Our Little Birds are getting so big! They just turned five and three. We recently threw a joint birthday party in our backyard. Since I don’t get to throw many parties these days, I made sure it was a party an adult would want to attend, too. We worked with our friends with a new catering company, Apple & Hickory, and the food was just beautiful.
A fall salad with persimmons, pistachios and pomegranates
Our Littlest Bird is enamored of Chef Ryan’s macaroni and cheese. We reached out to him just to see if he would be willing to make a tray of it for us for the girls’ birthday party. He ended up offering to cater the whole party at cost in exchange for photos for their new website.
Even if it was a kids party in theory, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pull out some cheese and wine. This cheese plate included Humbolt Fog, Truffle Tremor, a mild Spanish cheese, an aged gouda, honeycomb, pistachios, grapes and Marcona almonds.
Both Chef Ryan and Chef Leland have been in the catering and restaurant business for years. Both recently left positions as number two in charge of restaurants. We are happy to see them branch out on their own independently.
Chef Ryan was very easy to work with. We told him our theme, “fairies” and party size and he put together a whole menu proposal as a starting point. In addition to mac n’ cheese, we feasted on crispy pork belly, green beans with apples and almonds, aguachile, chips and salsa, corn, fresh fruit, and the beautiful fall salad above.
Do you still call it a smash cake when they are 5 and 3?
The two little smash cakes were a total collaboration. I baked the cake layers from an old Southern recipe for Hummingbird Cake. Chef Ryan made extra cream cheese frosting – the same frosting he used as the fillings in his funfetti “cakies.” Since the girls (ok, and me, too) wanted a fairy theme for their party, we decorated the cakes with lots of edible flowers.
Similarly, the photos were a group effort. One of Papa Bird’s photographer friends shot most of the images on our camera, though I took a few. We rented a nicer lens for the day. And Papa Bird processed the images. He also ended up starting a website for Apple & Hickory Catering – something he has been doing a lot of lately! As a part of his Burd’s Nerds IT support business, he recently redid my psychotherapy website, too.
As you can see from the girls’ faces, they were pretty happy fairies!
Give the guys a call if you are planning an event or just want someone to cook dinner for you at home. Check out their website at applenhickory.com – a few of the pictures might look familiar!
Raw pepitas, or green pumpkin seeds, have a sweet and nutty flavor. They are the perfect base for a streusel topping. Use it to top pumpkin muffins, ice cream, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, or this satisfying pumpkin custard I shared today.
At the risk of sounding like a scene from Forest Gump, let’s talk the sweet incantations of pumpkin:
A crunchy topping, made with green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon. Perfect for topping pumpkin pie or ginger pumpkin custard. Keep leftovers to top ice cream, yogurt, and more.
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup raw pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
¼ cup rolled oats
¼ cup flour
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350* F.
Melt the butter in a small glass mixing bowl by microwaving for 10-15 seconds. A few unmelted lumps are fine.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, stir to mix well.
Scatter the batter over a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper, and bake for 5 minutes or until browned.
My streusel still looked "wet" when it had started browning. I pulled it out of the oven anyway and it turned out well. Don't let it burn.
It’s officially pumpkin season! San Diego weather may change its mind on a daily basis, but pumpkin everything gets the green light in my book! Today I’m sharing the recipe for a ginger-maple pumpkin custard topped with a pepita streusel. This creamy alternative to pumpkin pie is made extra gingery with both fresh and dried ginger, and sweetened with maple syrup.
The pumpkin custard is gluten-free, with no refined sugars, and no cans. Like in my pumpkin smash cake recipe, I won’t tell anyone if you speed the recipe up with canned pumpkin, but try a real pumpkin one time so you can taste the difference. I use whole cow milk, but you can substitute any milk alternative. This custard is adapted from the filling for the real pumpkin pie recipe. We topped it with real whipped cream (get the “real” food trend?) and a pepita (pumpkin seed) streusel. Find the streusel recipe here.
Prepping pie pumpkins
Bake in a water bath
Papa Bird and the little birds grew pumpkins this year from seeds saved from last year’s sugar pie pumpkins. Specialty Produce is also fully stocked with baking and decorative pumpkins.
Try the recipe today and you just might be eating this surprisingly healthy custard for dessert and breakfast. Or else pin the recipe to save and try later!
A creamy alternative to pumpkin pie, made extra gingery with both fresh and dried ginger, and sweetened with maple syrup. Gluten-free, no refined sugars, and no cans. I use whole cow milk, but you can substitute any milk alternative. Adapted from my "Real Pumpkin Pie" filling.
2 cups roasted and pureed pumpkin (1 sugar pie pumpkin or 1 15 oz can of pureed pumpkin)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
½ cup maple syrup
1 cup whole milk
Prep pumpkin (see notes) or use canned (I won't tell anyone, but try a real pumpkin one time so you can taste the difference.)
Preheat oven to 350* F.
If you are using homemade pureed pumpkin, add the rest of the ingredients into your food processor or blender. Mix until combined.
Place six to eight custard dishes or ramekins inside of a large roasting pan. Fill the small dishes/ramekins with the pumpkin batter. Pour water into the large pan, being careful not to splash water into the custards. Fill the pan until the water level is even with the level of the batter in the small dishes. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the center of the custards are "set."
Remove the custards from the water bath and cool on a wire rack.
Serve with streusel and/or whipped cream.
1. If starting from a fresh pumpkin: Use a "sugar pie pumpkin" or "pie pumpkin" and not a decorative jack-o-lantern type pumpkin. Preheat oven to 350* F. Wash the outside of the pumpkin well. Cut off the stem of the pumpkin, and then cut in half vertically. Remove the seeds and strings. Rinse and save the seeds for drying and replanting and/or roasting. Place the two halves of the pumpkins on a baking pan lined with a piece of foil that is twice as long as the pan. Fold the foil over the top of the pumpkins and bake for 75 to 90 minutes, or until soft. Allow pumpkins to cool (they can be refrigerated over night.) Peel off the skin, and any overly browned parts. Place the flesh of the pumpkin in a food processor or good blender and puree until smooth. Leave the pumpkin in the processor or blender, and add the rest of the custard ingredients. An average sized pumpkin makes about 2 cups of pureed pumpkin. A little more or a little less is fine. 2. Nutrition figures are for 8 servings. I made 6 large custards, and we felt full after half, so it could easily serve 12. I split the difference and calculated for 8. Nutrition is also for the custard as written, and does not include streusel or whip cream topping. 3. Streusel recipe here.
Serving size: 131 g Calories: 111 Fat: 3g Saturated fat: 1.2g Unsaturated fat: 1.8g Trans fat: 0g Carbohydrates: 18g Sugar: 14 g Sodium: 188mg Fiber: .8g Protein: 3.8g Cholesterol: 73mg
Farmer’s Bottega features local artisan ingredients and organic produce in New American and Italian dishes. Italian-born chef and owner Alberto Morale, co-owner of the Fig Tree Cafe, opened the Mission Hills restaurant less than two years ago. We loved working with San Diego Restaurant Week last January. SDRW reached out again to tell me this month’s theme is local produce and we were happy to accept an invitation to preview Farmer’s Bottega.
The Oxtail Ravioli with cherry tomatoes, caramelized onions and herbed goat cheese immediately called out to me. The sauce was flavorful, rich with umami and balanced with the fresh green taste of the dandelion shoot garnish. The housemade pasta had the perfect aldente bite.
Our whole silly family found the staff friendly and hospitable. The hostess offered each girl full sized coloring books and a small tupperware of crayons, which kept them content during ordering. We also enjoyed exploring the back patio and garden space.
Total comfort food
The Housemade Meatballs were something special. The starter is presented oh so cozy in a small cast iron pan, and topped table-side by copious parmesan. The meatballs are cooked in a rich and spicy tomato sauce with fresh herbs. We requested an extra round of the Bread and Cie toast to sop up the last bits.
Featuring fresh and unique produce
Our waiter, Matthew, was very personable. He steered us towards the Seasonal Melon Salad. This week’s salad featured super sweet yellow watermelon, feta, wild arugula, and spicy caramelized pecans. The lemon vinaigrette was light and overall the salad was a refreshing balance to our other meat-heavy choices. In addition to buying direct from local farms, Specialty Produce supplies their fresh vegetables and fruits, sourced from San Diego growers.
Farmer’s Bottega is decorated in a comfortable “farmhouse” style, perfect for either date night or family. Oversized glass containers hold pickles and preserved lemons. How sweet would a date be under this wall of crate boxes?
Top Quality Meats
The herb-rubbed Buffalo Filet was also excellent, served with garlic mashed potatoes, swiss chard, asparagus, crispy onions, roasted Maui thyme and a petite Syrah reduction. The filet was cooked a perfect medium rare, and super tender. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough around my family to snag any of the asparagus and barely grabbed a corner of the crispy onions. I wished for more!
You have to eat dessert during restaurant week!
We finished our meal with a New York Cheesecake with fresh berries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
After such inventive and satisfying starters and mains, the desserts were unflawed but not as memorable.
All in all, considering there wasn’t a drop left on the plates, they couldn’t have been that bad.
At one point I looked over at my three-year-old and she was doing a combination shovel/inhale on the Molten Chocolate Cake.
Tips for Farmer’s Bottega
We only ordered items we were told would be on the Restaurant Week menu. However, since Farmer’s Bottega features seasonal produce and locally sourced seafood, artisan meats, cheese and breads, selections may vary.
Our waiter let us know that they would offer the $40 SDRW menu not just the one week, Sunday, September 25th through Sunday, October 2nd, but would extend for a second week, too.
Reservations recommended: (619) 458-9929.
If you miss SDRW altogether, they offer a pre-fixed date night menu on Wednesday nights, and happy hour all night Tuesday at the bar. The TV’s at the bar were playing the Food Network. My kind of place!!
If you go, please tell them Baby Birds Farm sent you!
As mentioned, our food was offered free of charge. Opinions and photos are mine.
The Living Coast Discovery Center overlooks San Diego Bay and sits on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The zoo/aquarium cares for birds, animals and marine life that would not otherwise survive in the wild.
The 2016 Farm to Bay
Once a year San Diego restaurants, breweries, caterers and vineyards come together to support the non-profit Living Coast Discovery Center and highlight sustainability and coastal wildlife. Event goers are treated to samples from over 40 food and beverage venders, including Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub, Urge American Gastropub, True Food Kitchen, Panama 66, Suzie’s Farm, Viva Pops, Big Front Door, Juice Wave, and Duck Foot Brewing Company.
What the US Olympic athletes eat: sustainable scallop ceviche.
One surprising food partner was not a restaurant or a caterer, yet makes 1,000 meals a day. The Chula Vista Olympic Training Center feeds our hungry athletes during training. They offered us samples of a scallop ceviche (above) and a macadamia poke, made with line-caught yellow tail. Dang Brother Pizza (below) cooks Neapolitan-style thin crust pizza in a wood-burning Italian pizza oven built into a vintage fire truck. The pizza is delicious, and with taps built into the side of the truck, they are ready to pull up to your party.
How would you like a fire truck to pull up to your house party and serve pizza?
One of the event’s sponsors, Home Advisor, did not have anyone local to use their tickets. So a “matchmaker” named Candice from ZipSprout found me through the @BabyBirdsFarm Instagram and thought it would be up my alley. Gourmet, sustainable, farm-to-table food and drinks? Helping spread the word for a great non-profit? Spending a gorgeous summer evening on a wildlife refuge with my husband? Yes, please.
Wrangling Top San Diego Farm-to-Table Restaurants
Willy Wonka wrangled!?
Chef Will Gustwiller of Eclipse Chocolate Bar and Bistro was this year’s Culinary Chair, or as he calls it “Chef Wrangler.” He helped curate the partners and coordinate their offerings. (He told us last year half of the restaurants served ceviche — oops.) We chatted a bit about how they were all sourcing sustainable ingredients and the goal of being a zero waste event. In a large brown top hat, it was hard not to draw a connection between the chocolatier and Willy Wonka. Will shared how he hated being called “Willy Wonka” as a kid, but has since learned to embrace it as the best of marketing. We enjoy both brunch and dinner at Eclipse, and picked up 2-for-1 coupons for our next visit.
Finding Dory, Sharks and Sea Turtles
Saving marine and coastal wildlife.
Sapphire, the loggerhead sea turtle, was injured by a boat. Despite rehabilitation her sense of direction is off and she often winds up with her head in the sand. Yes, like the poor Beluga in the fictional Marine Life Institute in “Finding Dory”! She shares a tank with the leopard sharks swimming behind me in the above picture.
A pretty barn owl socialized at the Farm to Bay – they also visit schools.
Years ago, a coworker of mine was a tour guide at the then named “Chula Vista Nature Center.” I remember discovering and loving the scent of the Cleveland Sage there, and now have it planted throughout our yard. We became reacquainted with the Living Coast Discovery Center after their animal ambassadors visited the Little Birds’ preschool and my husband drove them down to explore.
I got to chat with Tommy, the Fishmonger at Catalina Offshore Products. Catalina is truly at the forefront of sustainable seafood in San Diego. Tommy shared a Portuguese Tuna Salad that the fishermen used to bring with them on the boat. I love any tuna salad that is made without mayonnaise, and this one was great. Fresh yellowtail, steamed, and tossed with a red vinegar dressing; Farm to Bay patrons had a lightened up version in endive. I’m guessing the fishermen did not.
Tip: If you want any easy way to improve your cooking, shop where the chefs get their ingredients.
My Little Birds love going down to Catalina Offshore to shop for seafood. Parallel in concept to Specialty Produce, Catalina supplies local, fresh and sustainable seafood to San Diego’s top restaurants yet allows regular retail customers to shop too.
Another San Diego favorite, caterers Sushi on a Roll, served up line caught blue fin as sashimi and in a cut roll with seaweed salad.
I had thought blue fin was solidly on the “avoid” list due to over-fishing. But chef Jeff started telling me about some of the efforts to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly farms.
Don’t hate me San Diegans, but I don’t really drink beer… So I really can’t write much other than that there were a TON of local craft beer samples at the Farm to Bay. Papa Bird was happy drinking old favorites including Grapefruit Sculpin and finding new up and coming beers like Duckfoot. I, on the other hand, was very happy tasting the “Island Girl” cocktail from Blue Chair Bay Rum. They also provided the recipe, which is at the end of the post. Perfect for a summer evening, it highlights their coconut rum (which is also delicious served chilled on its own), and is not too sweet.
Shocker: My favorite dish was dessert.
Finally, Corn Sorbet and Tres Leches from Mistral at Loews Coronado Bay Resort completed a three-course corn-centric tasting menu. Following brown-butter-bacon popcorn and a pork belly with corn salsa, the pastry chef turned the vegetable into a surprisingly successful sorbet. The sorbet accompanied a personal-size tres leches and mint-jalapeno syrup. I made my husband go back to get his own. Luckily, Cool Down Coffee was at the next table, where I picked up a caramel cold brew.
Are you hungry yet?
I hope so! It’s not too soon to plan to attend the 2017 Farm to Bay. In the meantime, check out one of the San Diego farm-2-table partners. Or if you want to sip a bit of summer just a while longer, try out Blue Chair Bay’s recipe for the Island Girl.
Hi! I started Baby Birds Farm after the birth of my first daughter. I started sharing seasonal recipes featuring produce from our garden, eggs from our chicken, and homemade cheeses from our goat milk co-op. Fast forward a few years, another daughter, another business, and now we are just surviving and enjoying our busy life and food as much as we can. Join our journey of good food, farm-to-table restaurants in San Diego and healthy living!
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My Day Job
Abigail Burd, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist, provides women's mental health in San Diego, CA. Specialities include managing anxiety and depression during pregnancy, postpartum and parenting. Learn more about my practice, Burd Psychotherapy, in Clairemont (San Diego) at www.burdtherapy.com.