Farmers Market and Other Adventures

This past Sunday marked our 4th Farmers Market on Main Street in Santa Monica, and so far we are having a blast.  Not only is our booth located next door to our wonderful friends at Beverly Hills Juice (read more about them here) but we’ve been meeting all kinds of new buddies as well!  From the other vendors and farmers at the market to our patrons, shopping locally and buying direct from the producers seems to bring out a real sense of joy, camaraderie, and goodwill in everybody.  It’s the same for us as vendors, too.  What could be better after a long night of mixing, kneading, proofing, scoring, and baking than personally selling your loaves to the folks who will be enjoying them?  Plus, we get to enjoy this mouthwatering view all day:

Behind the Bakery Case

Another perk is that the market provides so many great options for using any bread we have leftover at the end of the day.  We can swap with the other vendors in exchange for delicious produce or donate it to the friendly volunteer who walks through accepting bread donations for Mother’s Kitchen, homeless families in Venice, the Battered Women’s Shelter, Save a Penny, Spend a Penny in Venice, and the OPCC Access Center in Santa Monica.

Or, we can bring a loaf home to feed ourselves until the next baking day.  We love experimenting with new ways of eating delicious bread, and we also love getting feedback from our customers and hearing all about what tasty accoutrements they paired with their loaves.  Yesterday Michael busted out the grill pan and made his famous Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (one vegan with Follow Your Heart cheddar,  and one non-vegan with Organic Spring Hill Jersey Cheese smoked yellow cheddar from our neighboring cheese vendors).  He used our Cozy Whole Wheat & Oat Sandwich Loaf, which really is perfect for grilled cheese.

Perfect Grilled Cheese on Secret Goldfish Cozy Whole Wheat & Oat Sandwich Bread!

Besides baking, we are also keeping ourselves busy by getting even more involved with the organic, local, sustainable, and ethical food community.  While talking with the folks over at Fair Trade USA about how we could help promote Fair Trade Month, we learned there was going to be a live broadcast event recorded in LA called “Every Meal Matters” featuring Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Malika Ameen and Registered Dietician and author Ashley Koff.  The broadcast aimed to educate people on all the various Fair Trade products available today while providing recipe ideas and helpful nutrition tips about incorporating these foods into a healthy diet.  I was lucky enough to attend the event as a part of the studio audience and even got to ask all my burning Fair Trade questions.  If you missed it, you can check out the broadcast recording here!

A beautiful spread for Fair Trade USA's "Every Meal Matters" broadcast with Top Chef contestant Malika Ameen, Registered Dietician Ashley Koff, and Mary Jo Cook of Fair Trade USA

We are working with Fair Trade USA to earn the Fair Trade certification for Secret Goldfish goodies, so don’t be surprised if you see that hip black and white logo on our cookie bags during your next trip to the Farmers Market!  Supporting the Fair Trade cause is important to us because it means that we are buying high-quality ingredients that are made without the use of hazardous chemicals, GMOs, and child labor, that farmers are paid a fair wage for their products, and that funds are directed toward community development.  To learn more about Fair Trade, check out this great video explaining how this certification process improves lives and protects the environment:

Some of the Fair Trade products we use at The Secret Goldfish include vegan and organic granulated, powdered, and brown sugars from Wholesome Sweeteners, organic vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger from Frontier Natural Foods Co-Op, and organic chocolates from Sweet Earth Chocolates.  We even recently ordered some cocoa butter from Sweet Earth Chocolates so we could experiment with making our own organic, Fair Trade, and vegan white chocolate!  That’s right vegans, you heard me.  Delicious, creamy, dreamy white chocolate without the dairy!

Handcrafted white chocolate made with organic, Fair Trade, and vegan ingredients!

We are going to be experimenting with it in our cookies and other treats.  Tell us what your favorite white chocolate combo is!  Do you like macadamia nuts, raspberries, candied ginger?  We’re always interested in hearing great ideas from our customers. Maybe you’ll even get to see one of your ideas come to life in our bakery case!

Well, it’s off to the kitchen to do some more recipe testing today.  We hope we’ll see you at the Santa Monica Farmers Market this Sunday!

Until next time,

Molly

Weddings, Friendship, and Food

Over the past 11 days we have had the great fortune of passing through seven cities, witnessing two incredible weddings, taking ten different modes of transportation, seeing dozens of friends old and new, and eating many, many delicious meals along the way.  Since we’ll now be kicking into high gear to get set for our very first day at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market this coming Sunday, October 2nd (come visit us!) we were grateful for this opportunity to relax, recharge, and spend time with people we love.

Our first stop was Martha’s Vineyard for wedding #1.  We’d never been there before and really enjoyed getting to explore the island.  One lucky discovery while wandering around Edgartown was a sweet little bakery called Rikard’s.  We went right in because happily for us, serious business research involves hanging out in bakeries and eating vast quantities of bread.

Picking out some bread at Rikard's bakery.

We paid close attention to their beautiful displays since we’re working on designing our own inviting market stand and are always looking for inspiration, and we picked out a couple different loaves to share with our friends.  My personal favorite was a crusty sourdough batard inset generously with whole roasted garlic cloves (in my book, there is no such thing as “too much garlic”).

Our next stop on the trip was Marion, MA to visit our good friends Erin and Nathaniel.  While we were there we visited Nathaniel’s parents’ wonderful grocery store/cafe in Mattapoisett.  The store is adorably named How on Earth and is devoted to carrying a wide variety of beautiful organic and locally grown produce as well as specialty items from local artisans including treats like honey, jam, cookies, and pies.  They also serve breakfast and lunch in their cozy dining room, and offer a CSA program where you can actually come and pick out everything you want for your weekly produce box!  The selection was so fantastic and the ambiance so inviting we wished we could have stayed forever, but our Peter Pan bus to Connecticut awaited us.

Bread vendors at the City Seed Farmers Market

In New Haven we visited our lovely friend Ariel who recently started at Yale Law School, and while she was in class one morning we had the good fortune of coming across the City Seed Downtown Farmers Market as we wandered around the city.  City Seed’s objective is to provide fresh, healthy, and affordable food to the community while supporting sustainable, local agriculture and giving a boost to the local economy, as well.  On top of their five farmers markets around the city, they also have a program called “Healthy Eaters and Readers,” which reaches out to preschoolers and their families with a combined lesson on literacy, music, art, and healthy food.  Amazing!

Our next and final stop was New York City for wedding #2.  Michael and I first met at NYU, where we both studied English and Creative Writing, so it was a pleasure to return to our old stomping grounds for such a happy occasion.  We took the opportunity to visit the famed Sullivan Street Bakery (which is actually now located on 47th street, having outgrown its original location) pioneered by one of our bread heroes, Jim Lahey.

This bag held one slice of mushroom pizza and one slice of potato pizza...but not for long.

I was thrilled that they had two different types of cheese-less pizza…perfect for vegans!  We ordered one slice of each and devoured them in approximately ten seconds.  We also ordered the last loaf of their Filone and were utterly shocked when they gave it to us – it was the size of a small child!  But we didn’t let that intimidate us, we both reached into the bag and started tearing off big hearty hunks of the amazing loaf.

Sullivan Street Bakery Filone

Its nearly black wheat germ-coated crust surrounding a mesmerizing white crumb got us instantly hooked.  The store manager overheard us babbling uncontrollably about all the bread we were gobbling down and happened to see Mike’s CA driver’s license when he was at the register, and it turns out she used to live in West Hollywood.  We got to talking, and when we mentioned we were bakers ourselves she generously offered to give us a behind-the-scenes tour, which was completely amazing.  We learned about their enormous flour silo that holds many thousands of pounds of flour, the specially calibrated equipment that automatically dispenses just the right amount of flour and water into the huge mixers for their various recipes, the system they use for packing and delivering their huge wholesale orders, and how they’ve figured out a way to bake all their breads at the same temperature, maximizing production efficiency.

Bakery Manager Michelle giving us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sullivan Street Bakery

It was such an unexpected and wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse into the operations of one of the country’s foremost bakeries, and we were so grateful!  From our point of view as a small, self-taught operation, seeing a large commercial-scale artisanal bakery in action was incredibly inspirational.  Many, many thanks to Michelle for taking the time to show us around.

It was hard to leave such a warm and welcoming place filled with the aromas of baking bread, especially since a torrential downpour had started outside, but we had places to go and people to see so we tore ourselves away.  Luckily we managed to protect the rest of our Filone from the rain.  I wonder how many New Yorkers have seen a couple of crazy bread enthusiasts painstakingly clutching a huge loaf of bread under an umbrella in a downpour before?  What can we say, it was too big to fit in our backpack!

Bread makes a rainstorm more bearable, don't you think?

Thanks for the good times, East Coast!  We love you and we hope we’ll see you again soon.

Until next time,

Molly

Beautiful Food

Yesterday around 5:00 pm we received a phone call that instantly kicked our adventure into the land of wheat, water, and yeast up to the next level — it was the Santa Monica Sunday Farmers Market Manager informing us that The Secret Goldfish has been accepted to become a vendor at the market starting in October!  We are completely thrilled about this opportunity to become a part of what we believe is one of the most important and very best parts of this wonderful city we call home.

Beautifully simple food from the Farmers Market and the Community Garden

To us, food is magical, deserving of our reverence and respect.  It connects us to our families, to nature, to our history and culture, and to one other.  It nourishes, sustains, fulfills, and thrills us.  With its endless diversity it challenges us to keep an open mind and enjoy trying new things.  A stroll through the farmers market on any given day (and you can literally find one every day of the week in locations across Los Angeles and across the country) reveals sublimely simple treasures; vibrant green tomatillos wrapped like tiny gifts in their own tissue paper lanterns, peppers in every color from sunshine yellow to midnight purple and ranging from sweet to fiery hot, bright bunches of carrots reclining cheerfully in woven baskets, mysterious and exotic mushrooms peeking out from brown paper sacks, zesty herb bouquets, patchwork arrangements of berries in their signature green mesh baskets…the list of delights is endless.

Did you know beans came in purple?

Farmers Markets are a beautiful experience for all five senses, and it’s no wonder that so many people flock to them to do their shopping.  After all, the markets are not only a pleasure to attend but they’re also located right in our own neighborhoods, which is both convenient and conducive to creating a healthy sense of pride and kinship between neighbors.  They also give us the opportunity to buy our food directly from our local farmers, which is a good thing for both farmers and consumers in a world where food and agriculture are increasingly dominated by pesticides, genetically engineered foods, preservatives, and other unsavory products and practices that can endanger our health and the environment.  Food is meant to be simple, and when we let it grow naturally we can all enjoy and appreciate the results without worrying about whether it’s safe to eat.

Freshly harvested garden produce

The Secret Goldfish Baking Co. is honored to join such an excellent institution as the Santa Monica Farmers Market, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary next month.  We have enjoyed the markets for many years as customers, and now we will have the great privilege  of serving our customers our handcrafted breads, cookies, biscuits, and other treats as they do their weekly grocery shopping on Main Street.  When you buy our baked goods you can be sure you are getting the very best, as we always use the finest organic, fair trade, vegan, and non-GMO ingredients we can find, including produce from some of the farmers who will be our new neighbors at the market!  We buy the organic rosemary and sage for our specialty breads from Maggie’s Farm, our organic walnuts from Rancho La Viña, and our pesticide-free kalamata olives and olive oil from Adam’s Ranch.  Yum!

Beautiful bounty at the Farmers Market

We want to express our gratitude to our customers, supporters, family, and friends for the incredibly generous testimonials you left for us as we worked hard to complete our Farmers Market application.  We know your words were instrumental in showing the Farmers Market Committee that we are dedicated to the quality of our products, to the integrity of our ingredients, and to building a strong relationship with our customers and our community.  We would not be here without you, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  Come visit us in October, will ya?

Until next time,

Molly

With a Little Help from our Friends

We’d like to begin this post by expressing our gratitude for the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from our wonderful customers, friends, and family during our first month as a full-time bakery.  When we first conceived of The Secret Goldfish Baking Co., we knew the most important task before us was to provide our community with delicious, healthy food.  We knew that finding organic, Fair Trade, and locally-sourced ingredients was the best way to nourish our hungry customers and protect our environment at the same time.  We designed our business around our own values, and your response so far has shown us that we made the right choice in doing so.  Thank you for believing in us!

We could not be here without our friends, and so we’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of our favorite people.  First up is one of our newest and hottest friends, Sparky the Dragon.

Sparky the Dragon, at your service

Sparky (aka The Dragon Oven) is the creation of Ray Cirino and Camille Cimino, permaculture specialists who joined forces to build this marvel of a wood-fired oven.  She is a gentle beast, consuming only a handful of sticks (comprised mainly of untreated wood construction remnants, which Ray and Camille get for free).  Sparky reaches red-hot temperatures in record time and burns very efficiently with hardly any emissions at all.  Ray and Camille bring Sparky all over town, baking delicious pizzas, teaching new audiences about permaculture, and creating community fundraising opportunities.

Ray and Sparky get ready to bake some pizzas

We had the pleasure of working with them when the fabulous Jennie Cook invited The Secret Goldfish to bring some of our specialty breads along with a party-sized order of pizza dough to the launch event for her all-vegan catering line, Plant Based Parties.  Jennie is a whiz in the kitchen, and she also devotes herself to sustainable food advocacy, taking a hands-on approach to teaching kids about healthy eating at both the 24th Street Garden School Foundation and RootDown LA.  So not only is she an extremely talented chef, she also has a heart of gold!  As a lifetime vegetarian/vegan of seven years, I can honestly say the food at her launch party was some of the best I have ever eaten, plus I knew I could feel good about enjoying it.

A scrumptious vegan meal, courtesy of Jennie Cook

Just a few highlights from the dinner menu were Beet Burger Sliders, Black Bean Tempeh Piccata, Zucchini Walnut Fritters with Avocado Crema, and of course Dragon-Fired Pesto Pizza with Secret Goldfish Baking Co. crust!  We were also honored for our bread to share a basket with the perfect Pain au Levain made by our friend Mark Stambler of LA Times fame.  For dessert we enjoyed Chocolate Mousse Push Pops, Rustic Peach Pies, German Chocolate Cake with Coconut Pecan Frosting, and Strawberry Shortcakes.  I was in heaven.

We finally tore ourselves away from the party so we could go home for a good night’s rest because the next day we were getting up early to volunteer with our friends Margaret Oakley and Philip Otto at the Beverly Hills Juice stand at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Main Street.  Margaret and Philip are not only kind, generous, and warm-hearted, but also two of the most multi-talented people we know.  Plus, we suspect their juice might quite possibly made out of liquid rainbows with a sprinkling of stardust, because it is that good (although we know it is really made out of only the freshest organic fruits and vegetables).

Margaret & Philip serve up their incredibly delicious raw pressed juice & "Banana Manna" shakes

Besides being an expert on the production and health benefits of unpasteurized pressed juice, Philip is also a talented photographer.  Many of the photos we use in our promotional materials are Philip’s, and he even once spent an entire day with us to chronicle the life and times of your humble Secret Goldfish bakers (you can check out those photos here).  Philip also has a knack for HTML and coached us on the creation of our website.

A beautiful garden built by Dinner Table Gardening

When she is not helping operate the juice stand, Margaret runs her own edible and native gardening business, Dinner Table Gardening.  Drawing from her knowledge of permaculture, biointensive, and biodynamic growing methods, she creates beautiful, edible, and sustainable landscapes for her clients.  She is also working on a native plant ecosystem restoration project with the California State Parks Foundation, and on top of that, she is also a talented fiction and poetry writer.  In their free time, they both work at the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market selling fresh produce, Philip at Tutti Frutti and Margaret at Peacock Family Farms.  Can you believe these two?!

We feel very fortunate to know so many incredible people who are working hard to provide Los Angeles residents with the delicious, fresh, and healthy food they deserve and help educate their communities while they’re at it.  We are thrilled to join their ranks in our quest to bake the tastiest breads, biscuits, and cookies we possibly can while sourcing the very best ingredients available and building relationships with local farmers and our customers.

Until next time,

Molly

Real Food

A Feast of Pizza Toppings

Yesterday was one of the most perfect days in recent memory, mostly because from morning to night it was completely centered around food.  We love food!  Especially real food!  Michael and I kicked off our sunny Saturday with a drive into Echo Park for our second meeting with the Los Angeles Bread Bakers at the beautiful home of David Dalzell, oven builder extraordinaire, to try making some wood-fired pizzas.  Many thanks to David for his expert instruction and warm hospitality!

David and His Handmade Pizza Oven

A few lucky members of the group had arrived early to take part in a pizza dough tutorial, so when we walked through the door we were greeted with the delightful sight of a dozen happy bread lovers mingling around a table covered in flour and wooden bread boards, with cute little pizza dough balls flanking the sides in their oiled containers and KitchenAid mixers in various cheerful colors keeping watch over them.  A few folks tried their hands at the method of rolling pizza dough into perfect balls, forming a heart shape with their cupped fingers and rocking/rolling the dough in small circles on the bread board to create the ideal amount of surface tension before swiftly scooping it up and depositing it upside-down in an oiled container.

Michael's Perfect Pizza

There was plenty of dough to go around and everyone brought tons of delicious toppings, so when it came time to build our pizzas we had our choice from delights ranging from vegan pesto and romesco sauces to homemade caramelized onions to garden fresh tomatoes, hot chili peppers, basil, and summer squash, as well as several different types of meats and cheeses.  It was wonderful to have the chance to meet new people and spend the early afternoon relaxing in the dappled shade, watching the flames and embers glow inside the dome of the oven and appreciating all the food and good company we had come together to enjoy.

After we said our thanks and goodbyes, we braved Carmageddon (which was actually an easier drive than usual) to make our way over to the Eat Real Festival at the Helms Bakery District in Culver City.  Our good friend Joel Robinson of nonprofit Naturalist For You was leading a foraging workshop and we were excited to attend.  We arrived a bit early so we enjoyed some live music and a deliciously fresh fattoush salad from the Hungry Nomad food truck and bought some awesome wooden spoons from the adorable Backyard in a Jar VW bus.  We then wandered over to the DIY section where Joel was setting up all the materials he had foraged that very morning from the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook area.

Joel Robinson of Naturalist For You

Joel’s talk focused on Ethnobotany, and he explained how California residents are starting to gain back some of the knowledge of local plants that the Tongva tribe had originally gathered over thousands of years.  We learned all about the process of harvesting and processing acorns for food (something The Secret Goldfish has been extremely interested in as of late, since nutritious acorn meal can be used in bread).  We also learned about the edible/medicinal properties of other local plants such as Mexican Elderberry, California Bay Laurel, Black Walnut, Mustard, Toyon, Horehound, Mugwort, Nasturtium, Water Plantain, Sweet Fennel, Wild Grapes, and Sagebrush.

Toyon leaves in a pot, ready to make Toyon Tea

Did you know that Toyon (the plant with serrated leaves and bright red berries that was mistaken for Holly and gave Hollywood its name) is a part of the rose family (along with apples, almonds, peaches, plums, and blackberries)?  And that you can boil its leaves to make a delicious amber-colored tea?  Don’t eat the raw berries though, as they can contain trace amounts of cyanide.  Did you know that the two-toned leaves of Mugwort can neutralize the effects of poison oak, and that it conveniently grows in the same type of habitat?  Or that mustard flowers are edible and taste just like broccoli, because they are in the same family of plants (along with cauliflower and arugula)?  Or that the three properties of plants in the mint family are 1) stacked flower clusters, 2) square stems, and 3) opposing leaves?

Before you try foraging for yourself you should definitely talk to a professional like Joel who knows what he’s doing.  Many plants look very similar to one another and you obviously need to be 100% sure a plant is safe before you try eating it.  You should also be aware that you must have permission to harvest foraged materials on public lands.  Many areas are designated habitat so there are rules about what/how much you can forage to ensure that the ecosystem is not damaged.  The rules vary depending on the park/national forest so do some research before you try it.  I’d recommend booking a free tour with Naturalist For You; you’ll get to go on an incredible hike led by a trained naturalist and learn all about the animal and plant life you encounter along the way, and you may even get to forage a bit while you’re at it.

Until next time,

Molly

Huasna Valley Farm

Heirloom Sonora Wheat at Huasna Valley Farm

I had the wonderful and unique opportunity to visit Huasna Valley Farm on Tuesday with a few other members of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers group.  The farm is a beautiful piece of paradise run by the charming and hospitable Skinner family. It is located about three and a half hours north of Los Angeles in the pristine countryside outside the village of Arroyo Grande.  I was the first to arrive at the farm and was greeted by a child’s hand-drawn note wired to the gate, welcoming me inside and politely asking me to shut the gate behind my car.  Ron and Jenn Skinner waved as I pulled up next to the combine and gave me my first glimpse at their approximately 10 acres of organic heirloom Sonora Wheat fields, gently rustling in the morning breeze.

The other Bread Bakers had not yet arrived so Jenn and I drove up the lane to their house so we could check the answering machine (to make sure nobody got lost on the way) and to load my order of wheat and barley into the Prius.  She and Ron had already prepackaged my 15 lbs of Sonora Wheat berries, 15 lbs of ground Sonora Wheat flour, and 10 lbs of Ethiopian Blue Barley.  I got excited when she showed me the oats they had grown and rolled themselves and so I added a nearly-full 10 lb bag onto my order, encouraged by Jenn’s suggestion that I’d be able to find a KitchenAid attachment to roll the oats.

Picking Blackberries with Jenn and Linnea

Jenn and Ron’s daughter Linnea joined us on our stroll back down to where Ron was looking for a misplaced farming implement (he found it), and we picked some fresh blackberries on the way.  The other Bread Bakers had arrived in our absence so we all gathered in one of the wheat fields to learn about how they first started growing the wheat as organic feed for their hens, which they were raising for eggs.  After doing an economic analysis, however, they realized they could make a higher profit selling the wheat directly rather than feeding it to the hens and selling the eggs.  Lucky for us!

Sonora Wheat Berries

Ron taught us how to thresh a head of wheat by hand, rubbing the grains against our palms to free the wheat berries and passing them from hand to hand to allow the breeze to blow the chaff away.  We thoughtfully chewed on our handfuls of wheat berries, working them down into a wad of pure gluten as he described the organic farming method they are using this year to battle unwanted weeds and improve the soil.  They have introduced a beneficial plant (technically a weed, but a helpful kind) called Black Medic amongst the wheat in their fields.  Medic is a low-growing plant that fixes nitrogen into the soil, prevents other more troublesome weeds from establishing themselves, doesn’t compete with the tall wheat stalks, and doesn’t interfere with the harvesting process.  We also had the chance to learn all about how their vintage combine works, which was incredible.  Unfortunately, the video I took of the combine tour came out with way too much background noise.  Note to self: buy a proper microphone.

We were invited to stay for a delicious lunch consisting of build-your-own omelettes (with vegetables picked fresh from the garden and eggs from the hens), a salad carefully assembled by Ron and Jenn’s son Kyle, and a dessert of Sonora Wheat biscuits made by Linnea and topped with fresh whipped cream and blackberries.  After that it was pretty hard to leave, but I was excited to get home and try out some recipes with my new flour.

Sonora Wheat Crackers and Bread

My first attempt at a 100% Sonora Whole Wheat loaf didn’t turn out quite as planned.  The rough grind of the flour was delightful to the touch but didn’t allow the gluten to develop very much, so my dough hardly rose at all.  Undeterred, I made crackers out the dough instead.  In a second attempt at making bread I used a combination of organic bread flour and the Sonora Whole Wheat.  It turned out beautifully, and made for an incredible sandwich.

This lunch brought to you by Huasna Valley Sonora Wheat!

Thank you so much to Huasna Valley Farm for having us!  If you want to learn more about Sonora Wheat and our trip to the farm, visit Erik Knutzen’s blog.

Until next time,

Molly