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A few weeks ago, we drove up couple hours north of San Francisco to check out some new places, early-Spring scenery and eat some oysters. We came back inspired, relaxed, and rejuvenated, already drawing up the schedule for a summer visit.
We went all the way north up to Cazadero and drove our way back south, visiting Tomales Bay, Inverness, Pierce Point (hello Elks!), Point Reyes, Bolinas and Stinson Beach, taking in the beautiful pastures, crisp air and grazing cows, as Northern California showed itself off preparing for an early Spring.
Not a lot of farm stands were up just yet, but the ones that were open were absolutely irresistible! I’m sharing a few recipes of the meals I made in the weeks past, almost exclusively from the ingredients we picked up from the West Marin region!
We started our journey in the gorgeous Cazadero town where I had almost a transformative experience at Raymond’s Bakery and Bed-and-Breakfast. My husband has a way of finding these incredible places wherever we go, where I usually get to experience something that changes my perspective, colors my thinking. We stayed at the charming, gorgeous “Baker’s Loft” atop the bakery.
It was a cozy room filled with cookbooks, novels and games! We got there on Friday evening and they had a casual pizza+band night which was fun! Looking at the crowd it seemed like everyone knew everyone else for years, but that wasn’t the case. It’s just how warm this place is – and I also mean this literally because this is the only warm place with heating for miles 😉
In the morning, we woke up to the smell of freshly baked bread and fruit well on its way to becoming jam in the oven. I don’t know about everyone else but waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread (heck, I’ll even take fresh toast as long as I’m not the one making it) is one of the best feelings there is on a Saturday morning. The smells and feels from the bakery downstairs almost made up for the fact that it was a bitter 36 degrees F up there in the woods!
The owner and baker-extraordinaire, Mark, may be one of the nicest, most inspiring people I’ve met in recent years. His warmth and strength was palpable, having created such a beautiful space for people to come together and share delicious food! He was kind enough to let me into the bakery early in the morning so I could see up close how things work in a professional bakery. I was in wonderland with the ginormous ovens and stand mixers as tall as I am. He humored me and let me “help” with some blackberry tartlets, and let me slice two of his beautiful baked loaves – one multigrain sourdough and another a sea salt sourdough – to set up breakfast for the guests staying in the cottages on the property.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I do NOT like to wake up early in the morning, unless it is to bake something.
After setting up the breakfast table with freshly baked pastries, rolls, breads, boiled eggs and freshly roasted, freshly ground and freshly brewed coffee, Mark taught me the basics of bread making and gave me some bread dough to bring back home – dough that I’ve baked into 3 Focaccia bread loaves since, and they’ve been divine! I am determined to not be afraid of yeast anymore, so hopefully you’ll see more bread recipes on the blog soon. We are most certainly going back to Raymond’s bakery in the summer to enjoy pizza+beer on his patio, and I need to provide him a status update on my bread making, so I better get to it! He also happens to be a coffee aficionado like my husband, so he roasted a small batch of coffee beans from his “coffee guy” in Central America for us to bring home!
With hearts filled with joy and a cooler filled with bread dough, we continued the journey south. We enjoyed some incredible seafood all through the weekend: oysters, clams, clam chowder, fish tacos and lots of other early-Spring fare (so many pea tendrils!).
Despite living in the Bay Area for over a decade, I had never made it beyond Stinson Beach in the West Marin region, and I could kick myself for it. It is so accessible and pristine, a bit chilly but gorgeous.
I was happy to see that Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station had many varieties of Goat and Sheep’s milk cheeses, of different textures and flavors. We picked up some Gouda and a soft, creamy cheese, with vegetable ash. Both sheep’s milk and fabulous, and somehow sitting far better with my dairy-hating guts than cow’s milk.
On our way back, we stopped at the Gospel Flat farmstand and picked up some leeks, rainbow chard, cilantro and small heads of lettuce.
I used the leeks to make a quick, easy and dairy free Broccoli Leek soup in the Instant Pot, with a red potato for creaminess and bulk, and lots of garlic and black pepper. It was light and comforting to have on rotation during the week after the weekend’s excess. We had it with homemade croutons and some of the focaccia loaves!
With the dough, I made 3 focaccia bread loaves: one with the green olives, another with just sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, and the last one became the base for leek+gouda toasts.
I cooked the leeks in olive oil on low heat for about 30 minutes, added salt and crushed black pepper, and then added bits of the Gouda cheese and let the heat of the leeks warm them ever so slightly.
I piled the mixture on to the focaccia bread and garnished with farm fresh cilantro leaves for a light lunch!
The lettuce met its Caesar salad destiny with homemade croutons and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.
As for the rainbow chard, I made it into thin crepes with garlic, scallions and chickpea flour. These were inspired by the Indian staple “dheer-Da” (also known as Cheel-ah in some parts). I make these crepes all the time with other greens, and I also use this fava+garbanzo bean flour instead of, or in addition to the chickpea flour. The crepes are light but substantial, slightly crispy but still soft, and a filling, healthy and delicious dairy-free and grain-free breakfast or lunch. Consider it to be more of a template or guideline rather than an exact recipe.
We start by cutting out the hard stems off the chard leaves, and give them a rough chop, along with garlic and scallions. You would do the same if you were using kale, spinach, even peppery arugula, although you could skip this step if you were using the “baby” editions of these greens.
Depending on how long you plan to store the batter, you may want to dial back the garlic and scallions since their flavor blooms in the refrigerator after couple days.
In a blender jar, place the chickpea flour, salt, red chili powder (or cayenne pepper), turmeric powder, garlic, scallions, eggs and water. Turmeric adds warmth and color to the batter but is optional here if you don’t have it on hand. Blend until smooth. Add the coarsely chopped chard leaves and pulse a few times.
Heat a non-stick pan on medium heat (I use nonstick cooking spray to cut back on oil).
Make thin crepes with a 1/4 or 1/2 cup of batter at a time, depending on how big the pan is. You want them to be thin, and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side with 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil, till golden brown and crispy.
I usually serve these with artisanal coconut butter, dry peanut chutney, or this yogurt dip that I make with greek yogurt, some crushed peanuts, salt, cayenne pepper, a bit of sugar and chopped fresh cilantro.
This meal reminds me of my childhood when my mom would whip these up with whatever she had on hand for a “shortcut breakfast” or snack. Sometimes she would add diced onions, even tomatoes. If you add tomatoes, adjust the water content or otherwise the crepes won’t crisp up and may require a lot of oil to release from the pan. In my case, the chard may have temporarily replaced the fenugreek in this iteration, but it still tastes like home!
• Recipes •
Rainbow Chard Crepes
Makes 8 large or 16 small crepes (yield: 4 cups of batter)
1 bunch of rainbow or Swiss chard (about 8-10 large leaves), coarsely chopped, tough stems discarded
1 medium garlic clove, roughly chopped
3-4 tablespoons scallions, roughly chopped (light green or white portions only)
2 1/2 cups garbanzo flour (besan) or favs+garbanzo flour, or a combination thereof
2 1/2 teaspoons table salt (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons cayenne powder or red chili powder (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
2 large eggs
2 cups water
4 teaspoons of vegetable or peanut oil to cook the crepes
In a blender jar, place the flour, salt, spices, eggs, scallions, garlic and water, and blend well until mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Make sure there are no pockets of dry flour lurking in the dark corners of the blender!
Add chopped chard and pulse few times to combine. Adjust seasonings. Batter keeps in the fridge in an airtight container for 4-5 days.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Coat with nonstick cooking spray.
When the pan is hot, add 1/2 cup of batter to the pan and spread gently and evenly. If the pan is small, use only 1/4 cup of batter at a time. It’s important that the crepe is thin.
Cook the crepe for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Add up to 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable or peanut oil around the edges of the crepe.
Once the bottom is golden brown, flip the crepe gently using a rubber spatula and cook the other side, 2-3 minutes.
Serve hot with coconut butter, plain yogurt, or with the spicy yogurt dip (recipe to follow).
Spicy Yogurt Dip
Makes 1 scant cup
3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, or dairy free yogurt (such as coconut or cashew)
2-3 tablespoons ground peanuts (or peanut butter)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste, if using peanut butter)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red chili powder
1/4 teaspoon sugar (crystals preferred over granulated)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Use a teaspoon or two of water if the yogurt is too thick, or if using peanut butter. Adjust salt and spice level to taste.