Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This whole cupcake craze is getting to be a bit much...

We've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of two gourmet cupcake places in my area for the past few months - Kara's Cupcakes from SF was opening in Town & Country Village and the famous Sprinkles from L.A. was opening up at the Stanford Shopping Center (replacing the much missed Long Life Noodle House).

Yes, we can get cupcakes from lots of local bakeries including our standby of Draeger's, the ever sweet ones from Safeway and the marginally lighter ones from Satura Cakes. But why buy cupcakes from a bakery when you can buy even more overpriced ones from a specialty cupcake bakery?!

Now I have to admit that I've fully partaken of the cupcake craze in the heartland where it all started - Magnolia Bakery in New York. And Buttercup Bake Shop. And the place next to Bryant Park where the cupcakes are almost the size of my hand. And Miette in SF. And the incomparable Sibby's in San Mateo (she only does special orders though, no storefront). But even I'm starting to choke on $3.25 for a little artery-clogging handful of cake and frosting ("but they're so cuuuute!!").

Nonetheless, I've been to Kara's three times since it opened - I blame it all on my kids! My youngest (the chocolate hater) loves the sweet vanilla (in the $2 mini size). My oldest (the chocolate inhaler) loves the very dark, very chocolatey fleur de sel (and thinks the mini size is for weenies). I enjoy both, as well as the banana caramel. The line at Kara's has never taken more than a few minutes.

We did make an attempt at the new Sprinkles on Sunday - the line was 30-40 people long and snaked down the sidewalk past quite a few other shops. I drove right on by - you want me to pay $3.25 for a cupcake AND wait 20 mins?! And we went right back to Kara's again. Sprinkles will just have to wait...

Sprinkles queue update - 6:20 pm on Wednesday night, there were still close to 20 people in line outside the store. I drove right on by. I'm willing to wait in absurd lines for an iPhone, but not for a paltry cupcake!!

OK - last Sprinkles update, I swear - a friend just gave me a box of 10 assorted Sprinkles cupcakes as a thank you gift. Score! And it was delicious. I would need to do a side-by-side tasting to assess whether I like Sprinkles or Kara's better - the kids say that Sprinkles is less sweet and has a more manageable amount of frosting.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Did you know that there's an 11-acre organic community farm located in the heart of Sunnyvale?! Neither did I until yesterday morning at the ungodly hour of 7:30 am. I was at Full Circle Farm to lead a 35 person volunteer project for Be The Change Day, the Bay Area-wide community service day run by Hands On Bay Area (HOBA), the non-profit of which I am the Vice Chair of the Board.

HOBA is a fabulous organization - I've been volunteering for them on and off for the past 14 years, and joined their board 2 years ago. They recognize that most people would love to volunteer but are put off by the time commitment and the difficulty of finding out where they can make the most contribution. HOBA provides a great registration system that lists over 120 projects every month in all regions of the Bay Area, making easy for anyone who has a free Saturday morning to find a list of available projects and sign up. Check it out!

So back to my bleary-eyed Saturday morning... I drive past my favorite dim sum place (Joy Luck Place) in the mega-Asian mall in Cupertino, and 2 minutes later, I'm standing between 6 foot high rows of corn and almost equally high stalks of sunflowers. It's quite the difference!

I spent the next 3 hours mulching a new tractor path and double digging trenches in preparation for some 6th graders who were arriving on Monday to prep the beds for new plantings. In between I sampled raw corn on the cob, freshly picked from the aforementioned stalks, complete with happy little worm in each one. That's how you tell the corn is pesticide-free - each ear comes with it's own worm! And the sweetest little cherry tomatoes, which I had to fight off 2 little kids for, as they were ploughing down through the rows, faces smeared with tomato juice. Hey, I'd been double-digging all morning! (for those of you who don't know what that is, trust me - it's quite the workout)

Full Circle Farm was established about a year ago, on a 10 year lease with the Santa Clara school district. They haven't quite fully planted out their space yet, and were building a greenhouse yesterday. They have 3 full time employees, and do most of their work through volunteers. It's amazing to see what they've done with relatively few resources and not much time! They are producing wonderful vegetables - about 50% is destined for the school district to be part of the lunch program, and much is sold through the farm stand. They also have a CSA program but shares are currently sold out - CSA is a way for the farm to get folks to pay upfront for a quarter's worth of produce (this helps them pay their upfront expenses). And best of all, the farm is being integrated into the middle school curriculum - 6th graders will be working on the farm on a regular basis.

So check out CSAs in your area to see if there's a hidden gem like Full Circle Farm. I left with armfuls of heirloom tomatoes, 3 ears of corn, 2 of the sweetest melons I've ever had and what smelled like a carload of basil. I forsee a caprese salad for dinner tonight...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival

It was a beautiful warm day in the city last Saturday - one of those spectacular SF Fall days that makes it the best time of year to visit.

We arrived in the city early afternoon and headed to Ghirardelli Square right away. Alas, the parking situation was such a nightmare that we missed the children's ice-cream sundae eating contest!
It was my first time at the Chocolate Festival where you purchase a card with a number of tastes - $10 for 6 tastes, $20 for 15 tastes. When you get a taste from a stall, they mark off your card, and all proceeds benefit Project Open Hand.It was a fun, albeit crowded, event - although most of the stalls were very efficient and knew how to keep their throughput high. We enjoyed mini chocolate shakes from Lori's Diner, sorbets from Ciao Bella and ice cream sundaes from Ghirardelli. There were also lots of cookies, desserts, artisan chocolates (the earl grey tea-infused chocolate was a favorite) and a surprising number of stalls with different gourmet toffees. Plus hokey chocolate alcohol options like chocolate martinis, chocolate stout and Irish coffee (is there chocolate in that?!)
There was live music and many demonstrations, although we couldn't get into the cupcake decorating demonstration because it was packed. We also ordered from a nice crepe stand from Marche (a restaurant on the main square) - we had to get a savory ham and cheese crepe to offset all the sweets!

And finally, half a dozen Kara's cupcakes to take home for an after-dinner dessert (the best was a caramel-filled fleur de sel one - mmmm). Overall, an excellent event - I'd highly recommend it for the fun and festive atmosphere alone. Just please don't try to park at Ghirardelli Square itself!