Agrihoods take root

This photo taken April 8, 2016, shows town homes at The Cannery, which is set beside the plowed field of the small, urban farm that is a centerpiece of the community in Davis, Calif. (Michelle Locke via AP)“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm?” asks the old song. The answer may be: Build them an agrihood.

Feeding off the continuing interest in eating fresh, local food, developers are ditching golf courses and designing communities around farms, offering residents a taste of the pastoral life — and tasty produce, too.
The latest incarnation of harvest homes is The Cannery, a community designed around a small farm in Davis, about 20 miles west of California’s capital, Sacramento.

Master developer The New Home Co. was looking to build a neighborhood, not just homes, and market research showed that people wanted to connect to community. So “it made lots of sense to take this 7.5-acre piece of property and turn it into an urban farm, have that be the focus point,” says Kevin Carson, New Home president.

Residents can sign up for a weekly box of produce from the farm, and no matter what their level of participation they get to feel part of something, says Carson. “They can see the pumpkins being harvested or the tomatoes being planted or the different seasons that happen on a farm.

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Eating their words: The importance of menu language

fishNapa Valley chef Curtis Di Fede won’t put chicken on his menu. But roasted hen? That he might do.

There’s not much difference; pretty much any chicken you’re getting in a California restaurant is going to be hen, not rooster. But to Di Fede using “hen” sounds more pleasant. It also does what he wants a menu item to do – start a conversation. “I really want people asking questions at the table,” he says. Experience has taught Di Fede something every successful chef/owner knows: the language of menus can speak volumes.

“People think of the menu as the dishes you offer. It’s not. The menu is where you start to tell your story,” says Bradford Thompson, a James Beard award-winning chef and founder of Bellyfull Consulting Inc., a full-service culinary consulting company with clients such as New York’s popular Miss Lily restaurants.

Thompson, who teaches kitchen and back-of-house skills at the International Culinary Center in New York, begins menu construction with the question: Who are you? If you can’t come up with a one-sentence answer – whether that’s the style of food, the history of the chef/owner, or some other thematic element – you’re in trouble, and this is how you end up with hundreds of items on the menu and zero personality.

“When you see a well-written menu, you see a point of view,” says Thompson. “Maybe you seem some whimsy. Maybe you’ll see a French-trained chef who’s spent some time in Asia. You’ll understand their story a little bit.”

Click here to read the rest of this story, published in Foodservice Consultant magazine.

The family feud that juiced the rise of Napa

Canadian wine experts see red on the radio?

Family feuds often come to the boil during the holidays. Not many end up changing the course of wine history.

This family, though, was the famous Mondavi wine dynasty and when brothers Robert and Peter Mondavi fell out in November 1965 it set off a series of events that led Robert to create the Robert Mondavi Winery — the first new winery in the Napa Valley since Prohibition — and fired his resolve to promote the region as a world-class wine destination.

Happily, the brothers, who eventually reconciled, both had successful careers and became industry icons, Peter at the Charles Krug Winery and Robert at his eponymous winery.

But a half century ago, things were less sunny …

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Top Shelf Tequila

patron-blue-agave-highlandsTequila used to be known as the drink of cheap thrills and bad choices.

Pour yourself a tot of something like Gran Patrón Burdeos – aged in French and American oak, finished off in ex-Bordeaux wine barrels and sold in a custom-engraved crystal bottle for around $500 – and you realize the traditional spirit of Mexico has come a long way from spring break shooters.

“Consumers have become a lot more educated on exactly what tequila is, and what a good tequila is,” says Jasmine Breedlove, Bar Manager of ThinkFoodGroup’s Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in Washington, D.C., and a certified Master Mezcalier. “It’s been really fun having been an agave lover for so long to see how much people have grown to love tequila.”

Click here to read more of this story, published by Palate Press.

The 5 Career Lessons I Learned from Monty Python

Some folks meditate. Others rely on daily affirmations. My life coach? Monty Python.

Here are some key career tips I’ve gleaned from studying the master.

Never give up on yourself. Shake off those career stumbles and setbacks. When you’re down is when you discover hidden talents. Remember, you’ve always got something left in your repertoire of marketable skills.

Details count. Don’t forget to do your research! It’ll help when you face the tough questions.

Stay positive. Every cloud really does have its silver lining, if you look for it.

Keep it professional. Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Know when it’s time to quit. Give up on yourself? No. Give up on impossible people/situations? Sure. When you’re in over your head and you know it, it’s OK to think with your feet.

Five worst things to say to laid-off friends

FullSizeRender (2)A rash of layoffs in the media biz in recent days has reminded me of my own abrupt exit from sweet, sweet Salaryland.

I feel bad for the bereft, whether they were new hires setting out on their journalistic adventures or old hands like myself. But there’s not much I can do for the jobless except to assure those who are feeling raw that the sting will fade. You may be broke as hell by then, but at some point you’ll wake up and realize it really was about them not you.

What I can do is disperse some gentle advice on what NOT to say to the recently laid off.

5. Any sentence beginning with the words “You should.” So, “You should have taken that job you interviewed for last summer,” Nope. “You should have specialized in (list subject name here).” Nope. “You should have sucked up to X more.” Nope, nope, nope.

4. Ditto sentences beginning with “You shouldn’t.”

3. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you.” No, no it isn’t. Yes, a person can survive being laid off, can learn from it, may bounce right into a new job, may claw their way into an entirely different line of work they end up liking much better. No, suddenly being left without financial stability and sans health care still isn’t as bad as falling ill or having someone you love become seriously ill. But being escorted out of the building at the orders of a company you’ve dedicated months, years, decades, of your life to absolutely bites and that is all there is to that.

2. “Everything happens for a reason.” I can feel my teeth grinding just typing that. Not all of us believe that some cosmic force has drawn up a detailed road map to our lives. Bonus tip: If you are on the receiving end of this platitude, here’s a response that I found worked quite well. “Yeah, and the reason is I got royally screwed.” Except I didn’t say screwed.

1. “Say, too bad about what happened. Can you give me your replacement’s email address? (smiley face)” Yeah, I know, you’re thinking surely someone wasn’t as crass as to send you an email like that, Michelle? And you’re right. I didn’t get one of these charming requests. I got half a dozen.

Although in all fairness not all of them had smiley faces.

P.S.: Want to know the Six Best Words to say to the Recently Laid Off?

“Let me buy you a drink.”

Cheers, commiseratingly.

Sip-n-step with wine country hikes

hikeHere’s a wine country secret that can help you raise your glass and your heart rate. Along with the Napa Valley’s famous wine-tasting trails, there are miles of scenic trails of the hiking variety, beckoning visitors who want to exercise more than their palates.

“There are so many great places up here,” says John Conover, partner and general manager of Odette Estate winery and an avid hiker.

From the mellow stroll of the Napa Vine Trail on the valley floor to more rugged hauls into the hills, hiking options have expanded in California wine country, and so has interest in wine country walking.

“It used to be people would come to Napa just asking about wine and food,” says Conover. Now, tasting-room visitors frequently ask about outdoor options as well, something he attributes to the general interest in staying fit.

Here’s a sampling of some wine country trails:

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Undiscovered Uruguay

bodega-garzon-overviewHarvest is under way and internationally known enologist Alberto Antonini is giving a master class on the coming vintage. Behind him, framed in the large windows of the new winery, a landscape of terraced vineyards unfolds under a lacy blue sky, a view reminiscent of his native Italy.

But these vines are most definitely not under the Tuscan sun.

This is Bodega Garzón, brainchild of global vintner Alejandro Bulgheroni, and the newest addition to Uruguay’s emerging wine scene.

“What we have got here is a beautiful environment,” says Antonini.

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