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A Hidden Gem in the Sierra Madre: Vallarta Botanical Gardens Print E-mail
Written by Ann Shepphird   

Vallarta Botanical GardenJust 12 miles south of Puerto Vallarta along the appropriately named Palms-to-Pines Highway lies an Eden for lovers of all things botanical. Opened a little over six years ago, the Vallarta Botanical Gardens features more than 3,000 different species of plants, including indigenous orchids, agave, tree ferns and wildflowers. The 20 acres of land also includes trails for hiking and a mountain river ideal for swimming.

As a nonprofit dedicated to the research and education of plant life, Vallarta Botanical Gardens has hosted a number of workshops, including a recent Copomo (Maya Nut or Breadnut in English) festival, where local producers turned the sustainable forest crop into eight different kinds of food. Plans for upcoming festivals include one for edible flowers.

Also on site is the Hacienda de Oro restaurant, featuring a brick pizza oven and Mexican favorites made (when possible) using local ingredients, including milk and cheese from the nearby town of El Tuito. Their tortilla soup was truly one of the best I’ve ever had and they were kind enough to give us the recipe. So enjoy! I know I will!

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Sundays at the Ojai Farmers' Market Print E-mail
Written by Melanie Waldman   

Ojai Farmers MarketSurrounded by the enormous Topatopa Mountains and a few miles' worth of orange groves, the small Southern California town of Ojai is known for three things: meditation retreats, artisans and agriculture. To see how these three worlds mingle, stop by the downtown farmers' market any Sunday (rain or shine) between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The Ojai Certified Farmers' Market features stunning produce, locally made olive oils, vibrant cut flowers and orchid plants, hand-woven baskets, organic soaps and skincare. Local musicians come out to play, friends reconnect, and occasionally, a rousing game of hacky sack breaks out on the nearby lawn. At this community meeting place, you'll see theater folk telling stories with a flourish, spiritual ascetics shopping for organic produce and farmers educating kids about where their food comes from and how it's grown.

Ojai Farmers Market 2And speaking of food: Didn't grow up in the Midwest (or miss it terribly)? This is your chance to try some cheese curds from California. Want to sample some of the best baked goods in town? Stop by early at Knead's table to pick up a ribbon-wrapped package of cheddar-jalapeño scones or hearty chocolate-chip cookies. Here you can find organic eggs and free-range meats, fresh tamales, gluten-free breads and much more.

Before you leave, be sure to treat yourself to some citrus fruits, the staples that made this area so popular in the first place. You'll rarely find a sweeter orange than at the Ojai Farmer's Market.

Ojai Certified Farmers' Market, every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
300 East Matilija Street, just behind the Arcade on Main Street in downtown Ojai, California

 
Red (as in Wine) for Valentine's Day Print E-mail
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Written by Ann Shepphird   

Phillips Hill 2008 Oppenlander LabelWhile champagne is nice for celebrations, in my mind nothing says love like a good red wine -- especially a good pinot noir. For Valentine's Day this year, Jeff and I will be enjoying the 2008 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir from my friend Toby Hill's Phillips Hill Winery, which makes limited edition pinot noirs from the Anderson Valley and Comptche up in Mendocino. Artwork on the label for the 2008 Oppenlander (pictured right) is also Toby's. For those looking for an excuse to make the trek to Mendocino, this summer Phillips Hill will be holding a farm-to-table winemakers dinner, held in a field atop Mendocino Ridge overlooking the Anderson Valley. All the food will be sourced from local farms and ranches and prepared by a guest celebrity chef to match the wines. Phillips Hill limited edition wine club members will be the first ones notified of the final details for the dinner. For more information, call 707-877-1151 or visit PhillipsHillEstates.com.

To continue our red wine theme, Palo Robles Wine Country will hold its 2011 Los Angeles Grand Tasting on March 2, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at The Vibiana in Downtown Los Angeles. The event, which will benefit the Southern California Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, will feature more than 28 wineries and gourmet appetizers by RoomForty and is part of a larger Grand Tasting Tour featuring winemaker dinners throughout Los Angeles February 26-March 5. For more information, visit pasowine.com.

And with that, I bid you a very Happy Valentine's Day!

 
Tasting Australia and the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market Print E-mail
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Written by Linda Hayes   
Tasting AustraliaI'm sitting at my desk in Colorado, flipping through my iPhone and drooling over photos I took during Tasting Australia, a weeklong, world-class culinary event that's held just every other year in Adelaide, the delightfully food-centric capital of South Australia.

This year, Tasting Australia took place in late April, which, while it may have been early spring in the Northern Hemisphere, was early fall Down Under. How odd (and slightly disorienting at first) it seemed, to be munching on things like chilli peppers and beetroot when, at home, asparagus and cherries were just showing up at market stands and on the pages of food magazines. Odd, but delicious.

But back to the event. In addition to a full schedule of media-oriented dinners, tours and visits to surrounding wine country, Tasting Australia included the BankSA Feast for the Senses presented by the LifeStyle FOOD Channel, a weekend celebration that's open to the public. Set at the edge of the meandering River Torrens, the Feast featured tastes of the region's bounty offered by friendly vendors set up in dozens of peaked white tents, while sailboats and rowers floated lazily by (above left).
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