Monthly Archives: May 2011

When you want more than mere tourism, WWOOF.

Tending raspberries in Tuscany

There is a time and place for travelling traditionally: sleeping in hotels, eating in restaurants, etc.  And then there are times when you want just a little bit more than the traditional experience.  That’s where WWOOFing comes in.

Known as “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and sometimes “Willing Workers On Organic Farms,”  WWOOF is an international organization that connects wilvolunteers to organic farms across the world in exchange for food and lodging.

Spice market in Provence

According to

Formally called Working Weekends on Organic Farms, WWOOF came into being in Autumn 1971, in England, when a London secretary, Sue Coppard, recognised the need to provide access to the countryside for people like herself who did not otherwise have the means or the opportunity, and who were keen to support the organic movement . Her idea started with a trial working weekend, which she arranged for four people at the bio- dynamic farm at Emerson College in Sussex through a contact in the Soil Association. The weekend was a great success and things gathered momentum very quickly. Soon many more organic farmers and smallholders were willing to take people keen to work on this basis (WWOOFers). It seemed that many people were just desperate to get into the countryside. Hosts and workers made new friends and enjoyed the experience of working in common in an exchange of assistance and knowledge.

There are now WWOOF organizations in countries as different as Sierra Leone, Nepal,Israel, France, New Zealand and Mexico.  Our resident wordsmith, Jaime, had the opportunity to WWOOF in Italy for six months in 2008, and the experience changed her life forever.  She made toys from olive wood and tended raspberries in Tuscany, made jam from acacia flowers in Piedmont, harvested grapes near Bologna, sold sweets made from ancient grains at markets in Liguria, corralled goats in the Dolomite Mountains, and helped build an agriturismo in Umbria.  All the while, she enjoyed a room in the resident family’s house as well as delicious meals at their table.

“The work wasn’t always easy,” says Jaime, “But I got to learn so much about organic growing and about the Italian culture from the inside.  The experience also gave me a lifelong appreciation for the people who grow and harvest the food that I eat back home.  Let’s just say I’m willing to pay a lot more for strawberries and tomatoes than I ever was before!”

So.  Are you ready to sign up?  All it takes is visiting the WWOOF mother site at to find the site for WWOOF headquarters in your desired country.  Then, pay a small fee (around $25-50) to receive a list of all participating WWOOF farms and their contact information, as well as brief descriptions of the farms’ crops, approach to farming, living conditions, and any other special considerations (like whether or not the hosts speak English). From there, you are responsible for calling the farmers and setting up your stay.  Have kids?  No sweat.  Many farms encourage families to visit and work together for a learning/growing/bonding experience unlike any other.

There are plenty of well-spoken bloggers out there who detail their WWOOFing experiences;  just Google “WWWOOF blog” and you’ll find more than enough information to get you started planning your next trip.  Bon voyage and happy WWOOFing!


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This summer, drink pink!

You may think that the days of White Zinfandel are over, but think again.  Would you believe that, as recently as 2006, White Zin accounted for 10% of wine consumption in the U.S.?  We find that information astonishing, considering that most of our friends have had one too many sugar crashes in the 80s after a glass or two of the Pink Demon.

Thankfully, many winemakers are looking to traditional rosés for inspiration on how to bring pink back into favor with all wine drinkers.  Regions such as Bandol in Provence and the Rioja in Spain have produced rosés for centuries – in fact, at the end of the 13th Century, French King Philip IV declared Tavel rosé from the Rhône Valley the only good wine in the world.

With the weather turning slightly warmer, trees putting out leaves, and the smell of barbecues firing up, we crave a beautiful, sippable pink paired with spicy foods such as Thai yellow curry and onion tarts.  Of course, a fresh salad Niçoise with garlic toast is always a perfect match, too. 

Some favorite New World rosés:

The Laetitia Brut Rosé highlights our passion for Pinot Noir, with subtle floral aromas and hints of berries. — Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

A full onion skin blush insinuates the rich flavors of this Syrah /Cabernet Rosé. Rosé and macerated strawberries on the nose confirm fresh, rich red fruit on the palate. Great acidity and balance make for a long, elegant finish. What are you waiting for?….It’s almost spring! 200 cases produced. — L’Aventure Winery

Bright, glistening color… Red enough to suggest something like a more serious rose.  Aromas of a berry bramble and a bit of spice lead to a delicious wine.  Just enough tannin to provide a little mouthfeel.  Certainly the perfect wine as the weather warms up.  Picnics for sure.  Baked ham, pizza, or just a chilled glass of Rose. A delicious wine. –Narsai David’s Wine Reviews, KCBS Radio, San Francisco

A delightful blush red wine, vinted from Pinot Noir grapes. An enticing strawberry bouquet foreshadows a refreshing palate with creamy mouth feel and lasting piquant berry fruit intensity. An exquisite summer wine. — Fossil Ridge Winery

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Warm Weather Playlists

The grill is fired up, the wine is chilling, and the sun is shining.  What do you put on the stereo?

Here are two lists: One for the daytime, one for the night.  Pick these tunes up for the soundtrack to a gorgeous weekend.

Kiddy Pool Backyard Frolick

  1. Hey Good Lookin’ – Hank Williams, Sr.
  2. Young Folks – Petter, Bjorn & John
  3. Octopus’ Garden – Beatles
  4. Float On – Modest Mouse
  5. and there was a boy – Hot Chip
  6. Heart of My Heart – The Four Aces
  7. Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
  8. The Ghost Inside – Broken Bells
  9. Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend
  10. Just Got Paid – ZZ Top
  11. Miserlou – Dick Dale & His Del-Tones
  12. Heartbeats – The Knife

Grown-Up Chill Out and Cool Down

  1. Strange and Beautiful – Aqualung
  2. Waking Up – Myriam Alter
  3. La Femme D’Argent – AIR
  4. One Love – Bob Marley
  5. A Thousand Years – Sting
  6. Cool Me Down – The Black Seeds
  7. Paper Tiger – Beck
  8. 2Wicky – Hooverphonic
  9. Mi Confesion – Gotan Project
  10. Riviera Paradise – Stevie Ray Vaughan
  11. Saint Kevin – Phoenix Foundation
  12. Wandering Star – Portishead

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You’ve heard of a pop-up restaurant, right?  No?  How about a flash mob?  Hm?

If you’re feeling a little in the dark, here’s the scoop.  A pop-up restaurant, aka a “supper club,” is a temporary restaurant.  According to Wikipedia,

These restaurants often operate from a private home, former factory or similar and during festivals. Pop-up restaurants have been popular in the 2000s in Britain but they are not a new phenomenon. Pop up restaurants have existed in the US and Cuba. Diners typically make use of social media, such as the blogosphere and Twitter, to follow the movement of these restaurants and make online reservation. Pop-up restaurants have been hailed as useful for younger chefs, allowing them to utilize underused kitchen facilities and “experiment without the risk of bankruptcy.

The first time we ever heard about a pop-up was when hotsy-totsy chef Thomas Keller opened his restaurant Ad Hoc in the Napa Valley.  The Ad Hoc website describes its history:

The building at 6476 Washington Street was originally intended to be a very different type of restaurant. While we were designing it we thought we’d experiment by opening a temporary restaurant and calling it Ad Hoc, which literally means, “for this purpose.” The idea for Ad Hoc was simple – 5 days a week we’d offer a 4 course family style menu that changed each day, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list in a casual setting reminiscent of home. We wanted a place to dine for our community and ourselves. The decision to change over the restaurant, however, was taken out of our hands by our guests. The response was so positive, we simply couldn’t close. So, in September, 2007, we decided to stay open permanently and now we’re serving dinner 5 nights a week as well as Sunday brunch.

But then, pop-up dining became something of a culture.  Witness Room Forty in Los Angeles, self-described as a “restaurant without walls.”

Room Forty-hosted winemaker dinners are festive evenings and target what we affectionately label ‘adventurous aficionados’ as menus and locations are not pre-published, and only disclosed to ticket-holders the week of the event….These events are truly a celebration of food, wine, art, architecture and community and have become one of our favorite bohemian gatherings.

We’d first heard about Room Forty from a friend who went on a blind date with a guy to one of their winemaker dinners.  The location?  An abandoned church in East L.A., transformed into a glittering fine-dining establishment. 

The real patron saint of pop-up restaurants is Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  A classically-trained French chef with a couple of Michelin stars under his belt, Ludo tired of the standard restaurant game several years back and decided to take his act to the streets with a pop-up restaurant called “LudoBites.”  In LudoBites’ own words:

LudoBites is a restaurant by Chef Ludo Lefebvre that has no permanent address and no phone number. We like to say that the restaurant is limited only by Ludo’s imagination.  Many, including ourselves, have called it a “pop-up” restaurant and that may have been true for a while, but to truly characterize our business model as it exists today, we are a “touring” restaurant.  Like a club band we have been touring locally since 2007 and “playing” different parts of Los Angeles; West Hollywood, Culver City, Downtown, Sherman Oaks with more to come.

Though the novelty of “anti-restaurant” dining is not unappealing, the best part about LudoBites is the food.  Author and former editor of Gourmet Magazine Ruth Reichl hailed LudoBites as “the supremacy of food over ambience.”  LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold has called Ludo’s work “a Kitchen of Genius.”  And Sam Sifton of the New York Times says that, at LudoBites, “every plate is a fully realized piece of art.”

Contrast the seriousness of LudoBites with the antics of a couple groups in New York: A Razor, A Shiny Knife (ARASK) and Studiofeast.  An article in yesterday’s NY Times described a recent guerilla luncheon aboard the Brooklyn-bound L train as such:

Within moments, a car of the waiting train was transformed into a traveling bistro, complete with tables, linens, fine silverware and a bow-tied maître d’hôtel. “Is this your first time dining on the second car of the L train?” he asked, as guests filed in.

They had been lured by the promise of a clandestine dining experience. (“Please go to the North East Corner of 8th Ave and 14th St,” read the instructions e-mailed early that morning. “There will be a tall slender woman there with jet black hair who is holding an umbrella. Please just go up and introduce yourself. Her name is Michele and she is quite lovely, but no matter how hard you press she won’t tell you about the adventure you are going on.”)

Despite the brief duration of the ride (36 minutes), the luncheon menu was comprised of six courses including caviar, foie gras and filet mignon, and for dessert, a pyramid of chocolate panna cotta, dusted with gold leaf.  Soup was also on the menu.  We would have liked to witness people managing their soup bowls on a subway ride. 

Have you heard of any culinary antics we should know about?

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