, won both the People’s Choice and the Artists’ Choice awards. The execution is so clever. The drawings remind me of beautiful children’s book illustrations.

All in all, a very inspiring day!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Blueberry Tuesday: Summer Triple Berry Crisp

Continuing the series on desserts that use luscious blueberries and other fruits at their peak (see the Blueberry Buckle recipe), this post features my all-time favorite fruit dessert, the Crisp. What makes a crisp a crisp, and not a buckle, crumble, cobbler, or slump? you may be asking. Crisps have exceedingly wonderful crunchy, sugary tops over a slightly thickened cooked-fruit base. Fruit and topping are perfect together — different from one another, yet complimentary.

This recipe is adapted from June’s Apple Crisp in the Silver Palate Good Times cookbook. As you’ll see, crisps can be made with berries, apples, apricots, peaches, or any fruit that’s tasty and in season.

Triple Berry Crisp

Serves 6

Approx. 2 C fresh berries or other fruit, washed (and peeled in the case of apples)
1.5 T fresh lemon juice
1 c flour
1 c sugar
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter cold, cut into pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8″ cake pan.
2. Place a layer of berries in the pan and sprinkle with lemon juice. Repeat layers until all berries are in the pan. Lightly press on the berries to even them.

3. Process the flour, sugar, cinnamon, & salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade just to combine. Add the butter and process, using repeated pulses, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
4. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the apples, making sure the edges are well sealed.

5. Bake until the top is golden and the fruit is tender, about 1 hour. Fruit and juice may leak into the topping – this is fine.

The crisp is equally terrific made with peaches or apricots.

Why choose?

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Sonoma Marin Fair: The Animals

County and state fairs are wonderful, traditional summer events. They offer down-home fun for people of all ages — rides, carnival games, contests, shows, and farming and animal exhibits. If you’re in California, which has a whopping 58 counties, chances are there’s a county fair near you right now. Even the California State Fair is happening now.

For me, the animal exhibits and contests are at the top of the list of things that make a great fair what it is. As a non-farmer, I can get educated about farm animals and the work and culture of breeding, caring for and showing them. Farmers, breeders and interested youth can also showcase their skills and work. In very rural areas, fairs offer rare opportunities for busy farmers to interact, to show and to see what others are doing.

Animal exhibits have been a part of American county and state fairs ever since 1807, when farmer and mill owner Elkanah Watson showcased his sheep in the public square in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. According to StateFairRecipes.com, he clanged an old ship’s bell to attract attention. His goal was to encourage local farmers to raise Merino sheep, so that his mill would receive superior quality wool. By the late 1800s, county and state fairs were occurring all over the U.S.

Each fair bears the unique imprint of its geographic area. My favorite local county fair is the Sonoma-Marin Fair, which occurs in Petaluma, CA, in late June. I recently posted a pictorial of the fair rides and games. Now it’s time to highlight the animal exhibits.

Of course, the cows are a favorite. We appreciate our weekly delivery of local Straus Creamery milk.

The chicken coop was moved to a bigger, breezier area. It’s always fun to see (and hear) the regal roosters, hens and chickens.

Hog races were a new addition this year. The caller and operation came all the way from Arkansas.

We spent a long time in the sheep and goat barn.

And we took in a Sheep Showmanship competition of 4H and Future Farmers of America youth. We were impressed with the participants’ diligence and sheep handling, as well as with the seriousness of the competition, the obvious work and skill involved, and the sheep themselves. This site explains sheep show judging.

See photos of last year’s fair’s pig showmanship competition and more.

Watch for the final installment about the Sonoma Marin Fair: The Food.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Bastille Day: Stir up Some Ratatouille

Are you wondering how to use your abundance of mid-summer tomatoes and zucchini, and celebrate Bastille Day at the same time?

One word: Ratatouille.

200px-Ratatouille

This tasty, colorful melange never fails to summon summer, while providing a few helpings of vegetables or a fool-proof side-dish that works with fish, chicken, lamb, noodles, and more. Ever since I first lived on my own in college, it has been the rare period when I haven’t made some.

Food historians generally date ratatouille to 18th century France, and to the area of Provence, and the town of Nice, in particular. Its name hails from the French verb, touiller, which means “to stir, mix, or toss”.

My own ratatouille has changed a lot since the days when I cut cubes of zucchini and eggplant and set them to boil in a pot of canned tomatoes. It’s as if the recipe itself has both mellowed and allowed for more complication, just as a good pot of ingredients, over time, coalesces into an especially flavorful whole. Diehard ratatouille purists may insist on sautéing each ingredient separately, but here you get the same effect, while also saving a little time.

4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, pressed
3 bell peppers, chopped (2-3 colors)
1 large eggplant, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
2 summer squash, chopped
20 or so olive halves
2 14 oz. cans tomato chunks, or equivalent fresh tomatoes
2-4 tsps. each oregano and thyme
Feta or parmesan cheese, optional

Coat eggplant pieces in 2 Tbsp. oil and bake in a baking dish, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until soft.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions and sauté, turning occasionally, just until golden.

Add pressed garlic and sauté.

Mix in peppers, cooked eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and olive halves.

Sauté whole for 10-15 minutes.

Add tomato chunks and spices to just boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Serves 4-6 as a main course. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled. Serve plain, hot or cold, top with feta or a dry Italian cheese like parmesan, or spoon over pasta.

Photo: wikibooks.org

A Slow Classic Reprint, first run 7/14/09

Slow News: The Slow Reading Movement

A University of New Hampshire English professor, a Canadian technology expert, and an Executive Editor at the Harvard University Press are all making the case for slowing down the act of reading, something people are doing more frequently in skims, quick gulps and hyper-linked transgressions.

The professor, Thomas Newkirk, encourages elementary through college students to utilize such techniques as memorizing and reading out loud to allow them to slow down and “taste” the words. John Miedema, a technology specialist at IBM in Ottawa, Ontario, whose book Slow Reading explores the movement, notes that slow reading can foster a closer connection between readers and their information.

Lindsay Waters, Executive Humanities Editor at Harvard University Press has called for no less than a “revolution in reading.” She wrote:

Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.

This all sounds right to me. Reading for pleasure involves true and deep immersion in the world of a book, and, for many of us, that requires slowing down. We may need to retrain ourselves and our children to go slowly, savor, and get lost in the written word once in a while.

Read more (slowly) about Slow Reading in this overview. ADDED: Slow Reading, in Depth, with quotes from Tracy Seeley, who blogs about the Slow Movement.

Sonoma Marin Fair: The Rides and Games

I love summer’s county and state fairs, none more than our local Sonoma-Marin Fair, in Petaluma, which has come and gone this year. The Marin fair is closer, and the Sonoma fair bigger, but frankly, this one that we latched onto many years ago (before Anna was even born) is the keeper. It’s a wonderful combination of farm animals and agricultural events; classic rides, games and food; a wide midway for strolling; country performers; and down-home exhibits and contests that recall simpler times when people came to fairs to show their baking and animal-handling prowess and to be exposed to new things.

Here are some photos from last year’s fair. This year, I took so many, that I divided them into sections. Come along and ride the thrilling and classic fair rides and soak up the atmosphere and draw of the traditional fair games on a summer day and dusk in June.

I love this Falling Star sign so much, I took movies of it!

Coming up: Fair farm events and food.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman