UCSC farmstand strawberries
Dining Reviews

Soberanes Fire Relief Benefit, UCSC Produce, Killer Gluten-Free Brownie

UCSC Farm & Garden produce pops off, while foodies organize wildfire fundraiser

Emilia Cordero, a UCSC student, tends to the UCSC Farm & Garden Produce Cart on a Friday afternoon. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER

Some things look as good as they taste.

Like the wares of the UCSC Farm & Garden Produce Cart, which offers a small and intimate salon of fresh harvest twice a week, filling in between the two larger farmers markets for those Westside dwellers who have to have it fresh. Every Tuesday and Friday, noon to 6 p.m. during the summer and early fall, apprentices from the university’s flourishing Agroecology program pick, box up and set out the latest examples of delicious fruit, herbs, veggies, and flowers from the campus’ hilltop farm. I can’t resist stopping by, along with many neighbors, university staff and students, to see what’s trending in our extremely local organics.

Last week the tables under the shaded canvas awning were attractively stocked with strawberries—the kind that exude a sweet tangy perfume—torpedo red onions, fat yellow potatoes, slightly smaller new red potatoes, green beans, ribbed and curved suku cucumbers, old-fashioned zinnias, and lovely mixed baby greens. I especially like their pungent mixed mizunas, cresses, and arugulas which create a peppery dinner salad. Add fresh basil and you’re right in the middle of summer. Corner of High and Bay streets, noon-6 p.m. Tuesday and Friday.

Earthbound Fire Relief

While we’re talking about fresh and local, I invite you to join me at an especially choice event coming up on Aug. 20: If Words Could Put the Fire Out: A Soberanes Fire Relief Benefit. Terrific and timely, this Saturday afternoon event offers a chance to spend time with Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley, poet Ellen Bass, and writer/artist Patrice Vecchione, while savoring some delicious finger foods and wine. Who wouldn’t like two hours of the spoken word, appetizers and wine? The proceeds from the $40 tickets will go to the Community Foundation of Monterey County’s Soberanes Fire Fund. You’ve been smelling the smoke, hearing about a devastating loss of crops, vineyards, animals, forests, homes—now you can help out. 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 at the celebrated Earthbound Farm Stand, 7250 Carmel Valley Road in Carmel Valley. For tickets, go to ifwordscouldputthefireout.eventbrite.com.

Wine of the Week

One of those incredible bargains in the key of light, minerally white wine is the Vinho Verde by Gazela. I discovered it at New Leaf several months ago for a mere $5.99. And, like any intelligent vinophile, I gambled that for $5.99 it could be merely decent and still a bargain. But lo and behold, this lovely creature—so light in color as to be practically clear—proved to be a zesty, non-threatening partner to seafood, chicken, wheat chex (just seeing if you’re paying attention), Cheetos, Brie, and green olives. Even now that the price has soared to a dollar more—it’s the deal of the decade at $6.99. I am hopelessly enamored and buy it by the half-case. A young, refreshing tipple, this Portuguese doppelganger of Austria’s Grüner Veltliner weighs in at a breathtakingly low 9 percent alcohol. That’s breakfast wine, folks!

On the Gluten-free Front:

We’re loving the lightly cheese-inflected baked crackers from Milton’s. Yes the “Cheddar cheese” crackers are light, crunchy, utterly satisfying, and brilliantly gluten-free. Three bucks plus change. Everywhere. I also adore the barely legal gluten-free brownie from Companion Bakeshop. Feather-light yet decadent, adorned with walnuts, barely sweet, tender as a baby’s you-know-what, this is the enlightened brownie of our region. And as we all know, there are many great brownies in our region. For those liberated from gluten, these are your brownies of choice. $3.85 and worth every centavo.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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