All Abuzz

The Uni-Squirrels scramble to assemble prosciutto-wrapped melon balls before time expires on the inaugural farmers market cook-off at MEarth’s LEED-certified kitchen classroom.

Last week a trillion-pound iceberg tumbled into the ocean. That was July 12. This is how David Remnick reported it for the New YorkerSuch events now seem almost ordinary – and harbingers of far worse. It is quite possible, the environmental writer Fen Montaigne wrote recently, that, should the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet thaw and slip into the ocean, sea levels across the globe could rise as much as 17 feet. This would have devastating implications for hundreds of millions of people, disrupting food chains, swamping coastal cities, spawning illnesses, sparking mass migrations, and undermining national economies in ways that are impossible to anticipate fully.

It would be difficult for anyone but the most hardened climate denier to not feel some dismay at that development. I saw my colleagues’ outlooks get darker before my eyes. Seventeen feet is a lot.

I was less burdened, though, because I had an antidote that arrived that very same day: the Uni-Squirrels.

That was the name of my favorite team of youngsters at the first-ever Culinary Boot Camp Farmers Market Cook-off at nonprofit MEarth’s organic student kitchen/garden at Carmel Middle School.

Their challenge was part of a week that included making beef broth with Mark Shelley (Tassajara Meats), eggplant parmigiana with Salvatore Panzuto and ShihoFukushima (Ocean Sushi Deli) and zucchini cake with Yulanda Santos (Aubergine): The three teams would shop at the Barnyard Farmers Market for seasonal produce (9am-1pm Tuesdays through Sept. 26), agree on a recipe and then execute it in an hour for the assembled judges. Things like communication, cooperation and a handy acronym (“FLOSS” – fresh, local, organic, seasonal and sustainable) would come into play.

The scene before the timer sounded was slightly chaotic and completely cute. Students grilled peaches on a cast-iron griddle, sweet smoke billowing around them. A freckled 9-year-old plated cubes of watermelon stuffed with feta with blueberry coulis – and knew the word coulis – and talked about her pride in presentation. A group of four furiously arranged edible flowers around their dishes, their arms dipping in and around one another’s. “I have to get something from the garden!” one yelled. “I’ll be right back!”

The Uni-Squirrels were busy scooping spheres of cantaloupe and wrapping them with prosciutto they’d smeared with two types of goat cheese. From there they skewered the morsels with a toothpick and popped an edible flower on top, nestling the combination in bowls made from hollowed-out half cantaloupes. It looked beautiful and tasted better. When they presented the dish they talked about how it tripped all the flavor triggers they hoped it would – sweet, salty, umami – and shared the story of a Central Valley farmer they bought the melon from.

Imagine that. They’re shopping and cheffing and thinking and cooperating like citizens and they’re still years from being old enough to vote. These magical rodents demonstrate enough teamwork, tenacity and consciousness to make me think there might be hope after all.

It was another Carmel middle schooler who offered more of the same three days later, just down Carmel Valley Road, in a garden as lush as MEarth’s. At the July 15 Lavender Lunch at Bernardus, there was a lot to get excited about, including lavender-roasted asparagus with bacon, lavender-laced lox, and goat cheese in lavender oil and wildflower honey. But the biggest buzz was generated by Carmel Honey Company and its young CEO Jake Reisdorf, 14.

He and his family tend the bees at Bernardus, as they do at places like Tarpy’sHaute Enchilada and Big Fish Grill, and he was on hand to talk about bees and what makes them so important. (His pamphlet says it best: “If they go, they’re taking us with them.”)

To walk around the lush Bernardus gardens right now is to explore a Dr. Seussian amount of color and scale. Massive sunflowers reach so high they block out the sun. Purple blossoms leap from blooming artichokes. Smells of lavender and lemon verbena fill the air. Towers of foxglove and its cousin digiplexis burst with color. Around them zip more bees than I’ve ever seen in one place.

“It’s the circle of life, man,” says Mark Marino, who helps tend the garden. “When everything is ripe and healthy, the birds and bees bring all the energies in.”

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Carmel Honey Company is doing gangbuster business just three short years after a fifth-grade homework assignment inspired Reisdorf to go all in on bee cultivation. Plans for a tasting room/retail shop just cleared the Carmel Planning Commission, so in less than two weeks Carmel Plaza will have its newest tenant, strategically placed opposite The Cheese Shop. Aug. 1 is the targeted open date.

All of CHC’s honeys, including the orange blossom, sage and wildflower varieties, will be available, as will their expanding portfolio of gear. But Reisdorf is most excited about the chance to educate people at the tasting bar in the back (when he’s not in school).

Bernardus’ gardens continue to provide a sanctuary on any given day, but are particularly inviting Sept. 2 for the annual heirloom tomato lunch ($115), Oct. 7 for the barbecue-oyster shucking-grape stomp ($75) and Oct. 28 for Chef Cal Stamenov’s personally curated Craftsman Exchange. Carmel Honey will be among the purveyors, supplying sweet reminders there’s still cause for hope.

~ QUICKBITES ~

  • Schooners Coastal Kitchen (372-2628) just completed a total patio revamp with a new fire pit, updated lounge areas and new oceanside seating. Live music continues every Wednesday night this summer 5-8pm with Vince Naccarato.
  • Bakai Wine + Tapas Bar (324-0590) reopens quietly at 420 Tyler St. Thursday, July 20, with the official opening another week out. The rebirth will include live music Saturdays and more local wines.
  • A new Sicilian restaurant is coming to Oldtown Salinas on Gabilan east of Main Street, open as soon as mid-August.
  • Salinas Valley Food & Wine’s first event is already around the corner (Aug. 4) with the main event Saturday, Aug. 12, salinasvalleyfoodandwine.com.
  • Portobello’s relocation to the Taylor Farms building in Oldtown Salinas will include an expansive 5,000 square feet, and on top of the lunch and dinner menu it will also feature beer, wine and a full bar, as well as a large outdoor patio. The opening is scheduled for early August.
  • Celeb chef Curtis Stone is bringing the TV show Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking to Carmel at some point. I’m hoping for a showdown with Michael Jones of A Moveable Feast.
  • Esalen will resume public workshops (and its incredible food) July 28.
  • Firestone Walker Brewery does a “rare beer extravaganza” at Cannery Row Brewing Company 5pm-midnight Friday, July 21 (no cover, 643-2722).
  • Los Amigos (646-8888) in P.G. dishes a free grilled artichoke with the purchase of a bucket of beer 5-7pm weekdays.
  • Hellam’s Tobacco Shop (373-2816) in downtown Monterey has put in its permit for wine tasting. New tables and chairs for the new lounge area arrive this week.
  • Dinner for Dance Kids fundraiser at Cibo Ristorante (649-8151) Thursday, July 20, steers 20 percent of proceeds to Dance Kids of Monterey County(dancekids.org) if you mention them.
  • Third Fridays at Chamisal’s Courtside Bistro (484-6000) off Laureles Grade means complimentary wine tasting, appetizers and live music 6-8pm.
  • Tyrion Lannister: “Don’t take it personally. I don’t entirely trust myself either.”

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