Savory Yogurt Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

The recent trend of meals served in bowls continues to show its appeal for so many reasons. Bowls continue to be quite popular on restaurant menus too, with endlessly clever combinations to suit any diet or meal.

As Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold put it, “Avocado toast? That was so last year. We are now in the age of the phenomenon I have come to think of as Things in a Bowl, a culinary invention that may depend on rice, pasta, whole grains or legumes but usually includes a poached egg of one sort or another and always, always comes with kale.”

Well, not always kale. On a recent trip through Santa Barbara, California, I had a delicious quinoa breakfast bowl at Backyard Bowls. The Southern California chain offers a choice of quinoa, acai, oatmeal, yogurt and muesli as the base, then builds on that with fresh fruit, nut milks and butters, nuts, granola, dried fruit and seeds. Diners can choose spirulina, bee pollen, goji berries and other super foods to sprinkle on top for added nutrition. My quinoa bowl with cashew milk, berries and honey was just the ticket, comforting, sweet and rib-sticking.

Another Santa Barbara outpost, Buddha Bowls, makes savory concoctions then stuffs them in hollowed-out bread bowls. Some of the fillings include chili, macaroni and cheese with bacon, Hawaiian barbecue and Mediterranean flavors with hummus and veggies — recipes designed to appeal to the mostly student population in that area.

Another restaurant just up the coast from Santa Barbara — Calafia Café in Palo Alto, California — uses noodles, lentils, brown rice and roasted yams for the base of its bowls then adds vegetables and proteins for either vegan or carnivore eaters. One of my favorites is the Fiery Bottom BBQ Pork Bowl with braised pork, barbecue sauce, sautéed spinach, fried quail egg, roasted yams and brown rice.

The Plant Café, another small California chain, has a dynamite bowl featuring wild salmon with ginger lime sauce and seasonal vegetables over soba noodles.

Even some yogurt purveyors have waded in – after all, yogurt was the base for some of the first bowls ever, usually served with granola and fruit. Putting a new twist on that mixture, Pinkberry added a line of savory Greek yogurt bowls to its offerings a few years back. Cucumbers, olive oil, sunflower crackers, toasted quinoa and pumpkin seeds were among the toppings. Pinkberry has since taken these items off its menu, but I like the idea for its versatility and for how easily it translates to the home cook.

Heck, when you have your pantry and fridge to choose from, many iterations of grain, noodle, vegetable, herb, bean, spice, seed or oil could work for a nutritious bowl, making a snappy lunch, snack or even appetizer to share in a jiffy.

Besides being a fantastic way to get food on the table quickly, bowls present a handy opportunity for using up leftovers. Think of the rice you cooked two nights ago, the leftover roasted chicken from Sunday and the asparagus and carrots that need to get used up. Steam the asparagus until tender/crisp and layer baby salad greens, then rice and then chicken in bowls. Top with coarsely grated carrots, the asparagus and some sesame seeds then drizzle with teriyaki sauce.

Or you could take the salad greens-chicken-rice combination a different direction with the addition of cilantro, pinto beans and avocado or use leftover noodles instead of rice and change up the vegetables. Heat up the ingredients or serve at room temperature depending on personal preference. To add spark and versatility, have on hand a few sauces such as salsa, chimichurri, Thai curry, peanut or lemon vinaigrette for drizzling on top.

So whether you’re a trendsetter or not, making bowls at home is easy, fun and quick. Here are a couple recipes to chew on:

Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Quinoa breakfast bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Quinoa breakfast bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 cup water

1/2 cup quinoa

2 tablespoons golden raisins

1/4 cup almond milk

4 strawberries, stemmed and quartered

1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

2 tablespoon slivered almonds, toasted

1 teaspoon agave syrup

Directions

1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil then lower heat and cover. After 10 minutes, stir in the raisins and continue to cook until the grains open up into translucent flat disks and liquid is absorbed, about 5 to 10 minutes longer.

2. Stir in almond milk and pour into a bowl. Arrange berries on top then sprinkle with coconut and almonds and drizzle with agave syrup. Eat while still warm.

Mexican-style Pinto Bean Bowl

Mexican-style Pinto Bean Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Mexican-style Pinto Bean Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1/4 cup shredded red cabbage

Juice of 1/2 lime

Butter, enough to grease frying pan

1 egg

1/2 cup whole pinto beans, warmed

1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 teaspoon chopped cilantro

1/4 avocado

Directions

1. Toss the cabbage with the lime juice and set aside.

2. Heat a small frying pan and add a little butter. Fry the egg to a perfect sunny side up. While the egg is cooking, layer the beans in a bowl, then top with the cooked egg then cabbage salad.

3. Scatter the tomatoes over the top and sprinkle with the cilantro, then perch the avocado on top. Serve immediately.

Savory Yogurt Bowl

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, whipped with a whisk to enhance silken texture

1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in small dice

1/4 cup sesame sticks, broken into small pieces

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon gray Maldon sea salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure New Mexico chile powder

Directions

1. Layer yogurt in a bowl. Top with cucumber, then sesame sticks. Drizzle oil over all then sprinkle with salt and chile powder to taste.

Main photo: Savory Yogurt Bowl. Credit: Copyright 2016 Brooke Jackson

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Roast chicken. Credit: Copyright 2016 iStock

I eased my shopping cart along the meat counter in a national chain grocery store to buy a whole chicken. Roast poultry for dinner seemed like a simple enough proposition. But like so many of us making food-purchasing decisions these days, I was stopped in my tracks by the range of choices.

Should I buy free-range or pasture-raised? Is organic better? Or is the best choice a brand like Foster Farms’ Simply Raised (whatever that means, exactly)?

Confused by all of the labels and marketing claims, I gave up. My family ate a meatless stir-fry for dinner that night.

Later, I learned about a new online resource called Buyingpoultry.com designed to help consumers navigate the supermarket. Could the site guide conscious consumers like me to more sustainable chicken?

Chicken production in a nutshell

Anyone hoping to buy a chicken that truly free-ranged on pastoral farmlands at a grocery store is generally out of luck.

The fact is that 99 percent of all chickens raised for meat (called broilers) in the U.S. come from factory farms. Through consolidation and high-tech breeding practices, the poultry industry has made chicken the most efficient and cheapest animal protein available.

Since 2010, broiler production has increased by more than 10 percent, according to statistics from the USDA. This graph looks surprisingly like the steep climb section on a Stairmaster program. Chicken production, which reached almost 9 billion birds in 2015, is still on the rise. Meanwhile, nationwide demand for barbecued-chicken pizza, chicken Caesar salad and General Tso’s chicken keeps in step.

Trouble is, while making chicken America’s favorite meat, the industrialized production system has incurred an untold debt to human health, the environment and the conditions of its own workers, not to forget the chickens themselves.

Consumers demand healthier chicken

Amid a stream of salmonella-superbug outbreaks and public-health concerns over the routine use of human antibiotics, the USDA announced its plan for stricter regulations and testing in 2015. Two of the largest chicken producers, Tyson and Purdue, pledged to stop using human antibiotics to prevent disease in hatcheries and as growth promoters during maturation. Major food corporations, including McDonald’s, Walmart and Subway, then vowed to shift toward purchasing chicken produced without human antibiotics.

Still, such improvements in the poultry market do not guarantee better animal welfare. According to whistleblower reports about the chicken industry and data from the ASPCA, cage-free chickens are still crammed into windowless barns for their short, dung-filled lives. These Cornish Cross birds, the main hybrid strain for the industry, grow three times as big in two-thirds the time as heritage breeds. Such fast fattening causes bone disorders, cardiovascular issues and other health issues over their roughly 45 days of life.

A sustainable buying guide

This chart can help you navigate the supermarket poultry case. Credit: Copyright 2016 Buyingpoultry.com

This chart can help you navigate the supermarket poultry case. Credit: Copyright 2016 Buyingpoultry.com

After returning from my shopping fail, I Googled Buyingpoultry.com. Created by the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit Farm Forward, it is the country’s largest online database of poultry brands, products and retailers (including eggs and turkeys).

In the search field I typed in “Open Nature” and then “Foster Farms,” two of the brands I’d considered. “Avoid,” read the bold red graphic on my screen, and below that, “Birds likely suffer from the lowest levels of animal welfare.” The fine print detailed how both brands received an F grade because they did not have any regulated animal-welfare claims or third-party certifications.

“Buyingpoultry.com lets you go to the store with experts,” said Andrew deCoriolis, the website’s architect, when I reached him by phone.

Helpfully, the search results page offered links to the highest-welfare poultry products available as well as to a glossary of labels that clearly illustrates just how obfuscating and, in some cases, downright misleading the claims “free-range,” “pasture-raised” and “humanely raised” actually are.

“Like Seafood Watch, Buyingpoultry.com can be a standard of sustainability and create more transparency,” deCoriolis said.

Buying better poultry

One of the most upsetting experiences for the site’s 5,000 to 10,000 monthly users, according to deCoriolis, is discovering how USDA-certified organic products rank. Browsing Buyingpoultry.com, they’re shocked to see organic products with a D grade. DeCoriolis explained, “Organic is better but not necessarily for the animals.” For one thing, the USDA’s definition of “outdoor access” is ill-defined and does not stipulate indoor enrichments, including perches, or space for natural behaviors such as dust bathing.

At a different grocery store on another day, I opened Buyingpoultry.com on my phone’s browser to check on a regional brand, Draper Valley, for sale. All products in this brand rated “Better Choices,” and the organic line earned a C+. Since this was the best I could get in my area without visiting a small-scale farm, I nabbed this passing-grade chicken for our supper.

So what does it take to rate as a “Best Choices” chicken? According to Buyingpoultry.com’s criteria, these are heritage-breed chickens raised by producers abiding by the highest standards of animal welfare, with their claims certified by third-party groups such as Animal Welfare Approved. 

There’s only a limited supply from retailers in certain markets, including Natural Grocers in Denver, Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and some Whole Foods stores — but none at all at Trader Joe’s or other national chains.

Persistent consumer advocacy is putting pressure on the poultry industry, however. “The big companies are paying attention,” said deCoriolis. In March 2016, Whole Foods committed to stop selling fast-growing breeds by 2024. Starbucks and Nestlé soon followed, joining the animal-welfare initiative toward slower-growing chicken breeds raised in conditions where they can behave and interact like, well, actual all-natural chickens.

Main photo: Buying chicken can be more complicated than roasting it. Credit: Copyright 2016 iStock

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Lilac has been open since 2012 on historic Montana Avenue in downtown Billings, Montana. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

Montana is called “the last best place,” a long-cherished refrain that applies now more than ever to its increasingly innovative restaurants. Here, diners can taste not just local Montana ingredients, but the spirit of the state itself.

One restaurant that embodies that spirit is Lilac in downtown Billings, the largest city in Montana. The restaurant has earned local adoration and national accolades. The year after it opened, Lilac was the only restaurant in the state to be included in OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice Awards for the Top 100 American Fare Restaurants in the United States.

Crafting good food, good staff

Jeremy Engebretson, proprietor and chef of Lilac in Billings, Montana. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

Jeremy Engebretson, proprietor and chef of Lilac in Billings, Montana. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

At Lilac, glossy black and pearly white subway tiles frame a short row of bar seating that anchors the restaurant space and provides an unobstructed view directly into the kitchen. There is no haughty mystery, overwrought culinary performance or exclusivity here.

Rather, proprietor and chef Jeremy Engebretson describes Lilac’s food with prose so succinct and assertive it would cause Ernest Hemingway to sit up and take notice: “Local from scratch, responsible cooking. Modern American food with a fistful of approachability.”

Even given the area’s short growing season and challenging kinks in local distribution chains, Montana has ranked among the top 10 states nationally for commitment to locally produced food by Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index. For Lilac, Engebretson, who grew up in Montana and neighboring Wyoming, describes local as “a regional idea here,” one that is more “Montana-centric than Montana-only.”

It’s a food worldview that brings ingredients like Montana-grown grains, produce, beef, cheese and honey together with, for example, wild boar from Denver or Texas and seafood from around the world.

Cooking as ‘a soulful experience’

A pear gazpacho with pickled pear, Meyer lemon and parsley gremolata. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

A pear gazpacho with pickled pear, Meyer lemon and parsley gremolata. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

Expanding upon these ingredients and flavors, Lilac’s menu builds from the ground up. “The sense of accomplishment you get from seeing a project from beginning to end is a soulful experience,” Engebretson says. “I believe that to be true in those who do things like make pasta, as well as those who make things such as tables.”

And Lilac’s staff makes pasta. Lots of it. Every day. They also butcher whole animals, grind beef, concoct salad dressings, craft ice creams and bake bread — all this (and more) in a kitchen so tiny no casual observer could imagine such an enthusiastically artisan stream of activity pouring from it.

These close quarters are part of what crafts a deeply committed team, comfortable in the back of the house and the front. Ask any server or chef at Lilac where an ingredient comes from, how a dish is prepared or what they’d recommend, and they can tell you, because they know. They’ve done it. Chefs and cooks share their intimate knowledge as they serve from a seasonal menu.

Dishes range from duck fat fingerling potatoes to octopus fritti, wild boar chop with cornbread dressing, roasted parsnip and a maple mustard glaze to a vegetarian option: grilled zucchini naan with gruyere, ancho aioli and micro salad. At the same time, servers make gnocchi, manage the pantry and prep desserts, like the sticky toffee pudding, which has been on the menu since Lilac opened with every component made in-house.

Innovative but approachable

A smoked brisket with cheddar dumpling, roasted carrot and horseradish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

A smoked brisket with cheddar dumpling, roasted carrot and horseradish. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

Describing the restaurant’s style as modern American cooking, Engebretson asserts, “Modern and approachability go hand in hand.” The cheeseburger with bacon jam and house-made fries is a constant on the menu, and Engebretson insists it always will be. Concurrently, he says that modern American cooking means embracing all “the ingredients, technologies and ideas that speak to us today.”

It can mean hydrocolloids, sous vide cooking and variations on flavor profiles, as well as interpretations of classic dishes, traditional techniques and a heritage focus.

Serving up dishes with a uniquely Montana sensibility, Lilac aspires to a dualistic set of goals that unite innovation, frankness and a strong sense of purpose. In one vein, the restaurant endeavors to “blend a myriad of philosophies” at a democratic price point. “At the same time,” Engebretson pragmatically states, “one can say we’re just trying to serve people dinner. The variance of those two elements encapsulates the challenge of the restaurant, on every level. I’m OK with that.”

Main Photo: Lilac has been open since 2012 on historic Montana Avenue in downtown Billings, Montana. Credit: Copyright 2016 Louis Habeck

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Fresh eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

“My girls are laying so fast I can’t keep up with them,” Martha says.  She has arrived at my door with another dozen eggs, fresh from her henhouse, no doubt laid within the past 24 hours.

In Italy an egg that fresh is a treasure. It’s called a “uova da bere,” a drinkable egg, and it’s often turned into something called zabaglione, which is not perhaps what you think it is because it is not cooked at all. For this kind of zabaglione you use the freshest egg, preferably one still a little warm from the hen’s body, and a good heaping teaspoonful of sugar. You beat the egg and the sugar together in a small bowl, using a fork or mini whisk, beating it steadily for about 10 or 15 minutes until the mixture is thick and syrupy. Sometimes a few drops of Marsala wine get beaten in as well. And then at breakfast you simply sip the lush, gooey mixture with a spoon, emitting little sighs of pleasure as you do so. (The egg-and-sugar sauce called zabaglione goes one step further and beats the mixture over — but not in — boiling water until it is thicker, almost like a runny pudding. It’s delicious served with fresh seasonal berries, so keep it in mind for strawberry season, not many weeks away.)

Martha, however, is a down-to-earth Maine girl like me, and the very idea of a breakfast of sugar and raw eggs is not on her cultural horizon. Nor on mine. Leave that to the Italians.

A Mediterranean-inspired egg dish

Spring chickens and their hen house. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Spring chickens and their henhouse. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Instead, I decided to use the spring bounty of eggs to make a seasonal favorite from another part of the Mediterranean, the island of Crete.

Quick timeout for a food iconography lesson: Do you ever wonder at the association between Easter and eggs? When you think about hens and their lifestyle, it’s pretty obvious. Hens stop laying in winter, when the daylight hours grow short, then start up again in spring. In the natural rhythm of things, eggs become plentiful precisely at this time of year, when the light is growing stronger day by day. So Easter, whether Catholic or Orthodox, is symbolized all over the Mediterranean by eggs as icons of rebirth. So why in our modern supermarkets do we have eggs all year round? Because our hens are exposed to artificial light, often 24 hours a day, and that keeps them going strong. Or not so strong, because they must usually be replaced after 18 to 24 months.

Make this recipe your own

Wild greens for sale at a market in Crete. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Wild greens for sale at a market in Crete. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Back to Crete, where sfougata, a combination of eggs, cheese and vegetables, somewhere between a soufflé and a frittata, is popular for all those times when household cooks are strapped to come up with something cheap, filling and delicious. In spring, that combination usually includes greens, but I could equally imagine doing this in the autumn with mushrooms or slivers of winter squash toasted in olive oil, and at the height of summer it would be delicious with fresh roasted peppers and little chunks of eggplant. But for spring, I did it with some delicate new spinach I picked up at the farmers market along with sliced zucchini. Quintessential to the flavor, it seems to me, is a handful of finely minced dill added at the very end, so the taste stays forward.

My advice? Make this once the way I’ve detailed below, then start to experiment, using leeks instead of spring onions, or a mixture of foraged and cultivated greens (dandelion greens, beet greens, chard, maybe even a little Chinese broccoli), or adding a couple of small diced potatoes to the skillet with the other vegetables. Another great spring vegetable combination, and very much in the Mediterranean spirit, would be asparagus and fava beans, if available, or fresh peas if not.

Let your imagination play with the recipe, and you’ll find all sorts of uses for what could become fundamental to your repertoire — and a savior for all those times when you simply have run out of time and inspiration.

Although the total time listed is 1 1/2 hours, this can be broken down into manageable chunks. Make the vegetables ahead of time (even a day ahead), taking about 45 minutes, then mix up the eggs and cheese just before the meal, stir in the prepared vegetables, and bake for 25 minutes.

Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach

Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Prep time: About 30 minutes.

Cook time: About 1 hour.

Total time: About 1 1/2 hours.

Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 6 as a starter.

Ingredients

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

5 or 6 spring onions, about 1/2 pound, including green tops, chopped to make 1 1/2 cups

1 pound zucchini (2 medium zucchini), thinly sliced, to make about 2 to 3 cups

6 ounces to 8 ounces fresh spinach, slivered (about 4 cups)

1 cup finely chopped fresh dill or finely chopped fresh mint, leaves only

6 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

About 1 cup coarsely grated Cretan graviera cheese or Swiss gruyere (or use a mixture of gruyere and parmigiano reggiano)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of Middle Eastern red chili pepper

Directions

Heat half the olive oil in a big, heavy skillet over medium-low heat and gently sauté the onions until translucent, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook briefly. As soon as the zucchini slices start to soften, stir in the spinach, mixing thoroughly. If the pan seems a little dry, add 1/2 cup of water, cover the pan and cook gently until the spinach is softened and the zucchini slices are tender. If there are excess juices, raise the heat and cook rapidly to evaporate the extra liquid. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the dill, mixing well.

Use the remaining oil to grease the bottom of a rectangular oven dish that is approximately 11 inches by 8 inches. Heat the oven to 375 F.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. Add the grated cheese and fold in the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with a pinch of Middle Eastern red pepper flakes.

Pour the mixture into the oven dish and transfer to the hot oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the top is nicely browned.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 or 15 minutes before serving. This dish can also be served at room temperature — a nice suggestion for lunch on a hot day.

Main image: Fresh eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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At Alta Colina, a tasting on the vineyard tour is under an old oak tree. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

Vineyard tours were once reserved for people in the industry along with members of the media and wine clubs. Now, though, a handful of wineries in Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast are redefining the wine-tasting experience and making such tours available to visitors by appointment. Among them, Adelaida Cellars, Halter Ranch, Alta Colina and Steinbeck Vineyards will immerse visitors in the region’s terroir and wines.

Visiting the vineyards in spring catches bud break on vines, signaling the end of winter dormancy. The fields are a riot of color, with mustard flower, lupine and cover crops such as clover and barley planted between vine rows, creating a picture-perfect vineyardscape.

An opportunity to showcase the vineyards

Cindy Steinbeck with her 3-year-old pooch Cri-Cri atop Steinbeck Vineyards in Paso Robles, California’s, Geneseo District. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

Cindy Steinbeck with her 3-year-old pooch Cri-Cri atop Steinbeck Vineyards in Paso Robles, California’s, Geneseo District. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

At Steinbeck Vineyards, tours were initiated by fifth-generation farmer Cindy Steinbeck in 2003 to showcase the family’s ranch.

Since the 1880s and for seven generations, the Steinbeck family has been the steward of a 600-acre property, 520 acres of which are planted with 13 grape varieties sourced by such noted wineries as Eberle, Justin and J. Lohr. The Steinbecks started bottling their wine in 2006 with a small production focusing on Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Viognier.

The one-hour “Crash Course” tour (named after the B26 aircraft that crashed on the property in 1956) with Steinbeck and her 3-year-old Yorkie, Cri-Cri, is a roller-coaster journey through the vineyards. Tours change with the seasons.

“In fall we encourage visitors to walk around the vineyards, give them clippers to taste the fruit,” Steinbeck said.

The winery from top to bottom, inside and out

The caves at Halter Ranch Vineyard. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

The caves at Halter Ranch Vineyard. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

Bob Tillman’s two-hour Top-to-Bottom tour of Alta Colina starts in the hillside vineyards and works its way down to the tasting room, where the groups savor the Rhône blends. “This is not a produced tour, no tours are the same,” he said of the exploration of the 130-acre ranch, which has 31 acres planted with Rhône grape varieties.

Heading up to 500 feet elevation, tour groups see the exposed calcareous-rich hillside and learn about different types of trellising in the vineyards while trekking knee-deep in wildflowers dotting the organic Grenache vineyard.

“This gives you a vague idea of behind the scene of what goes in the bottle,” Tillman said.

Under an old oak tree, Tillman poured the 2012 Baja Colina, a white Rhône blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. “We are actually tasting wines in an environment where they are grown,” he said. The wine tastes delicious, laced with aromatics filling the air — and some debris from the nearby oak tree.

It’s a heady experience tasting Adelaida Cellars’s silky Pinot Noir standing amid the legendary HMR Pinot Noir vineyard. Or the minerality of Zinfandel at the foot of Michael’s Zinfandel Vineyard planted at 1,800 feet elevation, rich with rocky limestone soil.

Tailgating too

Tailgating at the historic HMR Vineyard with the 2013 Pinot Noir. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

Tailgating at the historic HMR Vineyard with the 2013 Pinot Noir. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

Adelaida Cellars’ Tour, Taste & Tailgate (TT&T) takes visitors through such iconic vineyards as Viking, Anna’s and HMR. (Planted in 1964 by Beverly Hills cardiologist Stanley Hoffman, HMR is regarded as the oldest Pinot Noir-producing vineyard on the Central Coast).

Glenn Mitton, the winery’s ambassador, begins the tour at the newly remodeled winery and hospitality center, where visitors taste a white and red Rhône blend from Anna’s vineyard and the inky Syrah Reserve, among others.

Rising to 2,300 feet, the vast 1,900-acre estate is planted with 700-plus acres of organic walnut orchards and 157 acres of vineyards.

Mitton pointed to owl boxes and raptor perches used for pest control and rows of neatly tucked netting under the vines. “We pull up the net over the vines like panty hose,” Mitton said of the bird-control practice used in the summer.

Dating back to the 1880s, the 2,000-acre Halter Ranch Vineyard is nature’s haven, with a mere 280 acres planted to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. The rest of the ranch is dotted with redwood and oak trees and home to some 52 species of birds. The ranch is lush with gardens, a 5-acre holding pond and the seasonal Las Tablas Creek, which also functions as a wildlife corridor.

At Lion’s Point, the tour includes a taste of the refreshing 2015 Rosé of red Rhône varieties and, further up the hill, the 2013 Ancestor, a rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  A gentle breeze blew in some debris from a massive, ancestral oak estimated to be 500 years old and known as the largest coast live oak in California.

Upon returning to the winery and its 20,000-square-foot caves, visitors finish with a tasting of Rhône and Bordeaux blends that reflect the history and terroir of the ranch.

Trekking through Paso Robles’ scenic hillside vineyards offers a wine experience well beyond the swirl-sniff-sip scene of the tasting room.

Main photo: At Alta Colina, a tasting on the vineyard tour is under an old oak tree. Credit: Copyright 2016 Mira Honeycutt

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Fennel granola. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Granola is a marvelous vehicle for foraged seeds. When I harvested more than a quart of fennel seeds last fall, I never could have imagined that I’d have used them all by spring.

Thanks to the delicate anise cookie-like taste of fennel granola, I believe my demand for fennel seeds will always outreach my supply. Fennel granola is so delightful that even those who don’t have access to wild-harvested seeds will want to make it. Store-bought fennel seeds are slightly less flavorful, but work well in this recipe.

As a forager, I find wild seeds to be fascinating, particularly in fall, when the number of other crops to pick diminishes. Every year, I work hard to collect all manner of wild seeds. Some of these, such as seeds from the mustard family, are very flavorful and can be used as spices. Others, such as lamb’s-quarter (Chenopodium spp.) and its cousin kochia (Kochia spp.), need to be processed to remove bitter components before they can be utilized as food. Other seeds, for example evening primrose, a high source of gamma-linolenic acid, are relatively flavorless but powerfully nutritious.

Seeds such as amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), nettle (Urtica spp.) or evening primrose (Oenothera spp.) are easy to bring into the kitchen, requiring little more to process than simply shaking them off the plant and some minor winnowing. These seeds are a dream to harvest, but because they have little flavor, I often forget about using them over the course of the winter. In theory, they can be ground to better access their nutrition, then used atop or mixed into pretty much anything you could cook, from salad to breadcrumb toppings to dessert. In practice, these flavorless wild seeds sit unused in my kitchen. A foraging friend, Erica Marciniec, mentioned using her seeds in granola. I followed her advice and it worked brilliantly. Finally, with granola, I’ve found a way to use these wild seeds in a way that is convenient for me to cook, and that the whole family will enjoy.

While I really enjoyed eating my wild seeds in a typical cinnamon-flavored granola, I knew I could somehow boost the flavor.

That’s when I rediscovered my quart of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds. Initially, I added only a teaspoon of fennel seeds. I discovered that I loved the taste so much that I omitted cinnamon entirely and increased the fennel to further enhance the flavor of the granola.

I ran nine test batches of fennel granola, tweaking every detail you could imagine. In the end, leaving it in the oven produced the most consistently brown and crunchy granola. The addition of the egg white helps to form clusters. Of course, it could easily be omitted if you are making granola for someone with an egg allergy.

I tried making this granola with honey, but found the flavor competed too much with the fennel. Using brown sugar as a sweetener makes this recipe budget friendly, too. If you’d prefer to use honey, substitute 2/3 cup honey, and omit the brown sugar and water.

Fennel Granola

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

Total time: 6 to 8 hours (including cooling time in the oven)

Yield: 5 cups

Ingredients

½ cup butter

¾ cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups quick oats

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal

¼ cup fennel seeds, lightly ground in a spice mill

2 tablespoons other wild seeds such as evening primrose (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup slivered almonds

1 egg white

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a small pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and water, raise the heat to medium, and let it bubble for 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the two kinds of oatmeal, seeds, salt and almonds.

4. Pour the warm liquid ingredients over the dry ones, and make certain that they are mixed very thoroughly, so that all of the oatmeal appears wet.

5. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white with a fork until it is frothy. Add it to the oatmeal mixture, and again, stir very well.

6. Pour the granola mix onto a greased 12×17-inch baking sheet. Use a spatula to press it down and make it evenly thick. This will help to ensure that you will have big chunks once it is cooked.

7. Place the granola in the oven and bake it for 10 to 12 minutes. When that time is up, turn off the oven, and leave the granola inside until it is cool. From the time the granola goes into the oven until the oven is cool, do not open the oven door.

Main photo: Fennel granola. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

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Toast Ale is made from a special Belgian recipe that includes fresh, surplus bread. All profits go to the charity called Feedback, which supports the fight against food waste, making Toast Ale the best thing since … well, you know. Credit: Copyright 2016 Publicis

Toast Ale is a liquid message in a bottle: a beer brewed in the UK with fresh, surplus bread that would otherwise be thrown away, it highlights the problem of global food waste, starting with our daily loaf.

It tastes good, too.

Newly launched and brewed in London, Toast Ale recently won Best New Beverage Concept at the FoodBev awards, and has been lauded on British television by celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver. There has already been so much interest from people in the U.S. that Toast Ale has plans to launch in New York.

But this is a here-today, gone-tomorrow type of beer, and if the man behind this ephemeral brew has his way, production will eventually dry up — and there will be plenty to celebrate.

The founder’s strange dream

Tristram Stuart is one of the world’s leading food waste activists, but even he was once accused of wasting food - - three grains of rice left at the bottom of a bowl of food he had eaten in China. Listen to that story and more in his Ted Talk, “The Global Food Waste Scandal.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Erik Nordlund

Tristram Stuart is one of the world’s leading food waste activists, but even he was once accused of wasting food — three grains of rice left at the bottom of a bowl of food he had eaten in China. Listen to that story and more in his Ted Talk, “The Global Food Waste Scandal.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Erik Nordlund

“We hope to put ourselves out of business. The day there’s no waste bread is the day Toast Ale can no longer exist,” said Tristram Stuart, Toast Ale founder, food waste activist, and author of “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal,” a book nominated for a James Beard Foundation award in 2010.

Global food waste not only involves hunger, but greenhouse gas emissions and water waste. A 2013 UN FAO report estimated “that each year, approximately one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.” Uneaten bread is one of the most shocking examples. According to Toast Ale, around 44% of bread in the UK, alone, is thrown away, including 24 million slices a year in UK homes.

Stuart discovered a passion to fight food waste when he was teenager raising pigs at his home in Sussex, selling off the pork locally to earn extra pocket money. He fed them unwanted food he collected from his local baker, greengrocer, and his school cafeteria. One morning, he noticed a particularly appetizing loaf with sundried tomatoes, which he ate for breakfast as he was feeding his pigs — proof that much of the food destined for the garbage is perfectly good to eat.

Toast Ale is brewed in London by Hackney Brewery, which uses 100% green energy that comes from windmills, and gives spent grain to local farmers to use for animal feed. Toasted bread used to brew Toast Ale adds caramel notes that balance the bitter hops, giving a malty taste similar to amber ales and wheat beers. Jon Swain from Hackney Brewery said, “The important thing for us, as brewers, was to create a beer that tasted good and stood up against other craft beers.”

Putting excess bread to good use

Making Toast Ale at Hackney Brewery, where toasted surplus bread collected from bakeries, delis and commercial sandwich makers is added during the mash stage. Credit: Copyright 2016 Tom Moggach

Making Toast Ale at Hackney Brewery, where toasted surplus bread collected from bakeries, delis and commercial sandwich makers is added during the mash stage. Credit: Copyright 2016 Tom Moggach

Toast Ale uses all kinds of unwanted bread — white and brown — collected from many sources, from artisanal bakeries to commercial sandwich makers, who typically waste bread by discarding the “heels” of the loaf. “We were pleasantly surprised that the taste of the finished beer wasn’t too different — therefore we could use all types of bread,” said Andrew Schein of Toast Ale.

Although Toast Ale gives new shelf life to surplus bread, its mission is to encourage everyone to find creative ways to stop wasting bread in the first place. (Note to commercial sandwich makers: My husband adores bread heels — I’m sure he’s not alone — so I challenge you to make a virtue of them by creating a range of “Well-Heeled” sandwiches. How about a pulled pork sandwich called “Pigs in High Heels”?)

All proceeds from Toast Ale go to Stuart’s charity, Feedback, an umbrella organization for his three main food waste campaigns:

Feeding the 5000: Free public feasts, using food that would otherwise be wasted, held in cities all over the world.

The Gleaning Network UK: Volunteers harvest surplus farm produce that would be left to rot and redistribute it to UK charities.

The Pig Idea: Seeks to change laws that restrict food waste being used to feed pigs.

The inspiration and recipe for Toast Ale came from the bread beer, Babylone, brewed by the innovative Brussels Beer Project brewery, in Belgium. Brewing beer with bread is as old as beer making itself. According to the article, Brewing: A legacy of ancient times by David M. Kiefer, published in 2001 in the American Chemical Society’s magazine, Today’s Chemist at Work, “Frequently, the dried malt was formed into small, lightly baked loaves. When a batch of fresh beer was to be brewed, these beer breads would be crumbled, mixed with cereals, and soaked in water.”

Bread is a beloved, ancient staple that is often taken for granted. In the Biblical story of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the disciples collected 12 baskets of scraps after the outdoor feast. It’s not clear what they did with them. People have traditionally transformed unwanted bread into French Toast and bread pudding, or croutons and breadcrumbs.

Now home brewers can make their own bread beer — the Toast Ale recipe has just been published on its website.

Main photo: Toast Ale is made from a special Belgian recipe that includes fresh, surplus bread. All profits go to the charity called Feedback, which supports the fight against food waste, making Toast Ale the best thing since … well, you know. Credit: Copyright 2016 Publicis

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Pickler & Co in Midtown East celebrates the deli bacon, egg and cheese with cage-free eggs, Applegate bacon and cheddar all pressed on a buttered pretzel roll. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

I had my first of many New York City breakfast sandwiches nine months ago. I had just left my job in Los Angeles and was subletting an apartment in Chelsea. Still unemployed, I got up around 11 a.m. and faced the city’s oppressive summer heat to search for sustenance. The breakfast cart at the end of the block with images of blue-cup coffee and an illuminated croissant, lo and behold, served a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.

It’s a New York thing

Chef Tom DeSimone of Rabbits Cafe packs extra bacon, egg and cheese into his toasted brioche bun for satisfying version that’s available all day long. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

Chef Tom DeSimone of Rabbits Cafe packs extra bacon, egg and cheese into his toasted brioche bun for a satisfying version that’s available all day long. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

After paying $3.50, I unwrapped and took my first bite as I kept walking. It was perfect: warm egg, soft bread, gooey melted cheese. And, of course, bacon. From that moment on, I knew I would have a stake in something all New Yorkers share but rarely talk about: the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.

A classic bacon, egg and cheese is made on the skillets of the city’s bodegas and coffee carts. Precooked bacon is reheated, eggs are stirred vigorously in a bowl with salt and pepper, and then dumped onto the skillet. They are shaped into a perfect rectangle and folded into a square with the bacon and the cheese inside, then popped on the roll and handed to you with a deadpan look.

Going upscale

High-quality Fontina envelops the classic egg sandwich at Murray’s Cheese in the West Village. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

High-quality fontina envelops the classic egg sandwich at Murray’s Cheese in the West Village. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

While the deli-style bacon, egg and cheese is a favorite among New Yorkers, you can also find highbrow versions of the sandwich with special cheese, avocado or artisanal bread. At BEC in Chelsea, an entire restaurant devoted to elevating the classic breakfast sandwich, the options are endless. Their Farmhouse sandwich boasts two eggs, pancetta, ricotta cheese, fig jam and honey topped with fresh spinach on a Pugliese roll. Or try the Bistec with eggs, Angus steak, bacon, blue cheese, onion, baby spinach and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette on a ciabatta roll.

Down in the West Village at Murray’s Cheese, they put the cheese in bacon, egg and cheese. A skillet-fried egg is topped, generously, with fontina and thick-cut bacon, and then sandwiched between a buttery skillet-toasted English muffin. The silky, melted fontina saturates the entire thing, creating a sandwich that spills out from its borders without falling apart.

If you can get to Eataly before 10 a.m. you can sample their colazione all’ Americana, or American breakfast menu, which consists of six thoughtful renditions of New York’s favorite breakfast sandwich. Try the Trento with Recla Speck Alto-Adige (fancy Italian smoked ham) and grated Trentingrana cheese (also fancy and from Italy). Wild arugula, housemade aioli, pancetta and locally produced breakfast sausage are just a few more options from the Italian-American-inspired menu.

A few blocks away at Pickler & Co in Midtown East, the bacon, egg and cheese is made on a pretzel roll with cage-free eggs and hormone-free meat and cheese. If you sleep in and miss the breakfast menu, head down to Rabbits Cafe in Soho, where breakfast is served all day and the brioche BEC is stuffed with perfectly scrambled eggs and crispy bacon. Add avocado? No problem.

The perfect quick breakfast

An industrial skillet in New York City shows the sandwich in formation. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

An industrial skillet in New York City shows the sandwich in formation. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

A breakfast sandwich in any other city would not be the same. Whether you opt for the basic deli version or pursue an upmarket take on the classic, there is something about having a bacon, egg and cheese in Manhattan that you truly can’t find beyond the perimeter of the city.

The heat, speed and convenience of this handheld breakfast item all speak to something that is uniquely New York. People want their breakfast. They want it to taste good. And they want to get on with their day. The bacon, egg and cheese provides just that — something you can grab on the go that will nourish and satisfy until lunchtime.

If you can’t get to the city, but still have a hankering for this special breakfast item, try making one at home. Whether you like your eggs scrambled or fried, let the cheese melt on top, be sure to use plenty of butter and don’t skimp on the bacon. Most importantly, create it on a well-seasoned skillet.

Main photo: Pickler & Co in Midtown East celebrates the deli bacon, egg and cheese with cage-free eggs, Applegate bacon and cheddar all pressed on a buttered pretzel roll. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nicole Litvack

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