Wiggle Me This
Worming through news from gardens and farms plus a big change in Carmel Valley.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
They are voracious eaters (half their body weight a day) and hungrier lovers (look it up). They inspire lyrics like “long, thin, slimy ones; short, fat, juicy ones” and dance moves that turn the party out.
These reasons make it tough to love worms any more mightily, but my love is growing because they’re now on my team. And we’re aiming for a championship.
The deservedly decorated Monterey Regional Waste Management District (384-5313), which – among (literally) tons of other things – helps locals get compost-literate with free workshops and subsidized bins, is sponsoring its first-ever Home Compost Challenge. Online applications are due July 20 via www.montereycountyfair.com or www.mrwmd.org. (More compost clairvoyance is available at MRWMD’s site.)
Prizes include cash and county bragging rights. Of course, by providing a place for yard and food waste besides the landfill (said waste makes up a third generated at a typical county home) – and transforming it into fuel for the garden – my worms and I have already won.
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Down-to-earth education is an oft-underappreciated aspect of our own organic dynasty, Earthbound Farm (625-6219). Fittingly, then, Saturday’s four-hour 25th Anniversary celebration harvests abundant demos and workshops: Farmgoers can plant upstarts in newspaper pots, learn about seeds and cover crops, soak up live cooking programs… and feast on natural foods, listen to music, tour the fields and dive into bushels of other foodstuff.
EBF, meanwhile, has been crucial in helping educate the greater country on farming and flavor options. Most places, organic wasn’t an option 25 years ago, when Myra and Drew Goodman started selling fresh blueberry muffins alongside Carmel Valley road from a postage-stamp plot. Now 33,000-acre-strong EBF is keeping 305,000 pounds of pesticides out of soils annually, chugging its goods around on biodiesel and planting forests (500,000 trees since ’99) while placing its organic produce in 75 percent of the country’s grocery stores. This big old family business knows how to stay fresh.
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I recently outran the June gloom for some valley sunshine and a peek at Michel Richard’s Citronelle at Carmel Valley Ranch (626-2599). The restaurant fits the personality of a Richard showcase: The menu tweaks classic preparations with creative aplomb. The “crab cigar” (yum) and a stylish “fried chicken” (not what you think) are popular; we snacked on the recommended fish and chips ($17) – the super fresh halibut from Monterey Fish enjoyed a crazy light batter – in a setting that’s sleek and comfortable.
But given the just-finalized sale to Geolo Capital, things there, like their upscale drinks, are getting shaken up.
According to transitional manager Rick Riess, the changes won’t affect 95 percent of staff, whom they rehired. Chef Anthony Keene, however, wasn’t among those retained. As far as the partnership with Richard, Riess says it’s still in place, but that they’re “gonna evaluate that relationship.”
He told me other planned parts of the “pretty massive renovation” will include the addition of pools, a vineyard, “experiential” programming (think bikes, hikes and yoga), and, promisingly, a reinvention where their gated valley hills don’t feel so far away for county folks.
“Unlike the previous owner, we view ourselves as local – we’re from San Francisco,” Riess says. “Myself and [grandkid to Hyatt co-founder A.N. Pritzker] John A. Pritzker, the owner, have a commitment to being a positive part of the community. We want locals to enjoy the restaurant, the grounds, local room rates. We have a lot in the works.”
They appear to have themselves a steal of a buy too, at a reported $18.5 million (citing a confidentiality agreement, Riess declined to confirm or deny). And while our group was sipping Manhattans by the pool, they also had rising star chef Christophe Grosjean of Aubergine Carmel there enjoying the patio with his wife and kids.
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Segue alert – Aubergine and winemaker Thomas Perez host Dan Kosta of Kosta Browne for a wine dinner Thursday, July 16, 622-5907… Here’s a simple recipe for a triumphant time: Go to Stokes (373-1110). Sit in the bar and have barmaster Mario Magaña prepare one of his specialty drinks (ahoy, “Sailor Jerry”). Order everything “heirloom” – the superior pizza, the hell-yes housemade mozzarella tower from Chef Brian Christensen’s kitchen – maybe add a tuna tartar or magical veal meatballs if you must… Frank Pinney is retiring the only way that makes sense for a Big Sur legend – a fire-roasted barbecue benefit for the beloved Big Sur Fire Brigade July 18, noon-3pm at Pfeiffer, 667-2113… Treebones (805-927-2894) way down the South Coast is suddenly doing professional sushi and tapas – the Handys got two of their favorite chefs from their past life in Long Beach to come to the Surcus… Chef Todd Fisher’s doing a $10 tri-tip sandwich barbecue lunch and dinner fundraiser Tuesday, July 14, at Root 68 – call 206-8401 to eat good and help send his kid to a leaders conference in D.C..… One way to get ready to slip on the stirrups for the California Rodeo: a free Crown Royal Girls rodeo promotion at Zeph’s One Stop (757-3947) on Thursday, July 16, 4-6pm… Yee. Haw.