Monday, April 23, 2012

Celebrating Earth Day with Edible Monterey Bay

When I ran into Sarah, from Edible Monterey Bay, at the inaugural Independent Marketplace earlier this month, she told me about the next supper club. All I needed to hear was: Earth Day. Farm Tour. And organic Asian Street Food. After the amazing first pop-up supper club at Lokal last month, I didn't hesitate to (1) put it on our calendar, (2) line up a babysitter, and (3) rope in some good friends to join the culinary adventure. Sarah did ask that I not blog about the event until it hit their website; that was tough, but I did it. As soon as it hit their blog, it hit mine.

On a farm. In the dirt. Followed by street food. Oh, yes! Sounds like the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day. It was.

We met up with everyone at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems' Farm & Garden where Liz Milazzo, the Field Production Manager, led us on a walking tour of the 25-acre farm that employs organic production methods and serves as research, teaching, and training facilities for the students, staff, and faculty of UCSC (University of California at Santa Cruz).

I am not a gardener, so I didn't pay extremely close attention when she spoke about the ways they naturally control moths on the apple trees. But, as I always insist with my kids: you have to learn at least one thing with every experience. I did absorb their process of creating fertile soil using cover crops. They have a triple cover crop - vetch, bell beans (related to fava beans), and oats - on some fields while others only have mustard. Liz likened biologically-rich soil to the texture of cake flour. The baker in me could relate to that comparison.

After the farm tour, we piled into our cars and made our way to Charlie Hong Kong where the owners, Carolyn and Rudy Rudolph, led us on a culinary adventure with a fusion of Southeast Asian-inspired flavors combined with an abundance of locally-grown organic produce. Carolyn mentioned that they prep, and cook, 500 pounds of vegetables everyday. Wow.

The restaurant is mostly vegan, so they don't use traditional Asian, animal-based seasonings such as shrimp paste or fish sauce in the base dishes. "It's not totally authentic," Rudy quipped, "it's more like California-Asian." Whatever you want to call it, it was delicious! Oh, I write "mostly vegan" because they do serve what they call protein toppings for us omnivores.

We feasted, family-style, on a parade of colorful, flavorful creations from a peanuty pad thai to hoisin pork and from the turmeric-hued Chiang Mai noodles to a strawberry-topped jasmine rice pudding.

My personal favorite: green curry chicken, a melt-in-your-mouth chicken dish smothered with a cilantro-mint pesto and swimming in coconut milk. Carolyn talked about never having seen happier chickens. "Well, as happy as you can be if you're meant for the dinner table." I understood what she meant - when the chickens were alive, they lived in good conditions. That's something.

In addition to the tasty protein toppings we had - pork, beef, and chicken - they served two different kinds of tofu, both artisan made. The firmer tofu was served atop the chili sesame noodle salad while the softer tofu made its appearance in a delectable sweet garlic sauce.

The servers kept returning with bowls, heaped with more food to try. By the end of the meal, I was only taking one small spoonful of each because I wanted to taste everything, but I was stuffed. I should have noticed the length of the tasting menu and paced myself accordingly.

Once again, Edible Monterey Bay picked a winner. I had never heard of Charlie Hong Kong and, truth be told, would not have walked in there of my own volition. The name, on the cutesy side. The logo, a big-toed kung fu character holding a wok and chopsticks, on the kitschy side. Neither really appealed to me. But, now, having eaten there, we will definitely return. And I am certainly recommending it to friends who find themselves on that side of the Monterey Bay.

Thank you, Carolyn, Rudy, and the team at
Charlie Hong Kong, for the wonderful meal.

Thank you, Sarah and Edible Monterey Bay,
for organizing such a great Earth Day celebration.

 I can't wait to hear what the next pop-up supper club with be. Feasting on locally-sourced, delicious food with like-minded eaters is a treat.

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