Some people are book-driven travelers, setting off to find the wine-dark sea of Homer’s Odyssey. Others are movie-driven travelers, delighting that they have found the house in Anacortes where The Goonies was filmed. In my family, however, we are food-driven travelers, taking every opportunity to enjoy the bounty of the land.

Last summer afforded us such an opportunity: we had been in Pismo Beach for my cousin Dara’s wedding and on the way home took a detour to visit Pasolivo, an olive orchard and producer of award-winning olive oils. We followed a winding road through rolling hills covered with silver olive trees, rows of grape vines and the ever-wild California Live Oak. A charming barn and farmhouse set the quaint tone of the Pasolivo orchard. The walls inside the tasting room were splashed with cheery yellows and greens, and bright printed tablecloths and cookbooks were for sale. A party of ten raucous visitors dipped their cubes of bread into the six oils and brazenly passed their judgments. As my parents and I counted out six bread cubes to taste the oils, the woman proctoring the tasting explained that Pasolivo is a family-run orchard on 45 acres and has been producing for eight years. We tasted all of Pasolivo’s oils: an extra virgin oil, a California blend, a Kalamata oil, and Meyer lemon, lime, and tangerine flavored oils. Pasolivo has won ten gold medals in the last three years in the Olive Oils of the World Competition. The bottle we purchased, their extra virgin olive oil, won Best of Class in the 2007 Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition. As we tasted the oils, the woman suggested food pairings for each oil-salmon, grilled eggplant, ceviche. Lastly, we mixed one of the citrus flavored oils with a local honey, foretelling a wonderful breakfast with crusty bread and figs. The tasting room sold other olive oil related products: olive oil lip balm and lotions, chocolates made with tangerine olive oil, and garlic-stuffed olives.

While I was reading a framed article about Pasolivo, four bikers, arms sleeved with tattoos, entered the tasting room. One of the bikers pointed to a bottle of the California blend olive oil and said to his friends, “Man, this is my favorite stuff. I use it all the time.” The woman behind the counter, having caught a glace of this lover of olive oil, raised her hands in welcome and exclaimed with a smile, “Hey! We like this guy!” The tasting room broke into a happy chatter of friends catching up and enjoying good olive oil.

We all left at the same time-the ten rowdy tourists crowding into their white limousine chartered for a tour of the wine country; the bikers rumbling away into a cloud of dust on their Harley Davidsons; and my parents and I straining for one last glimpse of the seasoned farmhouse, our new bottle of olive oil tucked safely in the trunk. I wondered where the tourists’ and bikers’ travels would take them-maybe an upscale restaurant or a show, maybe a hole-in-the-wall pub or an aunt’s Victorian mansion. Even as my parents and I reached our destination, our home, I knew our travels weren’t over-there were still more olive oils to taste, more wines to sample-we simply had to find them.

Chocolate Raspberry Baked Alaska

Chocolate Raspberry Baked Alaska

Planning to entertain some friends from school, Laura and I wanted to make a dessert that could be prepared ahead of time and yet packed punch. Our choice: Baked Alaska, so called because the ice cream dessert, insulated by great wisps of meringue, is baked in the oven. We adapted a recipe from that uses a flourless chocolate cake as its base and raspberry ice cream. Since we couldn’t find a raspberry ice cream we were happy with, we improvised, mixing frozen raspberries into vanilla ice cream. We prepared the cake and ice cream ahead of time, whipping the meringue just before we were ready to bake it. The verdict: so delicious you won’t want to share it but so rich you just might have to.


4 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar, divided
3 whole large eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Raspberry ice cream, slightly softened
8 large egg whites

Special equipment: 6 (8-oz) shallow ceramic or glass gratin dishes


Make cake:
Preheat oven to 375°F.

Melt chocolate and butter in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring, until smooth. Remove bowl from pan and whisk 3/4 cup sugar into chocolate mixture. Whisk in whole eggs and salt, then sift cocoa over and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into ramekins, spreading evenly, and bake until a tester comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool ramekins, set aside.

Top each ramekin with a large scoop of ice cream (about 1/2 cup), then freeze, covered, just until ice cream is hard, about 25 minutes (do not let ice cream become rock hard unless making ahead – see cook’s note, below).

Make meringue just before serving:
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Beat egg whites and a pinch of salt with an electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed, and continue beating until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks, about 5 minutes in a standing mixer or about 12 minutes with a handheld.

Remove gratin dishes from freezer and mound meringue over ice cream and cake in ramekins, spreading to edge of each dish. Bake on a baking sheet in middle of oven until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

Cook’s notes:
• Ice cream and cake can be frozen in gratin dishes, covered, up to 1 day. Let soften at room temperature 15 minutes before covering with meringue.

From Gourmet May 2002, (

Neruda on Tomatoes

As sunny days offer forth sweet, juicy tomatoes, I am reminded of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poem in which he pays homage to summer’s prized vegetable (or fruit!).

Ode to Tomatoes

by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

The Blog Formerly Known as foodplay

Due to a copyright infringement (gulp!) I had to shut down my old food blog, foodplay, and create a new one. I chose to name my new blog Runner Beans because it encapsulates two things I like a lot–food/vegetables/runner beans  and running. So thanks for bearing with me as I transfer things from foodplay to this new blog and embark on more blogging adventures! (And thank you, Wikipedia, for the picture of runner beans.)

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